missions

1 Samuel 2, Jeremiah 40

Today’s we’re scheduled to read 1 Samuel 2 and Jeremiah 40.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 2.

Samuel’s conception and birth were quite unusual. They were not miraculous, but they were a direct answer to Hannah’s prayers as we read yesterday in 1 Samuel 1. Hannah’s prayer suggests a bit of bargaining between her and the Lord. Give me “a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life” (1:11). This chapter describes what happened in Samuel’s situation but that does not mean it will happen for anyone who prays a similar prayer. Still, the desire that caused her to pray for a son was a good and godly desire in the eyes of God so he graciously answered Hannah’s prayer.

At the end of 1 Samuel 1, Hannah made good on her part of the bargain. She dropped of Samuel to live with Eli and assists the priests in the tabernacle at Shiloh (vv. 24-28). Many mothers cry the first day they drop their kid off at school to begin kindergarten. Imagine handing him over to live with another family and only seeing him annually. That must have been a tough day.

But, hard as it was, it was a happy day for Hannah. Today’s reading opened with her heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving to God. “My heart rejoices in the Lord” she said (v. 1) and the rest of the prayer glorified God for who he is (v. 2) and what he does (vv. 4-10). It must have been lonely without the boy she prayed so earnestly for but she knew there was no better life than for him to serve the Lord even if it was away from her.

When I was in high school, a man whose daughter was a year ahead of me in school told my mom that he was afraid his daughter would marry a missionary and that he would never see her again. Have you ever worried about this? Does the idea that your child might serve the Lord somewhere far away (in America or some other country) bring you fear or joy? Hannah was overjoyed to know that her son was serving the Lord and she parted with him at a much younger age than we parents do once our children are grown. Hannah’s example of bargaining with the Lord is not the thing we should emulate about her. But we should emulate her desire to see her child serve God and her joy when he did serve the Lord.

Do you pray for your children to serve the Lord with their lives? Would it bring you more joy to have a child that is living for God and serving Him in a far away place or a child who is living across the street in sin or with little desire to serve the Lord?

Deuteronomy 18, Isaiah 45

Here are your readings for today: Deuteronomy 18 and Isaiah 45.

This devotional is about Isaiah 45.

The early part of this chapter prophesied that Cyrus, king of Persia, would return God’s people to their Promised Land (vv. 1-13). This would happen despite Cyrus’s unbelief in God (v. 4e); he would serve as God’s chosen agent anyway (v. 13). This prophecy was fulfilled in Ezra 1 around 539 B.C.

The rest of this chapter, starting around verse 14, looks further into the future. It envisions a day when nations all over the world will come to Israel seeking the true God (vv. 14-17). Although the nations say that God “has been hiding himself” (v. 15a) in Israel, God himself says, “I have not spoken in secret, from somewhere in a land of darkness” (v. 19). Instead, he has been revealing himself to humanity from the beginning of time as the one and only God, the only true person deserving of worship (v. 20). The Lord welcomes worshippers from every nation on earth. “Turn to me and be saved,” he said, “all you ends of the earth” (v. 22). Just as he created the earth to be inhabited (v. 18) he wants his kingdom to be inhabited with people from all over the world--and it will be, someday.

But when is this great day when people from different languages, cultures, and locations come streaming to Israel seeking God? Verse 23d-c says, “Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear....” Paul alluded this verse in Philippians 2:10-11 when he wrote, “...at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” So this prophecy awaits us in the future still when Christ reigns on earth in his kingdom. Until then, we have been given the opportunity and responsibility of going to every nation to tell them that Jesus saves. As we deliver the gospel--ourselves and through missionaries around the world--God is appointing people to eternal life and marking them as his for that day when we will reign with him in his kingdom.

Do you see how important the task of world evangelism is? It is important because every person who comes to Christ has been saved for eternity from God’s wrath. But it is also important in the fulfillment of God’s word which prophesied that God would save people from all over the world, that they would come seeking to know him and become worshippers of his for eternity. This is why we send missionaries. This is why we preach the gospel. This is why we witness personally to others about Jesus. When the world comes to bow before Christ and confess that he Lord, all will be right in creation again, finally. And all of this is, as Paul wrote in Philippians 2:11, “to the glory of God the Father.”

1 Timothy 2

Today we’re reading 1 Timothy 2.

One of the common objections heard against our faith is that it is exclusive. If Jesus is the only way to God, then what about people who worship God through other religions. Will they miss salvation even though they have a desire to know God?

The answer is yes, according to verse 5 of our passage today: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.” It is common to hear that every religion is worshipping the same God, just by a different name. The Bible, however, calls worship of any other god than the true God idolatry. The reason is that “there is one God.” Verse 5 went on to say that there is “one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.” The only way to know the one true God, to worship him, and receive his forgiveness is through Jesus. Why? Because he “gave himself as a ransom.” Only the death of Christ on our behalf made reconciliation with God possible. Any other religion, in addition to saying things about God that contradict the Christian description of God, lacks a solution to the problem of sin.

But notice the next phrase in verse 6: “...for all people.” This truth goes against the idea that our faith is exclusive. It is exclusive in the sense that there is only one way--Jesus--so he is the exclusive way to God. But our faith is not exclusive in the sense that it is restricted to only one type of person. The salvation Jesus purchased, and the good news about knowing God he brought us, is for every kind of person on earth--Jew or Gentile, slave or free, wealthy or poor, male or female, Japanese or Lebanese, or any other way that people can be categorized.

This is why Paul began this chapter by urging us to pray “for all people” (v. 1). We should pray for the gospel to go everywhere there are people. In verse 2, Paul specified that we should pray “for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives....” This is a request for the authorities of the world to leave us alone so that the gospel can advance to all the world without interference or persecution.

When you pray, remember to pray for the world. Specifically, pray that people all over the world will learn about the one true God and the one mediator, the man--our Lord--Christ Jesus. Pray that those who are taking the gospel everywhere will do so without being persecuted or interfered with so that all kinds of people will be “saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” (v. 4).

Acts 18

Today we’re scheduled to read Acts 18.

In this chapter Paul met a couple, Aquila and Priscilla, who would become friends and ministry associates. Verse 3 tells us that, in addition to having Christ in common, they also made a living by making tents just as Paul did when he needed money. This work allowed Paul to travel and give the gospel anywhere without asking anyone for money. However, earning a living this way meant spending less time preaching the gospel.

In verse 5, Luke dropped this into the story: “When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching....” Why would he do this? Why would he work part time with Priscilla and Aquila until Silas and Timothy showed up and then, with two other mouths to feed, stop making tents and start preaching the gospel exclusively? The answer is found in Philippians 4:15-16 which says, “Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need.” Second Corinthians 11:9 conveys the same information. So here in Acts 18:5 Luke alludes to the financial support the Philippian church sent by saying that “Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching....” Their financial contributions made it possible for Paul and his team to concentrate on giving the gospel instead of splitting time between giving the gospel and earning a living.

Because of this passage, missionaries who work on the mission field are called “tentmakers.” There are some good reasons to do tentmaking, but in most cases the gospel advances better when God’s servants can give it our full attention. That happens when God’s people give faithfully and generously to his work.

So, let me close this meditation by saying thank you to everyone who tithes to Calvary! Your faithful giving allows me to make a living for my family and funds our other staff members and expenses. If you are not giving--or giving very little--please understand how important financial support is to our church and to our missionaries and consider re-prioritizing your finances to support God’s work.

Acts 13

Today’s reading is Acts 13.

Being part of the first church in Jerusalem must have been an amazing experience. People were being saved all the time and everyone who believed started meeting in one another’s homes for prayer, instruction, and fellowship. Here in Acts 13, the first Gentile church at Antioch, seems to have had a similar experience. Verse 1a told us that there were “prophets and teachers” there and they are named in the latter half of that verse. Although they enjoyed great worship and fellowship, God’s work needed to go forward so that more and more people would become part of the church and, when Jesus returns, experience eternity in the kingdom of God. So God spoke in the person of the Holy Spirit and called on the church to send Barnabas and Saul out to evangelize people and form new churches. Thus began both the “first missionary journey” of Paul and Barnabas and the final stage of the Great Commission as described in Acts 1:8: “...to the ends of the earth.”

God worked through Barnabas and Saul (and, for some reason, Luke the author of Acts, switched to calling him “Paul” in verse 9). People came to believe in Jesus and they were organized into local churches. But I want to focus for this devotional on the importance God’s mission over our comfort. The church at Antioch sounds like an amazing experience and, human nature being what it is, Paul and Barnabas may have stayed there for many years doing the Lord’s work. It took the direct voice of the Holy Spirit to compel the church to send Barnabas and Paul out on their first missionary journey. They needed God’s prompting to do what Jesus had commanded us to do in Acts 1:8--just as the Jerusalem church needed the prompting of persecution to move to “Judea and Samaria” (Acts 1:8).

God acts sovereignly to make sure that his will is done so we never have to worry about the mission failing. What we should remember, however, is that until Jesus returns, we have work to do. It is easy to get very comfortable with the familiar--even (especially?) when God is using us and ministry is going well. But God did not call us to be comfortable, he commissioned us to spread the gospel and start churches.

This means that our church will sometimes have to part with people we love who are obedient to the mission. It has already happened to us in recent years and it will happen again. This is also why we send 8-10% of our giving as a church away into missions and church planting. If we spent 100% of what God provided to us on our own work--even good, spiritual work--we would be disobedient to what God commanded us to do.

Maybe you’ve been considering some kind of change--giving more to the church or to missions, starting a new ministry here at Calvary, or going into church planting yourself. If comfort with the present situation is stopping you from taking on a new challenge for God’s glory, will you should reconsider that in light of this passage?

Deuteronomy 1, Psalms 81–82, Isaiah 29, 3 John

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Deuteronomy 1, Psalms 81–82, Isaiah 29, 3 John. 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 3 John.

One aspect of early Christianity that is often overlooked today is how early Christians welcomed and provided for those who were spreading the gospel around the world. This letter we know as 3 John gives us some insight into this practice. 

Christ commanded the apostles to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19) but as they obeyed this command, the apostles needed a way to provide for their daily needs. Paul, the apostle, went to new areas with the gospel and either worked to provide for himself (Acts 18:1-3) or received funds from other churches he had started and established in the past (Acts 18:5, Phil 4:14-19). As the churches matured, they became more reliable in providing funds for those traveling to spread the gospel. Here in 3 John 5, John is commending the recipients of this letter for doing that. As verse 5 put it, “Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you.” Verse 7 clarifies this when it says, “It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans.” God’s servants “went out” to spread word about “the name” of Jesus; they did not charge the people they were seeking to win to Christ (v. 7b: “receiving no help from the pagans”). Instead, they relied on the faithful giving of other believers and churches (v. 5: “you are faithful in what you are doing…even though they are strangers to you”). 

John urges Gaius and the other believers with him (v. 14c) in 3 John to keep supporting anyone who comes through his area while traveling to spread the gospel. Verse 6b says this when John wrote, “Please send them on their way in a manner that honors God.” Sending them “on their way” meant giving them the funds they needed to travel and survive. “In a manner that honors God” suggests that Gaius and his brothers fund the missionaries well. Verse 8 concludes this section by telling us that this is a principle that believers should follow: “We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth.” Those who provide financially for others who travel to spread the gospel are “work[ing] together for the truth;” in other words, their financial support is an act of partnership in the gospel. Even in the next section that sanctions Diotrephes for his selfish behavior, John includes his stinginess toward those traveling for the spread of the gospel as part of his criticism: “…he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.” 

This section challenges us to consider our commitment to the spread of the gospel through missionaries. John’s statement that “We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth” invites us to be part of what God is doing in the world by supporting his servants who give the gospel full time. The expression, “Please send them on their way in a manner that honors God” encourages us to be generous in how we give; God’s servants deserve more than token amounts; they deserve generosity because of whom they serve. Finally, the phrase “you are faithful” reminds us that those who work for the spread of the gospel need an ongoing, steady supply of cash so that they can serve without distraction. If you’re giving faithfully, generously to the Lord’s work through missions (either through our church or in addition to your giving to our church), keep it up! Your giving means that you are working “together for the truth” with those involved in church planting and missions. If you’re not giving to God’s work, consider the impact that your faithful support could have for the spread of the gospel to the glory of God. 

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.