Paul in this section has in the background of his mind, the fact that the Judaism of the first century had been perverted from a supernaturally revealed and empowered system in which salvation was given in answer to faith in a blood Sacrifice, to a mere ethical cult where obedience to the Old Testament Decalogue would bring salvation. He is combatting this. Israel sought a righteous standing by law obedience. Paul says it can be only appropriated by faith. He presents this in verses 6–8.
Denney says concerning the words, “The righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise,” “It is remarkable that Paul does not make Moses his authority here, though he is about to express himself in words which certainly go back to Deuteronomy 30:12–14. It is the righteousness of faith itself which speaks, describing its own character and accessibility in words with a fine flavor of inspiration about them. But it is not so much a quotation we find here, as a free reproduction and still freer application of a very familiar passage of the O.T.” As to the words, “Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:), or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead),” Alford is helpful: “Personifying the great Christian doctrine of free justification through faith, he (Paul) represents it as addressing every man who is anxious to obtain salvation, in the encouraging words of Moses: ‘Say not in thine heart, (it says to such an one) etc.’ In other words, ‘Let not the man who sighs for deliverance from his own sinfulness suppose that the accomplishment of some impossible task is required of him in order to enjoy the blessings of the gospel. Let him not think that the personal presence of the Messiah is necessary to ensure his salvation. Christ needs not to be brought down from heaven, or up from the abyss, to impart to him forgiveness and holiness. No. Our Christian message contains no impossibilities. We do not mock the sinner by offering him happiness on conditions which we know that he is powerless to fulfill. We tell him that Christ’s word is near to him: so near, that he may speak of it with his mouth, and meditate on it with his heart.… Is there any thing above human power in such a confession, and in such a belief? Surely not. It is graciously adapted to the necessity of the very weakest and most sinful of God’s creatures."
Wuest, Kenneth S. Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament: For the English Reader. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997. Print.
The Mount of Olives
Luke 19:29, 37
OLIVES, MOUNT OF Prominent ridge running north-south in the Judean mountains, lying due east of Jerusalem and the Kidron Valley. Three summits with two intervening valleys distinguish the mountain. The northern summit is Mt Scopus its south is a small saddle through which the ancient Roman road to Jericho passed. The central hill is the traditional Mt of Olives (2,684 feet, or 818.1 meters) standing across from the temple platform (the Haram esh-Sherif). Here Constantine built the great Church of the Ascension dedicated to his mother, Helena. Another saddle to the south contains the modern road to Bethany. The southern hill, overlooking Jebusite Jerusalem and the city of David, is called the “Mt of Offense” since here Solomon built temples for his foreign wives. Beneath it is the Arab village of Silwan and the confluence of the Kidron and Hinnom valleys.
The Mt of Olives gained its name from its extensive olive groves, which were renowned in antiquity (Zec 14:4; Mk 11:1). Its western face collects rainfall from the Mediterranean, which, together with decomposed limestone, makes for fertile orchards. The eastern side marks the boundary of the arid Judean wilderness. Bethany and Bethphage are two NT villages hugging these eastern slopes.
In the OT the Mt of Olives is first mentioned when David fled from Absalom’s conspiracy. He departed from Jerusalem, went up the Mt of Olives in the east, and continued on toward the Rift Valley (2 Sm 15:30). Solomon chose this mountain for the construction of “high places” for the foreign deities of Sidon, Moab (1 Kgs 11:7), and Ammon—each of which was later destroyed by Josiah (2 Kgs 23:13). Ezekiel (Ez 11:23) records the vision of the glory of God departing from the temple and resting on the Mt of Olives. The most famous description appears in Zechariah’s apocalyptic vision (Zec 14:1–5): “On that day [the LORD’s] feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east. And the Mount of Olives will split apart, making a wide valley running from east to west, for half the mountain will move toward the north and half toward the south” (v 4, NLT).
In the NT Jesus appears at the Mt of Olives during Passion week. The only exceptions are the Bethany stories when Jesus visits Mary and Martha (Lk 10:38–42) and raises Lazarus from the dead (Jn 11:17–44). On his triumphant entry to Jerusalem, Jesus came from Jericho, crossed the mountain from the east, and then descended into the Kidron Valley (Mk 11:1–10). On his descent he paused and wept over the city (Lk 19:41–44).
During his final week, Jesus taught on the Mt of Olives (Mk 13) and spent his evenings there (Lk 21:37, although this may refer to Bethany). Following the Last Supper, Jesus came to this mountain for prayer (Mk 14:26). In a garden near an olive oil press (“Gethsemane”), he was arrested (v 32). The final event of Christ on earth, his ascension, was viewed from the mount by his followers (Acts 1:12).
A REVERED SITE: THE MOUNT OF OLIVES
The Mt of Olives quickly became a center of Christian devotion. In the Byzantine era the mountain had 24 churches with vast numbers of monks and nuns. Constantine’s church dominated the summit, celebrating Christ’s ascension. In the fourth century it had even become the customary burial site for Jerusalem’s bishops.
Jews and Muslims likewise revere the site because it will be the place of judgment. According to the Talmud, the righteous will be resurrected between Jerusalem and the Mt of Olives. This explains the vast Muslim and Jewish cemeteries, especially on the western slope of the Mt of Olives. Christian, Jew, and Muslim alike view the Mt of Olives as the focal point for the final Day of the Lord.
Elwell, Walter A., and Philip Wesley Comfort. Tyndale Bible dictionary 2001 : 975–976. Print. Tyndale Reference Library.
Not Under Law, but Under Grace
1. The rhetorical question that begins this section (shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?) is quite similar to the one in 6:1. In verse 1 the potential error was sinning more to experience more grace, while here it is sinning freely because grace has replaced law. Paul anticipates a possible misunderstanding of his statement in verse 14 that we “are not under law, but under grace.” Some might interpret the absence of law to mean they are free to do whatever they want, and the presence of grace to mean God will understand and forgive whatever they do. People today often have this same low opinion of the seriousness of sin, thinking that forgiveness is easy to obtain. Paul responds as he did in 6:1, By no means! This assumption is terribly wrong.
Once more Paul appeals to a commonly known truth (cf. vv. 3, 6, 9), this time to a frequent occurrence in the ancient world, selling oneself into slavery to avoid debt. It has been estimated that 85–90 percent of the population of Rome and the Italian peninsula either was or had been slaves (Rupprecht 1993:881). So the metaphor here yielded a powerful image. Paul’s point is that if you offer yourselves (the present tense means to do so on a continual basis) to a thing, you become slaves to the one whom you obey. This returns to the earlier discussion of sin as an enslaving power (6:6–7) and adds the point that the mark of slavery is constant obedience. Therefore, to surrender yourself (offer is the same verb as in 12:1, to “offer your bodies as living sacrifices” to God) to the power of sin is to become its slave. The obedience is voluntary and continual and means in effect that you become the willing slave of a sinful lifestyle. Aageson (1996:78–80) points out that the semantic domain of slave here especially centers on the image of sin as the controlling force in one’s life. So Paul challenges his readers to choose their slavery—to sin or to obedience (to God). Which controlling agent do they prefer? His use of obedience rather than God is probably to underscore the ethical responsibility of the believer to obey God rather than sin. There is no choice—everyone is going to be a slave to something, and there are only two possibilities, sin or God. Neutrality is impossible. In fact, to choose neutrality is to choose sin because it constitutes a refusal to serve God. As Moo says (1996:399), “One is never ‘free’ from a master, and those non-Christians who think that they are ‘free’ are under an illusion created and sustained by Satan. The choice with which people are faced is not, ‘Should I retain my freedom or give it up and submit to God?’ but ‘Should I serve sin or should I serve God?’ ”
Moreover, the choice has consequences. To choose sin is to find death, and to choose obedience is find righteousness. Death here is physical death, the current state of being spiritually dead and (mainly) the future experience of eternal death, the “second death” of Revelation 2:11 and 20:6. Righteousness here could be final righteousness, eternal life (so Cranfield 1975; Schreiner 1998) or present life in Christ via justification (Stott 1994) or the right living that is the hallmark of the Christian (Fitzmyer 1993b; Moo 1996). As in the case of death, it is certainly possible that righteousness is comprehensive and embraces all three ideas (Murray 1968)
Osborne, Grant R. Romans. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004. Print. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series.
Let every man take heed how he buildeth
1 Cor. 3:10
Our business is not to build quickly, but to build upon a right foundation, and in a right spirit. Life is more than a mere competition as between man and man; it is not who can be done first, but who can work best; it is not who can rise highest in the shortest time, but who is working most patiently and lovingly in accordance with the designs of God.
Hardman, Samuel G., and Dwight Lyman Moody. Thoughts for the Quiet Hour. Willow Grove, PA: Woodlawn Electronic Publishing, 1997. Print.
July 7: Recasting Faith
1 Samuel 14:1–52; James 3:1–12; Psalm 119:97–120
Faith is often cast as a type of intellectual pursuit: It’s something our minds rise up to, conform to, or simply agree with. But in the Bible, faith is often portrayed as rather mystical: Jonathan somehow knew that God would act on his behalf if his enemies behaved in a certain way (1 Sam 14:1–15). We don’t know how Jonathan had this foreknowledge—prayer seems to be the only explanation for it—but we recognize that Jonathan had tremendous faith. Who else would take on a garrison of 20 men, armed with only one armor bearer and a hunch? Clearly God was at work.
We see God’s work progress as the Philistines inadvertently turned on one another, and previous enemies of Israel joined in the charge against the Philistines (1 Sam 14:16–23). Jonathan’s simple act of faith served as the catalyst for victory. If he had analyzed his inclination and pursued faith without mystery, the Israelites likely would have failed in their campaign against the Philistines.
Yet the real testimony of faith in this account belongs to the armor bearer. After hearing Jonathan’s plan, the armor bearer said, “Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish. Behold, I am with you heart and soul” (1 Sam 14:7). While the armor bearer was obligated to follow the king’s son on pain of death, when faced with what appeared to be inevitable death, he could have played his odds by saying no. This scene tells us more about Jonathan: He was known for his faith in God—so much so that his armor bearer took him at his word.
I often wonder what makes a man heroic and others forever loyal to him. In Jonathan, we find the answer: a history of God working through your life and a dedication to follow the mystery of God’s work among us, no matter what stands against us.
Is your faith primarily intellectual, or is it grounded in the mystery of God? How can you bring more of God’s mystical work into your life?
JOHN D. BARRY
Barry, John D., and Rebecca Kruyswijk. Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012. Print.
All noble things are difficult
Enter ye in at the strait gate … because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way … Matthew 7:13–14 .
If we are going to live as disciples of Jesus, we have to remember that all noble things are difficult. The Christian life is gloriously difficult, but the difficulty of it does not make us faint and cave in, it rouses us up to overcome. Do we so appreciate the marvellous salvation of Jesus Christ that we are our utmost for His highest?
God saves men by His sovereign grace through the Atonement of Jesus; He works in us to will and to do of His good pleasure; but we have to work out that salvation in practical living. If once we start on the basis of His Redemption to do what He commands, we find that we can do it. If we fail, it is because we have not practiced. The crisis will reveal whether we have been practicing or not. If we obey the Spirit of God and practise in our physical life what God has put in us by His Spirit, then when the crisis comes, we shall find that our own nature as well as the grace of God will stand by us.
Thank God He does give us difficult things to do! His salvation is a glad thing, but it is also a heroic, holy thing. It tests us for all we are worth. Jesus is bringing many “sons unto glory,” and God will not shield us from the requirements of a son. God’s grace turns out men and women with a strong family likeness to Jesus Christ, not milksops. It takes a tremendous amount of discipline to live the noble life of a disciple of Jesus in actual things. It is always necessary to make an effort to be noble
Chambers, Oswald. My Utmost for His Highest: Selections for the Year. Grand Rapids, MI: Oswald Chambers Publications; Marshall Pickering, 1986. Print.
Morning, July 7 Go To Evening Reading
“Brethren, pray for us.”
— 1 Thessalonians 5:25
This one morning in the year we reserved to refresh the reader’s memory upon the subject of prayer for ministers, and we do most earnestly implore every Christian household to grant the fervent request of the text first uttered by an apostle and now repeated by us. Brethren, our work is solemnly momentous, involving weal or woe to thousands; we treat with souls for God on eternal business, and our word is either a savour of life unto life, or of death unto death. A very heavy responsibility rests upon us, and it will be no small mercy if at the last we be found clear of the blood of all men. As officers in Christ’s army, we are the especial mark of the enmity of men and devils; they watch for our halting, and labour to take us by the heels. Our sacred calling involves us in temptations from which you are exempt, above all it too often draws us away from our personal enjoyment of truth into a ministerial and official consideration of it. We meet with many knotty cases, and our wits are at a non plus; we observe very sad backsliding, and our hearts are wounded; we see millions perishing, and our spirits sink. We wish to profit you by our preaching; we desire to be blest to your children; we long to be useful both to saints and sinners; therefore, dear friends, intercede for us with our God. Miserable men are we if we miss the aid of your prayers, but happy are we if we live in your supplications. You do not look to us but to our Master for spiritual blessings, and yet how many times has He given those blessings through His ministers; ask then, again and again, that we may be the earthen vessels into which the Lord may put the treasure of the gospel. We, the whole company of missionaries, ministers, city missionaries, and students, do in the name of Jesus beseech you
“BRETHREN, PRAY FOR US."
Go To Morning Reading Evening, July 7
“When I passed by thee, I said unto thee, Live.”
— Ezekiel 16:6
Saved one, consider gratefully this mandate of mercy. Note that this fiat of God is majestic. In our text, we perceive a sinner with nothing in him but sin, expecting nothing but wrath; but the eternal Lord passes by in his glory; he looks, he pauses, and he pronounces the solitary but royal word, “Live.” There speaks a God. Who but he could venture thus to deal with life and dispense it with a single syllable? Again, this fiat is manifold. When he saith “Live,” it includes many things. Here is judicial life. The sinner is ready to be condemned, but the mighty One saith, “Live,” and he rises pardoned and absolved. It is spiritual life. We knew not Jesus—our eyes could not see Christ, our ears could not hear his voice—Jehovah said “Live,” and we were quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins. Moreover, it includes glory-life, which is the perfection of spiritual life. “I said unto thee, Live:” and that word rolls on through all the years of time till death comes, and in the midst of the shadows of death, the Lord’s voice is still heard, “Live!” In the morning of the resurrection it is that self-same voice which is echoed by the arch-angel, “Live,” and as holy spirits rise to heaven to be blest for ever in the glory of their God, it is in the power of this same word, “Live.” Note again, that it is an irresistible mandate. Saul of Tarsus is on the road to Damascus to arrest the saints of the living God. A voice is heard from heaven and a light is seen above the brightness of the sun, and Saul is crying out, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” This mandate is a mandate of free grace. When sinners are saved, it is only and solely because God will do it to magnify his free, un purchased, unsought grace. Christians, see your position, debtors to grace; show your gratitude by earnest, Christlike lives, and as God has bidden you live, see to it that you live in earnest
Spurgeon, Charles H. Morning and Evening: Daily Readings. Complete and unabridged; New modern edition. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2006. Print.