Acts 24

Today’s reading is Acts 24.

Paul was taken from Jerusalem to Caesarea to protect his life from a plot by his Jewish opponents at the end of yesterday’s reading in Acts 23. Five days (v. 1) after Paul arrived in Caesarea, his Jewish opponents showed up there to charge him with stirring up conflict among the Jews (vv. 2-9). Paul answered the charges against him by appealing to what actually happened and the lack of proof his opponents had for their charges (vv. 10-13). Paul skillfully wove the gospel into his defense starting in verse 14. Felix, the governor who was handling this case, punted the case to a later date (vv. 22-23).

But a few days later, Felix and his wife Drusilla set up a private meeting with Paul (vv. 24-26). This meeting allowed Paul to specifically bring the gospel to this couple. An interesting aspect of this is that Felix was a Gentile, a Roman governor, but his wife Drusilla was Jewish (v. 24b).

So Paul had a mixed audience religiously when he spoke to this couple.

How did he handle this opportunity?

According to verse 25, “Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come….” Let’s break that down:

  • “righteousness” refers to what is right, how someone measures up to a standard. In this case, the standard is God’s perfect holiness as revealed in his Law.
  • “self-control” has to do with a person’s ability to say no to his sinful impulses and choose to do what is right instead.
  • “judgment to come” of course, refers to the fact that every person will stand before God to give an account of his or her life.

In other words, Paul spoke to Felix and Drusilla about right and wrong, about their inability to control themselves enough to do what is right, and about the fact that God would judge them individually for doing what was wrong.

What was the reaction?

“Felix was afraid and said, ‘That’s enough for now! You may leave…” (v. 25b). In other words, Paul’s conversation with them caused Felix to feel the conviction of sin and his need for a savior.

Unfortunately, he did not repent at Paul’s teaching and find forgiveness in Christ. But once again Paul’s approach when talking to him is instructive for us when we speak about Christ to unbelievers.

Almost any point of sin is an adequate starting point for the gospel.

When you are talking with an unbeliever, if they complain about an injustice in the news or about crime or about the lack of self-control they see in others or in young people, that is an opportunity to talk about Christ.

Why do people dislike it when others can’t exercise self-control? Because an uncontrolled population is dangerous and difficult to live in. But what standard do unbelievers use to complain about the sins, injustices, and failures of self-control in others? They appeal to God’s standards, even though they may not know it or even may deny it.

The Bible says that the law is written on the heart of every human. That means that we have an intuitive sense of right and wrong. Use that! Show them how they too fall short of the standards they apply to others and admit to them that you, too, fall short but that Jesus didn’t. This will give you the opportunity to share what Christ has done for us to deliver us from the coming judgment of God at the end of the age.

Acts 22

Read Acts 22.

On Friday we read about Paul’s return to Jerusalem, his attempt to mollify the Jewish people by submitting to a Jewish purification rite, and his arrest which had been foretold repeatedly by the Holy Spirit. At the end of Acts 21, Paul asked his arrestors for a chance to speak to the crowd that had rioted.

Today’s chapter, Acts 22, recorded that speech.

Given this opportunity to speak to such a large number of his fellow Jews, what did Paul say?

He gave his personal testimony.

He began with his background as a carefully observant Jew from the Pharisaic tradition (vv. 1-3). He moved to his persecution of Christians for their divergent beliefs (vv. 4-5). He described his conversion experience on the road to Damascus (vv. 6-13) and his commission to reach the Gentiles with the good news about Jesus (vv. 14-21).

People can reject arguments and counter them with other arguments but it is extremely difficult to argue with someone’s personal experience. The personal experience of another person is also very persuasive, one of the most persuasive forms of communication. Paul’s testimony here did not get him released, but it did give him an opportunity to witness for Christ.

A straight up sermon about Jesus would have been interrupted a lot sooner, probably, than Paul’s testimony was here so this was a wise way to use the opportunity.

Do you realize how powerful your personal testimony can be when you speak to others about Christ?

You don’t have to have a dramatic Damascus road-type conversion story. In fact, if you were saved as a child, your testimony might focus more on what being a Christian has meant to your life than about how much you changed from when you were an 8 year old contract killer or whatever.

Let Paul’s example here encourage you to think about your testimony and write it out even to help you be prepared to share Christ when the door to speak for Jesus opens.

Romans 5

Read Romans 5

Romans 4 told us that people are declared righteous by faith and that righteousness was secured by Jesus Christ. Today in chapter 5, verse 1 told us that the result of being declared righteous by faith is that “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The next several verses went on to describe the future (v. 2b, 9-11) and present results of God’s grace to us in Christ (vv. 3-5).

Verses 12-21 describe the “one to many” aspects of sin and salvation.

It was by one man’s sin that many became sinners (vv. 12-14). Likewise, one man’s gift made many righteous (vv. 15-21). Since the gift (vv. 15–2x, 16–2x, 17), that is, the grace (vv. 2, 15–2x, 17, 20, 21), of Jesus has accomplished the salvation of many, grace now reigns in Jesus Christ (v. 21).

The “reign” of that grace specifically is to “to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (v. 21). This is one of the things we mean when we say that we live in the “age of grace.” It is true that there are still billions of sinners on the earth and that physical death still holds power over all sinners. But it is also true that God is saving millions of people around the world through the grace that came through Jesus Christ. The “age of grace” is here; God is saving people through Jesus Christ.

This is something to remind ourselves of as we talk with unbelievers. Instead of avoiding talk of eternity, we should believe the truth that God is saving people through Jesus Christ–and that his grace which saved us is available to save others.

Paul was “not ashamed of the gospel” because “it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.” His confidence in the gospel is what made him an effective witness for Christ–not his experience or his rhetorical abilities. Let’s believe God’s word ourselves that in this age of grace he will use us for the salvation of many and look for ways to share that truth with others.

2 Corinthians 6

Read 2 Corinthians 6.

This chapter continues the thread of the past several chapters. Paul commended the ministry of himself and his co-workers to the fickle, loveless (v. 12) Corinthians. Verses 1-2 here in 2 Corinthians 6 wrapped up the discussion from chapter 5 about the importance of the gospel message which Paul and his men preached. Verses 3-10 laid out the reasons why Paul and his associates should be loved and championed by the believers in Corinth. Then, in verses 11-13, Paul directly urged the church in Corinth to give that love and acceptance to him and his coworkers in the gospel.

In verses 14-18 Paul changed the subject to the relationship the church in Corinth should have with unbelievers. This seems like a sudden change in subject, like a driver who unexpectedly made a right hand turn from the left hand turn lane. This is not Paul’s usual style for moving from one topic to another, so it is possible–likely even–that this section is connected to the previous section. Verses 11-12 pleaded for the Corinthians to “open wide your hearts also” to Paul and his associates. Those verses, plus this section, may indicate that Paul feared the church was turning away from his leadership and toward some other kind of spiritual leadership, a leadership that came from “unbelievers.”

Note how verse 16 says, “What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God.” Given the strong presence of idolatry in Corinth, it might be that the Corinthians had moved from merely eating food offered to idols (as we saw in 1 Corinthians) and had begun mixing Christ with some of the other religious practices in Corinth.

If that is true and the Corinthians were flirting with idolatry in some way, then how would this passage apply to us today?

First of all, the most common application of this passage–don’t marry an unbeliever–would still apply. Verse 14 laid down a command that would apply across many dimensions of a believer’s life.

But, secondly, consider the phrase, “we are the temple of the living God” (v. 16b). The wording of that verse seems to suggest the entire church as God’s temple, not our individual bodies as the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Maybe the church in Corinth had begun accepting unbelievers into membership, treating them as if they were Christians even though they were freely mixing Christianity with idolatry.

Maybe they had begun using the idol temples as places for Christian worship and the unsaved population around them was confused.

Maybe they even began consulting with false teachers from the idol temples, borrowing some of their ideas to mix with the scripture.

These days there are churches that perform secular songs in their worship services. There are churches that recommend books and authors who are “spiritual” but not Christians. These would, in my opinion, be violations of this passage. 1 Corinthians 6, then, teaches us to be careful about how we treat those who don’t explicitly claim to follow Jesus.

We may read books by secular authors but we should never treat any book but God’s word as the authority on any subject. To do that would be placing that book on a level similar to scripture.

We certainly should allow unbelievers to attend our church After all, this is a place where they can hear the gospel and see it lived in our lives. But we should not act as if everyone who attends weekly is automatically a believer.

What is your relationship to unbelievers? The Bible certainly calls us to be in contact with them so as to give the gospel message and live out our faith among them. But be careful about giving them acceptance or an audience that is equal to or greater than the acceptance and authority of Christ himself.

2 Corinthians 5

Today, read 2 Corinthians 5.

Yesterday in 2 Corinthians 4, we read that Paul and his companions did not lose heart despite the hardships they faced because they have a ministry that transforms lives by the power of Christ.

Today’s reading continued the theme of serving the Lord despite the costs that come with it. Another reason not to lose heart is eternity–“we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven” (v. 1b).

Believers should long for eternity (vv. 2-8) but live for Christ with the time we have on this earth (vv. 9-10). Living for Christ means reaching out to non-believers with the life-transforming power of the gospel message (vv. 11-21), so this is why Paul and his team kept traveling, kept giving the gospel despite the pain of persecution and the difficulty of dealing with disrespectful churches.

There are so many powerful verses in this chapter!

  • verse 7: “For we live by faith, not by sight.”
  • verse 10: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”
  • verse 11: “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others.”
  • verse 15: “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”
  • verse 17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here.”
  • verse 20: “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”
  • verse 21: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

But the one that stands out to me today is verse 9, “So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.”

Pleasing God is not the same as trying to earn his love or his salvation. That’s impossible; God loved us unconditionally when we were still sinners and saved us as a gift of his grace alone. But, once saved by God’s grace, we want to become holy like he is and to rescue sinners like he did. God is pleased with these things because they are the evidence of the life of the Holy Spirit within us (v. 5) and because they show that we are “no longer living for” ourselves “but for him who died for” us “and was raised again” (v. 15).

Now that we are God’s children, our goal is to please him with our lives. Is this a goal that we think about daily? Whatever you face today, consider what it would look like to please the Lord in the things you pay attention to, the decisions and choices you make, and what you do with the time in front of you.

2 Corinthians 4

Read 2 Corinthians 4.

In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul defended his ministry to the Corinthians (3:1-6) and argued that the Corinthians themselves were a proof that God was working in Paul and his partners as they ministered.

In both 1 and 2 Corinthians, Paul addressed an undercurrent of disrespect the Corinthian believers had toward him. If God used you to establish a church, then some of the people there started disrespecting you, it would be natural and very human to become discouraged about the ministry. Add to that the kind of persecutions and pressures that Paul and his team faced (4:8-12) and it is easy to see how Paul might have been tempted to quit serving the Lord altogether.

Paul did not downplay the problems he faced for the gospel, but he opened this chapter by saying that, despite these problems, “we do not lose heart” (v. 1). Instead, the ability he and his team had to keep serving the Lord despite the very human weaknesses they had, reminded them that it was God working through them, not their own power or ability (vv. 7-12, 16-17).

Today’s chapter also touched on the method they used to reach people for Christ. Their method was to set “forth the truth plainly” (v. 2). There was no need to use deception or pressure or any other tactics to get people to trust Christ (v. 2a) because the problem unbelievers had believing the gospel was a spiritual problem, a blindness from Satan that veiled the glory of Christ in the gospel (vv. 3-5). The right approach, then, was to “preach Jesus Christ as Lord” (v. 5a) and depend on God’s power to save people (v. 6).

What were their qualifications for this ministry, then? Simply that they believed in Jesus: “It is written: ‘I believed; therefore I have spoken.’ Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself” (vv. 13-14). They gave the gospel and called people to repent and trust Jesus because that is the truth they believed when they became Christians.

Too often we are quiet about our faith because we think we don’t have the best arguments or the right answers or that we are not personally persuasive. These are excuses; what matters is that we have believed the gospel ourselves (v. 13) and that we are relying on God to work through us when we speak (vv. 5-6). Is there someone in your relationships–at work, in your family, in your neighborhood–who has not heard you share Christ? Is one of these excuses the reason why? Let the truth of this chapter encourage you and embolden you to speak up. Only Christ can remove the veil of unbelief from a person’s spiritual eyes. Our job is to faithfully and plainly share the message. If you get a chance today, step up to the opportunity to speak about Christ.

1 Corinthians 9

Read 1 Corinthians 9.

In this chapter, Paul began to defend how he served God in the role of Apostle. Verses 1 & 2 offer his qualifications to be an apostle. The main qualification is in verse 1: “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” That is a reference to his Damascus road vision. Christ both saved him there and commanded him to preach the gospel (see Acts 9).

The remainder of 1 Corinthians 9:1-2 describes how the conversion of the Corinthians proved his authenticity as an apostle.

In verses 3-14, Paul defended his right to be supported financially by those he served in the ministry of the gospel. He argued that he had the right to be paid by the Corinthians and others for his service in the gospel (vv. 3-14). But then he explained how he refused to insist on this support so that the gospel would travel unrestricted (v. 12b, 15a).

In verses 19-23, Paul explained that everything he did was designed to advance the gospel. As one of my teachers, Haddon Robinson, once put it: “He would do anything short of sinning to win people to Christ.”

Would you “do anything short of sinning to reach people for Christ”? Or, do we do everything we can to avoid talking about Christ?

Those are convicting questions. They challenge our lack of evangelistic zeal and expose our desire to please people more than to please Christ.

Is the gospel coming up in your conversations with others? Are you looking for ways to talk about Jesus? That’s how Paul acted and how we should approach life in this world.

1 Corinthians 2

Read 1 Corinthians 2.

In this chapter, Paul explained to the Corinthians his approach to ministry. That approach was to rely on the message of Christ (v. 2) and the power of God’s Spirit (v. 4).

Verses 14-15 described the differences between those who have God’s Holy Spirit and those who do not. Unbelievers―those who don’t have the Spirit―cannot welcome God’s truth because God’s truth is spiritual by nature.

Sometimes verse 14 is interpreted to mean that unbelievers cannot understand God’s word. That is not the point of the passage, however. The point of the passage is that an unbeliever is unable to believe, to welcome, to “accept the things that come from the Spirit of God” (v. 14).

Unbelievers may understand every fact of the Gospel or every doctrine of the Christian faith or they may not, but either way an unbeliever can only believe God’s truth if God’s Spirit is within.

This is why our outreach to unbelievers should consist of the pure gospel of Christ rather than persuasive techniques, convincing arguments, or powerful entertainment. Those might bring some genuine conversions–if there is any gospel at all in them–but they will also bring many false professions.

Only the Holy Spirit’s power can change a person’s will so that that person will welcome Jesus Christ and put his or her faith in him. So stick to the gospel message and pray for God to save through his Spirit.

That is the righteous approach to evangelism.

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.

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.