1 Corinthians 16

Read 1 Corinthians 16 today.

This chapter brought this letter to the Corinthians to a conclusion. Tucked within these final thoughts, Paul said some things about Timothy (vv. 10-11) and the family of Stephanas (vv. 15-18) that are worthy of our consideration.

Regarding Timothy Paul wrote, “No one, then, should treat him with contempt” (v. 11) The reason? “…he is carrying on the work of the Lord, just as I am” (v. 10b). Regarding the Stephanas family, Paul commanded the church “to submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it” (v. 16). The reason they should submit is “they have devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people.”

We know that the Corinthian church played favorites among the Lord’s servants because Paul addressed that favoritism in chapters 1-2. This kind of partisanship extended to other servants of the Lord. Given what we know about Timothy from the New Testament, can you imaging treating him “with contempt” (v. 11)?

Yet that seemed to be a real potential threat for the crazy Corinthians.

Likewise, the family of Stephanas devoted themselves to serving God’s people but Paul was concerned that the Corinthians might not submit to them.

Unfortunately, the Corinthians were not the only Christians to mistreat servants of the Lord that they viewed as “junior league” or “less than” Paul and Apollos. Some church people won’t accept ministry or instruction from the elders of their church or from staff members; they want to hear from the senior pastor only.

This passage addresses that kind of attitude. All of us elders are servants of Christ and should be treated that way.

If you decide to try another church because your pastor isn’t preaching on a particular Sunday, is that not treating God’s servant “with contempt”?

If your elder contacts you and you don’t return the call or an email, is that an appropriate way to treat the Lord’s servant?

If you think an elder or his wife is too direct when dealing with people or too gentle or too… whatever… aren’t you doing exactly what Paul told the Corinthians not to do to Stephanas and Timothy?

Verse 18b says, “Such men deserve recognition.”

As the Senior Pastor here at Calvary, I get more praise than I deserve and my brothers who also serve as elders do not get enough. If you’re a member here at Calvary, you’ve been assigned an elder. How well do you treat him? How well do you respond to his attempts to serve you?

How can you show him and his family some love and appreciation now?

1 Corinthians 8

Today’s chapter to read is 1 Corinthians 8.

This chapter takes up the next item in the list of things in the Corinthians’ letter to Paul. That item was whether or not it is acceptable for Christians to eat meat that had been offered to idols.

The world in which the New Testament was written was a world full of idolatry. Everywhere the gospel went, except for Israel, there were already established patterns of idol worship. In Corinth, people would bring animals to the pagan temples to offer as sacrifices. Whatever the altar did not burn up, the priests could eat, but whatever they did not eat was sold in the marketplace. The idol meat sold in that market was cheaper than the non-idol meat, so many people would buy it to save some money.

The Corinthian believers were divided on the morality of eating that cheaper idol meat. Some believers said it was acceptable for Christians to eat it. Others could not eat that meat in good conscience. So the Corinthian church included this question in their letter to Paul.

One side of the issue argued that (a) idols represent false, non-existent gods (v. 4a) and (b) there is only one real God (v. 4b-6), so what’s the harm in enjoying some Apollo sirloin? Paul actually agreed with that argument (see 1 Cor 10:25-26) but not with the hardhearted believer who made it.

Yes, it is true that idols are not real, so meat offered to them has no special powers or curses attached to it. Likewise, someone who bought and ate the meat did so in the open market, not in the pagan temple. That person was, therefore, not engaging in a worship feast or entering spiritually into idolatry.

All of that argumentation was true. So logic dictated that eating idol meat was totally acceptable for Christians based on these theological conclusions.

But what about someone whose theology was not yet developed? If someone had been heavily involved in idolatry before becoming a Christian, eating idol meat could create a temptation that led that person back into idolatry.

This chapter is one of several in the Bible that discussed the topic of “Christian liberty.”

The first thing Paul wanted every Christian to know about Christian liberty is that Christian liberty should never be used in a way that causes another Christian to be tempted to sin. That’s what verse 9 is saying when it says, “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak” (v. 9).

While the topic of Christian liberty is too large to tackle in a devotional, it is important to understand the heart of Paul’s instructions in this passage. The heart of Paul’s instructions in this passage is to consider how your actions affect the walk of another believer in Christ. The stronger you are as a believer, the more you should consider how your example affects other believers. And, if you have reason to believe that your actions could cause another believer to sin, you should avoid those actions (vv. 12-13) for the good of that other believer.

How often do we think about our influence on others?

Are there things you do as a believer which may not be sins but might be harmful to the spiritual life of another believer by causing that person to sin?

Remember that if your children are believers. They are watching you more closely than anyone. Be wise, therefore, in the choices you make in life! Consider how those choices might affect the faith of other believers who look to you as an example of spiritual leadership.

1 Corinthians 4

Read 1 Corinthians 4.

Some Christians have a regal view of the ministry. That is, they see pastors and other ministry leaders like monarchs. They look up to us, in some ways, so they think that everyone must give us honor and respect and treat us with reverence.

What nonsense.

Paul continued, here in 1 Corinthians 4, correcting the false ideas the Corinthians had about ministry leaders. Paul and Apollos were not in competition ( 1 Cor 2) with each other but instead were partners together in God’s work (1 Cor 3).

So, here in chapter 4, he says, think of us as “servants of Christ” (v. 1) who must be faithful (v. 2). Instead of living like modern day royals, Paul said we ministry leaders are “fools for Christ” (v. 10a). Instead of being put on a pedestal, we are paraded like prisoners of war (v. 9).

While some people treat us with honor and respect, that’s not the norm. Instead, people “curse” us (v. 12b) and “we are slandered” (v. 13a). People think we are the “scum of the earth, the garbage of the world” (v. 13c).

Being an elder is not majestic. It isn’t easy or particularly fun most of the time. When we are mistreated, we have to respond in a godly way, not the way we might want to. That means “When we are cursed, we bless…; when we are slandered, we answer kindly” (v. 12, 13). Most of the people in our church are kind to me. But some people have said the most unkind things to me or about me, sometimes in public meetings.

But, enough about me. Given what you know about ministry, don’t you want to become a ministry leader? That’s where Paul turned next in this chapter. Despite the pain that ministry leadership can bring, Paul wanted to build more leaders.

The Corinthians didn’t have enough “fathers” (v. 15). They needed more so Paul said, “I urge you to imitate me” (v. 16). He also sent Timothy to them to “remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.”

That’s the essence of spiritual leadership: Know the truth. Teach the truth. Live the truth. Then encourage others to do the same.

No church has enough leaders. Our church could certainly use more. Are you growing in your knowledge of God’s truth? Are you teaching it while simultaneously living it out?

None of us is perfect but, when there is sin in your life that is out of step with what we believe and teach, are you dealing with it biblically?

This is what the church needs so that the gospel can advance and people can be redeemed from this lost, cursed world. Will you step up to the need and become a spiritual father?

Luke 22

Read Luke 22.

This lengthy chapter in Luke’s gospel detailed Jesus’s betrayal, last supper, and his religious trial by “the chief priests and the teachers of the law” (v. 66).

In between his last supper and his arrest, the disciples argued (again) about who was the greatest (vv. 23-30). Jesus assured them that they all would be great in his kingdom when he said, “I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (vv. 29-30).

Then he turned and spoke to Simon Peter in verse 31. He told Simon that just as Satan had requested permission to strike Job, he had also “asked to sift all of you as wheat” (v. 31b). This is a visual reference to separating the edible part of wheat from the inedible chaff that covers wheat. Satan was asking to put all the disciples through trials in order to try to separate them from their faith.

This should have been a chilling thing to hear, so Christ quickly added that he had prayed for Simon specifically “that your faith may not fail” (v. 32). But then he said, “And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” These two phrases suggest that Peter would be the first to face the trial of his faith in God and, having withstood the test with his faith in tact, he should help the other disciples as they faced tests of their faith.

But notice the phrase, “And when you have turned back” In verse 32b. This phrase indicates that Peter would struggle with the test of his faith. The specifics of that struggle were explained by Christ in verse 34 when he told Peter that he would deny Christ three times.

Peter did face the test of his faith in verses 54-62 and, as Jesus predicted, he struggled with the test. In three separate incidents, Jesus denied knowing Jesus (v. 57), being a follower of Jesus (v. 58), and even understanding what was going on with Jesus (v. 60).

So here we have one of the most vocal of Jesus’ apostles, a natural leader who was part of Jesus’ inner circle of three people, a man who had proclaimed himself ready to die with Jesus just a few hours before (v. 33) who evaded association with Jesus altogether when the pressure was on.

And yet apparently his faith did “not fail” (v. 32). It sure looks like failure, so how to we reconcile all of this?

First, we need to understand that there is a difference between a failure of faith and a failure to admit to faith in Jesus. Peter’s denial of Christ was a failure to admit to being a disciple, not a complete renunciation of Jesus. The fact that he “wept bitterly” (v. 62) after it happened shows that his faith was genuine. The problem was that his faith was also weak. In that moment, his fear of being punished with Christ outweighed his belief that God would protect him or allow him to endure the trial with Jesus. It did not mean that he no longer believed in Jesus.

Second, we need to understand that “denying Jesus” or renouncing your faith is more about a complete break with the Christian community than it is about a particular incident in someone’s life. Judas rejected Jesus; he conspired with the religious leaders to betray Jesus (vv. 4-5) which meant finding “an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present” (v. 6). That was a complete rejection of Jesus and all that he claimed to be.

Judas’s break with Christ and Christianity was premeditated and based in greed. Peter’s denial of Jesus was not premeditated and it was based in fear, not greed. What Peter did was lie about his faith in Jesus out of fear of persecution; what Judas did was completely reject Christ personally in such a way that Jesus would also be eliminated publicly.

Finally, Peter’s faith was strengthened by this trial, which is why God allows us to go through trials of faith. Later in life, tradition tells us, Peter did pay the ultimate price for following Jesus.

So what about us? There are times, aren’t there, when we are put on the spot and fail to speak up for Christ. Does that mean we are “ashamed of Jesus” and that he’ll be “ashamed of us” when he returns (Luke 9:26)?

No–or at least, not usually. Maybe someone, when put on the spot, might blurt out for the first time that he doesn’t really believe in Jesus after he had already decided that in his heart. But Peter shows that genuine Christians sometimes have weak faith; that faith may cause them to waver from publicly claiming Christ. It might even, at times, cause them to question God as we see in some of the Psalms. A true believer may have doubts and denials at times caused by weakness in faith but if you are a true believer, God will strengthen your faith over time so that you will stand for Christ later on in your life.

So, be encouraged! If Simon Peter could deny Jesus three times–after all the miracles and teachings he experienced first and–and still become a great apostle for Christ then people like us who are weak a times may fail in our walk with Christ at times. But know that God’s grace is powerful! He will strengthen you when you fail and teach you how to walk with him and stand for him when it is scary and potentially costly to be a Christian.

Luke 3

Read Luke 3.

Luke chapter 3 begins with some historical context. It told us that John the Baptist began his ministry during “the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar” (v. 1). Then it goes on to list some other leaders. These leaders can be classified this way. When John’s ministry began there was:

One world leader: Tiberius Caesar (v. 1a).

Four regional leaders:

  1. Pontius Pilate of Judea
  2. Herod of Galilee
  3. Philip
  4. Lysanias

Two religious leaders:

  1. Annas
  2. Caiaphas

Luke’s purpose in listing these men was to establish the life and ministry of John, and then, of course, Jesus, in human history.

But Luke may have had another purpose in mind when he listed these leaders. Despite the many layers of government and religious authorities over God’s people, God’s word did not come to any of them. Instead, verse 2 says, “the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.” And that message was to get ready because “the Lord” is coming (v. 4).

When God began his kingdom program, he did not give his word to the politically powerful or even the religiously significant. Instead, he began speaking to a man out in the desert. Through him and through Jesus Christ, who did most of his preaching in small towns outside of Jerusalem (and Rome), God began to send his “salvation” (v. 6).

Does God need a President of the United States? Does he need a majority in the two houses of congress? Is his will subject to which legal ideology controls the court system?

No. In fact, God’s ways and will are done outside of human politics and inside of human hearts (vv. 7-8) through the power of his word (v. 2).

There is value in voting and in using politics to communicate what is righteous and sinful and to preserve whatever freedoms we can. But government cannot make people love God or find God’s love, righteousness, and forgiveness in Christ. Only the gospel, by the power of the Holy Spirit, can do that. Put your faith there, not in politicians. Put more energy into the spread of God’s word than in the election of a candidate or in getting legislation passed.

Matthew 23

Read Matthew 23.

Today’s reading continued to chronicle the life of Christ during the week of the crucifixion. Yesterday the religious leaders took turns trying to discredit Jesus by stumping him with hard questions. Jesus turned every question back on the questioners and made them look foolish. So, Jesus was on defense and refused to allow his opponents to score any points at all.

Here in Matthew 23, Jesus went on offense, warning his audience about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and teachers of the law and urging his audience not to live like these religious leaders.

Jesus was very specific in his complaints about the hypocrisy of these groups. He criticized them for:

  • not practicing what they preach (vv. 1-4).
  • doing everything for show, not from sincerity (vv. 5-12).
  • being an obstacle to God’s kingdom rather than a guide to it (vv. 13-15).
  • finding loopholes in God’s laws to exploit for their own selfish ends (vv. 16-22).
  • being scrupulous about obedience to the technicalities of the law while completely ignoring the moral and ethical commands of the law (vv. 23-24).
  • appearing squeaky-clean on the outside while being morally degenerate on the inside (vv. 25-28).
  • honoring the prophets that their ancestors killed while persecuting the prophets and teachers Jesus sent and was sending to them (vv. 29-36).

Let’s focus on verses 5-12. Although the religious men of his culture loved the accolades of great honor that were customarily given to them (v. 7), Jesus commanded his followers not to give titles and honor to our leaders (vv. 8-11). He could not have been clearer that Christian leaders are to be servants who serve in humility (vv. 11-12); consequently, he strictly forbid us from putting titles on each other.

Despite what Jesus clearly said, Christian leaders for centuries have demanded certain titles: Bishop Youknowwho, Pope Grande, Cardinal Soandso, Saint Bernard, and even “Father”– the very title Jesus said not to use (v. 9).

Though the elders here at Calvary felt it was important for me to be called “Pastor,” I’ve always been more comfortable just going by the name my parents gave me. Even though I have an earned doctorate, I never tell anyone to call me Dr. Jones and this passage is the reason why. We call Paul “the Apostle Paul” but he never called himself that; instead, his letters began with his first name, “Paul” (Rom 1:1, 1 Cor 1:1, 2 Cor 1:1, etc.)

I think we should be careful about using titles in light of this passage, but the command here is less about whether you call me “Pastor Brian” or just “Brian” and more about whether I serve the Lord in order to get honor and respect from you.

The Pharisees and teachers of the law wanted the social status that came from being a religious leader (vv. 5-7). They did not view themselves as servants to their disciples but as princes who taught but also demanded much from their followers.

We are not immune to this temptation. Some people seek to be elders or deacons or teachers in the church because they want the respect of the people of the church. Jesus called us to remember that spiritual leadership is about service, not about self. May God help all of us to cultivate the servants heart that Jesus commanded and modeled for us, no matter what title people apply to our names or what positions of authority we occupy.

2 Chronicles 33 and Proverbs 31

Read 2 Chronicles 33 and Proverbs 31 today. This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 33.

Some human governments move back and forth like a pendulum and that’s what Judah’s leadership was like at times during the divided kingdom. After all the good that Hezekiah did during his lifetime, his son Manasseh came in and reversed it all.

Verse 2 declared that, “He did evil in the eyes of the Lord” and verses 3-6 catalog his sins which included idolatry (of course), desecration of the temple, child sacrifice, divination, witchcraft, and spiritism. His actions were so evil that verse 9 said, “Manasseh led Judah and the people of Jerusalem astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the Lord had destroyed before the Israelites.”

God graciously sent his word to Judah (v. 10), then imposed punishment on him personally (v. 11). At his lowest point, however, “he humbled himself greatly” (v. 12b), “sought the Lord’s favor” (v. 12a) and God heard and delivered him (v. 13). It was genuine repentance, too, because verse 13c said, “Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God.” He also “restored the altar of the the Lord” and “told Judah to serve the Lord, the God of Israel.”

So, if he was truly repentant and showed genuine fruit of repentance, why did verse 2 include him among the evil kings of Judah?

The answer is that the phrases, “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” or “He did evil in the eyes of the Lord” describes a king’s leadership more than it does his personal walk with God.

Of course, those two things are deeply linked and an ungodly leader is, of course, almost always an ungodly man. Manasseh is an unusual edge case. Although he repented, his repentance came after many years of ungodly living and ungodly leadership. His soul may have been saved after his repentance, but that did not erase the influence of his ungodly life and leadership. Despite his repentance, Manasseh was an unqualified evil influence as king of Judah, so that’s why he’ll always be considered an ungodly king, despite his repentance.

Here is a lesson for us about the foolishness of sin. I don’t know if anyone sins thinking, “I’ll just ask forgiveness for this later.” Our sinful choices usually involve more kind of self-deception and justification than that.

But if anyone does think that way, they are missing a very important truth: your sin and mine leaves its mark on others. It gives them a way to justify their own sinful actions, a sort of “moral permission” that really isn’t moral at all but quiets their conscience enough to let them choose evil.

If you have influence over many people, many more of those people will try out your sin for themselves. May God help us say no to sin not only for our own spiritual health but also to prevent sin from spreading to those who follow our lead.

1 Chronicles 11-12, Zechariah 6, John 19

Read 1 Chronicles 11-12, Zechariah 6, and John 19 today. This devotional is about 1 Chronicles 11-12.

The first of the two chapters we read today opens by describing David’s appointment as king. It was the Lord who chose David to be king, of course (v. 2b) but God’s people recognized and affirmed that choice after witnessing David’s military leadership (v. 2a). Verses 4-9 described how David took Jerusalem and made it his home. Verse 9 concludes with this, “And David became more and more powerful, because the Lord Almighty was with him.”

That is the part that we all know. What follows in verses 10-47 is the part that we don’t usually think about. It is a collection of stories about the chiefs of David’s “mighty warriors” (vv. 10-25) followed by a list of the mighty warriors (vv. 26-47). Those men were skilled fighters and extremely loyal to David. Their loyalty to him and desire to please him led three of them to make a risky incursion into Bethlehem to get him a drink from the waters of home (vv. 16-19). Through these men God “gave his kingship strong support to extend it over the whole land, as the Lord had promised” (v. 10b). 

David was a great warrior and leader but he didn’t win battles by himself. He was successful because God was with him and God used these men to accomplish his will through David.

If you’re a leader, who are the other leaders on your team? Who shares the work of leading with you? If the answer is, “nobody,” then you need to ask God for help and look around for others who could be developed into that role.

If you’re someone who supports the leader, a leader under him or a “foot soldier” (so to speak), are you devoted to your leader? Assuming he or she is a leader God approves of, would you do whatever you could–even taking on some risk (v. 19)–to help your leader(s) accomplish the will of God?

2 Kings 15, Nahum 1, Proverbs 25:15-28

Read 2 Kings 15, Nahum 1, and Proverbs 25:15-28 today. This devotional is about Proverbs 25:15-28.

In my life, I’ve had some positions of leadership and other positions where I was supposed to follow the leader. Being a good leader is hard but, at times, being a good follower can be hard, too. Being a good follower is the subject of this devotional.

It is helpful to understand that the main leader sees things differently than everyone else. The main leader is accountable for the whole situation–the things he knows and doesn’t know that are happening, the decisions he makes and that he doesn’t make, and the results of all of it.

So, the main leader is accountable for more than anyone and everyone else. Consequently, the main leader can often be slower to make decisions. A wise leader needs to consider what the outcome might be of any decision. He also needs to think about the cost of the decision. Every decision has a cost–people question or complain, people leave the church or become less active, customers take their business elsewhere, money and resources are denied to other things, etc.

Until you are the main leader, you rarely think about the costs of a decision. Until you are the main leader, you will tend to underestimate how much a decision might cost. This can make it frustrating to be a follower of the main leader.

Different kinds of people can be described as “influential followers.” An assistant pastor can be an influential follower; so can an elder, a deacon, or a respected church member. In other contexts, a staff member or vice-president or highly skilled worker can be an influential follower.  So can a customer. When you are an influential follower, you see things that the main leader might not see or might not want to see. You see things that need improving and have ideas about how to improve them. You see opportunities that the main leader might not see or appreciate. I know from being in this situation what it is like to see an opportunity that the main leader doesn’t see or doesn’t think is important. I know how frustrating it is to know that you’re right about something but get very little interest from your main leader. It is easy to get so frustrated that you become obnoxious to the main leader or to leave in order to become the main leader or find another main leader to follow.

So what do you do if you are an influential follower but you haven’t been able to persuade the main leader to take your advice or suggestion? You patiently keep proposing the idea to the main leader. As we read today in Proverbs 25:15, “Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone.” Leaders often make mistakes by not listening to others with good ideas but followers often make the mistake of impatience when proposing new ideas. This proverb counsels us not to give up or leave or get mad when the main leader doesn’t listen. It counsels us to be patient and learn how to gently but persistently persuade those who lead you.

Do you have a leader that is frustrating you? A parent, a husband, a boss, or some other kind of leader? Please understand that the burden of leadership in these roles is heavy. You can’t appreciate how hard it is until you’ve done it. So be patient but don’t give up trying to influence the leaders above you. Be gentle but persistent, like a stream that slowly shapes and smooths the rock it flows over. You can persuade those who lead you, but you need to approach that persuasion the right way. This proverb gives excellent advice for how to do that.

1 Kings 21, Amos 7, 2 Peter 2

Read 1 Kings 21, Amos 7, and 2 Peter 2 today. This devotional is hopefully about 1 Kings 21.

There are two types of leadership: (1) positional leadership and (2) personal leadership. A personal leader is someone who is influential because of who they are. They have the right combination of characteristics that cause others to follow them naturally. This kind of person is sometimes called a “natural born leader.” 

A positional leader is someone who occupies a position that gives them influence over others. Your boss is a positional leader because s/he decides whether you keep your employment and pay, or get demoted or promoted. Even if you personally dislike your boss or wouldn’t follow that person (or any positional leader) if you didn’t have to, you have to follow him or her because they can help you or hurt you.

Ahab definitely had positional leadership. He was the king of Israel. But when it comes to personal leadership, he seems to have far less of that quality than his wife Jezebel had. In this chapter of scripture, Ahab wanted Naboth’s vineyard and attempted to get it in a righteous way. He made Naboth a fair offer (v. 2) and accepted Naboth’s rejection, even though it hurt his feelings (vv. 3-4). Later on in this chapter, after receiving the Lord’s declaration of judgment for his sin (vv. 21-24), he responded with a degree of repentance (v.  27). 

So if Ahab had a few principles, why was he said to be unlike anyone else “who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord” (v. 25)? One answer to that is his own idolatry (v. 26) but a key component was the personal leadership influence of his wife Jezebel. The last phrase of verse 25 told us that he did all this evil, “…urged on by Jezebel his wife.” It was was her personal leadership–her influence–that gave Ahab the confidence to follow some of his own sinful tendencies. Furthermore, we read in this chapter that it was her idea to frame and kill Naboth (vv. 7-14) in order to make it easy for Ahab unjustly to take Naboth’s vineyard (vv. 15-16). Jezebel led her husband into sinful actions that he (apparently) would not have taken himself (v. 7). 

One important lesson, then, is to be careful about who you marry and, generally, who your friends are. Relationships give people great power over the choices and decisions of others. If you’ve ever done something you were reluctant to do (or that it never occurred to you to do) because of someone else’s influence, you know how powerful personal leadership can be. So be careful to choose people who are growing Christians with high moral character to be the closest people in your life.

Even though it was Jezebel’s idea, Ahab was still accountable for what happened. Don’t ever let yourself believe that your sin is excusable just because you were following someone else. Ultimately we will answer to God for everything we do regardless of what led us to do it.

Who are the biggest personal influences in your life? Are those people leading you (influencing you) in godly ways or ungodly ways? Would making some changes in your relationships help you to make better, more righteous decisions?