2 Chronicles 33, Malachi 1

Today, read 2 Chronicles 33 and Malachi 1.

This devotional is about Malachi 1.

The final book of the Old Testament has a pattern of writing that is distinct from any other book in the Bible. Malachi’s pattern of prophecy is: • God makes a statement (v. 2a, 6a-d) • God’s people question the statement (v. 2b, 6e) • God gives more explanation or support for the statement (vv. 3-5, 7-14).

Two topics are addressed here in Malachi 1 using that pattern. They are; • God’s love for Israel (vv. 2-5). • Israel’s dishonoring of God through blemished sacrifices (vv. 6-14).

The first topic, God’s love for Israel, is one that Israel may have questioned throughout the Old Testament era. God’s people experienced many setbacks and even captivity, so they may have questioned God’s love literally, not just through the literary conventions of verse 2b. How could God love a nation that faced so much military defeat for so long?

God’s answer is not to point many specific instances of his love but to contrast the outcome of Esau’s descendants , the Edomites, with the Israelites (vv. 3-5). Israel suffered defeats; no doubt about it. But Edom was about to be destroyed completely in God’s wrath while Israel had returned to their land after the exile. God’s love, then, was demonstrated by being faithful to his covenant with Israel even when they were faithless at hime).

LIfe’s problems and negative circumstances can make us struggle to believe that God loves us. Malachi’s answer to that struggle is not to minimize the problems Israel had but to point them back to their own existence. God saved them and preserved them in ways he has not done for any other nation. This is the most powerful proof of God’s love that could exist.

When you and I wonder if God loves us, we need to take our eyes off our circumstances and remember how Christ saved us from our sins. He not only died for our sins but, before that, he chose you to receive that forgiveness through election. Then, on the day of his choosing, you heard the gospel message and the light of spiritual life turned on in your heart. It caused you to turn to Christ and gratefully receive salvation. All of this happened because God loves you.

In this life you will have problems, setbacks, struggles, and heartaches. God’s love does not spare us from these things. God’s love saves us from eternal destruction which is much more loving than making sure your car always starts or that you always have more money in your bank account than you will ever need.

So, when you question God’s love for you, return again to the doctrines of salvation. Your salvation is the greatest evidence you’ll ever get of God’s love for you. Don’t forget it; remember it and thank God for it.

2 Kings 18, Hosea 11

Today, read 2 Kings 18 and Hosea 11.

This devotional is about Hosea 11.

Some people look at family life as restrictive. They describe it as being “tied down” or call their spouse a “ball and chain.” Children are, to them, a burden rather than a blessing. Or, if they are children, they think of their parents as taskmasters instead of loving leaders and protectors.

This is how Israel looked at God. It is true that God gave them a number of laws to regulate their worship and their lives. But it is also true that God released them from true bondage, the bondage of slavery in Egypt. In this chapter, God explains his side of his relationship with Israel. In verse 1, he proclaimed his love for Israel like a loving father for his child. God called them out of bondage in Egypt, and nurtured them like a loving parent would to his infant or toddler. Look at the terms of tender love in this passage. God:

  • loved Israel “when Israel was a child” (v. 1a).
  • He called his son “out of Egypt” (v. 1b).
  • He “taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms” (v. 3a-b).
  • He “healed them” (v. 3d).
  • He “led them with cords of human kindness” and “ties of love” (vv. 4a-b).
  • He lifted them to his cheek (v. 4c-d)
  • He “bend down to feed them” (v. 4e)

How did Israel respond to God’s many acts of tender love? They “went away from me” (v. 2b) sacrificing “to the Baals” (v. 2c).

Israel’s idolatry, then, was a refusal of his love. It was like a child who receives his parents’ love and then, when he turns 18, spits on his mom and dad and leaves the house for good.

God explained that he would allow Assyria to rule over Israel because “they refuse to repent” (v. 5). But he also promised not to give up on his people (vv. 8-9). Though they totally rejected him and would suffer the consequences, God would not reject them forever. Instead, he would change them spiritually for good. Verse 10 says, “They will follow the Lord....” This phrase looks forward to the day when Israel will be genuinely converted. They will stop pretending to obey God and instead will love and obey him from the heart.

This did not happen when Jesus came the first time. When God became a man in the person of Christ, “He came to his own but his own did not receive him” (John 1:11). This happened so that the few Jews who did receive Jesus would fan out into the world with the message of salvation for Jews and Gentiles alike. Some day, soon, Christ will return and will fulfill this promise. He will give new life to the people of Israel, saving them and causing them to worship him--finally--from the heart.

For us, it is important to see in this passage how tenderly God thinks of us. John 1 says that those who received Jesus were given the right to be called God’s sons (Jn 1:12). Think about how lovingly God describes himself in relationship to his sons in this passage--teaching them to walk, lifting them to his cheek, bending down to feed them (vv. 1-4). Realize, then, that God’s commands to us are not burdensome regulations designed to weigh us down but they are protections against the pain and ugliness of sin just as your household rules protect your children from injury and exposure to wickedness.

1 Kings 9, Ezekiel 39

Today, read 1 Kings 9 and Ezekiel 39.

This devotional is about 1 Kings 9.

David and Solomon had a good relationship with the kings of Tyre. They seemed to enjoy knowing each other but they certainly enjoyed the prosperity that their trade relationship brought to each of them. David and Solomon benefited greatly from the natural resources that Tyre sold and shipped to them. Verse 10 referenced the “twenty years” that Solomon spent building the magnificent temple of the Lord and the even more magnificent palace where he lived. Now, in verse 11, we read that Solomon gave 20 towns to Hiram king of Tyre. The text doesn’t say, but it is possible that the 20 towns corresponded to the 20 years Solomon spent building--1 town to represent 1 year.

Hiram was probably delighted to be told that these towns would now be part of his kingdom. Delighted, that is, until he took a tour. Verse 12 told us that after his tour, “he was not pleased with them.” Instead of hiding his displeasure, he asked Solomon what was up: “What kind of towns are these you have given me, my brother?” (v. 13a) is a rhetorical question. Hiram’s answer to that question was not very good. At the end of verse 13 “he called them, the Land of Kabul.” “Kabul” according to the footnote in our NIV text “sounds like the Hebrew for good-for-nothing.”

Does this mean that Hiram was ungrateful for Solomon’s gift? Maybe.

But it probably indicated something of Solomon’s stinginess. These last few chapters in 1 Kings have been describing Solomon’s vast income and wealth in detail. Solomon extracted high prices and high taxes from others and became a wealthy man accordingly. But, if his gift of towns means anything, he was stingy. Solomon received extravagantly but he seems to have given very sparingly.

Solomon probably thought he was a gracious, magnanimous giver when he handed over the keys to these towns. The problem is that the receiver of his gift didn’t think so. If you want to make someone feel loved, appreciated, and that you’re spoiling them, you need to give them something that THEY value, not something that you value. To use the idea of “love languages,” you need to find out what communicates love to the other person and express your love in that language.

How are you doing on that? Are you thoughtful and generous in your giving to others or are you stingy and self-centered? When God gave us a gift of love, he gave us his very best--our Lord Jesus who willingly sacrificed himself for us. We should keep his gift in mind and treat others with that kind of love and care which Jesus showed.

2 Samuel 16, Ezekiel 23

Today, read 2 Samuel 16 and Ezekiel 23.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 23.

Societies do not look kindly on prostitutes. Some women are forced into prostitution against their will due to economic hardship or threats of violence or through slavery. If we knew their stories, we might look on them more kindly on these women and put more shame on the men who hire them. The reasons, however, do not justify prostitution and it is wicked in God’s sight.

In this chapter God compared Israel, represented by Samaria (v. 4d), and Judah, represented by Jerusalem (v. 4d) as prostitutes. Their idolatry is compared to prostitution in the sense that they desired and gave themselves to other gods instead of to the God of their covenant (v. 49). God explained and defended the judgment that Israel received from the Assyrians and the judgment that would come to the Judeans as the consequences of their unfaithfulness to him. The logic of this passage goes like this: “You want to give yourself to the gods of the Assyrians? I’ll marry you to the Assyrians in every way.”

The purpose of this passage is to teach us to empathize with God. God loves his people and married himself to them by a covenant. Instead of wanting God as much as god wanted them, Israel and Judah pined for others. If your spouse did that to you, you would be hurt; it would also arouse in you deep feelings of anger and betrayal. You’d feel this way both toward your spouse who wanted someone else and the person that he or she wanted instead of you.

This is how God feels when we love material things more than we love him. It’s how he feels when entertainment is more appealing to us than worship. It describes the pain he experiences when being accepted in society matters more to us than ordering our lives by his commands. James 4:4 uses this very language to warn us: “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”

In Christ, there is hope for our adulterous hearts. James 4:6-10 says, “But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’ Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

This is what we need when our hearts are captivated by other things more than God. We need to humble ourselves and ask for his forgiveness and deliverance. If you find yourself valuing other things above your walk with God, let this passage help you understand why God responds the way he does. He is jealous for you (v. 25) and wants you back.

1 Samuel 24, Ezekiel 3

Today read 1 Samuel 24, Ezekiel 3.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 24.

Before David was anointed to be king of Israel (1 Sam 16), Saul was told that his sin would keep the kingdom from passing through his family. 1 Samuel 15:28 says, “Samuel said to him, ‘The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors--to one better than you.’” So it was Saul’s disobedience that opened the door for David to be king; it was not true that David was an ambitious soldier who decided to dethrone Saul.

But once God chose David to be king, Saul’s ability to lead as king began to unravel. Instead of leading as well as he could for the rest of his life, he was out there in the Desert of En Gedi looking for David (vv. 1-2).

After looking for David for a time, Saul started looking for somewhere to use the bathroom (v. 3: “to relieve himself”). He found a cave that would work well but--wouldn’t your know it--it was the very cave where David and his men were hiding (v. 3). What are the odds?

Zero; that’s what the odds were. This was a divine appointment; David’s men thought so, too: “The men said, ‘This is the day the Lord spoke of when he said to you, “I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.”’” God is sovereign and works his will using non-miraculous situations that we call “providence.” This sure looked like a prime opportunity that God in his providence delivered up for David. While Saul was squatting, David could have crept up behind him and cut his throat. Saul would never know what happened to him. He would die and David would get what God promised him.

This whole chapter looks like God set things up for David to take the kingdom. In addition to all of this, Saul was actively hunting David. If the situations were reversed, Saul would have immediately killed David, no questions asked. Since that is true, a valid argument can be made that David’s actions were done in self-defense if he were to kill Saul in this incident. And, honestly, I don’t think it would have been a sin for David to kill Saul at this moment given everything we know about these two men.

So why did David spare Saul’s life? Why did his conscience bother him for merely cutting off a piece of Saul’s robe? The answer is given in verse 6, “The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the Lord.” Unless and until God removed Saul from the throne of Israel, David did not want to be king.

Saul knew that it was God’s will for David to be the next king of Israel (v.20). After all, he was there when Samuel told him that his kingdom would not endure in 1 Sam 15:28. He also heard Samuel say that the kingdom would go to someone, “...better than you” (1 Sam 15:28). This incident proves that David is morally and spiritually a better man that Saul (v. 17a) because David, in this passage, loved his enemy. As he told David in verse 19, “When a man finds his enemy, does he let him get away unharmed? May the Lord reward you well for the way you treated me today.” Long before Jesus commanded us to love our enemies, David did it.

Do you love your enemies? Are you merciful to others who sin against you or are you vindictive toward them? We know how the story concluded: Saul died in battle and David did, in fact, become king. His patience to wait for what God had promised to come to him paid off. If we trust God, we can do the same knowing that He will provide for us in His timing and according to his ways.

Leviticus 19, Ecclesiastes 2, Psalm 105

Today’s readings are Leviticus 19, Ecclesiastes 2, Psalm 105

This devotional is about Leviticus 19.

Twice in today’s reading God’s people were commanded to love others “as you love yourself.” We are familiar with Christ’s teaching that, “Love your neighbor as yourself” is second greatest commandment in God’s law. But this chapter taught that command not just as a broad, abstract principle. Instead, this chapter spoke of the principle in connection with a specific command each time.

The first way in which Israel was to “love your neighbor as yourself” was found in verse 18, “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” This instance of the second great commandment comes in the context of verses 16-18. In those verses, care and consideration for others are the specific ways God told his people to love their neighbors. He commanded them not to slander (v. 16a), endanger the lives of others (v. 16b), hate others (v. 17a) refuse to address their sins (v. 17b), seek revenge (v. 18a) or carry a grudge (v. 18b). These would be surprising commands to find the laws of our country, state, county, or city but in God’s laws they make perfect sense. In God’s kingdom, there is no place for gossip, hatred, recklessness, revenge, or bitterness and Jesus died to redeem us from these common human sinful tendencies.

The second instance of this command was in verses 33-34: “‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” The Egyptians had enslaved and mistreated God’s people but that kind of oppression has no place in God’s kingdom. This command calls believers not to live with prejudice in our hearts toward any others. They may look different, dress differently, have a different language and different customs from us; no matter, we should treat with kindness and love, just as we want for ourselves.

Given these specific commands about how to apply the general command to love our neighbors, how are you doing? Do you have any unresolved problems with other people? Any prejudice or unfair treatment of “foreigners” around you? Ask the Lord to help you love them as you love yourself. Then, take one action that would show love to that person today.

Revelation 2

Today’s reading is Revelation 2.

I know I’ve said this before, more than once, in these devotionals: the church in Ephesus got a lot of attention in the New Testament era. We see one evidence of that here, right at the beginning of Revelation 2. It was the recipient of the first of the letters to the seven churches.

Jesus had many commendable things to say about the church in Ephesus. They worked hard (v. 2a), persevered through hardships for the name of Christ (v. 2c, 3), and even repudiated false teachers (v. 2). This last one is significant since that was an issue Paul talked about in this church in 1 and 2 Timothy.

But, despite their hard work, perseverance, and doctrinal purity for Christ, they had “forsaken the love” they “had at first.” This doesn’t mean that they lost all love for Christ; the fact that Jesus had just said that they “endured hardships for my name” in verse 3 shows that they were still devoted to him. But their enthusiasm for Christ had cooled. They remained orthodox and faithful but didn’t have the passion for Christ that they once had.

This happens to many churches and can happen to any of us believers, too. What do we do about it? “Repent” Jesus said in verse 5b. In other words, change your mind. Stop being satisfied with faithfulness to Christ and choose instead to remember how amazing his grace really is. Once their minds have changed in repentance, Jesus commanded them to “do the things you did at first.” Things like meeting together often to talk about God and pray, sharing Christ with others, singing and making “music from your heart to the Lord” (v. 19c).

Look back on your walk with God. Has your love cooled off? Do you find reading his word, prayer, coming to church, and other activities that once excited you to be more like chores? Change your mind! Remember what it was like when Christ was your passion, then immerse yourself in the things that fueled that passion. May God be pleased to use those means of grace to re-ignite your love and mine for our Lord.

1 John 4

Today, read 1 John 4.

Nobody got Jesus’s instructions about love more than John did. He is called the “apostle of love” because love was such a theme in his Gospel and in his letters. We’ve read about love repeatedly as we’ve read 1 John but 4:12, which we read today, makes a startling statement about love: “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

Think about that statement. Nobody on earth today has ever seen God. Some base their unbelief on that and deny God’s existence because they’ve never seen him. But verse 12 goes on to say that our love for each other is a visible demonstration of God’s existence. It is how we experience God (“God lives in us.”). This kind of love is so much more than good feelings toward others. It is about what’s good for the other guy--putting my wants and needs behind what someone else wants and needs. It is about sacrifice by giving my time and money and attention freely when someone needs it. God is the one who compels people to act this way. It is his love for us and now in us that causes us to give ourselves unselfishly to and for others.

Who in your life needs this kind of love? Who least deserves it--remember, Jesus gave himself for us when we were far from deserving. Look for opportunities today to love like Jesus; when you do, it gets harder for unbelievers to deny God’s existence because they will see the supernatural evidence of his existence in your love for others.

1 John 2

Today, read 1 John 2.

It can be difficult, at times, to know whether someone who claims to be a Christian really is one. So many people claim to love Jesus, to have believed in him, to be his followers. I find that whenever I meet someone who claims to be a follower of Jesus, I want to believe their claim.

This passage gives us some objective things to look at to evaluate someone’s profession of faith in Christ. The word “claims” is used in verse 6 and verse 9 to describe someone who says they know Christ. So how do we know if someone is truthful when they say, “I know him” (v. 3), “claims to live in him” (v. 6), and “claims to be in the light” (v. 9)?

The answer is to look at how they live. Does a person claim to know Jesus, to live in him, and to be in his light? If that person’s claim is true he or she will:

  • keep his commands (vv. 3-6)
  • love other Christians (vv. 9-11)
  • won’t love the world (v. 15b)
  • will be loyal and active within a local church (v. 19).

In addition to these things, those who truly love and know Jesus are committed to the truth (vv. 20-27). That is the basic commitment and the other things flow from it. When we love Jesus, we love and are committed to his truth. That truth is what causes us to keep his commands, love other Christians, etc.

How is your love for Christ? Does it cause you to live obediently as Jesus did? Does it compel you to love other Christians, to turn away from the temptations and pleasures of this world, and to be active in our church? These are not conditions we meet to prove that we follow Jesus; they are the natural response of someone who has the “anointing” (v. 20, 27) which is the power of the Holy Spirit within. If you lack these things, you don’t need to try harder, you need to be saved! Turn from your love of this world and receive the gospel message; it will transform you so that you show the marks of spiritual life listed in this chapter.

2 Peter 1

Today, read 2 Peter 1.

In this chapter, Peter wrote to a group of unspecified believers (vv. 1-2), reminding them that what Christ has done for us is sufficient for our godliness in this life (v. 3). He also spoke of the promises Christ has made for eternal life (v. 4). Based on all this, then, he encouraged these believers--and us--to pursue godliness in our daily lives now (vv. 5-9). At the end of the list of qualities we should be cultivating are two: “mutual affection” and “love” (v. 7c-d). Remember that we are called to add mutual affection first, then add “to mutual affection, love.” Aren’t these describing the same thing?

No, they are not the same. Mutual affection is a form of love--a very important form of it. But the “mutual” aspect of it means that there is giving and receiving on both sides. This is the loving aspect of fellowship within the body of Christ. As Jesus forms his body, bringing us together into local assemblies, we meet others who become our friends due to shared faith in Christ. That friendship means that we rejoice together at times, we weep together at times, we share financial resources when needed, we pray for each other, we show hospitality to each other, and so on. That’s mutual affection and it is an important part of the body of Christ.

God calls us not only to love those who love us, but to love those who don’t love us. We are to love our enemies, according to Jesus. We also will encounter people in the church who are fellow believers with us but are hard to love. Our personalities do not mesh well or we just don’t have a lot in common. It is not a problem or a sin to like some people more than others or to have stronger relationships with some people more than others.

But personal spiritual growth calls us to go beyond loving those that we love naturally and who love us back. Just as Christ loved us when we were his enemies and were lovely, we are now commanded to grow in grace by loving beyond mutual affection. This means learning to give without expecting (or even getting) anything in return. It means seeking what’s best for others and putting their needs before ours.

Is that kind of love something you’re cultivating in your life? Are you thinking about what’s best for your family and friends and seeking for ways to help in those areas? Are you looking out for those who are overlooked and possibly unloved in our church or around you and seeking to love them?

1 Timothy 1

Today’s devotional reading is 1 Timothy 1.

When we read Acts 19, way back on May 24, I noted that Ephesus was an important place in the story of the New Testament. Paul spent two years there on his third missionary journey. Then, toward the end of that journey (Acts 20), he stopped nearby and called the elders of the Ephesian church so that he could speak with them and pray with them. Of course, he also wrote the New Testament book we call “Ephesians” to that church as well.

Things were not well in the church at Ephesus when Paul wrote this letter we call 1 Timothy. Paul had been released from the house arrest we read about in Acts 28 and was out planting churches again when he heard reports of false doctrine in the church at Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3). He sent Timothy there to “command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer.” In verse 5, he said, “The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” These verses indicate how important good doctrine--pure doctrine--is to the health of the church. Good doctrine creates “a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” which produces love in God’s people which makes the church a loving, Christ-like place. Bad doctrine, then, corrupts one’s faith and one’s “good conscience” (v. 19) which inevitably leads to problems in the church--both problems between people and moral problems within people.

Doctrine is not a popular subject in the church. Instead, churches today run on emotionalism, entertainment, and self-help. Emotions have an important place and making disciples involves helping believers deal with their problems but if that plus entertaining services is what a church is about, that church will not be able to withstand the winds of false doctrine. False doctrine hollows out a church, corrupting the pure hearts, good consciences, and sincere faith (v. 5) God called us to have as followers of Christ. So, never denigrate doctrine or underestimate its importance in your life or in the church. Instead, learn the great doctrines of our faith and let them purify your heart and strengthen your conscience. Then, as we learn and grow together in the truth, we will become a loving place.

Ephesians 4

Today’s reading is Ephesians 4.

God’s love is a key theme in this book of Ephesians:

  • God predestined us in love (1:3b-4a).
  • God made us alive in Christ because of his great love for us (2:4-5).
  • God wants us to be rooted and established in his love (3:17)
  • God wants us to know his love, even though it surpasses knowledge (3:19).

Here in Ephesians 4, these truths about God’s love were applied. In verse 1 Paul urged believers “to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” That “calling” is the calling to know and love God, to receive the gift of salvation by grace in Christ as we see in Ephesians 1:18b-19: “the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”

Having described that calling in Ephesians 1-3, Paul now urged the believers in 4:1 to “live a life worthy of the calling....” How do you do that? The rest of chapter 4 lays it out:

  • “be humble and gentle” (v. 2a).
  • “be patient, bearing with one another in love” (v. 2b).
  • “keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace” (v. 3)
  • Grow in spiritual maturity through the gift of the church and its leaders (vv. 7-16).
  • Put off the old self (vv. 17-22) and put on the new self (vv. 23-32).

I noted at the beginning of today’s devotional that “God’s love is a key theme” in Ephesians and I reviewed the key passages that mention God’s love. Look now in today’s chapter at all the ways “love” is intertwined with living “a life worthy of the calling” :

  • v. 2: “bearing with one another in love
  • v. 14: “speaking the truth ”in love”
  • v. 16: “the whole body...”builds itself up in love

A big part of “living up to the calling” is living a life of love. Just as God loved us and called us to faith, now we live out that faith by loving one another in the church. We bear with each other, speak the truth, and build each other in the body up “in love.”

In our church, who do you find it hard to put up with (v. 2)? (Don’t leave the name in the comments, please!) Living according to God’s loving call in your life means putting up with that person.

In our church, who do you need to speak truth to “in love” (v. 14)? Taking on that difficult conversation in a loving way, speaking the truth for that person’s good rather than avoiding the real issues is how you live according to the loving call God extended to us.

In our church, who do you need to “build up in love”? Who is hurting? Who is missing our worship gatherings? Who needs to learn some life or ministry skills that you could teach them? Building them up in love is how we live according to God’s gracious, loving call in our lives. Just as God loved us when we were unlovely, we should bear with the unlovely “in love.” Just as God spoke truth to us through the gospel, we should speak the truth “in love” to others around us. Just as God is building godliness in us (v. 24b), we should build up each other in godliness because we love God and his people.

These are some of the loving ways we can live a life worthy of who God--in love--has called us to be in Christ.

Ephesians 3

Today’s reading is Ephesians 3.

This chapter begins strangely. Paul started one sentence, “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles” in verse 1, then began a different thought in verse 2. The thought that Paul broke off in verse 1 is resumed in verse 14. You can see that in the similar language: “For this reason, I Paul...” (v. 1) and “For this reason I kneel before the Father....” (v. 14). In between these two verses Paul set forth his unique qualifications (v. 4: “my insight”) to describe God’s revealed plan in Christ. That plan is “that the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body...” (v. 6). God revealed this plan to Paul (vv. 2-6) and commissioned him particularly to announce and explain the aspect of this plan that involved us Gentiles (vv. 7-11).

Having laid all that ground work, Paul taught that our salvation by Christ allow us to “approach God with freedom and confidence.” After a brief word instructing the Ephesians not to worry about Paul’s imprisonment (v. 13), Paul described for the Ephesians how he prayed for them in verses 14-19. His prayer was that they would be strengthened spiritually by God’s power (v. 16). Specifically, he wanted them to know Christ by faith (v. 17) and go much deeper in love. Notice how love is mentioned in verse 17, verses 18, and verse 19. Christ’s love is what establishes us (v. 17b). Christ’s love for us is immense (“how wide and longs and high and deep”) so we need God’s help to grasp it. It is so great that it “surpasses knowledge” yet God wants us “to know this love” (v. 19a). The result of knowing and growing in Christ’s love is that we will “be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

  • If we know how much God loves us, we will believe that sin will damage us.
  • If we know how much God loves us, we will believe that obedience, not sin, will bring joy to our lives.
  • If we know how much God loves us, we will believe that he allows bad stuff into our lives for our good not to cause us pain.
  • If we know how much God loves us, we will not fear what people think of us.
  • If we know how much God loves us, we will want to share his love with other people, even those we think are unlovely.

I’m sure that list could go on and on. God wants you to be holy, he wants you to believe his word, he wants you to live a generous, giving life, he wants you to spread the gospel and live for eternity. But the key that unlocks all these (and other) great Christian truths is the knowledge that God loves you. So, ask him to teach you how much he loves you and pray for others that they might know and grow in the knowledge of Christ’s love for them.

1 Corinthians 13

Today we're reading 1 Corinthians 13.

This famous chapter of scripture is part of Paul's teaching on spiritual gifts which began back in chapter 12.

The Corinthians had a proud perspective on spiritual gifts. The more powerfully God had gifted someone, the more spiritual that person seemed to be. Here in verses 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, how prophetic your words are or how sacrificial your giving may be, without love there is no meaningful spiritual impact

So what is love? Instead of defining it, Paul described it. It is patient and kind. It does not envy others or call attention to itself. It is not defensive. 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 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.

Matthew 5

Today, read Matthew 5.

Today we began reading Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. This sermon will take us through the next two chapters of Matthew, so we’ll read them on Monday and Tuesday next week. In this chapter Jesus began teaching his disciples (v. 1) how he expected them to live. Every thought in this chapter is worthy of our careful consideration and application as followers of Christ. But since this is just a devotional, a few thoughts will have to suffice.

First, we need to see what Jesus said in verse 20: “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” This is a hard saying! The Pharisees and teachers of the law were scrupulous about obedience to God’s law. Yet Christ clearly taught that they would not enter the kingdom of heave and neither would anyone else unless they could be more righteous than these religious Jewish men. But before Christ told us that we had to do better than the Pharisees, he said this in verse 17: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Christ perfectly kept the law of God. Theologians call this his “active obedience.” When you trusted Christ to save you, God credited you with the righteousness of Christ. That means, in God’s mind, you fulfilled the law of God perfectly--not because you actually have fulfilled it but because he credited Christ’s obedience to the law to us by faith.

Nevertheless, that does not mean that obedience is unimportant. No, Jesus said further, “whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” in verse 19b. This is where the new life we have by the Holy Spirit comes into play. Although we don’t (and can’t) obey God’s law to earn righteousness in his sight, once we’re in Christ, we want to become righteous like Christ in our daily lives. So we have a new desire to obey Christ’s words because of his grace to us in salvation.

So, to close out today’s devotional, Consider Christ’s words in verse 43-44: ““You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Is there anyone in your life who seems to be out to get you? Is there a person who wants the worst for you, who is always trying to make you look bad and see you defeated? Our natural instincts is to pay that person back in kind; Jesus commanded us as his followers to love them--that is to seek their good. He commanded us to pray for them. This is not praying for God’s judgment but for their salvation, growth, and prosperity. Why should we do this? Verse 45: “that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” When we seek the good of those who want to harm us, we are acting like God who gave us new spiritual life through the Holy Spirit. God is kind to the people who hate him. He waters their crops just as he does the crops of the righteous. Although justice demands that someday he punishes his haters for their sin, he is gracious and kind to them in the meantime.

So, who comes to mind when you think of the word “enemy?” Is it a person who has hurt you or is trying to hurt you? Is it a group of people who hold differing beliefs than you do and are willing persecute you over those differences?

Have you prayed for them recently? Today?

1 Kings 11, Philippians 2, Ezekiel 41, Psalms 92–93

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 1 Kings 11, Philippians 2, Ezekiel 41, Psalms 92–93. 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 1 Kings 11.

Yesterday’s passage from 1 Kings 10 seems to represent the apex of Solomon’s career as king. The queen of Sheba had heard about “the fame of Solomon and his relationship to the Lord (10:1a). That last phrase is key because after she tested him with hard questions (10:1b-3), she saw everything there was to see about his kingdom (vv. 3-5). Her response was to praise God and give him glory for it all (v. 9). As I suggested yesterday, her praise for God seems to show that Solomon gave praise to God for it all. It was his humility, his faith in God, and his obedience that led to such an amazing golden era in Israel’s history.

All of that started to unravel in today’s reading from 1 Kings 11. Contrary to God’s commands (11:2), Solomon married women from every foreign nation around Israel in addition to his Egyptian wife (v. 1). And his marriages to them were not merely tokens binding a peace accord with him and these other countries; verse 2c says, “Solomon held fast to them in love.” Indeed, he must have really, really been enamored with women because verse 3a-b says, “He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines….” At some point, Solomon’s harem became the idol in his life that displaced God for verse 3c-4 says, “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been.” The symptom of his romantic idolatry was real idolatry as we see in verse 5, “He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites.” The implication I see in this passage was that his desire to please his wives led him to do what they wanted him to do, namely worship idols with them. 

God was not passive about Solomon’s idolatry. Instead God promised that Solomon’s heir would lose the whole kingdom except for David’s tribe Judah (vv. 9-13). In addition to this promise, God raised up threats to Solomon’s kingdom from outside of it (vv. 14-25) and inside of it (vv. 26-40). Instead of finishing his reign in peace and prosperity, he left behind a disorderly, divided kingdom.

The lesson here, of course, is to be careful what you love. If you want to please anyone more than you want to please God, the temptations that follow that desire will be intense—too intense for most of us to resist. While God is gracious and merciful to forgive our sins, what he wants from us who know Christ is obedience from an undivided, loyal heart to him.

So, what is it or who is it that competes with God for your attention? Who do you want to please so much that disobeying God’s commands becomes an option or even a decision or habit? What pastime, or hobby, or ambition, or goal, or whatever captures your attention when your mind wanders? What do you daydream about? What habit are you developing that is disobedient to God’s word? Whatever it is, get rid of it! Remove it from your life as much as possible and, when you find yourself turning your attention to it, turn to God in prayer and ask him to remove that affection from your heart. 

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.

Numbers 33, Psalm 78:1–37, Isaiah 25, 1 John 3

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Numbers 33, Psalm 78:1–37, Isaiah 25, 1 John 3. 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 1 John 3.

When you look at your children, you see things that are familiar. Maybe he has your hair color or your eye color; maybe she looks like your spouse did as a child. Have you ever heard your child say something and thought, “That’s exactly what I would say!” Do your kids have your sense of humor, your temper, your aptitude (or not) for sports? Of course your children reflect you and your spouse because the two of you made them together. They have aspects of your DNA and have listened to you talk, watched what you do, learned how you see the world and react to things around you. Here in 1 John 3, John tells us that believers act like God because we are his children. First and foremost, he begins by reminding us how deeply the Father loves us because he has called us to be his children (v. 1a) and will eventually cause us to be just like he is when Christ appears (v. 2). 

In the meantime, we are misunderstood and rejected by the world because we belong to God’s family now. The world does not recognize the characteristics of God in us because they have not been born of God, so they don’t share in his nature like we do (v. 1b). But since we have the hope of being glorified when Christ returns, our instincts are to become purer in our thoughts and actions, holier in our walk through this world (v. 3).

Verses 4-18 give us a sustained look at the differences between those who have been born of God and those who have not been born of God. Anyone can say that they are a Christian, but those who have God’s nature implanted in them through regeneration will have growth toward righteousness (v. 7) and away from sin (vv. 9-10a). If a person practices sin and becomes more sinful over time, that person is reflecting his father’s nature—his father the devil (v. 8). But if we are children of God by faith in Christ, then we will do what is right and learn how to love others (v. 10). Verses 11-18 go deeper on the aspect of love that stems from God’s nature in us. Loving like God does means loving not hating others, even though the world hates us (vv. 12-13). But our love for each other is a mark of our new nature in Christ (vv. 14-15) and this is love is evidenced not by what we say (v. 18a) but by our self-sacrificial actions toward others who have needs (v. 17). Just as Christ sacrificed himself to meet our needs, so we who are his children by regeneration will learn to sacrifice the material things we have to care for and provide for others. 

There is a kind of Christianity that is orthodox in doctrine but cold in daily life. When someone calls themselves a Christian and answers every doctrinal question about Christianity correctly, we assume that they have faith in Jesus. But it is easy to become smug and cold when we feel like we have all the answers. It is easy to match the hatred the world has toward us with contempt for their sinful lifestyles instead of compassion for how sin has enslaved them. It is easy to hoard our money and possessions for ourselves or give in a stingy way that resents having to share, but none of these things is truly loving. Having pure, sound doctrine is important but it is not the real test of our faith in Christ. What really demonstrates our faith in Christ is love that sacrifices to help others, even when—especially when—it makes our wallet thinner. Is this convicting at all? John says the way our conscience responds to the commands to love either reveals our genuine nature as children of Christ (v. 19, 21) or shows our need for repentance (v. 20). We may struggle with unloving attitudes or stinginess toward those who have real needs, but if we completely ignore God’s commands to love and have no prick of conscience or conviction of the Holy Spirit about it (v. 24b), then we are not God’s children. We are orthodox unbelievers; people who understand the facts of Christianity but have never been born into the family of Christ. So where can you show the love of Christ today? This is the best way to know whether or not you really belong to him (vv. 23-24).

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.

Numbers 6, Psalms 40–41, Song of Songs 4, Hebrews 4

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Numbers 6, Psalms 40–41, Song of Songs 4, Hebrews 4. 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 Song of Songs 4.

They say confession is good for the soul so I will confess that, of all the books of the Bible, I’ve spent the least amount of time, I think, in the Song of Songs.* Not that I find the content uninteresting, but there is little to nothing in this book revealed about God or that is theologically important. You can be a strong believer without ever reading Song of Songs, so this book tends to be a lower priority for Bible study.

Still, God saw fit to inspire this book and include it in the canon of Scripture, so it is not without importance. But what does this book contribute to our walk with God? Here are a few thoughts.

First, this book debunks the notion that marriage is a contractual arrangement that, until recently, was romance-optional. Some Christian writers and some secular thinkers have postulated that marriage came into being for bearing and raising children and for forming family alliances that increased an extended family’s prosperity. Two fathers would collaborate to arrange a marriage for their children, whether they cared for each other or not. Once married, a couple would want children, so whatever else their relationship meant was secondary to bearing the children and creating the family. A family would grow to become a clan and that clan would grow to include tribes and eventually a nation would be formed—all through marriage and child bearing. There is no doubt that bearing and raising children was one of God’s key reasons for creating the family. But remember that God’s reason for creating Eve was because “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen 3:18) and, after he created her and gave her to Adam, Moses said, “ That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” The phrase “that is why” refers to the whole account of Eve’s creation and Adam’s union with her, but that all started with the problem of man being alone. In other words, it is the drive for companionship—the special kind of companionship that the intimacy of marriage can create—that compelled God to create marriage. Song of Songs reminds us that romance and desire are not modern, Western drivers for marriage; they are God-given drives that he created marriage to satisfy.

Second, Song of Songs teaches us that romantic passion doesn’t have to fade or die. Neither you or your spouse looks like you did when you met or when you married, but those characteristics that attracted you aren’t gone completely. Men, read the description Solomon wrote in verses 1-7 of today’s chapter. None of us has the literary prowess of Solomon, but how would you feel if you spent as much time thinking positively about your wife’s body as Solomon did? Instead of focusing on her “flaws” or comparing her to what she was or, God forbid, to other women, what if you looked her over from head to toe with admiration like Solomon did? What if you told her, as passionately as you could, how pretty you find her eyes or how much you enjoy looking at her curves? Maybe she would respond as positively as the woman in today’s passage did to Solomon’s words (see verse 16 which commentators interpret as an invitation to have sex). 

Third, Song of Songs teaches us that love and desire are not incompatible with faith in God or outside the realm of our relationship with God. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be desired nor is there any problem with having lustful thoughts. The problem is when we want to be desired by someone instead of or in addition to our spouse; our lustful thoughts are sinful when they are directed toward another person or when they drive us to sinful behaviors instead of toward the one to whom we promised our love and passion. God wants you to have a private, passionate relationship with someone of the opposite sex. He made you to crave that attention and to direct that attention and he wants you to enjoy this as an aspect of your life. When a spouse’s heart goes wandering there may be many reasons but one of them is that we want passion to be fresh and easy like it was when we first got married. But your marriage can have all the fire and satisfaction—and none of the guilt—if you see your desires as gifts of God to be enjoyed within God’s will—your marriage. It takes effort, at times, not because we’re incapable of loving and desiring our spouse but because we focus on the flaws instead of the strengths or we idealize another person we don’t really know instead of prizing the blessing of someone who knows us intimately and wants us anyway. Or desire may have faded because we’re looking at our marriage through a thick residue of resentment or through tears of disappointment. If we learn to obsess on what is attractive rather than a host of unmet, unstated and possibly unrealistic expectations, we can find the old passion again. Fan it into a flame and enjoy the love God wants  you to have in the one he brought into your life.

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.

*If you grew up reading the King James Bible, as I did, you probably refer to this book as Song of Solomon. I’m pretty sure my kids learned it as Song of Solomon, too, when they were memorizing the books of the Bible. And, honestly, I just noticed yesterday that it is Song of Songs in the NIV, not Song of Solomon. Why did the NIV change from the KJV’s Song of Solomon? To better reflect the Hebrew title for the book which is Solomon’s Song of Songs or, a better English translation: Solomon’s Most Excellent Song. But, that’s too lengthy a title, by Western standards, anyway, for a book of the Bible. Here’s an article from the NIV Study Bible that gives some good background information about the book.