Deuteronomy 17, Jeremiah 9, 1 Corinthians 13

Read Deuteronomy 17, Jeremiah 9, and 1 Corinthians 13 today. This devotional is about 1 Corinthians 13.

The Corinthians had a proud perspective on spiritual gifts. The more powerfully God had gifted someone, the more spiritual that person seemed to be to the Corinthian believers.

Here in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, Paul taught that spiritual power is useless without love. It doesn’t matter how elevated your language is through the gift of tongues (v. 1), how prophetic your words are (v. 2), or how sacrificial your giving may be (v.3), without love there is no meaningful spiritual impact from these things.

So what is love?

Instead of defining it, Paul described it. It is patient and kind (v. 4a-b). It does not envy others or call attention to itself (v. 4c-e). It is not defensive (v. 5). All of these things point to one reality–love is a focus on what is good for others.

It is so easy for us to become self-centered, isn’t it? We serve but we are aware of the cost that service extracts from us. We give but we resent the attention someone else gets for using their gifts in the body. We make a contribution but wonder why we don’t get more out of the church. These are all self-centered, unloving thoughts.

If you want your life to count for Jesus, you need to ask him to teach you to love–that is to focus on benefiting others and not think about yourself. The Bible says that love is the fruit of the Spirit. That means it is the result of your growth in grace by the Holy Spirit of God. Again, because pride and self-centeredness come so naturally to us this is something we need to continually ask God’s help for.

Is there anyone in your life that needs love today? Anyone that needs you to serve them instead of being focused on yourself?

Exodus 25, Ecclesiastes 1, Luke 7

Read Exodus 25, Ecclesiastes 1, and Luke 7. This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 1.

Like the earth revolves around the sun, your life revolves around something. The center of your life is what you think about day and night. It is the thing that gives you something to live for, the thing that provides you with direction when you have a decision to make. The center of your life is the thing that defines you. It is the word you would put in the blank of this sentence: “I am a ________________.”

Lots of people, though, couldn’t put a word they like into that blank. It might be because they don’t really know what their center is or, possibly, because they don’t like the answer

Here’s my question: What is your “one thing”? What is your center? What is the thing that guides you, that provides meaning for you and helps you make decisions in life.

Answer this question: “What is my center?”

If you have trouble answering that question, here are some questions that might help you:

  • What do you spend money on without worrying about the cost?
  • What would you miss the most if it was suddenly gone from your life?
  • What would you avoid missing if you had a conflict in life? In other words, if you had to miss a meal or miss work (even if there were consequences) or miss sleep in order to do something, what would that thing be?

If you’re having a hard time answering the question, “What is my center?” then consider the choices you make in life. The center of your life is revealed by the choices you make in life.

Solomon, the author of Ecclesiastes had everything a man could want in life:

Despite all these things, he felt that his life was meaningless (v. 2). Verses 3-11 describe how completely lacking in permanence everything in life is. No matter how great you are, coming generations will barely think about you at all (v. 11).

We may think our lives are centered on pleasure or achievement, or insight or something else, but what really stands at the center of most people’s lives is self.

In other words, most of the time we are self-centered.

Self-centeredness is not the same as selfishness. Selfishness is seeking things for myself by keeping them from others. Self-centeredness means measuring things by myself rather than by an objective standard. A self-centered person does what is pleasurable whether it is right or wrong. The morality of a thing is defined by what you want rather than by an objective standard of morality. A self-centered person seeks to achieve not to benefit humanity but to get credit for greatness from humanity. A self-centered person seeks insight in life for the ego boost that comes from having more insight than anyone else.

Many negative feelings rise from self-centeredness.

Someone who is angry feels offended because he or she did not get what they feel they deserve—respect, admiration, love, etc. The same is true, often, of those who have deep seated bitterness. They are bitter about not getting what they thought or expected out of life. Fear or anxiety can come from realizing that what someone has could be taken or lost and the person is fearful because s/he cannot bear the thought of losing it. Depression can come from wanting something that you cannot obtain or that doesn’t satisfy you when you do obtain it. 

The rest of this book of Ecclesiastes will chronicle Solomon’s attempt to find a meaningful, satisfying, purposeful center for his life. Here’s a spoiler, though: The only thing worth centering your life on is God.

Did this devotional help you realize how self-centered you are? Did it help you see why you are disappointed, mad, bitter, fearful, or depressed?

What would your life look like if it were truly centered on God–not as the “correct Christian answer” to a question about centeredness but truly in your thoughts and actions?

We’ll look at this more in future chapters of Ecclesiastes but, for today, the application is to repent and ask God to lift your self-centeredness and to teach you to focus your life on him.

1 Kings 7, Ezekiel 37

Today’s readings are 1 Kings 7 and Ezekiel 37.

This devotional is about 1 Kings 7:1.

The last verse of 1 Kings 6, which we read yesterday, told us that Solomon spent seven years building the temple of the Lord.” The first verse here in chapter 7 says, “It took Solomon thirteen years, however, to complete the construction of his palace.” The chapter and verse divisions in the Bible are not inspired and were long after both the Old and New Testaments were complete. Someone decided to end chapter 6 with the statement that the temple took seven years. The same person decided to start chapter 7 with the contrasting statement that Solomon’s palace took thirteen years to build. That was an unfortunate decision because the original author meant for these two statements to stand back to back as contrasts. He wanted us to know that Solomon spent much more time on his home than he did on the Lord’s house.

I guess Solomon’s house could have been beset by construction delays but that’s probably not why his house took so much longer to build. If we compare the dimensions that are given in chapters 6 and 7, we will see that Solomon’s house was much larger than the temple. Notice:

1 Kings 6:2 says the temple was 60 cubits by 20 cubits by 30 cubits.
1 Kings 7:2 says the palace was 100 cubits by 50 cubits by 30 cubits.

So the two buildings were the same height but Solomon’s house was much bigger–longer and wider–than the temple he built for worshipping the Lord.

Solomon’s house wasn’t just a residence; it was a government building where he also lived. We can see that in verse 7 where we read about “the throne hall, the Hall of Justice, where he was to judge…” and then verse 8’s statement, “…the palace in which he was to live, set farther back, was similar in design.” But the human author of 1 Kings wanted us to see that Solomon’s palace was much larger and took much longer to build than the temple did. The point is that Solomon did an incredible job building a house for the Lord but he spent even more money building a house for himself. He was self-centered, materialistic, and showed poor priorities in the contrast between these two buildings.

Do our lives reflect the same struggle with priorities or self-centeredness? Do we give our best energy to our career or our hobbies but give leftovers to serving the Lord? Do we spend money lavishly on ourselves while being stingy when it comes to financially supporting the Lord’s work?

Judges 15, Jeremiah 28

Today’s OT18 readings are Judges 15 and Jeremiah 28.

This devotional is about Judges 15.

In a book of the Bible filled with unusual characters doing strange things, Samson stands out as one of the most unusual. To review, Samson:

  • Was born to previously barren parents who were told that he would be a deliverer for Israel (Judges 13).
  • Was set apart as birth to be a spiritual leader (13:4-5, 7)
  • Married outside of God’s will (14:1-3) to a Philistine woman who…
  • Lied to him and manipulated him out of fear instead of trusting him and his God (14:15-17)
  • Was used by God despite his sin (14:4) and through of his fierce temper to start a battle between himself and the Philistines (14:19).

Here in Judges 15, Samson had calmed down and missed his wife, so he went to …um.. spend some quality time with her (v. 1). Her father explained that he gave her to another guy because he “was so sure you hated her” (v. 2). Understand something right here: the word “hate” in the Old Testament in a marriage context means “to divorce.” To love a woman means to enter into a lifelong covenant with her in Hebrew; when a man “hates” his wife, then, he breaks the covenant and divorces* her. The emotions of “love” and “hate” are secondary in the Old Testament to the legal meaning of “marry” and “divorce.”

But her father made an assumption he should not have made. Divorce was instantaneous in their world but the husband had to initiate it and, in Israel at least, had to put it in writing. Samson’s father-in-law had no right to give Samson’s bride away.

Her father seemed to realize that he was in the wrong and he knew from chapter 14:19 how much damage Samson was capable of, so he did his best to appease Samson, offering a younger daughter instead (v. 2). Samson, however, had a legitimate right to be angry. He didn’t have the right in Judges 14 but he did here in Judges 15 and he knew it, too: “This time I have a right to get even with the Philistines; I will really harm them” (15:3). And he certainly did what he intended to do, ingeniously ruining the Philistines’s crops (vv. 4-5).

The Philistines were clearly scared of Samson so they took out their anger at him on his wife and her father (v. 6). Remember that in Judges 14:15 this is exactly what they threatened her with. This made Samson even angrier causing him to “slaughter many of them” (v. 8). With no inlaws left to passive-aggressively punish, the Philistines finally came after Samson himself (v. 9). Instead of unifying behind Samson as their leader, however, the people of Judah handed him over (v. 10). They used diplomacy to solve the situation, not war.

Now, what do we make of all this to this point? Here are some key points to understand:

  • Samson’s marriage to a Philistine woman was one example of a pervasive problem. Another example of the same problem was how the people of Judah handed him over to the Philistines. The problem that both of these incidents illustrate is that the people of Israel had way too cozy a relationship with the Philistines. Samson was acting outside the will of God by marrying her but he was not acting outside the informal customs of his society–and that was the problem. God’s people were supposed to defeat the Philistines and take their land, not intermarry with them and negotiate their way to peace.
  • Samson was, at the beginning, a terrorist. That’s right; he fought the Philistines by hitting them where it hurt, using guerrilla tactics instead of the formal approach of war. Terrorists don’t send an army; the attack civilians and their property as Samson did Judges 14-15.
  • Samson was set apart by God to be Israel’s leader and deliverer and he was empowered by God incredibly when fighting Israel’s enemies, but he never led Israel at all. Although he did the Lord’s will by fighting the Philistines, he did it for personal, selfish reasons, not because he believed in and wanted to obey the commands of God. He also…
  • acted alone rather than rallying God’s people as a true leader would. For these reasons, he never accomplished what he could have.

So three lessons emerge here for us to apply:

    1. God may empower and use people who do the right thing even if they do it for selfish reasons.
    1. But there is no reward for the person or glory to God when we do the right thing in selfishness and anger rather than out of principle and in obedience to biblical commands.
    1. Effective leaders engage others for the purpose of mission; talented people do it all themselves and are never as effective as they could or should be.

  • This was supposed to be done in writing (Deut 24:3) and, in fact, what he wrote on the paper was, “I hate you” meaning, “I divorce you.” Hebrew is a primitive language. BTW, while we’re talking about this, Malachi 2:16 was translated by some older translations such as the New American Standard Bible as, “‘I hate divorce,’ says the Lord” when it should read, “‘The man who hates and divorces his wife,’ says the Lord (NIV).

3 John

Today’s reading is 3 John.

Can you imagine excluding one of the twelve apostles who walked with our Lord from coming to our church to speak? OK, Judas, yes. Without repentance we wouldn’t welcome him but that wouldn’t have been an issue since he killed himself.

I’m talking about John–the disciple that Jesus loved, one of Jesus’s three closest associates, and one of the three people who saw his transfiguration. That guy, John, wanted to come to some church, somewhere but he was refused entrance according to verse 9. Why? Because of some guy named Diotrephes. We don’t know anything about him other than what John wrote of him here in 3 John. He must have been an elder or have some kind of outsized influence in this church; otherwise, he would not have been able to prevent John from coming there.

But what an influence he must have had! To successfully prevent one of the Lord’s Twelve from getting an audience in his church suggests an outrageous amount of power. And, apparently that’s what he wanted because John described him as a man who “loves to be first” (v. 9b).

John wasn’t alone; verse 10 tells us that Diotrephes “refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.” So any believer that tried to come to his church was prevented from entering and, if you were in the church and tried to bring someone in, you’d be subject to discipline by Diotrephes. Outrageous!

How did he amass this kind of power? We don’t know exactly, but there is a clue in verse 10a when John says that Diotrephes was “spreading malicious nonsense about us.” He used the power of words to gain control and influence, then used that influence to call attention to himself instead of to glorify God. This is one of the destructive aspects of gossip. Gossip is often true but embarrassing information about others. Sometimes, though, it is completely false and has been planted by someone with evil intentions. This appears to be one of the ways that Diotrephes was able to keep his church under his evil influence.

Although Diotrephes was affective, he should not be imitated for verse 11 says, “Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God.”

Do you think about the words that you use and the destructive power that they potentially can have? Are you careful about the words used by others, not believing “malicious nonsense” (v. 10b) but going to the source to verify, clarify, or refute these nonsensical things? Do you “love to be first,” basking in the recognition of others? Let God’s word today help you examine your motives and your practices and teach you to “imitate… what is good” (v. 11a).