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commentaries

October 26, 2010

I love Bible commentaries and must own a couple hundred of them by now. This may be a bit of an irrational love since I am not a preacher and am only rarely asked to preach. Still, while growing a collection has involved some effort and some expense, there have been many occasions when I’ve been grateful to have them available to me whether that’s in preparing a conference talk or in writing a book or even in preparing the occasional sermon. It’s also been great to be able to loan them to people who have needed them. OK, and I won’t deny that I also get a strange satisfaction from watching a series grow across a bookcase. As I said, it may be a bit irrational.

The fact is, though, that many commentaries are a little bit too advanced (and others are far too advanced) for someone like me—someone without formal theological education and especially without training in the original biblical languages. Also, many commentaries are suited for sermon preparation but not for personal study or Bible study.

And yet there are a few good series that are intended for the rest of us. Opening UpThe Opening Up series of commentaries from DayOne is just such a set, one targeted at the lay person. They are described as “simple but not simplistic tools to help individuals and groups to understand the Bible.” Thus they are ideal for personal study or for preparing small group Bible studies.

The series offers a few compelling features:

  • They are priced right, with most of them being in the $10-$12 range.
  • Each chapter offers two levels of questions: questions for study and questions for personal application.
  • They include resources for further, deeper study.
  • They are easy on the eye—easy to read and easy to engage with. And trust me, if you’ve read a lot of serious commentaries, you know that this is a noteworthy feature.
  • They are written by competent preachers including men like Roger Ellsworth and Iain Campbell.

December 13, 2009

You know that every now and again I like to post a prayer here. Sometimes it is a prayer from long ago, sometimes it is a prayer that is much more recent. This week I was looking at pastor Scotty Smith’s blog and came across a great prayer—one I could fully identify with and one I so badly needed to pray, too. Smith based it on this passage: “So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:16-19).

Here is his prayer:

*****

Dear Lord Jesus, I’m very much convicted by and drawn to Mary’s response, early in her journey of nursing you and knowing you—the very God who created all things, sustains all things and makes all things new. She “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

“Hurrying off” like a shepherd to tell others about you has always been easier for me than sitting still… and letting you tell me about yourself.

It’s always been easier for me to talk than to listen, to stay busy than to relax, to be “productive” than to be meditative… I confess this as sin, Lord Jesus. This isn’t okay. It can be explained, but not justified. For knowing about you is not the same thing as knowing you. An informed mind is not the same thing as an enflamed heart.

To know you IS eternal life, and I DO want to know you, Lord Jesus, so much better than I already do. Lead me in the way of treasuring you in my heart and pondering who you are… and pondering everything you’ve already accomplished through your life, death and resurrection… and everything you’re presently doing as the King of kings and Lord of lords… and everything you’ll be about forever in the new heaven and new earth, as the Bridegroom of your beloved Bride. There’s so much to treasure and so much to ponder…

It’s not as though I’m a stranger to treasuring and pondering, for I treasure and ponder a whole lot of things, Lord Jesus—things, however, that lead to a bankrupt spirit and an impoverished heart.

May the gospel slow me, settle me and center me that I might be able to say with the Psalmist, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And being with you, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (Ps 73:25-26).” So very Amen, I pray, in Jesus’ name.

August 21, 2008

This morning brings us to our sixth reading in Jonathan Edwards’ The Religious Affections. This week we had a rather long reading of the first sign of authentic affections—the first chapter where we really get to the heart of the book.

Summary

This week’s reading dealt with the first authentic affection. Here is what Edwards sought to prove: “Affections that are truly spiritual and gracious do arise from those influences and operations on the heart which are spiritual, supernatural and divine.” It took him forty pages to do so!

Discussion

This chapter surprised me a little bit. While this was to be the first of the “positive signs” and the first to follow the section dealing with the many “signs of nothing,” the chapter had a clear negative tone to it. It seemed that Edwards proved “something” primarily by disproving “nothing.” That may not make much sense but perhaps you see what I’m getting at. He proved his point by spending page after page disproving other things. It seems that the back story for this chapter involves people in Edwards’ day attempting to prove they were true Christians by stating that God had given them such knowledge, through feelings or through Scripture or through any other means. He responds by showing that such means can be brought about even in unregenerate men. Thus true affections can only be brought about by truly spiritual, supernatural and divine operations.

Edwards distinguishes here between the spiritual man and the natural man. Those who are spiritual are those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit; all other men are natural. The Holy Spirit may influence them in various ways and even work certain things in their hearts and minds, but they are not men who have undergone that supernatural act of regeneration. This is a good distinction to make in our day as we live at a time when anyone who acknowledges some kind of a deity or who has some kind of faith is called spiritual. Oprah Winfrey is as “spiritual” a person as you’ll find, but she utterly rejects Christianity. Edwards reminds us that no one can be spiritual unless he is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Hence we can acknowledge other people as religious, but, when we look to Scripture, must deny that they can be spiritual; there is no Spirit in them.

This is not to say that the Spirit is unable to influence people who are unregenerate. “The Spirit of God, in all His operations upon the minds of natural men, only moves, impresses, assists, improves, or some way acts upon natural principles; but gives no new spiritual principle.” In other words, He can work even in natural men by using natural means. “He only assists natural principles to do the same work to a greater degree which they do of themselves by nature.” This was something I had never really considered in the past and I found it valuable to think about.

Now maybe I missed something in this chapter—maybe my mind was mush by the end, but I found few points of application. Perhaps it is that I have never really encountered people in life whose claim to Christianity is some inward voice or the fact that verses of Scripture have come to their minds. But somehow I struggled with really applying this portion of the book to my own life. I am hoping that someone can leave a comment offering a few points of application.

Next Time

For next week we will read the second distinguishing sign of truly gracious and holy affections. This is quite a bit shorter than this week’s reading, so should not pose quite as much of a challenge. In my book it comes out at only fourteen pages.

Your Turn

As always, I am eager to know what you gained from this part of the book. Feel free to post comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Do not feel that you can only say anything if you are going to say something that will wow us all. Just add a comment with some of the things you gained from the this week’s reading. To this point the discussion has been very helpful and engaging.

July 17, 2008

This morning we kick off the fourth round of Reading Classics Together, an effort in which we read some of the great Christian classics together and convene here once a week to discuss them. In the past we’ve read J.C. Ryle’s Holiness, John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation and A.W. Pink’s The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross. We’ve had hundreds of people participate by reading the books together and discussing them each week. All along we’ve been reading some of the classics of the Christian faith—books many of us wish to read but books few of us have ever made time for. And now we begin on the fourth classic—The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards. Well over 100 people have agreed to participate in reading this book together…and it all begins today. This is going to be our toughest challenge yet, I’m am sure!

“Read Religious Affections, at all costs read Religious Affections! And anything else you can get your hands on by this great saint.”
—John Piper
I generally follow a certain format in posting about the chapters we are reading, but will deviate from that today. The assigned reading for this morning was simply the book’s Preface. The Preface is short and contains little of real substance, but I guess we need to begin somewhere! Edwards uses it to state the purpose for which he has written this book. He will seek to answer this question: What are the distinguishing qualifications of those that are in favor with God, and entitled to His eternal rewards?

Sam Storms summarizes the book’s purpose by saying, “He endeavored to identify what constitutes true and authentic spirituality. Or, to put it in the form of a question: Are there certain features or characteristics in human thought and behavior that serve as ‘signs’ of the saving activity and presence of the Spirit of God? Again, is it possible for us to know with any degree of certainty whether or not a person who claims to have experienced the saving grace of God is truly born again?” This is essentially the same question said in many ways and it is the question we expect Edwards to answer in the text of this book. We will do well to keep this question in mind each week as we give ourselves to reading The Religious Affections. And it is an important one to answer for, as Edwards says, “it is by the mixture of counterfeit religion with true, not discerned and distinguished, that the devil has had his greatest advantage against the cause and kingdom of Christ.” From the earliest days of the church until today, the devil has done much damage to the cause of Christ in the world by men and women deluded into thinking that they are Christians when they are not.

It is my hope and expectation that this book will arm us to better discern the state of our own hearts and to see and understand the defining characteristics of those who belong to Christ. To quote Edwards, “It greatly concerns us to use our utmost endeavors clearly to discern, and have it well settled and established, wherein true religion does consist.”

Next Week

Next week we will begin to discuss the heart of the book and I’d suggest we read all of Part I. In my book this comes to 32 pages—a rather long reading, but I think it makes sense to attempt to read it as a unit rather than dividing it rather artificially. I’ll try to keep future readings shorter since I know that 32 pages of Edwards may prove a challenge (or a chore!) but please bear with me. Just read five pages per day through the week and you’ll have no trouble keeping up.

Would You Like to Participate?

If this is the first you’ve heard of Reading Classics Together and it sounds like something you’d like to participate in, we’d be glad to have you along. I will be reading from the Banner of Truth edition of the work, but you can follow along in any of the unabridged editions (of which there are many available). For technophiles, there is a Kindle edition available for only a couple of dollars. For those who are not interested in spending money, CCEL has the complete text available in HTML, PDF and other formats right here.

If you wish to purchase a printed copy of the book, you can do so from Amazon, Westminster Books, Monergism Books or just about anywhere else good Christian books are sold.

We are only a few pages into the book so it’s definitely not too late for you to begin reading with us.

July 04, 2008

Though I’m certainly no scholar, I do enjoy putting a lot of time and effort into studying God’s Word (and especially so as I have increased opportunities to teach and preach to others). As I’ve found real joy and benefit in such study, I’ve quickly realized the benefits and importance of commentaries—good commentaries. I’ve also learned just how inadequate my commentary collection really is. To that end I’ve been working towards a solid collection that will serve me well for a good long time. Because of the relatively high cost of commentaries and because of the danger inherent in a truly bad commentary, I have proceeded quite carefully, attempting to thoroughly research the options. I wouldn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on commentaries only to find that they are nearly useless. Plus, I enjoy a good research project.

Here are a few principles I have discovered about commentaries.

Focus on individual volumes rather than sets. While some sets are excellent, and while they look awfully nice on a bookshelf, all sets tend to be at least somewhat uneven; some titles within the set will necessarily be of much lesser quality than others. Therefore…

…the best strategy for a modest library (and a modest budget) is to purchase the best one or two commentaries on each book of the Bible. The difficulty, of course, is discovering which are the best. Fortunately…

…there are resources available to help find the best commentaries. When purchasing commentaries it is wise to depend on the expertise of others, at least when you are purchasing your first volumes. Even though no two people will agree entirely on which commentaries are best, it is possible to do research and come to some level of agreement. At the end of this article is a partial list of the resources I used to compile my selections. Do remember…

…there are many kinds of commentaries and they are geared to different audiences. Be sure that you choose commentaries appropriate to your level of education and expertise. Do not buy a Greek-heavy commentary if you do not know the language!

Though the best bang for the buck is in individual commentaries, there are some sets worth owning (or in my case, worth coveting!). The New International Commentary on the New Testament appears to be the best complete New Testament set and 22 of the volumes are available bundled together for just over $500. Its Old Testament equivalent, the New International Commentary on the Old Testament offers 22 volumes for around $650. Both sets come with most but not all of the volumes so a few of the most recent titles will need to be purchased separately.

Here, then, based on extensive research (I own only a small handful of these, so I am relying almost entirely on secondary sources), is my assessment of the best two commentaries on each book of the New Testament (my Old Testament list is still a work in progress). Generally speaking I would recommend purchasing the first one listed before the second. Looking at this list, I can see that I have a lot of work to do to build even this basic collection (so, you know, keep clicking on those banners on my site before buying anything at Amazon!). I hope you find the list useful.

Matthew
Carson, D.A. Matthew (EBC), Zondervan 1984.
France, R.T. The Gospel of Matthew. NICNT, Eerdmans, 2007.

Mark
France, R.T. The Gospel of Mark. NIGTC, Eerdmans, 2002.
Lane, William L. The Gospel According to Mark. NICNT, Eerdmans, 1974.

Luke
Bock, Darrell L. Luke (2 volumes). BECNT, Baker, 1994 (volume 2).
Marshall, I. Howard. Commentary on Luke. NIGTC, Eerdmans, 1978.

John
Carson, D. A. The Gospel According to John. PNTC, Eerdmans 1991.
Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of John. Hendrickson, 2003.

Acts
Witherington, Ben. The Acts of the Apostles. Eerdmans, 1997.
Bock, Darrell L, Acts. BECNT, Eerdmans, 2007.

Romans
Moo, Douglas J. The Epistle to the Romans. NICNT, Eerdmans, 1996.
Schreiner, Thomas R. Romans. BECNT, Baker, 1998.

1 Corinthians
Fee, Gordon D. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. NICNT, Eerdmans, 1987.
Garland, David E. 1 Corinthians. BECNT, Baker, 2003.

2 Corinthians
Barnett, Paul. The Second Epistle to the Corinthians. NICNT, Eerdmans, 1997.
Harris, Murray, J. The Second Epistle to the Corinthians. NIGTC, Eerdmans, 2005.

Galatians
Bruce, F. F. Galatians. NIGTC, Eerdmans, 1982.
Longenecker, R. Galatians, WBC, Word, 1990.

Ephesians
Bruce, F. F. The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians. NICNT, Eerdmans, 1984.
O’Brien, Peter T. The Letter to the Ephesians. PNTC, Eerdmans, 1999.

Philppians
Fee, Gordon D. Philippians. NICNT, Eerdmans, 1995.
O’Brien, Peter T. The Epistle to the Philippians. NIGTC, Eerdmans, 1991.

Colossians &Philemon
O’Brien, Peter T. Colossians, Philemon. WBC, Word, 1982.
Bruce, F. F. The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians. NICNT, Eerdmans, 1984.

1 & 2 Thessalonians
Wanamaker, Charles A. The Epistles to the Thessalonians. NIGTC, Eerdmans, 1990.
Bruce, F. F. 1 and 2 Thessalonians. WBC, Word, 1982.

Pastoral Epistles
Mounce, William D. Pastoral Epistles. WBC, Word, 2000.
Fee, Gordon D. 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus. NIBC, Hendricksen, 1998.

Hebrews
Ellingworth, Paul. The Epistle to the Hebrews. NIGTC, Eerdmans, 1993.
Lane, William L. Hebrews (2 Volumes). WBC, Word, 1991 (volume 2).

James
Moo, Douglas J. The Letter of James. TNTC, Eerdmans, 2007.
Davids, Peter H. Commentary on James. NIGTC, Eerdmans, 1982.

1 Peter
Davids, Peter H. The First Epistle of Peter. NICNT, Eerdmans, 1990.
Grudem, Wayne A. The First Epistle of Peter. TNTC, Eerdmans, 2007.

2 Peter and Jude
Bauckham, Richard J. Jude, 2 Peter. WBC, Word, 1983.
Moo, Douglas J. 2 Peter and Jude. NIVAC, Zondervan, 1997.

Johannine Epistles
Kruse, Colin G. The Letters of John, TNTC, Eerdmans, 2004.
Stott, John R. W. The Epistles of St. John, TNTC, Eerdmans, 1988.

Revelation
Beale, G.K. The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text. NIGTC, Eerdmans, 1998.
Mounce, Robert H. The Book of Revelation. NICNT, Eerdmans, 1997.

Here are a few of the resources I used to compile the list:

If you have anything to add, either by way of tips on collecting commentaries or on suggestions for individual commentaries, feel free to post a comment.

October 05, 2007

“Which of you, intended to build a tower, sitteth not down first and counteth the cost?”

Today (a day late, for which I apologize) those of us who are engaged in this project to read some great Christian classics together are going to be looking at the fourth chapter of J.C. Ryle’s Holiness. You can read more about this effort here: Reading the Classics Together. Even if you are not participating, please keep reading. I’m sure there will be something here to benefit you.

To this point Ryle has covered Sin, Sanctification, Holiness and The Fight. This week he progresses to “The Cost.” In this chapter he examines the cost that will come with the fight for personal holiness. “What does it cost to be a true Christian? What does it cost to be a really holy man? This, after all, is the grand question. For want of thought about this, thousands, after seeming to begin well, turn away from the road to heaven, and are lost for ever in hell.”

Summary

The chapter follows this outline:

  1. The Cost of being a Christian
    1. Self-Righteousness
    2. Sins
    3. Love of ease
    4. Favor of the World
  2. The Importance of Counting the Cost – The example of those who did not
    1. The first generation of Israelites in the wilderness
    2. Some of the hearers of Jesus
    3. King Herod
    4. Demas
    5. Hearers of famous evangelical preachers
    6. Some under the influence of evangelical revivals
    7. Some children of religious parents
  3. Some Hints – Count and Compare
    1. Profit and Loss
    2. Praise and Blame
    3. Friends and Enemies
    4. Life now and Life to come
    5. The pleasure of sin and the happiness in God’s service
    6. The trouble of true Christianity and the trouble of the grave
    7. The number that turn to Christ and the number that turn away from Christ
  4. Application
    1. Does your religion cost you anything?
    2. Consider the cost God paid to save your soul.
    3. If you have counted the cost then persevere to the end.

Discussion

This chapter is, in my estimation, the most unexpected of the lot. This is not to say that it is out-of-place, but more that if I had seven things to say about holiness, I’m not sure that I would have thought that “the cost” merited consideration. However, having read it, I definitely agree that it is worth considering and has a place in the book.

The point that particularly caught my attention was the simple fact that personal holiness will cost a man his sins. This is obvious, to be sure, but still profound. We might think that, as Christians, it would be easy to rid ourselves of our sin. But this is too often not the case. “Our sins are often as dear to use as our children: we love them, hug them, cleave to them, and delight in them. To part with them is as hard as cutting off a right hand, or plucking out a right eye. But it must be done.” It is amazing how tightly we cling to our sins and how much we treasure them. I think of Gollum of Lord of the Rings fame, cooing to and cuddling his precious ring, desiring that ring more than anything. And yet that ring was destroying him from the inside out. That ring eventually led to his death. And our sin can be just like this—almost a precious possession that we love like life itself. But as we pursue holiness we will need to rid ourselves of even our most treasured sins.

I suspect that, for many men, these are sins of lust. Many men harbor lust in their lives, considering it a harmless distraction, whether it involves pornography or even just stolen glances at attractive women. I will leave it to women to consider the favored sins that they are most commonly attracted to. As you think about this (whether you are a man or a woman), you may wish to consider reading Jerry Bridges’ Respectable Sins as it deals with a very similar topic.

So here, in an unexpected chapter, I found something to meditate upon and something to apply to my life. And best of all, it was something that collided perfectly with what I was reading by an author who wrote over a century later. I love it when that happens!

Next Time

We’ll continue the book next Thursday (October 11) with the fifth chapter (“Growth”). If you’ve committed to join in this reading project, please keep reading and be prepared to discuss it!

Your Turn

I am interested in hearing what you took away from this chapter. Feel free to post comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Don’t feel that you need to say anything shocking or profound. Just share what stirred your heart or gave you pause or confused you.

August 03, 2007

Reformed Expository Commentaries

Don’t be scared away by the title. After all, commentaries are not only for pastors. So read on!

I do not have an extensive collection of commentaries (though, for a guy who has only preached once, I’m doing alright, thanks primarily to my father trimming down his library). But of the volumes I do have, among the ones I’ve enjoyed the most are titles in the Reformed Expository Commentary series. These are not the kind of commentary that rely on extremely thorough and scholarly treatments of the passages. Rather, they are pastoral (though still scholarly) in their tone and read much like application-heavy expositional sermons (which, I suspect, is where many of them had their origins).

August 11, 2006

This evening’s session, the fifth general session of the conference, was primarily a time of singing and worship. I have attempted to capture an account of the evening’s events that those who have never attended a Sovereign Grace event may be able to understand how they worship.

The evening began with “Come Now Almighty King” and soon transitioned to a Valley of Vision video featuring the prayer “Spiritus Sanctus.”

Awe in God’s Presence:

We sang “Holy, Holy, Holy” a cappella and then listened to the reading of Isaiah 6:1-8 as a prelude to a time of repentance.

Acknowledge that Sin Cannot Exist in God’s Presence:

This was a time of repentance and confession, both corporate and personal. There was a time of silence where we searched our own hearts and asked God to reveal our sin to us. We then sang “The Precious Blood” and were led in prayer by Craig Cabaniss who thanked God for His mercy in Christ.

Gratefulness for Jesus, Our Access Into God’s Presence:

The vocalists read Hebrews 4:14-16, Ephesians 2:13-18 and Hebrews 10:19-22 which reminded us that we have access into God’s presence only through Jesus Christ. We followed these Scriptures with “I Come By The Blood” and “Jesus Thank You.” There was then a time of spontaneous group singing where Bob encouraged each person to sing his own song to the Lord. While I love to hear 1000 voices sing a single song to the Lord, it was equally stirring to hear 1000 voices sing 1000 songs to Him.

Prayer for God’s Active Presence in My Life:

Bob began this section by stating he had been led to sing a prophetic song for the women in the audience named Katie. He asked all the Katies presence to come to the front and he sang a song for them, the theme of which was to encourage them and to direct them to the Word as the source of God’s voice.

Shannon Harris sang a new song, “Who Made Me To Know You” and Scripture verses were read between each of the verses. There was then a time of individual prayer where we were to ask God’s Spirit to be working in and through our lives. Bob asked us to consider where we desire God to be more active in our lives: “Holiness? Purity? Boldness? Resisting temptation? Faithfulness? Prayer? Hearing and responding to His voice?” Again, there was a time of spontaneous worship based around a chorus which said, “Come Holy Spirit, glorify Jesus in me.” A few people delivered words from the Lord centered around images they felt He impressed on their minds. Bob and another gentlemen felt that God wanted to heal those with migraines, arthritis and lower-body pain. People with such infirmities raised their hands and were soon surrounded by those sitting closeby who laid hands on them and prayed that God would heal them. After “There is a Redeemer,” we broke into groups of just three or four people, each of which prayed for the local churches represented by the men and women in that group. We were to pray for them to actively pursue the presence of God in their midst.

Prayer for God’s Active Presence in my Local Church and the World:

The final portion of this evening’s service began with a time of spontaneous prayer for the church. It was then time to pray for the worldwide church and people from six nations read the first three verses of Psalm 67 in their native languages. “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!” It was read by natives of Ethiopia, Kenya, Guatemala, Japan, Korea and Australia (What happened to Canada!?). How good it was to hear God’s name praised in five different languages! When they had prayed, we recited the Lord’s Prayer in unison and closed a wonderful evening of worship with “Let Your Kingdom Come,” a new song written by Bob Kauflin.

And now we look forward to an hour-long concert by Keith Getty, Kristyn Getty, and the church’s band.

September 11, 2005

This was a particularly busy week for me. I had several hard deadlines I had to meet and only just managed to get the work done. I find that the busier the week, the more I appreciate my day of rest. As I reflected on this, I remembered a hymn written by John Newton. So as I rest, I leave you to ponder “Safely Through Another Week.” It is a song of thanks for another week of safety and a song of petition, that we may feel God’s presence near to us during the upcoming week.

Safely through another week God has brought us on our way;
Let us now a blessing seek, on th’approaching Sabbath day;
Day of all the week the best, emblem of eternal rest,
Day of all the week the best, emblem of eternal rest.

Mercies multiplied each hour through the week our praise demand;
Guarded by almighty power, fed and guided by His hand;
Though ungrateful we have been, only made returns of sin,
Though ungrateful we have been, only made returns of sin.

While we pray for pardoning grace, through the dear Redeemer’s Name,
Show Thy reconciled face, shine away our sin and shame;
From our worldly cares set free, may we rest this night with Thee,
From our worldly cares set free, may we rest this night with Thee.

Here we come Thy Name to praise, let us feel Thy presence near,
May Thy glory meet our eyes, while we in Thy house appear:
Here afford us, Lord, a taste of our everlasting feast,
Here afford us, Lord, a taste of our everlasting feast.

When the morn shall bid us rise, may we feel Thy presence near:
May Thy glory meet our eyes, when we in Thy house appear:
There afford us, Lord, a taste of our everlasting feast,
There afford us, Lord, a taste of our everlasting feast.

May Thy Gospel’s joyful sound conquer sinners, comfort saints;
May the fruits of grace abound, bring relief for all complaints;
Thus may all our Sabbaths prove till we join the church above,
Thus may all our Sabbaths prove till we join the church above!

August 09, 2004

About a month ago I wrote about Cliched Christianity and spoke of the danger of allowing words to lose their meaning. Today I would like to explore one word that has become little more than cliché to many Christians.

I have chosen to begin at the end, so to speak, with the word “amen.” I choose this word because my own realization of the clichés I use began with this word. I had spent a morning chatting and praying with a good friend and I posed the question of what the word “amen” actually means. We did a bit of research on the meaning of the word and its use in Scripture and found that it is used in a wide variety of ways. We settled on a working definition of the word as it pertains to closing a prayer as modeled by Jesus and the apostles. We decided that we could replace the word “amen” with a phrase such as “And we ask these things, trusting that as we have prayed in Your name, You will do them.” So we prayed, agreeing that at the end we would say that phrase rather than say “amen.” Finishing in prayer, I said “And God, we ask these things, trusting that as we have prayed in Your name, You will do them.” We then both said, “Amen!” We looked at each other and broke into laughter, realizing just what a cliché “amen” had become, that even when we tried to replace the word with something with more meaning, we were not comfortable closing our prayer without saying it. The word had taken on little more meaning than “prayer over.”

“Amen,” as I have said, is used in different ways in Scripture. The Hebrew word, amen, is used 30 times in the Old Testament and 126 in the New Testament and in its simplest form means “truly, indeed, or surely.” The word transliterates into both Greek and English, meaning that we use the same word pronounced roughly the same way as the ancient Jews. As an aside, it is kind of neat to consider that we close our prayers now the same way the ancient Israelites, our Lord and the apostles did.

There are several ways in which the word is used in the Bible. Though similar, each has a slightly different meaning or use.

Affirmation of a curse

The first use of the word is in Numbers 5:22 where it is used as an affirmation of a curse. God spoke through Moses to tell the people about a test for adultery. As part of this process, a priest would tell a woman the curse that would befall her if she lied. The woman was to respond by saying “Amen. Amen.” This response displayed agreement that the curse was a fair punishment for anyone who would lie before God. In Deuteronomy 27 we see many similar instances where the people were to agree to the curses God decreed for breaking His law by saying “Amen.” Once again, their “amen’s” showed submission to God’s laws and affirmed that the consequences of sin were fair and just.

In this sense, then, the word was one of submission before God, acknowledging that His law was just.

Confirmation of the King’s Decree

1 Kings 1:36 describes one of King David’s advisors agreeing to the king’s royal decree to crown his son Solomon as the next king by answering, “Amen! Thus may the Lord, the God of my lord the king, say.” This use of the word carries a meaning of agreement and submission. In this use it is submission and agreement before a God-given authority and not directly to God Himself. But as with the last case, it is primarily a term of submission.

Approval of Prayer or Praise

In both the Old and New Testaments we see “amen” being used to approve of a prayer or praise. Of the five books within Psalms, four of them end with the word “Amen.” As the congregation worshipped through the Psalms, they would end with “amen,” showing their agreement with and approval of the praise they had offered to God (Ps 41:13, 72:19, 89:52, and 106:48). We see a similar use in 1 Corinthians 14:16. In this passage Paul is rebuking the church at Corinth for misusing the gift of tongues. He says “how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the ‘Amen’ at your giving of thanks…” Paul assumes the use of “amen” as an agreement of the thanksgiving being offered to God. He does not reprove them for using the word, but rather for not allowing others the opportunity to use it since they cannot agree with words they do not understand.

Another dramatic example of this is in the book of Nehemiah where the prophet Ezra reads Scripture to the people. They answer “’Amen, Amen!’ while lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground” (Nehemiah 8:6) Their “amens” were a sign of their agreement with the convicting words that they had just heard and were an act of worship.

This use of amen is similar to how it is often used in preaching. A pastor may close his prayer by saying “…and God’s people said…” at which point the congregation is to answer “amen.” In this way the congregation is agreeing with what the pastor has prayed. They are agreeing with the thanksgiving and praise that has been offered to God.

Christ’s Authority

Jesus used the word “amen” in a unique way. Many times in Scripture we read of Jesus beginning a proclamation with the words, “Truly, truly.” This has also been translated as “Verily, verily” or “Truly I say to you.” In the original language, the term Jesus uses is “Amen, Amen.” There is nowhere else in ancient Christian or Jewish literature that the word is used in this way. This double use of the word recalls His divine authority. He uses the word twice as an indication that what He is about to say is authoritative because He is God. No one but Jesus has the right to use the word in this sense.

Authority Of Inspiration

Several of the letters that comprise the New Testament books end with the word “Amen.” In this use it would appear to be an affirmation that the preceding words were God’s words, inspired by Him, though written with human hands. The “amen” shows that the authority is not the human author’s, but God’s. It is the author’s indication that he agrees with what God has just enabled him to write.

Wish For & Trust In Fulfillment of Prophecy

In Jeremiah 28:6 we read “Amen! The Lord do so; the Lord perform your words which you have prophesied…” In this sense the word is being used as an expression of faith that God will be faithful to the prophecies He has seen fit to provide.

God’s Faithfulness – Christ Is The Amen

Revelation 3:14 says of Jesus that He is “The Amen, the faithful and true Witness.” In this use, the meaning is to show that Jesus is trustworthy and faithful. Whatever He decrees will (or already has) come to pass. The word stresses that God is a “Faithful and True Witness.” This seems to point back to Isaiah 65:16 which speaks of the “God of Truth.” The word translated “truth” is actually the word “amen.”

I would like to close with one final use of the word. 2 Corinthians 1:20 says “For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us.” All the promises of salvation, all that we hold onto with faith and hope, are fulfilled in Christ. These promises are forever established in Christ so that we can all place our confidence in Him. God is faithful. Christ is our Amen.

Conclusion

Having studied this word, I hope you will use it appropriately, speaking a loud and hearty “amen” when suitable and possibly even withholding your “amen” when you cannot agree with what has been spoken. It is my hope that through this brief look at but one word, you realize how much depth can be contained in a single word. When we make light of a word, allowing it to become mere cliché and to be uttered without thought, we deprive ourselves of the blessings that may be contained in that word. And far worse, we may even make light of the One to whom we speak.

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