1 Kings 18, Amos 4, 1 Peter 4

Today read 1 Kings 18, Amos 4, and 1 Peter 4. This devotional is about 1 Peter 4.

Suffering is a key theme in this book and in this chapter. Persecution was the type of suffering that caused Peter to write these words (vv. 12-16), but he knew that what he taught about suffering applied to any kind of suffering caused by doing what is right (v. 4).

People who are doing what is right suffer and are persecuted for one reason–to silence them. Whenever we witness for Christ, we point out to unbelievers that they are sinners and accountable to God for their sins. Unless the Spirit moves to create repentance, that message of the gospel will be offensive to unbelievers.

It is not just our words of witness that cause conviction, guilt, and retaliation in unbelievers, however. The godly choices we make to live a sober, disciplined life are offensive to unbelievers as well. Verse 3 here in 1 Peter described how pagans live, “in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.” Those who live this way due to unbelief “are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you” (v. 4). That last phrase, “they heap abuse on you,” shows how convicting a godly life is to the unsaved-ungodly. The “heap abuse” to try to silence us, to get us to conform to the undisciplined norm.

Peter discussed persecution at the beginning of this chapter (vv. 1-6) and at the end (vv. 12-18). In between those two paragraphs, he commanded us to serve each other within the church in various ways, reminding us that our service to each other is ultimately done by God through us, for God and for his glory (vv. 7-11).

This section on service is not a digression, however. It is important to the teaching on suffering and persecution because the point of persecution (and any suffering brought on by Satan) is to shut down your witness for Christ and your service for him. If God’s enemies can discourage you, they can stop you from witnessing and from serving the body of Christ.

So what do you do if you feel discouraged by how people treat you as a Christian?

Two things: First, remember that God’s enemies will be held accountable (vv. 5, 17-18). Second, have faith in God. As verse 19 put it, “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” That last part, “continue to do good” is so important. Don’t let the insults and discouragements of others stop you from serving the Lord! Part living life by faith is to continue to do what is right even when you don’t want to. What kind of faith would you need if you only served and obeyed God when you felt like it? But if you commit yourself to him and keep serving him when you are discouraged, then you will be living by faith.

Are you feeling some sort of affliction? Let this passage encourage you not to give up–don’t give up trusting Christ, don’t give up serving him, don’t give up living a godly life, and don’t give up testifying of his grace. He is with you in this and whatever you are suffering is happening “according to God’s will” (v. 19). He allowed it and will use it to strengthen and grow you, so don’t give up!

Deuteronomy 23, Jeremiah 15, 2 Corinthians 1

Read Deuteronomy 23, Jeremiah 15, and 2 Corinthians 1 today. This devotional is about Jeremiah 15.

One of the themes that keeps recurring in Jeremiah is that God’s decree to punish Judah was set. As verse 1 says, “Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me, my heart would not go out to this people. Send them away from my presence! Let them go!” The judgment had been passed and the sentence was settled. Pain was on the way: “And if they ask you, ‘Where shall we go?’ tell them, ‘This is what the Lord says:“‘Those destined for death, to death; those for the sword, to the sword; those for starvation, to starvation; those for captivity, to captivity.’” So there would be more than one way to suffer God’s wrath.

Because God kept saying it was too late for Judah to avoid his wrath, Jeremiah started to think about his own skin. In verses 15-17a the prophet made his case for why God should protect him from these painful curses. But, in verse 17b-18, he began complaining about the psychological toll that speaking for God and living for God was having on him. He had no friends (“I sat alone…”) because everyone else was reveling in sin while he was seething over their ungodly lifestyles. In verse 18, then, he charged God with misleading him: “You are to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails.” He had accepted God’s word (v. 16) and delighted in it but instead of finding it to be a source of joy and life for him, he was paying this social and emotional price and wanted to know why.

God answered the prophet in verse 19 not by explaining Himself but by calling Jeremiah to repent. God promised to save him (v. 21) but Jeremiah had to stop whining about his plight and, instead, speak for God unapologetically and alone. People might try to befriend him but he was not to return their affection (v. 19f-g). They would try to defeat him (v. 20) but he simply had to trust in God.

This is a difficult message, yes? Stand alone and I’ll save you but if you don’t, you’ll get all the same punishment as everyone else despite the fact that you did not engage in their many sins against God.

This, then, is similar to Jesus’s call to discipleship. “Hate everyone and follow me” Jesus said “or you can’t be my disciple.” “Take up your cross everyday and follow me” and I will be with you. In God’s grace, we don’t really do discipleship alone as Jeremiah did. We have each other in the church. Our spiritual family may not replace the emotional pain of losing our literal family, but it does provide us with love and encouragement and hope. So, we’re better off than Jeremiah was in that way.

But the call to follow Jesus can be a lonely and costly one. It can tempt us, at times, to question the promises God made to us (v. 18). It is no fun to lose friends or be attacked for speaking the truth, but it is what God calls us to do.

Are you facing any situations where the social cost of discipleship is getting to you? God sustained and protected Jeremiah and he will watch over you, too. So don’t give up the truth to fit in; wait for the Lord and trust in him.

Numbers 25, Isaiah 48, 1 Thessalonians 3

Read Numbers 25, Isaiah 48, and 1 Thessalonians 3 today. This devotional is

Persecution was a factor in Paul’s relationship to the church in Thessalonica. First, they suffered persecution for their faith in Christ (vv. 3-4). We read a brief description of this in Acts 17:5-9 when a man named Jason and “some other believers” (v. 5) faced legal charges for letting Paul and his team stay in their home. Maybe there was more–possibly much more–trouble that the Thessalonian believers faced beyond what Luke described in Acts 17. Paul was concerned that this persecution would supplant the gospel and that those who had responded to Paul’s message would not endure (v. 5).

Paul himself also continued to experience persecution in some of the places he traveled and the good report Timothy brought about the faith of the Thessalonians encouraged him (vv. 6-7). That caused Paul to ask God to allow him to return to Thessalonica (vv. 10-11). In the meantime, he continued to pray for their spiritual growth and strength (vv. 12-13).

There are times in our lives when someone we love is physically separated from us. It might be a child away at college, a spouse away on a business trip, a brother or sister who lives in another state. We have phones and texting and other ways of communication that help keep those relationship bonds strong. But we don’t see the person we love, so we may wonder if they are dealing with temptations or giving into temptations we know they face. We may wonder if they are involved in a church and if they are continuing to grow in their faith by spending time in the word and prayer. These are all godly concerns but the best answer to them is to pray. Pray for God to protect the faith of those you love who are away. Pray that the Lord would keep them from temptation and strengthen them to do right if they are tempted. Ask God to give them a hunger for his word so that they keep growing in grace. This is the best way to exercise faith in a situation like this so let  your concern for a believer you love lead you to pray for that person often and specifically for his or her spiritual life.

Leviticus 23, Isaiah 21, Acts 8

Read Leviticus 23, Isaiah 21, and Acts 8 today. This devotional is about Acts 8.

When Stephen was martyred in Acts 7, two distinct–but related–things happened next. First, a man named Saul became part of the story of the New Testament church (v. 1). Second, “a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem.” The result of this persecution was that “all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.”

Now think about that phrase–“all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria” and this verse from Acts 1:8b: “…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Keeping those two verses in mind, remember how people who lived in other areas of Israel and even other countries stayed in Jerusalem because they were enjoying so much worship and teaching and fellowship and evangelism together. The incredible joy they had as the church was growing was keeping them from doing the mission Jesus sent them to do.

So God allowed persecution to disperse the first church to “Judea and Samaria.”

And it worked because according to verse 4 here in Acts 8, “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” Persecution is the hostile response of unbelief toward the gospel. Sometimes God in his grace restrains unbelievers from persecuting His people and we enjoy seasons of peace; other times God allows persecution to come to purify us and to disperse us into the world to spread the good news in other places where it is needed.

On a smaller level, God works this way in our lives, too. When we get too comfortable, complacent even, in our faith, God allows trials into our lives to purify us and to re-focus our attention on him and his work. Don’t fear, then, trials or even persecutions that may come in your life sooner or later; use them as opportunities to grow in your faith and to bring you into new opportunities to share the Lord’s word.

Exodus 14, Job 32, Psalms 27-29

Today., read Exodus 14, Job 32, and Psalms 27-29. This devotional is about Exodus 14.

Humanly speaking, Israel was in deep trouble. Though God had delivered them using the plauges, Pharaoh quickly realized how much productivity would be lost when the Israelites left Egypt (v. 5). With “horses and chariots, horsemen and troops” (v. 9), the Egyptian army pursued Israel. Despite all that God had done—inflicting horrible plagues on the Egyptians while simultaneously protecting the Israelites—Israel was terrified when the Egyptian army approached. And who wouldn’t be? Israel had no army, no weapons; they had the Red Sea before them and the Egyptian army behind them. It was a hopeless situation, humanly speaking. All they had was this promise: “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (v. 14)

That promise was all they needed: “That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore “ (v. 30). When Israel trusted God’s promises and obeyed God’s command, God saved them from certain destruction.

When we read a passage like this, there is a strong tendency for Christians to generalize the Lord’s work here and apply to any difficult situation. “The Lord will fight for us,” we think, when we are in a financial crunch or a personal dispute or some other unpleasant problem.

But that cheapens the miracle that God literally did for Israel; it treats God’s work like a myth or a fable, a story told to teach a lesson rather than a historical account of God’s work. So, instead, we should understand that God protected Israel because God had made promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel and those promises were both unfulfilled and necessary to God’s larger plan to bring redemption through Israel’s Messiah, Jesus.

But there is still truth here for us which is that God keeps his promises and preserves his people. While God may allow some of his people to be persecuted and martyred, he will protect his church—collectively—against the attacks of Satan (cf. Matt 16:18). He will even fight miraculously for them in the future (cf. Rev 19:11-21).

God’s promise to us is not that he will never allow us to be attacked or defeated but that he is with us “always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:20). No matter what God allows in your life or to the church in general, we have the promise of his presence with us, whether in victory or in suffering. The truth to take away from this passage is the same one that Israel took from this incident:  “And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant” (v. 31).” We should fear God and trust him, no matter what happens, because God always keeps his promises and works his will through the circumstances we face in life.

Exodus 5, Job 22, Hebrews 11

Read Exodus 5, Job 22, and Hebrews 11 today. This devotional is about Exodus 5.

With God’s direct command, some impressive miracles at his disposal, and the promise of success, you would think that getting the Israelites out of Egypt would be snap-your-fingers simple for Moses.

Right? It should have been like riding a bicycle downhill with the wind at your back.

Not so much.

The first attempt Moses made to persuade Pharaoh was a spectacular failure. Not only did Pharaoh say no, he punished the Israelites for asking (vv. 6-18). Like dominoes falling and knocking down the next, Pharaoh’s punishment caused the Jewish men and women Moses was trying to lead to turn against him. In verse 21 they said, “May the Lord look on you and judge you! You have made us obnoxious to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”

Moses himself was less than thrilled with God. In verses 22-23 we read, “Moses returned to the Lord and said, ‘Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.’” Moses began his ministry very reluctant to do what God commanded him to do and, then when he did it despite his reluctance, God made things worse for His people, not better! You can almost hear the frustration in Moses’s voice when he said, Pharaoh “has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all” (v. 23).

Unfortunately for us, this is God’s typical way. God does not promise that a life of faith will be easy; he does not make all opposition disappear after our first act of obedience.

Sometimes, in fact, things get worse and harder for us before we see any fruit or success for our labor. But, when we persevere in faith and continue in good works, God is faithful. The trials we face for our obedience make us stronger; they also cause us to see God’s greatness and power in even more magnificent ways.

So don’t quit believing in God or give up obeying him when things don’t immediately fall into place. Keep serving, keep trusting, be faithful. As Galatians 6:9 says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

So don’t give up before “the proper time” of harvest arrives.

1 Kings 17, Ezekiel 47

Today’s scheduled Bible readings are 1 Kings 17 and Ezekiel 47.

Yesterday in 1 Kings 16 we saw that Ahab was sold out to evil like no king Israel ever had before (1 Ki 16:30). Based on that description of Ahab, we might expect that Ahab’s reign in Israel was a dark time for the Northern Kingdom spiritually and morally. Our expectation is correct; the Northern Kingdom was always far from God both spiritually and morally. It was born in rebellion to God’s Davidic king, worshipped idols from the very beginning of its separation from Judah, and was led by 20 kings who all did evil in the sight of God. In response to Israel’s sinful ways—particularly the evil leadership of king Ahab, God sent his prophet Elijah to proclaim judgment on Israel. Verse 1 told us that Elijah’s message was, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” This drought would naturally lead to famine which would ravage Israel’s farm-based economy and cause many people to suffer and die.

What’s interesting about today’s passage is that the focus is not on the devastation God brought on Israel, but on the provision God brought to his servant Elijah. At a time when food and water were scarce, Elijah just had to hang out near a water source and God miraculously brought him food carried by ravens (vv. 2-6). Then, when the drought caused the brook he depended on for water to dry up, God sent him to a person who could take care of him. But she was a very unlikely caretaker. Instead of sending him to a godly man of wealthy means, God sent him to a widow. This widow lived outside the land of Israel; verse 9 told us that he was sent to “Zarephath in the region of Sidon.” This town was located near the Mediterranean Sea and was a good distance north of the most northern tribes of Israel. Widows, typically, struggled to survive themselves, having no husband to work and provide for the family in an age and economy where everyone in the family had to work hard for the family merely to survive. God told Elijah, “I have directed a widow there to supply you with food” (v. 9b) which suggests that she knew Elijah was coming beforehand. Yet when he arrived and asked her for food, she said, “As surely as the Lord your God lives… I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die” (v. 12). Not exactly an ancient version of Costco, was she? Yet Elijah believed the Lord’s word; he comforted her by telling her not to be afraid (v. 13a) but to do trust the Lord’s provision by making food for Elijah first, then for herself and her son (v. 13b-c). This command was based on God’s promise in verse 14: “For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’” Amazingly, she believed the Lord’s promise and God provided for her, her son, AND Elijah day after day after day (vv. 15-16).

Then, as if her daily test of faith were not enough, it was tested again when her son died (vv. 17-19). She reacted as anyone would in this kind of tragedy. Why would God keep her son alive day after day from starvation only to see him die prematurely from illness? But God listened to Elijah’s prayer and restored his life (vv. 20-23). The purpose of these miracles was to authenticate the message of Elijah: “Then the woman said to Elijah, ‘Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.’” The point of this story was to show how God provided for those who trusted in him, even in a dark time spiritually for the nation of Israel. His provision required constant faith, but he never failed to live up to his promise. And, like he did with Elijah, God calls us to trust him and live according to his word and his promises even when times look bleak spiritually and economically.

Every time we elect a new president here in the United States, the side that loses believes that the end is near. Let’s consider that: What if someday we elect the most ungodly person to ever occupy the oval office, someone determined to stamp out biblical Christianity? Can God provide for us if we are ruled and even persecuted by unsaved and ungodly people? Of course he can but we have to look to him in faith. Think about the possible anxiety Elijah might have faced. What if the ravens don’t show up with any food today? What if this is the day that the widow’s flour and oil run out? Each day was a test of faith for these people, but God was faithful. May we have the grace to trust him no matter what kind of trial of faith we face in the days ahead.