1 Corinthians 7

Read 1 Corinthians 7.

This chapter from 1 Corinthians contains several instructions around the subject of marriage. Verse 1 began the chapter with the phrase, “Now for the matters you wrote about.” The Corinthian believers had many questions about what was right and wrong for Christians to do, so they wrote a letter to Paul spelling out their questions.

The first question was about sexual ethics: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” This is not a statement from Paul; rather, Paul is quoting back to them their first question or point of confusion: “Is celibacy Christian?”

Paul explored this question from a number of angles. First, there is nothing morally wrong with marriage and a person should marry (v. 2) and have regular sexual relations with his or her spouse (vv. 3-5). One reason for this is to protect against a church full of single people giving into their sexual desires (v. 2a), committing adultery (v. 5b) or burning with lust (v. 9).

Second, Paul commended the single life if a person can be single without giving into sexual temptation (vv. 8-9, 25-40).

Third, he commanded believers not to divorce (vv. 10-14) but also not to contest a divorce if an unbelieving spouse divorces you, the believer (vv. 15-16). This is the passage which gives an additional exception for divorce to the exception Jesus gave in Matthew 18.

The main principle in this passage is “remain as you are” (vv. 17-24). If you are a married person, give your spouse what you promised (vv. 3-5) and don’t divorce him or her–even if he or she is an unbeliever (vv. 12-14).

In fact, the passage teaches that faith in Christ has a sanctifying effect on the unbelieving spouse. That is a reason to stay in the marriage (v. 14). But if your non-Christian spouse leaves you, you do not have to contest the divorce and are free to remarry (vv. 15-16).

Although marriage is the dominant topic in this chapter, Paul suddenly references circumcision (vv. 18-19) and slavery (vv. 21-24). These have nothing to do with decisions about marriage, but they are other applications of the principle, “remain as you are” (v. 17, 20)

In other words, your faith in Christ applies to your life whether you are single or married, circumcised or uncircumcised, slave or free (vv. 21-24).

There are no second class Christians; whatever situation you are in is an opportunity for you to live for God today. Christians who are married to other Christians have advantages that others do not have, but God isn’t evaluating you based on your circumstances. He’s called you and empowered you to live a godly life in whatever circumstances you are in today.

What circumstance are you in today that you wish were different?

Do you find yourself thinking that you could be a more godly Christian if you had a different spouse–or no spouse at all?

Do you think it would be easier to be holy if you had a different job or that God would be more pleased with you if left your secular job to work in the ministry full-time?

This passage should cause you to reconsider. There is nothing wrong with changing your circumstances if you can do it without sinning (vv. 21b-23), but a change of circumstances is not what you need to live a godly life. You already have what you need to live a godly life–God’s divine power–no matter what circumstances you are in. So believe that by faith and live within your situation differently for the glory of God.

Galatians 2

Read Galatians 2.

In our earlier readings from Acts, we noted the tensions that began when God saved Gentiles and gave them the same spiritual status as the Jewish believers in Jesus had. Here in the book of Galatians, Paul urged the churches he started in this region not to succumb to the teaching of the “Judaizers.” That was a group of people who claimed faith in Jesus but insisted that all Christians conform to Jewish law.

Here in Galatians 2, Paul recounted his own first-hand struggle as a Christian against the idea that Christians must obey the law. Peter recognized Paul as a genuine believer (v. 9b) and Peter and the other apostles also recognized the commission of Christ to Paul to take the gospel to the Gentiles (vv. 7, 9c). Yet Peter himself failed, at times, to act “in line with the truth of the gospel.” (v. 14b).

Sometimes Peter acted as if his Jewish background didn’t matter, so he blended right in with the Gentile believers (v. 12a). But when there were Jewish believers around, Peter feared their disapproval and segregated himself from the Gentiles (v. 12b). That was hypocrisy (v. 13a) and Paul spoke to Peter directly about it.

The point of this chapter is to emphasize the implications of the gospel. If Jesus really has fulfilled the law of God and if we are justified simply by believing in him, then it is wrong to add any religious or moral works as requirements for salvation.

But a secondary lesson in this passage has to do with Peter’s hypocrisy. Despite how much Jesus loved Peter, taught him, and entrusted to him as an apostle, Peter was still human. He was still vulnerable to fear the opinions of others and, therefore, still susceptible to hypocrisy.

Yet, despite his status as an apostle, Peter had the humility to receive Paul’s correction. Let none of us, then, think that we are above or beyond the correcting power of truth. We remain sinners until Jesus glorifies us finally, so let’s be ready to accept correction and grow from it when we are corrected with the truth.

Acts 15

Read Acts 15.

Paul and Barnabas who had been chosen by the Holy Spirit back in Acts 13 to take the gospel to the Gentles. Here in Acts 15, however, they had a disagreement that they could not solve. That disagreement was detailed in verses 36-41:

  • The occasion for their disagreement was a desire to return to the churches they had founded on their first missionary journey (v. 36). Ultimately, this trip would become Paul’s second missionary journey.
  • The reason for their disagreement was John Mark. Barnabas wanted John Mark to come but Paul was opposed to it because John Mark had deserted them on the first missionary journey (v. 38).
  • The result of their disagreement was that they split and went their separate ways (v. 39).

This passage is instructive in a number of ways. According to verse 40 Paul was “commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord.” That suggests the church at Antioch (see v. 35) officially backed Paul, so he would seem to be the winner of this dispute.

Over time, however, God used John Mark to write “The Gospel According to Mark” and even Paul had to admit that Mark was useful to Paul’s ministry (2 Tim 4:11). So while Paul may have been backed officially by the church, apparently Barnabas was wise to include Mark despite Paul’s objections.

One lesson from this passage is that, sadly, there are times when godly Christians have problems with each other that cannot be solved. That seems strange to admit. If everyone involved is walking with God, it would seem that every issue should be solvable. But if godly men like Paul and Barnabas could not agree to extend grace to Mark after his failure, we should accept that sometimes disagreements among God’s people cannot always be resolved.

Another related lesson is to realize that God used Paul and Silas and he also used Barnabas and John Mark. In other words, although they did not agree, that did not mean that one party was in sin and the other was not.

Have you ever had a disagreement with another believer that could not be solved? Were you convinced that you were right and they were wrong? Did you conclude that they must be in sin or at least unwise? Let this passage cause you to reconsider. As believers we should do everything we can to resolve our issues with other believers but we should also be prepared to “disagree agreeably” without condemning the other person. Can you choose to believe the best about another believer even if you can’t resolve every problem?

NOTE: Tomorrow we are going to leave the book of Acts for a bit and read the book of Galatians for the next several days. 

Acts 14

Read Acts 14.

Paul and Barnabas are still on that first missionary journey which concluded here at the end of Acts 14, specifically verses 26-28.

As God’s miraculous power worked through these chosen men (vv. 8-10), it was inevitable that someone would ascribe deity to them (vv. 11-13). Unlike Herod back in Acts 12, Barnabas and Paul did not receive the worship that was offered to them; instead, they turned the attention back to the one true God (vv. 14-15) and used this misunderstanding as another avenue to deliver the true gospel. In just a few short verses–verses 15b-18, to be exact, Paul began to describe the religious history of humanity:

  • First, God created everyone and everything. Verse 15b says, “…the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them.”
  • Second, humanity rebelled against God by sinning. As families developed into nations, God chose Abraham and the nation that would come from him and let all other “nations go their own way” (v. 16).
  • The third point would have been “but now he commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30b) but Jewish opponents interrupted Paul’s message in verses 19-20.

Going back to the second point where God “let all nations go their own way” (v. 16), one might think that it would be unjust for God to punish pagan nations that did not receive his law and his promises like Israel did. Paul and Barnabas anticipated that objection in verse 17a and said, “Yet he has not left himself without testimony….”

God did not speak directly–theologians call this “special revelation”–to other nations as he did with Israel. But he did communicate with these nations through “general revelation.” Barnabas and Paul specified what this general revelation–the “testimony” they referenced–was in the next few phrases of verse 17: “by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”

We tend to focus on the hardships of living in a fallen world and there are severe hardships. Some of these hardships are death and the sorrow it causes, physical pain due to illness and injury, sin and the consequences and pain it causes, natural disasters, and others.

But God has been very good to us all–believers and unbelievers alike. During our lifetime, we enjoy food, friendships and family, physical affection, excitement, joy, rest, and many other blessings. These are all gifts of God; he could have punished Adam and Eve with immediate death that would have disallowed the human race from ever growing beyond them. That would have prevented us from ever knowing the joys of God’s creation and from wondering about the Creator who is the source of them all. Unbelievers, then, know enough about God to damn their souls for eternity. This knowledge gives us a starting point for evangelism, just as it did for Paul and Barnabas in this chapter.

As Christians, now that we know God and have the better light of his word–“special revelation”–we have all the things Paul and Barnabas listed here and more to lift our hearts in praise and worship to God. Think of one blessing in your life that you may have taken for granted today. Now let that be the starting point for your prayers and praise to God today.

Acts 9

And now, read Acts 9.

We met Saul yesterday and saw how he persecuted the church and, in God’s providence, was used to get the gospel out of Jerusalem and into the rest of Judea and also into Samaria, just as the Lord had commanded in Acts 1:8. Now, in the most unlikely way (humanly, that is), God saved Saul (vv. 1-8) and called him “my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel” (v. 15b). The man whose persecution stimulated the spread of the gospel to Judea and Samaria would now directly lead the effort to take the gospel “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The focus of Acts in the chapters ahead will begin to move off Peter and the other Apostles and on to Saul (Paul) the Apostle to the Gentiles.

As we read about Saul’s conversion here in Acts 9, we saw the clash of human values and God’s values in how Saul was treated. People value safety and were understandably wary of someone who killed other Christians but suddenly now claimed to be a Christian himself. We see the skepticism and fear in Ananias (vv. 13-14) and in the Jerusalem church where “they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple” (v. 26b). How was this skepticism resolved?

First, Ananias believed God by faith when God told him to go to Saul and pray for him (vv. 11-17a). He even called him “Brother Saul,” acknowledging his claim to faith in Christ. Second, Barnabas became Paul’s ambassador when he “took him and brought him to the apostles” (v. 27). Both of these men had to trust that God’s power had actually changed Saul. Because they did trust the life-changing power of the gospel, they were willing to “credit” Saul–trust him as a brother–before there was a long trail of evidence of Saul’s faith.

If we’re going to live for Jesus, there will be times when we have to take similar risks of faith on people. For example, trusting Christ in your life might mean trusting someone else who has wounded based only on their claim to repentance. We become vulnerable to manipulation, embarrassment, or possible betrayal in those situations but this is what God calls us to do. If we trust him, we should trust that he is changing other people. That means giving them our acceptance and trust in advance–like a credit card transaction. Are you facing any uncertainty in your life because you are not certain you should someone who claims to be changed by Christ? God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s grace call all of his followers to trust others based on their profession of faith and even to forgive others when they fail to be perfect but demonstrate true repentance. Ananias was afraid of Saul, but he trusted the Lord so he called Saul his “brother.” God will help you and me learn to trust others, too–before they deserve it, if our hope and faith is in the Lord.

Acts 3

Read Acts 3

God’s power was at work in the world and in the disciples like never before in the days after Pentecost, which we read about yesterday.

Here in chapter 3, Peter was headed with John to the temple to pray, healed a man who had never walked by the power of Jesus (vv. 1-11), then explained the good news to the audience around him (vv. 12-26).

In the middle of Peter’s gospel message, he said these words, “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this” (v. 15). I find the phrase, “you killed the author of life” fascinating. The word “author” describes God as a story-teller. He has a plan and it is unfolding through the lives of everyone in scripture and in your life and mine.

As the author “of life,” God is the creator of all things, including life. The Bible tells us repeatedly that Jesus, the Second Person of God, was the active agent of the Trinity who created. It was his voice that said, “Let there be light” and it was he who formed Adam out of the dust of the ground and and breathed into him the breath of life. It was he who took a rib from Adam’s side to create Eve. There is no life apart from Jesus.

Ironic, then, that men killed Jesus. Apart from the creating power of Jesus, humanity would never have existed. Apart from his sustaining grace, humanity would cease to exist. He is the author of life, not only making us alive but writing for each of us a story–a personality, a background, a cast of other characters, and all the other elements of story. Yet when he entered into the world, he was not honored by the characters in the story he wrote as the author. Instead, he was killed even though all living depends on him.

Fortunately, this was all part of his story and it did not end with his death; instead, “God raised him from the dead” (v. 15b). We celebrated that truth on Sunday. But as important as remembering the event of the resurrection is, it is even more important to understand the point of the resurrection.

And the point of the resurrection is: “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus” (vv. 19-20).

I write these devotionals for Christians to strengthen us with God’s word. But it is possible that someone is reading this who is not a Christian–either you found this page on our website or you subscribed to my devotional.

Do you understand that your story, your life, is one thread in a thick fabric of interwoven stories of all people?

Do you see that all of us depend on Jesus for existence, need him to rescue us from the consequences of our rebellion against God, and are designed to bring glory and worship to Jesus when he returns to be our Lord? If so, turn to him! In the words of verse 19: “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord….” The author of life invites you to experience eternal life through his resurrected Son, Jesus Christ. Ask him to save you and give you eternal life, and he will!

For those of us who are Christians, remember that your life really isn’t about you. You are a character in the life of Jesus–he’s the one on the hero’s journey. As the author of life, he devised the plot and set this story into motion. So let’s focus on him in our lives and point others to him so that he will come and conclude this story well.

Acts 1

Today let’s read Acts 1.

Acts continues the story of Jesus’ ministry after he left this earth as told by Luke, the author of the Gospel we just finished reading. Here in chapter 1, Luke briefly addressed Theophilus in verse 1. This is the same original reader Luke was writing for when he wrote the Gospel According to Luke (see Luke 1:3).

As we saw in Luke 24 on Friday, Luke ended that volume with a brief description of Jesus’ ascension. Here in Acts 1, Luke rewound the tape a bit and described for us some of Jesus’ final words to his apostles in verses 4-8.

Remember way back in Luke 3:16 that John the Baptist said that Jesus would “…baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Here in Acts 1:5 Jesus echoed that saying of John when he said, “For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” So Christ told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem (v. 4).

Now that Jesus had died and was raised from the dead, the disciples are curious about what would come next. Their question to Christ in verse 6 was, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” That’s what they had expected of Messiah all along. They expected him to become king of Israel, defeat the Romans, and then establish Israel as God’s eternal kingdom.

Jesus ducked their question. In verse 7 he told them that the restoration of the kingdom to Israel was none of their business. But notice that he didn’t refute the idea that the kingdom would be restored to Israel; instead he said, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” God’s promise of a kingdom for Israel is still valid; it’s the time period we call “The Millennium” and it still awaits at a future day and time set in God’s will.

Until the Millennium comes, God’s will for us is clear and simple: “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (v. 8). The rest of the book of Acts unfolds how the first generation of Christians obeyed this command.

Since Jesus has not returned yet, however, the responsibility for obedience to this passed down from the apostles to the rest of us who make up the church at this time. One of the easiest ways to contribute to this mission Christ gave us is to invite people to church with you.

During this COVID-19 lockdown, we can’t do that! But someday we’ll get back to meeting together in real life. And, I think people will be looking for opportunities to get out of the house and do something when this “Stay at home” order is lifted, so people may be more open to visiting church when this is over.

Maybe this is a good time for you to think about who you should invite to church. Maybe you should reach out to them by text today and let them know you’re praying for them.

Luke 17

Read Luke 17 today.

Leprosy was a horrible disease to contract in the days Jesus lived on this earth. In order to keep from infecting other people, lepers had to live alone, away from society. If they came near anyone else, they had to warn them by calling out, “Unclean!” If you contracted leprosy, your family would never touch you again and the only human companionship you’d ever know again was from other lepers.

It was social-distancing long before it became cool here in 2020.

Lepers would watch parts of their bodies rot away and fall off until, eventually, they died. So you can understand why lepers were so eager to meet Jesus and when they saw him, according to verse 13, they “called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’”

Instead of making new skin out of mud or laying his hands on them or even waving his hands toward them, Jesus just told them to find a priest and have him check their skin. This was required by the Old Testament law for someone who wanted to be re-admitted to society after having a skin problem that cleared up. Between verses 14-15, they were healed. In verse 14b they expressed faith in his word by obediently turning to find a priest. But, according to verse 15, it took a few moments before they actually realized they had been healed.

Of the ten men who were healed of leprosy, only one of them returned to thank Jesus (v. 16a). And he was less than subtle about it; according to verses 15b-16a, “when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him….”

This is what you’d expect from someone who not only just saved and extended your life, but made it possible to return to your family and friends. But, of all the men Jesus healed, he alone gave glory to God and thanks to Jesus and, to top it all off, “…he was a Samaritan.” That continued a pattern in Jesus’ life of being received best by outsiders.

Jesus made a point of highlighting that only 10% of the cleansed lepers gave thanks to him and glory to God for their cleansing. His point is one that we should consider as well. People frequently ask others to pray for them but, in my experience at least, rarely give glory to God when the prayer is answered.

Furthermore, genuine thankfulness is in scarce supply in our world. We should serve God by serving others in love without expecting to be thanked but thankfulness is a trait of godliness (see Colossians 2:7, 3:15 and 17 for just a few examples).

Do you live a thankful life? Do we notice when God answers our prayers and give him praise and glory for it? Do we thank his servants, his children, when they are good to us? These are habits of a godly life.

While we’re stuck in this weird, COVID-19 world, we have the opportunity and the time to reach out to others. Is there someone you should thank? Make a phone call to that person today and let them know how much you appreciate what they’ve done in your life.

And don’t forget to thank God in prayer for his goodness to you. Life is weird right now for us all, but we don’t have leprosy, we do have what we need, and this crisis will pass. Let’s be thankful for how God is providing for us and for his promise to keep providing for us in post-coronavirus world.

Luke 11

Read Luke 11.

Does God really answer prayer? Going by what Jesus said here in Luke 11:1-13, not only does God answer prayer, he is waiting to bless us by answering our prayers.

So, why don’t we get more answers to prayer?

One reason is that we pray very differently than Jesus told us to pray.

Verses 1-4 record what is called “The Lord’s Prayer” but should be called “The Lord’s Guide to Prayer.” Jesus was not telling us to pray this prayer in these words but rather to let the themes he touched on be the things that we talk to God about. Namely:

  • That more and more people would come to worship him and stand in awe of his holiness and greatness (“hallowed by thy name”).
  • That his kingdom would finally arrive finishing the redemption of his elect and giving us a place to finally be the society he created us to be (“your kingdom come”).
  • That he would provide for our daily needs, not make all our dreams come true (“give us each day our daily bread”).
  • That he would make us holy just as he has declared us to be (“forgive us our sins… and lead us not into temptation”).
  • That he would give us the grace to resolve the relationships we have broken by our sins (“for we also forgive everyone who sins against us”).

Jesus’ healing ministry shows us that God does care about our physical problems, but how often is our praying dominated by praying for ourselves and others to have physical healing? Do we ever pray for each other to avoid sin? Do we take time to worship God for who he is and ask him to save more people so that they can worship him?

These are the things Jesus told us to pray for, so let’s let his instructions mold our own talks with God each day.

Luke 10

Read Luke 10.

Joy is a major theme of the Bible. It isn’t emphasized a lot by preachers like me because it isn’t hard doctrine. Yet it is a theme that is interwoven throughout the Old and New Testaments and is described throughout scripture as an outgrowth of walking with God (for instance, “The fruit of the Spirit is… joy” (Gal 5:22).

In this chapter of Luke, Jesus prayed “full of joy through the Holy Spirit” (v. 21a) for God’s plan to bless the simple with salvation instead of those who believe themselves to be sophisticated (v. 21b). But in the same context, he cautioned the 72 disciples about the source of their joy. After a successful short-term missions trip, they “returned with joy and said, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.’” Their joy, it seems, stemmed from their success using the spiritual power Christ had delegated to them. Power can cause pride so our Lord warned them about Satan’s fall (v. 18) and encouraged them not to find their joy in power but instead to “rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (v. 20b).

Our Lord Jesus Christ rescued us from an eternity of misery apart from God. He rescued us from the darkness of living apart from God and his truth. He adopted us into his family and conferred on us all the rights and privileges of sonship, even treating us as if we were as righteous as Jesus is even though we are not. He gave us spiritual power to accomplish anything and everything he calls us to do for his kingdom work. It is his grace and mercy to us and the promises he has made to us about the future that really matter. These are the things God wants us to rejoice about, not what we have done or can do or will do. Whenever the source of joy is about us, we are in danger of pride; whenever it is about God, we have joy as a blessing.

This is a great truth to start the week. God wants you to have joy and the source of that joy is him and all that he has done for us and will do for us. I hope you live today in that joy, rejoicing in God’s grace and goodness to us.