John's Thoughts On Some Bible Passages

This is a work in progress -- errors and omissions expected!

Here I have gathered together Bible passages that are important to me, along with notes on my understanding of them. The points I'll try to bring out are ones where I feel I may have a particularly useful insight that may not be obvious to everyone, so there'll be plenty of things that I won't say but will take for granted!

The first few passages I've started making notes on have quite a lot about the negative side of things in them... I was in that kind of a mood at the time. It should get more uplifting (while, I hope, avoiding shallow frothiness) as it develops! I might also cut down on some of the more rambling passages, too.

In general, I see the Bible as being not only one of the major sources of our understanding about God (the other sources being direct inspiration by the Holy Spirit, and what we receive from others, particularly other Christians) but also being a book to live by. Perhaps I can make this clear by mentioning a Christian of several years ago, who on hearing a passage in the Gospel that many would like to explain away, didn't just come up with a more `radically fundamental' explanation of it, but exclaimed ``This is what I long to do, with my whole heart!'' -- and went and lived by it!

So I have particularly gathered together Bible passages to use as guidelines to live by. They seem to be self-explanatory to me, but that may just be what I see in them... so for many of them, I will add a comment that brings out what I have seen. Sometimes I will use short quotations, typically in opening out the meaning of a longer one; it is easy to take pieces of scripture out of context, but I am careful to use even short passages as I think they are really meant in their original context. And in places, I have emboldened some part of a quotation when it is that part that I want to draw attention to, but think that the other part (which I present in plain text) gives context that must be included.

I started typing these in in the order in which they occur in the Bible, but am collecting them into topics as I add commentary.

I've still got some way to go in preparing the commentaries; I've included the texts of the other passages I plan to comment on, so for now you can at least see which other passages I consider important, even if without the detail of what makes them stand out for me.

There are other passages (the Servant Songs in particular) which are very important to me, but which I have not included in this selection (which is mainly of passages by which to live). They address issues at a deeper level more directly, and I am writing a separate essay about them.

Themes to look for

There are some themes which crop up repeatedly in my reading of the Bible. These include particularly:


Hosea 6:1,2,6

Come, and let us return unto the Lord: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight. For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.

For me, this is one of the central passages of the Old Testament (and it is cited emphatically by Jesus in [Matthew 12:7]; I am sure I am not alone in my tendency to think of my giving (other than giving to friends) in terms of what I lose rather than what they receive, and so this passage concerns not only what I should do, but also the attitude with which I do it. An example which brings this into relief may seem like a small thing, but must be known to many people: people who buttonhole you for a boring conversation because they want to talk and don't care whether or not you want to... and yet you feel that to be a good Christian, you really ought to put up with them for a few minutes so they don't feel so left out... now that is the wrong attitude, according to this text. Although you were aware of their need, what was uppermost in your mind was your own feelings about how much you wanted not to have this person corner you... you were thinking in terms of your sacrifice, that you `ought' to make `to be a good Christian', not about how much gratification you could give them by letting them have what they want.

The passage starts with a short section of prophecy, which can be seen to foretell the resurrection of Christ on the third day... but it says ``he will raise us up'' and indeed we are raised with Christ!

And this brings up another of my ideas about understanding the Bible: that it is all tied together, as a single entity. Rules, laws and guidelines for life are tied closely to prophecy, in this example, and also, very importantly, the call to us to live the way God wills us to is tied to the sacrifice of Christ... our following of what God asks us to do has no power of its own, but is given power by the grace of God, that is, his freely-willed giving to us.

Parts of the Bible are also intensely interlinked, from the start to the end of the entire Bible, and all directions inbetween, with references not only back to Scriptures that were written earlier, but also with prophecies looking forward to events that were fulfilled later.

And this leads on to something else that I have to say, that I think is not always said enough in some parts of the Church, particularly those with an emphasis on mission: that all that we have, we have by God's grace alone. I mean this is a very gentle push only, as I think many of the `best' evangelists already know this -- I'm just bringing it up as a gentle reminder. It's not that this isn't said throughout the Church, and it's not that it would be denied by any true Christian; but when the emphasis is on encouraging those who have yet to say ``Yes'' to make their first response to Christ, it's easy to talk more about the human response than about the divine initiative that it's a response to... to talk about the human repentance more than about the divine forgiveness. The response and the repentance are vital, but they are possible only because of God's grace, which culminated in the incarnation, sacrifice and resurection of Christ and the sending of the Holy Spirit. It is indeed correct to say that we are saved by faith rather than by works, but in fact we are actually saved by grace... without grace, there would be no amount of faith that could save us (in fact, faith without grace would be very hard work!). Let me repeat that I mean this as only a gentle reminder; it is not that our response is unimportant (it is vital) nor that our repentance is not significant (it is often fully sincere) but that God's grace is so unimaginably vast that we cannot emphasize it enough. If the Church talked more about God's grace, our Christian faith and theology and world-view might mistaken much less often for narrowness and judgementalism, and many more souls might be saved.

Micah 6:7,8

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

It's so easy to offer God all sorts of things if only he will forgive us; in fact, he asks simply that we repent -- and bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance [Matthew 3:8], that is, follow what he has asked us to do, for to obey is better than to sacrifice and to hearken than the fat of rams [1 Samuel 15:22].

Ezekiel 18:22

All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live. Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?

Even when God is angry about what we have done, he does not want to be rid of us; he would rather that we repent and change our ways! This is very comforting, as I know I wouldn't stand a chance otherwise!

Ezekiel 36:25-27

Then I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new spirit also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statues and ye shall keep my judgements, and do them.

This passage gives me both great encouragement and some resistance... encouragement to know that God will make changes for the better in me... and resistance because at times I want to have what flesh heart I already have removed, and a stone heart put in its place because that would make life so much easier (for me at least, and perhaps for those around me because I'd need less support)! (I wrote this just after a run of days when nothing seemed to go right! And I thought that gave it a gloomy bias, but just about everyone must have that kind of week sometime, so I've included it anyway!)

Ezekiel 33:11

Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?

It's too easy to slip into a view of God as being stern and critical, throwing one punishment after another at us, piling up test after test, taking our pruning (``every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit'' [John 15:2] -- and see my notes thereon) to extremes, until we give in and let ourselves be crushed to (psychological) death -- to me this passage is an important reminder that this is apparently not what he is up to... he wants us to change. But to be honest, I'm not sure how... it does feel crushing, that the change he asks for is for me to give up what I hold dearest (in my case, the hope of finding a wife to grow in love with) and that seems much the same at the moment! But even then, it is good to know that the motive behind is pressure on me is not to make me suffer for the sake of it, but for my own good (however little I want my own good!). See also notes on Proverbs 3:11-12.


What does it mean to be a ``righteous'' person? Some Christians shy away from this issue, saying that we are all unrighteous, and simply leaving it at that. Although it contains truth (``for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God'' [Romans 3:23]), this is much too simple an idea; we can choose between better and worse courses of actions, and must not shirk our responsibilities.

In particular, I see righteousness as co-operation with God even when to our own immediate disadvantage.

Psalm 15

Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill?
He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart.
He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour.
In whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honoureth them that fear the LORD. He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not.
He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved.

This psalm is important to me -- it is at the centre of my ideas of what makes a good person. A lot of it is to do with what we say: that what we say should not be spiteful, and that it should accord with reality -- not only with the reality we observe, but with the reality we hope to create: not only should we speak the truth about what is, but when we have spoken, we should be the truth to what we have spoken. I find it distressing to see how many people will say that they will do one thing, and then when the time comes, will find it inconvenient, and will do something different, that suits them more at the time. Such behaviour is no basis for building a society, and while I wish to be forgiving to such people, I do notice who behaves in such a way, and take this into account when I hear them saying they will do something!

Psalm 16:4

Their sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten after another god: their drink offerings of blood will I not offer, nor take up their names into my lips.

While wishing to keep in hearty contact with friends of other faiths and of none, I see it as essential not to trample on my own fences to incorporate ingratiatingly their views!

Psalm 137:4

How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?

This is what I felt on the way back from my first retreat... going from an environment that was specifically oriented towards receiving the Kingdom of Heaven at hand, to the world of fighting self-interests. ``Be in the world, but not of it.'' [John 17:14-18]


I'm sure that left to our own devices, we will usually do whatever we find most convenient at the time, looking mostly at our own immediates desires and needs (and it is easy to mistake a desire for a need!). So we need continual corrections and reminders, which will often be against our short-term apparent good (since that is what we most readily take care of anyway). These corrections can point us back on track in several ways:

Proverbs 3:11-12

My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction: For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.

See also my notes on Ezekiel 33:11. Perhaps I resent the chastening a little less than I once did; but still, I find myself not giving in that easily to anything that might just be such chastening. (In particular, I find myself thinking ``What good does it do to rub XYZ in yet again? If I agree to think of myself as less worthy of PQR than most people, will you take the pressure off?'') There is something in Jeremiah about this, and in Psalms... I'll try to find them to link up here.

So I suppose that brings up another point I'd like to make: Biblical answers are not glib!

John 15:2

Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away; and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.

This is one that makes sense to me, but I can still naturally rebel against it! In particular, I seem to want to choose in what ways I am pruned (but it is not for the pot to tell the potter what kind of pot it is to be! [Isaiah 29:16] perhaps, although this doesn't quite look like what I was thinking of! Or perhaps [Jeremiah 18:1]?)

It's also important to remember that he's pruning us in order that we may bear more fruit -- not to turn us into decorative topiary for an ornamental garden!


The Book of Proverbs is rich in practical advice on how to live God's way (and also has some excellent catty remarks about some kinds of people who I find very annoying!).

Proverbs 3:5-7

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil.

Proverbs 8:33

Hear instruction, and be wise, and refuse it not.

The quickest way to spiritual stagnation and death is to think that you're right, and not learn any more from either experience or instruction. The person who will not learn is referred to as ``the fool'' in Proverbs, and foolishness is characterized not by lack of reasoning ability but by reluctance to change... a insistence on sticking with what you have decided, and a shutting of the ears to anything that disagrees with it.

Proverbs 9:10

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.

There are many things that appear to be wisdom, and yet mean nothing, as they are not connected with the Ground of all Being. Free-floating ideas refer merely to themselves, and while possibly really quite interesting, have no absolute meaning when not taken in context. Think carefully and deeply about what gives meaning to what you think! (This connects to an area that I am looking into in some depth, and about which I have written a separate essay.)

Proverbs 10:19

In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise.

Often I find that the more I think about what to say about something, the more likely I am to say nothing!

Proverbs 16:7

When a man's ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.

I very much hope so.

Proverbs 16:32

He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.

This is an important one for me to take on and incorporate into my behaviour -- I have a quick temper, and I know it doesn't serve me well! Also, vengeance implies judgement, and should be left to God [Romans 12:19].

I've had it pointed out to me that as a more general principle it is good not to take action while under the influence of any strong emotion, but to wait and calm down first.

Proverbs 18:9

He also that is slothful in his work is brother to him that is a great waster.

Proverbs 19:11

The discretion of a man deferreth his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression.

This is another one for me to take on -- I am easily annoyed, and can remain irritated for a long time if I have outwardly passed over a transgression!

Proverbs 19:19-20

A man of great wrath shall suffer punishment; for if thou deliver him, yet thou must do it again. Hear counsel, and receive instruction, that thou mayest be wise in thy latter end.

Perhaps my most frequent way of getting into a bad situation is to act in the heat of the moment; and I am very slow to learn by experience in this regard. It is good to become aware of what level of wrath you are, and to start to make allowances for it. If you don't do this, you're likely to make things worse more often than you need to.

Proverbs 24:17-18

Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth; lest the Lord see it, and it displease him, and he turn awway his wrath from him.

This is a tricky one! Not only is it difficult to do, but if done, seems to lead to a paradox... I don't want to ``heap coals of fire'' on the heads of those to whom I repay evil with good! [Romans 12:20] (I'm sure that that's too mechanistic an interpretation, and that God sorts this one out in a manner beyond our understanding!)

Proverbs 27:22

Though thou shouldest bray a fool in a mortar among wheat with a pestle, yet will not his foolishness depart from him.

See what I mean about catty remarks?

Still, this is true, and I feel I have escaped very narrowly myself, if at all... Proverbs tell me that it is vital to learn, and at first I was very reluctant to do so, and I am having to learn to learn first!

Proverbs 30:8,9

Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.

I wouldn't like to think of myself as promoting a lukewarm [Revelation 3:16] via media, but whole-hearted beliefs. But I don't think this passage is recommending a comfortable middle-class existence (``Make straight a path in your TV-rooms''!) but warning of the risks of extreme situations [Joshua 1:7].


What is discipleship? It is a choice that we make, not just once when we first choose discipleship, but again and again as we face new situations. It is not a choice to be taken lightly, but with consideration beforehand [Luke 14:28].

Matthew 4:19

Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.

We are not to follow Christ for our benefit alone, but also to draw others to him. ``Freely have you received, freely give.'' [Matthew 10:8]

Matthew 5:7,8

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

I know I'm not by nature very merciful, but I hope God will have mercy on the quantity of mercy I have shown -- and I have some encouragement for those who feel they're not very good at living up to some aspect of their Christian life: think of the poor woman giving a small coin, which was all she had, into the temple treasury, and being seen by Jesus as giving more than those who had plenty to give but chose to give only a little of it [Luke 21:1].

Matthew 6:1

Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.

Matthew 7:11-12

If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more therefore shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.

I find that sometimes people are kind and generous, and may even forgive some minor hurts they have felt; and yet at the same time I can be negative about how God will treat me. So the first part of this passage is a useful reminder that God is actually kinder and more generous than we are.

At first I was puzzled by the connective therefore between the two verses above; I'm beginning to see is as meaning ``In gratitude, therefore...''.

The second part of this passage shows up how wary I am of anything that sounds like secular humanism... and yet here, Jesus himself is pronouncing something that seems to be very much like something that people of any faith or of none can agree on... Taken in the context of his life and all his teachings, however, he is saying in these something much stronger than what many people mean by them; he urges us to repay evil with good, for example, which is actually an inherent part of what he says here, but is all too easy to try to make an exception for!

Matthew 10:7-10

And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give. Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses. Nor scrip for you journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, not yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat.

This brings to mind the saying ``Preach the Gospel at all times; use words when necessary!''! The words are but one part of our preaching; what we say must be backed up in our actions and our attitudes.

Matthew 12:50

For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.

It is all-important that we not only hear what God says, but that we also follow.

John 6:29

This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.

God is not necessarily asking for great feats of exertion, but simply for belief -- see also my notes on Hosea 6:1,2,6.

John 13:12-17

Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.

James 3:6-8

God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse you hands, ye sinners, and purify your hearts, ye double minded.


Matthew 7:1-3

Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

I am very ready with my opinions on the things some people do, but must remain aware of my own faults. The opposite problem, however, must also be guarded against! It can be easy to flip between blaming others for everything, and blaming yourself for everything -- and sometimes, blaming God for everything!

John 7:24

Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgement.

John 8:7

He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.

John 10:37-38

If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him.

Sometimes when my faith is flagging, I find it helpful to look at the well-attested miraculous works done by Jesus... they do indeed show that the Father is in him, and he in the Father.

James 3:12

There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?

It is not for us to set ourselves up in judgement over another! One of the most hurtful things I've seen someone do is to try to take control over who did what in a Christian event, decreeing one person to be good enough and another not good enough , when they had not been appointed to do so! (I think it may well have reflected on their own suitability to be involved in such events, however!)

The Kingdom

Matthew 4:17

Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

Many regard the Kingdom of Heaven as being far off -- even when they have gone from thinking of God as remote to thinking of him as close by.

Matthew 6:21

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Matthew 6:33-34

Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.


Galatians 6:2

Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.{add 1,3?}

James 5:16

Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

I've included this one twice, here and also under ``Prayer''.

James 5:19-20

Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.

1 Peter 5:6-7

Humble yourselves therefor under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time; Casting your care upon him; for he careth for you.

1 Peter 5:8-9

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour; Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.

1 John 3:18

My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.

1 John 4:17-19

Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love him, because he first loved us.

1 John 4:20,21

If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.


James 5:16

Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

I've included this one twice, here and also under ``Community''.

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John C. G. Sturdy

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