Book Notice: 2 KINGS (REFORMED EXPOSITORY COMMENTARY), by Philip Graham Ryken

A Brief Book Notice From Books at a Glance

Despite the tragic events of 2 Kings, hope remains as God holds to his promise never to forsake David’s line. This historical book has everyday relevance as it shows both the consequences of idolatry and God’s concern for people in serious hardship. Most important, it prepares us to see our need for the true and greatest Prophet and King. Tracing the overarching narrative, Philip Graham Ryken connects it to Christ and explores its applications for ordinary Christians in today’s world.

As are all Reformed Expository Commentaries, this book is accessible to both pastors and lay readers. Each volume in the series gives careful attention to the biblical text, is doctrinally Reformed, focuses on Christ through the lens of redemptive history, and applies the Bible to our contemporary setting.

About the Author

Philip Ryken is the eighth president of Wheaton College. Following his graduation from Wheaton College in 1988, he earned a master of divinity degree from Westminster Theological Seminary and a doctorate in historical theology from the University of Oxford.

Dr. Ryken preached at Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church from 1995 until his appointment at Wheaton in 2010. He has published more than 50 books, including Reformed Expository Commentaries on 1 Kings, Luke, Galatians, and 1 Timothy. He teaches the Bible weekly on the broadcast Every Last Word and serves as a board member for the Lausanne Movement, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, and The Gospel Coalition.

Endorsements

Tim Challies, Blogger, Pastor, Grace Fellowship Church, Toronto:

Phil Ryken has consistently proved to be among our most trusted and most helpful contemporary biblical commentators. Each one of his commentaries is marked by faithful interpretation and explanation of the biblical text along with insightful application to today’s believers. His new work on 2 Kings is a welcome addition to his collection. . . . Whether you use it week by week to prepare Bible studies or sermons or whether you read it straight through, you’ll be both edified and encouraged.

Irwyn Ince, Director, Grace DC Institute for Cross-Cultural Mission:

Pastors often struggle to faithfully preach Christ through the narratives [in 2 Kings]. What are we to do with the schools of prophets, mauled teenagers, foreign military commanders, a wealthy but barren woman, evil kings, and ongoing warfare? Dr. Philip Ryken has done us a great service. With remarkable deftness, he puts before us the humanness of these stories, the touch points between the people we meet and our own lives in the twenty-first century. Yet he does so in a way that shows Jesus Christ to be the hero in every story. Which, of course, he is.

Hershael W. York, Dean, School of Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary:

I cannot imagine a more comprehensive tool for teaching or sermon preparation than Phil Ryken’s expository commentary on 2 Kings. Combining the head of a scholar, the heart of a pastor, the insightful illustration of a master communicator, the depth of a theologian, and the homiletical skills of an extraordinary preacher, Dr. Ryken takes readers with him from the ancient text through the empty tomb as each exposition locates the narrative in the grand sweep of God’s redemptive work in Christ. Filled with gospel delight that moved me to rejoice in the truth and relevance of God’s Word, this commentary made me want to preach 2 Kings as soon as possible!

Michael Horton, J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics, Westminster Seminary California:

Phil Ryken is a model of the pastorscholar. This commentary on 2 Kings is an ornament of his skill as an exegete and preacher. I highly recommend it.

Andrew T. Abernethy, Associate Professor of Old Testament, Wheaton College:

With a remarkable combination of pastoral insight, theological acumen, and sensitivity to the biblical text, Philip Ryken offers a tremendous exposition in this commentary. It is a must-have for all who want to study or preach from 2 Kings.

Colin S. Smith, Senior Pastor, The Orchard; President, Unlocking the Bible:

Philip Ryken is a master of clear and compelling biblical exposition. In every chapter of this commentary, he finds applications that will land in your life and follows trajectories that will lead you to Christ. Preachers, Bible study leaders, and thoughtful Christians will find this a rich and treasured resource.

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2 Kings (Reformed Expository Commentary)

P&R Publishing, 2019 | 480 pages

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Your Main Problem Is Not Other People

Galatians 6:3 is often read as a stand-alone statement, but I think it should be read as one idea. Paul says, “For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” That’s true on its own, of course; it’s true as a stand-alone proverb. If you think you’re better than you really are, you’re self-deceived. But Paul is connecting it here and saying you’re never going to live this kind of servant life—you’re never going to move out into relationships really trying to serve others rather than trying to use others to build up your self-image—unless there’s a deep humility in you.

I love how categorical the Bible is about this point. In effect, Paul says, “Now, as a Christian, remember what the gospel says: You’re nothing.” It’s like the drive-by teaching Jesus does in Luke 11:9–13. He’s talking to his disciples about prayer, essentially telling them, “My Father will give you things if you ask for them.” But then he says, “After all, if you who are evil give good gifts to your children when they ask you, how much more would your heavenly Father . . . ?” Wait. You who are evil? He’s talking to the apostles! “Oh, by the way . . . you’re evil. Yes, you, the apostles, you’re evil.”

And that’s half the gospel: You’re evil; you’re nothing. But you don’t overcome that by seeking relationships that make you feel good about yourself. It isn’t by moving out into every relationship figuring out how that person, that relationship, can build up your flagging, fragile sense of self-worth. That’s desperate; that’s sad.

And it isn’t going to work, because your fundamental problem isn’t with other people. Your sense of self-worth is flagging and fragile because you’re not related to God like you should be. No amount of acclamation, no amount of applause or accolades from everyone in the world, will fill that hole. Nothing will heal your heart except God himself looking at you and saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Each Has His Own Load

Verses 4 and 5 are almost a footnote: “But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.” Every commentator or preacher I’ve ever heard takes these two verses a little bit differently.

Paul is trying to say that if you really were healed in your heart—if you didn’t need to always compare yourself to other people as a way of bolstering your fragile ego—then you could still have a sense in which you make progress. Not because you’re better than him or better than her, but because you’ve progressed in bearing your own load.

The word “load” here is not the same as the word “burden” in verse 2. “Burden” gets across the idea of a crushing weight, while “load” is more like cargo or luggage, something you have to take on a trip.

Many years ago, an older pastor helped me see what this means. There was a family in my church who were professing Christians, but it was a very flawed family. I expressed a certain amount of irritation with one of them, and the pastor responded to me like this:

There’s special grace, and there’s common grace. Some of us, because of God’s common grace, have had great families. We received a lot of love growing up. And now we have a fair amount of self-control and are relatively well-adjusted. So, when we become Christians, we come in, say, at about a 3 on a character scale from 0 to 10. After five years of growing in Christ, we’ve improved to a 3.5. Now, here’s this family, and they’ve had a very rough go of it. Both the husband and the wife come from terrible families themselves. Then they give their lives to Christ, and they come into the Christian faith, at the common grace level, at about 0. They’re wrecks. And after five years in the faith, they’re now at 1.5. They have made some significant changes, even more so than us. But when you look at them and say, “I’m twice as loving as they are and have twice the self-control,” what you’re forgetting is that they have their load, and you have yours.

At the end of John’s Gospel, Jesus is speaking to Peter and hints that Peter is going to die for his faith. I don’t know whether Peter quite gets what Jesus is saying, but Jesus basically says to him, “There’s some bad stuff coming.” Peter looks at Jesus, sees John walking along, and says, “What about him?” And I just love how Jesus says, “What is that to you? Follow me.”

I’m almost sure that’s what C. S. Lewis had in mind when Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia constantly says to people, “I only tell you your own story.” Don’t ask me about that person’s story. That person has their own load. So what Paul’s saying here is, “Get your eyes on God. Stop looking at everybody else. Stop using everybody else.”

Some years ago, I read a meditation by Tom Howard, a Catholic writer and brother of the famous missionary Elisabeth Elliot, that really made a difference to me. I want to paraphrase it as best I remember it. Howard said to look at the temple. God planned every little architectural detail about the temple (or tabernacle), and everything is laid out precisely to his specs. But when you get to the center—which in a certain sense is the center of the universe, the very center of reality—what do you get? No image. There’s no image to bow down to. In fact, as Howard said, there’s really not a person at all; there’s an event. Because at the heart of reality is a gold slab—the mercy seat—on the top of the ark of the covenant, over the law, where the blood is sprinkled. God is saying to us that the very heart of reality, the very heart of creation and redemption, is “My life for yours.”

My Life for Yours

Sin makes us operate on this principle: “Your life for me. I’m going to make you sacrifice for me, for my interests, for my self-image. You must sacrifice your needs to serve mine.” But Jesus Christ came into the world saying, “My life for you. My life to serve you. My life poured out for you. I sacrifice for you.” He says those are the two ways you can live your life, and every single day—every hour—you decide to operate on one of those principles.

All real love is a substitutionary sacrifice—my life for yours.

Parents, you’ve seen this. You have this wonderful plan for the day, and then something happens—your kid gets sick, has a need, melts down—and you really need to spend time with your child. Which is it going to be? You can die and say, “My life for you.” You can sacrifice yourself for that child, in a sense, and have that child grow up feeling loved. In other words, you can die so your child will live. Or you can never sacrifice; you can never die to yourself in your parenting life. You can constantly say, “Sorry, I have my needs, I have my schedule, I have my goals, and you can’t get in the way”—and your child will grow up broken.

All real love is a substitutionary sacrifice—my life for yours. And essentially that’s what Paul tells us: “You can live life that way, and you can go into relationships that way—my life for yours. Or you can go the old way, the vainglorious way—your life for mine.”

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Reflections on 2 Corinthians 3

Surpassing, Transforming Glory

So what is Paul saying in his use of the Exodus incident in relation to the new covenant?In our session with Dr Gary Williams, referred to in Part 1, we looked at the comparison between the experience of Moses at Sinai and that of Peter, James and John on the mountain upon which they witnessed Jesus’ graphic transfiguration. Mark records that episode thus:

“After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.” (Mark 9 vs 2 – 10)

There are many similarities. Peter, in his second letter, refers to this also:

” For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.” (2 Peter 1 vs 16 – 18)

It is not insignificant that Peter refers to this location as ‘the sacred mountain’. We can only imagine the stunning (and terrifying) impact these events had upon the onlookers. Dr Williams drew our attention to the fact that both incidents are restricted in their revealing, and following, their is some kind of concealment commanded. Moses veils his face. The disciples are commanded not to tell anyone what they have seen until after the resurrection. I will come back to this. Let us first note that in both we have:

  • The revealer of the glory
  • The observer(s) of the glory
  • The receivers (ultimately) of the glory

 With Exodus 34,

  • The revealer is God Himself
  • The observer is Moses
  • The receivers are the Israelites

In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul draws his parallel thus:

  • The revealer is Christ – He ‘radiates’ this splendour in such a way as to radically alter His appearance – even His clothes. He is the source.
  • The observers are the Apostles
  • The receivers are the Corinthians (and beyond, all those who receive the Apostolic witness)

Therefore we see plainly that Paul’s ‘we’ in this chapter is the Apostles, the eye-witnesses to Jesus.As John says:

“We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John1 vs 14)

We have noted before, but let me say again, that the giving of the Law on Sinai, and the incident in Exodus 33 where Moses asks to see God’s glory are distinct. Previous to the great sin of the golden calf incident, the stone tablets, with the Law inscribed, had been given with no reference to attendant glory. We conclude that it is not the Law itself which is glorious. The glory attends the Law, it is not synonymous with it.

Unveiled Communication

Now we can clearly understand the impact of what Paul is saying. In their preaching of the Gospel, which also comes with glory, the Apostles are unlike Moses, who veiled his face. The Apostles deliver and pass on to their hearers  the glory they have beheld in the revealed Person of the Son of God WITHOUT obscuring the full vision of those who receive it – such is their boldness. Although Paul was not on that mountain, as an Apostle, he too has been a party to the same vision of the resurrected Lord. Thus his apostleship is being substantiated.

What did Moses hide?

The question arises as to what it was that Moses did not want the Israelites to see. We have seen that they glimpsed the glory of the radiance in his face as he communicated with them after he had spoken with God. But when he had finished doing so, he veiled his face until he next entered the Tent of Meeting to stand before God again. The result was that the Israelites were not allowed to ‘look steadily’, or ‘gaze intently’ at him. Their examination of this phenomena was not allowed to continue. Paul says that this was …

“to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away.” (2 Cor 3 vs 13)

And this is where many have concluded that it was the radiance which ‘was passing away’. But why would Moses merely wish to hide from them the fact that the radiance was fading? What purpose would this achieve?

It is more probable that what Paul is referring to as ‘transitory’ is, in fact, the whole of the old covenant. When Christ came, the complete order would be fulfilled and exceeded by the new covenant, instituted by God’s Son. How could Moses, at God’s direction, be heard to construct an intricate system of worship, priesthood and law, for the governance of God’s old testament people in His given land, when all of it would ultimately give way to something far greater, with any degree of authoritative substance? Thus God directs that this eventual outcome would not be revealed to the Israelites until their covenant was at an end. In a similar way, the disciples of Jesus are not to pass on what they observe on the mount of Transfiguration until the full disclosure of the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection is made – only then would that revelation be fully meaningful. Only then would it achieve its given purpose. This was its ‘telos’ – its end. And, as in Romans 10 vs 4, ‘telos’ can mean ‘goal’ – ultimate purpose:

“Christ is the culmination(telos) of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”

Richard Hays, in his excellent book “Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul”, argues strongly for this:

And, in his paper entitled
“Did the Glory of Moses’ Face Fade? A Re-examination of katargeo in 2 Corinthians 3:7-18”,
William Baker makes a powerful argument for the view that the word normally translated ‘fade’ in many translations should really be rendered  ‘obscured’. His summary:

“The translation of katargeo as “fade” in 2 Cor 3:7-18 has little justification outside biblical literature or within it. Most scholars have abandoned this translation as inaccurate. Yet, it persists in modern Bible versions. Examination of the lexical evidence finds no support for this translation nor does reexamination of the Exod 34:19-24 context that the word is intended to describe. Moses’ face does not diminish in its glory; it is merely blocked or “rendered ineffective” by the mask. Finally, examination of 2 Cor 3:7-18 reveals that a translation of “hinder “or “block” best accounts for Paul’s understanding of the Exodus situation within his own purposes.”

https://www.ibr-bbr.org/files/bbr/BBR_2000_a_01_Baker_MosesGlory2Cor3.pdf

The ‘Same Veil’

Paul takes the picture further. He goes on to say that beyond Israel’s experience in the wilderness, even to current times, when Moses is read, there is the same failure on the part of the readers to be able to perceive and understand what it is saying. The ‘blindness’ persists. Now, however, the veil is not over the face of Moses, it is over the heart of the reader – of course, it must be so after Moses had died. But it is ‘the same veil’ – in other words, it operates in exactly the same manner. In Christ, it is removed – those Jews who believe in Him are then able to perceive that all of that former covenant pointed to Him. So, just as when Moses enters again into the very presence of the living God, he removes the veil, so it is that in Christ (what claim, there, to His divinity!) the veil is removed. Whereas the unbelieving Jew cannot see the glory of Christ in the writings of Moses, the believing Jew has full disclosure of all that this means. Another quote from William R Baker’s paper ” Did the Glory of Moses’ Face Fade? “:

” Even Jews, Paul says, who have been shut off from the full glory of the Lord since Moses donned the veil, will find the freedom to gain full access to God when they come to belief in Christ. This, Paul says in 3:12, is the message he preaches “freely,” or “boldly” (parrhsia), since he is not encumbered by a veil as was Moses. He preaches this message across the board which makes his ministry, though based on the same glory of God as Moses’, superior to his. What was denied Israel by Moses’ veil in Christ has been opened wide to all people. A personal relationship with God himself is now available to all. This is Paul’s gospel”

Surpassing Glory 

Paul draws magnificent conclusions from all this. First is an a fortiori argument – from a lesser to a greater:

If the ministry that brought death, and was transitory came with glory, then …
… how much greater glory must attend the ministry that brings righteousness, and is eternal.

He acclaims:

“For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory.”

Undeniable, is it not, that the revealing of the Son of God from heaven must be accompanied and attested by all the radiant glory of which creation is capable. So much so, that Paul says compared to this, what went before is as nothing. Like comparing a candle flame to the sun. ‘We beheld it’, the Apostles cry – ‘we ourselves were eyewitnesses’. We saw it with our own eyes, it was displayed before us with unremitting majesty. The Voice of the Father acclaimed Him. And, at the end, death could not contain that glory. It burst forth from His tomb to shine as an everlasting light. Paul likens this to Moses standing before the divine, holy throne. As he had once requested ‘Show me your glory’, and that revelation had changed his face for the remainder of his life to reflect what he had witnessed, so it was that the Apostles had viewed surpassing glory, and were thereafter emanators of that same glory before all who would approach with a heart of faith.

Transmitted Glory!

Now we can see precisely what Paul is saying. the ‘we’ to which he refers is the ‘we’ of the Apostles, who personally and directly saw this latter, surpassing glory in the face of Christ. 

“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4 vs 6)

It is this Apostolic witness which Paul regards as the new covenant equivalent of the radiance emanating from the face of Moses. And of this greater glory, he says,
“We are not like Moses”
For whereas Moses veiled his face when he came from surveying that lesser glory, before those to whom he spoke, the Apostles do not. Here it is – the nature of that new glory …

“… the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4 vs 4)

And what the Apostles do, in their Christ-appointed ministry is to plainly set forth their witness, unveiled – unlike Moses. There is neither dissemination nor distortion. If there is a failure to apprehend, it is caused by the blindness of heart due to unbelief:

“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4 vs 3,4)

The veil is no longer over the face of those to whom the glory was revealed. It is now over the hearts of those who do not perceive.

Transforming Glory

 “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3 vs 18)

 But for those who see, there is the vision of all of the wonder of what God shows them, through the Apostolic witness, and …
… this reception, this view of Him, has the effect of transformation. It changes the observer to make them not only a reflector of that glory, but a ‘likeness’ of its source. We become like Jesus, even as we gaze. This privilege, this wonder is not reserved for the Apostles only. ‘We ALL’ are affected thus – the Apostles themselves, and those who see the radiance of the gospel light through them.

The Apostolic Word

It remains for us to mark what this means for us, who do not share the Apostolic age. The Apostles are no longer with us – how is this process now active? There is only one conclusion, is there not? That which they did once in their very persons is now done through their written works – the inspired word of God. Here is what now comes direct to us ‘from the Lord, who is the Spirit’. In it, we gaze upon the surpassing radiance of this infinitely greater glory. Through it, and our absorption of it, our meditation upon it, we receive what those blessed men were appointed to transmit to us. In it, we see His face and gaze upon that incredible beauty. And by it, we are being transformed into His likeness. Not by any given law. But by the Lord ‘who is the Spirit’. And we are exhorted to ‘open wide our hearts’ to them, even as they have opened wide their hearts in all they have written, in God’s wonderful word, our Bible.

David White: David Blog “White-erings” is a collection of musings and reflections of a Christian nature, not all of them great; in fact, most of them probably not at all. But who knows – there may be an occasional spark of brilliance. if so, that is purely accidental!

Book Notice: 2 SAMUEL (REFORMED EXPOSITORY COMMENTARY), by Richard D. Phillips

A Brief Book Notice from Books at a Glance

Blessed through God’s anointing, King David binds together a broken nation and gives his people victory—until, distracted, he is overcome by sin.

The sword of God’s judgment then falls on David and his house, but even as David is humbled, he returns penitently to the Lord.

Richard Phillips’s expository commentary carries us with David up to the heights and down to the depths, noting the lessons for our faith today—forgiveness doesn’t cancel consequences; leadership doesn’t exclude accountability; even flawed characters can end well—and exalting Jesus Christ, David’s greater Son, as the true King our salvation requires.

About the Author

Endorsements

Joel R. Beeke, President, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids:

Second Samuel contains enough political intrigue and scandal to fill a tabloid. Yet behind the machinations of kings stands the King who is preparing a kingdom for his Son. Rick Phillips unveils that kingdom with clear teaching and pointed application. Here is a sermonic commentary designed not only to educate, but to edify. It admirably succeeds in both.

Harry L. Reeder III, Pastor-Teacher, Briarwood Presbyterian Church, Birmingham:

In his kind providence, our Lord has provided a significant resource, once again, through a commentary from Rick Phillips. As in his other works, this commentary reads devotionally, yet challenges the mind to think deeply in the Word of God about the God of the Word. Amazingly, I can commend this to any believer for devotional reading, to the preacher for sermon development, and to the serious Bible student who longs to embrace the depth and height of God’s grace revealed in his Word.

Derek W. H. Thomas, Senior Minister, First Presbyterian Church, Columbia; Chancellor s Professor, Reformed Theological Seminary; Ligonier Teaching Fellow:

These volumes by Rick Phillips are almost self-authenticating—such has been the consistent excellence of previous volumes. This book is remarkable, too. Aware of the sensitivities of redemptive-historical (Christ-centered) interpretations of narrative texts, Dr. Phillips finds no difficulty in exemplary application, and this is a very welcome inclusion. A marvelous addition.

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2 Samuel (Reformed Expository Commentary)

P&R Publishing, 2018 | 504 pages

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Book Notice: PSALMS, VOLUME 2 (THE NIV APPLICATION COMMENTARY), by W. Dennis Tucker, Jr. and Jamie A. Grant

A Brief Book Notice from Books At a Glance

Our generation is blessed to have more excellent resources on the Psalms than we can possibly read. Only the “Psalms specialist” could keep up with them all. As the title of this series implies, the “Application Commentaries” from Zondervan do not typically address all the academic and theological questions the scholar and theologian may like, but the handful of these commentaries that I have used, at least, are by no means trite and have shown themselves to be genuinely useful and valuable to the preacher.

This new commentary on Psalms 73-150 confirms my impression. It is not detailed, but it is very well-informed, helpfully conveying the sense of each Psalm and enriching the application – NIVAC’s trademark “Bridging Contexts” focus.
Gerald Wilson was the author of the first volume NIVAC commentary on Psalms (2002; Psalms 1-72) and was slotted to do the second volume but was prevented by death. Now at long last Tucker and Grant have supplied us with volume two – a most worthy complement to Wilson and to the NIVAC series.

Fred G. Zaspel

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Psalms, Volume 2 (The NIV Application Commentary)

Zondervan, 2018 | 1072 pages

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Book Notice: GALATIANS: NO LONGER SLAVES BUT SONS, by Mark Johnston

A Brief Book Notice from Books at a Glance

Galatians: a letter that had great importance for the magisterial Reformers (Luther on Galatians is always in print) and in recent years has been at the heart of the the debate on New Covenant theology and the New Perspective on Paul. Mark Johnston brings Paul’s letter back where it belongs with a pastor’s heart and unerring clarity he makes this vital Scripture accessible to the ordinary Christian.

About the Author

Mark Johnston trained for the ministry at Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia, before returning to Ireland as a Church Planter. From there he went on to pastor churches in London, Philadelphia and currently Cardiff. He also serves on the Board of the Banner of Truth Trust. Mark is married to Fiona and they have two grown up children. He has authored a number of books and has a monthly column in Place for Truth, an American Reformed website. Among other things he enjoys photography, fly fishing, Irish music and surfing in his spare time.

Endorsements

Ian Hamilton, Associate Minister, Smithton Church, Inverness Lecturer in Church History, Edinburgh Theological Seminary:

The strengths of this brief commentary are many: It is clearly written, biblically insightful, theologically coherent and pastorally challenging. The exposition of 3:21-25, perhaps the most difficult paragraph in the Letter, is especially a model of careful exegesis, theological awareness and pastoral sensitivity. The church today needs urgently to be reminded of ‘solus Christus’. This commentary can help to refocus Christians in general and pastors in particular on this great biblical and Reformation truth. Buy it. Read it. Be spiritually enriched by it.

Edward Donnelly, Former Minister, Trinity Reformed Presbyterian Church, Newtownabbey Lecturer in New Testament, Reformed Presbyterian Theological College, Belfast:

This fresh work on Galatians is a superb contribution towards spiritual growth in the Christian church, particularly valuable for two audiences. Here, for preachers of the Word, is an ideal new commentary on one of the richest of Paul’s letters. Linguistic and theological research have been thoroughly carried out, then presented informatively and attractively in exposition, to help immensely the average pastor. Present falsehoods, for example the’New Perspective’, are answered, and Mark Johnston reveals the reformed faith here with clarity and warmth. For the hungry church member, a series of 19 chapters, all of similar length, opens simply and applies life-changingly the truth here revealed. The gripping chapter- titles are inviting to begin with! Both a mid-week group and the daily student of the Word will undoubtedly be enriched by these pages.

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Galatians: No Longer Slaves But Sons

EP Books, 2018 | 218 pages

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Romans Commentary, Romans 16 and Conclusion

This commentary was prepared for Kairos Publications in Buenos Aires. It was composed specifically for the Latin American church. In some cases I have retained the words “Latin America,” at other times I have substituted “the Americas.” The bibliography reflects what is available to the Spanish-speaking church. We will publish it a section at a time, and eventually as an entire pdf file. The reader will notice that its purpose is to explain and apply this wonderful epistle to the church of today. Blessings! Gary Shogren

To download the full commentary as a pdf, click here Shogren_Commentary on Romans

OUTLINE:

IX. Conclusion (16:1-27)
A. Greetings (16:1-16)
B. A Call to Spiritual Discernment (16:17-20)
C. Greetings and Doxology (16:21-26)

IX. Conclusion (16:1-27)

A. Greetings (16:1-16)

16:1-2

Phoebe carried this epistle, a scroll tucked into her luggage, on a sea trip of 2-3 weeks from Corinth to Rome (see Introduction). Perhaps she had other business to conduct in the capital, or perhaps she went specifically to deliver Paul’s letter. “Give her any help she may need” is the technical term meaning to furnish her with whatever help she needed to return to her home in Cenchrea, one of the two ports of Corinth. Phoebe was a leader of that church. Paul applies to Phoebe the term that he uses for male co-workers (Col 1:7; 1 Tim 4:6). If she had been a man, it is likely that all the English versions would denominate her a “deacon” (as in Phil 1:1) instead of a “deaconess” (NJB) or even more vaguely “servant” or “minister”.

16:3-16

It is a testimony to the high mobility of the Roman empire that Paul knew so many believers, some intimately, in a city he had never visited. He mentions about 26 men and women by name, which is unusual for him and for other letter writers of his generation. First is that ever-present couple, Priscilla and Aquila, who had worked with Paul in Corinth and Ephesus and had risked their lives for him. In the case of other names, we do not have much information about where or how Paul met them. We do know that there were Jewish Christians in Rome since the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:10). Later, Jewish Christians would have been forbidden to live Rome in the years 49-54, and so Paul met Aquila and Priscilla and others of these people on his missionary journeys.

Paul mentions as many as five house churches in Rome: one met in the “house” (better “home,” NLT, since it could have been an apartment or rented room rather than the houses of today) of Aquila and Priscilla (v. 5); earlier they had hosted a church in Ephesus (1 Cor 16:9; also Col 4:15; Philemon 2). There is another church mentioned in v. 14 and a third in v. 15. Early Christian meetings took place in dwellings ranging in size from a small apartment (as in the third floor one in Acts 20:7-12) or a crowed space in a tenement building, as have been excavated in Rome, to a larger dwelling with rooms on the ground floor off of a central courtyard, or an even finer “peristyle” house, which featured a columned inner courtyard. Each meeting might hold from 25-50; in large homes up to 100 people.

Students have long puzzled over Andronicus and “Junia” (v. 7). First, Paul notes that they were Jewish converts (“relatives”) who were “in Christ before I was.” Paul came to Christ not more than three years after the resurrection; this means that this couple were among the very earliest believers and perhaps eyewitnesses of the resurrected savior. While some revisionist scholars argue that the gospel had radically mutated since those early days, here we have Paul and this couple dedicated to the same message some 25 years further along.

For a long while it was thought that “Junias” (with the addition of a final “s”) was a man, but the evidence strongly favors the case that this is not a known man’s name and therefore that she, Junia, was a woman (so Cranfield, pp. 2.788-789; Wilckens, p. 482; and most other recent commentaries, but not Hendriksen, p. 504, for the flimsiest of reasons); in that case they are likely to be a married couple, like Priscilla and Aquila. They would have been like “the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas”, who traveled with their believing wives (1 Cor 9:5). “Outstanding among the apostles” might possibly indicate that the Twelve thought them an outstanding couple, but almost certainly it means that they were apostles in the broad sense of their being church-plantings missionaries (like Barnabas in Acts 14:4, 14; Silvanus in 1 Thess 2:7, and so most commentaries), “outstanding in the quality of their pioneering work, but not members of the Twelve.

It is striking that two women, Priscilla and Junia, had suffered alongside the men: one risked her life, and the other was jailed with her husband and Paul. We know no details, but Satan had paid them a back-handed compliment – by threatening them physically, their persecutors showed that the women were not simply their husbands’ companions, but important forces in the Christian mission.

Paul greets all of these Christians, in the first place because it was normal courtesy to do so, and in the second place, because he could count on 26 individuals to testify that he preached the true gospel and could be entrusted to take that message westward to Spain with the backing of the Roman church.

Some of these have Semitic Jewish names, some Jewish people with Latin or Greek names (Aquila, Priscilla), others are clearly Jews (Herodion, Aquila, Priscilla Andronicus, Junia); some are Gentiles, some have names that were usually popular for slaves. The list of people Paul knows in Rome is conspicuous testimony that the gospel is for Greeks, Jews, barbarians, education, simple, slaves, free, men, women. And he asks this new blended family to greet each other with a “holy kiss”. In Roman society the kiss was reserved for close relatives and not given in public; yet here we have Christians greeting each other in their meetings as true brothers and sisters.

Practical Thought: All Scripture is written for our instruction, even this list of names. Among other practical applications for us today:

  1. Diversity in the church. Paul had said that “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). This was no mere ideal – the collective churches of Rome reflected precisely the varied categories of sex, class, race in the body of Christ (see Stott, p. 397). Many of the people whom Paul greets have distinguished themselves as fellow workers in the gospel, that is to say, a low proportion of believers simply attended the weekly meeting; a high proportion were active in the gospel work.
  2. Proper names. There are Latin names (Priscilla, Aquila; Junias; Urbanus; Julia, etc.; and of course “Paulus”) and Greek; many of the Jews have Greek or Latin names, and that accords with what archaeologists know about Jewish names in first century Rome. Very few – perhaps Maria – have Hebrew names. There are believers today who believe that they must adopt a Hebrew name and reject their Gentile or “Roman” one. It might come as a surprise that, for example, Silvanus, Phoebe, and Narcissus kept their old names, even though they were derived from pagan idolatry; they did not believe it was a compromise to do so.
  3. Working class and slaves. At least some leaders of the church (Aquila and Priscilla) came from the artisan class; and traditionally one of the presbyters of the Roman church in the 90s was “Clement,” which in the Latin often refers to a “freed” slave. He is thought to be the author of the early document, 1st Clement. Many of the names in this list were commonly applied to slaves.
  4. The fact that Paul refers to female believers as “sisters”. Jewish males referred to each other as “brothers” (see Acts 2:29, 37, 3:17, 7:2 etc.), but it seems to have been Christians who started began the practice of calling female members “sisters” (see 1 Cor 7:15; 9:5; Philemon 2).
  5. Women in leadership positions (especially Phoebe, Priscilla, Junia). When a church today becomes more and more a corporate institution and less a group of gifted believers, there is a tendency to remove women from positions of authority in favor of male Christians. Would your church be comfortable having Phoebe as a deacon or Junia as a church-planting missionary?

Leadership and professionalization. Today’s American church has become professionalized, and only a handful are allowed anywhere near the microphone. By contrast, the early believers did not meet as a megachurch, but as a network of house churches of fewer than 100 people. When Paul describes a meeting, he envisions a worship service where everyone had the chance to participate, not just by singing and giving money, but by teaching, leading a song, or giving a supernatural message (1 Cor 14:26). Think of your church: can you imagine yourself at some point standing up to say, “I will lead you in a song this morning”?

B. A Call to Spiritual Discernment (16:17-20)

False teachers are ever present; as in Galatians 6:11-18, Paul concludes his letter with one final warning. He does not state directly who these troublemakers are. Probably they are Jews or Judaizers, given what he has said in Romans 2-3; or perhaps it is no group in particular, but only the general sort of teacher that the Christian should recoil from (Cranfield, p. 2.797-798). These people “cause divisions and put obstacles in your way” and teach false doctrine. Not only that, but they are highly persuasive people, agents of that ancient deceiver Satan (see v. 20). Paul seems to be reworking the saying of Jesus, “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16).

Paul has already invested much space in 14:1-15:13 to prove that Christians must stay together in harmony and not be divided because of race or individual choices. That means that Paul is not dealing here with fellow Christians who happen to be exasperating (2 Thess 3:6-15; Phil 1:15-18; and see Rom 14). The people here are not true servants of Christ at all; they live by their lusts, and they belong outside of the fellowship of believers. No holy kiss for them! Don’t call them brother and sister! Stay clear of them!

Paul can in the same section tell the church to sever false teachers from their fellowship and at the same time talk about the “God of peace” (16:20). This is because God’s peace does not consist of smooth talk or shallow companionship but is the authentic peace that comes only through the true gospel, and brings peace with God (1:7, 5:1) and with other people (12:18).

In v. 20b Paul blesses them in the name of Jesus. He never peppers his letters with vain words in order to make them look religious. Every word of his letter has to do with its message to his disciples; thus, when he asks that the grace of Jesus be with them, it is a pray that he intervene and bless their lives.

C. Greetings and Doxology (16:21-27)

Paul passes along greetings from co-workers who were with him; this is technically called “secondary salutations.” The most interesting of them is the scribe Tertius who, like the apostle Paulus, had a Latin name. He greets them “in the Lord”: he is a fellow-Christian in Corinth. Paul usually dictated his letters, and this gives them a lively style; he would then pen the final greeting himself (1 Cor 16:21; Gal 6:11; Col 4:18; 2 Thess 3:17). He would have dictated in the one language that he, Tertius and the Roman Christians would have had in common – the koine dialect of Greek. That is why the epistle almost always uses a form of the Scriptures known as the Septuagint. This was a Jewish version of the Bible in koine Greek. In some places it differs from the Hebrew text, and when there is a difference, Paul clearly follows the Greek version rather than the Hebrew.

16:24 is another prayer for Christ to be gracious to all of them; it is found in the KJV and NKJV but missing from the NIV and other versions that are based on the better Greek manuscripts; this is remarked upon in a footnote (see the NIV).

At the very conclusion (vv. 25-26). Paul gives praise to God through Jesus Christ. As in v. 23, this is no mere “signing-off” so that Paul may finish dictating the letter and send it to Rome. Every blessing and prayer in every epistle is designed to fit precisely into its theme. In this case especially, Paul recounts briefly how the gospel is a new revelation, but also one which God had planned all along and predicted in the prophetic Old Testament (for example in Hab 2:4, Gen 15:6, Psalm 32:1-2, and the quotations found in Rom 15:8-12). What the inspired prophets could see only dimly, even the simplest Christian can now understand in detail. Meanwhile, the children of Israel who reject the gospel are at fault, since it was predicted in their very own Scriptures.

And of course, part of Paul’s message throughout the epistle is that the gospel must go out from Jerusalem (15:19) to “all nations”, in this epistle to Italy and Spain and to the “barbarians” north of the empire’s frontiers. And so, he concludes his letter with an echo of 1:16 and God’s powerful gospel for the salvation “first to the Jew, then to the Gentile”; in 16:25-26 the gospel is found in the prophetic books of Israel and sent forth to save the Gentile nations. This thought provides the “bookends” to the letter, what the ancients called an inclusio.

We have already visited the garden of Eden in Paul’s description of humanity’s fall (Rom 5), and now we hear how God will fulfill his promise, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen 3:15). How extraordinary then that Satan will be crushed “under your feet”, that is, of the believers in Rome. This is because they form part of the new human race, and if Christ has crushed Satan through the cross, so we too can see Satan defeated. In the Jewish theology of the day it was thought that Israel would one day crush demons underfoot, but only after the coming of the final kingdom; 16:20 goes even further and places Satan’s defeat “swiftly”. The only question is, how and when will that happen in Rome? The best explanation is that the church will crush Satan in the short term, fulfilling verses such as Psalm 91:13 – “You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.” When the Romans rejected the words of Satan, represented by false teachers, they dealt a blow to his plans. They did not have to chant or dance or shout or take out their credit cards to find victory. Nor did they need to buy a special anointing oil filled with exotic and costly ingredients; they only had to hold on to true teaching and reject the false.

To echo Paul in v. 27 – “to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.”

Practical Thought: We must love others, but not be tolerant of “other gospels,” which have a corrosive effect on God’s beloved. But simply put, many churches in the Americas lack this kind of discernment. People write to me and say, “Well, last week our pastor heard this new idea from somebody, somewhere, and he said it sounded okay to him, so we’re following it. Of course, last year there was some other teaching, and the year before that yet another.” And, one surmises, there will be a new poison for the next year, and the next. In many corners it seems as if there is no sense that false teaching exists even as a possibility. If someone comes to town and gives a prophecy, few put that word to the test, because the teacher implies that we would be questioning God’s authority or “touching the Lord’s anointed.” And just like Adam and Eve we are easily persuaded to believe that Jesus is not God’s Son, or that the Spirit is a force like electricity, or that some man is God’s spokesman on earth. If a preacher looks confident and speaks “by smooth talk and flattery” (16:19), it is the responsibility of all Christians, especially leaders, to filter out what is poison and to allow in only good nutrition.

Christian differs from Christian with regard to, let’s say, details about the Second Coming, the spiritual gifts, what sort of music is appropriate for worship, and other matters. But Paul is speaking about the ability to detect error in the very fundamentals: who is Christ, how is one saved, what is the Bible, who is Jesus Christ and so on. It is for that reason Paul wrote to the Romans.

Paul’s conclusion is a reminder that the gospel doesn’t belong to one group, one race, one denomination. All of God’s people are part of the ancient olive tree, they must resist pride, and they must ever live with the duty of taking the gospel to the world. A gospel that is kept locked up or kept as a pet or argued over is no gospel at all. It must ever travel from those who love it to those who haven’t yet heard.

“Romans Commentary, Romans 16 and Conclusion,” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

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Romans Commentary, Romans 15:14-33

This commentary was prepared for Kairos Publications in Buenos Aires. It was composed specifically for the Latin American church. In some cases I have retained the words “Latin America,” at other times I have substituted “the Americas.” The bibliography reflects what is available to the Spanish-speaking church. We will publish it a section at a time, and eventually as an entire pdf file. The reader will notice that its purpose is to explain and apply this wonderful epistle to the church of today. Blessings! Gary Shogren

To download the full commentary as a pdf, click here Shogren_Commentary on Romans

OUTLINE:

VIII. The Priestly Ministry of Paul and his Itinerary (15:14-33)
A. His ministry is centered on evangelizing areas which have no church (15:14-22)
B. He plans on visiting Jerusalem, then Rome, and then on to pioneer territory in Spain
(15:23-33)

VIII. The Priestly Ministry of Paul and his Itinerary (15:14-33)

A. His ministry is centered on evangelizing areas which have no church (15:14-22)

Paul concludes in vv. 14-15a by affirming that the Roman Christians are “full of goodness”. Even if he had to speak strongly about some issues he is not giving them anything new; the epistle was designed to refresh their memories, to “remind you of them again”. No-one could complain that he was introducing some new doctrine.

It is fitting, given the language of worship earlier in this chapter, that he refers in vv. 15b-16 to his holy service as an apostle of Christ. The word he uses (leitourgos) could have a secular sense of “servant” (see Rom 13:6); nevertheless, in this context he is using it in the religious sense of one who enters the temple sanctuary to worship God (as in Heb 8:2). This has nothing to do with the doctrine that the clergy are “priests” who offer the sacrifice of the mass on the Christian altar, the so-called “ministerial priesthood” that is “directed at the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians” (Catechism of the Catholic Church §1547). Rather Paul is a sacred worker in the sense that he ministers God’s grace to the nations. By receiving Christ the Gentiles are not only serving God, they themselves are transformed into an acceptable sacrifice (v. 16b). Reading this we return in our minds to 12:1-2, where even Gentile believers can offer sacrifices: not some animal on an altar in Jerusalem, but their very own bodies or persons to the service of God.

It is typical of the apostle to use the term “boast in” or “glory in” or (as the NIV) have pride in (see GNB, REB). It is a word group that when used negatively, sums up all that is wrong with the human race in its arrogance and fondness of creating gods according to its own tastes. It is invalidated by our sin and our utter need of Christ (Rom 2:17, 23; 3:27). On the other hand, it is proper to boast about God, that is, that we draw attention to him and give him glory (Rom 5:11). 1 Corinthians keeps both truths in tension: “so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor 1:29 ESV, which improves on the NIV); and then, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1:31 ESV; Paul quotes Jer 9:24).

In the mouth of today’s TV evangelists, what Paul says next might be a boast about their own power, anointing, gifts, money, etc. But when Paul talks about his mission, he glorifies God, who empowers him in what he says and does, and performs many miracles through him. The book of Acts mentions relatively few miracles of Paul; we must assume that he did many more than it records. Paul told the Galatians, for example, that the miracles they had seen were a sure proof that salvation comes through faith and not through the works of the Law of Moses (Gal 3:1-6). He probably is referring to miracles in other passages (see especially 1 Thess 1:5; 1 Cor 2:4; 4:20; also 1 Cor 12:10). Of course, someone will observe, and correctly, “Well, the greatest miracle of all is when someone comes to Christ.” But Paul’s language here is visible supernatural signs of God’s presence in healings, exorcisms and other signs. They proved that he was an apostle (2 Cor 12:12), and this verse implies that the false apostles could not do miracles: that is, God would not ratify their gospel by doing miracles through them.

Paul claims to have preached from Jerusalem in a counter-clockwise arc which led through Cyprus and Asia Minor, modern Greece and “all the way around to Illyricum” (v. 19; he does not mention here that he had earlier worked in Arabia, Gal 1:17-18). Illyricum lay at the western end of the Via Egnatia (see our comments on 15:22); it is part of modern Serbia. We have no record in the epistles or in Acts of Paul having traveled that far west. It is possible that the mission to Illyricum was commissioned by Paul but not personally carried out by him. At any rate, he had nowhere to go in those regions where there was not some gospel witness, “where Christ was not known.”

It was a fundamental part of his self-consciousness as an apostle that he was to evangelize Gentiles in faraway places and in areas where the gospel had not yet reached. In some cases, there were a handful of Christians already waiting when Paul arrived (for example, Aquila and Priscilla in Corinth, Acts 18:2; see also Acts 18:24-19:7). But Paul’s work was not to evangelize random individuals but to lay the foundation of a witnessing church (1 Cor 3:10). It was that task that he had already performed in the northeast quadrant of the empire. His visit to Rome probably was in order to give an apostolic foundation to the church that already dwelled there. Paul quotes (v. 21) what for us is a messianic passage, Isaiah 52:15, where the Servant of Yahweh is manifested by peoples who do not know him, to the extent that “kings will shut their mouths because of him” (see other Isaianic language in Acts 26:18, 23).

Practical Thought: A missionary comes to your church to speak, and he tells you to go to Acts 1:8 – “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

He goes on to say:

Jerusalem was their own city, and they were supposed to evangelize there first. Judea was their home region. Now, Samaria was like but not identical with Judea, but next in line since it was a nearby mission field. And of course, “the end of the earth” means any foreign country.

In conclusion, the preacher asks: What is your Jerusalem and Judea? What is your Samaria? What is the uttermost part of your earth? He may add that, You shouldn’t go to the ends of the earth until your Jerusalem is evangelized.

This is not the principal meaning of Acts 1:8 in its context, nor in the context of Paul’s words in Romans 15. We are helped by Luke 24. Since Luke and Acts are two volumes by the same author, the last chapter of Luke and the first of Acts overlap. In Luke 24:44-49 Jesus talks about the mission, in different terms and with more detail, including the statement that the gospel will go forth, specifically from Jerusalem, to all nations. The important new datum from Luke is that this program comes from “the Scriptures” – in other words, the Bible predicted not only the death and resurrection of Jesus; it also foretold that the Spirit would come (as in Joel 2:28-32); and that the gospel would go forth from the city of Jerusalem. Most commentators have pointed to Isaiah 2:3 – “For the LORD’s teaching will go out from Zion; his word will go out from Jerusalem” (NLT, which is preferable for its translation of “teaching” rather than “law”).

So, “beginning in Jerusalem” was a once-and-for-all first act in the gospel’s advance: from Zion to whatever nation may be named, God made the gospel go forth by centrifugal force. As Jesus had said in Mark 13:10, before the end of the age “the gospel must first be preached to all nations”; he and the disciples were on the Mount of Olives at the time, facing the Holy City.

Another observation: until the day of Pentecost, Jerusalem was never the “home town” of the apostles. With the likely exception of Judas Iscariot, the apostles all came from Galilee in the north. When Jesus was raised, they were staying in borrowed quarters. They continued in the city and there receive the Spirit and first preach the gospel. In Acts 2-9 the Twelve are living and working in Jerusalem, their new adoptive town.

Many of the converts on the Day of Pentecost were Diaspora Jews, who later returned from Jerusalem to other nations in their world, taking the gospel to them, from Zion. Due to the persecution, believers moved to Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1).

From Jerusalem, Phillip went to evangelize Samaria, followed by John and Peter (Acts 8). Peter evangelized the Mediterranean coastline and made the first Gentile converts (Acts 10-11). According to tradition, the apostles then went out to many nations.

B. He plans on visiting Jerusalem, then Rome, and then on to pioneer territory in Spain (15:23-33)

Letters from the first century sometimes included an itinerary, in which the writer would announce his travel plans. Paul traveled far and wide, planting churches and later revisiting them, and sending deputies such as Timothy or Titus with specific tasks to perform. This made it a natural step to include descriptions of his plans for the near future (see for example 1 Cor 16:1-12; 2 Cor 1:12-2:4; similarly, Phil 2:19-30; Philemon 22). From Rome he would move westward to Spain, skipping over Alpine Italy and Gaul (France) in his most ambitious journey to date – he would have gone from the eastern frontier of the empire (Jerusalem) to the western (Spain, and from there the Atlantic Ocean). The province Hispania had been a major trading region with the Greeks, the Carthaginians, and the Phoenicians for centuries before the Romans arrived. With regard to a Jewish presence in Spain, one might think of Spain as having a huge population, up until their expulsion in 1492; nevertheless, it is not certain that there was any Jewish settlement as early as AD 58; it would have been relatively easy for Paul to make inquiries about colonies of Jews already living there.

Paul wants to enjoy the company of the Romans for a time (vv. 24, 28-29), but he hints at a deeper commitment: he wants the church to “have you assist me on my journey”; this is a helpful expansion of the verb “aid” or “send on one’s way” (propempō is also used in 1 Cor 16:6; 16:11; Tit 3:13 and elsewhere). It is stronger in meaning than simply “see off”; it implies that the host has the duty to supply whatever the traveler needs to get to his next stop. This short statement by Paul is a sudden revelation, since it answers some of the questions of why he wrote Romans:

  • I want you to support my missionary work in Spain.
  • Thus, you will have to be firmly convinced that this is a necessary work.
  • Thus, I will go over the entire gospel message to show why the gospel must go forth to this faraway land (Spain was as far from Rome, as Rome was from Corinth).
  • In particular, you need to know that Spanish Jews and Gentiles both need the gospel.
  • And even more, you Christians in Rome, Jew and Gentile, must be united together in the gospel if you are going to do something as costly as underwriting a mission to Spain.
  • And though Paul does not mention it, perhaps he hopes to encounter another young assistant in the church of Rome, a new Timothy.

But for now, Paul was about to make a trip eastward to Jerusalem, to carry out a charitable work for the poor saints there. Poverty and famine seem to have been chronic during these decades (see Acts 11:27-30). He borders on sounding casual: “Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the Lord’s people in Jerusalem.” In fact, Paul had been planning this project for years (see Gal 2:10). The church in each city would appoint “trustees” to carry the gift (1 Cor 16:3-4; 2 Cor 8:18-21; Acts 20:4).

In v. 27 Paul shows that the Gentile Christians owed the saints in Judea for sharing the gospel with the nations. This is an extension of the duty all Christians have toward one another: “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need” (12:13). The irony is that now the Gentiles can send material blessings, sacred offerings, to Israel (see too 1 Cor 9:11; Gal 6:6). Behind this offering lies the prophetic promise that booty will flow from the nations to Zion. But now the apostle can see with greater precision what that meant: the nations are not paying tribute to their conquerors, but willingly blessing their Jewish brothers in Christ. But Paul already foresees that “the unbelievers in Judea” (v. 31) might cause him harm, even though he is doing much good for Jewish Christians there. As it turns out his fears will be confirmed, and he would face the threat of death.

While Paul is usually pictured as praying for his disciples, he is not shy about asking them to pray for him in turn: in fact, he seems to have held it as a principle that those he leads to Christ should “send” him in prayer to his next stop and to ask God that he have a safe and fruitful time (vv. 30-33; also, the very similar 2 Thess 3:1-4).

What happened to Paul’s plans?

First, Paul planned to sail from Corinth to Syria (Acts 20:3) and from there to Jerusalem. But this is not what happened: there was a plot against him in Corinth, and so he traveled northward through Macedonia, retracing his steps, celebrating Passover in Philippi, then sailing past Ephesus to Miletus (Acts 20:13-16). Since Paul had missed the chance to get to Jerusalem for Passover, he wanted at least to arrive there for Pentecost – the Feast of First Fruits would in fact provide a neat symbol for his gift to the Christians there. He delivered the gift to the church, as he notes later in Acts 24:17 – “I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings.”

Second, he had hoped to go directly from Jerusalem to Rome. This did not take place, at least, not in any way that he had imagined. After two years in prison he appealed to Caesar and was taken as prisoner to put forward his case in the capital. After he arrived he spent two further years under house arrest (Acts 28:30). He interacted with the Jewish leadership in Rome, which claimed to know nothing of Christianity except for second-hand information (Acts 28:21-22).

Third, he had wanted to go to Spain. There is no firm evidence that he ever arrived there, and I am inclined to believe that he did not. Clement of Rome spoke of Paul “having taught righteousness to the whole world and having reached the farthest limits of the West. Finally, when he had given his testimony before the rulers, he thus departed from the world and went to the holy place” (1 Clem 5.7 [Holmes]). This may mean that Clement thought that he had gone to Spain, but a better interpretation is that the “west” is Rome, the place where he testified before the emperor and was executed.

Practical Thought: What may be learned from all this? To begin with, Paul made plans. He prayed, he strategized, and then he moved ahead. But just as striking is the fact that he could and did change plans. He wanted to go from Corinth to Jerusalem but changed his plans. He wanted to go from Jerusalem to Rome but could not. He wanted to go from Rome to Spain and perhaps he was not able. This shows us that not even the great apostle knew his own future, as if God had revealed his destiny ahead of time. Even Paul had to deal with the unknown; frightening changes of circumstance; people reacting badly when they had little cause to. Like Paul we must be people of faith, that is, we rely on God’s care for us and pray for his strength and direction, leaving to him the hidden possibilities.

Study Questions:

  1. We might fall into the trap of honoring the gospel mission with our words but forgetting to support our people who have gone to evangelize the world. According to Romans, what kinds of help can be given to missionaries are sent out from a church?
  2. What do you think of this statement: “We have so many needs right here (in your own town) that we cannot be investing in Christian work in other places”?

“Romans Commentary, 15:14-33,” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

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“Return to Me”

Commentary through Zechariah

Zechariah 1:1-6
Dr Steve Orr

I don’t know how well you know the Old Testament book of Zechariah or what comes to your mind if you hear it mentioned but I’ve had it in mind for some time to attempt a series on Zechariah and now that series is beginning. When I started preparing, I turned to James Montgomery Boice’s little commentary on Zechariah and was dismayed to read his opening sentence: “Zechariah is one of the most difficult books in the Old Testament”. However, as I read a bit more widely I came across plenty of encouraging comments such as: “Zechariah is the most Messianic of all the writings of the Old Testament”. Or: “The key to unlocking the truth contained in Zechariah is the Messiah, Jesus”. Someone else said: “At least 33 portions of Zechariah are quoted in about 50 different places in the New Testament. Many of these are in connection with the Lord Jesus Christ”. So, the consensus is that the book of Zechariah is full of Christ! Therefore, it is also full of encouragement. In fact, one writer said: “Zechariah is the Barnabas of the Old Testament – a true son of encouragement”.

So, Boice might be right in saying that Zechariah is a difficult book but I reckon it should be well worth the effort of trying to understand it and we should expect to find plenty of encouragement in doing so. With no more ado, let’s turn to Zechariah 1v1 where we read; “In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, son of Iddo”. There we find some answers to the obvious introductory questions: “When?”, “Who?” and What?”.

When?

We see that it was “In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius”. Now, Darius reigned as emperor of Persia from 522 BC until 486 BC so the book begins in the 8th month of the year 520 BC. That’s very precise but you’re probably not much the wiser for knowing it. To flesh out the historical context, you’ll remember that way back in Israel’s history the kingdom was split in two. That happened in 930 BC when 10 tribes formed the northern kingdom of Israel and 2 tribes formed the southern kingdom of Judah. In 723 BC the northern kingdom was taken into captivity by Assyria and never returned. Judah continued but was eventually taken into captivity in Babylon in 586 BC. That captivity began to come to an end when Babylon was captured by the Persians in 539 BC. The Persian king was Cyrus and, in 538 BC, he decreed that the captives could return to Jerusalem to re-build the temple. One group of them returned immediately under the leadership of Zerubbabel.

King Cyrus was succeeded by Darius in 522 BC so the book of Zechariah begins about 16 years after the first exiles had set off to return to Jerusalem. However, plenty of them still remained in Babylon under Persian rule.

Who?

That seems obvious. We’re told that the Word of the Lord came to Zechariah. However, there are 27 different Zechariahs mentioned in the scriptures! So, it’s a good job that we’re told that he was “Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, son of Iddo”. In Nehemiah 12v16 we read the peculiar words: “of Iddo, Zechariah; of Ginnethon, Meshullam”. What’s that talking about? It becomes clear if you look at Nehemiah 12v.12 where we read: “And in the days of Joiakim were priests, heads of fathers’ houses: of Seraiah, Meraiah; of Jeremiah, Hananiah”. So, those words “of Iddo, Zechariah; of Ginnethon, Meshullam” appear in a list of the heads of the priestly families. That tells us that Iddo’s family was a priestly family and, at that time, his grandson, Zechariah, was the head of the family. So, Zechariah wasn’t only a prophet – he was also a priest.

Why did Nehemiah give this list of the heads of the priestly families? Well, if we look at Nehemiah 12v.1-4 we read: “These are the priests and the Levites who came up with Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua: Seraiah, Jeremiah, Ezra, Amariah, Malluch, Hattush, Shecaniah, Rehum, Meremoth, Iddo, Ginnethoi, Abijah”. That tells us that Iddo was one of the priests who had returned with Zerubbabel and it seems that Zechariah, probably as quite a young man, had done so too. He’d have seen the work of re-building the temple begin. He’d have seen the opposition to that re-building arise. He’d have seen the re-building eventually grind to a halt. In Ezra 4v.24 we read: “Then the work on the house of God that is in Jerusalem stopped, and it ceased until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia”. So, the work remained at a standstill until the 2nd year of the reign of Darius. That was in 520 which, as we’ve already seen, was when the Word of the Lord first came to Zechariah.

In Ezra 5v.1-2 we read: “Now the prophets, Haggai and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel who was over them. Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak arose and began to rebuild the house of God that is in Jerusalem, and the prophets of God were with them, supporting them”. So, Zechariah and Haggai were contemporaries. They both prophesied at the same time and place and spoke to the same situation. But, it’s worth noting that their prophecies were very different in style and character. Haggai was down to earth and practical. Zechariah was much more of a visionary. So, they complemented one another. There’s an important lesson there. That is that the Lord uses all sorts of people. He uses people with different personalities, different temperaments, different ways of looking at things. Imagine how dull it would be if we were all Haggais – all “facts and figures” people? You can imagine him with his clipboard in hand and consulting his spreadsheets. But then, imagine how frustrating it would be if we were all Zechariahs – all dreamers and visionaries? You can imagine Zechariah dozing on his beanbag humming the Beach boys “Wouldn’t it be nice” to himself! Wouldn’t it be nice if the temple was built! But, having Haggais and Zechariahs working together as directed by the Lord is powerful and effective.

What?

We’ve been told that “the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah”. God had something to say and He spoke it to Zechariah. Zechariah, in turn, told the people. He emphasised that it was God’s Word that was being spoken. Verse 3 says: “Thus declares the Lord of hosts: Return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts”. He said “declares the Lord” and “says the Lord”. This wasn’t just emphasised here at the outset. You’ll find it throughout the whole book. Time and time again God spoke and Zechariah was very conscious of the fact that it was the Lord who was speaking. Sometimes, He spoke in strange visions that are difficult to understand. Sometimes, He spoke in prophetic language that can also be difficult to understand. But the first thing He spoke through Zechariah was abundantly clear as we see in chapter 1v2-6. In this first Word of the Lord to Zechariah we see that it included:

A word of Announcement
A word of Appeal
A word of Assurance
A word of Advice

A word of Announcement

In verse 2 we read: “The Lord was very angry with your fathers”. We often read in the Old Testament that God is slow to anger and abounding in love. Jonah, for instance, knew that to be true. Thank God that it is true! But we mustn’t think that that means that God is never angry. This prophecy of encouragement begins with the announcement that God had been “very angry” with the forefathers of Zechariah and his contemporaries. What had they done that had made the Lord who is “slow to anger” to be so “very angry” with them? We find the answer if we look, for example, at II Chronicles 36v14-16: “All the officers of the priests and the people likewise were exceedingly unfaithful, following all the abominations of the nations. And they polluted the house of the Lord that he had made holy in Jerusalem. The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord rose against his people, until there was no remedy”. The Lord had “persistently” sent His messengers to them. He was slow to anger. He had “compassion” on His people. He was abounding in love. But, they had mocked God’s messengers, despised God’s words and scoffed at His prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against them.

We speak of some people as having “short fuses” don’t we? The tiniest thing that displeases them makes them react angrily. God isn’t like that. But, if He is continually mocked and despised and ignored, His anger grows until His wrath is poured out. Well, His wrath had been poured out on their forefathers in the mass slaughter at the hands of the Babylonians and the survivors being taken into captivity. Now, God was speaking to a new generation that was making a new beginning. They were pioneers and would have been full of enthusiasm and optimism. What did He announce to them through Zechariah? He told them that, right from the outset, they needed to keep in mind what had happened to their forefathers.

New starts, new beginnings can be very dangerous times because people are swept along on a tide of optimism and euphoria. Things seem so good. The world’s your oyster! But, however exciting and exhilarating the circumstances, those caught up in it still have sinful natures so things can go very badly wrong very quickly. Imagine the excitement of the Children of Israel as they left Egypt. They’d seen God’s power as He made Pharaoh relent and let them go. They’d seen Him part the waters of the Red Sea for them to pass through and then drown the pursuing Egyptians. What a thrilling adventure! Yet, how quickly they were grumbling and wanting to go back! Remember the early settlers in America. They were so optimistic and idealistic in setting about building their “New World”. But, how quickly it was beset with all the failings of the “Old World”. The very evils they thought they’d left behind they found they’d carried there with them in their very own hearts! Well, these Jewish settlers had returned full of enthusiasm. Then they’d met opposition and run out of steam and ground to a halt but now things were looking up again. And, at that point Zechariah comes along and begins by bringing them back to earth with a bump by saying: “The Lord was very angry with your fathers”. It’s as though he’s saying: “Remember – you’re no different from your forefathers and the Lord is no different than He was then either. History will repeat itself if you ignore and reject the Lord as your forefathers did”.

Exactly the same is true today. Those who persistently ignore and reject the Lord Jesus Christ will eventually know the anger of God in Hell.

At the beginning of verse 3 the Lord says to Zechariah: “Therefore say to them”. Since the Lord had been so angry with their forefathers, this was what they needed to be told. The first part of what Zechariah was to say was:

A word of Appeal

What was the appeal? We see it as we continue in verse 3: “Return to me, says the Lord of hosts”. The word translated as “return” really means “turn back”. The Lord was saying: “Turn back to Me. He was saying “you’ve come back to the land, you’ve come back to Jerusalem but that isn’t enough. You must come back to Me”. The appeal isn’t to just return to settle the land or to rebuild the temple or to conduct religious ceremonies. The appeal is for a personal return to the Lord Himself.

It’s very informative to note the point in the proceedings at which this appeal came through Zechariah. Remember that it came in the 8th month of the 2nd year of Darius. We read in Haggai 1v1: “In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest”. So, Haggai had already been prophesying for at least 2 months before this appeal came through Zechariah. Haggai had given a word of rebuke that was intended to shake them out of their ease and preoccupation with their own comfort and they were greatly stirred by that message as we see from Haggai 1v.14b-15 where we read: “And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. And they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king”. So, Haggai’s message had had an immediate effect. They’d returned to the work of rebuilding the temple. Things were moving again. They were busy again. Now, they were on their way! Then look at Haggai 2v1: “In the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet”. That was one month later and he went on to prophecy concerning the future glory of the temple that they were building. That would have been a great encouragement for them to keep on building. However, that was still before Zechariah started prophesying. It was after that encouraging prophecy from Haggai that Zechariah chimed in with his reminder of the Lord’s anger with their forefathers and his appeal that they should return to the Lord.

You see the point? They’d heard the word of the Lord through Haggai. They’d heeded it. They were building the temple again and that was good. They’d been enthused by the word of the Lord. BUT, none of that activity and enthusiasm meant that their hearts were right with God. They still needed to return to the Lord. Activity isn’t enough. Being stirred by rousing words isn’t enough. We must come to the Lord Himself. That’s the appeal or invitation that the Lord gives: “Return to Me. Come back to Me”. In fact, it’s much stronger than a mere invitation. The translation of verse 3 quite rightly reflects the fact that two different Hebrew words are being used. You’ll notice the words “declares” and “says”. The word translated as “declares” has the urgency of being a challenge or a charge or a command. It’s not like an invitation to a birthday party which really is saying: “Please come if you can. I hope you’ll be able to make it”. The word “declares” is saying “This is what you must do. This is important”.

It’s exactly what Jesus Himself said in Matthew 11v28 where we read: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”. In saying that He wasn’t competing with the Father’s appeal to “Return to Me”. It’s not an alternative. We read in John 14v6 that Jesus also said: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”. Coming to Jesus is the way to obey the Father’s command to “Return to Me”. So, the word of appeal was an urgent command from the Lord to return to Him.

The second part of what Zechariah was to say was:

A word of Assurance

Having said “Return to Me”, he goes on to say: “and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts”. Now, the word translated as “says” means just that. This is a simple statement of fact. If you return to the Lord, you have His word that He will return to you. We find much the same thing in James 4v8a where we read: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you”. Then James continues through to verse 10 by saying: “Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you”. You see, God won’t come near to you if you attempt to come to Him lightly – in a presumptuous or self-righteous way. You must come in repentance and recognising your need of Him. If you come with that humility, He will lift you up. Why? Because He’s slow to anger and abounding in love. Return to the Lord in repentance and He will return to you with spiritual blessing.

That’s what Jesus illustrated so clearly and powerfully in what we tend to refer to as the parable of the prodigal son. It’s really the parable of the loving father. The son had left his father and struck out on his own. He was determined that he would do exactly what he wanted to do. And, where did that lead him? He ended up all alone and reduced to eating pig food. That eloquently pictures what it is like living away from God. Then, he came to his senses and remembered that even his father’s servants were in a far better condition than he was. So, he decided to return; not saying “I’m your son and I demand that you take me back” but saying, “I’ve sinned against you. I was wrong. I’m no longer worthy to be your son but perhaps you’ll be willing to give me a job as a servant”. He returned with repentance, humility and no presumption. That’s a picture of someone returning to the Lord in the right way. What happened next in Jesus’ story? While the son was still a long way off, his father saw him, was filled with compassion, ran to him, threw his arms around him and kissed him. “Return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you”. The son said he’d sinned and wasn’t worthy to be his son. He really meant it and it was true wasn’t it? And what did the father do? He gave him the best robe. He put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. The one who wasn’t worthy to be a son was received as a son and treated as a son. Why was that? It was because he’d returned in humility and his father was gracious and compassionate.

We’re not worthy to be God’s sons. We’ve been far away from Him. We’ve sinned against Him. But He says: “Return to Me and I will return to you”. He gives that word of assurance.

The last part of what Zechariah was to say was:

A word of Advice

Moving to Zechariah 1v4 we read: “Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets cried out, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, Return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds.’ But they did not hear or pay attention to me, declares the Lord”. Here we see the message that the Lord had given the forefathers through the earlier prophets. It had been: “Return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds”. The message Zechariah was now bringing was “Return to Me”. It is essentially the same message again! The Lord’s message is always the same because the problem is always the same, the need is always the same and the Lord’s solution is always the same. Jesus said “Come to Me”. The apostles said “Repent and believe” The message is always the same, the appeal and promise are always the same but the response isn’t. The word of advice given through Zechariah was to heed the lesson of history and not make the fatal mistake that their forefathers had made.

Their forefathers had heard the same message. How had they responded? We read “But they did not hear or pay attention to me, declares the Lord”. And, what was the result of that? They were taken into captivity and died in captivity. That was exactly what the Lord had warned them would happen if they continued to turn away from Him. We read in Zechariah 1v5-6a: “Your fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live forever? But my words and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not overtake your fathers?” And, when it eventually did happen, they had to admit that God was just in doing so. Continuing in verse 6b we read: “So they repented and said, ‘As the Lord of hosts purposed to deal with us for our ways and deeds, so has he dealt with us”. They deserved it. They’d been given every opportunity to return to the Lord. He was slow to anger and abounding in love but they had spurned Him and His anger had eventually come upon them. It will be exactly the same for every sinner in hell. None will be able to say: “It isn’t fair. I don’t deserve it”.

So, what is the word of advice? It’s there in verse 4a: “Do not be like your fathers”. Of course, in many respects, they were inevitably like their forefathers – same race, same nationality, same religion, same sinful nature. There was nothing they could do about any of that. But, there was one way in which they could “not be like their forefathers”. What had their forefathers been like? They would not listen or pay attention when the Lord told them to turn from their evil ways. We see it in verse 4b: “But they did not hear or pay attention to me, declares the Lord”. Zechariah’s advice was: “don’t be like that! Don’t repeat their mistake but heed the Lord when He says “Return to Me”. If you do, He promises “and I will return to you” If you don’t, His words and decrees will overtake you as surely as they overtook their forefathers.

I said at the beginning that the book of Zechariah is a message of encouragement. You might think that being urged to repent and humble yourself doesn’t sound very encouraging but this opening message is vitally important. The fact is that there can be no real encouragement unless you first come to the Lord in repentance and humble faith.