John 17

Read 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.

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.

Acts 28

Today, read Acts 28.

This is the end of the New Testament’s record of Paul’s ministry. Although it is the end of the record, it seems clear that it was not the end of Paul’s ministry. According to tradition, Paul won his trial in Rome (the first time) and was released. He continued traveling for the gospel until he was later captured again and executed.

We read yesterday of his shipwreck; in the early verses of this chapter, we see how God used that to demonstrate His power to the pagan people of Malta (vv. 1-10). Eventually Paul did reach Rome where he received the welcome he had hoped from the Roman believers (vv. 14-15). He was also able to live privately under house arrest (v. 16) instead of in an actual prison. This gave him the opportunities he wanted to share the gospel, starting as he always did, with the Jewish people (vv. 17-23).

Notice the results of teaching the gospel in verse 24: “Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe.” This is what will happen whenever any of us shares the gospel. Not everyone will respond to the gospel in faith. That’s one reason why we are hesitant to tell others about Christ–because we know many will reject it.

Here’s the thing about witnessing for Christ: many will reject the gospel message but some will believe. This was Paul’s confidence expressed in verse 28: “God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” Don’t let rejection by some in the past to the truth of Christ shut you down from telling others about Jesus. Rejection of the gospel is part of sharing the gospel but if you faithfully deliver it to others, some of them “will listen!” (v. 28b).

Judges 14, Ezekiel 3, Acts 22

Read Judges 14, Ezekiel 3, and Acts 22 today. This devotional is about Acts 22.

Yesterday we read in Acts 21 about Paul’s return to Jerusalem, his attempt to placate the Jewish people by submitting to a Jewish purification rite, and his arrest which had been foretold repeatedly by the Holy Spirit. At the end of Acts 21, Paul asked his arrestors for a chance to speak to the crowd that had rioted. Today’s chapter, Acts 22, is the written record of that speech.

Given this opportunity to speak to such a large number of his fellow Jews, what did Paul say?

He gave his personal testimony.

He began with his background as a carefully observant Jew from the Pharisaic tradition (vv. 1-3). He moved to the time in his life when he persecuted Christians for their divergent beliefs (vv. 4-5). He described his conversion experience on the road to Damascus (vv. 6-13) and his commission to reach the Gentiles with the good news about Jesus (vv. 14-21).

People can reject arguments and counter them with other arguments but it is extremely difficult to argue with someone’s personal experience.

The personal experience of another person is also very persuasive, one of the most persuasive forms of communication.

Paul’s testimony here did not get him released, but it did give him an opportunity to witness for Christ. A straight up sermon about Jesus would have been interrupted a lot sooner, probably, than Paul’s testimony was here so this was a wise way to use the opportunity.

Do you realize how powerful your personal testimony can be when you speak to others about Christ?

You don’t have to have a dramatic Damascus road-type conversion story. In fact, if you were saved as a child, your testimony might focus more on what being a Christian has meant to your life than about how much you changed from when you were an 8 year old carjacker or whatever.

Let Paul’s example here encourage you to think about your testimony and write it out, even, to help you prepare to share Christ when the door to speak for Jesus opens.

Numbers 26, Isaiah 49, 1 Thessalonians 4

Read Numbers 26, Isaiah 49, and 1 Thessalonians 4 today. This devotional is about Isaiah 49:1-4.

In the third line of verse 1 we read, “Before I was born the Lord called me”, and the word “I” in that line would lead us to believe that this is Isaiah’s speech to the world (v. 1: “islands… distant nations”). However, scholars who have spent a lot more time than I have studying Isaiah key in on the words, “You are my servant, Israel….” and identify the speaker in this prophecy not as Isaiah but as the “Servant” aka “the Messiah” in whom all of Israel is identified. So, Jesus is the speaker in this passage, not Isaiah (see also verse 5).

Notice what he said, however, in verse 4: “But I said, ‘I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing at all.’” The night of Jesus’s crucifixion must have felt like this. After being followed by thousands, Jesus was betrayed by one of his closest 12 followers and abandoned by the other 11 after he was arrested. The next day he would cry out in anguish, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Although as God the Son, Jesus knew that his labor was not in vain, as a man he must have felt a profound sense of failure and frustration. Verse 4a-b captures that feeling. After God the father said that Jesus was his servant, “in whom I will display my splendor,” the man, Jesus, felt like a failure.

But verse 4 continued with two more lines: “Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.” After being betrayed and abandoned, crucified, pronounced dead, and buried, Jesus rose from the dead and received his reward in the form of millions of people who have trusted him for salvation in the days after his resurrection.

Every one of us who serves the Lord, including Isaiah, has probably felt like Jesus did in verse 4a-b. We feel that our witness and our work for Christ has been ineffective and that no lasting, eternal value will remain from what we’ve done for God. It is important to remember in these moments verse 4c-d. We only see a small part of the picture of what our lives mean and our work accomplishes. God, on the other hand, sees it all. If we are faithful in serving the Lord, there will be an eternal reward from it.

God is using you. He’s using your words that witness for him, your life that gives credibility to your witness, and any other way in which you are serving the Lord. So, don’t give up or give in when you feel discouraged. Believe that God is working through you and that you will be rewarded with meaningful, eternal results.

Leviticus 5, Song of Songs 8, Luke 20

Read Leviticus 5, Song of Songs 8, and Luke 20. This devotional is about Leviticus 5:1: “‘If anyone sins because they do not speak up when they hear a public charge to testify regarding something they have seen or learned about, they will be held responsible.’”

“Minding my own business” is a phrase that people use to disclaim responsibility. Sometimes that is a good thing; the Bible commands us not to get involved in gossip or someone else’s argument. In those situations, we would do well to mind our own business.

But there are times in life when we see something that we really should speak up about. If someone else sins and you see it but say nothing, are you complicit in their sin?

My instinct has always been to answer that question with “No.”

This verse, Leviticus 5:1, argues otherwise.

As Christians we are not under Moses’s law, so Moses won’t do anything to you if you don’t speak up. But these laws are God’s Word and, as such, they reflect God’s standards of right and wrong. They give us a set of ethical principles that should guide our behavior. This verse, then, tells us that God is not impressed when we are silent after witnessing a crime or some other kind of non-criminal sin. If you saw a man scratch someone else’s car, then drive off, what would you do? Would you try to stop him or say, “I saw that” if he drove by you as you walked through the parking lot? Would you copy down his license plate number and call the police or at least leave it on the car that was scratched?

Or would you just mind your own business?

What if you saw a man strike another man or a woman? What if you saw a purse-snatching or someone shoplifting? What if you saw an aggressive driver cut off another driver and cause a crash?

What level of bad behavior would motivate you to speak up?

Again, my instinct is usually very strong in the direction of do-nothing. Although I cannot remember any specific instances, I feel convicted reading these verses that there have been times in my life when I remained silent when I should have stepped in or spoken up.

Note that this is not the same as being a “tattle-tale.” Tattle-tales are, in my thinking at least, people who report others who broke procedural laws without damaging anyone else. So the isn’t a command to write down the license plate number of everyone who speeds but it is a call to do something if you witness a hit and run accident. It isn’t your job to turn in another student who runs in the hallway at school but you and I shouldn’t stay silent if we hear someone slandering the good reputation of someone else.

Each of us will answer to God for how we’ve lived our lives on this earth and that means giving an account for the things we’ve personally done. But we also have some obligation to others. Part of living in a community means not being idle or quiet when one person in the community takes advantage of someone else in the community.

Is it possible that someone reading this devotional today is sitting on some information that really should be brought to light? If you’re struggling with whether or not you should come forward with information you have, let the moral principle behind this verse give you some guidance. If you remain silent, could someone be blamed falsely for something they didn’t do? Will it hurt a business or negatively impact someone’s life if you are silent about the information you have?

I recently met a man in another state who moved across the country to take a new job in a community’s government. Once he was in that job, he discovered evidence of corruption and spoke up about it. Instead of being praised for his honesty, he lost his job and was blamed for the situation. Eventually an independent investigation cleared him of the false charges against him but he was unemployed for a long time and his reputation has been sullied. I prayed with this man and asked for God’s justice and I continue to pray for him periodically as I think of his situation. But I told you this story to warn you that there may be negative consequences for you if you speak up they way Leviticus 5:1 says you should. Nevertheless, trusting the Lord and obeying his will in these areas is the right thing to do. Let’s determine in advance not to be silent when we should speak up.