Ephesians 4

Read Ephesians 4.

God’s love is a key theme in this book of Ephesians:

  • God predestined us in love (1:3b-4a).
  • God made us alive in Christ because of his great love for us (2:4-5).
  • God wants us to be rooted and established in his love (3:17)
  • God wants us to know his love, even though it surpasses knowledge (3:19).

Here in Ephesians 4, these truths about God’s love were applied. In verse 1, Paul urged believers “to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” That “calling” is the calling to know and love God, to receive the gift of salvation by grace in Christ as we see in Ephesians 1:18b-19: “the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”

Having described that calling in Ephesians 1-3, Paul now urged the believers in 4:1 to “live a life worthy of the calling….” How do you do that? The rest of chapter 4 lays it out:

  • “be humble and gentle” (v. 2a).
  • “be patient, bearing with one another in love” (v. 2b).
  • “keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace” (v. 3)
  • Grow in spiritual maturity through the gift of the church and its leaders (vv. 7-16).
  • Put off the old self (vv. 17-22) and put on the new self (vv. 23-32).

I noted at the beginning of today’s devotional that “God’s love is a key theme” in Ephesians and I reviewed the key passages that mention God’s love. Look now in today’s chapter at all the ways “love” is intertwined with living “a life worthy of the calling” :

  • v. 2: “bearing with one another in love
  • v. 14: “speaking the truth ”in love”
  • v. 16: “the whole body…”builds itself up in love

A big part of “living up to the calling” is living a life of love. Just as God loved us and called us to faith, now we live out that faith by loving one another in the church. We bear with each other, speak the truth, and build each other in the body up “in love.”

In our church, is there someone you find hard to put up with (v. 2)? (Don’t leave the name in the comments, please!) Living according to God’s loving call in your life means putting up with that person.

In our church, is there someone you should speak truth to “in love” (v. 14)? Taking on that difficult conversation in a loving way, speaking the truth for that person’s good rather than avoiding the real issue is how you live according to the loving call God extended to us.

In our church, who do you need to “build up in love”? Who is hurting? Who is missing our worship gatherings? Who needs to learn some life or ministry skills that you could teach them?

Building them up in love is how we live according to God’s gracious, loving call in our lives. Just as God loved us when we were unlovely, we should bear with the unlovely “in love.” Just as God spoke truth to us through the gospel, we should speak the truth “in love” to others around us. Just as God is building godliness in us (v. 24b), we should build up each other in godliness because we love God and his people.

These are some of the loving ways we can live a life worthy of who God–in love–has called us to be in Christ.

Ephesians 3

Read Ephesians 3.

Paul described for the Ephesians how he prayed for them in verses 14-19 of this chapter.

His prayer was that they would be strengthened spiritually by God’s power (v. 16). Specifically, he wanted them to know Christ by faith (v. 17) and go much deeper in love. Notice how love is mentioned in verses 17, 18, and 19. Christ’s love is what establishes us (v. 17b) and his love for us is immense (“how wide and longs and high and deep”) so we need God’s help to grasp it. It is so great that it “surpasses knowledge” yet God wants us “to know this love” (v. 19a). The result of knowing and growing in Christ’s love is that we will “be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

Consider some ways in which knowing God’s love changes us:

  • If we know how much God loves us, we will believe that sin will damage us.
  • If we know how much God loves us, we will believe that obedience, not sin, will bring joy to our lives.
  • If we know how much God loves us, we will believe that he allows bad stuff into our lives for our good not to cause us pain.
  • If we know how much God loves us, we will not fear what people think of us.
  • If we know how much God loves us, we will want to share his love with other people, even those we think are unlovely.

I’m sure that list could go on and on. God wants you to be holy, he wants you to believe his word, he wants you to live a generous, giving life, he wants you to spread the gospel and live for eternity.

But the key that unlocks all these (and other) great Christian truths is the knowledge that God loves you. So, ask him to teach you how much he loves you and pray for others that they might know and grow in the knowledge of Christ’s love for them.

Romans 9

Today read Romans 9.

For a letter written to the church at Rome, the book of Romans has a lot of Jewish themes in it. The chapters we’ve already read talked about Jews and Gentiles explicitly, as well as discussing the Law of Moses repeatedly.

Scholars have wondered why there is so much about Judaism and the Jewish people in this letter. Some have speculated that the church at Rome was actually a divided church–a Jewish congregation and a Gentile congregation. Perhaps moving the church toward unity was one of Paul’s goals in writing this letter. Maybe he was laying a foundation for attempting unification when he came to Rome in person.

That’s all speculation. What is clear is that chapters 9 through 11 or Romans will address the unbelief of the nation of Israel as a whole. Today’s reading, obviously, began that discussion; however, Paul came to the discussion about Israel indirectly here in chapter 9. His true intent was to talk about election. Israel, in this chapter at least, was brought up here as an object lesson in election.

In verses 1-5 Paul discussed the many spiritual privileges that Israel as a nation had. Despite those privileges, they did not receive their Christ when he came which gave Paul great sorrow and anguish (vv. 1-2). The problem of Israel’s unbelief, however, was not a failure of God’s word (v. 6). Rather, their unbelief was the result of God’s direct, merciful choice in election (vv. 15-18). In verses 7-13, Paul demonstrated that Israel’s own history showed that God worked through election. Only Isaac was chosen between Abraham’s two sons (vv. 7-9), then only Jacob and not Esau was chosen (vv. 10-13).

From a human perspective, divine election feels unjust. Paul anticipated the objection of injustice in v. 14 and he answered it by telling us that we’re looking at it the wrong way. It is just for God to punish us all; if he chooses to have mercy on some, that is his right as the creator (vv. 15-18). If the President pardons a convicted murderer, he has not been unjust to every other murderer. He’s been merciful to one; the constitution gives him that right and he may exercise it as often or as rarely as he wants by whatever criteria he chooses.

In a much greater way God, the one who created us all and the one against whom all of our sins were committed, has the absolute right to save everybody or nobody or some number of people in between all or none.

The reason we have a problem with election is not because it is unjust. Rather, we have an authority problem (vv. 20-23). The doctrine of election strains our human limits and tempts us think that we know better than God does. But his ways are wiser than ours and his will is beyond our comprehension. Like everything else in the Christian life, we have to humble ourselves and trust God.

One thing that is often overlooked when discussing election is this: without election, nobody would be saved. We think the opposite; we think that, if salvation were available to anyone and everyone, then most people would get saved. But we forget that salvation requires a miraculous spiritual act–the act of opening blind eyes, turning hard hearts, humbling our pride and causing us to come to God in repentance. These are unnatural–impossible, actually–for sinners.

Election exists, in part, so that Christ’s death and resurrection were not in vain. Before Christ came and died, God determined that his death would matter by choosing people and predetermining that Christ’s death would be applied to them. Election shows us that God is more gracious than we realize, making certain to save some according to his mercy.

I hope this causes your heart feel gratitude for his grace in your life and humbled that he chose you, not because of anything you’ve done but just because he chose to love you.

Luke 15

Today’s reading is Luke 15.

The other day I was standing in line at a coffee shop while the couple in front of me placed their orders, paid, and received change. As the cashier was handing the man his change, he dropped one of the coins. I watched it fall to the ground where it leaned on its edge against the man’s shoe.

My first instinct was to reach down, pick up the coin, and hand it back to the man. But then I hesitated for two reasons. First, the coin was touching him, so reaching down to pick it up would put me uncomfortably into his personal space. Second, the coin was a penny, so was it really worth it for one measly cent?

Before I made a decision, he reached down and picked it up himself so my problem was solved. But the fact that it was a mere penny got me thinking about things that are lost. If you lost a penny, you might look around for it for a few seconds, but probably would not waste too much time searching because the value is so low. If you lost a ten thousand dollar check or an extremely rare coin– one that was of great value to collectors and of personal value to you because it was given to you by a favorite grandpa or aunt or someone else you loved–you would tear the place apart looking for it, right? You’d do that because of the immense value it has in terms of cash and personally to you.

Here in Luke 15 Jesus overheard the muttering of the religious (v. 2) about Jesus’ tendency to spend time with the outcasts of society (v. 1, 2b). “Those people” were not worth anything to the Pharisees and teachers of the law. They were worth less than a penny because they were “sinners.” If they were coins, not only would the religious people refuse to stoop down to pick them up, these religious leaders would grind them into the dust with their sandaled feet.

Jesus told three stories here in Luke 15 to illustrate why he spent time with sinners. All of them have to do with the worth of the sinners involved. To Jesus, saving sinners was like a shepherd finding a lost sheep (vv. 3-7), a woman finding a lost coin (vv. 8-10), and a man reconciling with his lost (that is, rebellious) son (vv. 11-24). The point of these stories was to invite the religious leaders to reconsider their hatred of sinners (vv. 25-32). But another key point of these stories is to illustrate how much lost humanity means to God.

I have many things in my past that I am ashamed to have said or done. In my present life, there are areas where I wish I was more like Christ and had a greater desire to improve. While I don’t think of myself as worthless, I have to admit that my sinfulness makes me far from desirable to a holy God. Jesus taught, however, that God loves to find his lost sons. This chapter calls us, then, to look at sinners differently. We should see ourselves and others not as worthless pennies but as precious in God’s sight, so precious that he came to find us. Let’s give thanks for God’s love and remember to love other sinners, no matter how reprehensible we think they are. To do anything else puts us in the place of the judgmental older brother who missed out on the party because of his unloving attitude.

2 Chronicles 34, Psalms 148-150

Read 2 Chronicles 34 and Psalms 148-150 today. This devotional is about Psalm 149.

I don’t get too excited when someone does what he or she has agreed to do. When I go to a store that carries an item I need and the item is there for me to buy, I don’t jump for joy all the way to the cash register. Of course they have it; why wouldn’t they? It bothers me when they run out of something I usually buy there, but it doesn’t thrill me when they have what I expect them to have. When someone meets our expectations, we may be thankful but we’re not especially impressed.

All of us have consistently failed to meet God’s expectations. The very best of us morally is far below what God created us to be morally and expects us to be. God in his grace redeemed us from the fall, but that doesn’t make our fallenness irrelevant or acceptable. If God were like us, he would not be impressed when we do what is right; he’d think, “That’s what you’re supposed to do; too bad you’ve failed me so many other times, though.”

Yet, that is not how God is. Psalm 149:4 says, “For the Lord takes delight in his people….” That’s a pretty astounding statement. Despite all the ways in which the people of God, either Israel or us, have failed him, yet God still looks on us with delight.

That delight is, of course, because of the perfect merits of Christ that he applied to us by faith. This is alluded to in verse 4b: “…he crowns the humble with victory.” It is our humility, expressed in repentance and faith, that causes God to delight in us. If you’re in Christ, do you believe that God delights in you? Do you understand that he is not frustrated or angry when you sin; that sin has been paid in full by Christ. And, God isn’t like an emotionally detached father who says, “Impress me;” Instead, he tells looks on us with delight, not because of who we are or what we’ve done but because Christ, his beloved one, did everything that was necessary to give God that delight.

Don’t live today under the burden or weight of guilt; understand that, because of Christ’s perfect life and his sacrifice, God is delighted with you. Your progress in becoming holy may be slow and frustrating to us at times, but nothing can separate you from God’s love and delight. Let this truth fuel you today as you live for him.

2 Chronicles 22-23 and Revelation 14

Read 2 Chronicles 22-23 and Revelation 14 today. This devotional is about Revelation 14.

The Tribulation time described in these chapters was horrible, obviously. God’s wrath on the earth and its inhabitants and the persecutions of God’s people through Satan through his agents made life on earth troublesome and painful for everyone.

Although false worship became widespread, there are still threads of grace throughout this bleak time. One example is the 144,000 who were honored here in verses 1-5. They were “redeemed from the earth” (v. 3b), an expression of God’s saving grace to them.

But in verses 6-7 of today’s reading we were told that an angel “had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people.” And proclaim it he did in verse 7, calling on everyone to repent and worship God. As angry as God was with humanity, he was still the gracious, saving Lord to anyone who believed his good news.

Though these events are still future to us, they demonstrate again the love and saving nature of God. This is important for us to remember as well. Behind every warning of judgment (v. 7b: “the hour of his judgment has come”) is a call to repent and “worship him” (v. 7c).

As we witness for Christ in the world, our condemnation of the wickedness of the world should always hold forth the offer of grace to those who will receive it. We should never have so much condemnation and indignation (whether righteous or self-righteous) that we refuse to urge our fellow men and women to turn, receive, and worship Christ. This is why we’re here.

1 Chronicles 23, Malachi 1, 1 John 5

Read 1 Chronicles 23, Malachi 1, and 1 John 5 today. This devotional is about Malachi 1.

The final book of the Old Testament has a pattern of writing that is distinct from any other book in the Bible. Malachi’s pattern of prophecy is:

  • God makes a statement (v. 2a, 6a-d)
  • God’s people question the statement (v. 2b, 6e)
  • God gives more explanation or support for the statement (vv. 3-5, 7-14).

Two topics are addressed here in Malachi 1 using that pattern. They are;

  • God’s love for Israel (vv. 2-5).
  • Israel’s dishonoring of God through blemished sacrifices (vv. 6-14).

The first topic, God’s love for Israel, is one that Israel may have questioned throughout the Old Testament era. God’s people experienced many setbacks and even captivity, so they may have questioned God’s love literally, not just through the literary conventions of verse 2b. How could God love a nation that faced so much military defeat for so long?

God’s answer is not to point many specific instances of his love but to contrast the outcome of Esau’s descendants, the Edomites, with the Israelites (vv. 3-5). Israel suffered defeats; no doubt about it. But Edom was about to be destroyed completely in God’s wrath while Israel had returned to their land after the exile. God’s love, then, was demonstrated by being faithful to his covenant with Israel even when they were faithless at hime). 

LIfe’s problems and negative circumstances can make us struggle to believe that God loves us. Malachi’s answer to that struggle is not to minimize the problems Israel had but to point them back to their own existence. God saved them and preserved them in ways he has not done for any other nation. This is the most powerful proof of God’s love that could exist.

When you and I wonder if God loves us, we need to take our eyes off our circumstances and remember how Christ saved us from our sins. He not only died for our sins but, before that, he chose you to receive that forgiveness through election. Then, on the day of his choosing, you heard the gospel message and the light of spiritual life turned on in your heart. It caused you to turn to Christ and gratefully receive salvation. All of this happened because God loves you.

In this life you will have problems, setbacks, struggles, and heartaches. God’s love does not spare us from these things. God’s love saves us from eternal destruction which is much more loving than making sure your car always starts or that you always have more money in your bank account than you will ever need.

So, when you question God’s love for you, return again to the doctrines of salvation. Your salvation is the greatest evidence you’ll ever get of God’s love for you. Don’t forget it; remember it and thank God for it.

1 Kings 11, Hosea 14, 2 Timothy 3

Read 1 Kings 11, Hosea 14, and 2 Timothy 3 today. This devotional is about Hosea 14.

This chapter is yet another plea from one of God’s prophets to God’s people to repent of their sins (vv. 1-3) and serve God alone (v. 8a-b). Sandwiched between these two elements are the ardent promises of God to “love them freely” (v. 4) and cause the nation to blossom (v. 5b, 7c) and flourish (v. 7b). 

With promises like these, repeated over and over and over by God’s prophets, why didn’t God’s people at least try it? Why–with few exceptions–did generation after generation follow idols and forsake the Lord?

The answers are in verse 9: “The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.” The sinfulness, the rebellion that comes naturally to our human hearts causes us to stumble over God’s commands. We are unable to “walk in them” until we are righteous and only God can declare and make someone righteous. 

This is the BIG lesson of the Old Testament. God makes promises and teaches humanity his ways but humanity rebels against God and stumbles in his ways unless God breathes new life into our dead spirits. The Israelites should have read the words of these prophets and cried out to God for help to overcome the rebellion of unbelief. Instead, people rejected God’s word or tried to cobble together their own religion of Judaistic “good works” plus something else like Baal worship. Note that before God said the righteous would walk in his ways in verse 9 he first said in verse  4, “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely….” 

If you find yourself trying to live the Christian life but failing, this is what you need. You need to cry out for the righteousness of God and the new life he gives through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

This is what our kids need, our friends need, our neighbors need; it is what we all need. We don’t need to try harder to walk in God’s ways or reduce God’s ways to a list of requirements. We need  God’s grace and the righteousness of Christ given to us by faith. 

Then we will grow and flourish and blossom and show all the other signs of life and blessing that are described in this chapter. Then God will be glorified in us and we will bless us “like the dew” (v. 5).

1 Kings 8, Hosea 11, Proverbs 23:19-35

Read 1 Kings 8, Hosea 11, and Proverbs 23:19-35 today. This devotional is about Hosea 11.

Some people look at family life as restrictive. They describe it as being “tied down” or call their spouse a “ball and chain.” Children are, to them, a burden rather than a blessing. Or, if they are children, they think of their parents as taskmasters instead of loving leaders and protectors.  

This is how Israel looked at God. It is true that God gave them a number of laws to regulate their worship and their lives. But it is also true that God released them from true bondage, the bondage of slavery in Egypt. In this chapter, God explains his side of his relationship with Israel. In verse 1, he proclaimed his love for Israel like a loving father for his child. God called them out of bondage in Egypt, and nurtured them like a loving parent would to his infant or toddler. Look at the terms of tender love in this passage. God:

  • loved Israel “when Israel was a child” (v. 1a).
  • He called his son “out of Egypt” (v. 1b).
  • He “taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms” (v. 3a-b).
  • He “healed them” (v. 3d).
  • He “led them with cords of human kindness” and “ties of love” (vv. 4a-b).
  • He lifted them to his cheek (v. 4c-d)
  • He “bend down to feed them” (v. 4e)

How did Israel respond to God’s many acts of tender love? They “went away from me” (v. 2b) sacrificing “to the Baals” (v. 2c).

Israel’s idolatry, then, was a refusal of his love. It was like a child who receives his parents’ love and then, when he turns 18, spits on his mom and dad and leaves the house for good. 

God explained that he would allow Assyria to rule over Israel because “they refuse to repent” (v. 5). But he also promised not to give up on his people (vv. 8-9). Though they totally rejected him and would suffer the consequences, God would not reject them forever. Instead, he would change them spiritually for good. Verse 10 says, “They will follow the Lord….” This phrase looks forward to the day when Israel will be genuinely converted. They will stop pretending to obey God and instead will love and obey him from the heart. 

This did not happen when Jesus came the first time. When God became a man in the person of Christ, “He came to his own but his own did not receive him” (John 1:11). This happened so that the few Jews who did receive Jesus would fan out into the world with the message of salvation for Jews and Gentiles alike. Some day, soon, Christ will return and will fulfill this promise. He will give new life to the people of Israel, saving them and causing them to worship him–finally–from the heart. 

For us, it is important to see in this passage how tenderly God thinks of us. John 1 says that those who received Jesus were given the right to be called God’s sons (Jn 1:12). Think about how lovingly God describes himself in relationship to his sons in this passage–teaching them to walk, lifting them to his cheek, bending down to feed them (vv. 1-4). Realize, then, that God’s commands to us are not burdensome regulations designed to weigh us down but they are protections against the pain and ugliness of sin just as your household rules protect your children from injury and exposure to wickedness. 

1 Samuel 21-22, Ezekiel 32, Philippians 4

Read 1 Samuel 21-22, Ezekiel 32, and Philippians 4 today. This devotional is about Philippians 4.

Paul experienced many difficulties and stressors during his ministry. So, it must have been incredibly encouraging to have the Philippians as his friends. While they had some interpersonal problems (cf. 2:3-4 with 4:2-3), they were loved deeply by the apostle and they returned that love, even sending Epaphroditus to help personally (2:25) as well as financial aid (4:10-18).

There is so much joy in this letter that it is easy to forget that Paul was in prison when he wrote it (cf. 1:12, 17). The Philippians’ friendship and Paul’s imprisonment form the background out of which he wrote the chapter we read today. His imprisonment, particularly, was the circumstance he lived in when he wrote verses 6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Undoubtedly Paul was a man who had practiced these commands in his own life repeatedly; his command to the Philippians to deal with their fears that way rose out of his own experience as well as from the inspiration of the Spirit.

In verses 8-9 he commanded them to discipline their thoughts toward good and godly things instead of focusing on their problems, complaints or fears.

Many of our negative emotions rise out of undisciplined thinking. We attach meaning to things that happen, then tell ourselves negative stories about the meaning we’ve made up.

It is easy to do and we’ve all done it, at least at certain times in our lives or with certain events of our lives. God’s word, however, gives us a different story–a truthful one–to tell ourselves about anything and everything that happens in life. A sovereign God has ordered the events of your life for his glory and your good. There will be problems, pains, stresses, heartbreak, sorrow, and grief in this life. That’s because this life and this world have been broken by sin, not because God doesn’t love you.

The solution to the problems of life is to trust God’s promise and put your hope in his future kingdom. When it comes, the pains of this life will be forgotten and the perfect life that you and I want will be real; it can never be real until then.

When life tempts you to think thoughts of despair, replace those thoughts with truth: God loves you and redeemed you from the guilt of your sin and the punishment you deserve for it. He is preparing a perfect, eternal kingdom for you and is re-making you into a perfect person by his grace.

While we have much less to fear than the martyrdom that ultimately took Paul’s life, his teaching reminds us that, no matter how little or much we fear, the Lord is waiting to hear our prayers and give us peace as we look to him.