1 Thessalonians 2

Read 1 Thessalonians 2.

Unlike his relationship with some of the other churches he started, Paul had a great relationship with the church at Thessalonica.

In yesterday’s reading, Paul described how the Thessalonians received the gospel from him and how they began spreading that gospel in their region.

Today’s reading in 1 Thessalonians 2 described his first contact with the Thessalonians in more personal terms. Verses 1-7 stated how Paul and his companions came to Thessalonica after suffering persecution in Philippi (vv. 1-2a). Despite “strong opposition” (v. 2b) they spoke the gospel plainly and clearly to the Thessalonians without trying to enhance it for human acceptance with “error or impure motives” (v. 3a), tricks (v. 3b), people-pleasing (v. 4b), flattery (v. 5a), or a hypocritical face to cover up greed (v. 5b).

And yet, he said, “our visit was not without results” (v. 1). In other words, some in Thessalonica received the gospel “as it actually is, the word of God” (v. 13). God’s word was, from that time forward, “at work in you who believe” (v. 14b). What a rebuke to many “ministries” today. Instead of giving the uncorrupted, unadorned gospel, many churches have turned to entertainment and gimmicks in order to get results.

A few years ago, I read about a church whose band performed the song “Highway to Hell” on Easter Sunday. That may have gotten the attention and approval of some in their audience, but it did not bring glory to God. Just the opposite; God’s heart must have been grieved by such an ungodly act.

Living for God and giving his gospel requires us to guard the message from corruption and to deliver the message in a way that is “worthy of God” (v. 12). Since we believe that salvation is his gift of life delivered to those who hear and believe his word, we should do nothing more than faithfully, clearly, and consistently deliver the message. God will bless his word; there will be “results” (v.1)—as God sees fit to deliver them.

Acts 17

Today’s reading is Acts 17.

Yesterday we read about Paul’s venture into Greece. While he was there, Paul found people who were ready to receive the gospel and others who were ready to persecute him and his team. As he always did, Paul started presenting the gospel to the Jewish people in every city, then expanded his witness out to the Gentiles (v. 2, 4, 10, 12, 17). Paul went to Athens (vv. 15-34) but not because he was planning to preach the gospel there. Instead, he was waiting there for his teammates Silas and Timothy who were supposed to get there ASAP (v. 15).

While in Athens, Paul did speak to the Jewish people who lived there (v. 17) but he also found a secular audience for his message in the marketplace (v. 17b) and on the hill called Areopagus (v. 19). This passage gives us a glimpse into how Paul presented Christ to Gentile non-believers. Notice that he did not seek common ground with these men; rather, he used their altar “to an unknown God” (v. 23) as a starting point for his message, but quickly moved to direct confrontation by saying they were “ignorant of the very thing you worship” (v. 23b). He told them that the true God, the Creator God, did not reside in manmade structures (v. 24) or need food from human hands (v. 25a). Furthermore, he chided them for thinking that manmade statues had any significance for knowing and worshipping God (v. 29), then he moved to preaching repentance, judgment, and the resurrection of Christ from the dead (vv. 30-31).

Of all the controversial things Paul said, the resurrection of the dead was the one that seemed to create the strongest negative reaction among his listeners (v. 32). This is not at all the only place where people objected to his teaching that Christ rose from the dead. Yet Paul never shied away from teaching that God was invisible, not an idol, or that Christ rose from the dead bodily.

Instead, he went straight to the truths of the Christian faith that would be most controversial. This approach is quite a bit different than the way that many of us talk about God. When we talk about God, we may be tempted to avoid the supernatural and just stick to talking about Jesus and what he can do for you. But the reason that Paul didn’t retreat from the controversial aspects of the gospel is that he knew that believing the gospel required God’s supernatural gift of faith, not a group of secular arguments.

The point for us to emulate here is not to minimize the difficult points of the gospel like the resurrection but to feature them in our presentation of the gospel. When we do that, we are relying on God’s power to save people, not our ability to argue people into assenting that Jesus is the Christ.

Galatians 3

Read Galatians 3.

When God called Abraham in Genesis 3 and made what we call the “Abrahamic Covenant” with him, God promised Abraham, “…all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3).

How exactly God intended to fulfill this worldwide covenant promise is not spelled out in Genesis 12. In fact, the Old Testament doesn’t explain it in great detail, though it does give some light on the subject.

Paul quoted Genesis 12:3 here in Galatians 3:8. According to Paul, Genesis 12:3 “announced the gospel in advance” as we read to Galatians 3:8.

But how did God include us Gentiles? Did he do so by making us obedient to the law of Moses? No! Again, according to Galatians 3:8, the promise God made to Abraham was “that God would justify the Gentiles by faith” because Abraham was a man of faith (vv. 6, 9) not a man of the law.

The question Galatians 3 answers is, how can Gentiles be legitimate descendants of Abraham and, thus, partake in God’s promises to Abraham?

Jewish people, of course, physically descended from Abraham, so they are legitimate heirs to the covenant promises of Genesis 12. But how do we Gentiles become heirs?

The answer is through Messiah–Jesus. He descended from Abraham physically. Paul makes a big point about this in verses 16. Genesis 12 promised these blessings to Abraham’s seed (singular) not “seeds.” Paul says that means one person was intended–Jesus. He wrote (again in verse 16), “Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds,’ meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed,’ meaning one person, who is Christ.” It is our connection to Christ–by faith–that makes us eligible for the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant (vv. 26-29), not our obedience to the law (vv. 10-14).

This has implications for what the law means to us as Christians. We no longer need to obey the law–or should obey the law–because Christ unlocked us from the law’s obligations and penalties (vv. 23-25). God’s law reveals to us so much about the character of God and our accountability to him, but it cannot save us or make us holy (vv. 21-22).

Stay away, then, from anyone or any group that says you need Christ PLUS obedience to the law of God or obedience to any other kind of religious ceremony or activity to be saved or sanctified. In Christ we have everything we need–salvation (vv. 8, 11-12) and the Holy Spirit of God (vv. 2-5).

Galatians 1

Read Galatians 1.

As our society becomes more secular, it is a relief when we find others who profess to know Jesus Christ. However, many people and groups have adopted the name of Jesus without embracing everything that the Bible teaches about Christ. Since they claim to love Christ and may say many things about Christ that we find agreeable, we want to affirm them as Christians and fellowship with them, too.

But, the scriptures warn us here (and elsewhere) to be on guard against “a different gospel” (v. 6). The church at Galatia was caught in a struggle over “a different gospel” when Paul wrote this letter to them. After receiving the good news that Christ alone saves people by grace alone through faith alone, they welcomed teachers who said that true faith in Christ must be accompanied by obedience to Old Testament law.

Paul said that was a “different gospel” and was “really no gospel at all” but rather an attempt to “pervert the gospel of Christ” (vv. 6b-7). It was “no gospel at all” because the good news has been replaced by the old news—obey God or else. Our faith in Christ teaches that the merits of Christ’s good works on earth (theologians call this his “active obedience”) and the penalty Christ paid for sin (Christ’s “passive obedience”) are applied to us by faith. You don’t need to obey the Law because Christ obeyed it perfectly and, by faith, God has credited you with that perfect obedience.

You don’t have to fear God’s penalty for your sins because Jesus paid the penalty fully through his death on the cross. Any “good news” that requires something more than what Christ has done for us is not good news at all; it is very bad news because we can’t save ourselves or contribute to our salvation in any way. We are fallen so we will inevitably fail to do whatever good works that other gospel would require of us. And, God isn’t impressed by our good works anyway, so we wouldn’t earn anything from him even if we could be perfect.

Note that Paul warned them and us to beware of the messenger in verse 7. Even if Paul himself were the messenger or if an angelic being appeared with supplementary instructions, that messenger would deserve, not God’s blessing but God’s eternal curse (v. 8). Just in case we missed it, Paul repeated this truth in verse 9.

It is so comforting to find someone else at work who believes in Jesus, isn’t it? Our tendency when we feel isolated in a secular world is to hold on to anyone else who claims to follow Jesus, too. If they truly do follow Jesus, that is an extraordinary gift.

But, if that person tells you that you need Christ plus something else, beware! The message they have believed is not good news that sets you free from the power of sin; it is, instead, a perversion of our faith (v. 7b) which will enslave you.

Luke 13

Read Luke 13.

A few weeks ago, workers in China built a new hospital. The hospital was needed to quarantine and treat victims of COVID-19 which was spreading rapidly.

Construction on the hospital took 10 days. The time-lapse video of it being built is very impressive.* It’s incredible how rapidly they were able to built it.

God’s kingdom doesn’t work like that. God does not build his kingdom rapidly. Instead, Jesus said it was like a mustard seed that grew into a tree (v. 19) or yeast that permeated a huge lump of dough (v. 21).

Both of these things happen slowly, imperceptibly. You can plant a mustard seed and look at it everyday. You will see that it has changed over time but you can’t see it changing in time. The growth is happening too slowly to see in real time, but it is happening.

So it is with the gospel. There have been times in church history when thousands came to Christ at the same time (Acts 2:41) but every salvation happens individually and usually those individuals believe alone or in a small cluster. Yet, everyday, all over the world, people are being saved. The church worldwide grows a little bit all the time and, when Jesus returns, we’ll enter the kingdom and see how that little mustard seed has become a massive tree.

If you’ve lost faith in God’s saving power, take heart. The kingdom of God is not a hastily assembled hospital built by people forced to work around the clock by their tyrannical government.

Instead, it is a tree, growing slowly but constantly. And you and I contribute to that growth as we share the gospel message with others.


*https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7VvV10S4QSw

Luke 8

Read Luke 8.

Why is it that only a few people respond to the gospel message and are saved?

Jesus answered that question in the parable of the soils here in Luke 8:4-15 and the illustration of a light on a stand in verses 16-18.

The parable of the soils teaches that people don’t respond to the gospel because of problems in their hearts. Sometimes the devil distracts them before the word can be planted in their hearts (v. 12). Sometimes their response is superficial not genuine (v. 13). Sometimes the distractions that come from living in this world (v. 14). Only the heart that is prepared can truly receive the word (v. 15).

The gospel is God’s word. The problem of unbelief is clearly not with God’s word. God scatters his word widely so that it falls on all kinds of hearts (vv 5, 11). He puts his word high on stand like a lamp (vv. 16-17) so that the light goes all over the place. The word of God is not defective. It is not hidden or sterile. It is neither hard to find nor expensive to acquire.

Given the pervasiveness of God’s word, we need to be careful listeners according to verse 18. That verse goes on to say, “Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they think they have will be taken from them.” The more you listen to God’s word, respond to and obey it, the more truth God sends into your life.

On the other hand, when you don’t receive God’s word, you don’t stay in one spot spiritually. Instead, Jesus said, “even what they think they have will be taken from them.” Your grasp of truth weakens when you don’t apply God’s word in your life.

How’s your response to God’s word? Are you eager to receive it, believe it, and obey it? Or are you distracted by other things. If your spiritual life is not moving forward, it is going backward. Ask God to give you a responsive heart to his word so that you can grow in your faith and knowledge of God.

2 Kings 10, Micah 4, John 5

Read 2 Kings 10, Micah 4, and John 5. This devotional is about Micah 4.

Christians sometimes wonder what heaven will be like. It is not a great question, really, because heaven is not the final destination for believers in God–the New Earth is. Before the New Earth arrives, however, Jesus will establish his kingdom on this earth during the time period we call “The Millennium” (Rev 20). 

Micah 4 describes what that will be like. Verse 1 told us this will happen “in the last days.” And what will those days be about? Worship. Instead of flocking to Walt Disney World, “the mountain of the Lord’s temple” will be the greatest place on earth—“the highest of the mountains… exalted above the hills, and peoples will stream to it.”

The attraction to the Lord’s temple will not be for Jewish people alone. Verse 2 said, “Many nations will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob.’” These nations are those who survived the Great Tribulation. Some from them will believe in the Lord and will come to the temple to learn his word (v. 2). Others will be ruled by him (v. 3a) but in unbelief (verse 5a, Rev 20:7-9).

Because the world will finally be ruled by it’s rightful Lord, there will be justice (v. 3a), peace (v. 3b-c), prosperity (v. 4a) and security (v. 4b). This will be the greatest thousand years the world has ever known but (after some final judgments of Satan and the dead, 20:7-15), this golden era will be replaced by an eternal kingdom where we will reign with Christ forever. This is what we are calling people to when we give them the gospel–to become followers of Jesus now and follow him right into his kingdom. This is what we are living for when we choose to invest our time and money in his work. This is what we long for whenever someone we love dies or when we experience suffering and pain in this life. Let this vision of a perfect life under the reign of king Jesus comfort you today; let it guide you in the decisions you make today and in days to come.