37 episodes

Read the Bible features devotional commentaries from D.A. Carson’s book For the Love of God (vol. 1) that follow the M’Cheyne Bible reading plan. This podcast is designed to be used alongside TGC's Read The Bible initiative (TGC.org/readthebible).

Read The Bible The Gospel Coalition

    • Religion & Spirituality
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Read the Bible features devotional commentaries from D.A. Carson’s book For the Love of God (vol. 1) that follow the M’Cheyne Bible reading plan. This podcast is designed to be used alongside TGC's Read The Bible initiative (TGC.org/readthebible).

    1 Kings 6; Ephesians 3; Ezekiel 36; Psalm 86

    1 Kings 6; Ephesians 3; Ezekiel 36; Psalm 86

    A mystery in Paul’s writing is not normally something “mysterious,” still less a whodunit. It is a truth or a doctrine which in some measure has been kept hidden in previous generations, and now with the coming of the Gospel has been disclosed and made public. Sometimes the Gospel itself is treated as a mystery; more commonly, some element of the Gospel is labeled a mystery.

    In Ephesians 3:2–13, Paul insists that, along with other “apostles and prophets” (Eph. 3:5), he enjoys deep insight into “the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit” (Eph. 3:4–5). Then he tells us the content of this mystery: “that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 3:6).

    We should reflect on the ways in which this mystery was hidden. Certainly the Old Testament Scriptures sometimes anticipate the extension of the grace of God to men and women of all races. The Abrahamic covenant foresaw that in Abraham’s seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:3; see meditation for January 11). What is hidden about that? Yet the fact remains that the space devoted in the Bible to the Law of Moses, coupled more importantly with the rising body of interpretation that made Mosaic Law the interpretive grid that controlled the reading of much of the Old Testament, ensured that this broader emphasis was often lost to view. So on the one hand, this hiddenness can be viewed as a careful plan of God to hide the glory of “his eternal purpose” (Eph. 3:11) until the time was ripe for it to be unfolded; on the other, this hiddenness owes something to human perversity, reading the Old Testament Scriptures in a way that domesticates and dwarfs the true dimensions of Old Testament promises.

    With the coming of Christ Jesus, the ways in which the Old Testament books pointed forward were made incalculably clearer. Jesus’ Great Commission stamped the mission of his disciples with an internationalism that shames all parochialism. Above all, Jesus’ understanding of the Old Testament established some new paradigms. Read properly, in its linear, historical sequence, the Old Testament storyline does not lay as much emphasis on the Law of Moses as some thought. Indeed, the Mosaic Covenant turns out to be a failure, in terms of how well it changed people. Its brightest success is in providing the models that predict what the ultimate Savior, the ultimate priest, the ultimate temple, the ultimate sacrifice, would look like. And Paul is the apostle who not only preaches this mystery, but does so to the Gentiles, the people most affected by its content.

    1 Kings 4–5; Ephesians 2; Ezekiel 35; Psalm 85

    1 Kings 4–5; Ephesians 2; Ezekiel 35; Psalm 85

    Christians are often taught to memorize Ephesians 2:8–9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Certainly wonderful truths are expressed in these lines. But I shall focus on some of the things Paul says in the surrounding verses.

    (1) Before our conversion, we, like the Ephesians, were dead in our “transgressions and sins” (Eph. 2:1). Because of our addiction to transgression and sin, because of our habit of following the ways of the world (Eph. 2:2), because we were simultaneously deceived by the Devil (Eph. 2:2) and committed to gratifying the desires and thoughts of our sinful natures (Eph. 2:3), there was simply no way we could respond positively to the Gospel. Worse, our tragic inability was a moral inability: “Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). There was no hope for us unless God himself intervened and brought life where there was only death, and showed mercy where his own justice demanded wrath.

    (2) That is what God did: while we were still dead, out of his great love for us, “God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ” (Eph. 2:4–5). This was out of his sheer grace: we certainly could not help ourselves, for “we were dead” (Eph. 2:5).

    (3) Indeed, God so unites us to Christ that in his eyes we are already raised with him and seated “in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6). God has taken these steps “in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7). So our ultimate hope and expectation is what still awaits us. No Christian is stable who does not see and value this futurist perspective.

    (4) At this point Paul stresses the sheer graciousness of the gift of salvation, a gift received by faith that is itself the gift of God, and is quite apart from any works that we could perform. For if we could, we would boast of them.

    (5) But none of this means that we continue to live as we did before—dead in transgressions, following our own desires and thoughts. Far from it: we who have received God’s grace, and the faith to apprehend it, are “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10). One can no more enjoy saving grace without performing good works, than one can experience saving grace without ever knowing the incomparable riches that await us in the age to come. This great salvation is one superb package!

    1 Kings 3; Ephesians 1; Ezekiel 34; Psalms 83–84

    1 Kings 3; Ephesians 1; Ezekiel 34; Psalms 83–84

    Christians sometimes ask why, if Solomon was so wise, he married many wives, ended his reign rather badly, and eventually compromised his loyalty to God.

    The answer partly lies in the difference between what we mean by wisdom and the various things the Bible means by wisdom. We usually mean something pretty generic, like “knowing how to live well and make wise choices.” But whereas wisdom in the Bible can refer to something broad—such as knowing how to live in the fear of God—very often it refers to a particular skill. This may be the skill of knowing how to survive in a dangerous world (Prov. 30:24), or some technical know-how (Ex. 28:3). But one of the skills to which wisdom can refer is the skill of administration, not least the administration of justice. And transparently, that is what Solomon asks for in 1 Kings 3.

    When he responds to God’s gracious offer to give him anything he asks for, Solomon acknowledges that he is only a little child and does not know how to carry out his duties (1 Kings 3:7). What he wants therefore is a discerning heart to govern the people well, not least in distinguishing between right and wrong (1 Kings 3:9). God praises Solomon because he has not asked for something for himself, nor even something vindictive (such as the death of his enemies), but “for discernment in administering justice” (1 Kings 3:11). God promises to give Solomon exactly what he asked for, along with riches and honor (1 Kings 3:12–13). The account of the two prostitutes each claiming the same live baby and denying that the dead one is hers, and Solomon’s resolution of their case (1 Kings 3:16–27), proves that God answered the king’s request. The entire nation perceives that Solomon has “wisdom from God to administer justice” (1 Kings 3:28). Certainly most Western nations today could do with a few more people similarly endowed.

    As much as God praises him for his choice, this does not mean that such wisdom is all that Solomon needs to walk in fidelity to the covenant. Indeed, quite apart from the wisdom, wealth, and honor that he will bestow, God tells him that “if you walk in my ways and obey my statutes and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life” (1 Kings 3:14). But already clouds threaten: to secure his southern border, Solomon marries an Egyptian princess (1 Kings 3:1). Because they are popular, he does not abolish the proscribed “high places,” but participates in worship there (1 Kings 3:2–4).

    God sometimes bestows wonderful gifts of wisdom—technical, social, administrative, and judicial skills—but unless we also receive from him a heart attuned to loving him truly and obeying him wholly, our paths may end disastrously.

    1 Kings 2; Galatians 6; Ezekiel 33; Psalms 81–82

    1 Kings 2; Galatians 6; Ezekiel 33; Psalms 81–82

    The end of Galatians 6 brings several themes together.

    (1) Paul’s practice was to dictate his letters. Nevertheless, in order to authenticate them, he commonly wrote the last little bit in his own distinctive hand (compare 2 Thess. 3:17). So here (Gal. 6:11). Some have suggested that his “large letters” betray failing eyesight. That is possible but not certain. The important issue is that Paul wants his readers to recognize the real voice behind this epistle.

    (2) The agitators are trying to get the Galatian Gentile believers to accept circumcision (Gal. 6:12). That would make them (they thought) good Jews—a necessary condition for them to become genuine Christians. Yet Paul detects that at least part of their motivation is to maintain acceptability in Jewish synagogue circles. At this stage in the church’s history, most persecution came from synagogue councils exerting discipline. Paul himself had suffered his share: the thirty-nine lashes, endured five times (2 Cor. 11), was a synagogue punishment. Paul holds that some Jews who call themselves Christians and who insist that Gentile Christians become Jews are simply unwilling to face the opprobrium they will have to suffer from some fellow Jews if their closest “brothers” and “sisters” are unkosher Gentiles.

    (3) Not only so, but circumcision was a mark of professed covenant fidelity. Here, Paul insists, lies the real problem: those who have been circumcised find it impossible to “obey the law,” so why should they try to compel others to go down that track (Gal. 6:13)? Some of them want to count converts to Judaism like scalps on a spear. But Paul insists that the Christian boasts in nothing but the cross of the Lord Jesus (Gal. 6:14). That is the sole basis of our acceptance before God, nothing else—not circumcision, not law-keeping, not kosher tables, not belonging to the right community. The sole ground is the cross, so that is our sole “boast.” If you believe that, what the world thinks will matter little: it is as if the world has been crucified so far as you are concerned, and you are crucified so far as it is concerned.

    (4) Out of this cross-work of Jesus Christ rises the “new creation” (Gal. 6:15). That is what counts—men and women so transformed, because of faith in Jesus, that they belong to the new creation still to be consummated. This is invariably true, even for “the Israel of God”—which might refer to the church as the true Israel, or may be saying that racial Israel must face this truth the same as everyone else.

    (5) At the personal level, Paul quietly reminds his Galatian readers that he has paid for his beliefs in suffering. Can the agitators claim the same? So why should any true Christian now be adding to Paul’s sufferings?

    1 Kings 1; Galatians 5; Ezekiel 32; Psalm 80

    1 Kings 1; Galatians 5; Ezekiel 32; Psalm 80

    The transfer of regal authority from David to Solomon (1 Kings 1) is messy. One of David’s sons, Adonijah, confers with Joab, the head of the military, and tries to take over. Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, reminds her ailing husband of his promise that Solomon would be the heir, and the complicated account plays out.

    Once again the chronic family failure of David stands out. The author of 1 Kings draws it to our attention in the parenthetical comment of 1:6. Referring to Adonijah, who was attempting the coup, he remarks, “His father had never interfered with him by asking, ‘Why do you behave as you do?’ He was also very handsome and was born next after Absalom”—as if good looks bred a kind of easy arrogance that thought everything, including the crown itself, was his by right.

    Of the many important lessons, we may highlight two:

    First, even gifted and morally upright believers commonly manifest tragic flaws. Occasionally a Daniel arises, of whom no failure is recorded. But most of the best in Scripture betray flaws of one sort or another—Abraham, Moses, Peter, Thomas, and (not least) David. The reality must be faced, for it is no less potent today. God raises up strategically placed and influential leaders. The odd one is so consistent that it is very difficult to detect any notable fault line. But usually that is not the case. Even the finest of our Christian leaders commonly display faults that their closest peers and friends can spot (whether or not the leaders themselves can see them!). This should not surprise us. In this fallen world, it is the way things are, the way things were when the Bible was written. We should therefore not be disillusioned when leaders prove flawed. We should support them wherever we can, seek to correct the faults where possible, and leave the rest to God—all the while recognizing the terrible potential for failures and faults in our own lives.

    Second, once again the sovereignty of God works through the complicated efforts of his people. When David is informed of the problem, he does not throw his hands into the air and pray about the situation: he immediately orders that decisive, symbol-laden, and complex steps be taken to ensure that Solomon ascends the throne. Trust in God’s sovereign goodness is never an excuse for inactivity or indolence. Long years of walking by faith have taught David that whatever else “walking by faith” means, it does not warrant passivity. If we are to avoid acting in defiance of God, or in vain efforts to be independent of God, we must also avoid the pietism that is perennially in danger of collapsing trust into fatalism.

    2 Samuel 24; Galatians 4; Ezekiel 31; Psalm 79

    2 Samuel 24; Galatians 4; Ezekiel 31; Psalm 79

    Galatians 4 includes a couple of sections that have long prompted Christians to ponder exactly how Paul understands the history of Israel—especially the so-called “allegory” of 4:21–31. They attract a great deal of attention. Tucked into the middle of the chapter, however, are two short paragraphs that disclose a great deal of the apostle’s heart (Gal. 4:12–20), even though they are easily overlooked.

    (1) The first (Gal. 4:12–16) finds the apostle pleading with the Galatians. He insists that his strong language with them has nothing to do with personal hurt: “You have done me no wrong” (Gal. 4:12). Indeed, he reminds them, the earliest stage of their relationship established a link Paul could never break. He first went among them, he says, “because of an illness” (Gal. 4:13). We cannot be sure what it was. Perhaps the best guess (though it is no more than a guess) is that Paul arrived by boat on the southern coast of what is now Turkey, and while ministering there contracted malaria or some other subtropical disease. The best solution in those days was to travel into the highlands—into the regions of the Galatians. There Paul found a people remarkably helpful and welcoming. As he preached the Gospel to them, they treated him as if he were “an angel of God” (Gal. 4:14). How could Paul possibly resent them or write them off? But tragically, their joy has dissipated. They have become so enamored with the alien outlook of the agitators that they view Paul as an enemy because he tells them the truth (Gal. 4:16).

    Here, then, is an apostle intimately involved in the lives of the people to whom he preaches, ready and eager to engage with them out of the complex history of their relationships, yet unwilling to compromise the truth in order to smooth out those relationships. In Paul, integrity of doctrine must stand with integrity in relationships; they are not to be pitted against each other.

    (2) Paul perceives and gently exposes a deep character flaw in the Galatians: they love zealous people, not the least those who are zealously pursuing them, without carefully evaluating the direction of the zeal (Gal. 4:17–20). Paul warns: “It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good” (Gal. 4:18). Unable to communicate by telephone or e-mail and thus have an instant update, the apostle is uncertain how best to proceed. Should he continue his rebuke? Should he now change his tone and woo them? He feels like a mother who has to go through the agony of labor a second time to bring to birth all over again the child she has already borne.

    Should contemporary pastors and leaders care less for those in their charge who stray?

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