servanthood

1 Kings 3, Ezekiel 34

Today’s readings are 1 Kings 3 and Ezekiel 34.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 34.

Because the title “pastor” originally meant shepherd, we might read this chapter and think that the condemnation the Lord gives is to spiritual leaders like the priests. While this passage would apply to any leader, the Lord is primarily addressing the kings of Judah and those who served in the administration of those kings. God trusted them to “take care of the flock” (v. 2f) meaning to strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strays and search for the lost (v. 4). In other words, they existed to watch over those who could be exploited by others and make sure those vulnerable people were not exploited but rather cared for. Instead, “You have ruled them harshly and brutally” (v. 4). Instead of using the power of government as a stewardship, a vehicle for protecting and helping the helpless, they used it as a means to enrich themselves. The Babylonian exile was, in part due to the exploitation of the people by their (so-called) leaders. That’s why God said in verse 10, I “will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock.”

This passage, however, offers the greatest hope for the future of God’s people. In verse 15 God, “I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord.” And again in verses 23-24, “I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.” The “my servant David” part of that promise was not a prediction that God would raise David from the dead and install him on the throne again. Instead, Christ would come from the “house of David” and he would be king in the Davidic line and tradition. This passage will be fulfilled when Christ reigns literally in his kingdom on earth.

Government is not run by a collection of wise public servants who sacrifice themselves to benefit the people. That’s what government should be and would be in a perfect world but what we have is broken world. Any collection of leaders who are merely human will have problems because merely human people are sinners. In eternity, however, we will live in a perfect society ruled by Jesus. He will care for all us and rule with righteousness and justice.

Until he comes, we should strive to lead in the same way that this prophecy describes the leadership of Christ. None of us is perfect but every leader among us should see ourselves as shepherds and do our best to serve God’s people as Jesus himself would (and will) serve them. Who looks to you for leadership in this life? Are you seeking to lead them the way that Christ would lead them, like a shepherd who cares for his sheep?

1 Samuel 12, Jeremiah 49

Today’s readings are 1 Samuel 12 and Jeremiah 49.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 12:2b-4: “‘I have been your leader from my youth until this day. Here I stand. Testify against me in the presence of the Lord and his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I accepted a bribe to make me shut my eyes? If I have done any of these things, I will make it right.’ ‘You have not cheated or oppressed us,” they replied. “You have not taken anything from anyone’s hand.’

In this chapter, Samuel made his farewell to Israel as the leader and judge of the nation. One thing that was important to him was his integrity. Could anyone in the entire nation accuse him of exploiting them in any way? No; the people affirmed that Samuel’s life and ministry as Israel’s judge was free of any kind of scandal at all.

It takes either a clean conscience or incredible hubris to say what Samuel said in this passage. He knew that he had never used his position of power to exploit anyone. Still, there is always the chance of misunderstanding so Samuel invited anyone in the nation to present their grievance so he could make it right (v. 3).

Many national leaders throughout history have used their position of authority to enrich themselves at the expense of the people they lead. This happens when a leader feels entitled. If he believes that he got to be the leader because he is special or that he is special because he is the leader, then instead of seeing others as people to be led, the leader begins to see them as resources to be used for his own benefit.

In other words, someone who uses a position of power to enrich and enjoy himself at the expense of others is not a leader; he is a leech. A true leader, a godly leader, a leader that people respect and want to follow uses resources to benefit others, not to enrich himself.

There are abundant examples in our own world of “leaders” who practice “leechership.” There are examples of leaders who lead like Samuel, too, but you don’t usually get credit for doing the right thing.

Think about the areas where you lead. Do you lead others for their benefit or for yours? What would it mean to change your leadership to bring the most benefit to others for the glory of God?

Judges 9, Jeremiah 22

Today we’re scheduled to read Judges 9 and Jeremiah 22.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 22 which is entirely dedicated to calling out the final kings of Judah. There are three kings addressed in this chapter. The first was “Shallum son of Josiah” (v. 11) who is also called Jehoahaz (2 Chron 36:1-4). He is named here in Jeremiah 22 but only to say that he would never see Jerusalem again (v.12). According to 2 Chronicles 36:1-4, he reigned for only three months and was carried off to Egypt by Pharaoh Necho.

Pharaoh installed Shallum/Jehoahaz’s brother Jehoiakim as king of Judah (2 Chron 36:4b-8) and he reigned for eleven years but Jeremiah prophesied exile for him (vv. 18-23) which he experienced at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon (2 Chron 36:5-8).

Finally, Jehoiachin became king of Judah for all of three months and ten days (v. 9) before Nebuchadnezzar took him away to Babylon, too (vv. 24-27, 2 Chron 36:9-10).

All of these men are lumped together in Jeremiah’s prophecy in this chapter because they were selfish leaders. The ever-present issue of idolatry was still a problem (v. 9) but these three kings were condemned for failing completely to do what kings are supposed to do. Instead of giving justice to those who are robbed or protecting the weak from mistreatment (v. 3), these kings of Judah were entirely self-serving (v. 13-15a, 17). They dreamed of palaces for themselves (v. 14) then used unjust means to build them, conscripting their own people into slavery to build their castles without any compensation at all (v. 13). Instead of bringing good things to their people, Jehoiachin was “a despised, broken pot, an object no one wants” (v. 28). This image of a broken pot primarily describes Jehoiachin as someone nobody cared about but the image also conveys his worthlessness.

This is what happens when leaders fixate on what they want and use others to get what they want rather than serving their people by establishing and defending what is right and just. Many people look at leadership as a platform for receiving perks that others don’t receive but God calls any and all of us in leadership to see our position as a stewardship, a means to deliver what is good in the eyes of God to those under our leadership. The power a leader has is to be exercised for the glory of God, emulating his righteousness, justice, and moral goodness. When a leader uses power to enrich himself, he puts himself outside of the moral will of God who will punish him accordingly.

What areas of leadership do you have? Are you using the power of that leadership to serve others or yourself?

Genesis 45, Job 11, Psalm 43

Today, read Genesis 45, Job 11, and Psalm 43.

This devotional is about Genesis 45.

When Joseph was a young man, still at home with his parents and brothers, he was the favorite. His father favored him over all of his brothers, and God favored him, too, revealing to him in two dreams that someday his family would bow before him. So, at home, Joseph had power and his brothers had very little.

When they saw Joseph alone, his brothers felt that the tables had turned. They now had the power over him and they chose to use that power against him. First they plotted to kill him; then they decided to sell him into slavery.

Here in Genesis 45, the tables have turned again. Joseph here had the very power that God had prophesied he would have. How would you have treated Joseph’s brothers if you were in Joseph’s position of power?

Most people would be tempted to extract some rough justice for how his brothers treated him. Many people wouldn’t just be tempted; they would use that power to punish severely, with great vengeance.

Joseph, however, saw the power he had as a stewardship, an opportunity to do good. God had promised his ancestor Abraham that his descendants would become a great nation and that he would bless them. Joseph understood that his position now gave him the power to bless his family as part of God’s promise to them. In verse 5b he said, “...it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” In verse 7 he told them, “But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.” And, in verse 8 he concluded, “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.” This realization, plus the realization that his brothers were repentant for what they had done to him (see 42:21), prevented Joseph from abusing his power to punish his family. Despite how badly he suffered, he now saw how God was using all of it to put him in a position to bless his family, just as he had promised to do.

Think about where you are in your life--your family position, your position at work, your ministry in our church, and anything else. These positions can benefit you and, in some cases, might enable you to punish others who cross you. But, as believers in God like Joseph was, we have the opportunity to look at our positions in life as a stewardship. They give us the power to serve and bless others, not to benefit ourselves or extract vengeance. Look for ways today, then, to serve those around you and not to force them to serve you.

Acts 6

Today we’re reading Acts 6.

A couple of things are important to keep in mind as we read these chapters describing the first church in Jerusalem. First, remember that all of the disciples except for Judas were from Galilee, the northern part of Israel. Second, most of Jesus disciples before his crucifixion were Galileans, too. Third, Jesus death, burial, resurrection, and the coming of the Holy Spirit in power in Acts 2 happened in Jerusalem. Jesus had told the disciples to stay there in Jerusalem until the Spirit’s power descended on them (see Acts 1:4).

After the Spirit came on the disciples in power, people began to trust Christ in large numbers (see Acts 2:41, 47; 4:4). Many of those who trusted Christ lived in Jerusalem and the early church met in their homes (see Acts 2:42). But many of them also lived outside of Jerusalem but they wanted to stay and experience what God was doing in the church. So there are some new believers in the Jerusalem church who lived in Jerusalem and made their living in Jerusalem but many others (more?) who did not live in Jerusalem and, therefore, had no income for as long as they remained in Jerusalem.

These facts explain the need for so much sharing of homes, food, and money in the early church in Jerusalem. It wasn’t that the church was communistic or socialistic by nature; it was that many believers had no means of support while they stayed in Jerusalem, but they wanted to stay there and experience what God was doing. So, their brothers and sisters who had financial means generously shared with those who did not.

Here in Acts 6, then, we see that there were problems--gaps, even--in how people were being cared for in the early church. According to verse 1, there was some discrimination--intentional or not--regarding how people with needs were supported and cared for. In verse 2 the Twelve disciples gathered to discuss how to address this problem. It was a true dilemma because the needs of the people were legitimate and important; however, enough needed to happen logistically that some or all of the apostles could have had their time consumed by making sure all the needs were met.

The answer the Twelve came up with was to distribute responsibility to other people (vv. 3-4). This was to allow the Twelve to give their full attention to “prayer and the ministry of the word” (v. 4). Although the task given to these men did not require any particular spiritual gifting or skill, the disciples felt it was important to give the task to godly men (v. 3). Although this passage does not directly say it, many people (me included) think that this paragraph is how the office of deacon began in the church.

The men who were chosen for this ministry were “known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom” (v. 3). Yet they did not consider this task to be beneath them. In keeping with their reputations for godliness, these men had servants hearts and took on willingly the responsibility they were chosen for.

When you are asked to serve somewhere in the church, do you see it as a chance to serve the Lord or as a burden to bear? It is true that some people can be overburdened if they take on too many ministries, but it is also true that many people are unwilling to serve when asked. It is a blessing to serve the Lord and, as believers, we should be honored to serve him by serving his church when we are given the opportunity.

Luke 24

Today’s reading is Luke 24.

Remember those women in Luke 8:2-3 that Luke said traveled with Jesus and the disciples? Luke named a few of them: “Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others” (v. 2b-3a). He had told us that they “were helping to support them out of their own means” (v. 3b). That passage in Luke 8 is the only insight we are given in the Gospels--at least, that I can think of--about the financial support of Jesus ministry. Think about 13 men traveling to different villages, towns, and cities. Where did they sleep? Where did they get their meals in an age before restaurants? These women provided them the money they needed to buy food; they probably also prepared food when needed, found places for everyone to sleep at night, brought Jesus and the disciples water during the day. Maybe they helped mend clothes and wash them, too, but it seems clear that they volunteered to help Jesus and his disciples in whatever way was needed.

Here in Luke 24 these women emerge from the shadows again (v. 1, 10). The passage says they came “very early in the morning” (v. 1) to the tomb where Jesus’ body had been buried. My guess is that they figured this would be the last of their unheralded acts of service on behalf of Jesus. When Jesus’ burial was complete, they might have stayed for a few days to mourn his death and remember his life, then they would return to Galilee and re-enter daily life.

Instead of doing the sad, unpleasant, and difficult work of embalming Jesus’ body, the women were surprised to hear the message that Jesus was risen from the dead (vv. 3-7, 10)! The angels that reported this news to them said to them in verse 6, “Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” That happened back in Luke 9:22. It was just after Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Messiah. One of the benefits of being on Jesus’ support team was that they could listen to him teach as they served or during the moments when there was nothing immediate to do. Verse 8 here in Luke 24 says, “Then they remembered his words” which tells us that they were in the audience when Peter declared Jesus to be the Messiah so they heard Jesus predict his death and resurrection. Now God had chosen them to be the first people learn of Christ’s resurrection.

Although it isn’t the point of this passage, this story suggests a truth that may encourage you today which is that some of the greatest blessings of following Jesus occur when we are doing the difficult, unpleasant, unnoticed work of serving him. If you are discouraged because you feel like your life and or your ministry in the church is often overlooked, unnoticed, unappreciated think of these women. You may be tempted to think that your life doesn’t matter much, but God sees. He knows what our love for Christ leads us to do for him even if nobody else ever knows. And, God may just surprise you one day with an unexpected blessing; it won’t be anything as big as an angel informing you that Jesus has risen from the dead, but it will be a blessing nonetheless. So don’t be discouraged or give up serving Jesus.


BTW: Logos Bible Software, the Bible study software I use has created a pretty cool webpage describing what the tomb where Jesus was buried was probably actually like. Click here to see it: https://www.logos.com/encounter-easter

Luke 8

Today we’re reading Luke 8.

It’s been surprisingly tough to write these devotionals on Luke because I’ve been preaching through these chapters. I’ve already said a lot about all these sections in my messages so I’m struggling not to feel like I’m repeating myself while simultaneously feeling like I’m not saying very much about paragraphs I’ve studied in a lot of detail.

Anyway, that’s my problem, not yours; fortunately, my problem ends tomorrow in Luke 9 when we catch up to and pass the section I’m preaching from currently. For now, though, Luke 8 presents us with one of Jesus’ best known parables (vv. 4-15), some lesser known teachings of Jesus (vv. 16-21) and several miracles (vv. 22-56). The chapter began, though, by listing Jesus’ key financial contributors, some women who traveled with Jesus and the disciples who “were helping to support them out of their own means.” As I indicated in my message on this series, this paragraph gives us insight into how Jesus and the disciples were able to live while devoting themselves full-time to the ministry and it sets a precedent for how ministry is funded that the rest of the New Testament developed for us.

Luke doesn’t say much about what these women did. Verse 2 indicates that they were with him and the Twelve as they traveled “from one town and village to another” and verse 3 says that they “were helping to support them out of their own means.” That last phrase obviously means that they were spending their own money to pay for food and lodging and anything else Jesus and the Twelve needed money for. But why would these women need to travel with Jesus and the disciples? Couldn’t they just send the money by messenger whenever it was needed?

I think they could have sent the money, but I also think they traveled with Jesus and the Twelve to hear Jesus teach just like everyone else who followed him around. I wonder, though, if they also didn’t handle some of the logistics--going ahead of the men to find enough places for them to sleep, buying food and preparing meals as needed. Again the text does not say this, but it makes sense that they would do at least some of this planning and preparation work so as to give Jesus the maximum amount of time to do ministry and to do so without distractions.

This is a small nit to pick in a chapter that has some great material in it but, again, I’ve already sliced all that bread so I’m looking for some crumbs that got away. If you’ve served somewhere behind the scenes--doing sound or lighting or projection or as a Calvary Class helper or preparing meals for families that just had a baby or helping with the Sunday coffee and donuts or giving rides to people to church on Sunday or making copies of material or helping out with office work or cleaning the floors on Saturday night or serving in the chair ministry or making and serving funeral meals or serving in the food pantry or in the prison ministry or doing any other number of tasks, your ministry is important! It may seem unnoticed or feel unimportant but the truth is that it is very important. Servants like you make every ministry possible so if you’ve served in one of these lower-profile places, thank you!

If you could serve in one of these ways but haven’t volunteered yet, would you volunteer this week? Everything we do as a church takes dedicated volunteers so the more volunteers we have, the more ministry we can do. Jesus said that a cup of water given in his name would be rewarded so there are eternal dividends to be reaped if you sow into His work now, even in ways that seem insignificant and small. So, if you’re not serving somewhere yet, one way to put the truth in this chapter into practice is to find your place to serve. It is the Lord’s work so he’s the one you’re serving, just as these women served him in their unseen but important role.

Matthew 20

Today’s reading is Matthew 20

There are billions of people living on earth today. Those of us who live in developed countries have millions of signals clamoring for our attention. Phone calls, text messages, emails, social media, billboards, websites, tv shows, radio shows, books, magazines, newspapers, and, of course, other people in real life around us all insist that we stop whatever we’re doing and pay attention to them.

Getting attention is important. You won’t experience love without someone else’s attention, but you also won’t find a job or get promoted or generate new leads for your business or find new friends without getting others to pay attention to you. And, once you have someone’s attention, the message you convey is, “Choose me! I’m great” or “I’m more helpful” or “I’m better” in some way than the person you have now. This kind of self-selling is essential to moving up in the world.

We might be tempted to think that it is necessary to sell ourselves to God, too. After all, there are billions of people in the world and many of them are trying to get his attention. Once we’ve trusted Christ, we still may be tempted to promote ourselves within his church either to gain notoriety for ourself or our cause or to try to earn God’s favor. James and John (“the sons of Zebedee” in verse 20, see Mark 10:35) tried this. They even enlisted the help of their mother to get Jesus’ attention. And they came with a big ask: “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” Wow! “Make us your vice-regents, Jesus. That’s all we’re asking for.” Talk about self-promotion.

Jesus responded by alluding to the cost of following him, namely to “drink the cup I am going to drink” (v. 22). Without knowing at all what he meant, they affirmed their ability to do the job in verse 23. Jesus knew that they would indeed suffer just as he would suffer, but he declined to appoint them to the positions they wanted (v. 23). Their request, however, miffed the other disciples and created a teaching moment for Jesus. He agreed that the way of this world is a way of self-promotion and heavy-handed authority (v. 25) but taught that this approach was inappropriate and backward in his kingdom (v. 26a). Instead of promoting ourselves, Jesus commanded us to humble ourselves. He told us that the way to advance in his kingdom was to take on the role of a slave (v. 27). When we act this way, we mirror the servant’s heart of Christ himself who acted as a slave and sacrificed his life to save us (v. 28).

We are disciples of Jesus, but we have different gifts, different callings, different opportunities and responsibilities. Living like a servant, then, means different things for each one of us. But Christ’s command to live this way should be the motivation behind what we do and the goal for whatever we do. Think about your life--your family, our church, your workplace, and everything else. What does it look like to be a servant for the Lord Jesus Christ in your life?

1 Kings 12, Philippians 3, Ezekiel 42, Psalm 94

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 1 Kings 12, Philippians 3, Ezekiel 42, Psalm 94. 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 12.

Today’s devotional is too easy to write. One verse explains what happened to Solomon’s son Rehoboam and what happens to anyone who thinks that authority is for them: “They replied, ‘If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants.’” Did you catch it: “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them…?” This is what leadership is all about—serving those you lead. Solomon, despite his great wisdom, imposed a heavy tax burden on his people to build all the grand structures that made Jerusalem a world-class city and to support all his wives and girlfriends. The people went from prosperous and happy (1 Ki 4:20, 10:8) to begging his son for relief (12:3). That’s because Solomon turned from having a servant’s heart (1 Ki 3:7b-9) to believing he was entitled to whomever and whatever he wanted. 

An entitled attitude can develop at any stage of life—witness Solomon who had a servant’s heart when he was young and gradually began to feel that he was entitled. But I wonder if youth and immaturity don’t make people especially susceptible to a feeling of entitlement. When you’re young, everything is done for you because you haven’t learned to do it yourself. But at some point in your life you must learn to do things for yourself, to set goals and accomplish them, to understand that setbacks and hurdles are part of life and that you have to find ways to overcome them. Nobody but your parents owes you devoted love; you have to cultivate that with another person if you want to get married and have a happy family yourself. Nobody owes you a job or a decent standard of living. Your employer does not owe you a promotion or a raise or a carefully mapped out career path where you ascend to greater leadership and prosperity. Because you are human—made in God’s image—society does not have the right to take your life or to mistreat you. You have the right to life, to private property, and to justice. With those basic protections in place, whatever else happens in your life is up to God’s providence and your decision-making. 

Rehoboam, I’m sure, lived a very entitled life. He never had to tend sheep or fight in battles as his grandfather did. His friends (v. 10), likewise, were probably sons of high officials in Solomon’s administration (see 1 Ki 9:20-23). None of these kids had to work for anything; the good life was provided to them in abundance and they all saw how Solomon did whatever he wanted. Their advice to Rehoboam was not to serve his citizens by getting off their backs and out of their way so they could provide for themselves (12:4, 9); rather, their advice was to push them harder, to show them who’s boss (vv. 10-15). The result was a rebellion that nearly led to civil war (vv. 16-21). Only God’s direct revelation kept Israel from decimating itself (vv. 22-24). All of this happened in God’s providence (v. 24: “…this is my doing…”) as a consequence of Solomon’s sins (11:34-39). But it reminds us to watch out for the sin of pride manifested in an entitlement mentality. If you use your power and influence for yourself, that is a sin against God. It is also a prescription for trouble because eventually those you use and abuse will seek relief.

If anyone in our government were paying attention, it should warn them of the potentially devastating consequences of helping themselves to too much of the wealth of a nation’s citizens. Many people in our country are upset by “welfare mothers” and others who are accused of abusing our welfare system. But what about the politicians, regulators, lawyers, bureaucrats, defense contractors, and consultants? What about the lobbyists, bankers, farmers and workers in other industries who get government subsidies or exemptions from laws everyone else has to follow? What about government employee unions who vote for politicians who then give greater wages and benefits? Are these groups of people truly serving the citizens or are they using the public for their own enrichment? Instead of condemning the poor for being poor, we should look first toward the prosperous who do not design, manufacture, or sell anything but instead become prosperous by confiscating the profits of those are productive. 

For the moment, we can not do much about the burdensome government we elected and empowered. But we can learn how to serve those we lead instead of using them for our own enrichment. Learn the lesson of Rehoboam and banish the entitlement mentality from  your heart. Be a servant just as God served us in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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.

1 Kings 3, Ephesians 1, Ezekiel 34, Psalms 83–84

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 1 Kings 3, Ephesians 1, Ezekiel 34, Psalms 83–84. 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 3.

If you had an audience with God and he told you to ask him for anything you want, what would you ask him for? Unless you knew this passage or had thought about it in advance, it really is a tough question. That’s where Solomon was. His administration had started well; after taking care of leftover business from David’s administration in chapter 2, Solomon made an alliance with Pharaoh and married his daughter (v. 1). This secured his kingdom from the biggest military threat in the region and began a time of great peace in Israel. Solomon went to work, then, on expanding Jerusalem and making a true capital city politically and religiously (v. 2b). Both Solomon and the people were worshipping the Lord in a way that was outside his will (see Deut 12:2-7), but Solomon’s heart was right before the Lord (v. 3) , so God would use him to correct this unlawful practice. 

On one of Solomon’s worship treks, the Lord spoke to him in a dream, asking him the question I began with: What do you want me to give you? As verse 5 put it, “God said, ‘Ask for whatever you want me to give you.’” It would be so easy and so natural to ask for something selfish—a long life, material prosperity, or freedom from war. Solomon, however, had his mind elsewhere. At this moment in his life he was grateful for all that God had done for him and his family (vv. 6-7a) and highly aware of his own immaturity (v. 7b). Solomon was ready to serve but intimidated, perhaps, by the prospect of leading God’s great chosen people (v. 8). What he asked for, therefore, was wisdom. Verse 9 says, “So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” 

This demonstrates that Solomon was interested in serving well, not in being served. What he wanted from God was completely unselfish—to have the discernment to lead well. God responded by promising not only the wisdom he wanted, but all the selfish stuff he could have asked for as well (vv. 12-14).

But then Solomon woke up (v. 15); his audience with God had been a dream. Was there any doubt in his mind that God had really spoken to him? Did he understand that his dream was truly revelatory or did it seem more like a pleasant way to pass the night? Interestingly, after having this dream in Gibeon (v. 5) where he had gone to offer sacrifices to the Lord (v. 4a), he then returned to Jerusalem and… offered sacrifices again, this time however in the tabernacle as God had commanded (v. 15). Was he beginning to understand this important point of obedience to God’s law? 

Regardless, Solomon soon faced a difficult test of judgment. His ability to discern the true mother of the living child in verses 16-28 remains to this day a legendary example of true wisdom. The point of this test was to solidify his ability as Israel’s leader (v. 28), but it also must have given great comfort to Solomon. The young king who was self-conscious of his immaturity and of the great task of leading Israel in verses 7-8 now had a stellar example of God’s answered prayer in his life. If there were any question in his mind that the Lord had spoken to him in that dream, this incident must have erased it. The young king was ready to be the man that God’s people needed.

But think about the humility Solomon displayed in this passage. He could easily have asked for an easy, pleasurable, long life. It would be natural to any of us to ask for that; Solomon, though, wanted to serve well. He wanted God to bless him with the ability to be a great king—not one who exploited the people for his own benefit as the other passage we read today, Ezekiel 34, described. No, he wanted God to bless him so he could bless others. He wanted the ability to serve and to serve well. Is this what we ask God for? When we pray about our family—our marriage and parenting, for example—do we ask God to give us insight into how to serve our spouse and make him/her feel loved? Do we ask God to help our children obey so that we can have a more enjoyable family life or are we concerned that they learn the importance of obedience to proper authority so that they know how to follow Jesus throughout their lives? The best thing we could learn from Solomon is to learn the humility of desiring to be the best servant we can be and asking God for that grace. Perhaps if we wanted to serve others more and learned how to do it, God would give us more of the illusive blessings that would make us happier as well.

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. 

1 Samuel 2, Romans 2, Jeremiah 40, Psalms 15–16

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 1 Samuel 2, Romans 2, Jeremiah 40, Psalms 15–16. 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 Samuel 2.

There is such a contrast in this chapter between the godly praise of Hannah in verses 1-10 and the evil acts of Eli’s sons in verses 12-26. Hannah not only gave praise and glory to God in her words, but she described who the Lord would honor and who he would humble. She also prophesied in verse 10 when she said, “He will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed.” At this point, there was no king in Israel or one anywhere on the horizon. Late in Samuel’s life, when his mother had almost certainly been dead for some time, Samuel, her son, would anoint the first and the second king of Israel.

Meanwhile, Eli and his sons were acting dishonorably before the Lord and, instead of giving prophesies, they were being prophesied against (vv. 27-36). The author of 1 Samuel described Eli’s sons in a general way in verse 12. Then in verses 13-17 he gave specific instances of their sin of having “no regard for the Lord” (v. 12). The manifestation of their ungodly attitude toward the Lord was first of all their treatment of his offerings. When the people brought sacrifices to the Lord, they were acts of worship to him, of course. But God had also decreed that some sacrifices were to also provide food for the priests (see Lev 6:25-26 for one example). The problem was not that Eli’s sons ate the sacrificial meat; the problem was that they cared nothing for the Lord, the worshipper, or the Law’s instructions about the sacrifices. All they cared about was getting the best portion of meat from the sacrifice and the ability to cook it as they wanted. 

Eli’s sons not only treated the meat of the sacrifices as property they could take for their own appetites, they viewed the women who served in tabernacle as property they could take for their sexual appetites (vv. 22b). Eli’s sons, then, used their privileged position as priests to serve themselves with no regard for how the Lord was to be served. Eli did confront his sons about their sins and did urge them to stop (vv. 23-26), but he would not use the position and power the Lord gave them to make them stop. He had every right—responsibility even—to remove them as priests for their wicked acts, but he cared more about honoring them than he did about honoring the Lord (v. 29). 

All three of these men, then, were sinning in their capacity as leaders. His sons abused the privilege of leadership to bring them pleasure; Eli refused to use the power he had as a leader for the Lord’s glory. Instead, he used it to protect his sons, even though he was disgusted by their sins.

The problem with power is that it can seduce those who have it into using for their own enrichment or for their own protection rather than for doing what is good. The boss who takes credit for the work of his team, the pastor who steals from the church’s treasury or preys on women who come to him for spiritual help, the father or mother takes out their own frustrations on their children, the politician who uses public office to enrich himself or herself—these are all ways in which people use a position for selfish gratification instead of to serve the Lord by using that power for his glory. Is there any area in your life where your actions as a leader benefit you but displease the Lord?

Samuel was brought to serve in the tabernacle by his mother, but God brought him there to replace the house of Eli with godly leadership. Samuel will show us how a godly leader operates and, of course, the sacrifice of Christ a little over a thousand years after this will show us how God wants us to use our leadership to serve not to be served. Think about where God has called you to lead; now, is your leadership there glorifying to him or gratifying to you?

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.

Exodus 34, John 13, Proverbs 10, Ephesians 3

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Exodus 34, John 13, Proverbs 10, Ephesians 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 John 13.

Of the four gospels, the Gospel of John gives us the most extensive description of Jesus’ final hours before his arrest. Here in chapter 13, that description begins. The Passover meal is set to begin and Christ is distinctly aware that his betrayal, trials, torture, and execution will follow. John stressed to his readers that Jesus knew what was about to happen. Verse 13 says “…Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father…” and verse 3 says “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God;” Meditate on this for a moment. If you knew that your death was coming, that it would be extraordinarily violent and painful and that it would culminate with the rejection of God the Father, what would you be thinking about? What would you want to do with that time? How would you handle interactions with other people?

Personally, I'm pretty sure I would be preoccupied with what was coming and that I would be a nervous wreck. It would be natural to turn to those closest to you for comfort but when your friends are completely oblivious to what is coming (vv. 22, 36-38), they are in no position to comfort you. So, in addition to being preoccupied with myself and my fears, I think it might be irritating to be around friends who don’t get what is about to happen and are, in fact, in high spirits due to the Passover. It would be easy to be angry with them for not understanding and to run from them to be alone with your fears.

But that’s me; then there is Christ. He knew that he “was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet… "(vv. 3b-5a). Instead of being preoccupied with himself, he was intent on loving and serving his disciples; in the words of verse 1: “he loved them to the end” which I interpret to mean “to the fullest extent.” This was a genuine act of love but it also set an example to us who follow Jesus of service (vv. 12-17) and of love for others (vv. 34-35). Christ’s example and his command to us, then, is not to allow our anxiety and fear to take over our lives; rather, despite the real emotions we feel about our lives, put others first and serve them lovingly. What is the result of this kind of selfless service? Verse 17: “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed [happy, benefitted] if you do them.” Serving others is not usually the first thing that comes to mind when we think of how to be happy. Often being happy to us means having someone else serve us. Serving others rubs our sin nature raw; it tempts us to resent the ones we're serving or the fact that we're put in a place where we have to serve. But Christ promises the blessing of joy to those who take the lower place and choose to serve others because we love Him.

So not only does our faith in Christ call us to have a servant’s heart toward others, it calls us to serve others in love even at the very moments where we could be expected to forget other’s problems because we have so many of our own. If you are lacking joy due to problems and difficulties in your life, find someone to serve. Not only will you be obedient to our master and Lord but you will also be blessed if you do it (v. 17).

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.