Monthly Archives: January 2017

The Parables of Jesus

Last evening the Life group which my wife and I host began a study of some of the parables of Jesus. In our previous meeting I’d given the group the following sheet introducing the study.

“Parable” has been defined as “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.” Jesus told numerous parables during his ministry, of which we’re going to consider the nine for which The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups gives a questionnaire for beginning groups:
• The Wise and Foolish Builders (Matthew 7:24-29)
• The Sower (Matthew 13:1-23; also Mark 4:1-20 and Luke 8:4-15)
• The Unmerciful (Unforgiving) Servant (Matthew 18:21-35)
• The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)
• The Rich Fool (Luke 12:13-21)
• The Great Banquet (Luke 14:15-24)
• The Lost (Prodigal) Son (Luke 15:11-32)
• The Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14)
• The Talents (Matthew 25:14-30; also Luke 19:11-27)
Please let me know of any other parables of Jesus which you would like us to consider.

This evening though we’re going to consider Matthew 13:10-17 in which Jesus answered his disciples’ question, “Why do you speak to them in parables?”

10 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14-15 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:
‘You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart and turn,
and I would heal them.’
16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV.)

The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups asks these questions on the passage:
1. Why do you think Jesus used parables as his teaching device? What do parables accomplish that simple and direct speech lacks?
2. How does Jesus’ challenge in verse 9 help explain verses 11-12? How does faith open you up to more spiritual insight?
3. How does the quotation from Isaiah (vv. 14-15) explain the difficulty of understanding parables (v. 13)?
4. In verses 16-17, Jesus gives a new beatitude. What have these disciples seen and heard that the prophets longed to see and hear? Are we included in this blessing, or was it only for the original disciples? Why do you think so?
(Used by permission of Serendipity House, Littleton, Colorado 80160)

In the meeting we discussed the questions from The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups.

1. One of us suggested that a parable makes hearers think about how it applies and we discussed how this is true. In his commentary on Matthew, C. H. Spurgeon observes, “The usual reasons for the use of parable would be to make truth clear, to arrest attention, and to impress teaching upon the memory” (The Gospel of Matthew, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Fleming H. Revell, page 167).

2. In verse 9 Jesus concluded his telling of the parable of the sower by issuing the challenge “Whoever has ears, let them hear” (ESV). We discussed how the believer’s faith enables him or her to find meaning in a parable and the unbeliever’s lack of faith prevents him or her from finding meaning in it. I noted that Jesus’ going on to explain the application of the parable of the sower to the disciples suggests that sometimes even believers need help (from the Holy Spirit and others) in understanding how a parable applies.

3. I shared my answer with the group: “In Isaiah 6:9-10 God decreed that Isaiah’s ministry to the people of Judah as they are described in Isaiah 1-5 would harden them and ensure their judgment. Similarly the ministry of Jesus, including the parables, would harden the hearts of those who didn’t believe in him, in particular the religious leaders, and so ensure their judgment.”

4. We agreed that what the disciples saw which the prophets had longed to see and hear was the Messiah, Jesus Christ, and we agreed that we are included in this blessing. One of us suggested a Scripture passage confirming the latter, but I neglected to write down its reference–sorry!

After the discussion I gave the group a sheet containing the following:

Some Guidelines for Interpreting the Parables of Jesus

In our group study of the parables of Jesus, we’ll use the questionnaires provided for beginning groups in The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups. However I won’t distribute the questionnaire on a particular parable until the meeting in which we study it. If you wish to prepare for our study of the parable, use the following guidelines in doing so.

1. Identify the details of the parable as a story–when and where it took place, who was involved in it, what happened in it, and why those things happened.

2. Note who the original hearers of the parable were and, if possible, why Jesus told the parable.

3. Determine how much of the parable was explained by Jesus himself and whether there are any clues in the context concerning the parable’s meaning.

4. Identify the central truth of the parable as a whole and determine how it relates to Jesus Christ and/or to the kingdom of God both as it has come and as it is to come

5. Determine how the central truth of the parable applied to the original audience and how it applies to us today, which may be the same as how it applied to the original audience.

Feel free to comment on the questions and/or to suggest parables for us to discuss.


Thanks! (Philippians 4:10-23)

Having delivered his final exhortations, Paul closes his letter to the Philippian Christians by thanking them for the gifts which they’d sent to him, both now and in the past. Although he makes it clear that he doesn’t expect more gifts, he rejoices over the Philippians’ concern and gifts because their giving pleased God. He also gives final greetings to the Philippians from himself, his co-workers, and the Christians in Rome.

10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV.)

Paul expresses joy over the Philippians’ renewed concern for him as shown by their sending him a gift during his imprisonment. He makes it clear that he isn’t in need, having learned to be content whatever his outward circumstances are—in particular to be content whether he is living in prosperity or in need, and so isn’t asking for more gifts. He says that Christ gives him strength so that he is able to cope with all circumstances. Paul’s sharing this with the Philippians is a good follow-up to what he had just suggested to them about presenting their requests to God and receiving His peace (4:5-6).

I’ve taken verse 13 as meaning that Christ gave Paul the strength to be content living in the circumstances referred to in verses 11-12. However, Paul may have intended a broader meaning. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones takes Paul as meaning that Christ didn’t leave him to live the Christian life on his own but gave him strength so that he could do everything related to it. He observes, “The Christian life is not a life that I live myself and by my own power; neither is it a life in which I am obliterated and Christ does all. No, ‘I can do all things through Christ'” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Life of Peace (Great Britain, 1990; reprint, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1993), 223). Whether or not Paul meant that by verse 13, he certainly believed it; see, for example, 2:12-13.

14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. 19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

In thanking the Philippians for the gift, Paul mentions their having sent him aid in the period after his first visit to Philippi, while he was in Thessalonica (4:16) and Corinth (2 Corinthians 11:9). Although Paul recognized his right to be supported by the churches that he ministered to, he generally refused to accept such support so that he wouldn’t be a burden to anyone (2 Thessalonians 3:7-9) and so that nobody could accuse him of preaching the gospel for money (1 Corinthians 9:1-18). However, here he rejoices over the Philippians’ helping him because their giving gifts to him pleased God and would be rewarded by Him (the implication of “may abound to your account”), to whom the gifts constituted “an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable,” by His meeting all their needs.

Paul tells the Philippians that just as they had met his needs, so God would meet theirs. In view of the context and of the Philippians’ poverty (2 Corinthians 8:2), “all your needs” would certainly include the Philippians’ material needs. However, it would also include their spiritual needs, especially (in view of what Paul said about his “need” in verses 11-13) the ability to be content in all circumstances. No need was too big because God would meet their needs out of His infinite riches in glory. The sole condition was that His supplying of their needs would be channelled through Christ Jesus and so only Christians could benefit.

21 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. 22 All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household. 23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Paul closes the letter with greetings and a brief benediction, as most New Testament letters end. The greetings are to all the saints and is from his companions and the church in Rome as well as from him. The benediction, like Paul’s opening greeting, focuses on God’s grace. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with all of you.

Yesterday evening the Life group which my wife, Leonora, and I host discussed Philippians 4:10-23 guided by the questions given in “The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups.”

One of the questions which we had a particularly fruitful discussion of was: “How do you think Paul discovered ‘the secret of contentment’ while in prison: By reading the OT? By writing a lot of the NT? By going to the temple every day? By getting what he wanted? By graduating from the ‘School of Hard Knocks’?” Participants in the discussion argued plausibly for the first, second, and last of the five choices, after which I read what D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says on the matter in “The Life of Peace” (see above). He suggests three causes—experience of the type referred to in the last of the five choices (he refers to 2 Corinthians 12:9-10), a logical argument worked out by Paul why he should find his pleasure and his satisfaction in Christ and always in Christ (”The Life of Peace,” pages 212-14), and the example of Jesus Christ (he refers to Hebrews 12:2).

The last question was, “What one thing from this book do you especially want to apply in your life? In your church?” I answered, “One thing from Philippians that I especially want to apply to my life and in my church is to always rejoice in the Lord,” echoing Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”

The Peace of God (Philippians 4:2-9)

Paul gives some final exhortations to the Philippian Christians. First, he beseeches two women to agree with each other in the Lord and asks a co-worker to help them resolve their disagreement. Next, he encourages the Philippians to pray, rather than worry, about things. Finally, he urges them to think about things that are virtuous and praiseworthy and to follow his teachings and example.

2 I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 3 Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. (ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV.)

Euodia and Syntyche, two women who had ministered with Paul and others, disagreed with each other, probably for one of the reasons given in 2:3–strife (rivalry) or vainglory. This harmed the unity and witness of the church, and Paul entreats them to resolve their disagreement by agreeing with each other in the Lord. He also asks an unnamed co-worker to help the women resolve their disagreement.

“To agree” in 4:2 is the same as “being of the same mind” in 2:2, suggesting that Paul’s request to Euodia and Syntyche is an application of his earlier appeal to the Philippians to show humility to bring about unity (2:1-4). Its being followed by “in the Lord” indicates that Paul is asking the two women to set aside their personal interests and end their quarrel because of their common bond in the Lord even if they can’t agree on the matter that they’d quarrelled about. He may have waited until near the end of his letter to make his request to them because he wanted to lead up to it, for example by 2:1-11.

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Paul gives the Philippians four commands because of the nearness of the Lord, by which he may mean that the Lord is near the Christian at all times or that he is coming back soon or both:

  • Rejoice in the Lord always.
  • Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.
  • Do not be anxious about anything.
  • Let your requests be made known to God.

Paul says that if the Philippians obey these commands the peace of God will keep their hearts and minds, giving them an inner sense of contentment regardless of the circumstances.

“With thanksgiving” is a reminder that prayer consists of more than requests. Its main aspects are identified in the ACTS prayer model as Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.

8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Paul tells the Philippians to think about virtuous and praiseworthy things, which he describes as true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable. Since these qualities were extolled by pagan writers and not distinctively Christian, he may have been encouraging the Philippians to accept what was good in their culture rather than automatically rejecting everything in it because it wasn’t Christian.

Paul goes on to tell the Philippians to follow his teachings and example because in them they’d see the qualities listed in verse 8 exemplified by one who, as he observes in 1 Corinthians 11:1, followed Christ’s example. Thus, he may have been cautioning them that acceptance of their culture should be in the light of their Christian faith.

Paul concludes by telling the Philippians that thinking about things that are virtuous and praiseworthy and following his teachings and example would result in their not only having the peace of God but enjoying His presence. May the God of peace also be with you.

Yesterday evening the Life group which my wife, Leonora, and I host discussed Philippians 4:2-9 guided by the questions given in “The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups.”

Pressing On (Philippians 3:12-4:1)

I introduced “Saved by Faith (Philippians 3:1-11)” by observing that Paul seemed to have been about to close his letter to the Philippian Christians when something led him to warn them to beware of those who taught that circumcision was necessary for salvation. After warning them about the Judaizers, Paul again shared with the Philippians the central place that Christ occupied in his life and identified some benefits of knowing Christ. Now he explains to them that he hasn’t yet attained all that is involved in knowing Christ but is striving to, and he warns them about another, much different, kind of “Christian.”

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained. (Philippians 3:12-16, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV)

Paul compares his spiritual life with a race in which he presses on toward the goal that he’d described in Philippians 3:10-11 (see below) and encourages the Philippians to take the same view of life. He brings out three resemblances between himself and a runner racing to obtain a prize:

  • A runner strains forward, not allowing himself to be distracted by other things. Paul doesn’t let pride in past successes or regrets over past failures interfere with his pursuit of his goal.
  • A runner has a goal. Paul has a goal, to “know [Christ Jesus] and the power of his resurrection, and … share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” and thus to “attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11).
  • A runner gets a prize on reaching his goal. Paul’s reason for running is to obtain a prize—to become completely identified with Christ Jesus, even to having his body transformed (Philippians 3:21).

17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. 1 Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord, my beloved. (Philippians 3:17-4:1)

Paul encourages the Philippians to follow his example and the example of others who take the view of life that he’s described and warns them against the many who live as enemies of the cross, interested only in their belly, their glory, and earthly things. Some biblical scholars think that Paul is still referring to the Judaizing teachers of Philippians 3:2, but I think that it’s more likely that he is referring to antinomians who argue that since they were saved by grace it doesn’t matter what they do (compare Romans 6:15, “Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace?”) and so live in self-indulgence. Paul says that their end is destruction. As citizens of heaven, Christians should have their minds focused on heavenly, not earthly, things (compare Colossians 3:2, “Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth”) and look forward eagerly to the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, when they’ll receive heavenly bodies and become part of the heavenly kingdom.

The closing verse of this section of Paul’s letter to the Philippians epitomizes his relationship with them. They are his friends “my brothers, whom I love and long for” and a reason for him to rejoice “my joy and crown.” Thus, his charge to them is just to “stand firm” in their commitment to Christ Jesus.

Earlier this week the Life group which my wife, Leonora, and I host discussed Philippians 3:12-4:1 guided by the questions given in “The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups.”