1 Timothy 4

Read 1 Timothy 4.

In today’s chapter, Paul turned to address Timothy personally.

After warning him about prophesies that some would abandon the faith (vv. 1-4), Paul spoke about the importance of tending to his own spiritual life in verses 6-10.

The key verse in this paragraph is verse 7b: “train yourself to be godly.” The word train is deliberately chosen from athletics. We see this in verse 8 which talks about the limited value of “physical training.” Godliness, according to Paul, is like working out in that it must be done consistently.

You can go to the gym today and work out until you are so depleted and so sore that can’t walk anymore. But tomorrow you will see no difference in the mirror. If that’s all the training you do for this month, you won’t be any stronger or faster on October 1. Or November 1. Or any day in the future. One day of strenuous workout does not change the way your body looks or works.

But, if you work out regularly, you will build muscle and you might burn some fat. Those effects of regularly working out will start to affect your appearance. In addition, you will be able to perform better athletically over all.

So it is with godliness.

If we become godly by “training ourselves,” we need to work on cultivating godliness regularly. That means daily Bible reading and prayer. It means giving regularly and serving routinely.

It also helps to take a class in some aspect of Christian living. It helps to talk about your faith and your struggles with other believers in small groups. Getting stronger spiritually requires you to reach outside your comfort zone to help someone who is needy or struggling. It strengthens you to share your faith in Christ, especially if you fear being rejected.

Once we’ve been taught by the word, we need to do what the word commands us to do through obedience. This is how we train to “be godly” (v. 7) not just aspire to godliness or know what it means to be godly.

By the way, God brings trials into our lives to test the quality of our faith. These trials are like games or races; they reveal in real-time how good our training is and how much progress we’ve made in spiritual strength.

What are you doing to train yourself as a Christian? What should you add to your training to take you to another level?

1 Timothy 3

Read 1 Timothy 3.

If you were starting an organization and looking for leaders to help it succeed, what kind of person would you look for?

  • You might look for wealthy people who could donate financially to the organization and help manage the money the organization receives.
  • You might look for people who have been successful elsewhere—starting a successful business, becoming a college president, holding a prestigious political office.
  • You might look for someone famous who can draw attention to your organization.

These are all reasonable things to look for, humanly speaking, but not one of them is reflected in the list of qualities God tells us to look for in church leaders.

Here in 1 Timothy 3, Paul writes out for Timothy a description of the kind of man (or woman, in the case of deacons, see verse 11) that the church in Ephesus should be choosing. Paul had no interest in finding those who were successful in business or politics. He said nothing about finding someone famous. He also, by the way, didn’t tell them to look for someone who can speak piously or impress people with their spiritual-sounding words or unique theological insights.

Instead, Paul commended as leaders those who live a life consistent with a heart that has been changed by the grace of God in salvation. That kind of leader is “above reproach,” meaning that nobody can bring forth evidence that would call into question his moral character.

The phrase “above reproach” in verse 2a, and the similar phrase “worthy of respect” in verses 8a & 11a are blanket statements that summarize a person’s character. The phrases that follow “above reproach” such as “faithful to his wife, temperate,” etc. give more specifics about all the areas Timothy should consider when he judges whether a potential elder or deacon is truly “above reproach.”

All the things on this list are outward evidences of godly character within. The only task-oriented qualification is for the overseer (which is an other word for the office of pastor or elder) is that he must be “able to teach” (v. 2).

Our world cares about people who can perform in the marketplace. If a man can sell, his employer doesn’t care if he is “faithful to his wife” (v.2) or if “his children obey him” (v. 4).

Verse 3 details several sins that must not be true of elders in God’s church; these sins—drunkenness, violence, quarrelsome, lover of money—have led leaders of secular organizations into sins and crimes that embarrassed and tarnished the entire organization. Those are bad enough when you’re trying to sell a product but when you represent God and claim to have a life-changing message of grace that transforms and liberates sinners from these kinds of sins, an elder or deacon who is known for such things undermines the message of Christ.

In addition to giving us guidance about what kind of leaders to choose for our church, these paragraphs give us some character qualities to evaluate in our own lives. Not every Christian will become an elder or deacon, but all of us should desire and strive for a genuine walk with God that leads us to holiness. As we become holy by the power of God’s grace, these qualities will emerge like fruit in our lives. If you find yourself convicted because you’re lacking one of the godly characteristics elders/deacons should have or if you see in your life one of the sinful qualities that should not be true of godly leaders, ask God for grace and help to grow in that area because you want to be like Jesus.

1 Chronicles 22, Zechariah 14, 1 John 4

Read 1 Chronicles 22, Zechariah 14, and 1 John 4 today. This devotional is about 1 Chronicles 22.

We don’t know how old Solomon was when he became king, nor do we know how old he was when David charged him to build the temple here in 1 Chronicles 22:16. Here’s what we do know:

  • Solomon became king while David was still alive in a hastily-arranged ceremony designed to short circuit his brother Adonijah’s attempt to usurp the the throne of Israel (1 Ki 1). So David and Solomon were co-regents for a while, but we don’t know how long.
  • David reigned for 40 years total (1 Ki 2:10)
  • Solomon started building the temple in the 4th year of his reign (2 Ki 6:1). But how was this counted–when he and David were co-regents or 4 years after he started to reign alone? My guess is that Solomon and David were co-kings for at least 4 years and that David charged Solomon to start the temple in his 4th year as co-king, so Solomon started right away. I get this from the phrase, “Now, my son…, build the house of the Lord your God” here in 1 Chronicles 22:11, but that may be reading too much into David’s words.
  • Solomon referred to himself as “only a little child” in 1 Kings 3:7 and David referred to him as “young and inexperienced” in 1 Chronicles 22:5. The phrase “only a little child” maybe an exaggeration by Solomon to highlight how young and unprepared he felt to be king.
  • Solomon reigned 40 years total (1 Ki 11:42).
  • We are not told how old Solomon was when he became king or when David died.

So, it is not possible to calculate Solomon’s age but both David and Solomon himself had concerns about his youth and inexperience. So, David did everything he could to set Solomon up for success. He went to “great pains” (v. 14) to provide excellent materials and excellent workers (vv. 15-16). But he also urged him to “keep the law of the Lord your God” (v. 12c) and “devote your heart and soul to seeking the Lord your God” (v. 19a). As a result of all of it, David was confident that Solomon would “have success” (v. 13).

Note that there was both real-world planning and spiritual devotion in this chapter. If Solomon devoted himself to building a great temple but was indifferent to the Lord in his personal life, he may have completed a magnificent structure, but would God’s presence be pleased to dwell there?

What about if Solomon devoted himself to the Lord but did not put any preparation into planning and constructing the temple? He may have walked with God, but would God be pleased to dwell in a cheaply constructed, poorly built building?

Planning can be godly work but God’s work must always be spiritual. In our service for the Lord, let’s be careful to plan and work to do our best, but only as we walk with Christ daily, focusing on our faith in him, growth in his grace, and obedience to his word.

2 Samuel 16, Daniel 6, Mark 16

Read 2 Samuel 16, Daniel 6, and Mark 16 today. This devotional is about Daniel 6.

The Babylonians who conquered Judah gave way to the Medo-Persian empire, yet Daniel remained influential even in the new administration (vv. 1-2). In fact, Daniel was so good at his job that King Darius intended to elevate him over all everyone but Darius himself (v. 3b).

When the other administrators heard about this, they were jealous of Daniel and sought to catch him in some kind of misconduct (v. 4a). Verse 4b says that “they were unable to do so.” Why? “…because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent” (v. 4d). Did you catch that? Not only was Daniel not corrupt, he was not “negligent” either. This means they could find no responsibility where he failed or refused to do his job.

That’s quite a statement. We all have responsibilities we like and those we dislike. If you’re like me at all, doing the stuff you like to do is easy but it is also easy to neglect the stuff you dislike doing. A busy man like Daniel would have had an abundance of excuses, too, for why he couldn’t do what he disliked. He could blame his busy schedule, the people under him for being incompetent, or trying to prioritize his work. But the men who wanted Daniel indicted couldn’t find any area to accuse him. As followers of Jesus, this is something we should aspire to as well. Since we are working as to the Lord and not to men we should, of course, be honest and upstanding but we should also be so conscientious that even the things we dislike doing are done carefully and faithfully.

Not only is it remarkable that these men could not accuse Daniel of corruption or negligent, it is remarkable that they KNEW they could get him if they could make his faith illegal in some way. Daniel was faithful not only in his work but he was faithful in his walk with God. The men who were out to destroy Daniel knew that they could get him in trouble if they could make prayer against the law (vv. 5-13). If someone were looking to accuse us, would they go to our devotional life as the sure-fire way to trip us up?

You know the rest of the story as it is one of the most famous stories in the Bible. Daniel was supernaturally protected from the lions (vv. 14-23) and eventually his accusers were brought to justice (v. 24). The result of all this was a decree from Darius commanding the people to fear Daniel’s God (vv. 25-28). He trusted in the Lord completely, consistently, devotedly and the Lord delivered him even in a hostile culture to his faith. May God give us the same desire to be faithful and careful in our work and to be devoted to reading his word and praying daily, filling our minds with his truth and living obediently to it.

1 Samuel 7-8, Ezekiel 19, Ephesians 6

Read 1 Samuel 7-8, Ezekiel 19, and Ephesians 6 today. This devotional is about 1 Samuel 7-8.

I don’t know about you, but I always think of Samuel as a priest. It is true that he served in that role (see 7:10), but the Bible speaks of him more as a judge—think guys like Samson, Gideon, and other characters from the book of Judges—than as a priest (see 7:15 where he is called a “leader”).

Although he attempted to install his sons as as judges (8:1-2), they failed morally (v. 3) and were rightly rejected by the people (vv. 4-5). So Samuel was Israel’s greatest judge even though he and Deborah were the only non-military judges. The quality that Samuel and Deborah shared was spiritual: they feared God and judged justly as a result. Yet, godly as he was, Samuel’s own sons used their position as leaders for personal gain rather than to serve God’s people. Instead of becoming a spiritual dynasty, Israel continued the same cycle of deliverance in one generation and disobedience in the next.

One thing we’ve learned in the past three chapters of 1 Samuel is that God did not need a military ruler to defend himself or his people. Although God had decreed that battle would be the usual way that Israel secured and defended the land promised to them, their military successes were secured by God. He kept his promise to fight for them, as we see 7:7-12.

Yet despite God’s supernatural work on their behalf, Israel did not ask him for another godly judge like Samuel. They asked for (and, indeed, insisted on) a king (8:6, 19-20). Note their reason for wanting one: “Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” I have heard people emphasize the first phrase, “Then we will be like all the other nations…” and warn against wanting to be like the world. But I think the key phrase is the next one: “…with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

Remember that God had told Samuel that their desire for a king was a rejection of him as their king (v. 7). God had shown himself more than capable of protecting and providing victory for his people if they followed his word, obeyed his leaders (like Moses, Joshua, Samuel, etc.), and—believing his promise to go before them—fought in faith.

Although Samuel spelled out for Israel the high costs of having a human king (8:10-18), they chose to pay dearly for one to do the dirty work instead of believing God and fighting based on his promises.

We have the same kind of problem, frankly. God has given us his word, his Spirit, and his church. “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us” (2 Peter 1:3). But how often do we want someone else to fight our spiritual battles for us—our parents, our spouse, our elder, some devotional writer, or someone else. Yes, we need leadership and all the people I mentioned in the previous sentence can and should provide spiritual leadership for us. But that’s all they can do for you. Consider this: I have always taught that people need to be in God’s word daily. That idea is not remotely unique to me; you knew that already if you’ve been a Christian for any length of time. But it is easy to lose our way, to develop habits that crowd out Bible reading, or just to be overwhelmed with the task of finding a plan. I know how it is, so I created this devotional. Everyday it arrives in your inbox; all you have to do is click on the link and read the passages. If you don’t want to read them all, you can just read the one I’m commenting on. And, I write enough to hopefully get you thinking about what the passage means and how it might apply to your life. I do this because, as your pastor, I want to provide you with some tools to help you grow. That’s my role as a leader.

But I can’t come over to your house and read the passage to you. I can’t make you listen to it, I can’t make you think about it, and I can’t force conviction of sin on you.

I also can’t force you to obey what the Word says. Sometimes, though, people seem to think that I should; they think I have some magic power that can make them live a godly life. They think I should be calling them if they don’t come to church. Or they sometimes seem to think that my words or my presence or my prayers can cause them to do something they don’t want to do.

It doesn’t work like that.

God has given you everything you need to develop into a godly man or woman. He will do some of the work for you—purging and purifying your desires through conviction of sin and causing you to realize areas where you still need to grow through trials and discipline. But he’s promised us that we can overcome sin by the new nature he’s planted in us (see 1 John 2:1-6). It takes faith to believe that promise of God, then obedience to God’s word to make it happen. You can look all you want to someone outside of you, but only you can walk with God.

Ruth 2, Ezekiel 12, Ephesians 1

Today read Ruth 2, Ezekiel 12, and Ephesians 1. This devotional is about Ruth 2.

As we read through the book of Ruth together, it is helpful to remember that this story took place during the period of the Judges (1:1). Because we’ve just completed reading through Judges, you are aware that not much was happening spiritually in Israel at the time. The nation of Israel worshipped idols, so God allowed their neighbors to oppress them. They would repent, so God would send a deliverer to defeat their attacking neighbors. This was a cycle that happened repeatedly throughout the book of Judges.

But even the judges God sent were poor spiritual leaders, often living in disobedience to the Lord themselves. The impression one gets from reading Judges is that nobody in Israel is really following and serving the Lord from the heart.

The book of Ruth, however, indicates that more was going on spiritually than Judges suggests. Although it is true that there was a lot of disobedience, there were also men like Boaz, whom we met here in Ruth 2. Everything about Boaz exudes a strong faith in the Lord and desire to please him:

  • When he greeted his workers, he pronounced a blessing on them in the Lord’s name (v. 4).
  • When he saw Ruth gleaning in the field, he did not throw her out; he followed God’s law and let her glean.
  • Even more than that, he invited her back (v. 8), protected her safety (v. 9a), and even encouraged her to use the water provided for his worker (v. 9b).
  • When asked why he would do this in verse 10, he acknowledged Ruth’s sacrifice for Naomi (v. 11) and asked for God to reward her for it (v. 12).

One thing to take away from this story is how God provided for Ruth based on her faith. The language in verse 3 could lead one to think that her choice of Boaz’s field was random (“as it turned out”). But this was God’s providence working in her life.

It is important to remember that the events our lives that seem like chance have been ordered by God who is working for his glory and our good.

Another thing to consider from this passage is not to despair when the people surrounding us are insensitive to God’s word and ungodly in their lives. Boaz stood out because of his faith. He not only spoke faithful words that glorified God, he lived a life that was obedient to God’s word because he trusted in the Lord.

Although we live in a culture that is darkening morally and may feel at times like we are the only ones trying to serve the Lord, we should not be fearful or tone down our faith. Instead, like Boaz, we should live what we believe no matter what and trust God for his provision and work in our lives.

Exodus 7, Job 24, Psalms 24-26

Read Exodus 7, Job 24, and Psalms 24-26 today. This devotional is about Psalm 25.

Psalm 25 began in verses 1-3 with David reminding God that David was trusting in him. David then asked God to make his trust pay off by not letting David be put to shame (v. 2).

But David wanted more than a tit-for-tat relationship with God. He didn’t want to do right just so he would be well-treated by God. Instead, he wanted to serve God so that he could know God. That’s why he prayed in verse 4, “Show me your ways, Lordteach me your paths.” This expresses a desire for God himself–to know what he loves and hates, how he works, and why he does what he does. 

Where would God do that teaching of his paths? Verse 5 says, “Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior.” He wanted to know God, to soak up his truth because “my hope is in you all day long” (v. 5c). It was his love for God, his desire to know God and live in close fellowship with God that motivated his godly life, not his desire to succeed. 

David also didn’t hide the fact that he was fallen. In verse 7 he pleaded for God to give him full pardon, complete forgiveness for his sins. “Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you, Lord, are good.” This, too, is an indication of a person who is walking with God. The better you know God and his ways, the more apparent your sinfulness becomes. But as our “Savior” (v. 5), we know that God will be faithful and forgive the sins we confess to him. 

When we are indifferent to our sins, unconcerned about knowing God’s truth and his ways, and only care about God’s blessings, we are not walking with God. These are clear signs that our spiritual life is drifting rather than growing. Fortunately, God is gracious to sinners. Verses 8-11 describe what God does for sinners when we humble ourselves before him. He “instructs” (v. 8b) us, “guides” us (v. 9a) and “teaches” us “his way” (v. 9b). When we fear God (vv. 12, 14), he blesses us with knowing him, forgiving our sins, watching over us for good and delivering us from our troubles (v. 22).

How is your relationship with God? Are you walking with him, desiring to know him and follow his ways? Or is your spiritual life adrift?

As a believer in Christ, you have the assurance that God’s love and salvation are yours forever. But the blessing of knowing God comes from following him and walking with him daily. Take time to assess your walk with God. Change your mind in repentance and ask for God’s forgiveness and a renewed desire to live for him.

Genesis 5, Ezra 5, Proverbs 1:1-19

Today read Genesis 5, Ezra 5, Proverbs 1:1-19 and this devotional will be about Genesis 5:21-24.

The genealogy in this chapter follows a clear pattern. A man lives for a specific number of years, has a son, lives for many more years while also having “other sons and daughters.” Then his total lifespan is given followed by the fact that “he died.” Moses recorded this genealogy for historical purposes. He wanted to document the family line from Adam (v. 1) to Noah (v. 32). No interest is given to how tall or short a man was, how intelligent (or not), whether he had a great personality or a dull one, or whether he invented anything that moved the human race forward. Nobody’s story is recorded; no color is provided. They are names on a page documenting that they lived, died, and left an heir.

Except for Enoch. If it weren’t for verses 22-23, you and I would be no more likely to remember his name than we would the name Mahalalel (v. 15). Yet, after he lived 65 years and fathered Methuselah, we learned that “Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years” then “had other sons and daughters” (v. 22). We know he didn’t live the longest in this genealogy (at least, not on earth). Was he the smartest of these men? The best looking? The most prosperous? Who cares. The Bible doesn’t compare him to the others directly and say, “he was the godliest man alive” but it says that “he walked faithfully with God.” This was remarked on because it was remarkable. Others, like Lamech (v. 29), knew God. But “Enoch walked faithfully with God.” That’s what he was known for. And, in grace, God spared him from the curse of death (v. 24). He went from walking with God by faith on earth to walking with God in person in eternity.

Because of Christ and his grace to us in the gospel, each of us is walking with God. But would you be known for that? If someone were trying to describe your life, is that the phrase they would choose–he or she walked with God? Faithfully walked with God?

As Christians, that a life we should aspire to have.

2 Chronicles 17, Zechariah 2

Today’s OT18 readings are 2 Chronicles 17 and Zechariah 2.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 17.

The kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel were all evil in God’s sight. The kings of Judah were a mixed bag. After the kingdom divided, Judah had twenty kings; eight of them were described as men who were righteous in the sight of God. Today we read about one of the most faithful of the godly kings in Judah; namely, Jehoshaphat. It would be hard to get a better description of your life than:
• “The Lord was with Jehoshaphat because he followed the ways of his father David before him” (v. 3a).
• He “sought the God of his father and followed his commands rather than the practices of Israel.” (v. 4).
• “His heart was devoted to the ways of the Lord” (v. 6a).

So, clearly, Jehoshaphat was an exemplary man.

But this chapter goes beyond these general descriptions of his godliness and gives us some specifics. One specific demonstration of Jehoshaphat’s godliness was his separation from idolatry
• Verse 3 said, “He did not consult the Baals….” This shows that he was personally free from idolatry.
• Verse 6 said, “…he removed the high places and the Asherah poles from Judah.” He not only abstained from idolatry personally but he did not tolerate the practice of idolatry in his kingdom.

When we read that a king of Judah did right in the eyes of the Lord, it means that king, at the bare minimum, had some kind of separation from idolatry.

Jehoshaphat, though, went so much further than that. Verses 7-9 say that Jehoshaphat sent government leaders “to teach the towns of Judah” (v. 7). With those government officials he sent Levites who “taught throughout Judah, taking with them the Book of the Law of the Lord; they went around to all the towns of Judah and taught the people” (v. 9). So he both removed idols from Judah and replaced those idols with the teaching of truth.

Systematic instruction from God’s word is essential to the growth of godliness in a person or group of people’s lives. It is, of course, possible to teach God’s word in a way that is dry and lacking spiritual life. It is also possible to learn God’s word academically without receiving it spiritually.

But people who are growing spiritually are people who want to know God’s word. There is a hunger for truth in a godly person’s heart that can only be filled by the teaching of God’s word. Godly leaders and godly people do what is right but they also desire to know more of God’s truth. The better we know God’s truth, the more clearly and powerfully we encounter God himself.

Jesus created the church, in part, to provide the kind of instruction to us Christians that Jehoshaphat starting giving the people of Judah in this chapter. Are you showing up to receive the teaching our church offers? Do you come hungry, ready to learn what God has spoken?

1 Kings 19, Daniel 1

Today, read 1 Kings 19 and Daniel 1.

This passage begins with a description of Judah’s Babylonian exile (vv. 1-2). God allowed (v. 2) Babylon to overtake Jerusalem in fulfillment of God’s prophecies and because of Judah’s unbelief and idolatry.

As we read these early chapters of Daniel in the next few days, we will see that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon was a proud man. But he wasn’t too proud to believe that he and his Babylonian brethren had all the wisdom available on earth. In verses 3-5 we read that Nebuchadnezzar looked for, found, and cultivated the most outstanding young people he could find in Judah. Verse 4 told us that these young men had to look good but also show “aptitude for every kind of learning, [be] well informed, [and] quick to understand.” Nebuchadnezzar invested in the education and development of these men (vv. 4f-5) and expected them to contribute significantly to his administration when they were done with their training.

Judah was filled with godless idolators; that’s why they were taken captive by the Babylonians. The sons of Judah’s idol-worshiping men and women likewise cared nothing about obedience to God and their exile had not caused them to repent. Consequently, they had no problem falling in line with the worship, culture, and expectations of the Babylonians. I’m sure they mourned the loss of their parents who were killed when the Babylonians invaded. They may have missed Jerusalem and their old friends, too, but many of them were probably excited by this great new opportunity that Nebuchadnezzar had for them. If it meant conforming to Babylonian ways, they were happy to comply.

That was true for everyone except for Daniel and his three friends (vv. 6-7). These men were (likely) raised in homes that were faithful to the Lord. They continued to believe in God and his word despite the defeat of Judah. That defeat simply confirmed their faith because the prophets had been predicting it for years and they knew that God’s people had not repented. Their challenge now was to live obediently to God’s word in a place that was much more hostile to God than even Jerusalem in unbelief had been. Daniel and the guys determined from the very beginning not to compromise their faith. They promised to perform well if they were allowed to live God’s way (vv. 13-14). That was an act of faith and God met their faith with blessing (vv. 15-17).

The world wants to squeeze everyone into its mold but God commands us not to conform but to be transformed by renewing our minds (Rom 12:2). Daniel and his cohorts left an amazing legacy and example for all of us who want to live for God by faith to follow.

Your school, your government, your neighborhood, your friends, your family, the media you consume are all trying to squeeze you into a mold. Most–maybe all–of those influences are squeezing you into a godless form. Jesus wants to transform you into his likeness. His word, His church, His Spirit, and His grace are all operating in your life for that to happen, but it takes some determination on your part, a willingness to be different. Is there some way right now where you’re being squeezed? What would the Lord want you to do to emulate the faith and obedience of Daniel?