1 Corinthians 1

Read 1 Corinthians 1.

Was there ever a more mixed-up group of Christians than the believers in Corinth?

Although they had been blessed by the ministries of several faithful men (v. 12), they could not receive and each man’s teaching. Instead of seeing each man’s ministry as one part of God’s complete instruction to them, they took sides. They claimed to follow one of these men as if they were in opposition to each other instead of co-workers for Christ.

In addition to their divisions, they were confused about what God’s grace meant and about several points of Christian doctrine. We’ll read about all of this in the coming days, but just know or remember that the church in Corinth had a lot of problems.

Yet, Paul began his letter to them by writing, “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (vv. 2-3).

That greeting gives me great hope. It reminds me that we don’t belong to Christ because we volunteered and worked hard morally to become worthy of being his people.

Instead we are “sanctified in Christ Jesus.” Sanctified means “set apart.” In this context, it refers to our membership in God’s family by faith. It is our association with Christ—being “in Christ Jesus”—that caused us to be set apart to belong to him. It is through the gospel Jesus preached that they and we were “called to be his holy people” (v. 2).

Despite our many differences, we are one in Christ “with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours” (v. 2). Despite differences in where we live on earth, or when we live on earth, or age, or language, or anything else, if we’re in Christ, we are one. We all call on the same Lord and that same Lord is working on us, causing us to grow and become like him.

Acts 19

Read Acts 19.

The city of Ephesus occupied an important place in the New Testament, and here in Acts 19 we read about Paul’s first contact with this city. You know about the letter we call “Ephesians” that Paul wrote to the church there. He also sent Timothy there, in his place, later on Paul also wrote and sent the letters we call 1 & 2 Timothy to him while Timothy was in Ephesus. Finally, Ephesus was one of the seven churches in Revelation that Jesus spoke to (Rev 2:1). So we read in this chapter the origin story of what would become an important church in the New Testament days.

Things began powerfully there. Paul arrived in Ephesus and found twelve men (v. 7) who were described as “disciples” (v. 1). They were disciples of John, however, because they had not yet heard of Jesus (v. 4). Still, they were faithful to the truth they did have which was the teaching and baptism of John. God sent Paul to them to complete their discipleship by bringing them to Jesus (v. 4) and, when he taught them the gospel they showed the same signs of faith that the original disciples showed (Acts 2:4) and the first Gentile believers also showed (Acts 10:44-48, 11:15-18).

After three months of teaching in the synagogue (v. 8), Paul faced opposition–first from the Jews who did not receive Jesus (v. 9), then from Jewish leaders who tried to claim Jesus’ power for their own reasons (vv. 13-16), then the idol worshipping Gentiles who saw their livelihood threatened (vv. 17-41). God used Paul powerfully both to do miracles delivering people from Satan’s power (vv. 11-12) and to spread the gospel to the region around Ephesus (vv. 9-10). But, God did all of that in the middle of strong opposition from many sides.

That seems to be a pattern throughout church history; wherever God is working powerfully, Satan is always bringing strong opposition from as many directions as possible. It makes sense–doesn’t it?–that Satan would push back as powerfully as he can where God is working powerfully.

So don’t be discouraged if God is using you in the lives of others. There will be opposition and the enemy will seek to discourage you and derail your faithfulness. Just keep doing what God is blessing and keep praying for his power to overcome the opposition you face.

2 Thessalonians 3

Read 2 Thessalonians 3.

We all know that we should be praying for our missionaries and others who serve the Lord full-time in ministry. But what should we pray for, specifically?

Maybe we ask the Lord to “bless them,” but what do we really mean by that?

Second Thessalonians 3 starts out with Paul’s request for prayer from the Thessalonians. He asks them to pray specifically for two things. Both of these requests serve as good models for our praying for those serving the Lord in the gospel.

We should pray:

  1. For people to be saved through the gospel message. Verse 1 says “pray for us that the message of the Lord may” do two things: “spread rapidly” and “be honored.” The message of the Lord spreading rapidly means that people come to Christ for salvation a few or more at a time. Instead of reaching people one-by-one, the gospel spreads rapidly when a crowd of spiritually hungry people hear the gospel and trust Christ. They, in turn, are discipled and organized into churches while simultaneously telling others they know about Christ.

    In this way, the gospel spreads rapidly. The phrase “be honored” is a way of referring to a response of faith. We see this from the next phrase in verse 1, “just as it was with you”; in other words, just as the Thessalonians honored the gospel by believing it, Paul asked them to pray for others to hear and believe the gospel as well. This is the first way in which we can pray for those serve the Lord—pray for many to hear the gospel and for many to respond to it in faith.

  2. For preachers to be delivered from persecution. Paul’s second prayer request for the Thessalonians is in verse 2: “And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people….” This is a request about persecution; specifically, that God would rescue his servants from those who would seek to harm them physically or make it difficult for them to communicate the gospel.

    Calling them “wicked and evil people” not only describes their own lifestyle, but it reminds us that those who oppose the spread of the gospel are sinning against God. They are not merely misinformed; they are opposing the Lord and his work. The last phrase of verse 2, “for not everyone has faith” explains why there are wicked and evil people in the world. The difference between those who “honor the message of the Lord” (v. 1) and those who oppose it is the gift of faith that God gives to some when they hear the gospel.

    Paul acknowledges that some who hear the gospel will reject it and even oppose the opportunity for others to hear it. Paul asked that those who prayed for his ministry ask the Lord to deliver him from these people. Similarly, when we pray for God’s servants who share the gospel, we can pray for them to be free from the attacks and opposition of those who love disobedience and want to suppress the truth.

Whenever we pray for those serving the Lord in full-time ministry, we can pray for their encouragement, for their health, for their families, for their financial needs, but let’s remember to pray, too, for many people to believe the gospel and for protection from those who don’t believe the gospel and don’t want its message to spread.

2 Thessalonians 2

Read 2 Thessalonians 2.

Paul continued, in this chapter, his teaching on end time events. We saw that right off the bat in verse 1: “Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him….” Paul described the rise of the Antichrist, called here the “man of lawlessness” (vv. 2-8a) and the deception he will bring on the earth (vv. 9-12). But, in the middle of this description, we are told in verse 8, “the Lord Jesus will overthrow [him] with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming.”

So, as bad as the end times will be, Jesus will win. The passage ends, then, with a reminder that they have been saved by God’s grace (vv. 13-14). Therefore, Paul encouraged them (and us) to persevere in the faith: “So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.”

Knowing and clinging to the truth of God’s word is the key to perseverance. When you start to doubt the truth of God’s word or entertain novel interpretations of it, that’s will weaken your faith and your walk with God.

The promise of God, however, is that those who believe and follow Jesus to the end will be saved. As verse 14b says, “that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Did you notice that phrase? It’s easy to miss but it is so important. God saved us so that we will share in the glory of Jesus Christ.

That “glory” describes his holy character that is being formed in us and and that will be completed in eternity. But it also describes the eternal kingdom God has promised to all of us who love Jesus and follow him. the Bible tells us again and again that we will rule and reign with Christ (2 Tim 2:12, Rev 20:4, 22:5). I cited 2 Timothy 2:12 in that last sentence, but let me quote it for you because it is so on point: “…if we endure, we will also reign with him.”

That’s God’s promise to you and me. No matter how bleak things become on earth, continue to follow Jesus and you will be rewarded with his kingdom.

So don’t be deceived by the fake promises of sin or the tantalizing “secrets” of false doctrine. Don’t let discouragement keep you from following Jesus. Instead, “…stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you” (v. 15).

2 Thessalonians 1

Read 2 Thessalonians 1.

In yesterday’s reading we read about the end of humanity as we know it. We learned there in 1 Thessalonians 5 that most of the human race will be caught utterly unprepared when the “day of the Lord” comes in judgment. Here in 2 Thessalonians 1, Paul continued that theme.

The passage began with Paul’s usual greeting to the church (vv. 1-4) and a transitional statement saying that all the ways in which the faith of the Thessalonians was growing (vv. 3-4) was evidence that they would be included in God’s kingdom (v. 5).

At the end of verse 5 Paul noted that it is this kingdom, the kingdom of God, “for which you are suffering.” That phrase both indicates the circumstances the Thessalonians were facing and prepares us for the next few verses which tell us what God will do about it.

According to verse 6, “He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well.” Although all of us were once enemies of God and opponents to his kingdom, God in grace saved from the penalty that we deserved for our sins. That salvation made us “worthy of the kingdom of God” (v. 5b) but also put us on the other side of the rest of humanity which is still at war with God and resisting Christ’s kingdom. That is why believers are persecuted–both back then in Thessalonica and around the world today.

Here, though, God promised that suffering would not be the fate of believers forever. Instead, God will execute justice someday in the future. That justice will give relief to his children who are suffering but deliver judgment to those who reject him and oppose him. And when will this judgment happen? Verse 7 says it will happen “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” In other words, the “day of the Lord” which we read about yesterday in 1 Thessalonians 5 will begin when Christ returns as described here in 2 Thessalonians 1:7b-10.

Christians debate about the timing of these events and this is not the place to address that debate. What we should take away from 2 Thessalonians 1 is the promise that God’s judgment is coming when Jesus returns. On that day there will be justice–eternal punishment for those who are not in Christ (v. 9) but salvation for those of us who are in Christ. Our salvation is not based on our goodness but based on the fact that Christ died in our place, taking God’s punishment for sin for us.

But what do we do while we wait for that day of the Lord? Verses 11-12 tell us. Paul prayed for these believers that “God may make you worthy of his calling.” This prayer was for God to form real righteousness in these believers to match the status of righteousness that he declared them to be in Christ. That “real righteousness” was described in verse 11b as God bringing “to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith.”

Like all believers, the Thessalonians wanted to grow in grace. They wanted to serve God and become like him. Paul prayed for them that, until Jesus comes, they would be growing in God’s grace to become godly men and women. The result of that growth was described in verse 12: “that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

What Paul described in this passage is what God is doing and wants to do in the lives of every believer. It is why I teach God’s word, shepherd his people, and write these devotionals. May God continue to change us and grow us until Christ returns to finally save us.

BTW: this is how we should pray for each other, too. Not that we would have health, happiness, and prosperity but that God would keep working in us to make us “worthy of his calling.”

1 Thessalonians 5

Read 1 Thessalonians 5.

What is God’s will for your life?

That is an important question for every believer to consider. It is always helpful to remember that God’s will has two aspects to it:

  • God’s decreed will. This is what happens. Everything that happens does so because God caused it to happen or allowed it to happen. If someone lives to be 110 years old or dies in an accident at age 10, that was the will of God for that person.
  • God’s desired will. This is what God wants to happen morally speaking. Every command of God expresses his desired will. “Do not kill” is God’s desired will.

It was not God’s desired will for anyone to sin or for any of us to die. Death is the consequence of sin and God commanded humanity not to sin. In God’s decreed will, however, people sin and people die everyday.

To put it another way–God’s desired will is, “Do not kill.” But God’s decreed will included many acts of murder. Those acts of murder were all displeasing to God. They were all outside of his moral will. He is not to blame for any one of them because they were all committed willfully by people. Yet, the Bible teaches that they all happened under his sovereign lordship.

Too many Christians get preoccupied with what God’s decreed will is; not enough of us are concerned about what God’s desired will is.

To repeat that more specifically: Too many Christians wonder who God wants them to marry, what vocation God wants them to have, whether they should buy that Ford Focus in red or in blue. Not enough of us think about what moral commands God wants us to obey.

Here at the end of 1 Thessalonians, Paul commanded the believers, “…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

What is God’s will for your life? Among other things, it is God’s will for you to be thankful. And, notice, we are commanded to give thanks “in all circumstances.” Whether your marriage is happy or not, whether your career is going well or not, whether the red Ford Focus you bought is reliable or a lemon, God wants you to be thankful.

In this fallen world of our, there is always plenty to complain about. If you have a great marriage, it still isn’t a perfect marriage. It is easy to become angry and resentful about your spouse’s weaknesses, limitations, or irritating habits. It is easy to forget that other people you know lost a spouse to illness much sooner than expected. Or, if you’re the person who lost your spouse way too soon, it is easy to forget that your spouse was good and loving to you during the time that you had together.

Every circumstance in life could be better than it is. Most circumstances in life could be worse than they are.

But God’s command–God’s will–for us is not to be thankful because, “It could be worse.” God’s will for us is to be thankful “in Christ Jesus” (v. 18b). Regardless of what hurts you, frustrates you, angers you, or makes you complain about your life, Christ Jesus came to redeem you from it. He’s promised you a better life in eternity and rewards for following him obediently in this life, regardless of the circumstances you live in. He also promises to use whatever circumstances you live in to refine your faith in him and make you stronger as a believer.

So, are you thankful for your life, as it is right now? Are you rejoicing always (v. 16), giving thanks in all circumstances (v. 18a)? If not, let this simple verse refocus your mind.

What is the will of God for you? It is to be thankful to him. What can you thank him for today?

1 Thessalonians 4

Read 1 Thessalonians 4.

Death is always an unpleasant topic. It is unpleasant to think about your own death and it is sad and difficult when others we know and love die. Because I am a pastor, I have attended more funerals than the average person. Funerals for godly believers can be worshipful and even uplifting in some ways, but they are never joyful. God did not create us to die, so the irreparable separation that death brings is always difficult, even when your loved one is in heaven.

Here in 1 Thessalonians 4 Paul offers words of comfort to the Thessalonians and to us about the dead. Paul’s reason for writing these words was to give them hope even in their grief: “…so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (v. 13).

Yes, even Christians grieve but our grief is not the grief of complete loss. Christ gives us hope even in the most tragic and unexpected death of a believer because of His resurrection from the dead: “For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (v. 14). That verse reminds us that, although Christ did not immediately end death with his resurrection, he did break its power over humanity.

The phrase “God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (v. 14) reminds us that the spirits of those who die continue to exist. Christ will “bring” them with him when he returns because they are with him now.

In verses 15-17, Paul described how the process of the resurrection will happen. There will be believers “who are still alive, who are left” on earth when Jesus returns, but their gathering to Christ will not precede the resurrection of those who are dead in Christ. Instead, “the dead in Christ will rise first” (v. 16). Christ will bring their spirits with him to earth and after his trumpet and loud command, their living spirits will be reunited with their dead bodies in resurrection.

Once that resurrection has occurred, those in Christ who are still alive will be “caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (v. 17). The result of this rapture is “so we will be with the Lord forever.”

That is the endgame of discipleship, the harvest of new life in Jesus Christ. After living by faith on this earth, we will be rewarded with an eternity with Jesus.

Christians have debated when this event will occur in relationship to other events prophesied in scripture. The point of this passage is not to lay out a prophetic timeline of all that the Lord has promised to do in the future. It is, instead, to “encourage one another with these words.”

Death is always unpleasant, always sad, always accompanied with grief; yet in Christ we have the hope of a perfect resurrection followed by eternity with Jesus.

Here is something to hold on to in faith despite whatever fears you have about death or whatever trials and struggles you face today. If you die before Jesus returns, you’ll be with him and return with him when he comes. If you live until his return, you will be gathered in the air with him and all those who have died in him. Hold this hope in your hearts and live today like eternity is the only thing that matters. It is!