Man-to-Man   by Ken Smith                                         November 18, 2019


“Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprus birth, who also was called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Consolation), and who owned land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”                  –  Acts 4:36,37


In keeping with my motif of “story telling,” I remind you of one of those “unsung heroes” of scripture: Barnabas, whose name as above  means “Son of Encourage ment.” When he first shows up in the Bible, it’s in connection with the results of the Day of Pentecost when people were donating funds to support the new believers from the coming of the Holy Spirit and Peter’s preaching.  There were thousands converted that day; and instead of going home to their various countries, they hung around Jerusalem in their new fellowship “in Christ.”  But they had to eat!   And folks like Barnabas dug into their resources to help.  He sold a field and gave the money to the apostles.


The plot thickens.  Persecution broke out, largely due to a Jew named Saul, who even tracked these new believers to Damascus!  But on the way, Jesus confronted him from heaven, converted him, and left him blind in Damascus to think things through.  After Ananias healed his blindness, he began to broadcast the gospel of Jesus.  In fact, he was so bold that upon his return to Jerusalem, the apostles there were reluctant to welcome him as a true believer.


But it’s Barnabas who steps in, welcomes him, and tells the skeptical church  there of Saul’s (better known as Paul’s) conversion. Barnabas took the risk, be-friended Paul, and helped the brothers in Christ to trust the truth of his new faith.

That friendship between these two men was forged.  And we have a graphic story of what we now know as “assimilation” into the church. Paul was accepted, but

his conversion stirred up quite a fuss in Jerusalem.  So they sent Paul home to

Tarsus to quiet the storm.  It also gave him time to rethink his faith.


Barnabas ministered in Antioch, and after some time went and brought Paul to work with him there, including a mission to the saints in Jerusalem… and bringing John Mark back with them.  Luke tucks in that Barnabas’ reputation was that he was “a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit, and of faith.”  And he has his eye on his nephew to learn by the same “with Him” principle he had used with Paul.  (And Jesus used in training the Twelve.)

Then the Antioch church received a message from God: “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”  The church responded: “they ‘loosed them’ and let them go.”  With John Mark accompanying them, they went to Cyprus: Salamis and then Paphos, east to west.  But when they left the Island and landed up at Perga (in today’s Turkey), John Mark “bailed out” and returned to Jerusalem, a real blow to the team!  But the mission continued.  Luke makes the observation that Paul became recognized as the “chief speaker” between the two; but it was a team – no competition. They went back to all their previous stops, strengthened those who believed, and then they returned to Antioch and gave a good report.


They stayed there in Antioch a long time – during which the apostles and elders settled the question as to whether Gentiles who believed in Jesus needed to be circumcised – voting No.  When Paul then invited Barnabas to go visit churches they had planted; Barnabas agreed and again wanted to take John Mark with them.  But Paul refused.   They argued!  There was strong disagreement! The result: Barnabas took John and left for Cyprus; Paul took Silas, with the church’s blessing, and went to Asia Minor (Turkey).  Disagreement, yes; but God over-ruled it for good.  The “seven churches” of Revelation 2 & 3 were founded.  A visit today to the Island of Cyprus recognizes Barnabas as theirown patron saint (of course he was a JewishCypriot).


Barnabas is not mentioned again in the book of Acts.  He does appear briefly in Galatian 2 where Paul confronts those stumbling over whether or not Gentile believers had to be circumcised.  Paul challenges both Barnabas and Peter for their duplicity.  The issue was made crystal clear by Paul’s rebuke.


The other reflection on this story of Barnabas comes to us indirectly.  The second gospel in our New Testament is entitled “Mark.”  And while Mark is com-

monly associated with Simon Peter, the man who would not give up on him was his Uncle (cousin) Barnabas.  And be sure to note the apostle Paul’s word in II Timothy 4:11.  “… Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service.”


Don’t overlook the “late bloomers.”




M2M November 2019



Take Christ seriously. Yes, of course. For every look at your sin, take ten looks at Christ. But will you want to look at Christ if you have not seen your need? Will you see your need if you have not seen your sin?

Why is the Son of God taken for granted in the visible church today? Only because sin is taken lightly. The rediscovery of the glory of Christ’s salvation is our most pressing need. The most mature man of God needs a fresh vision of Jesus Christ so that he cries out, “Hallelujah! What a Savior!” This is the mark of a growing and a revived congregation, and that fullness of the Spirit as He glorifies the Son comes in large part by means of a conviction of our sin and a realization of our need of this glorious Deliverer from sin’s dominion, perversity, and condemnation. So, young Christian, take sin seriously.

See how sin smashes in pieces the law of God. Two tables with safe, good, holy, just, spiritual, and profitable rules—sin dashes them down and destroys both tablets. Is that an insignificant action? To disdain and destroy the holy law of God, the summary of God’s nature and perfections?

God did not restrain one stroke of His rod of justice in displaying how worthy of condemnation sin is.

See how sin looks coldly at the character of our Creator, the Maker of all that is majestic, glorious, beautiful, and excellent. It pours contempt on Him. Look at the scariest creatures in the world and imagine that they are honing in on you. Yet none of those creatures naturally hates God. Only sin—your sin and mine—despises and rejects God.

See how sin lies under the warnings of the living God. God hates all that is a contradiction of His nature. All that is mean, sly, cruel, egotistical, idolatrous, greedy, and lustful is disdained by the thrice-holy Lord. Everything in heaven and in the heaven of heavens, the angels and seraphim, the spirits of just men made perfect, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one in all their righteous anger and fury aimed at the head of sin, and are we going to go on being indifferent to it? One day, by grace, we shall loathe it as they do.

See the consequences of sin. Consider the rich man in Jesus’ story and the great gulf fixed between him and the blessedness of those in heaven (Luke 16:19–31). He longs for deliverance, but he cannot ever leave that place. One drop of water is all he asks for, but he can never have it. What has brought him there, this wealthy man who had everything, this son of pride? What has joined him to many more who for years resolutely walked the broad way and refused every offer of mercy and disdained Christ the Redeemer? It was sin, that same sin that fills the graveyards with your dead and causes the smoke from their burning bodies to ascend from the chimneys of every crematorium. The wages of sin is death—physical death in this world and the horrific second death in the world to come.

See the judgment of sin that fell on the Lord Jesus on Golgotha. What do the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit think of sin? Consider the end of the Son whom God the Father loves. There is no father more loving than the Father and no son more beloved than the Son. Yet, the Son bore our sins in His own body on the cross. The Son of God became the Lamb of God. He who knew no sin was made sin for us. But God the Father did not spare Him. There could not be a gram of compromise as far as sin was concerned. God did not restrain one stroke of His rod of justice in displaying how worthy of condemnation sin is. It pleased the Father to strike Christ dead. The Father lifted up His rod, and Christ took it on Himself—in our place.

All this indicates the seriousness with which God views sin, and how inexpressible is all that God endured in order for pathetic folk like us to be delivered from iniquity. And you can shrug? You can nod and yet carry on sinning in deed and word and attitude and omission?

Unbeliever, Jesus Christ is everything sinners need. He can satisfy all your desires and can snap those mighty chains that attach you to sin. Christian, young and old alike, put to death remaining sin. Strangle it and give it not a breath. Starve it. Refuse to feed it with a single tidbit. Take sin seriously because you take the righteousness and blood of Christ seriously.



According to tradition this Gospel was composed to satisfy the urgent request of the people of Rome for a written summary of Peter’s preaching in that city. However, this cannot mean that the information found in this book must be withheld from everybody living outside of the city limits of the capital. As is clear from 1:37; 10:45; 12:9; 13:10; and even 16:15 (whatever be its authenticity), this Gospel was intended to reach the entire Greek speaking world: its message was, is, and is going to be meaningful for everybody.

That it was composed for a non-Jewish public would seem to follow from the fact that such Semitic terms and expressions as boanerges (3:17), talitha cumi (5:41), corban (7:11), ephphatha (7:34), and Abba (14:36) are by Mark translated into Greek. Moreover, the author explains Jewish customs (7:3, 4; 14:12; 15:42). And as to this Gospel’s origin in Rome note that at times Mark renders Greek into Latin. He mentions that the two lepta (‘copper coins’) which the poor widow cast into the offering box amounted to one Roman quadrans (‘penny’, 12:42), and that the aule (‘palace’) into which the soldiers led Jesus was the praetorium (the governor’s official residence, 15:16).

Mark is also the only Gospel that informs us (15:21) that Simon of Cyrene was ‘the father of Alexander and Rufus’, who were evidently well-known in Rome (see Rom 16:13).

To all this should be added the fact that the manner in which Mark pictures the Christ, namely, as an active, energetic, swiftly moving, warring, conquering King, a Victor over the destructive forces of nature, over disease, demons, and even death, would be of interest especially to Romans — people who, in their lust for and exercise of power, had conquered the world. To them Mark pictures a King who excels any earthly conqueror. His kingdom is far more extensive, his armour far more effective, and his rule far more enduring than anything originating here below. His victories, moreover, are far more honourable, for he causes the conquered to share in the glory of the conquest. Mark’s King is the Saviour-King. He is the Victor who does not gloat over the suffering of the conquered but suffers in their place and with a view to their ever­lasting welfare (10:45). . .

A closely related question is: In writing this Gospel did Mark intend merely to supply information or also to bring about transformation? Was it his purpose, as some maintain, merely to record a narrative, or in so doing to furnish an incentive for living to the glory of God? To phrase it differently, how did he view Jesus? Merely as a very interesting personage, the story of whose mighty deeds must be related because it is fascinating and satisfies people’s curiosity? Or did he primarily regard Jesus to be the mighty and conquering Saviour King, to whom all men should turn in humble faith? Surely the latter! It must ever be borne in mind that Mark was ‘Peter’s interpreter.’ Now whenever Peter preached he urged repentance. His predication amounted to, at least reached a climax of, exhortation (Acts 2:36-40; 10:43), in order that through repentance and faith men might be saved, to God’s glory (Acts 11:18). Now if that was true with respect to Peter, it must also have been true with respect to Mark. Mark’s Gospel, accordingly, does have a definitely doctrinal and thoroughly practical aim. It is a narrative, to be sure, but a narrative with a most noble purpose (Mark 10:45; 12:28-34; 16:16).

Now a person’s willingness to surrender himself to Jesus depends upon how he views him; in other words, faith always implies doctrine. Even narrative is not without its doctrinal implications. The Christology implied throughout in Mark’s Gospel is that, to begin with, Jesus is thoroughly human. He eats (2:16) and drinks (15:36). He becomes hungry (11:12). He touches people (1:41) and is touched by them (5:27). He becomes grieved (3:5) and indignant (10:14). He falls asleep from fatigue and is awakened (4:38, 39). He asks that a boat be provided for him, so that he may not be crushed (3:9). He (for a while) plies a trade; he has a mother, brothers and sisters (6:3). Viewed as a man, his knowledge is limited (13:32), so that he turns around to see who has touched him (5:30), and walks up to a fig tree to see whether it has edible fruit (11:13). He has a human body (15:43) and a human spirit (2:8). He even dies (15:37)!

However, this same Jesus of Mark’s Gospel is also thoroughly divine.

The ‘Son of man’ (2:10, 28; etc.) is also ‘Son of God’ (1:1; 3:11; etc.). The One whom Mark describes reigns supreme in the realm of disease, demons, and death. As such he heals diseases of every variety, casts out demons (1:32-34), cures the blind, the deaf, etc. (8:22-26; 1:46-52), cleanses the leper (1:40-45), and even raises the dead (5:21-24, 35-43). He exercises power over the domain of nature in general; for he stills winds and waves (4:35-41), walks on water (6:48), causes a fig tree to wither (11:13, 14, 20), and multiplies a few rolls so that they suffice to satisfy the hunger of thousands (6:30-44; 8:1-10). His knowledge of the future is so detailed and comprehensive that he predicts what will happen to Jerusalem, to the world, to his disciples (chapter 13), and to himself (8:31; 9:9, 21; 10:32-34; 14:17-21). He knows what is in men’s hearts (2:8; 12:15), and knows their circumstances (12:44). His authority is so outstanding that he pronounces pardon in a manner befitting God and no one else (2:1-12, especially verses 5 and 6). The climax of his majesty is revealed in this that when he is put to death he rises again (16:6)!

As to whether Mark pictures this Jesus as the object of faith, this question, too, must be answered with a vigorous affirmative, really already implied in the foregoing. ‘Jesus Christ, the Son of God’, is immediately introduced as the Lord whose coming, in accordance with prophecy, demands a herald or way-preparer (1:1-3). He is the One to whom the angels minister (1:13). His blood is a ransom for many (10:45; cf. 14:24). He baptizes with the Holy Spirit (1:8), is Lord even of the sabbath (2:28), appoints his own ambassadors (3:13-19), has a right to be accepted in faith even by those of ‘his own country’ (implied in 6:6), has authority to bid men follow and receive him (8:34; 9:37), is the very One whom David called ‘Lord’ (implied in 12:37), and is coming again in the glory of his Father (8:38), in clouds with power and great glory, when he will send forth the angels to gather his elect (13:26, 27).

According to this evangelist the two natures, human and divine (to use later terminology), are in perfect harmony. This is a fact which, in studying certain passages, one can hardly fail to detect (4:38, 39; 6:34, 41-43; 8:1-10; 14:32-41; etc.).

Mark’s aim is that men everywhere may accept this Jesus Christ, ‘Son of man’ and ‘Son of God’, this conquering King, as their Saviour and Lord.

The three most obvious characteristics of Mark’s Gospel are compact­ness, vividness, and orderliness. By compactness is meant that this Gospel is much shorter than any of the others. In the Bible lying before me Luke covers approximately 40 pages, Matthew 37, John 29, and Mark only 23. Luke has about 1147 verses, Matthew 1068. Mark (1:1-16:8) has only 661. Mark contains only one parable not found elsewhere, that of The Seed Growing in Secret (4:26-29). In addition it shares three parables with Matthew and Luke: The Sower (Mark 4:3-9, 18-23), The Mustard Seed (4:30-32), and The Wicked Tenants (12:1-9). Compare this with Matthew’s ten parables that are peculiar to that Gospel, six that it shares with Luke, and three along with Mark and Luke; hence, nineteen parables in all. Luke has eighteen parables all its own. This number added to the nine already implied makes no less than twenty-seven parables for Luke. Since some of the parables are rather lengthy this means that, other things being equal, Mark by omitting so many of them would be considerably shorter than the other Gospels.

What is just as important in this connection is that of the six great discourses found in Matthew only one — the sixth, on The Last Things (Matt 24 and 25; cf. Mark 13) — is found also in Mark, and even then in shorter form. Of the other discourses only remnants, frequently scattered, are reported in Mark. See, however, also Mark 4.

All this means that Mark’s brevity relates especially to the words of Jesus. Nevertheless, the number of verses in Mark that contain such words (some verses have only one or two of them) is not small: 278. They occur especially in chapters 2, 4, 7, 9, 10, and 12. Luke has 588 verses containing dominical words, Matthew 640. Accordingly, while such words are found in approximately 60% of Matthew’s 1068 verses, and in about 51 % of Luke’s 1147, they occur in only about 42% of Mark’s 661. Mark is definitely the action Gospel. It is understandable that because of the omission of so much sayings material there was room even in this short Gospel for a series of miracle stories almost as long as in the much larger Matthew. Each of Mark’s first eleven chapters contains at least one miracle account. Those recorded in 7:31-37; 8:22-26 are peculiar to Mark. Moreover in several cases Mark’s coverage is more detailed and graphic than is that of the other Synoptics.

This leads to the second characteristic of this Gospel, namely, its vividness. Mark’s style sparkles. Was he not the interpreter of vivacious, highly emotional, colourful Simon Peter?

Having therefore studied the Gospel according to Matthew, one cannot afford to skip Mark, thinking, ‘This book contains hardly anything that has not already been said by the publican turned author.’ To be sure, of wholly new material material not paralleled at all either in Matthew or in Luke — there is very little. Only 31 Markan verses are generally mentioned in this connection (1:1; 2:27; 3:20, 21; 4:26-29; 7:3, 4; 7:32-37; 8:22-26; 9:29; 9:48, 49; 13:33-37; 14:51, 52). On the other hand, it is also true that in ever so many passages or paragraphs Mark presents lively little touches that are not found elsewhere. These touches (in addition to the ones already included in the immediately preceding list: 1:1, etc.) enliven the account. The following are examples:

In the wilderness where he was tempted Jesus was ‘among the wild beasts’ (1:13). John the Baptist’s preaching was not exclusively negative: he did not merely tell his audience to repent. He added ‘and believe the gospel’ (1:15). When the fishermen James and John in order to follow Jesus left their father in the boat, they did not overburden him: they left him ‘with the hired men’ (1:20). In healing Simon’s mother-in-law Jesus not merely touched her; tenderly he ‘took her by the hand’ (1:31). That evening at sundown ‘the whole town was gathered at the door’ of Peter’s house (1:33). ‘Very early the next morning Jesus . . . went to a lonely place, and there he prayed.’ It was here that Peter and his companions found him, telling him that everybody was looking for him (1:35-57). The house where Jesus was proclaiming the message was filled to over­flowing, in fact, ‘not even near the doorway’ was there any room left (2:2).

At another occasion when Christ’s enemies on a sabbath and in the synagogue were watching him with critical eyes to see whether on this day he would heal a man with a withered hand, Jesus ‘looked around at them with anger, being deeply disturbed by the hardness of their hearts’ (3:5).

It was ‘evening’ when the disciples took Jesus with them in the boat ‘just as he was’ (4:35, 36). Soon he was ‘in the stern asleep on the cushion’ (4:38). To the sea he said, ‘Hush! Be still’ (4:39). He asked his disciples, ‘Even now do you not have faith?’ (4:40).

The story of the healing of the Gerasene demoniac is told with far more detail in Mark than in either Matthew or Luke. Mark devotes twenty verses to it (5:1-20); Luke fourteen (8:26-39); Matthew seven (8:28-34). For example, Mark relates that no one could keep this man in chains or subdue him. He adds, ‘And always, night and day, among the tombs and on the hillsides he was screaming and cutting himself with stones.’ All three Synoptics report that when Jesus gave the demons leave they came out of the man and went into the pigs, which thus possessed rushed down the cliff and into the sea. Mark adds that there were ‘about two thousand’ pigs that drowned. What is true with respect to the cure of the demoniac holds also in the case of the woman who touched Christ’s garment: the full story is told not in Matthew (three verses, 9:20-22), nor in Luke (six verses, 8:43-48), but in Mark (ten verses, 5:25-34). Notice particularly what Mark says — but ‘Dr’ Luke does not say — about physicians! (cf. Mark 5:25 with Luke 8:43). Other details reported exclusively by Mark are found in 5:29b, 30. But though Mark was ‘Peter’s interpreter’ it is not Mark but Luke who brings Peter into the story (8:45) . . .

Dr. William Hendriksen received his Ph.D. in New Testament from Princeton Theological Seminary. He pastored for many years and was later Professor Of New Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary. This article is an extract from Hendriksen’s New Testament Commentary. It was first published in the May 1976 edition of the Banner of Truth magazine.


Armenia. Cambodia. Rwanda. Bosnia. Darfur. All well-known modern examples of genocide where entire people groups were wiped out (or almost wiped out). These are awful tragedies, worthy of our sorrow and grief.

And yet, ask the critics, is the God of the Bible really any different? When the Israelites entered the land of Canaan, was it not God who commanded them to wipe out all the indigenous people (Deut. 20:17)? Is God not guilty of genocide?

It makes me think of the famous bumper-sticker quote, “The only difference between God and Adolf Hitler is that God is more proficient at genocide.”

Admittedly, this is a difficult, complex issue. We feel obligated, understandably, to get God “off the hook” for the deaths of so many people. Many possibilities come to mind for how that might be done. Maybe we’ve misread the passage. Maybe it’s just symbolic. Maybe the Israelites misunderstood God’s command.

But I don’t think we need to get God off the hook. I don’t think he wants off the hook. As painful as this issue is, it highlights what we, and our culture, need to hear more than ever: God is holy, people are sinful, the world is broken, and his judgment is just.

If we are to rightly understand the destruction of the Canaanites, several principles must be remembered.

1. We Don’t Get What We Deserve

First, every human on the planet deserves God’s judgment—not just the Canaanites. Right now, all humans everywhere—from the kind old lady next door to the hardened criminal on death row—are all deeply sinful. And they were born this way. Since birth, all human beings stand guilty, not only for their own sins but for the sin of Adam that has been passed down to them (Rom 5:12). And the penalty for sin is clear: “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).

Rather than being surprised God will finally judge people for their sins (even in great numbers), perhaps we should be shocked that he waits so long to do it.

So, what does this mean? At any moment, God could take the life of any human as judgment for their sins. And he would be totally justified in doing so. He owes salvation to no one.

This quickly changes our perspective on the Canaanite conquest. Rather than being surprised God will finally judge people for their sins (even in great numbers), perhaps we should be shocked that he waits so long to do it. Every one of us is alive and breathing solely because of God’s incredible patience and grace.

2. Our Expectations Are Way Off

Second, the timing of God’s judgment doesn’t always match human expectations. Sometimes we think God should judge the most sinful people first and work down the list. But God doesn’t always work the way we expect. In fact, Jesus made this exact point when asked why the tower of Siloam collapsed and killed a bunch of people. Jesus replied:

Do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you. But unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. (Luke 13:4–5)

Ouch. In other words, people don’t have to be the worst of sinners to receive God’s judgment. And he isn’t obligated to judge all  simultaneously.

There is a key difference between the Canaanite conquest and modern-day genocide.

While the Canaanites weren’t the only sinful people in the world, and not necessarily even the worst, their sins were egregious. God drove them out of the land primarily because their practices were “detestable” in his sight—gross idolatry, sorcerers and mediums, sexual perversions, even sacrificing their own children to the gods (Deut. 18:9–14).

Despite these practices, God had been incredibly patient with Canaan’s inhabitants for generation after generation, dating back even to Abraham’s time (Gen 15:13–16). Nevertheless, God’s patience had expired.

3. God Judges Through Means

Third, God uses a variety of instruments to accomplish his judgment. Sure, he could just miraculously take every Canaanite life in a single instance. But God has a history of using various means to bring judgment.

At this juncture in Scripture, such means have already included natural disasters, disease and pestilence, drought, and economic collapse. At numerous points, moreover, God raises up a human army to accomplish his purposes. And in the Canaanite conquest, he uses the nation of Israel as his instrument of judgment.

Here we come to a key difference between the Canaanite conquest and modern-day genocide. Both involve great loss of life. Both involve human armies. But the former is an instrument of God’s righteous judgment, whereas the latter is humans murdering others for their own purposes. On the surface there may be similarities, but they’re decidedly not the same act.

An example might help. Imagine a scenario where one human injects another with a deadly toxin that kills them. Is that murder? It depends. If it was done by a gang member who wanted to knock off a rival gang member, the answer would be yes. But if it was done by a federal-prison official authorized by the state to administer lethal injection, the answer would be no.

On the surface, the two acts might look the same. But everything comes down to whether the taking of life is properly authorized. The issue is not whether a life is taken, but how and why.

4. His Judgment Is Just

Let me try to draw all of this together. If every human deserves judgment (and we do), and if God is justified in taking a life whenever he decides to execute that judgment (and he is), and if he uses various instruments for that judgment (including human armies), then there’s nothing immoral about the Canaanite conquest.

God’s judgment is just, even if we don’t fully understand it.

To object to the conquest would require us to object to all of God’s acts of judgment. Do we also object to Noah’s flood, and to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and to the plagues on Egypt, and so on all the way to the cross itself?

In the end, the conquest of Canaan remains a difficult and complex issue. And yet if the conquest is seen within the context of the Christian worldview, rather than from outside it, the objections fade away. God’s judgment is just, even if we don’t fully understand it (Isa. 55:8–9). And if we take that away, we’re left with something other than the God of Christianity.


One of my still-vivid memories of early childhood is the way my parents worked hard to teach my brother and me the importance of gratitude.

When visitors came, often with gifts for us, we were always prompted, “What do you say?” We would immediately respond, “Thank you very much,” the measure of our appreciation being the emphasis on the word very. When the guests had gone, my mother especially would impress upon us how kind and generous they had been.

When salvation in Christ came to our home, it was not surprising for us to learn that Scripture urged us to “give thanks to the Lord” in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18). Of course, the basic cause for gratitude was that God the Father had not spared His own Son but gave Him up to die on the cross for our salvation. But more than that, God’s nature and practice was to lavish His goodness on His creatures, so that His people sang, “Surely God is good to Israel,” and urged others, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”

It made such an impression on me that I remember the first time the eighth chapter of Romans was explained to me as a teenager. Romans 8:28 says that “for those who love God all things work together for good.” Paul is not merely saying that God gives good gifts to His people. He is actually assuring every believer that a sovereign God is at work in every circumstance (including the “suffering” of verse 17 and the “groaning” of verse 23) for the lasting good of His people. John Stott comments, “Nothing is beyond the over-ruling, over-riding scope of His providence.”

J.I. Packer points out that the biblical word for this is “grace,” both common and special grace. Common grace refers to the blessings of our daily life, while special grace refers to the blessing of God’s salvation. Of the former, Packer says, “Every meal, every pleasure, every possession, every bit of sunshine, every night’s sleep, every moment of health and safety, and everything else that sustains and enriches life is a divine gift.” It is significant that the Anglo-Saxon root from which the word God comes means “good.” A.W. Pink adds, “His goodness is underived: it is the essence of his eternal nature.”

Now in the light of all this, it is not surprising that the Bible so frequently links God’s goodness with our gratitude, not least in the Psalms: “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good” (Ps. 107:1).

For the Christian, ingratitude is not just a failure in manners. It is a sin against the God who did not spare even His own Son but delivered Him up for us all. As we grow in Christian experience and in our knowledge of Scripture, we discover that God’s nature and daily practice are to lavish His goodness on His people, covering every area of life. His grace and power are more than sufficient to supply what is good for us, both spiritually and materially. No wonder we gladly sing, “How good is the God we adore, our faithful unchangeable friend; His love is as great as His power, and knows neither measure nor end.”

It is, of course, important to clarify, for ourselves and for our children, that “every good and perfect gift” is not a reference to material prosperity. It may, or may not, include that, but in Romans 8:28 Paul tells us, “For those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” There follows a clarification of that purpose: that they may be “conformed to the image of his Son.” It is therefore our spiritual well-being, the formation in us of true Christlikeness, that is God’s great concern. Now, that must not blind us to the truth Paul spells out in the same chapter that “he who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (v. 32). “All things” must include both material and spiritual gifts. There is no area of life where God is not graciously and constantly engaged in supplying our needs (notice, not necessarily our wants or desires) and demonstrating His absolute sufficiency for every one of His children. So, the psalmist urges us to say, “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Ps. 103:2). And Paul would have been happy to conclude, “And make me more like Jesus.”



It was years ago now, but I still remember the discussion. I was making my way out of our church building some time after the morning service had ended, and was surprised to find a small group of people still engaged in vigorous conversation. One of them turned and said to me, “Can Christians eat black pudding?”

To the uninitiated in the mysteries of Scottish haute cuisine, it should perhaps be said that black pudding is not haggis! It is a sausage made of blood and suet, sometimes with flour or meal.

It seems a trivial question. Why the vigorous debate? Because, of course, of the Old Testament’s regulations about eating blood (Lev. 17:10ff).

Although (as far as I am aware) no theological dictionary contains an entry under B for “The Black Pudding Controversy,” this unusual discussion raised some most basic hermeneutical and theological issues:

  • How is the Old Testament related to the New?
  • How is the Law of Moses related to the gospel of Jesus Christ?
  • How should a Christian exercise freedom in Christ?

The Council of Jerusalem, described in Acts 15, sought to answer such practical questions faced by the early Christians as they wrestled with how to enjoy freedom from the Mosaic administration without becoming stumbling blocks to Jewish people.

These were questions to which Paul in particular gave a great deal of thought. He was, after all, one of those appointed by the Jerusalem Council to circulate and explain the letter that summarized the decisions of the apostles and elders (Acts 15:22ff; 16:4). Faced with similar issues in the church at Rome, he provided them with a series of principles that apply equally well to twenty-first-century Christians. His teaching in Romans 14:1–15:13 contains healthy (and very necessary) guidelines for the exercise of Christian liberty. Here are four of them:

Principle 1: Christian liberty must never be flaunted. “Whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God” (Rom. 14:22NIV).

We are free in Christ from the Mosaic dietary laws; Christ has pronounced all food clean (Mark 7:18-19). We may eat black pudding after all!

But you do not need to exercise your liberty in order to enjoy it. Indeed, Paul elsewhere asks some very penetrating questions of those who insist on exercising their liberty whatever the circumstances: Does this really build up others? Is this really liberating you—or has it actually begun to enslave you (Rom. 14:19; 1 Cor. 6:12)?

The subtle truth is that the Christian who has to exercise his or her liberty is in bondage to the very thing he or she insists on doing. Says Paul, if the kingdom consists for you in food, drink, and the like, you have missed the point of the gospel and the freedom of the Spirit (Rom. 14:17).

Principle 2: Christian liberty does not mean that you welcome fellow Christians only when you have sorted out their views on X or Y (or with a view to doing that).

God has welcomed them in Christ, as they are; so should we (Rom. 14:1, 3). True, the Lord will not leave them as they are. But He does not make their pattern of conduct the basis of His welcome. Neither should we.

We have many responsibilities for our fellow Christians, but being their judge is not one of them. Christ alone is that (Rom. 14:4, 10-13). How sad it is to hear (as we do far too often) the name of another Christian mentioned in conversation, only for someone to pounce immediately on him or her in criticism. That is not so much a mark of discernment as it is the evidence of a judgmental spirit.

What if the measure we use to judge others becomes the measure used to judge us (Rom. 14:10-12; Matt. 7:2)?

Principle 3: Christian liberty ought never to be used in such a way that you become a stumbling block to another Christian (Rom. 14:13).

When Paul states this principle, it is not a spur-of-the-moment reaction, but a settled principle he has thought out and to which he has very deliberately committed himself (see 1 Cor. 8:13). When that commitment is made, it eventually becomes so much a part of our thinking that it directs our behavior instinctively. We are given liberty in Christ in order to be the servants of others, not in order to indulge our own preferences.

Principle 4: Christian liberty requires grasping the principle that will produce this true biblical balance: “We … ought … not to please ourselves…. For even Christ did not please himself ” (Rom. 15:1-3).

There is something devastatingly simple about this. It reduces the issue to the basic questions of love for the Lord Jesus Christ and a desire to imitate Him since His Spirit indwells us to make us more like Him.

True Christian liberty, unlike the various “freedom” or “liberation” movements of the secular world, is not a matter of demanding the “rights” we have. Dare one say that the American Founding Fathers, for all their wisdom, may have inadvertently triggered off a distortion of Christianity by speaking about our “rights” to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? The Christian realizes that before God he or she possesses no “rights” by nature. In our sinfulness, we have forfeited all of our “rights.”

Only when we recognize that we do not deserve our “rights” can we properly exercise them as privileges. Sensitivity to others in the church, especially weaker others, depends on this sense of our own unworthiness. If we assume that we have liberties to be exercised at all costs, we become potentially lethal weapons in a fellowship, all too capable of destroying someone for whom Christ has died (Rom. 14:1520).

That does not mean that I must become the slave of another’s conscience. John Calvin puts the point well when he says that we restrain the exercise of our freedom for the sake of weak believers, but not when we are faced with Pharisees who demand that we conform to what is unscriptural. Where the gospel is at stake, liberty needs to be exercised; where the stability of a weak Christian is at stake, we need to restrain it.

This is all part and parcel of “living between the times.” Already, in Christ, we are free, but we do not yet live in a world that can cope with our freedom. One day we will enjoy “the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21). Then may we eat black pudding whenever and wherever we want to! But not yet.

For now, as Martin Luther wrote, “A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.”

As it was with the Master, so it is with the servant.


This excerpt is taken from In Christ Alone by Sinclair Ferguson.


Christ died for the ungodly! – Romans 5:6

In the cross of Christ, God’s hatred to sin is manifested in the most striking light! The evil of sin is exposed in the most dreadful colors! Now it appears, that such is the divine hatred against all sin, that God can by no means forgive sin, without punishment; and that all the infinite benevolence of His nature towards His creatures cannot prevail upon Him to pardon the least sin without an adequate satisfaction.

More than that, now it appears that when so malignant and abominable a thing is but imputed to His dear Son, His co-equal, His darling, His favorite, that even He could not escape unpunished, but was made a monument of vindictive justice, to all worlds!

What can more strongly expose the evil of sin than the cross of Christ? Sin is such an intolerably malignant and abominable thing, that even a God of infinite mercy and grace cannot let the least instance of it pass unpunished!

It was not a small thing that could arm God’s justice against the Son of His love. Though He was perfectly innocent in Himself—yet when He was made sin for us, God spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up unto death; the shameful, tormenting, and accursed death of the cross!

Go, you fools, who make a mock at sin! Go and learn its malignity and demerit at the cross of Jesus!

Who is it that hangs there writhing in the agonies of death—His hands and feet pierced with nails, His side with a spear, His face bruised with blows, and drenched with tears and blood, His heart melting like wax, His whole frame racked and disjointed; forsaken by His friends, and even by His Father; tempted by devils, and insulted by men? Who is this amazing spectacle of woe and torture? It is Jesus, the eternal Word of God; His Elect, in whom His soul delights; His beloved Son, in whom He is well pleased!

And what has He done? He did no wickedness; He knew no sin but was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners. And why then, all these dreadful sufferings from heaven, earth, and hell? Why, He only stood in the law-place of sinners; He only received their sin by imputation. And you see what it has brought upon Him! You see how low it has reduced Him! What a horrid evil must that be—which has such tremendous consequences, even upon the Darling of heaven!

Oh! what still more dreadful havoc would sin have made, if it had been punished upon the sinner himself in his own person! Surely all the various miseries which have been inflicted upon our guilty world in all ages, and even all the punishments of hell do not so loudly proclaim the terrible desert and malignity of sin as the cross of Christ!

The infinite malignity of sin, and God’s hatred to it, appear nowhere in so striking and dreadful a light as in the cross of Christ! Let a reasonable creature take but one serious view of that cross, and surely he must ever after tremble at the thought of the least sin!

-Samuel Davies