1 Timothy 1

Read 1 Timothy 1.

Ephesus was an important place in the story of the New Testament.

Paul spent two years there on his third missionary journey according to Acts 19:10. Paul travelled to other cities after those two years in Ephesus, but toward the end of that second missionary journey, he stopped nearby and called the elders of the Ephesian church so that he could speak with them and pray with them (Acts 20:17ff). Of course, he also wrote the New Testament book we call “Ephesians” to that church as well.

When Paul wrote this letter we call 1 Timothy, things were not well in the church at Ephesus. Paul had been released from the house arrest we read about in Acts 28 and was out planting churches again when he heard reports of false doctrine in the church at Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3). He sent Timothy there to “command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer.” In verse 5, he said, “The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” These verses indicate how important good doctrine–pure doctrine–is to the health of the church. Good doctrine creates “a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” which produces love in God’s people which makes the church a loving, Christ-like place.

Bad doctrine, then, corrupts one’s faith and one’s “good conscience” (v. 19) which inevitably leads to problems in the church–both problems between people and moral problems within people.

Doctrine is not a popular subject in the church. Instead, churches today run on emotionalism, entertainment, and self-help. Emotions have an important place and making disciples involves helping believers deal with their problems but if that plus entertaining services is what a church is about, that church will not be able to withstand the winds of false doctrine. False doctrine hollows out a church, corrupting the pure hearts, good consciences, and sincere faith (v. 5) God called us to have as followers of Christ. So, never denigrate doctrine or underestimate its importance in your life or in the church. Instead, learn the great doctrines of our faith and let them purify your heart and strengthen your conscience. Then, as we learn and grow together in the truth, we will become a loving place.

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.

1 Corinthians 13

Read 1 Corinthians 13.

This famous chapter of scripture is part of Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts which began back in chapter 12.

The Corinthians had a proud perspective on spiritual gifts. The more powerfully God had gifted someone, the more spiritual that person seemed to be. Here in verses 1-3, Paul taught that spiritual power is useless without love. It doesn’t matter how elevated your language is through the gift of tongues, how prophetic your words are or how sacrificial your giving may be, without love there is no meaningful spiritual impact

So what is love? Instead of defining it, Paul described it. It is patient and kind. It does not envy others or call attention to itself. It is not defensive. All of these things point to one reality–love is a focus on what is good for others.

It is so easy for us to become self-centered, isn’t it? We serve but we are aware of the cost that service extracts from us. We give but we resent the attention someone else gets for using their gifts in the body. We make a contribution but wonder why we don’t get more out of the church. These are all self-centered, unloving thoughts.

If you want your life to count for Jesus, you need to ask him to teach you to love–that is to focus on benefiting others and not think about yourself. The Bible says that love is the fruit of the Spirit; that means it is the result of your growth in grace by the spirit of God. Again, because pride and self-centeredness come so naturally to us this is something we need to continually ask God’s help for.

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.

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.

Matthew 26

Read Matthew 26.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Chronicles 15, Zechariah 8, John 21

Read 1 Chronicles 15, Zechariah 8, and John 21 today. This devotional is about John 21.

After his resurrection, Jesus made several appearances. We read about an important one today here in John 21. The purpose of these appearances, of course, was to demonstrate his resurrection. But although he spent extended time with the disciples, he did not resume his previous ministry, nor did he overthrow the Roman government and establish his kingdom as the disciples expected.

That must have been unsettling to the disciples. Jesus was alive and he showed up at times, but he didn’t stay around; instead, he would spend time with them, then disappear. What was the plan going forward? They did not know.

So, Peter being the natural leader that he was, announced his intention to go fishing (v. 3). The other disciples who were with him followed (v. 2, 3b). We do not know if Peter did this to pass the time, to resume something familiar in his life, or if he was dabbling with the idea of returning to his previous occupation.

Regardless of why, he was no good at it anymore. Verse 3b says, “…that night they caught nothing.” Hard to stay in business if that happens to you often. While it probably wasn’t unprecedented for Peter before he became a disciple of Jesus, it was far from normal. After their failure to catch any fish, Jesus revealed himself by giving them a miraculous catch (vv. 4-7).

Although they now had plenty of fish to eat themselves and to sell, Jesus had already made breakfast preparations for them (v. 9). He fed them (v. 13), then turned to the matter of Peter’s restoration.

Peter had seen Christ after his resurrection before this incident, but his denial of Jesus at his trial was still unresolved. Until Jesus addressed it, Peter’s denial would be a barrier to Peter becoming the leader Jesus had appointed him to be. In this passage, Jesus asked Peter to affirm his love–his commitment–to Christ three times, one that corresponded to each of his denials of Jesus. Each time he affirmed his love for Jesus, Jesus commanded him to care for his followers. The point was made that Peter’s denial was forgiven; now he must do what the Lord commanded by caring for God’s people (v. 15c, 16c, and 17d). The final command to Peter was to be ready to die for Christ (v. 18) but to follow Jesus anyway (v. 19).

Do you have any failures in your past that are impeding your present ability to serve Jesus? Take a lesson from this passage. Jesus was gracious toward Peter; he knew that Peter was repentant for denying Christ but that he felt lingering guilt about doing it. Jesus refocused Peter’s attention, calling him to commit to Christ in the present and stay committed to him in the future, even though it would cost him his life. The issue wasn’t that Peter had failed Jesus and so he had to go back to fishing because he couldn’t be an effective apostle. The issue is that he needed to focus on following Jesus–doing what Christ commanded him to do today.

So it is for any one of us. If you are consumed with regret or sorrow over failures in your life, let this passage be restorative for you. No matter what you’ve done, it isn’t as spectacularly bad as denying you even know Jesus while he was being treated unjustly. If Jesus forgave and restored Peter to useful service, he will do so for you, too. Forget about the failures of the past; focus today on following Jesus and doing what he commands right now. That’s the way forward if you’re his disciple.

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 Kings 2, Hosea 5-6, 1 Timothy 6

Read 1 Kings 2, Hosea 5-6, and 1 Timothy 6 today. This devotional is about 1 Kings 2.

In today’s passage, David formally passed the baton of leadership to his son Solomon, the one God had chosen to be his successor as king. Along with the privilege of becoming king, Solomon would now bear the responsibility of leading the nation. David began, therefore, by charging him to take his responsibility seriously, with the maturity of a man (v. 2). That meant living in obedience to God’s word as recorded in the law of Moses (v. 3). If Solomon would lead that way, David explained that he would “prosper in all you do.” It was a reminder of God’s covenant promise of blessing to those who obeyed his word.

David finished the first part of his instruction by reminding Solomon of the Davidic covenant; namely, the Lord had promised an unbroken line of succession on Israel’s throne to David’s family if they lived in faithful obedience to the Lord (v. 4). No pressure or anything, Solomon, but you’d hate to be the first and only successor to David, the one who messed up an eternal covenant.

Having charged Solomon with the important principles of serving as king, David turned now to some unfinished business. He charged Solomon to:

  • punish Joab for his ruthless killings (vv. 5-6).
  • reward the descendants of Barzillai (isn’t that a brand of pasta?) for their loyalty to David (v. 7).
  • deal with Shimei son of Gera (vv. 8-9). More on him in a few paragraphs.

Before dealing with family business, however, Solomon was confronted with an immediate challenge to his rulership. Solomon’s brother Adonijah, the very one who tried to take a shortcut to the throne, requested Solomon’s permission to marry David’s, um, platonic companion Abishag the Shunamite (vv. 12-21). Adonijah even used Solomon’s own mother, Bathsheba, to make the request. Maybe she was just a kind-hearted soul or maybe she was not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but somehow she did not see what a dangerous move this was politically.

Solomon did see the danger, however (v. 22), and had Adonijah killed (vv. 23-25). Solomon was gracious to Abiathar, letting him live out of respect to his service to the Lord (v. 26), though removing him as priest. That move, incidentally, fulfilled God’s prophecy to Eli (v. 27).

Finally, Solomon executed Joab (vv. 28-35). That action both fulfilled David’s charge to Solomon (cf. vv. 5-6) and brought punishment on Joab for backing Adonijah.

Finally, Solomon turned his attention to Shimei. You will remember that Shimei was from the same tribe as Saul and that he cursed David as David was fleeing Jerusalem from Absalom (cf. 2 Samuel 16). David had mercy on Shimei, both at the time he cursed David (2 Sam 16:8-13) and when David returned to power after defeating Absalom (2 Sam 19:9-12). Although David had been merciful to Shimei for many years, David had not forgotten what Shimei did. That’s why he commanded Solomon to deal with him (vv. 8-9).

Some have argued that David carried a grudge against Shimei but that he held off on following through on that grudge during his lifetime. I’m not sure I agree that David held a grudge, but he certainly remembered him. By waiting until Solomon was king and then charging Solomon to deal with Shimei, David was appealing to the king for justice. It is the responsibility of a king to deal justly with people. David had a legitimate complaint with Shimei. While he was king, however, if he were to deal with Shimei himself, David risked losing the confidence of the people by acting (or appearing act) in vindictiveness and cruelty.

So instead of being the plaintiff and judge in Shimei’s case, David waited until there as a king–namely Solomon–that David could contact about his case. So what we have here, as I see it, is an appeal for justice from David to King Solomon. David recused himself during his lifetime and administration as king. When David’s rulership effectively ended, it was appropriate for David to ask the next king for justice, even if the next ruler was his own son.

Like his father before him, Solomon was gracious to Shimei, allowing him to live under a sort of house arrest (vv. 36-38) in Jerusalem. But, when Shimei broke Solomon’s rule, Solomon did what he promised David he would do—he took Shimei’s life.

I see David’s instructions and Solomon’s actions here as not vindictive but as merciful. They gave Shimei time to live and repent and space to live and work in. However, it was only after he broke their very reasonable rules, that justice fell on him.

The passage leads me to think about Jesus’ command to love our enemies. Whenever life is unfair and seemingly unjust to so, Christ commanded us to commit our cause to God and to expect him to repay. Sometimes God’s work of justice may be accomplished through the human justice system and that may take a long time. David’s patience and the way he went about getting justice through the next king provides us with an example to follow.

Have you been treated unjustly? Have you sought to deal with that injustice in a way that loves your enemies, treating them with mercy when there is repentance but committing the matter to God and appropriate human leaders?

Or, are you seeking revenge of some kind on your own? Follow David’s example to glorify God in your life.