April 28, 2005

Hindered Prayers

Category: Bible - NT - 1 Peter :: Permalink

In 1 Peter 3:7, Peter tells husbands that they must honour their wives and live with them “according to knowledge,” so that their prayers “may not be hindered.” What he is saying is in keeping with other passages of Scripture: a person’s sins may keep God from hearing his prayers (Mal. 2:13-15; Isa. 1:15; 59:1-2; 1 Pet. 3:12). If you don’t honour your wife, God won’t listen to you.

How dangerous is failing to live considerately with your wife, giving her honour? It’s a matter of life and death. John Calvin wants us to take that warning seriously: “We are more than insane, if we knowingly and wilfully close up the way to God’s presence by prayer, since this is the only refuge of our salvation.”

Wayne Grudem adds:

So concerned is God that Christian husbands live in an understanding and loving way with their wives, that he “interrupts” his relationship with them when they are not doing so. No Christian husband should presume to think that any spiritual good will be accomplished by his life without an effective ministry of prayer. And no husband may expect an effective prayer life unless he lives with his wife “in an understanding way, bestowing honour” on her. To take the time to develop and maintain a good marriage is God’s will; it is serving God; it is a spiritual activity pleasing in his sight.

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Posted by John Barach @ 6:25 pm | Discuss (0)

Christ Church Ministerial Conference 2005

Category: Theology - Soteriology :: Permalink

I just received information about the upcoming Christ Church Ministerial Conference, October 17-19, 2005. I’ve been attending these conferences for several years now, and the last two years — on the Trinity (2003) and typology (2004) — were particularly outstanding. This year looks as if it’ll be great, too.

GREAT DELIVERANCE: THE LIFE OF JUSTIFICATION

DOUGLAS WILSON
* Old Paths and Ancient Landmarks
* Regeneration and Justification
* Justification and Culture Wars

PETER LEITHART
* The Justification of God: Justification in Recent Theology
* And Abraham Believed God: Justification and Righteousness in Genesis
* No Condemnation: Justification and Deliverance in Romans 8

RICH LUSK
* The Rich Young Rebel: An Alternative Account of Matthew 19:16-30
* Did Jesus Earn Our Salvation? Merit, Imputation, and the Resurrection of Christ
* Feeling God’s Pleasure: Living in a State of Justification

Moriah and I are planning to attend. Will we see any of you there?

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Posted by John Barach @ 11:43 am | Discuss (0)
April 24, 2005

1 Peter 3:1-6 Sermon Notes

Category: Bible - NT - 1 Peter :: Permalink

RELATIONSHIPS IN THE LIGHT OF THE CROSS IV:
DAUGHTERS OF SARAH
1 Peter 3:1-6
(April 24, 2005, Sermon Notes)

Both feminism and chauvinism can keep us from understanding and obeying God’s word in 1 Peter 3:1-6, and we have to work hard to listen to what Peter is saying. He’s applying the gospel to our relationships at home. Christ has set us free from sinful desires to live for righteousness and that freedom gives wives a special calling

SUBMISSION AS EVANGELISM (3:1-2)

Peter has told the whole church to live such good lives among the pagans that the pagans will end up glorifying God (2:11-12). Submission is part of that evangelistic lifestyle, not only for wives but for all of us.

Peter doesn’t say that women are to submit because they are of lower value. Rather, we are all to submit to those in authority over us and marriage involves an authority structure. God appoints husbands to be the heads of their wives (Eph. 5) and He calls wives to submit from the heart as Sarah did when she called Abraham her “master” (Gen. 18:12).

At the same time, wives are to submit only to their own husbands, not to their dads or to anyone else’s husband. Women in general are not called to submit to men in general; wives are to submit to their own husbands.

But what if your husband isn’t godly? Peter says that your calling doesn’t change. God wants to heal your marriage and He does so through your submission.

He doesn’t allow you to nag your husband about believing the gospel. Instead, He calls you to show your husband the liberating power of the gospel without words by submitting to him, being chaste, and fearing God. If your husband won’t hear the gospel, let him see it in your life.

SUBMISSION AS BEAUTIFICATION (3:3-6)

This sort of submission, Peter says, is beautiful. Peter tells wives not to let their beautification be merely external. People sometimes take Peter to be forbidding women from having fancy hairstyles or wearing jewelry, nice clothes, and, by extension, makeup. But in spite of the way some translations render this verse, Peter doesn’t talk about “fine clothes”; he simply talks about “clothes.” If he’s forbidding women to wear jewelry, then he’s also forbidding them to wear clothes!

Besides, from other passages in the Bible (e.g., Ezek. 16), we know that God doesn’t disapprove of external adornment. But Peter doesn’t want wives to reduce their beautification to these things. There’s nothing wrong with external adornment, but it cannot be the source of a woman’s beauty. There’s nothing wrong with physical beauty, but without godliness it’s only skin-deep (see Prov. 11:22).

Lasting beauty comes from a heart that fears God which produces a spirit that is gentle (not itching for a fight) and quiet (peaceful), neither of which, by the way, is an exclusively feminine trait.

To get that kind of beautification, you have to go to the beauty school of the daughters of Sarah and imitate the holy women — the godly women in the past — who trusted in God and submitted to their husbands. If you follow their example and aren’t scared away from doing good, you’ll be a daughter of Sarah. God rewards Sarah’s daughters with imperishable beauty and they share in the imperishable inheritance He promises the faithful (1 Pet. 1:4).

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Posted by John Barach @ 10:02 am | Discuss (0)
April 22, 2005

Women Wearing Clothes?

Category: Bible - NT - 1 Peter :: Permalink

1 Peter 3:3 is sometimes taken as forbidding Christian women to have fancy hairstyles or to wear jewelry, fine clothes, or (by extension) even makeup. But a proper translation of the text ought to dispel that notion.

Many versions of the Bible supply a word before the word for clothing. So, for example, the NKJV has Peter talking about “fine apparel.” The RSV and the NIV are similar. The word “fine” doesn’t appear in the original Greek, however. There is, in fact, no adjective modifying the word “clothing.”

What Peter says here is literally this: “Let your adornment not be external, consisting in braiding of hair and wearing of gold and putting on of clothes.” As Wayne Grudem says,

It is incorrect, therefore, to use this text to prohibit women from braiding their hair or wearing gold jewelry, for by the same reasoning one would have to prohibit “putting on of clothing.”

Put another way, if Peter is banning gold jewelry, he’s also banning clothes.

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Posted by John Barach @ 9:08 pm | Discuss (0)
April 21, 2005

Mark and the Exodus

Category: Bible - NT - Mark :: Permalink

In his survey of several writers on Mark’s Gospel, Rikki Watts points to the various links these authors have seen between Mark and the Exodus narrative, some of which he buys and others of which he rejects. Here are a couple worth meditating on. From J. Bowman:

The call of the first four disciples, the amazement of the crowds, and the opposition to Jesus, reflect the Exodus tradition of the response of the elders, the initial belief of the people, Pharaoh’s response, and the slaves’ anger with Moses (Ex. 4:29ff; cf. 5:21ff;…). Mark’s characteristic references to hardening (3:5; 6:52; 8:17; 10:5) are a deliberate point of contact with the Exodus — but ironically here of the redeemer’s own people… (Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark, p. 15). 

From E. C. Hobbs:

Numerous parallels exist between Sinai and the transfiguration — the six days, the three associates, the building of the tabernacles, God speaking from the cloud, the shining, and the failure of the disciples as the golden calf incident — while Mark 10:1-11-11 is a second giving of the law, again “across Jordan,” before arrival in Jericho… (Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark, p. 13). 

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Posted by John Barach @ 1:04 pm | Discuss (0)
April 19, 2005

Moulding Children

Category: Family :: Permalink

When the biblical cultural mandate for the home is abandoned in the home, the vacuum will not be there for long. Because this is a fallen world, those who take over the process of shaping the children, those who rush to fill the void left by derelict husbands and disobedient wives, will always be scoundrels and fools. It is moral idiocy to leave children alone in order to let them “learn alone” or “make decisions for themselves.” The fact that they are left alone by their parents at home does not mean they will be left alone. By nature, children are malleable. They will either be shaped lawfully, by those commanded by God to perform the task, or they will be shaped unlawfully, by outsiders. But as children, they will be shaped. — Douglas Wilson, Standing on the Promises: A Handbook of Biblical Childrearing, p. 8.

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Posted by John Barach @ 11:35 am | Discuss (0)
April 16, 2005

1 Peter 2:21-25 Sermon Notes

Category: Bible - NT - 1 Peter :: Permalink

RELATIONSHIPS IN THE LIGHT OF THE CROSS III:
WALKING IN CHRIST’S STEPS
1 Peter 2:21-25
(April 17, 2005, Sermon Notes)

In our text, Peter focuses on an aspect of our vocation as Christians, on our calling to do good even when it means suffering for it. Suffering for Christ’s sake and suffering in Christian style are parts of our calling as Christians.

CHRIST’S SUFFERING EXEMPLIFIES GODLY SUFFERING (2:21-23)

Peter has been calling us to submit. Slaves are to submit even to harsh masters. But the calling to submit in spite of suffering isn’t limited to slaves. Peter broadens his focus here and speaks to all of us.

We might think that as God’s chosen people we shouldn’t have to suffer, but Peter tells us that we were called to follow in Christ’s steps. Christ is the pattern that we are to imitate. In some ways, Jesus’ calling is unique; we aren’t to imitate everything Jesus did. But we are to imitate Him in the way He suffered. His footsteps lead us down the way of the cross and His style sets the pattern for our suffering.

Jesus suffered innocently (v. 22; see Isa. 53:9). We have all sinned, but He hadn’t and yet He suffered. His innocence didn’t excuse Him from suffering nor did it excuse lashing out at His oppressors (v. 23; Isa. 53:7).

But Jesus wasn’t a Stoic, simply putting up with suffering. He didn’t act as if nothing was happening. Instead, He cried out to God and committed Himself to God as the just Judge. He trusted that God would vindicate Him even if everyone else condemned Him. That is the path we must follow.

CHRIST’S SUFFERING ENABLES GODLY LIVING (2:24-25)

But Christ does not merely give us an example to follow. He also sets us free so that we can (and do) follow Him. Left to ourselves, we would always be self-seeking, sinful in our reactions to suffering. But Christ gives us a new life.

He bore our sins in His body on the tree. We were going astray, but He became our representative, like a sacrificial lamb, bearing our sins (Isa. 53:4-7). And His goal was that, “having died to sins, we might live for righteousness.” Because He died for us, we are no longer under the power of sin. We have died to sin and now we live for righteousness. In Him, we have the power to obey (see Rom. 6).

Christ’s suffering has begun a healing process in your life (Isa. 53:5). Now we are no longer straying; we have returned to “the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls,” so that instead of wandering away, we follow Him, even if doing so involves suffering for His sake.

We must follow Christ: that’s our calling. We can follow Him: that’s our comfort. He sets the example and He sets us free to follow in His steps.

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Posted by John Barach @ 5:31 pm | Discuss (0)
April 11, 2005

Job

Category: Bible - OT - Job :: Permalink

In the introduction to the sixth volume of G. K. Chesterton’s Collected Works, while working toward some explanation of The Man Who Was Thursday, Denis Conlon quotes Chesterton’s Introduction to the Book of Job (1907):

God comes in at the end, not to answer riddles, but to propound them. The other great act which, taken together with this one, makes the whole work religious instead of merely philosophical, is that other great surprise which makes Job suddenly satisfied with the mere presentation of something impenetrable. Verbally speaking the enigmas of Jehovah seem darker and more desolate than the enigmas of Job; yet Job was comfortless before the speech of Jehovah and is comforted after it. He has been told nothing, but he feels the terrible and tingling atmosphere of something which is too good to be told. The refusal of God to explain His design is itself a burning hint of His design. The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man (cited on p. 43).

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Posted by John Barach @ 7:10 pm | Discuss (0)
April 10, 2005

1 Peter 2:18-20 Sermon Notes

Category: Bible - NT - 1 Peter :: Permalink

RELATIONSHIPS IN THE LIGHT OF THE CROSS II:
GOD’S SERVANTS AND HUMAN MASTERS
1 Peter 2:18-20
(April 10, 2005, Sermon Notes)

It’s tempting to skip a passage like this one. Slavery was common in Peter’s day, but it isn’t in ours. We might think these verses aren’t relevant to us, but Paul tells us that all Scripture is profitable (2 Tim. 3:16) and that includes 1 Peter 2:18-20. Peter is applying the gospel here, teaching to live out our relationships in the light of the cross, as people who have been redeemed, who have died to sins in order to live for righteousness. With that goal in mind, he tells us that God calls His servants to submit to their earthly masters.

SUBMISSION WITHOUT REGARD FOR THE MASTER’S CONDUCT (2:18)

Peter has told the whole church to “submit … to every human creature for the Lord’s sake” (2:13). We are all to submit to our rulers (2:13-17). Now Peter speaks directly to the slaves in the church and tells them to submit to their masters with all fear (a term which, in Peter’s letters, normally refers to fear of God, though it may also imply reverence for the master), not only if the master is good and considerate but also if he is harsh or crooked. Slaves are to submit, Peter says, even to masters who beat them without cause.

What are we supposed to do with a summons like this one? Sometimes people say that what the Bible say to slaves we can apply to employees, but that isn’t true. Employees have options slaves don’t have. They can quit. If the boss beats them, they can file charges. Employees aren’t locked in the way slaves are.

In applying this passage, it helps to distinguish between saying that the Bible is time-conditioned and saying that it is time-bound. The Bible is indeed time-conditioned: Peter is writing to people in a particular situation. But what he says is not bound to that situation. Even in our different circumstances, what he is saying still applies to us.

In spite of the differences between slaves and employees, employees can still learn from this passage that, so long as they are working for a particular boss, they are to submit to him, whether they like him or not. Badmouthing him isn’t an option.

But there are other situations which are even closer to the original, situations where people are locked in in ways that employees aren’t. Students need to submit to unfair teachers, children are to submit to their parents even when the parents aren’t being just, and church members are to treat their elders with respect instead of rebelling even when those elders are wrong.

The conduct of those in authority over us doesn’t take away from our calling toward them. We are to submit whether they are cruel or kind, crooked or fair, considerate or harsh.

SUBMISSION WITH REGARD FOR GOD’S COMMENDATION (2:19-20)

Peter is giving us a hard calling. The biggest problem we have with this passage isn’t that we don’t understand it; it’s that we don’t like it. The only way to carry out this calling is by having the right focus — not on ourselves and our suffering, not on our masters and their behaviour, but on God.

Peter tells slaves (and all of us) that it is “commendable” before God if we endure unjust suffering because we are conscious of God. In the midst of our suffering, we are to stay focused on God’s plans and purposes, on what God calls us to do, on the rewards He promises us. We are to entrust ourselves to God as the just Judge who will punish harsh masters (2:21ff.).

In Christ, God has set us free from our old evil desires which war against our souls (2:10). He’s redeemed us from the empty way of life we inherited from our forefathers and the world around. He’s rescued us from putting ourselves first so that we can put Him and others ahead of ourselves. Jesus bore our sins in His body on the tree so that we could die to sin and live to righteousness.

We endure suffering by being conscious of God, of what He has done and what He will do for us. But sometimes we endure suffering because we are conscious of God. Just as Joseph’s awareness of God led to his being accused of rape and thrown into jail, so our desire to serve God may lead to suffering. But as Yahweh was with Joseph, He will be with us, too — and that awareness is the key to enduring suffering.

Our endurance is “commendable” (2:20) to God. No one else may appreciate our behaviour. Our friends may think we’ve become doormats. People in authority may take advantage of our submission. But God values our submission and in the end only His judgment matters. We can keep doing what’s right knowing that if we suffer for it and endure, He approves that endurance. He will reward us and He will punish those who oppress us.

God has set us free from our evil desires so that we can serve Him. He calls us as His free servants to submit to human masters and to submit impartially — to the kind and the cruel — because we’re focused on Him and we’re waiting patiently for Him to say “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

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Posted by John Barach @ 9:03 am | Discuss (0)
April 7, 2005

Recent Reading

Category: Literature :: Permalink

While browsing in the public library this past week, I came upon Micah Harris and Michael Gaydos’s graphic novel, Heaven’s War. A glance at the back cover and a quick survey of the contents were enough to convince me to take it home. The story is set in 1938 and involves a bid by Aleister Crowley, the infamous leader of an order devoted to the study of the occult and the practice of black magic, to rule history. Opposing him are the Inklings, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and, in particular, Charles Williams.

The story itself was interesting, though a bit thinner than it could have been and perhaps a bit more dry and didactic than it should have been. The author obviously has done a lot of study, but the reader, unless he has done the same study, is too often dependent upon the annotations at the back of the book. The book’s theology is a bit strange, though Harris is trying to draw on Scripture (as the annotations indicate), but then Charles Williams held some strange views himself. Weaknesses aside, there’s some great stuff here and the storyline is fun, especially if, like me, you’re a fan of the Inklings.

Besides Heaven’s War, I have also recently read Jack Vance’s very enjoyable The Dying Earth (and was struck by the influence of this book on Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun) and G. K. Chesterton’s The Club of Queer Trades, a collection of not-quite-mystery stories: great fun!

The other evening, I also finished William Kienzle’s The Rosary Murders, the first in Kienzle’s series of mystery novels starring Father Koessler. This one was pretty clearly a first novel and not everything flows as well as it should, but the story was gripping enough to make me want to read more in the series.

Now, I’m reading Rikki Watt’s Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark, John Milbank’s Theology and Social Theory (still: it’s very slow going), and Vigen Guroian’s Inheriting Paradise: Meditations on Gardening. Though I’m not myself a gardener, I do appreciate Guroian’s observations, as he weaves together the Armenian Orthodox liturgy, the church year, and the labors and joys of a gardener.

I have also just started Faye Kellerman’s Day of Atonement, the fourth in her Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus series, the first of which I enjoyed more than the second and third. But what keeps me reading the series is not just the mystery and suspense; it’s my interest in watching the development of the characters and in particular watching Peter Decker work out his decision to live as an Orthodox Jew. Some of the differences between Judaism and the gospel of Jesus Christ are obvious here and the more I read the more I delight in the gospel. But it strikes me that there are some parallels between Decker’s sort of conversion to Judaism and his growth as a Jew and a Christian conversion and growth.

I sometimes wonder how Christian readers would react to a novel in which the main characters are new Christians whose sanctification is not immediate (whose is?) and who often fall back into old patterns of sin. Would they think stories like that are sub-Christian, not as “uplifting” as “Christian fiction” ought to be? Or would they say, perhaps with some relief: “At last! Someone who tells the truth about the struggle to follow Christ”? Perhaps Christian writers could learn something from Kellerman.

Last, but by no means least, I’m also reading Michael Bond’s delightful A Bear Called Paddington to our baby in utero, who squirms with enjoyment as I read.

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Posted by John Barach @ 10:44 am | Discuss (0)
April 6, 2005

The Power of Allusion

Category: Hermeneutics :: Permalink

In his Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark, Rikki Watts illustrates how allusions work:

As an Australian student studying in the United States I was fascinated by my lecturer’s occasional references to “four-score and seven years ago” and the uniformly “knowing” response of my American fellow-students. Only on learning that the phrase was the first line of Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg address did its significance become apparent. By evoking the Founding Father’s ideology these few words functioned as a hermeneutical indicator, pointing not so much to the text of Lincoln’s address per se — but to the larger interpretation of American history which Lincoln’s speech assumed and with which it interacted (p. 3). 

Watts points out that when a person uses the phrase “four-score and seven year ago,” he is deliberately alluding, not merely to Lincoln or even to the Lincoln’s speech, but to the particular view of history which is embodied in that speech.

Even more importantly, this “history” is not the “objective,” detailed, even quiescent version of the academic élite, but rather a popularist, highly processed and digested, yet pungent and persuasive “history,” cast in terms of the parameters set by the Founding Fathers mythology. That is, although the text is a part-citation, its primary function is to allude to and therefore to invoke, a powerful hermeneutical framework originating with the Founding Fathers, namely, the ideologically shaped popular recounting of the “essence” of U. S. history” (p. 31). 

So, too, when a biblical author cites Scripture, he isn’t referring simply to the few words he quotes, isolated from their context, nor is he even referring only to the original context of the line he quotes. He’s alluding to the whole framework assumed and generated by the passage he’s quoting and he’s inviting you to read what he’s writing in terms of that framework.

For instance, when Mark starts his Gospel by quoting Isaiah 40:3, he isn’t simply saying that this verse — or the passage it appears in — is a prediction of the future which happens to have been fulfilled in the ministry of John the Baptist. He’s also inviting you to read the whole story of John and of Jesus — his whole Gospel! — in terms of the narrative assumed and interpreted by Isaiah, the narrative of Israel’s Exodus from Egypt, entrance into the Promised Land, sin in the land, exile from the land, and future restoration, the narrative in which the coming of a voice crying the message of Isaiah 40:3 is the preparation for the climax, when God would at last return to become Israel’s king. Mark isn’t simply alluding here to one specific prophecy; by quoting these particular words, he’s inviting you to read his whole Gospel in the light of Isaiah’s (and the Bible’s) telling of Israel’s story. He’s not simply invoking a verse of Scripture; he’s invokiing Isaiah’s whole understanding of God and of history.

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Posted by John Barach @ 5:08 pm | Discuss (0)
April 3, 2005

1 Peter 2:13-17 Sermon Notes

Category: Bible - NT - 1 Peter :: Permalink

RELATIONSHIPS IN THE LIGHT OF THE CROSS I:
LIVING UNDER AUTHORITY
1 Peter 2:13-17
(April 3, 2005, Sermon Notes)

In this section of his letter, Peter calls us to live in the light of Jesus’ death (1 Pet. 2:21-25). We are God’s chosen people and our lifestyle must reflect who we are so that the Gentiles, too, may glorify God because of us. That new lifestyle involves new ways of relating to those in authority over us.

GOOD CITIZENS (2:13-15)

The basic rule Peter gives for Christian interaction with civil magistrates is this: “Submit.” In fact, Peter wants us to submit to every human creature (which is probably the meaning of the Greek phrase translated “every ordinance of men” in the NKJV).

We don’t submit to “the civil government”; we submit to rulers, to human beings who are creatures just as we are, creatures who have limited knowledge and make mistakes, just as we do. The basic rule for Christian relationships is that we are to submit to other human creatures, and especially to those whom God has set over us.

We are to do so “for the Lord’s sake.” Jesus is the Lord. He rules over the other lords. In fact, He appoints them to office as His servants (Rom. 13). When we honour them, we are honouring Him. There are limits to the authority of these other rulers (e.g., Acts 5:29), but those limits do not take away from our basic calling to submit.

The Lord appoints rulers to punish evildoers and praise those who do good (v.14). Peter wants us to work alongside rulers toward these goals. When we do good consistently, we muzzle our critics (v. 15) and even draw unbelievers to faith so that they join us in glorifying God (vv. 11-12).

GOD’S SERVANTS (2:16-17)

Peter tells us to live “as free men,” even if we are slaves (as in 2:18ff.). We have been redeemed (1:18), freed from the slavery of the old way of life we inherited from Adam. But true freedom is a license to live as we please; it is a license to live as God pleases. We are to live as free men who are God’s servants, freed from sin to live for righteousness (2:24).

When we submit to others, we are not relinquishing our freedom, therefore. We are exercising our freedom — freedom from selfishness, freedom to serve God and to serve others.

The world tells us to put ourselves first, but the Lord has freed to honour other people, whether they are Christians or not. But beyond that common respect for everyone, there must also be a special love for “the brotherhood,” the church of Christ.

Peter adds that we are to fear God and honour the king — in that order. God has the ultimate authority and deserves the highest reverence. We must honour the king and all our rulers, but we trust and fear God alone.

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Posted by John Barach @ 9:41 am | Discuss (0)