2 Corinthians 12

Today’s reading is 2 Corinthians 12.

Paul continued defending his ministry in today’s reading. Remember that this started back in chapter 10 and continued through chapter 11. His defense was necessary because people within the church attempted to discredit him and his ministry. Paul referred to the things he said about himself as “boasting” because he is talking about himself, explaining why the Corinthians should appreciate him and be champions of his ministry instead criticizing and doubting him. Paul hated doing this (v. 11). But he felt it was necessary so that he could strengthen them in their faith (v. 19) and prune the sin from the body (vv. 20-21).

This chapter recounts the revelations he had seen (v. 1) and the supernatural powers that had God had used him to work (v. 12). But rather than truly “boasting” about these things, Paul mentions them as evidence of his apostleship, but also included how God had humbled him by giving him his infamous “thorn in the flesh.” People have speculated what the “thorn in the flesh” might be but Paul never specified.

Maybe he didn’t specify what it was because he did not want people to know; maybe he didn’t specify because the Corinthians already knew what it was. Regardless, Paul used the “divine passive” to describe how he received this “thorn.” The “divine passive” is when someone uses the passive voice to describe something God did. Paul used it in verse 7b when he says, “I was given a thorn in my flesh….” We know that God gave it to him because Paul said he received it “to keep me from becoming conceited.” We also know that it came from God because he “pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me” (v. 8). Despite the fact that God gave it to him, he called it “a messenger of Satan” which probably means that it limited his ability to do the Lord’s work.

Paul “pleaded” with God to rescue him from this thorn in the flesh three times according to verse 8. Instead of answering his prayer with deliverance, God answered it by promising his grace to Paul to deal with this “thorn,” whatever it was. Although this problem created weakness for Paul physically, it strengthened him spiritually just as God promised when he said, “my power is made perfect in weakness” (v. 9c).

Do you have any nagging problems in your life? They may not be physical or even visible to others but they discourage you, limit you in some way, and cause you distress. God’s promise to Paul in verse 9 is an opportunity for all of us who know Christ.

The hardship(s) you and I face in life may be the thing that keeps us walking with God, keeps us depending on his power, and calls us to look to him in faith daily. Next time you find yourself pleading with God to take the problem away, ask instead for his grace to endure it and for his power to work in your spiritual life in a greater way.

Luke 22

Read Luke 22.

This lengthy chapter in Luke’s gospel detailed Jesus’s betrayal, last supper, and his religious trial by “the chief priests and the teachers of the law” (v. 66).

In between his last supper and his arrest, the disciples argued (again) about who was the greatest (vv. 23-30). Jesus assured them that they all would be great in his kingdom when he said, “I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (vv. 29-30).

Then he turned and spoke to Simon Peter in verse 31. He told Simon that just as Satan had requested permission to strike Job, he had also “asked to sift all of you as wheat” (v. 31b). This is a visual reference to separating the edible part of wheat from the inedible chaff that covers wheat. Satan was asking to put all the disciples through trials in order to try to separate them from their faith.

This should have been a chilling thing to hear, so Christ quickly added that he had prayed for Simon specifically “that your faith may not fail” (v. 32). But then he said, “And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” These two phrases suggest that Peter would be the first to face the trial of his faith in God and, having withstood the test with his faith in tact, he should help the other disciples as they faced tests of their faith.

But notice the phrase, “And when you have turned back” In verse 32b. This phrase indicates that Peter would struggle with the test of his faith. The specifics of that struggle were explained by Christ in verse 34 when he told Peter that he would deny Christ three times.

Peter did face the test of his faith in verses 54-62 and, as Jesus predicted, he struggled with the test. In three separate incidents, Jesus denied knowing Jesus (v. 57), being a follower of Jesus (v. 58), and even understanding what was going on with Jesus (v. 60).

So here we have one of the most vocal of Jesus’ apostles, a natural leader who was part of Jesus’ inner circle of three people, a man who had proclaimed himself ready to die with Jesus just a few hours before (v. 33) who evaded association with Jesus altogether when the pressure was on.

And yet apparently his faith did “not fail” (v. 32). It sure looks like failure, so how to we reconcile all of this?

First, we need to understand that there is a difference between a failure of faith and a failure to admit to faith in Jesus. Peter’s denial of Christ was a failure to admit to being a disciple, not a complete renunciation of Jesus. The fact that he “wept bitterly” (v. 62) after it happened shows that his faith was genuine. The problem was that his faith was also weak. In that moment, his fear of being punished with Christ outweighed his belief that God would protect him or allow him to endure the trial with Jesus. It did not mean that he no longer believed in Jesus.

Second, we need to understand that “denying Jesus” or renouncing your faith is more about a complete break with the Christian community than it is about a particular incident in someone’s life. Judas rejected Jesus; he conspired with the religious leaders to betray Jesus (vv. 4-5) which meant finding “an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present” (v. 6). That was a complete rejection of Jesus and all that he claimed to be.

Judas’s break with Christ and Christianity was premeditated and based in greed. Peter’s denial of Jesus was not premeditated and it was based in fear, not greed. What Peter did was lie about his faith in Jesus out of fear of persecution; what Judas did was completely reject Christ personally in such a way that Jesus would also be eliminated publicly.

Finally, Peter’s faith was strengthened by this trial, which is why God allows us to go through trials of faith. Later in life, tradition tells us, Peter did pay the ultimate price for following Jesus.

So what about us? There are times, aren’t there, when we are put on the spot and fail to speak up for Christ. Does that mean we are “ashamed of Jesus” and that he’ll be “ashamed of us” when he returns (Luke 9:26)?

No–or at least, not usually. Maybe someone, when put on the spot, might blurt out for the first time that he doesn’t really believe in Jesus after he had already decided that in his heart. But Peter shows that genuine Christians sometimes have weak faith; that faith may cause them to waver from publicly claiming Christ. It might even, at times, cause them to question God as we see in some of the Psalms. A true believer may have doubts and denials at times caused by weakness in faith but if you are a true believer, God will strengthen your faith over time so that you will stand for Christ later on in your life.

So, be encouraged! If Simon Peter could deny Jesus three times–after all the miracles and teachings he experienced first and–and still become a great apostle for Christ then people like us who are weak a times may fail in our walk with Christ at times. But know that God’s grace is powerful! He will strengthen you when you fail and teach you how to walk with him and stand for him when it is scary and potentially costly to be a Christian.

Judges 7, Lamentations 1, Romans 13

Read Judges 7, Lamentations 1, and Romans 13 today. This devotional is about Judges 7.

God chose some unusual characters to lead Israel in this book of Judges. Some of those unusual characters used some unusual weapons, too.

Gideon fit right in with the other oddballs God used in Judges. He was a weak man from a weak family and a weak tribe in Israel (6:15). He had no military experience and no killer instinct. He did everything he could to shirk the assignment God gave him to rescue Israel from the Midianites.

I think Gideon had enough disadvantages already, but in today’s chapter God weakened his army even more. In verse 3, God told Gideon to announce that anyone who was too scared could go home. Twenty-two thousand men took him up on that offer but God thought Gideon still had too many troops. I’m sure Gideon didn’t think it was funny but I laughed when I read, “I will thin them out for you” (v. 4). Uh.., thanks?

Anyway, after sending home all the guys who kneeled down to drink, Gideon was left with three hundred men (v. 8). Using nothing but trumpets, torches, jars, and their voices, God defeated the Midianites with those three hundred water-lapping Hebrew men.

The point of this strange approach to fighting was to give glory to God. In verse 2 we read, “The Lord said to Gideon, ‘You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, “My own strength has saved me.”’” By choosing a weak man to lead using a small group and an unconventional method, God was able to demonstrate his power to Israel again and call them to trust him and stop worshipping those false gods.

God doesn’t always use weakness and strange methods to do his work but this certainly wasn’t the only time he worked this way either. The lesson for us is to rely on God to use us not our superior tools or preparation. I’ve been guilty in my life and ministry of relying on excessive preparation and the best tools possible, at times, while neglecting prayer and faith in the power of God to work. Passages like this remind us that we need God’s power and promises far more than we need human power, ingenuity, and tools.

Have you ever thought or said, “I could never do “x” for God because I don’t have “y?” For instance:

  • I could never teach a Calvary Class because I don’t have enough time to prepare.
  • I could never give my testimony in church because I don’t have confidence to do public speaking.
  • I could never talk to someone else about the gospel because I don’t know every answer to any question they might ask me.

If you’ve ever thought or said something like this, then you should apply this lesson from Gideon to your life. God wants to use you and has promised to do so if you rely on him. What kind of act of faith might he use you for if you trusted him?

2 Samuel 19, Ezekiel 26

Today’s OT18 readings are 2 Samuel 19 and Ezekiel 26.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 26.

Tyre was an amazing place. Located on the coast of the Mediterranean sea, the people who lived there excelled in sailing the Mediterranean (v. 17d). As a result, the inhabitants were both productive fishermen and explorers of other areas that boarded the sea. Their explorations of these areas allowed them to trade with the people who lived in these other places, so Tyre became a strategic port for shipping goods by water to and from the Middle East. The location of the city, then, set it up naturally for prosperity.

The city prospered even more due to an economic alliance the king of Tyre formed with David (2 Sam 5:11) and Solomon (1 Ki 5:1). Tyre benefited from the wealth God gave to David and Solomon because they were able to supply materials and services that the growing kingdom of Israel needed. Without necessarily realizing it, the people of Tyre were experiencing one of the promised results of God’s covenant with Abraham: “I will bless those who bless you” (Gen 12:3).

As Israel and Judah gave themselves to idolatry, they declined in power just as God said they would. According to this chapter of scripture, Ezekiel 26, the people of Tyre looked at the defeat and destruction of Jerusalem as an opportunity to prosper even more. Verse 2 says, “Son of man, because Tyre has said of Jerusalem, ‘Aha! The gate to the nations is broken, and its doors have swung open to me; now that she lies in ruins I will prosper….” They did not mourn the defeat of God’s people or recognize how the prosperity of Judah produced prosperity for them, too. Neither did they realize that Nebuchadnezzar’s growing power would be a threat to their way of life as well. Because of these thing, God prophesied through Ezekiel that Nebuchadnezzar (v. 7) and “many nations” would attack Tyre and destroy it.

Although the location of Tyre remained desirable, it never regained its former power and prosperity because its people tried to exploit Jerusalem when it was defeated. God does not look favorably on those who abuse his people or on anyone who tries to take advantage of the vulnerability of others. There may be short term gain to preying on the weakness of others but God sees and he promises justice. As Christians, we are called to help those who are weak, to have compassion on those who are vulnerable and to defend and assist them as we have opportunity.

Do you notice and seek to assist others who are in need? Is there someone within reach of you who could use your assistance today?

Judges 7, Jeremiah 20

Today’s readings are Judges 7 and Jeremiah 20.

This devotional is about Judges 7.

God chose some unusual characters to lead Israel in this book of Judges. Those unusual characters used some unusual weapons, too. Gideon fit right in with the other oddballs God used in Judges. He was a weak man from a weak family and a weak tribe in Israel. He had no military experience, and no killer instinct. He did everything he could to shirk the assignment God gave him to rescue Israel from the Midianites.

I think Gideon had enough disadvantages already, but in today’s chapter God weakened his army even more. In verse 3, God told Gideon to announce that anyone who was too scared could go home. Twenty-two thousand men took him up on that offer but God thought Gideon still had too many troops. I’m sure Gideon didn’t think it was funny but I laughed when I read, “I will thin them out for you” (v. 4). Uh.., thanks?

Anyway, after sending home all the guys who kneeled down to drink, Gideon was left with three hundred men (v. 8). Using nothing but trumpets, torches, jars, and their voices, God defeated the Midianites with those three hundred water-lapping Hebrew men.

The point of this strange approach to fighting was to give glory to God. In verse 2 we read, “The Lord said to Gideon, ‘You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, “My own strength has saved me.”’” By choosing a weak man to lead using a small group and an unconventional method, God was able to demonstrate his power to Israel again and call them to trust him and stop worshipping those false gods.

God doesn’t always use weakness and strange methods to do his work but this certainly wasn’t the only time he worked this way either. The lesson for us is to rely on God to use us not our superior tools or preparation. I’ve been guilty in my life and ministry of relying on excessive preparation and the best tools possible, at times, while neglecting prayer and faith in the power of God to work. Passages like this remind us that we need God’s power and promises far more than we need human power, ingenuity, and tools.

Have you ever thought or said, “I could never do “x” for God because I don’t have “y?” For instance:

  • I could never teach a Calvary Class because I don’t have enough time to prepare.
  • I could never give my testimony in church because I don’t have confidence to do public speaking.
  • I could never talk to someone else about the gospel because I don’t know every answer to any question they might ask me.

If you’ve ever thought or said something like this, then you should apply this lesson from Gideon to your life. God wants to use you and has promised to do so if you rely on him. What kind of act of faith might he use you for if you trusted him?

Deuteronomy 33-34, Isaiah 60

Today we’re reading Deuteronomy 33-34, Isaiah 60.

This devotional is about Isaiah 60:21-22.

Why is it that only a few people will be saved compared to the billions of people who have or will ever live? One answer is given here in Isaiah 60:21-22. This chapter continued to hold forth for Israel the promise of God’s kingdom in the future under Messiah. Verse 21a promised in that kingdom that “all your people will be righteous,” indicating that only those redeemed and regenerated by the Lord will be there. Two phrases later in verse 21c Isaiah wrote, “They are the shoot I have planted, the work of my hands….” Picture this image: God’s kingdom is not like a great oak tree transplanted from somewhere else into the land of Israel. Instead, it is a weak little “shoot,” the tiny sprout of a plant that God himself planted but which grew into something great any mighty and, for the first time in human history, holy like God is. So God’s plan was to make something mighty out of something weak and insignificant. Verse 22a-b tells us that his kingdom will become mighty when it says, “The least of you will become a thousand, the smallest a mighty nation.”

But, again, why? Why choose insignificance and only save a few? Verse 21e says, “for the display of my splendor….” It glorifies God to take the weak, the humble, the insignificant and weak and make something great out of it. This is what God will do for Israel when his kingdom is established (again verse 22); and everyone who sees it happen will be amazed at the awesome power of God.

Although this chapter describes what God will do for and with Israel, it echoes a constant theme in Scripture: that God chooses the weak and lowly and insignificant and chooses that to bring glory to himself. This is why only a few are saved. If most people were saved, it would be a common, unextraordiany thing. When God chooses and uses insignificant things and turns it into something great, everyone knows that God is great.

It is troubling at times to be in the kind of minority we find ourselves in as believers in this world. If only more people were believers, we wouldn’t feel so awkward and out of step with the rest of our society. Someday only the righteous will inhabit the world and we’ll fit in just fine then because we too have been justified and sanctified by the grace of God. Until then, we wait for him to glorify himself though us when his kingdom comes.

Proverbs 25:1-14

Today let’s read Proverbs 25:1-14.

I know nothing about metallurgy but I read on the Internet that “dross” is the “scum or unwanted material that forms on the surface of molten metal.” Verse 4 here in Proverbs 25 told us that if you “Remove the dross from the silver” that “a silversmith can produce a vessel.” This suggests–and, again, I’m not sure because… metallurgy–but it suggests that the dross weakens the silver in some way. If you separate that scum from the silver, though, the silversmith can make something more valuable. That principle is applied in verse 5 which says, “remove wicked officials from the king’s presence, and his throne will be established through righteousness.” Evil men who advise a ruler weaken him. They weaken his decision-making and his moral authority. Separate that scum from his rulership and his authority and rule will be strengthened.

As with most of these proverbs, you don’t have to be king to apply this to your life. Each of us has influences that weaken us. We have friends that get us thinking or talking negatively or friends that tempt us to sin. We watch too much TV and then complain that we don’t have time to read God’s word and pray. We listen to music or talk radio on the way to work when a good podcast or audiobook would encourage us or challenge our thinking.

What scummy influences in your life are weakening it? Skim them out and be a stronger person!