Colossians 4

Read Colossians 4.

This chapter began by continuing to describe how being raised with Christ and setting our minds on things above (3:1-2) changes our daily lives. After applying this truth to masters (4:1), the scripture turned to our prayer lives (vv. 2-4) and how we share the gospel (vv. 5-6). The rest of the chapter was concluding personal remarks (vv. 7-18) that closed the book.

For our instruction today, let’s turn to verses 5-6: “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

These verses speak to us about how we speak with unbelievers.

Verse 5 encouraged us to to “be wise.” The word “wise” simply refers to skill. In the Old Testament, God called some men who were “wise” in craftsmanship to create the furniture for his tabernacle (see Exodus 31:1-5. Here, the wisdom we are commanded to have refers to the “soft” skill of communication.

Part of our faith, the result of being raised with Christ, means learning how to skillfully talk with unbelievers about Christ. Verse 5b encourages us to think about talking with unbelievers as an “opportunity” that we should “make the most of.” In addition to understanding the gospel message well enough to explain it clearly to someone else, we should develop our conversational skills so that we can speak of Christ in ways that draw the interest of unbelievers.

Think about how Jesus skillfully spoke with Nicodemus, the woman at the well, and others about himself. He did not use a canned speech, a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, he engaged the other person at the level of their own interest and then led them to see that they needed him.

What does this kind of evangelistic conversation look like? Verse 6 says it is “always full of grace.”

Grace, of course, is an undeserved gift. In evangelistic conversations, we want to get to God’s grace, to tell people what Christ can give them by faith. But I think Paul means more than just filling our conversation with God’s grace. I think he means that the tone of the conversation is giving so that the unbeliever understands we have something to offer them.

We have hope and joy and peace to offer in Christ. We can show unbelievers how to truly know God, so the way we speak to them should be inviting, encouraging them to “taste and see that the Lord is good” and that we can “take refuge in him” (Psalm 34:8.

Verse 6 (here in Colossians 4) tells us that these conversations should be “seasoned with salt.” Again the image is that our talks with unbelievers are stimulating and pleasant. It might be taking the “salt” image too far, but what if “seasoned with salt” means that our talks with unbelievers about Jesus makes them “thirsty” so they will want to talk with us again about him in the future?

Of course we don’t ignore the problem of sin or give unbelievers reassurances that everything will be OK whether they believe in God or not. Instead, we must show them the possibility of a better life–the ability to know God, to feel that he is listening to us, the opportunity to understand why the world is so beautiful but also broken, and how the world that Christ promised will be the perfect one that we all deeply crave.

What would you need to do to be able to speak the gospel to unbelievers like this?

Have you read any books about it or taken a class to learn how to engage in a spiritual conversation like this? This is part of growing in grace–learning to speak gracefully to unbelievers about the grace of God. May God give us opportunities to hone our skills in evangelism and opportunities to practice those skills among unbelievers with hungry hearts.

Romans 11

Read Romans 11.

Romans 10 discussed the fact that many Israelites rejected the good news about Christ but, today in chapter 11, Paul was quick to address the fact that not all Jews were in unbelief (v. 1). In verses 2-10, he reminded us that historically the Jewish people lived in unbelief and rebellion against God for most of their history. So the idea that only some of God’s chosen people were actually chosen to have faith in him is not something new. It is how God has always worked, saving a “remnant” who trusted him from the heart (vv. 5-6).

But why did this happen when Jesus came? Wasn’t the promise of Messiah that he would rule over all Israel?

Yes, that was the promise and it will still happen (v.26). The reason it didn’t happen with Jesus’ first coming, however, was God’s desire to save us Gentiles (vv. 11-25). God will still redeem Israel, just as he promised, but not “until the full number of Gentiles has come in (v. 25b). This is all an expression of God’s mercy (v. 32). He hardened Israel, for a time, so that he would save us. The power of this grace overwhelmed Paul in verses 33-36. It caused him to remark on the greatness of God’s wisdom (v. 33a) and how his wisdom is beyond human comprehension (vv. 34-36).

Is this how you respond to doctrines that are hard to understand? Does the doctrine of election or of the Trinity lift your spirit to worship the immense wisdom of God? Or, does it cause you to question and even deny those doctrines because they are hard for us to understand.

God is all-wise and all-knowing, so, are we really surprised that he does things that we find hard to understand? If everything about God were simple and made perfect sense to limited, fallible people like us, then we should be concerned. So let the difficult doctrines of scripture, the ones you find hard to understand or to accept as true, cause you to look to God in awe. His judgments are “unsearchable… and his paths beyond tracing out!”

2 Chronicles 9 and Revelation 6

Today read 2 Chronicles 9 and Revelation 6. This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 9.

This chapter summarizes and wraps up the end of Solomon’s life but the chapter began by telling us about how the queen of Sheba came to visit and meet with Solomon (v. 1).  The location of “Sheba” is debated, but it was not close or convenient to Israel. Jesus said that she came “from the ends of the earth” (Matt 12:42), so this was not an easy trip. 

But it was a rewarding one. Verse 4 said, “she was overwhelmed” (v. 4) by her experience in Jerusalem. Her own testimony was that she “did not believe what they said” when she heard about Solomon until she “came and saw with my own eyes” (v. 6). She went from not believing the reports about Solomon to believing that the reports had been grossly understated.  Verse 6 said, “Indeed, not even half the greatness of your wisdom was told me; you have far exceeded the report I heard.”

Although her journey was difficult and costly (vv. 1, 6) it was financially beneficial (v. 12) and, I think the Bible suggests, administratively and spiritually advantageous as well. Other world leaders followed her lead and visited with Solomon, too, according to verse 23. 

The lesson here is that wisdom and knowledge may be hard to get and costly but they are worth it. One of the best ways to solve a problem in your life or to move to a new level in your life is to find someone else who has excelled in that area, get with that person, and learn everything you can from him or her.

But you have to humble yourself to admit that you need help and that’s hard for most of us to do. If you were afraid to ask a teacher for extra help in school then you may find it hard to seek advice from others. Refusing to look for help from others may preserve your ego but it will also mean that you’ll be stuck at one level for a long time–maybe for the rest of your life.

Could you use a coach or a mentor in your:

  • walk with God?
  • parenting?
  • use of money?
  • physical health or fitness?
  • career?

Then make like the queen and find someone who can help you! There maybe (probably is) someone in our church family who could help you or introduce you to someone who could help you. 

Where do you need help? Who could you ask for help?  

2 Chronicles 1, Revelation 1

Read 2 Chronicles 1 and Revelation 1 today. This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 1.

Actors, businesspeople, politicians, and sometimes even Christian leaders will occasionally to an online question and answer session called AMA. AMA stands for “Ask Me Anything” and it an open invitation to talk directly.

Here in 2 Chronicles 1, God issued an AMA to Solomon. In verse 7 God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” This is as close to a blank check from the Almighty as any man, woman, or child will ever get.

If God most of us that opportunity, I think that most of us would be tempted to ask for something selfish. As God praised Solomon for how he used his divine AMA, he mentioned that Solomon could have asked for “wealth, possessions or honor…, for the death of your enemies, or a long life….” Solomon got the wisdom he asked God for plus God promised, “I will also give you wealth, possessions and honor, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have.” (v. 12).

This reminds me of Jesus’s words in Matthew 6:31-33: “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” When we ask God for things that matter to him–wisdom, his kingdom rule, a righteous heart and life, God is pleased. Because he is pleased, he provides for the things we need but didn’t ask for and sometimes he provides for those things in abundance.

Listen to the things that people pray for or ask you to pray for. A lot of those requests revolve around health–“Pray for me as I’m having surgery on Friday”–or finances–“Pray for me to find a new job.” It isn’t wrong to pray for those things; it is wrong only to pray for those things because it shows a preoccupation with this world rather than knowing and pleasing the Lord.

Think about your prayer life. Is God pleased with the things you ask him for? The AMA invitation for wisdom is still open because James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” Think about your prayers. What could you ask the Lord for that you’re not asking him for?

2 Kings 14, Micah 7, John 8

Read 2 Kings 14, Micah 7, and John 8 today. This devotional is about 2 Kings 14.

Here in 2 Kings 14, Joash’s son Amaziah became king of Judah (the Southern Kingdom). Like his father, he was king who ruled righteously (v. 3) but did not remove the idolatry from Judah (v. 4). After becoming king, Amaziah experienced some initial success with his military, defeating a large army of the Edomites (v. 7).

When he challenged the king of Israel to battle, however, he received a proverb and a rebuke (vv. 9-10). The king of Israel compared him to the nerdy kid from high school who asks out the prom queen (v. 9).

Actually, the image is much stronger than that. A weed in the woods tried to marry the daughter of one of the grand, majestic cedars of Lebanon but before he could be laughed out of the forest, an animal came and trampled him. That was the proverb; the application to Amaziah and Judah came in verse 10: “You have indeed defeated Edom and now you are arrogant. Glory in your victory, but stay at home! Why ask for trouble and cause your own downfall and that of Judah also?”

The king of Israel’s reply was insulting, but it was also true. Judah had no business attacking Israel and was miserably defeated when they tried (vv. 11-14). It was pure hubris, not the Lord’s will or a desire to please him, that led Amaziah to attack. Although Jehoash king of Israel was an ungodly man, Amaziah would have been wise to take his advice.

As Christians we should not allow our thoughts to be conformed to the pattern of this world or let the morals of unbelievers influence our perception of what is right or our tolerance for what is wrong.

But there are many areas of life where we would do well to listen to wise counsel, even if it comes from an unbeliever. An unbeliever might be the best person to treat your medical condition or to repair the foundation of your house or to write a will or create a financial plan or give you legal advice or manufacture your breakfast cereal. At times, the rebuke of an unbeliever for a sinful act or attitude in your life might be just what you need to keep you from pursuing a sinful or foolish action. Amaziah’s defeat reminds us to watch our ego; godly people can overreach, so consider yourself whenever anyone offers you rebuke or correction or instruction that is wise.

1 Kings 10, Hosea 13, 2 Timothy 2

Read 1 Kings 10, Hosea 13, and 2 Timothy 2 today. This devotional is about 1 Kings 10.

Sometimes things seem too good to be true. Someone describes to you how great a place is or how funny someone is, or what a great place to work a certain company might be and, from a distance, it does look good. But, sometimes, once you’ve gotten a closer look and experienced it for yourself, you find yourself disappointed.

After the first course of my doctorate was complete I was talking with a new friend I’d made in the class. He said something I’ll never forget: “This was one of the few things in life that actually turned out better than I thought it would.” 

If only there were more experiences in life that fit that description! In this chapter, the Queen of Sheba had one of those experiences. Verse 1 told us that she’d “heard about the fame of Solomon and his relationship to the Lord….” So she showed up to Jerusalem “to test Solomon with hard questions” (v. 1c).

At the end of her visit, verse 5 says, “she was overwhelmed.” Her words were even more potent in their description: “The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. But I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard” (vv. 6-7). 

In verse 8 she went on to say this: “How happy your people must be! How happy your officials, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom!”

But were Solomon’s people happy?

Were they as blown away by his wisdom as she was?

Maybe, but I doubt it, because of human nature.

Human nature tends to feel entitled. We tend to think that whatever good things we’ve always had are to be expected. That causes us to take valuable things for granted and, often, we don’t realize how precious, how unusual, or what a blessing the thing we take for granted is… until it is gone.

People take good health, a loving spouse, good kids, a good job, or close friends for granted too often. Then, if death or some other circumstance takes that away, they feel both the sorrow of loss and the regret of not having enjoyed and appreciated what they had.

Is this happening in your life at all?

Do you have a blessing (or more than one) that other people would dearly love to have?

Do you realize how gracious God was to give that to you?

Do you thank him for it and just savor and enjoy it?

Or, do you complain or just never express gratitude because you feel entitled?

You may not know that you feel entitled, but you may reach a point in life where you realize what a great blessing you had… too late to enjoy and appreciate it.

The Queen of Sheba went on to praise the Lord (v. 9) who was the source of it all (v. 1: “his relationship to the Lord”). Think about what God has given to you and take some time to thank him for it. If it is a person, find a way to let that person know how blessed you feel and are to have him or her in your life.

1 Kings 4-5, Hosea 8, Titus 2

Read 1 Kings 4-5, Hosea 8, and Titus 2 today. This devotional is about 1 Kings 4.

Wisdom, defined basically, is “skill.” There are people in the Bible who are said to have had wisdom in the area of making garments, for instance (Exodus 28:3). That is a skill that God gave them but that they developed.

In Proverbs, Solomon described the fear of the Lord as the beginning of wisdom. Most of the Proverbs speak of wisdom in a moral context–worship the Lord, follow his commands, and you will be a wise person. But people can have skill in many areas of life and Solomon’s God-given wisdom extended broadly. He not only had spiritual insight, as we read today in 1 Kings 4:32 but he also had administrative insight. Most of this chapter, 1 Kings 4, is dedicated to how Solomon skillfully built administration into his kingdom. 

But verse 29 goes on to say that Solomon had wisdom in many areas of life. Verse 33 tells us that Solomon lectured on “plant life… animals and birds, reptiles and fish.” This suggests a curiosity about the world in general and a focused effort to study and understand things. 

We believe that God created all things and we believe that he charged humanity with responsibility to develop and use the world around us. Given that, many things that we don’t ordinarily think of a spiritual can actually be acts of worship for a dedicated Christian. Geology, astronomy, physics, engine repair, business administration, investing, money management, electrical work, medicine, law, technology, plumbing, botany, art, music, and many other things that I can’t think of just now can all be areas where God gives someone wisdom and where someone who fears the Lord can demonstrate that wisdom and give glory to God with it.

What areas are you gifted in? Can you sell? Persuade other people? Write? Crunch numbers? Fix electrical problems or computer problems? Learn foreign languages? Write code for computer applications? Have you considered that the interest and ability you have in one or more of these so-called “secular” areas of life could actually be a gift of wisdom to you from God? What, as a Christian, are you doing with that ability to bring glory to God?

2 Samuel 17, Daniel 7, Proverbs 22:17-29

Read 2 Samuel 17, Daniel 7, and Proverbs 22:17-29 today. This devotional is about 2 Samuel 17.

Over the past few chapters in 2 Samuel, David has been reaping the bad harvest of the sin seeds he sowed in his adultery with Bathsheba.

Nathan prophesied in 2 Samuel 12:10: “the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.” The “sword,” a metaphor for violence, showed up when David’s son Amnon raped David’s son Tamar and when Absolom retaliated by killing Amnon in chapter 13. In chapters 14-15a Absolom began positioning himself to challenge David as king. Then he did attempt to overthrow David as king in 2 Samuel 15b-16.

Here in chapter 17, David was running for his life and Absolom was seeking wisdom for how to defeat his father and solidify his hold on the kingdom of Israel. Absolom consulted two men for advice. Both had been advisors to David and were known to be men who gave wise advice. We do not know why Ahithophel began to advise Absolom instead of David but the advice Ahithophel gave was shrewd and accurate and would have benefited Absolom had he chosen to follow it.

The other advisor, Hushai the Arkite, was secretly loyal to David and, consequently, gave different advice to Absolom than Ahithophel gave. God was working in all of this, both through the presence of Hushai and the inclination of Absolom to listen to him. Verse 14 says, “For the Lord had determined to frustrate the good advice of Ahithophel in order to bring disaster on Absalom.” 

The book of Proverbs advises us to seek and follow the advice of wise counselors and Ahithophel certainly qualified. But it is better to be on the Lord’s side than to have the best advisors in the world. Absolom could not win because his cause was unjust, selfish, and opposed to the will of God. God had made an everlasting covenant with David and the Lord would not fail to keep his side of the bargain. The best tactics, strategy, advice, and execution will be ineffective if it is not aligned with what God has chosen to do. 

When you make decisions and seek advice, do you filter that advice according to scripture? Are you thinking about the commands of God and the moral truths his word teaches first before you follow the advice you are given? As Proverbs 21:30 says, “There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD.” So seek and follow wise counsel, by all means, but remember to consult God’s word as your first and primary counselor. 

1 Samuel 20, Ezekiel 31, Philippians 3

Read 1 Samuel 20, Ezekiel 31, and Philippians 3. This devotional is about Ezekiel 31.

This portion of Ezekiel’s prophecy was directed to Pharaoh, king of Egypt. God began by favorably describing Pharaoh’s majesty (v. 2) but then pointed Pharaoh to the nation of Assyria (v. 3). Remember that the Assyrians were once a world power before the Babylonians came along. In fact, it was the Assyrians who defeated the Northern Kingdom of Israel. God used them as an agent of judgment for Israel but they conquered many other Middle Eastern nations as well. The Assyrians were fierce warriors and cruel to their enemies. People and nations feared them, so they had a lofty position, like “a cedar in Lebanon” (v. 3a). Verses 3-9 poetically described the greatness of the Assyrian empire but then in verses 10-11, God described how he punished the Assyrians because they were proud of all they had attained. 

At the end of this description of Assyria’s greatness and downfall, God applied the lesson of Assyria to the Egyptians. Verse 18a says, Yes, you are great. If you were a tree, you’d be mightier than any tree in the Garden of Eden.” Verse 18b, however, says, “Yet you, too, will be brought down with the trees of Eden to the earth below; you will lie among the uncircumcised, with those killed by the sword. “‘This is Pharaoh and all his hordes, declares the Sovereign Lord.’” 

So what was the point of this chapter? It was that Egypt should learn a lesson from Assyria. Egypt was great, yes, but so was Assyria once. Yet God cut them down like a lumberjack fells a tree and he would do the same to Egypt, too, unless they repented. 

There are three ways to become wise: (1) Fear God, believe his word and obey it. (2) Despise God, disobey his Word, then watch as he brings the consequences into your life that he promised for disobedience. (3) Notice how God keeps his promises when he punishes others for their sins and repent because you learned a lesson from them. Egypt had the opportunity to be wise in the third way, but they did not repent at the Word of the Lord from Ezekiel.

You and I should learn from Egypt’s bad example. When we see others sin and suffer the consequences, we should repent if we’re involved in that sin or avoid that sin if we are tempted. If you think you can commit the same sins as someone else but that you will escape the consequences, you are a fool. So learn the lesson of Assyria that the Egyptians failed to learn or learn from the Egyptians. Avoid the sins that destroy the lives of others and, if you’re already involved in them, repent now and ask for God’s mercy.

Judges 21, Ezekiel 10, Acts 27

Today read Judges 21, Ezekiel 10, and Acts 27. This devotional is about Judges 21.

This chapter continues a brutal story that began in Judges 19. In that chapter, a Levite and his concubine were traveling home late at night. Although it would have been easier to reach one of the Gentile cities on their journey, they went to a city called Gibeah, which was inhabited by families from the tribe of Benjamin. The text does not say so exactly but the expectation is that they would be safer in Gibeah because their brothers from another tribe would welcome and care for them.

That is not what happened, to put it mildly.

Although one old man took the family into his home, the Benjaminites in Gibeah decided to impersonate the men of Sodom and demanded that the Levite be turned over to them to be abused sexually. The Levite handed over his concubine instead and they raped and killed her. The Levite took her dead body, cut it into twelve pieces, and sent one body part to each tribe in Israel. That was Judges 19.

In Judges 20 the leaders of Israel’s tribe responded to the Levite and demanded that the rest of the Benjamites hand over the men of Gibeah for some rough justice. The Benjamites refused and civil war began–11 tribes against Benjamin. After some initial success, the Benjamites were soundly defeated by the rest of Israel who killed many of them and burned every town they came across. The author of Judges was coy when he wrote that they “put all the towns to the sword, including the animals and everything else they found.” The “everything else they found” was the women and children in these towns–a brutal overreaction that was similar in immorality to the way the concubine was killed in Judges 19 which stared this whole mess, but this brutality was done at a much larger scale.

Now, here in Judges 21, we read that those who turned out to fight then took an oath not to give their daughters in marriage to any Benjamites (v. 1). Then they realized what a stupid move that was. Since they killed all the women and children, the Benjamites who survived the war would not be able to reproduce so the whole tribe of Benjamin might be extinguished (v. 2, 6-7).

Eventually they came up with a solution: Nobody from Jabesh Gilead had showed up to fight, so they killed all the men and women of that town and handed over their virgin daughters to the Benjamites (vv. 7-14). That helped but didn’t provide enough women for all the Benjamites so they told the men of Benjamin kidnap the girls of Shiloh and forcibly marry them (vv. 18-23). They reasoned that, since the girls were kidnaped, their fathers weren’t technically guilty of breaking their oath.

Verse 25 ends the book of Judges with these words: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” What we are to conclude, then, from this awful story is that people need wise, godly leadership.

When people do what seems right in their eyes, they do wretched things to each other: overreact in their attempts for justice, make wicked, rash vows, then rationalize immoral ways to solve the problems they have created. A wise leader, however, can save people from these wicked abuses.

Saul, David, Solomon, and the other kings of Israel and Judah did some wicked, unwise things themselves. However, they generally showed better leadership than what we read about in here in Judges.

But the only king who can truly lead perfectly and judge wisely is the Lord Jesus Christ himself. While we should seek wise solutions to our problems with each other and we should seek good, righteous leaders, we should never fall too much in love with any one leader because they will fail.

The failure of leadership and government in this world should not surprise us but it should cause us to long for the kingdom of God where Jesus will judge in righteousness. Let the bad decisions of leaders in this world and the foolish outcomes that men come up with lead you to pray, “Your kingdom come!” When God’s kingdom comes in the person of King Jesus, then human society will finally function and flourish like we want it to and God created it to.