1 Timothy 2

Read 1 Timothy 2.

One of the common objections heard against our faith is that it is exclusive. If Jesus is the only way to God, then what about people who worship God through other religions? Will they miss salvation even though they have a desire to know God?

The answer is yes, according to verse 5 of our passage today: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.”

It is common to hear that every religion is worshipping the same God, just by a different name. The Bible, however, calls worship of any other god than the true God idolatry. The reason is that “there is one God.” Verse 5 went on to say that there is “one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.” The only way to know the one true God, to worship him, and receive his forgiveness is through Jesus.

Why?

Because he “gave himself as a ransom.”

Only the death of Christ on our behalf made reconciliation with God possible. Any other religion, in addition to saying things about God that contradict the Christian description of God, lacks a solution to the problem of sin.

But notice the next phrase in verse 6: “…for all people.” This truth goes against the idea that our faith is unjustly exclusive.

Our faith is exclusive in the sense that there is only one way–Jesus. He is the exclusive way to God.

But our faith is not exclusive in the sense that it is restricted to only one type of person. The salvation Jesus purchased, and the good news about knowing God he brought us, is for every kind of person on earth–Jew or Gentile, slave or free, wealthy or poor, male or female, Japanese or Lebanese, or any other way that people can be categorized.

This is why Paul began this chapter by urging us to pray “for all people” (v. 1). We should pray for the gospel to go everywhere there are people. In verse 2, Paul specified that we should pray “for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives….” This is a request for the authorities of the world to leave us alone so that the gospel can advance to all the world without interference or persecution.

When you pray today, remember to pray for the world. Specifically, pray that people all over the world will learn about the one true God and the one mediator, the man–our Lord–Christ Jesus. Pray that those who are taking the gospel everywhere will do so without being persecuted or interfered with so that all kinds of people will be “saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” (v. 4).

Pray also for our government here in the U.S.–not that Team A or Team B will will win the next election but that whoever wins will leave us alone to spread the gospel message. That is the message of 1 Timothy 2:1-8.

Mark 14

Read Mark 14.

Dependability is a great personal characteristic. Most people, I think, want to be someone that others can trust to be there in any situation.

Peter did. He had a close friendship with Jesus and a fierce determination to stand with Jesus no matter what. Christ warned the disciples, “You will all fall away” in verse 27. He even quoted scripture (Zechariah 13:7) to prove his point. Peter spoke right up to say, “Not me. Not me, Lord. You can count on me, no matter what.” Or, to quote rather than paraphrase verse 29, “Peter declared, ‘Even if all fall away, I will not.’”

Jesus pushed back and said, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times” (v. 30). Instead of pleading with Jesus for his grace to prevent that from happening, Peter raised his promise to say, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you” (v. 31).

Of course, Jesus was right and in verses 66-72 Peter did exactly what Christ had prophesied. Instead of standing and dying with Christ, Peter did everything he could to distance himself from Jesus. The reason, of course, was fear that he would also be crucified with Christ–exactly the thing he told Jesus he was ready to do. But, when “it got real” as they say these days, Peter’s bravado didn’t hold up.

One reason why this passage was given to us is to show us the tender mercy of Jesus. Peter failed Jesus but Jesus loved him and restored him anyway. Perseverance in the faith is taught in scripture and is an important doctrine for believers to understand. But most, if not all of us, will fail to stand for Jesus in some way or other at some time in our lives. Either we will be ashamed of something in his word that the world ridicules or we will not identify with his people because of fear. If this has happened to you and you feel the shame that Peter felt in this passage, take heart! Jesus is loving and forgiving even when we don’t follow him perfectly.

How does this passage square with the doctrine of perseverance? Remember, perseverance is the truth that those who are truly regenerated and belong to Jesus will follow him from the time of their salvation until the end of their lives, continuing and growing in faith and good works.

How do Peter’s failures not contradict this doctrine?

The answer is that Peter did not renounce Christ in his heart; he allowed fear to keep him from honestly affirming what was true. Peter did not genuinely fall away from Jesus; he distanced himself from Jesus because he was afraid, even though he still believed in Jesus.

Perseverance does not make us immune to failure. It means that we will, by the grace of God, grow strong enough to overcome our failures and stand for Christ as we grow in maturity. That happened to Peter. In the very text where Jesus restored Peter (John 21), he also prophesied that he would die for Christ someday (John21:18-19). This prophecy of Christ was fulfilled, too. God was gracious to Peter and strengthened the man who failed until he became the dependable disciple he aspired to be in Gethsemane.

May God continue this growing, stabilizing work in our lives, too. Confess and forget your failures to stand for Christ and call on his grace to strengthen you in the future when you are put to the test for him.

Mark 12

Read Mark 12.

Last year, a man on the University of Michigan’s board of regents and his wife offered to give $3 million to help build a multicultural center on campus. The university accepted their offer (of course) and offered to name the building after them. Students, however, objected because the building was to be named after another man and it would have been the only building on campus named after a minority–in this case, an African-American. In response to the objections, the university changed their plans and decided to keep the original name. And, the couple who offered to donate the $3 million changed their minds and rescinded the offer. Strangely, however, they claimed publicly that getting their names on the building was not a condition of their offer. They also claimed that they usually give privately to philanthropy.

If these things are true, then why not leave the original $3 million pledge in place since it was not, they claim, pledged on the condition of having the building named after them?

Regardless of how they came to their decision, you and I both know that wealthy people like to get their names on stuff when they give a lot of money. So many buildings on U of M’s campus are named after wealthy people who donated money to the university. Some of the amounts given by these people is extraordinary. That’s why the university wants to honor them by putting their name on something.

Here in Mark 12, however, Jesus was not impressed by the people who paid a lot to the temple (vv. 41-42). Instead of being impressed with the “large amounts” (v. 41b), Jesus was impressed by the small amount given by the widow (vv. 42-44). Although her amount was small in cash value, her gift was incredibly generous because it was “everything–all she had to live on” (v. 44). Her generosity made the big impression on Jesus, not the absolute dollar amount.

Why?

Because it takes a lot of faith to give all the cash you have in the world to the Lord’s work. Others may have given huge amounts but their gifts were much smaller when compared to their overall income or wealth. It was a genuine sacrifice for this woman to give as much as she did; for everyone else, it didn’t hurt at all.

Have you ever given extravagantly like this woman did–not in the total dollar amount you gave but in the percentage of your income you gave? If not, learn the lesson from today’s passage. God doesn’t need your help or mine to care and provide for his work; instead, he invites us by faith to be part of it so that he can reward us for our faith in him. So trust him with your money and invest in God’s work.

Mark 11

Read Mark 11.

In verse 23, did Jesus really mean that you could order a mountain into the sea if you prayed with enough faith?

The short answer is yes, he really meant it.

But…

It is important to keep some things in mind here when we look at this text, or one like it.

First, Mark 11 is a strong kingdom text. It began with Jesus entering Jerusalem on a colt, fulfilling the Messianic prophecy of Zechariah 9:9b, “See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” See Matthew 21:5 also. This entire week–the passion week before Christ was crucified–was designed by God to show Israel that the true Messiah was here.

So Jesus did some very unusual things (even for him) to demonstrate his identity as Messiah. For instance, Jesus’ “triumphal entry” (vv. 1-11) was not the way he normally entered Jerusalem… or any other town for that matter. Also, the way he unilaterally cleared the temple (vv. 15-17) was unusual, too, though he probably did it once before.

The way Jesus cursed the fig tree was also unusual; not that he used his divine authority as Lord to do a miracle but that he cursed something rather than blessing it. Furthermore, the fig tree miracle had no other function than to demonstrate his Lordship to the disciples (vv. 12-14, 20-21). Jesus could have ordered the fig tree to immediately make figs and that would have happened. Instead, he cursed the tree for not making figs so that his disciples would see–again–that he had authority over everything, including nature.

That curse on the fig tree set up Jesus’ teaching on faith and prayer here in verses 22-25. Preparing the disciples for that teaching was the point of the curse but the entire of this chapter was to show us Jesus acting in a more overtly king-like, Messianic way. Jesus was about to be rejected and crucified–all according to God’s plan–but not before he gave everyone a look at what an authoritative king he would be. This text on faith was for the disciples to show them that his kingdom power would continue to work as they acted according to his will for the promotion of his kingdom. If moving a mountain was necessary for the promotion of his kingdom, the disciples would have been able to do it by faith in God’s power. But if they just wanted to re-arrange someone’s backyard by getting rid of that pesky mountain, well… there’s no good kingdom reason for that.

A second consideration for interpreting verse 23 is that Jesus often spoke using a literary device called “hyperbole.” Hyperbole means wildly overstating something for a powerful communication effect. We do this, too, when we say that we called someone “a million times” when we really just called twice. Jesus spoke in hyperbole often, such as when he told us to cut off a hand that causes us to sin. I’m not saying that Jesus was insincere about the power of “mountain moving faith” but I am saying he chose that image to show us how much power God would place at our disposal if we believed him and used it in service to him, not so that we could rearrange the world’s topography on a whim.

So, did Jesus really mean that you can order a mountain into the sea if you have enough faith? Yes, he meant it. But, the people who needed that power most were the original disciples, not us. If this miraculous power is for us, not only do you need faith without a doubt, you also need a good kingdom reason for it.

If a mountain stands between you and a mission God gives to you, I think you can use Jesus’ authority to move that mountain. But, let’s face it, a lot of our prayer requests aren’t kingdom or mission focused. They are for our comfort more than for God’s glory. God does not tire of hearing people ask him to help them through routine surgery, but I wonder if he is saddened that we never ask him for anything else.

If you want to live for God in this world, you will need God’s power for spiritual things such as:

  • forgiving someone who has sinned against you
  • overcoming an addiction
  • praying for an opportunity to witness to someone for Christ
  • asking God to help someone else who is stuck in sin
  • receiving grace to accept something you wish he would change (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).

If we believed God in these areas and asked him to move those metaphoric mountains for us, can you believe that we would see him working more powerfully in our lives and in our church?

Acts 22

Read Acts 22.

On Friday we read about Paul’s return to Jerusalem, his attempt to mollify the Jewish people by submitting to a Jewish purification rite, and his arrest which had been foretold repeatedly by the Holy Spirit. At the end of Acts 21, Paul asked his arrestors for a chance to speak to the crowd that had rioted.

Today’s chapter, Acts 22, recorded that speech.

Given this opportunity to speak to such a large number of his fellow Jews, what did Paul say?

He gave his personal testimony.

He began with his background as a carefully observant Jew from the Pharisaic tradition (vv. 1-3). He moved to his persecution of Christians for their divergent beliefs (vv. 4-5). He described his conversion experience on the road to Damascus (vv. 6-13) and his commission to reach the Gentiles with the good news about Jesus (vv. 14-21).

People can reject arguments and counter them with other arguments but it is extremely difficult to argue with someone’s personal experience. The personal experience of another person is also very persuasive, one of the most persuasive forms of communication. Paul’s testimony here did not get him released, but it did give him an opportunity to witness for Christ.

A straight up sermon about Jesus would have been interrupted a lot sooner, probably, than Paul’s testimony was here so this was a wise way to use the opportunity.

Do you realize how powerful your personal testimony can be when you speak to others about Christ?

You don’t have to have a dramatic Damascus road-type conversion story. In fact, if you were saved as a child, your testimony might focus more on what being a Christian has meant to your life than about how much you changed from when you were an 8 year old contract killer or whatever.

Let Paul’s example here encourage you to think about your testimony and write it out even to help you be prepared to share Christ when the door to speak for Jesus opens.

Romans 1

Today we begin reading the book of Romans, so read Romans 1 today.

As we’ve read the book of Acts, we have stopped here and there to read Paul’s letters around the points chronologically where scholars think they were written. In other words, Acts 19 described Paul’s two year stay in Ephesus. After reading Acts 19, we stopped to read 1 & 2 Corinthians because there are good reasons to believe that Paul wrote 1 & 2 Corinthians during his time in Ephesus. In Acts 19:21, Paul described his desire to go to Jerusalem but to stop in the regions of Greece (Macedonia & Achaia) on his way. 2 Corinthians described his coming visit. Also in Acts 19:21, Paul described his desire to visit Rome. At the end of Romans (Rom 15:28-29), Paul described his coming trip to Jerusalem and his intention to visit Rome after he went to Jerusalem.

Here in Romans 1:10b-11a we read, “I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you. I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong….” So the book of Romans was a letter designed to prepare the believers in for Paul’s intended visit after he went to Jerusalem. That’s why we’re reading Romans now.

Paul had not yet been to Rome as an apostle, so the church that existed there was not one that he founded. In this letter to the Romans, Paul laid out his doctrine of the gospel so that the Roman church would understand their faith better and would receive him and support him as he intended to go further out to Spain (see Rom 15:23-24). He began by summarizing his doctrine of Christianity (vv. 1-4) and his commission to preach the gospel (v. 5). Then he described his prayers for the believers in Rome (vv. 8-10) and his desire to visit them (vv. 11-15).

Starting in verse 16, Paul transitioned to the gospel. He wrote first about the greatness of the gospel in verses 16-17, then about the universal human need for it (vv. 18-32). Humanity’s rejection of God (vv. 18-23) and the deep-rooted sinfulness that results from rejecting God (vv. 24-32) are the source of all human problems. Some human problems–like sickness and death–are not cured by the gospel in this life. Instead, the gospel holds a promise for deliverance from those in the life to come. But every other human problem, the things that take up the first page of every day’s newspaper, are caused by people rejecting God and cured by the gospel. Very often we try to make things more complicated than they really are. We think that typical human issues like materialism, homosexuality, murder, gossip, arrogance, disobedient children, and other problems are caused by insecurity, lack of love, poor parenting, fear, poverty, hopelessness, and other psychological issues. While all of those things may be factors in why people act as they do, they are not the cause. All these things and others are human responses to rejecting God. The cure is Christ–who died for our sins in order to save us from these problems and an eternity apart from God. Paul stated in verse 16 that he was not ashamed of the gospel because it was God’s power to save all who believe its message of deliverance. What the disobedient child (v. 30) needs is salvation in Jesus. The same is true for those eaten alive by envy (v. 29b), those who kill (v. 29b), those who exploit others for financial gain (aka, the greedy, v. 29a), homosexuals (vv. 26-27), and every other sinner. People need forgiveness, rescue, and reconciliation with God more than they need better coping strategies, more powerful drugs, or a happier childhood. That is what the gospel offers.

As you and I live in this world, we meet people who are stuck in these and other problems. We may offer sympathy to those who are suffering, advice to those who are confused, and even prayer but do we offer the gospel? That’s where the power of God to save resides. Don’t be ashamed of the simple message that Christ died for our sins; use it to rescue sinners for the glory of God.

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.