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).
2 Chronicles 9; Jude; Zephaniah 1; Luke 23
“Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men” (Jude 1:3–4). Observe:
(1) Sometimes it is right to contend for the faith. That is not always the way forward, of course: more often the primary emphasis must be on proclamation, articulating, and rearticulating the whole counsel of God. Sometimes a gentle answer or earnest entreaty will prove the wiser course. But here, Jude urges his readers to contend for the faith.
(2) That for which we must contend is the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. The place where the faith is being attacked in such cases is bound up with some stance that describes itself as “progressive,” “contemporary,” or “avant-garde”—but which is inevitably prepared to sacrifice something that “was once for all entrusted to the saints.” Of course, sometimes the latter is nothing more than an appeal to unwarranted tradition, but that is not what is going on in this case. Here the “progressivists” are sacrificing something that has been essential to the Gospel from the very beginning.
(3) In some cases, contending for the faith (which is not to be confused with being contentious about the faith) is the most urgent thing to do. That is why Jude can openly admit he had hoped to write something else, but felt compelled to apply himself to this more urgent task. However discomfiting, when essential truth is being denied, and the denial is being believed by rising numbers, strategic wisdom foregoes other ministry for a while and focuses on the immediate pressing danger.
(4) The need for the firmest contention usually arises when the heretical voices arise in the church. When those who oppose the truth are outside the church, then although some Christians must respond to their various arguments (perhaps for evangelistic purposes), there is no urgency about contending for the faith once entrusted to the saints. Once such people manage to slip inside the church, however, so that many naive Christians accept their teaching without perceiving it to be pernicious, firm contention is inevitable. Such people must not only be refuted, but disciplined—and the latter cannot be accomplished without the former.
(5) The peculiar godlessness Jude confutes in this case is some perverse reading of the Gospel that transmutes it into “a license for immorality” (Jude 1:4). Any reading of the Gospel that promotes immorality or denies the efficacy of Jesus’ salvation must be wrong and dismissed as godless.
2 Chronicles 8; 3 John; Habakkuk 3; Luke 22
The situation behind 3 John seems to be something like the following. The writer, the “elder” (3 John 1:1), presumably the apostle John, has written to a particular church in his purview, apparently asking that church if it would do what it could to help out some “brothers” (3 John 1:5) who have been sent out on evangelistic ministry. Unfortunately, that church had been hijacked by one Diotrephes, who, in the apostle’s view, was much more interested in being “first,” i.e., in self-promotion and autocratic control, than he was in the advance of the Gospel (3 John 1:9). With such values controlling him, Diotrephes was quite prepared to spurn the apostle’s approach.
From a distance, there was little the apostle could do. Nevertheless, when he does show up, he will call attention to what Diotrephes is doing, exposing him to the church (3 John 1:10). Apparently John is confident that he has the authority and credibility to carry the day. Meanwhile, the apostle sidesteps the normal channels of authority and writes his dear friend Gaius (3 John 1:1), who appears to belong to the same church but is of a very different spirit to that of Diotrephes.
After some preliminary words (3 John 1:2–4), John enthusiastically praises Gaius for the way he has opened up his home to these traveling “brothers” (3 John 1:5). Indeed, some of them have brought back reports of Gaius’s excellent hospitality (3 John 1:6). Gaius will do well to continue this excellent ministry, sending them out “in a manner worthy of God” (3 John 1:6)—an astonishing standard we should emulate today when we commission and support missionaries who are truly faithful. In short, stouthearted generosity among Christians, exemplified by Gaius, is bound to be mission-minded; bullheaded lust for power, exemplified by Diotrephes, is far more likely to become narrow and myopic in vision.
Observe the piercing clarity of the opening remarks (3 John 1:2–3). First, John prays that Gaius’s health will prosper as his soul prospers. Note which of the two is the standard of the other! Second, the apostle remarks on what has given him great joy—namely, the report of Gaius’s faithfulness to the truth, his walk in the truth. Third, John generalizes this last point: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 1:4). In a world where many Christians derive their deepest joy from advancement, ease, promotions, financial security, good health, popularity, and a host of other things, it is delightful, not to say challenging, to hear an apostle testify that nothing stirs his joy more than to hear that his “children” are walking in line with the Gospel. That tells us all we need to know of his heart—and of where we should find our pleasures too.
2 Chronicles 7; 2 John; Habakkuk 2; Luke 21
When Solomon finished praying, there was more than silence and hushed reverence. Fire descended from heaven to consume the burnt offerings, and “the glory of the LORD filled the temple” (2 Chron. 7:1). God himself approved both the temple and Solomon’s prayer of dedication. The thousands of Israelites who were present certainly saw things that way (2 Chron. 7:3) and sang again, “He is good; his love endures forever” (2 Chron. 7:3). The festival of celebration described in the following verses (2 Chron. 7:4–10) is peerless.
There is more. Just as the Lord had personally appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—and to Solomon’s own father David!—so now he appears, by whatever means, to Solomon. Note:
(1) “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a temple for sacrifices” (2 Chron. 7:12; cf. 2 Chron. 7:16 and the meditation for November 26, emphasis added). God himself sees the sacrificial system as the heart of the temple. He then summarizes afresh his willingness to respond to his people when they stray and then pray; for this temple, in line with God’s gracious self-disclosure, institutionalizes the various offerings for sin that are the means by which guilty sinners can be reconciled to God by the sacrifices that he himself has both prescribed and provided.
(2) Much of the rest of God’s words to Solomon run on one of two lines. First, in words of reassurance, God says his eyes will indeed always be open to his temple, and he will hear the prayers of those who repent. Second, this appearance to Solomon is also a warning, even a threat. God tells Solomon that if the nation (the “you” in 2 Chron. 7:19; “but if you turn away” is plural) succumbs to rebellion and idolatry, the time will come when God will descend on them in judgment, drive his people from the Promised Land, and so decimate Jerusalem and this temple that people will be appalled; they will hear as the only sufficient explanation that God himself brought all this disaster on them because of their sin (2 Chron. 7:19–22). From God’s perspective, the people receive fair warning; from the chronicler’s perspective, he is preparing the way for the tragic conclusion to his book; from the canonical perspective, Christian readers are reminded that all systems and structures, even those that point to Christ, were bound to fail in this broken world until the appearance of the One to whom they pointed.
(3) The promise of 2 Chronicles 7:14 is often quoted as a universal key to revival. But one should note the linked themes of covenant people, land, and temple—all contextually specific, in this form, to the old covenant. But there is a legitimate extension, grounded in the reality that righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people. God calls on all peoples to repent.
2 Chronicles 6:12–42; 1 John 5; Habakkuk 1; Luke 20
Solomon’s prayer of dedication (2 Chron. 6:12–42) is one of the great moments of Old Testament history and theology. Many of its features deserve prolonged reflection. Here we pick up on a few strands.
(1) Both the beginning and the end of the prayer fasten on God as a covenant-keeping God, the original promise keeper. In particular (and understandably), Solomon is interested in God’s promise to David to the effect that his line would continue, his dynasty would be preserved (2 Chron. 6:14–17). Similarly the final doxology: “O LORD God, do not reject your anointed one. Remember the great love promised to David your servant” (2 Chron. 6:42).
(2) Although the temple was doubtless a magnificent structure, and although Solomon might understandably feel some sort of justifiable pride in its completion, his grasp of the greatness of God is sufficiently robust that he himself articulates, in memorable terms, that no temple can possibly “contain” the God who outstrips the highest heavens (2 Chron. 6:18). There is no trace of tribal domestication of God.
(3) The principal burden of what Solomon asks may be summarized quite simply. In the future, when either individual Israelites sin or the entire nation sinks into one sin or another, if they then turn away from their sin and pray toward the temple, Solomon asks that God himself will hear from heaven, and forgive their sin (2 Chron. 6:21–39). There are four remarkable elements to these petitions.
First, there is an astonishingly realistic assessment of the propensity of the people to sin, even to sin so badly that they may one day be banished from the land. A lesser man would have been tempted on such an occasion to introduce a lot of sentimental, Pollyanna-like twaddle about undying allegiance and the like. But not Solomon. He is a wise man, and he knows that sinners sin.
Second, however central the temple is to be as a focus for the prayers of the people (not least when they sin), God will hear their prayers not from the temple but from heaven, his dwelling place. Once again, God is not being reduced to the status of the tribal deities worshiped by the surrounding pagans. The phrasing of this repeated request for forgiveness makes the role of God the crucial thing—the God who fills the heavens, not the temple.
Third, insofar as the temple is critical, it is seen as the center of religion and worship that deals with the forgiveness of sin and thus restores sinners to God. The heart of the temple is not the choirs and the ceremonies, but the forgiveness of sin. In this day of ill-defined spirituality, it is vital that we remember this point.
Fourth, Solomon’s vision extends far enough to include foreigners (2 Chron. 6:32–33)—a missionary thrust.
2 Chronicles 5:1–6:11; 1 John 4; Nahum 3; Luke 19
Once the temple has been built, the final step before the dedication of the temple is bringing up the ark of the covenant from the old tabernacle, now resting in Zion, the City of David (part of Jerusalem), to its new resting place in the Most Holy Place of the temple. Second Chronicles 5:1–6:11 not only records this transition, but Solomon’s opening remarks to the people before his prayer of dedication (see tomorrow’s meditation). Both the moving of the ark and Solomon’s opening remarks prove important.
The move itself follows the prescriptions of the Law: the Levites alone are permitted to handle the ark. But the move is nevertheless a national event. The elders of Israel and the heads of clans come together from all over Israel for this great celebration. The move is accompanied by such lavish sacrifices that the number of animals killed could not be recorded (2 Chron. 5:6). Finally the ark is lodged beneath the wings of the cherubim in the Most Holy Place. As an aside, the chronicler mentions that at this point only the tablets of the Law still rest in the ark of the covenant. Presumably the pot with manna and Aaron’s rod that had budded were removed when the ark was held by the Philistines. In any case, the orchestras and choirs cut loose, including a 120-piece trumpet section. The singers praise God in the well-known couplet, “He is good; his love endures forever” (2 Chron. 5:13).
Two details deserve special comment.
(1) In the past, the evidence of God’s presence in the tabernacle was a cloud. Now the same cloud fills the temple; indeed, the glory of the Lord so fills the temple that the priests are driven out and find themselves unable to enter and perform their duties (2 Chron. 5:13–14). This demonstrates that God is pleased with the temple; that he himself has sanctioned the move from tabernacle to temple; and above all that if the temple is his temple, it is not to be domesticated by mere rites, no matter how lavish. The glory of his presence is the important thing.
(2) Solomon’s opening remarks also contribute to the sense of continuity. Perhaps some purists were tempted to say that it would have been better to stick with the tabernacle: after all, that is what God ordained on Mount Sinai. So Solomon reviews the steps that have brought the narrative to this point: God’s promises to David, God’s choice of Jerusalem and of this temple site, God’s selection of Solomon over David to do the actual building, and so forth. Thus the temple, far from being a questionable innovation, is the next step in redemptive history and the fulfillment of God’s good promises (2 Chron. 6:10–11).
2 Chronicles 3–4; 1 John 3; Nahum 2; Luke 18
“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1). All of us at one time belonged to the world; to use the language of Paul, we were all “by nature objects of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). The love of the Father that has accomplished the transformation is lavish precisely because it is undeserved. Moreover:
(1) “And that is what we are!” This emphatic exclamation was probably called forth in the first instance because those who had left the church (1 John 2:19) were adept at manipulating the believers. They insisted that they alone had an inside track with God, that they alone really understood the true knowledge (gnosis), that they alone enjoyed the true anointing. This had the effect of undermining the believers. John insists that his readers have received the real anointing (1 John 2:27), that their right conduct demonstrates that they have been born of God (1 John 2:29), that they have had the love of God lavished on them and thus become children of God—“And that is what we are!” The same point must be made for the sake of believers in every generation who feel threatened by the extravagant but misguided claims of the “super-spiritual” crowd who exercise their pitiful manipulation by a kind of spiritual one-upmanship. “We are the children of God,” Christians quietly affirm—and that is enough. If others do not recognize the fact, it may only attest that they themselves do not know God (1 John 3:1b).
(2) Although we are now already the children of God, “what we will be has not yet been made known” (1 John 3:2). On the one hand, we must not denigrate or minimize all that we have received: “now we are children of God.” On the other, we await the consummation and our own ultimate transformation (1 John 3:2).
(3) In fact, every child of God who lives with this prospect ahead, “who has this hope in him [which probably means ‘in Christ’ or ‘in God,’ specifying the object of the hope, rather than ‘in himself,’ merely specifying the one who entertains the hope] purifies himself, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:3). The Christian looks to what he or she will become in the consummation and is already interested in becoming like that. We receive the Father’s love; we know that one day we shall be pure; so already we strive to become pure now. That is in perfect conformity with the way chapter 2 ends: “If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him” (1 John 2:29).