1 Timothy 2

Read 1 Timothy 2.

One of the common objections heard against our faith is that it is exclusive. If Jesus is the only way to God, then what about people who worship God through other religions? Will they miss salvation even though they have a desire to know God?

The answer is yes, according to verse 5 of our passage today: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.”

It is common to hear that every religion is worshipping the same God, just by a different name. The Bible, however, calls worship of any other god than the true God idolatry. The reason is that “there is one God.” Verse 5 went on to say that there is “one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.” The only way to know the one true God, to worship him, and receive his forgiveness is through Jesus.

Why?

Because he “gave himself as a ransom.”

Only the death of Christ on our behalf made reconciliation with God possible. Any other religion, in addition to saying things about God that contradict the Christian description of God, lacks a solution to the problem of sin.

But notice the next phrase in verse 6: “…for all people.” This truth goes against the idea that our faith is unjustly exclusive.

Our faith is exclusive in the sense that there is only one way–Jesus. He is the exclusive way to God.

But our faith is not exclusive in the sense that it is restricted to only one type of person. The salvation Jesus purchased, and the good news about knowing God he brought us, is for every kind of person on earth–Jew or Gentile, slave or free, wealthy or poor, male or female, Japanese or Lebanese, or any other way that people can be categorized.

This is why Paul began this chapter by urging us to pray “for all people” (v. 1). We should pray for the gospel to go everywhere there are people. In verse 2, Paul specified that we should pray “for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives….” This is a request for the authorities of the world to leave us alone so that the gospel can advance to all the world without interference or persecution.

When you pray today, remember to pray for the world. Specifically, pray that people all over the world will learn about the one true God and the one mediator, the man–our Lord–Christ Jesus. Pray that those who are taking the gospel everywhere will do so without being persecuted or interfered with so that all kinds of people will be “saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” (v. 4).

Pray also for our government here in the U.S.–not that Team A or Team B will will win the next election but that whoever wins will leave us alone to spread the gospel message. That is the message of 1 Timothy 2:1-8.

Mark 13

Read Mark 13.

I enjoy architecture and appreciate a well-designed and good-looking building. Don’t get me wrong, I know nothing about architecture; I just like the way places look when they are done right.

At least one disciple of Jesus shared this quality with me. According to verse 1, “As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!’” If he’d said that to me, I would have said, “I know! Aren’t they cool! Herod has his problems, but he did build us a nice temple!”

Jesus, however, was not impressed and he told that disciple not to get too attached to that building. In verse 2 he said, “‘Do you see all these great buildings?’ replied Jesus. ‘Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.’”

Ahem.

Well, at least Jesus called the buildings “great.” Though…, maybe he just meant large.

Peter, James, and John–his closest disciples–asked Jesus privately about this. Peter’s brother Andrew also got in on the discussion, according to verse 3.

What Jesus said in the rest of this chapter is called “The Olivet Discourse” because Jesus spoke these words on the mount of Olives while overlooking the temple. Going into what Jesus taught in this chapter is beyond what I could cover in a devotional, but there is a message here for us just in the first two verses. The magnificent temple that awed at least one disciple was gone within 30 years or so after Jesus said these words. That happened during the lifetime of these men.

Long before the temple was destroyed, though, it stopped mattering to these men. On the day of Pentecost, God’s Spirit moved powerfully and saved thousands of people. And he kept moving and kept saving men, spreading his work throughout the rest of the world in waves that ripple out to us. No longer did they need a great building to have a spiritual experience with God. They had their memories of Jesus and his words, the Holy Spirit’s work, and thousands of disciples to nurture. Buildings are impressive and incredibly useful but if we love the building more than God or the souls of men, we’re doing it wrong.

Suzanne and I were part of a few church plants before we came to Calvary so we know what it is like to use someone else’s building. One thing that does for you is make you thankful for the building you have when you get one. I like our building here at Calvary, but this building will be destroyed someday–hopefully a long time into the future, but someday.

The impressive monuments in Washington and the stately government buildings there will not last forever, either. Someday everything we know will burn up and be replaced by a city made by God where righteousness dwells. We can’t take any buildings with us to that city, but we can take people who hear the gospel message and are rescued from an eternity apart from God.

So, let’s be thankful for the stuff we have–our church building and grounds, our homes, clothes, cars, etc. But don’t fall in love with those things; use them to reach and disciple and love people for Jesus Christ.

Start with your own family and you’ll be on the right track.

Mark 4

Read Mark 4.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not hard to understand.

  • God is holy and hates sin.
  • Humanity–as a group and individually–has rebelled against God and chosen to sin.
  • Christ died for our sins and rose again to give us spiritual life.

That is the Good News in a few basic bullet points. There is depth behind those bullet points to be learned and explored, but the message is not difficult.

So why don’t more people become Christians?

Mark 4:1-25 gives the answer. The answer, in a brief statement, is that most people aren’t prepared spiritually to receive the gospel. Either their hearts are hard and Satan can steal the message from them (v. 15) or their hearts are shallow so, even though they like the message, it never transforms them (vv. 16-17) or they are distracted by common human struggles (vv. 18-19).

More people don’t become Christians because their hearts need to be prepared by the Holy Spirit to receive the message of Christ.

This parable of Christ is emphatic that the problem of unbelief is not a problem with God’s word. God’s word is widely distributed (vv. 3-4, 21-23). It is powerfully productive as well (v. 20).

Yet, too often, Christians want to change the message instead of asking God to change the hearts of those who hear it.

Christians want to de-emphasize the doctrine of God’s eternal justice (aka hell) to make the message easier to hear. Or God’s love is given more emphasis than God’s holiness. Or God’s law–his righteous standards–are denied or re-defined.

Unbelief is not the result of a defective gospel; it is the natural product of sinful, unprepared hearts. The answer, then, is to ask God to prepare and open the hearts of people to receive the Word. That’s what makes some soil “good soil” (vv. 8, 20). It is also what Jesus is getting at when he said, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you” (v. 11). God opened the minds and hearts of the disciples to receive the gospel. That’s why they were saved.

As Christians, who are commanded by God to spread the gospel message, two points are crucial to take from this chapter:

  1. Don’t mess with the message! It produces great results on its own (v. 20) because it is God’s word (v. 14).
  2. Do pray for those you want to reach for Christ. Ask God to prepare their hearts to receive the good message of God’s word.

Mark 2

Read Mark 2.

Who is most deserving of the chance to hear the gospel?

You and I both know the right answer to the question, “Who deserves to be saved?” The right answer is “nobody” because we’re all sinful and guilty before a holy God.

But who among us guilty sinners most deserves to hear the gospel message? If not everyone on earth can receive the gospel witness in his or her lifetime, then who should we evangelize first?

Jesus answered that question here in Mark 2:17 when he said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” This statement of Jesus was in response to the Pharisees’ criticism that Jesus ate with “tax collectors and sinners.” Jesus explained that these sinners received his attention because they needed it the most.

At this point in his ministry, a disinterested observer might argue that Jesus should have spent his time with the Pharisees because they had already demonstrated a clear interest in spiritual things. The sinners he chose to be with, by contrast, had turned away from God’s word. They had heard it in their homes and synagogues growing up but had chosen to live a different kind of life. For these reasons, the Pharisees would appear to have been a more receptive audience to Jesus than the tax collectors and other sinners.

But the key word in that last sentence is “appear.”

The Pharisees were all about appearances and their spiritual interests were about appearing righteous before others, not really becoming righteous. Sinners, by contrast, had the appearance of righteousness ripped from them when they sold out to become tax collectors, or thieves, or prostitutes, or whatever. The benefits they had received at first from their sinful lifestyles were diminishing when Jesus came into their lives and they were now experiencing the heavy costs of a sinful lifestyle. In a society as judgmental and rigid as theirs, it would be impossible to reverse course, stop collecting taxes, and become a respectable man again. These companions of Jesus–these sinners–were ripe for the grace of repentance and faith. That’s why Jesus wanted to be with them.

Who then is most deserving of the chance to hear the gospel? Well…, all sinners need it, of course, so we shouldn’t be picky when opportunity comes along.

When it comes to who we intentionally try to reach, however, we should think like Jesus did. So many churches have started in our area recently. How many of them are seeking to reach the poorest areas of Ypsilanti. How many are attempting to reach the working class family that is out of work or the single mother on welfare? How many of them are reaching out to the many Muslims who have moved into our area? How many have created prison ministries or outreaches to addicts?

How about our church? Literally surrounded by corn, we are a church located where the suburbs and the farms meet. That’s where God put us so we should try to reach those around us.

We have poor people around us, too, that we serve through our food pantry. There are addicts and alcoholics in every place–urban, suburban, and rural–so we have those around, too. Have we done as Jesus did and looked for people who may be ready to hear about true hope in Christ?

Colossians 4

Read Colossians 4.

This chapter began by continuing to describe how being raised with Christ and setting our minds on things above (3:1-2) changes our daily lives. After applying this truth to masters (4:1), the scripture turned to our prayer lives (vv. 2-4) and how we share the gospel (vv. 5-6). The rest of the chapter was concluding personal remarks (vv. 7-18) that closed the book.

For our instruction today, let’s turn to verses 5-6: “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

These verses speak to us about how we speak with unbelievers.

Verse 5 encouraged us to to “be wise.” The word “wise” simply refers to skill. In the Old Testament, God called some men who were “wise” in craftsmanship to create the furniture for his tabernacle (see Exodus 31:1-5. Here, the wisdom we are commanded to have refers to the “soft” skill of communication.

Part of our faith, the result of being raised with Christ, means learning how to skillfully talk with unbelievers about Christ. Verse 5b encourages us to think about talking with unbelievers as an “opportunity” that we should “make the most of.” In addition to understanding the gospel message well enough to explain it clearly to someone else, we should develop our conversational skills so that we can speak of Christ in ways that draw the interest of unbelievers.

Think about how Jesus skillfully spoke with Nicodemus, the woman at the well, and others about himself. He did not use a canned speech, a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, he engaged the other person at the level of their own interest and then led them to see that they needed him.

What does this kind of evangelistic conversation look like? Verse 6 says it is “always full of grace.”

Grace, of course, is an undeserved gift. In evangelistic conversations, we want to get to God’s grace, to tell people what Christ can give them by faith. But I think Paul means more than just filling our conversation with God’s grace. I think he means that the tone of the conversation is giving so that the unbeliever understands we have something to offer them.

We have hope and joy and peace to offer in Christ. We can show unbelievers how to truly know God, so the way we speak to them should be inviting, encouraging them to “taste and see that the Lord is good” and that we can “take refuge in him” (Psalm 34:8.

Verse 6 (here in Colossians 4) tells us that these conversations should be “seasoned with salt.” Again the image is that our talks with unbelievers are stimulating and pleasant. It might be taking the “salt” image too far, but what if “seasoned with salt” means that our talks with unbelievers about Jesus makes them “thirsty” so they will want to talk with us again about him in the future?

Of course we don’t ignore the problem of sin or give unbelievers reassurances that everything will be OK whether they believe in God or not. Instead, we must show them the possibility of a better life–the ability to know God, to feel that he is listening to us, the opportunity to understand why the world is so beautiful but also broken, and how the world that Christ promised will be the perfect one that we all deeply crave.

What would you need to do to be able to speak the gospel to unbelievers like this?

Have you read any books about it or taken a class to learn how to engage in a spiritual conversation like this? This is part of growing in grace–learning to speak gracefully to unbelievers about the grace of God. May God give us opportunities to hone our skills in evangelism and opportunities to practice those skills among unbelievers with hungry hearts.

Acts 28

Today, read Acts 28.

This is the end of the New Testament’s record of Paul’s ministry. Although it is the end of the record, it seems clear that it was not the end of Paul’s ministry. According to tradition, Paul won his trial in Rome (the first time) and was released. He continued traveling for the gospel until he was later captured again and executed.

We read yesterday of his shipwreck; in the early verses of this chapter, we see how God used that to demonstrate His power to the pagan people of Malta (vv. 1-10). Eventually Paul did reach Rome where he received the welcome he had hoped from the Roman believers (vv. 14-15). He was also able to live privately under house arrest (v. 16) instead of in an actual prison. This gave him the opportunities he wanted to share the gospel, starting as he always did, with the Jewish people (vv. 17-23).

Notice the results of teaching the gospel in verse 24: “Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe.” This is what will happen whenever any of us shares the gospel. Not everyone will respond to the gospel in faith. That’s one reason why we are hesitant to tell others about Christ–because we know many will reject it.

Here’s the thing about witnessing for Christ: many will reject the gospel message but some will believe. This was Paul’s confidence expressed in verse 28: “God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” Don’t let rejection by some in the past to the truth of Christ shut you down from telling others about Jesus. Rejection of the gospel is part of sharing the gospel but if you faithfully deliver it to others, some of them “will listen!” (v. 28b).

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.