1 Corinthians 1

Read 1 Corinthians 1.

Was there ever a more mixed-up group of Christians than the believers in Corinth?

Although they had been blessed by the ministries of several faithful men (v. 12), they could not receive and each man’s teaching. Instead of seeing each man’s ministry as one part of God’s complete instruction to them, they took sides. They claimed to follow one of these men as if they were in opposition to each other instead of co-workers for Christ.

In addition to their divisions, they were confused about what God’s grace meant and about several points of Christian doctrine. We’ll read about all of this in the coming days, but just know or remember that the church in Corinth had a lot of problems.

Yet, Paul began his letter to them by writing, “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (vv. 2-3).

That greeting gives me great hope. It reminds me that we don’t belong to Christ because we volunteered and worked hard morally to become worthy of being his people.

Instead we are “sanctified in Christ Jesus.” Sanctified means “set apart.” In this context, it refers to our membership in God’s family by faith. It is our association with Christ—being “in Christ Jesus”—that caused us to be set apart to belong to him. It is through the gospel Jesus preached that they and we were “called to be his holy people” (v. 2).

Despite our many differences, we are one in Christ “with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours” (v. 2). Despite differences in where we live on earth, or when we live on earth, or age, or language, or anything else, if we’re in Christ, we are one. We all call on the same Lord and that same Lord is working on us, causing us to grow and become like him.

2 Thessalonians 1

Read 2 Thessalonians 1.

In yesterday’s reading we read about the end of humanity as we know it. We learned there in 1 Thessalonians 5 that most of the human race will be caught utterly unprepared when the “day of the Lord” comes in judgment. Here in 2 Thessalonians 1, Paul continued that theme.

The passage began with Paul’s usual greeting to the church (vv. 1-4) and a transitional statement saying that all the ways in which the faith of the Thessalonians was growing (vv. 3-4) was evidence that they would be included in God’s kingdom (v. 5).

At the end of verse 5 Paul noted that it is this kingdom, the kingdom of God, “for which you are suffering.” That phrase both indicates the circumstances the Thessalonians were facing and prepares us for the next few verses which tell us what God will do about it.

According to verse 6, “He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well.” Although all of us were once enemies of God and opponents to his kingdom, God in grace saved from the penalty that we deserved for our sins. That salvation made us “worthy of the kingdom of God” (v. 5b) but also put us on the other side of the rest of humanity which is still at war with God and resisting Christ’s kingdom. That is why believers are persecuted–both back then in Thessalonica and around the world today.

Here, though, God promised that suffering would not be the fate of believers forever. Instead, God will execute justice someday in the future. That justice will give relief to his children who are suffering but deliver judgment to those who reject him and oppose him. And when will this judgment happen? Verse 7 says it will happen “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” In other words, the “day of the Lord” which we read about yesterday in 1 Thessalonians 5 will begin when Christ returns as described here in 2 Thessalonians 1:7b-10.

Christians debate about the timing of these events and this is not the place to address that debate. What we should take away from 2 Thessalonians 1 is the promise that God’s judgment is coming when Jesus returns. On that day there will be justice–eternal punishment for those who are not in Christ (v. 9) but salvation for those of us who are in Christ. Our salvation is not based on our goodness but based on the fact that Christ died in our place, taking God’s punishment for sin for us.

But what do we do while we wait for that day of the Lord? Verses 11-12 tell us. Paul prayed for these believers that “God may make you worthy of his calling.” This prayer was for God to form real righteousness in these believers to match the status of righteousness that he declared them to be in Christ. That “real righteousness” was described in verse 11b as God bringing “to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith.”

Like all believers, the Thessalonians wanted to grow in grace. They wanted to serve God and become like him. Paul prayed for them that, until Jesus comes, they would be growing in God’s grace to become godly men and women. The result of that growth was described in verse 12: “that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

What Paul described in this passage is what God is doing and wants to do in the lives of every believer. It is why I teach God’s word, shepherd his people, and write these devotionals. May God continue to change us and grow us until Christ returns to finally save us.

BTW: this is how we should pray for each other, too. Not that we would have health, happiness, and prosperity but that God would keep working in us to make us “worthy of his calling.”

Matthew 12

Read Matthew 12.

Does it really matter what you say?

How often do we say things that are mean, unkind, and hurtful and then follow those words with, “I didn’t really mean it”?

How often do people use words that are crass, crude, rude, condescending, demeaning, and/or untruthful? But we give them (or ourselves) a pass by saying, “I/He was just letting off steam” or “S/he’s really a nice person but just has a temper.”

I think that many Christians today think sins of speech are less of a problem than other kinds of sin.

Jesus said otherwise. Words were very important to him because they reveal what is in a person’s heart.

“For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him” (vv. 34c-35).

In context, Jesus is addressing the sin of the Pharisees in saying that Jesus “drives out demons… by Beelzebul, the prince of demons” (v. 24). In our culture, someone who heard that might say, “They’re just jealous” or give some other excuse for what the Pharisees said.

To Jesus, however, the way the Pharisees tried to explain away Jesus’s miracles was a statement of faith, an expression of their beliefs about Jesus. Or, rather, their unbelief about who Jesus is.

Words are not empty in God’s sight at all. They are the basis on which either you will be acquitted or condemned when you stand before God in judgment (vv. 36-37). Evil words, untruthful words, harsh words, unkind or unbelieving words all reveal what you really think, the ideas that you mull over in your heart. Your words and mine let us see inside the mind; they reveal what conclusions you’ve come to in your heart. They show what is important and valuable to you. They demonstrate how little (or much) you value God and other people.

Each human being with will be judged by his or her words. Yet Jesus’s prescription for an evil mouth was not to watch what you say.

Instead, Jesus said, “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good” (v. 33a). Since what you say comes from your heart, the only way to clean up your speech is to cleanse your heart.

Jesus came not only to atone for and forgive our sins of speech; he also came to change our hearts so that the words we speak are true, kind, loving, gentle, and good. As you grow in your faith in Christ, your words should reflect it.

How are your speech patterns? Do your words fit with your profession of faith as a Christian or do they reveal a heart that is filled with–or still struggling with sin?

Ask God for the grace to speak words that are pleasing to him. Ask him to help you grow and to cleanse your heart so that whether a believer or an unbeliever speaks with you, he will see the life-transforming work that God’s Holy Spirit is doing in your life.

And, fill your heart with good things, with godly truth and the word of God itself. As your heart is purified, your words will be better for, “the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (v. 34).

One more thing: Some of the most powerful words in the English language are, “I’m sorry. Will you forgive me for what I said to you and/or about you?” Is there someone you need to say those words to today?

John 17

Today we’re reading John 17.

This chapter records Jesus’s prayer for his disciples and the disciples who would believe through their witness (v. 20). The main subject of his prayer was unity (v. 11f, 21) and the standard for that unity was high: “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you” (v. 21a). It is hard to imagine any group of Christians being as tight as the Father, Son, and Spirit are, but that’s what Jesus prayed for.

Such unity would be powerful, too: “…so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (v. 23). The unity of believers in Christ would be a powerful witness to the truth of Christianity.

I have heard many people bemoan the lack of unity in the body of Christ, and I understand and sympathize with them at times. Usually, though, the prescription that is given for a lack of unity among Christians is to dumb down our faith to the common essential elements. It is like ordering a cheese pizza for 5 people because nobody can agree on anything more than that.

There is a place and a value to discussing what theologians have called the “irreducible minimum” that anyone must believe to be considered a Christian. But Jesus did not pray that we would unify around the irreducible minimum. His prescription for unity was not about finding the least common theological denominator; his prescription was for us disciples to know the truth.

Just before he prayed “that all of them may be one” (v. 21a), he prayed, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (v. 17). What sets us apart and unifies us is truth–the revelation of God’s word. What we need as disciples to unify us is not to avoid disagreements but to press into the scriptures together to find the truth.

Evangelical Christians have a remarkable amount of unity when it comes to the doctrines of the faith, if you think about it. We may disagree about baptism or eschatology, but we fully agree on the inspiration and inerrancy of scripture, the Trinity, the humanity and divinity of Christ, the depravity of humanity and our absolute need for grace, the importance and significance of Christ’s death and resurrection, and other factors. This unity has been worked out over the past 2,000 years or so, not by avoiding issues of conflict but by studying, discussing and debating, and accepting the scripture’s teaching on these things.

I keep thinking of more to say about this, but that’s enough for now. God is answering Jesus’s prayer here in John 17 but we need to keep coming to the truth–the word of God–to find our unity there.

Joshua 5:1–6:5, Psalms 132–134, Isaiah 65, Matthew 13

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Joshua 5:1–6:5, Psalms 132–134, Isaiah 65, Matthew 13. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can’t do all the readings today, read Joshua 5:1–6:5.

For decades God had provided manna for his people to eat in the desert. For most of the people in this generation, that was all they knew. Six days a week manna was waiting for them in the morning; on the sixth day, they gathered enough to feed them for the Sabbath as well. I wonder if it ever occurred to the younger adults in Israel that the manna would stop some day? Or, if they did ever think about that, if they thought it would continue until they had conquered some territory and were settled? Regardless of what they expected, the manna stopped when they entered the promised land. They ate a Passover meal and the manna was no more (v. 12).

Yet God was not done caring for his people. The crazy instructions that the Lord gave to Joshua about how to conquer Jericho is proof of that. Instead of laying siege to this fortified city or doing a frontal assault, God just told them to march around it. Day after day for one whole week, they played ring-around-the-rosies with it. On day 7, they did that seven times and, boom, the walls of Jericho sang “we all fall down.” This strategy was designed to show Israel that God was in control of their conquest and that their victories were due to him fighting on their behalf. There would be more traditional battles in the future, ones where God’s people would use conventional weapons and warfare to take cities. But this conquest of Jericho was to show them that it was God’s might, God’s power, God’s promises that would give them the land, not their military prowess.

Isn’t the Christian life just this way? We look for God to provide for us and make it easy. Sometimes he does to show us that he is with us. But, more often, God calls us to trust his promises and cultivate the land ourselves. God commands us to claim his power but show it by doing battle with our will, our sin nature. We get deeply disappointed with God for not causing holiness to descend into our lives like manna. We are thankful when he gives victory in our lives one day, but then calls us to do battle ourselves in faith that he is fighting with us and for us. Israel’s failure to get everything God promised them was a failure of faith. Instead of learning the lessons of the manna and Jericho and boldly taking the rest of the land, God’s people became too satisfied too soon. Don’t allow a complacent attitude to keep you from striving, from growing strong in Christ. Although this passage has to do with miraculous food and miraculous military victory, God works in the same way in all domains in life. Trust that the God who provided for Israel miraculously until they could reap his provision providentially will provide providentially for you, too, if you work at your life in faith. Trust that he’ll be there to provide supernaturally when you need him to, but that he’s already providing what you need through his divine providence. Claim all this by faith and do the hard work of daily Bible study, daily prayer, daily fighting the sinful impulses of the flesh, daily working hard at your profession and your relationships.

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