Acts 20

Back to Acts for 1 chapter, then we go to Romans tomorrow, according to the schedule I’m following for these devotions.

Read Acts 20.

As we read 2 Corinthians, we noted that Paul was coming to Corinth both to collect an offering for the believers in Jerusalem who were suffering (2 Cor 8) and to deal with those who were living in sin in the church at Corinth (2 Cor 13).

Here in Acts 20, Luke noted that Paul did in fact go to Corinth as he said he would (vv. 1-3). Paul continued on to Jerusalem stopping in Philippi (vv. 3-6) and Troas (vv. 7-12). He decided to travel by ship to Jerusalem and that ship stopped in several places (vv. 13-15). Paul decided not to go back to Ephesus, where he had spent so much time back in Acts 19, but he called for the elders of the church at Ephesus to meet him (vv. 16-38). His meeting with them was emotional because God had told him that he would suffer in Jerusalem (vv. 22-23) so he expected that he would not see the Ephesians again (vv. 35, 38).

If you had spent several years of fruitful ministry in a city but believed that you would never go back there, what would you say to the people you had discipled and mentored and taught? Paul’s message which Luke recorded in this chapter is summed up in verse 31: “So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.” Paul knew that the church would face some difficult problems in the days ahead (v. 29), so he urged the elders to do the work of shepherding to protect themselves and the flock (v. 28).

But what was he getting at when he said, “Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears”? That statement is, in essence, “Don’t forget my teaching and my example. When false doctrine comes in, remember what I taught you. Stick to it because it is God’s word; don’t stray from it.”

This is truth worth remembering.

There is a lot of teaching out there, some that claims to be biblical and Christian and some that makes no claim to be Christian but does claim to be true. People sometimes get enamored with new ideas or attracted to big promises to change their lives in some way. If what you are learning is biblical, it will align with what you already know to be true from scripture. If it takes you away from the doctrines you learned when you were saved and discipled, however, it is a trap that will hurt your spiritual life, not help it. So, evaluate everything and don’t ever forget the gospel and the word of God that was taught to you when you first became a believer.

Although Paul was deeply concerned about what the church at Ephesus would face, he did not stay there to try to protect the church himself. Instead, he expressed faith in God’s own oversight of the church and his word: “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (v. 32).

When people we led to Christ move away or our children grow up and go out on their own, we can become concerned about the many threats to their spiritual lives that they will encounter and rightly so. It is good to be concerned, to express your concern, and to urge believers you love to watch themselves just as Paul did in this chapter.

However, it is impossible to control another person so you can only do so much to try to protect their faith and their doctrine. Instead of being fearful, at some point we must release them and trust God to do what we can’t.

Paul ended his time with the Ephesian elders with prayer (v. 36) and we know from his letters how earnestly he prayed for the spiritual life of all the believers and churches. This is the best way to care spiritually for those we cannot be with directly–pray for God’s continued work in their lives, for their protection from sin and from false doctrine, and for God to watch over their spiritual lives.

Are you sending a kid off to college soon? Have a young adult child who is moving to a different area to start a new life? Do you know anyone who is leaving our church or another good church but there is uncertainty about where they will worship? Pray. Warn them and express your love for them, but trust God to watch over them and pray daily for them to walk with him. There’s really nothing better you can do for another person spiritually.

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.

James 1

Read James 1.

James says so much in such a few verses. He moves swiftly from one topic to another and it is sometimes difficult to see whether the topics are supposed to be related in some way or not.

His opening words in verse 1, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,” are provocative. Most people do not get joy from different kinds of trials. We do not perceive it as a reason to rejoice nor do we rejoice instinctively when life gets hard.

That’s why James commands us to “consider it pure joy.” It is an act of deliberate mental choice; instead of instinctively getting sad or angry when we face trials, James tells us to consciously choose to consider our trials something to rejoice over.

Why?

Verse 2 says “because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” Since verse 1 called these “trials of many kinds,” we know that he is not only speaking of persecution but, in addition to persecution, he means any problem in life that offers a choice between faith and unbelief. It might be spiritual, physical, financial, relational, intellectual, or whatever; if it is something that would usually make someone question God and why they trust in him, it is a trial like the one James is discussing.

And why should we consider the trials of our faith to be “pure joy?” Because, verse 3b says that “the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” In other words, things that do not wreck our faith only make it stronger.

When we face trials, then, we should rejoice because God is growing us. He is strengthening our faith so that we learn to trust and love Christ more and become better equipped to serve him on the other side of the trial. The end of all this perseverance through trials is “that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (v. 4b). God places us through trials to compete us spiritually and morally.

In those moments where faith is called for, God is building us, refining us, making us more like Christ and more effective for him. Whatever trial you find yourself in today, learn to thank God for it. When it comes to mind, thank God for what he is teaching you. When you are looking for the easy way out, thank God for how he is completing you as a Christian. When your faith in God’s character is shaking, thank God for the trial and don’t give up your faith!

Numbers 17–18, Psalm 55, Isaiah 7, James 1

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Numbers 17–18, Psalm 55, Isaiah 7, James 1. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can’t do all the readings today, read James 1.

James says so much in such a few verses. He moves swiftly from one topic to another and it is sometimes difficult to see whether the topics are supposed to be related in some way or not. His opening words in verse 1, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,” are provocative. Most people do not get joy from different kinds of trials. We do not perceive it as a reason to rejoice nor do we rejoice instinctively when life gets hard. That’s why James commands us to “consider it pure joy.” It is an act of deliberate mental decision; instead of instinctively getting sad or angry when we face trials, James tells us to consciously choose to consider our trials something to rejoice over. Why? Verse 2: “because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” Since verse 1 called these “trials of many kinds,” we know that he is not only speaking of persecution but, in addition to persecution, he means any problem in life that offers a choice between faith and unbelief. It might be spiritual, physical, financial, relational, intellectual, or whatever; if it is something that would usually make someone question God and why they trust in him, it is a trial like the one James is discussing. And why should we consider the trials of our faith to be “pure joy?” Because, verse 3b says that “the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” In other words, things that do not wreck our faith only make it stronger. When we face trials, then, we should rejoice because God is growing us. He is strengthening our faith so that we learn to trust and love Christ more and become better equipped to serve him on the other side of the trial. The end of all this perseverance through trials is “that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (v. 4b). God places us through trials to compete us spiritually and morally. In those moments where faith is called for, God is building us, refining us, making us more like Christ and more effective for him. Whatever trial you find yourself in today, learn to thank God for it. When it comes to mind, thank God for what he is teaching you. When you are looking for the easy way out, thank God for how he is completing you as a Christian. When your faith in God’s character is shaking, thank God for the trial and don’t give up your faith! 

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we’ll talk scripture again tomorrow.