Acts 18

Read Acts 18.

In this chapter Paul met a couple, Aquila and Priscilla, who would become his friends and ministry associates. Verse 3 tells us that, in addition to having Christ in common, they also made a living by making tents just as Paul did when he needed money. That work allowed Paul to travel and give the gospel anywhere without asking anyone for money. However, earning a living that way meant spending less time preaching the gospel.

In verse 5, Luke dropped this into the story: “When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching….” Why would he do this? Why would he work part time with Priscilla and Aquila until Silas and Timothy showed up and then stop making tents and start preaching the gospel exclusively?

The answer is found in Philippians 4:15-16 which says, “Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need.” Second Corinthians 11:9 conveys the same information. So here in Acts 18:5 Luke alludes to the financial support the Philippian church sent by saying that “Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching….” Their financial contributions made it possible for Paul and his team to concentrate on giving the gospel instead of splitting time between giving the gospel and earning a living.

Because of this passage, missionaries who provide for themselves by doing secular work on the mission field are called “tentmakers.” There are some good reasons to do tentmaking, but in most cases the gospel advances better when God’s servants can give it our full attention. That happens when God’s people give faithfully and generously to his work.

So, let me close this meditation by saying thank you to everyone who tithes to Calvary! Your faithful giving allows me to make a living for my family and funds our other staff members and expenses. The same is true for the missionaries our church supports. Their work is funded by our giving.

If you are not giving–or giving very little–please understand how important financial support is to our church and to our missionaries and re-prioritize your finances to support God’s work.

Note: Tomorrow we take a break from Acts and turn to reading the 1 & 2 Thessalonians.

Acts 5

\Read Acts 5.

The growing church we’ve been tracking since Acts 1 felt the weight of persecution here in Acts 5, but that was nothing new for them.

What is new as that the church encountered internal problems for the first time. This happened when Ananias and Sapphira wanted both to make money and get credit for generosity (vv. 1-11).

Sometimes people misunderstand the issue in this passage. The problem was not that Ananias and Sapphira wanted to keep some of the money. In verse 4 Peter said, “And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?” This question, which assumes a “yes” response, affirmed that this couple had every right to do what they wanted to do with their property and with the money they gained from selling it. The Bible affirms the right of people to own private property which is the foundation of capitalism. The problem was not that they kept some of the money or wanted to keep any of the money.

No, the issue in Acts 5 was that they “lied to the Holy Spirit” in verse 3.

By lying to the Holy Spirit they had “not lied just to human beings but to God” (v. 4d). The lie they told was regarding the price of the land. Verse 2 told us that Ananias “kept back part of the money for himself” but “with his wife’s full knowledge” (v. 2) they told the church it was sold at a lower price (v. 8) and that they were giving all the money to the church, just as Joseph had in 4:36-37. By doing this, they were taking credit for more generosity than they were truly giving. That’s why they were judged for “lying” not for being stingy.

Wealthy people have funded health care institutions, art, schools, libraries, parks, concert halls, and other civic institutions. Usually, though, the giver puts his name on the gift so that everyone will know who funded that project. And by getting credit for it, Jesus would say “they have their reward in full” (Matt 6:2).

But if you give to the Lord’s work AND act like it was more of a sacrifice than it really was in order to get people to think well of you, then you have a sinful attitude compelling your act of goodness.

Whenever we give money or do any kind of ministry to get the praise and admiration of others, we are trading financial income for praise income. Although it is not always possible to do ministry without being noticed for it, the heart of a believer is to give to God so that He is glorified and we are not. May God purify our hearts and motives so that we give to his work and his people for His glory not to enhance our own reputations. But, in God’s amazing grace, he promises to reward us eternally anyway when we give with a servant’s heart.

Luke 21

Today we’re reading Luke 21.

Materialism is an ever-present temptation for us. We are material beings, after all, because we have these physical bodies. They need to be dressed and enhanced and housed and driven around.

Because God created us with an appreciation for beauty and we need physical goods to live, it is not surprising that beautiful physical possessions interest us. And, honestly, there is nothing sinful about having things; the Bible tells us that God’s creation is good (1 Tim 4:3-5).

The problem is not that we appreciate and enjoy material things; the problem is that we worship material things. We believe that they will make us happy and/or we think that having things will cause people to value us more highly. So we spend money recklessly or hoard money to accumulate wealth and its trappings.

Here in Luke 21, Jesus addressed our thirst for materialism. He began by talking about the poor widow who gave generously to God’s work in the temple (vv. 1-3). Knowing both how easily the rich could afford their gifts and how much this woman needed the money she gave, Jesus praised her for her faith and love for God. To Jesus this woman “has put in more than all the others” (v. 3). That was not true in terms of raw value but, relative to her means, it was very true. Instead of living for material things, she gave to God and trusted him to provide for her.

Although the disciples of Jesus lived by faith for their daily lives, they were still much too impressed with material things. As they praised the beautiful work in Herod’s temple (v. 5), Jesus prophesied about the destruction that would fall on the temple and all of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. in verses 6-33. Then he cautioned the disciples, “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap.” The widow who gave her last bit of money did not need to worry about being “weighed down” by anything because everything in her life had been handed over to the Lord.

This is how we should look at money and material things, too. May God help us not to trust in anything but him, not to worship anything but him, and not to let anything in this life weigh us down from following him with all of our hearts.

Luke 9

Read Luke 9.

This chapter began with Jesus sending out the Twelve to give the gospel and to do miraculous works to authenticate their message (vv. 1-2). Jesus told them to take nothing so that they would learn to rely on God’s provision for everything (vv. 3-6).

God did provide for them and he used them powerfully to serve Jesus (v. 10). But they did not completely learn the lesson. When food was needed for a large crowd, the Apostles wanted Jesus to send the crowds away (v. 12). Jesus challenged their thinking and commanded them to feed the crowds themselves which they protested (vv. 13-14). Christ showed them once again that he had the power to meet every need they had in ministry. But the implication is that, if they’d had trusted him, they could have fed the crowd themselves through his power (vv. 16-17).

When we’re serving God, we can trust him to meet every need we have. He has more than enough power–infinite power, in fact–to meet every need we have and then some. The question is whether or not we look to him in faith to provide for our needs or if we conclude in unbelief that it cannot be done with the present resources.

Ministries and churches–including us–are being tested on this right now. As the precautions against the spread of COVID-19 do damage to our economy, we have the opportunity either to trust God to provide or to freak out about what this will mean.

Will you believe God with me for our church about this? Will you pray and ask God to keep providing money to pay our staff, fund our missionaries, provide for those who have benevolence needs, and continue to pay for our building and other expenses?

Will you trust God to provide for you and your family and keep giving to his work? We have a unique opportunity to see God work and provide. Will you trust him in faith or give up in fear?

Matthew 26

Read Matthew 26.

During this final week before Jesus’s death, the Bible tells us he had a predictable daily schedule. During the day he taught in the temple and people showed up early to hear him At night, he left the city of Jerusalem and climbed the nearby hill called the Mount of Olives where he spent the night with his disciples. See Luke 21:37-38 for these details.

Here in Matthew 26, Jesus was in Bethany which is on the Mount of Olives. After teaching all day in the temple, he was enjoying a meal in the home of “Simon the leper” (v. 6). In verse 7 we were told that a woman came and anointed his head with some “very expensive perfume.” This made Jesus’s disciples angry and they complained that, if she wanted to do something good with the perfume, she should have sold it and given the money to the poor (v. 9).

Jesus defended the woman’s actions (v. 10), calling what she did “a beautiful thing.” Caring for the poor was and is important to Jesus but so is loving him. Some acts of worship are extravagant, so seemingly wasteful that they invite criticism. But when they come from a heart of love for God out of a desire to serve and please God, they are beautiful, not wasteful.

Solomon’s temple was meticulously designed, built with the utmost skill, and lavishly furnished. God does not need physical buildings; he wants his people to worship him from the heart in truth, not necessarily in the finest places.

But worship from the heart can cause people to do unusual things. The musician who practices and practices in order to play his or her part perfectly, not just adequately, is doing “a beautiful thing” if he or she does it for Jesus. So is the church that gives sacrificially to build a church building that is beautiful, not just good enough. The same can be said for a teacher who labors to study the word in depth and thinks about the best words to describe and illustrate and apply what God’s word says.

What is the best thing you have–the best skill you have?

  • Is is making money?
  • Is is singing or playing a musical instrument?
  • Is it encouraging others?
  • Is it teaching?
  • Is it making meals?
  • Is it decorating or making art?

Do you show your love for Christ in the way that you use the best thing(s) that you have? Are you willing to sacrifice–extravagantly, even–not to impress others or because you feel like you should but just to do “a beautiful thing” for God?

2 Samuel 4-5, Ezekiel 44, Mark 8

Read 2 Samuel 4-5, Ezekiel 44, and Mark 8 today. This devotional is about Ezekiel 44.

Despite the fact that Judah’s exile in Babylon had barely just begun, God continued speaking through Ezekiel about what the future temple and worship in Israel would be like. Remember that this exile would last for 70 years so none of the things Ezekiel talked about in this chapter could or would happen for several decades.

With that in mind, it seems a little absurd to be speaking in so much detail about God’s standards for Israel’s future. It would be like going to prison for 30 years for tax fraud and, while you are there, planning to start a new corporation when you’re released and writing the employee personnel manual for that corporation as if you had 100 employees. Who would do that? It seems like a complete waste of time and energy.

So why would God, of all people, do that? Because his plans for Israel were fixed and his word was certain. There should be no doubt in the mind of any Israelite that their society would be restored and that worshiping God would be at the center of it. Rather than wait for things to develop on their own or for people to make up regulations and laws on the fly, God planned it all out in advance and revealed it to Ezekiel long before any of it would happen.

The last 2/3rds of today’s chapter, Ezekiel 44, talks about how the Levites and priests would minister before the Lord. In verse 28 God said, “‘I am to be the only inheritance the priests have. You are to give them no possession in Israel; I will be their possession.” Levi’s tribe was the only one of Israel’s twelve tribes that did not have a geographic place assigned to it. The men of Levi were to fan out to all the tribes of Israel and live among the cities, towns, and villages of all the people. They could buy their own land and even farm it, but they were not given any land to possess as every other tribe and family was. When it was their turn to minister before the Lord in the Temple, they would come to Jerusalem and live in those rooms that were described in chapter 42 of Ezekiel and alluded to here in Ezekiel 44:19. Yes, the temple had something like a hotel in it where their priests would live temporarily during their duties in Jerusalem. But the rest of the year they lived among the rest of God’s people in cities, villages, and countrysides. 

What did they do when they were not on temple duty? Well, many of them ran family farms or had other side businesses, but their main task was to serve God’s people in non-temple ways. Those were discussed in this chapter as well:

  • First, they were teachers. Verse 23 says, “They are to teach my people the difference between the holy and the common and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean.” 
  • Second, they were judges. Verse 24 says, “In any dispute, the priests are to serve as judges and decide it according to my ordinances.” 

These two duties could keep the priests busy throughout the year depending on how many other priests lived near them and what the population density was around them. Any side businesses they had were to take the backseat to God’s original call on their tribe to be priests. 

That brings us to the compensation portion of this chapter. After stating that God would be the inheritance of the priests in verse 28, he spelled out specifically how that would work in verses 29-31: the priests would live off of the offerings God’s people made in worship to Him. Verse 29a says they will eat what the people bring that is edible. Verse 29b says that the priests will own anything that has been devoted to the Lord by his people. And verse 30 commanded the people to bring “the best” and “the first portion” of what they produced. 

Pastors like me are not priests but we do many of the functions God gave to priests in verses 23-24. Furthermore, the New Testament drew from the principles in this chapter (and many others) and commanded God’s people to support their church leaders financially. We depend on the tithes, offerings, and gifts that you give to the church for our livelihood. If you and others don’t give, or just give the leftovers, not the first portion as commanded in verse 30, we have to figure out how to do without the things we need to live and do ministry. The point of this devotional, then, is to say that all of us should be giving faithfully to God’s work and that our giving should come first, not after we’ve paid the bank for a house or a car or a boat or whatever. If you give what you can after you’ve paid your obligations, God’s work will have very little because most people don’t save anything at all.

Again, verse 28 says, “I am to be the only inheritance the priests have. You are to give them no possession in Israel; I will be their possession.” It is a great privilege to have the Lord as your portion in life. I once heard John MacArthur say that being a pastor is like being paid to give your full attention to growing in Christ and living the Christian life. I fully agree with him and am so grateful for the opportunity I have to do this. But we pastors are dependent on the financial support of God’s people. Not all churches believe in or practice tithing but all of us depend on the generosity of God’s people. So, I encourage you to make giving to the Lord’s work a priority in your life. God’s work depends on it and this is the way God established to fund his work.

Judges 1, Jeremiah 48, Romans 10

Read Judges 1, Jeremiah 48, and Romans 10 today. This devotional is about Judges 1.

A repeated theme of Joshua and Judges is Israel taking the land God promised to them, but not completely. Their territory was larger at times and smaller at other times but Israel never occupied all the land God promised them.

Why not?

Unbelief which leads to inaction.

Here in Judges 1, Joshua was dead (v. 1a) but Israel still procrastinated when it came to taking their land. Judah followed God’s word in verses 1-21 and won some significant territory. But notice that they took Jerusalem at one point (v. 8) but then apparently lost it again (v. 21) and did not have it again until David took it many years later.

Notice also the intriguing words of verse 19: “The Lord was with the men of Judah. They took possession of the hill country, but they were unable to drive the people from the plains, because they had chariots fitted with iron.” The Lord was with them… but they couldn’t dislodge the guys with iron chariots. Why not? Because God is no match for iron chariots? No; because Judah did not believe God would give them victory over people with iron chariots.

In other words, they were willing to follow God to a point. But, when it came to confronting their fear and moving out of their comfort zones, they stopped obeying God’s word, claiming God’s promises, and decided to be happy with less than all the land God had promised them.

This is already starting to feel like a “name it and claim it” devotional. I definitely disagree with that theology and don’t want to bend the principles in this passage too far.

But, think about what’s going on in this passage.

Do you ever do that?

God has made many promises to us. You’ve believed and acted on one or more of those promises. And, God blessed your faith with results. But, then, the challenge started to look hard. So, you quit and settled for less than what God promised.

Hasn’t God promised to be with us to the end of the age as we go and make disciples (Matt 28:19-20)? Yes, he has.

But, how much effort do you put into making disciples?

Hasn’t God said that we are his “handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10)? Yes he has.

But how much effort do you put into growing in grace, pushing out into new areas of ministry that might be uncomfortable for you?

What about in your work? Doesn’t God’s word say that, “All hard work brings a profit” (v. 23a)? Doesn’t it tell us to diversify what we do and try different things in order to find what will succeed (Ecc 11:6)? Why, yes, the Bible does say these things.

But are you stuck in a job that isn’t providing enough for your family because you feel comfortable and safe there?

How about when it comes to giving? Doesn’t the New Testament encourage generous giving to see God provide? Consider 2 Corinthians 9:6-8: “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.  Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

But are you giving to his work sparingly or not at all?

Again, the New Testament doesn’t teach us that God wants us all to be rich or that we can have whatever we want in Jesus’s name if we just name it and claim it. But it does tell us that God will be with us and will bless things that we do for his glory. It may not be easy–iron chariots are nothing to sneeze at–but are we settling for less than God would give us if we stepped out of our comfort zone in faith and tried some things for his glory?