Philippians 3

Read Philippians 3.

In many of the places where Paul founded churches, he faced immediate opposition and follow-up opposition. Immediate opposition refers to the persecutions he faced from locals–sometimes Jewish, sometimes Gentile–who were opposed to the growing gospel message. We read about these frequently in the book of Acts. Although there was much opposition, God saved his chosen ones and a new church was founded.

“Follow-up opposition,” as I referred to it in the previous paragraph, has to do with the infiltration of false teachers in the churches that were established.

It is in Paul’s letters, not the book of Acts, where we learn about this type of opposition. There were different types of false teachers–for instance, the church at Ephesus faced a different kind of threat from false teachers than the church at Colossae faced. But one type of false teaching that these new churches faced was from a group that has been called “the Judaizers.” This was a group of Jewish people who went to these Gentile churches. They would tell the new Gentile converts to Christ that the men had to be circumcised (ouch!) and all of them needed to start obeying the Law of Moses.

Here in Philippians 2:2, Paul warned the Philippian church about this group when he said, “Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision….” The point of these words was to tell the believers that there was nothing deficient about their relationship to God. Christ fulfilled the Law so there was no need to be obedient to it any longer. We saw this in the remainder of verse 3 when we read, “it is we… who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh.” The phrase, “boast in Christ Jesus” is a short-hand way of speaking about how Christ has kept the law for us.

Theologians call this “the active obedience of Christ” and, like his death (which they call his “passive obedience”) it is credited (imputed) to us at the time of our salvation. God wants his people to know that everything that was necessary for them to be right with God was fully accomplished in Christ. There is no act of positive obedience you must do to be declared right before God nor is there any personal sacrifice you must make to be declared right before God.

In verses 4-6 Paul described his personal religious credentials. More (v. 4b) than any Judaizer who might come to Philippi, Paul was religiously qualified under Judaism to obtain “righteousness based on the law” (v. 6b). But in verses 7-11, Paul described how being justified by faith in Christ was so much better than the (theoretical) righteousness a law abiding Jew might think he has. He wrote in verse 9 that he wanted to “be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” Because of this salvation by faith, he pursued knowing Christ and living for him (vv. 10-14) as all mature believers should (v. 15).

Today there are groups who call themselves Christians but emphasize the need to obey the Law. Some of these people are Jewish; others (like the Jehovah’s Witnesses or Catholics) are simply legalistic. Many people find a feeling of spirituality by performing rituals and rites or by obedience to some Old Testament dietary command. But the books of the New Testament–and this chapter is an excellent example–teach clearly that Christ has done everything you ever need to be right with God.

Obedience to him is a matter of loving service, not a matter of earning his favor. So don’t ever let anyone tell you that you need faith in Jesus plus something else–some ritual or obedience to some command. Christ is all we need and in him is hidden all the riches of wisdom and knowledge. Our goal as believers, then, is “to know him” (v. 10). That’s what the Christian life is all about.

Acts 24

Today’s reading is Acts 24.

Paul was taken from Jerusalem to Caesarea to protect his life from a plot by his Jewish opponents at the end of yesterday’s reading in Acts 23. Five days (v. 1) after Paul arrived in Caesarea, his Jewish opponents showed up there to charge him with stirring up conflict among the Jews (vv. 2-9). Paul answered the charges against him by appealing to what actually happened and the lack of proof his opponents had for their charges (vv. 10-13). Paul skillfully wove the gospel into his defense starting in verse 14. Felix, the governor who was handling this case, punted the case to a later date (vv. 22-23).

But a few days later, Felix and his wife Drusilla set up a private meeting with Paul (vv. 24-26). This meeting allowed Paul to specifically bring the gospel to this couple. An interesting aspect of this is that Felix was a Gentile, a Roman governor, but his wife Drusilla was Jewish (v. 24b).

So Paul had a mixed audience religiously when he spoke to this couple.

How did he handle this opportunity?

According to verse 25, “Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come….” Let’s break that down:

  • “righteousness” refers to what is right, how someone measures up to a standard. In this case, the standard is God’s perfect holiness as revealed in his Law.
  • “self-control” has to do with a person’s ability to say no to his sinful impulses and choose to do what is right instead.
  • “judgment to come” of course, refers to the fact that every person will stand before God to give an account of his or her life.

In other words, Paul spoke to Felix and Drusilla about right and wrong, about their inability to control themselves enough to do what is right, and about the fact that God would judge them individually for doing what was wrong.

What was the reaction?

“Felix was afraid and said, ‘That’s enough for now! You may leave…” (v. 25b). In other words, Paul’s conversation with them caused Felix to feel the conviction of sin and his need for a savior.

Unfortunately, he did not repent at Paul’s teaching and find forgiveness in Christ. But once again Paul’s approach when talking to him is instructive for us when we speak about Christ to unbelievers.

Almost any point of sin is an adequate starting point for the gospel.

When you are talking with an unbeliever, if they complain about an injustice in the news or about crime or about the lack of self-control they see in others or in young people, that is an opportunity to talk about Christ.

Why do people dislike it when others can’t exercise self-control? Because an uncontrolled population is dangerous and difficult to live in. But what standard do unbelievers use to complain about the sins, injustices, and failures of self-control in others? They appeal to God’s standards, even though they may not know it or even may deny it.

The Bible says that the law is written on the heart of every human. That means that we have an intuitive sense of right and wrong. Use that! Show them how they too fall short of the standards they apply to others and admit to them that you, too, fall short but that Jesus didn’t. This will give you the opportunity to share what Christ has done for us to deliver us from the coming judgment of God at the end of the age.

Romans 10

Read Romans 10 today.

In this chapter, Paul continued discussing the unbelief of his people Israel. He spoke directly about his desire and prayer for the salvation of his countrymen (v. 1). Then he reflected on his own experience and concluded, “Yes, we Jews are very enthusiastic about God, but not according to knowledge” (v. 2).

And what was the knowledge they lacked?

That righteousness comes from God (v. 3) to “everyone who believes” (v. 4b). Since they did not know this, they “sought to establish their own” righteousness (v. 3b).

Verses 4-13 contrasts the “righteousness for everyone who believes” (v. 4) with the “righteousness that is by the law” (v. 5). The righteousness that comes by the law is given to those who obey the law; as verse 5b put it, “The person who does these things will live by them.” That’s the promise of righteousness by the law–do what the law says and you will live.

Israel’s history–and yours and mine, too–shows that we can’t keep the law. Because we are sinners, as we saw in Romans 7, we can’t keep God’s law even when we want to–and most of the time, we don’t want to.

That’s why Christ came. He is, according to verse 4, “the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” He kept the law we could not keep in order to give us the righteousness we could not earn. The way to righteousness (that is, “to be right with God”) is by faith in Christ (vv. 9-13). This has always been the case as we see from Paul’s quotations of the Old Testament here in Romans 10:

  • v. 8 quotes from Deuteronomy 30:14
  • v. 11 quotes from Isaiah 28:16
  • v. 13 quotes form Joel 2:32

This is why God sends his servants into the world–to spread the message, the good news, of righteousness before God in Jesus Christ (v. 15). As we share the good news, we must remember that people are saved not through our slick presentation or clever arguments; rather, “faith comes from hearing the message,(Y) and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (v. 17). The message itself carries the ability to create faith in those God has chosen.

So, let’s be faithful about carrying the message!

Romans 6

Read Romans 6.

In Romans 5, which we read yesterday, the Scriptures taught that the law produced sin and sin produced death (5:12-14). Sin was, in fact, multiplied by the law (v. 20) but the grace of Jesus also became more abundant where sin increased (vv. 20b-21).

Today in chapter 6, Paul raised the question, “Should we sin more so that there will be more grace?” (v. 1). Verse 2 quickly answered that question with a strong, NO!, then the rest of the chapter went on to explain why. Spiritually, we have been buried with Christ and raised to new life with him (vv. 2-4). Our new life in Christ has freed us from the power of sin (vv. 5-7). On that basis, we should consider ourselves dead to sin but alive to God (vv. 8-11) and, therefore, not allow sin to reign in our bodies (vv. 12-15).

Verse 15 asked a similar question to verse 1. Both the question in verse 1 and the question in verse 15 raised the possibility of us sinning. Verse 1 wondered if we should sin since sin makes grace more abundant. Verse 15 asks if we should sin because we’re not under the law but under grace. The implication of verse 15’s question seems to be, “If grace covers us, shouldn’t we just sin as freely as we want to?”

Paul’s answer again was, “No” because sin enslaves us while righteousness, which God saved us for, frees us (vv. 15-18). In verses 19-23, we were reminded that sin is deeply destructive. We quote Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death…” when we give the gospel but this verse comes in the context of teaching us Christians about sin and death, new life and freedom. There’s no problem with quoting Romans 6:23 in evangelism, but we should also quote it to ourselves when we are tempted. Though we still desire sin, the scripture reminds us that there is no “benefit” to us when we sin (v. 21). We are now ashamed of the sins we’ve committed in the past and the consequences of them brought death (vv. 21b, 23). On the other hand, when we choose to do what is righteous as slaves to God, then the “benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life” (v. 22b).

Sin appeals to us because it lies to us. If offers pleasure without showing us the price tag and the pain that follows it. It is true that Jesus’ grace is sufficient to cover any and all of our sins, but that salvation does not remove the consequences of those sins. The consequences of sin are death and pain and shame while the consequences of a righteous life are all positive–holiness and eternal life. When we understand the truth about sin and the power of Christ’s salvation, we see why making righteous choices in our lives is better in every way than trying to get the pleasures offered to us by sin.

Today you may face moments of temptation to sin. Keep this passage in mind. Christ liberated us from sin not to spoil our fun but to keep us from the death and pain and destruction that sin costs. So trust God’s word and choose to live righteously. You can do it because you have been raised with Christ.

Luke 7

Read Luke 7.

Jesus has gone public now and has been attracting more and more attention in his area. That attention continued as he performed miracles such as healing the dying (vv. 1-10) and raising the dead (vv. 11-17). His message was right but his actions were not what John the Baptist expected so when John–in prison–heard about Jesus actions, he sent some disciples of his to ask Jesus to identify himself (vv. 18-27).

After reassuring John through his disciples (vv. 21-23), Jesus began to probe what the people who followed Jesus thought of John the Baptist (vv. 24-27). After asking some probing questions to get people to think about the meaning of John’s life and ministry in verses 24-26, Jesus affirmed that John was a prophet, but he was a prophet plus more (prophet+) in verse 26b. According to Jesus in verse 27, John was, in fact, the forerunner prophesied in the Old Testament to Messiah.

But then Jesus raised the importance of John even further but with a twist. According to Jesus, John was the greatest mortal man who ever lived (v. 28a). That’s quite an assessment to make about anyone, but especially coming from Jesus. But then Jesus said something even more intriguing: “…yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he [John].” The most insignificant person who arrives in God’s kingdom is greater than the greatest man whoever lived in human history, according to Jesus. Why is that true?

The answer is that John–great as he was–was a sinner but the “least in the kingdom of heaven” is not a sinner. Sinners are not allowed into the kingdom of heaven, so there are no sinners there. Consequently everyone who is there is a better person than John.

The Kingdom of God must be an empty place, then, because I and everyone I know is a sinner.

That’s where Jesus comes in and why he came into the world. Jesus the man lived the sinless life that would qualify a person to enter the kingdom of God. He was able to do that as a man because he was also God. As God, he didn’t need to earn his way into the kingdom of God; it already belongs to him. So, in the great act theologians call imputation, God gave sinners access to his kingdom based on the perfect life of Christ. He imputed–credited–Christ’s righteousness to those who believe him for it.

On the opposite side of that coin, he also credited to Jesus the guilt for human sin which Jesus paid for through his death on the cross. For those who believe this message, God imputes your guilt to Christ who paid it in full and imputes Christ’s righteousness to you. That’s how you get into the kingdom of God. When you get there, God will transform you completely so that you never want to or will sin again. Thus, you will be a better human being than John the Baptist, the greatest man who ever lived.

This is an important truth for our salvation. It is one that everyone must humble himself to believe. Even the most morally upright person must admit his sin and need of salvation. But many people are too proud for that so Luke told us in verse 29 that those who knew they were sinners were getting into the kingdom while those who were really religious, according to verse 30, were missing out on what God has done.

Don’t let that be you! Don’t let your pride keep you from an eternity in God’s presence and in his kingdom.

Also, know that if you have trusted Christ, God treats you as perfect now, even though you aren’t yet. God treats you as better than John the Baptist already because he gives you credit for Christ’s perfection.

So don’t let your sins and failures discourage you. Keep growing in your faith and trusting God to change you and know that God is not counting those sins against you any more. You’re on his side now because of Jesus, so you can feel secure and forgiven while you grow to become like him.

Matthew 22

Read Matthew 22.

The parable about the wedding banquet, here in verses 1-14, is about Israel’s rejection of Jesus as Messiah. God the Father invited them to the wedding banquet and everything was ready (vv. 1-4) but Israel was too busy with their own stuff, even getting angry enough to persecute and kill some of God’s servants, the prophets (vv. 5-6).

God judged Israel (v. 7 is a veiled prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70) and turned his attention to inviting us, the Gentiles through the gospel message (vv. 8-14).

Notice, though, that all the “bad as well as the good” (v. 10) were gathered in, you still needed an outfit appropriate for a wedding (vv. 11-12). Jesus did not explain what this meant other than verse 14’s statement that, “…many are invited, but few are chosen.” That statement does not explain the image of the wedding clothes and how it relates to the parable.

As God’s revelation continued to unfold in the New Testament, we can see clearly that the wedding clothes Jesus referenced in verses 11-12 refer to the righteousness of Christ that God credits to us by grace. When you and I put our faith in Christ, God began to treat us as if we are as righteous as Jesus Christ is, even though we are not.

Jesus’s perfect life clothes you like a garment. His atonement on the cross was applied to you when you trusted in him, washing all your sins away. But the perfect life of Jesus Christ was also gifted to you, covering your imperfections and making you acceptable in the sight of God.

You and I have a long way to go before we will actually be righteous in the sight of God. God is working on us to make us righteous people but you still belong at the wedding feast because you are covered by the righteousness of Christ.

This is why you don’t need to worry about “losing your salvation.” You didn’t earn your salvation in the first place. It was given to you by God. You can’t lose the garment of Christ’s righteousness any more than you can lose the shirt on your back. If you’re someone who struggles with feelings of assurance in your faith, let this passage encourage you. Trust in the gracious gift of Christ, not your own performance.

Matthew 5

Read Matthew 5.

Who is responsible:

  • to obey God’s word? (vv. 17-20)?
  • to release anger toward others (vv. 21-22)?
  • to go try to fix a relationship with someone who is angry with you (vv. 23-24)?
  • to settle out of court (vv. 25-26)?
  • to have a pure heart toward people of the opposite (and same) sex (vv. 27-30)?
  • to keep a troubled marriage together as long as your spouse hasn’t crossed the line with another person (vv. 31-32)?
  • to be honest–so honest that you keep your word and don’t even need to “swear to God” (vv. 33-37)?
  • to be taken advantage of by others and even love others who treat you poorly (vv. 38-47)?

The answer to this quiz is the same for every question–you are.

Why? Because God created you. He’s perfect so you should be perfect like he is (v. 48).

That’s an impossible standard, I know. Jesus knew it, too. That’s why he began by telling us that happiness and prosperity come from being “poor in spirit” (v. 30), hungry and thirsty for righteousness (v. 6) and so on. We need the grace of God to save us from our many failures to obey the commands in that list above.

And, in Christ, we have that grace. He died to atone for every failure we’ve ever had in living up to God’s perfection.

But, having been saved by Christ’s death for us, we have a new power and a new resolve to do all the hard things on that list. We want to shift the blame to people who sin against us to justify our anger but Jesus commands us to deal with our anger in a Christ like way. The same is true for fixing broken relationships, settling with those who want to sue us, being sexually pure in our thoughts and actions, being committed to our marriages, being honest, and loving our enemies.

Nobody else can walk with God for you and you can’t make anyone else do the right thing. You are responsible before God to do what is right and, because of righteousness and power of Christ, you can do it if you trust him and obey what his word commands.

Is there anything on that list that you need to change your mind (repent) about? What is one action you need to do today based on what Christ taught and commanded in this chapter?

1 Chronicles 16, Zechariah 9, 1 John 1.

Read 1 Chronicles 16, Zechariah 9, and 1 John 1 today. This devotional is about Zechariah 9.

Israel and Judah were almost constantly at war. Solomon’s kingdom was peaceful but most of the rest of their history in the land was marked by combat with the surrounding nations. Here in Zechariah 9:9-10, God promised that Jerusalem’s king would bring peace.

The peace he would bring would not be a passive (or pacifistic) kind of peace. Verse 9 says he comes “righteous and victorious.” The word “righteous” describes his justice; he would deal properly with every criminal.  The word “victorious” described his relationship with other nations. Like the Babylonians who imposed peace by defeating other nations, this king would bring peace by winning all his wars. Verse 10e says, “His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.” That sentence defines the borders of Israel as God intended them to be. Under the king described in this chapter, God’s people would rule the world. Once the world was subject to him, however, the mechanisms of war would be unnecessary. Verse 10a-c says, “I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken.” This king would not need to use force to enforce the peace as other empires, like Rome, did. Instead, his reign would end warfare on earth.

Despite all the military overtones in this chapter, verse 9 describes this king as “lowly and riding on a donkey.” The word “lowly” means “humble” and depicts a king who is not insufferable in his arrogance. The fact that he arrives in Jerusalem “riding on a donkey” is probably in contrast to riding on a powerful warhorse. The description of this king as both “righteous and victorious” but also “lowly and riding a donkey” teaches us that he will be powerful but approachable; just and loving at the same time.

You may recognize that Matthew (21:5) saw Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem as the fulfillment of this prophecy. Yet Jesus only fulfilled part of it. The military victory of Jesus as well as the peace and justice he will bring await the literal kingdom that Christ will bring in eternity. This is our hope as believers in Christ. When you see injustice in this world, when you hear about the loss of human life through violence and wars, remember that these are symptoms of an unredeemed world. Christ will finish the work he began in his first advent. We can look forward in hope and eagar expectation to his return, then, even as we celebrate his birth this time of year.

2 Kings 11-12, Micah 5, John 6

Read 2 Kings 11-12, Micah 5, and John 6 today. This devotional is about 2 Kings 11-12.

God’s covenant with David was that one of David’s descendants would always be king while Israel was a nation. That promise was why Solomon’s son Rehoboam remained king over Judah even though the rest of Israel was torn away from him and became the Northern Kingdom.

These two chapters of scripture show us a situation where the promise of God almost was broken. Athaliah married into the Davidic family when she married king Jehoram and he gave birth Judah’s next king, Ahaziah (2 Kings 8:26). But her son, King Ahaziah of Judah was killed by Jehu in his zeal to rid the earth of Ahab’s descendants (2 Kings 9:27-28). This was outside of God’s command to Jehu who was supposed to bring Ahab’s family to justice.

Here in 2 Kings 11:1, Athaliah decided to become the ruling queen. She killed every possible heir to the throne except Joash, her grandson, who was an infant at the time (vv. 203). The priests in the temple understood how important it was to defend Joash and to put him on Judah’s throne as soon as possible. They organized a constant guard for Joash (vv. 4-10) and then anointed him king when he was only seven years old (v. 21). Their actions were used by God to keep the promise he made to David that his house would be a dynasty. 

These priests could easily have said no when they were approached to hide Joash in the temple (v. 3a) and then to guard him (vv. 4ff). They could have said, “That’s a political problem. It’s none of our business; we’ll just continue to do the Lord’s work.” Instead, they put themselves at risk of Athaliah’s unjust punishment in order to do the right thing.

None of us will ever find ourselves in this serious of a situation but the faith these men had in God’s promises and his protection should encourage us. It should teach us to be willing to put ourselves at risk to do the right thing because we trust God to keep his promises and to take care of us.

Are you avoiding doing the right(eous) thing somewhere in your life right now? 

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!