Acts 17

Today’s reading is Acts 17.

Yesterday we read about Paul’s venture into Greece. While he was there, Paul found people who were ready to receive the gospel and others who were ready to persecute him and his team. As he always did, Paul started presenting the gospel to the Jewish people in every city, then expanded his witness out to the Gentiles (v. 2, 4, 10, 12, 17). Paul went to Athens (vv. 15-34) but not because he was planning to preach the gospel there. Instead, he was waiting there for his teammates Silas and Timothy who were supposed to get there ASAP (v. 15).

While in Athens, Paul did speak to the Jewish people who lived there (v. 17) but he also found a secular audience for his message in the marketplace (v. 17b) and on the hill called Areopagus (v. 19). This passage gives us a glimpse into how Paul presented Christ to Gentile non-believers. Notice that he did not seek common ground with these men; rather, he used their altar “to an unknown God” (v. 23) as a starting point for his message, but quickly moved to direct confrontation by saying they were “ignorant of the very thing you worship” (v. 23b). He told them that the true God, the Creator God, did not reside in manmade structures (v. 24) or need food from human hands (v. 25a). Furthermore, he chided them for thinking that manmade statues had any significance for knowing and worshipping God (v. 29), then he moved to preaching repentance, judgment, and the resurrection of Christ from the dead (vv. 30-31).

Of all the controversial things Paul said, the resurrection of the dead was the one that seemed to create the strongest negative reaction among his listeners (v. 32). This is not at all the only place where people objected to his teaching that Christ rose from the dead. Yet Paul never shied away from teaching that God was invisible, not an idol, or that Christ rose from the dead bodily.

Instead, he went straight to the truths of the Christian faith that would be most controversial. This approach is quite a bit different than the way that many of us talk about God. When we talk about God, we may be tempted to avoid the supernatural and just stick to talking about Jesus and what he can do for you. But the reason that Paul didn’t retreat from the controversial aspects of the gospel is that he knew that believing the gospel required God’s supernatural gift of faith, not a group of secular arguments.

The point for us to emulate here is not to minimize the difficult points of the gospel like the resurrection but to feature them in our presentation of the gospel. When we do that, we are relying on God’s power to save people, not our ability to argue people into assenting that Jesus is the Christ.

Acts 16

Read Acts 16.

When I was in sixth grade, a new kid came to my church. He was my age so he was in my Sunday School class as well as in my AWANA group. I went to a Christian school and he went to public schools so we only saw each other on Sunday. But we grew to be close friends.

We did a lot of fun stuff together, especially once we got to high school But we also both started growing in our faith and determined in high school to train for the ministry. During our junior year of high school, he transferred to the Christian school I attended. We graduated from high school together, went to the same college and graduated from that together. Then we both went to the same seminary.

We serve in different ministries now but I will never forget what a help and encouragement he was to me at a very formative time in my life. We’ve had a lot of fun together over the years but we’ve also done a lot of ministry together.

Do you have a friend like that, someone who has helped you serve the Lord? Here in Acts 16, Paul found a friend like that–Timothy (v. 1). Timothy was younger than Paul so it was more of a mentor-relationship than a peer-to-peer friendship. But at the end of his life, Paul wanted Timothy with him (2 Tim 4:9-13). That’s a great friendship.

Do you have a friend like that? Have you served with someone and, in the course of serving, became close to that person personally?

Is there someone in our church who could become a “Timothy” type for you? Is there a younger person that you could recruit to your ministry and grow in Christ with? If so, reach out to him or her and start that relationship after this COVID-19 thing is over.

If there isn’t someone like that, ask the Lord to open your eyes or to bring you someone who will serve with you and grow with you as well.

Galatians 6

Read Galatians 6.

Here in Galatians 6, Paul begins to describe what “walking in the Spirit” (5:16) looks like. One who walks in the Spirit will:

  • do what he or she can to gently restore a sinning brother (vv. 1-2).
  • live in humility (vv. 3-4)
  • will support his or her teacher financially (v. 6).

Verses 7-10 explain why we should do these things. Paul cites the law of the farm, reminding us that if we sow corn, we’ll reap corn. If we sow soy beans, we’ll reap soy beans. Similarly, in our spiritual life, we will reap what we sow.

We have the help and power of the Spirit of God. He leads us away from a sinful life and develops in us the fruit of the Spirit (5:16-26). But these results are not automatic. As believers we have the power and leadership of the spirit to become holy but those things are activated in our lives by obedience to Christ and his word.

When we disobey God’s word, we are sowing sinful seeds in our life and, if they are not uprooted, they will produce what sin produces—pain, death, destruction (v. 8a). When we obey God’s word we are sowing spiritual seeds in our life and those seeds will produce what the Spirit produces—eternal life (v. 8).

But growth takes patience. Sowing sinful seeds give us the immediate satisfaction that sin offers, the dopamine hit of pleasure that the sin nature craves. But we usually fail to realize that a destructive plant is being nurtured as well. One act of sin can be destructive, but usually is simply pleasurable. When we repeat this disobedience, we are sowing a crop of evil that will eventually emerge from the ground, grow to maturity, and destroy us. That is the unseen growth that sin brings in our life that we usually ignore because we love the initial burst of pleasure that sin provides.

Likewise, growth in the Spirit takes time. One day’s Bible reading, one season of deep worship and intercessory prayer, one day of serving the Lord in our church, one week’s tithe—none of these things produces an immediate tree of holiness. But, when we repeat these activities because we love God and are following the desires of the Spirit and obeying God’s word, over time these yield holiness in our lives.

As you read the scriptures thoughtfully each day in this Bible reading-program, you are sowing the seeds of God’s word in your life. Keep going, keep reading, keep thinking about these truths and how they apply to your life. Growth takes time and fruit doesn’t show up immediately, but the promise of God’s word is that the Spirit works in us and through as we follow him in obedience.

Maybe as you’ve thought about this, the Spirit has convicted you of some sinful practice you’ve been cultivating in your life. Repent and remove it now before it starts bearing fruit in your life. Maybe He has convicted you that you’re neglecting some area of the Christian life. The time has come to start sowing seeds of righteousness in that area.

Do it! Remember: “…at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (v. 9b).

Galatians 5

Read Galatians 5.

Paul continued passionately, here in Galatians 5, to argue that the Galatians must not try to mix faith in Christ with obedience to the Law of Moses (vv. 3-6).

Verses 7-10 are a slight parenthesis in Paul’s argument. Paul stopped teaching about our freedom in Christ (vv. 1, 13) and began to wonder in print about who was responsible for the false teaching that had invaded their church (v. 7). In verse 9 he wrote, “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” In other words, if the church tolerates just a little false doctrine, false doctrine will eventually pervade the entire church. Like cancer cells, false doctrine consumes the body of Christ slowly, but steadily.

Also like cancer, false doctrine is often unseen and undetected for a long time, sometimes until it is too late. Paul wrote this letter like a spiritual surgeon, seeking to cut out the spreading cells of false doctrine before it metastasized and killed the whole body.

False doctrine has existed in every age of humanity and, in our digital world, we have access to more of it than ever. Have you been sampling false teaching through TV broadcasts, books, podcasts, or online videos? Remember that it only takes “a little yeast” (v. 9) to leaven the entire loaf. We must be on guard, then. We must test everything against the teaching of scripture and reject everything that conflicts with God’s word.

Galatians 4

Today read Galatians 4.

Paul’s plea to the Galatians continued in this chapter, and it was a very anxious plea!

To Paul, following the law is like being under someone else’s control as a child or even a slave would be (vv. 1-3). By contrast, believing in Christ is like being a fully adopted adult son (vv. 4-7). In Christ, we are free and equipped to know and love God.

So why would anyone choose following the law over believing in Christ? To do that would make you like a minor again (vv. 8-11) instead of having all the wealth, blessings, rights, and privileges that an adult heir would receive from his father. It’s like choosing to be Ishmael instead of Isaac (vv. 24-31); nobody would make that choice, but that’s what subjecting yourself to the law is, spiritually speaking.

Within Paul’s explanation about this he described one of the benefits of believing in Christ. Christ died for our sins so that “we might receive adoption to sonship” (v. 5). Adoption is such a great metaphor for what God has done for us in Christ. When a couple adopts a child, that child is conferred–credited–with all the rights and privileges that a natural-born child has. In the same way, by adopting us in Christ, God gives us the same status of sonship as Christ himself.

But “status” is not something we experience, at least not in this life. If we are going to relate to God as his sons, we need more than just status. So God did something else for us so that we could benefit from our status as sons in this life. As Paul put it in verse 6, “Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’” The reason why we can experience assurance of our salvation is that we have the Spirit within us that speaks truth to us about our relationship to God as his sons now in Christ. The reason we can pray in faith that God hears us is that the Holy Spirit within us calls out to him.

This gives us hope for a future eternity with God. As verse 7 put it, “So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.” Christ promised an inheritance to us in his eternal kingdom; that inheritance comes from the status we received as a gift of grace from Jesus.

Galatians 3

Read Galatians 3.

When God called Abraham in Genesis 3 and made what we call the “Abrahamic Covenant” with him, God promised Abraham, “…all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3).

How exactly God intended to fulfill this worldwide covenant promise is not spelled out in Genesis 12. In fact, the Old Testament doesn’t explain it in great detail, though it does give some light on the subject.

Paul quoted Genesis 12:3 here in Galatians 3:8. According to Paul, Genesis 12:3 “announced the gospel in advance” as we read to Galatians 3:8.

But how did God include us Gentiles? Did he do so by making us obedient to the law of Moses? No! Again, according to Galatians 3:8, the promise God made to Abraham was “that God would justify the Gentiles by faith” because Abraham was a man of faith (vv. 6, 9) not a man of the law.

The question Galatians 3 answers is, how can Gentiles be legitimate descendants of Abraham and, thus, partake in God’s promises to Abraham?

Jewish people, of course, physically descended from Abraham, so they are legitimate heirs to the covenant promises of Genesis 12. But how do we Gentiles become heirs?

The answer is through Messiah–Jesus. He descended from Abraham physically. Paul makes a big point about this in verses 16. Genesis 12 promised these blessings to Abraham’s seed (singular) not “seeds.” Paul says that means one person was intended–Jesus. He wrote (again in verse 16), “Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds,’ meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed,’ meaning one person, who is Christ.” It is our connection to Christ–by faith–that makes us eligible for the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant (vv. 26-29), not our obedience to the law (vv. 10-14).

This has implications for what the law means to us as Christians. We no longer need to obey the law–or should obey the law–because Christ unlocked us from the law’s obligations and penalties (vv. 23-25). God’s law reveals to us so much about the character of God and our accountability to him, but it cannot save us or make us holy (vv. 21-22).

Stay away, then, from anyone or any group that says you need Christ PLUS obedience to the law of God or obedience to any other kind of religious ceremony or activity to be saved or sanctified. In Christ we have everything we need–salvation (vv. 8, 11-12) and the Holy Spirit of God (vv. 2-5).

Galatians 2

Read Galatians 2.

In our earlier readings from Acts, we noted the tensions that began when God saved Gentiles and gave them the same spiritual status as the Jewish believers in Jesus had. Here in the book of Galatians, Paul urged the churches he started in this region not to succumb to the teaching of the “Judaizers.” That was a group of people who claimed faith in Jesus but insisted that all Christians conform to Jewish law.

Here in Galatians 2, Paul recounted his own first-hand struggle as a Christian against the idea that Christians must obey the law. Peter recognized Paul as a genuine believer (v. 9b) and Peter and the other apostles also recognized the commission of Christ to Paul to take the gospel to the Gentiles (vv. 7, 9c). Yet Peter himself failed, at times, to act “in line with the truth of the gospel.” (v. 14b).

Sometimes Peter acted as if his Jewish background didn’t matter, so he blended right in with the Gentile believers (v. 12a). But when there were Jewish believers around, Peter feared their disapproval and segregated himself from the Gentiles (v. 12b). That was hypocrisy (v. 13a) and Paul spoke to Peter directly about it.

The point of this chapter is to emphasize the implications of the gospel. If Jesus really has fulfilled the law of God and if we are justified simply by believing in him, then it is wrong to add any religious or moral works as requirements for salvation.

But a secondary lesson in this passage has to do with Peter’s hypocrisy. Despite how much Jesus loved Peter, taught him, and entrusted to him as an apostle, Peter was still human. He was still vulnerable to fear the opinions of others and, therefore, still susceptible to hypocrisy.

Yet, despite his status as an apostle, Peter had the humility to receive Paul’s correction. Let none of us, then, think that we are above or beyond the correcting power of truth. We remain sinners until Jesus glorifies us finally, so let’s be ready to accept correction and grow from it when we are corrected with the truth.