Devotional Reading for August 17, 2022

1 Corinthians 2

I said yesterday that it’s not about the method, but the message, as Paul states here (2:1-3). But there is another ingredient as well. Even the proper message falls flat without the power of the Spirit behind it, because we can’t even begin to understand spiritual things without the Spirit revealing them to us: “Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things that are freely given to us by God” (2:12). This means that the world can’t begin to understand the gospel because they don’t have the Spirit (2:14). It’s important for us to realize that God needs to be working for our evangelism to work. It’s useless and destructive to try and force someone to believe when they can’t even begin to understand what we’re talking about. Jesus also reminded us of the importance of the Spirit for evangelism:

John 16:7-11 “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I am going away. For if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong concerning sin and righteousness and judgment—concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

Beyond that, Paul is also saying here that the truth that he has for the Corinthian church should be readily understood by them. If they have the Spirit then they have the means to understand: “And we speak about these things, not with words taught us by human wisdom, but with those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people” (2:13). They just have to be willing to receive it.

Aren’t you glad that God helps us to understand both the gospel and His Word? We would literally be lost without His help!

Devotional Reading for August 16, 2022

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

Why is the message of the cross foolishness? The Jews were looking to the law to save them. The Messiah was supposed to bring about national independence, not personal redemption! “Give us a sign to prove that it’s true,” they say. The Greeks elevated logic, wisdom, and rhetoric. The idea of a man dying for their sins was ludicrous, and a message extoling the sacrifice and humility of the cross was absurd. And yet God uses the cross and the “foolishness of preaching” to display His wisdom (1:21, 25). Not much has changed today. People still want absolute proof or a miraculous sign before they believe.

God’s foolishness is even seen in who He calls. “Not many were wise, by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were born to a privileged position” (1:26). Remember that the announcement of Jesus’ birth didn’t go to the rulers, but to shepherds! “God chose what the world thinks foolish to shame the wise” (1:27). God chose the lowly and despised so that no one could boast in His presence (1:29). There is nothing good in us, righteous in us, or praiseworthy in us. God is the reason we have a relationship with Christ Jesus, and it is through Him that we receive wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption (1:30). Hallelujah! What a Savior!

For worship:

Devotional Reading for August 15, 2022

1 Corinthians 1:1-17

A year or two after Paul helps to establish the church in Corinth (Acts 18:1-17) he writes this letter to them. He’s heard some reports about issues in the church that he wants to address. He starts by reminding them of his authority (he is called to be an apostle by the will of God), and reminds them that they are called to be saints because they have been made to be holy (sanctified) in Christ Jesus! Paul wishes them “grace and peace,” a modified Greek greeting combined with a typical Hebrew greeting, which perhaps is a reminder that the church is something completely new that includes both Jew and Gentile.

Paul normally follows up his introduction with a thanksgiving for the church he’s writing to, and we see that here. He is thankful for the great blessings that they have received as a result of knowing Christ. They don’t lack for any speech, knowledge, or spiritual gift. God has also promised that he will strengthen them, keep them, and find them blameless at the return of Jesus Christ. They aren’t blameless because of anything they have done, but because of the fellowship that they have through Jesus Christ their Lord.

However, even though they’ve been given every advantage, they aren’t living the way they are supposed to. There are divisions and factions in the church. People are apparently elevating those who ministries they were baptized under. Even those who said “I am with Christ” seem to be using that as a way to puff themselves up and claim to be better than anyone else. Paul says that he’s thankful that he baptized so few so that they couldn’t claim him as their ministry hero! In fact, he didn’t use Greek rhetoric (“clever speech”) that would encourage some to elevate his name. He felt that it would render his preaching useless because they would be following him rather than Christ. He is first, foremost, and always concerned about the gospel!

Divisions and factions continue to be a problem today, and some of those divisions can happen because people elevate one teacher above every other teacher. Early on in my ministry I had someone who compared everything that I said to John MacArthur and wanted to argue with me about church government! But even when people try to put Christ and His Word first they can become swelled up with pride and unbearable to be around, causing further harm and division. It’s not just “who” we follow but “how” we follow. Paul also reminds us that method of sharing the gospel isn’t the most important thing, contrary to so many that have gimmicks and programs today. It’s actually all about the message!

Devotional Reading for August 14, 2022

Romans 16

When Paul gives his final words we see the interconnectedness of the early church. Paul’s ministry has brought him into contact with lots of people, and many of them ended up in Rome. We sometimes underestimate the ancient world. Yes, we are more connected than ever before, but the ease of travel in the Roman empire and the ability to send letters allowed them to connect and remain in contact. Paul’s greetings remind us of the importance of Christian community and fellowship.

Paul also uses his last words to remind the church to be on the lookout for false teachers and avoid them. They are to be obedient, wise in good, and innocent in evil (16:19). They don’t need to fear, because God will crush Satan under their feet (16:20)!

He concludes his letter by reiterating many of his prior themes (16:25-27). Our strength comes from the gospel – the proclamation of Jesus Christ! This is the mystery that has now been revealed, and it includes the proclamation of the gospel to all people (“all the nations“) to bring about the “obedience of faith.

So, Paul’s final words remind us of the importance of Christian community, the need to watch out for false teachers, and the need to keep the gospel in the forefront of our ministries. What better way to conclude than to praise “the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be glory forever! Amen.

Devotional Reading for August 13, 2o22

Romans 15

As Paul concludes Romans, he gives us some important advice:

  • We are to build up fellow believers.
  • We are to be unified.
  • We are to receive one another (the example is that both Jews and Gentiles are a part of the faith).
  • Some people have an advantage (in Paul’s day it was the Jews).
  • Some people need more instruction (in Paul’s day it was the Gentiles). His primary ministry is to those who had never heard, and he hopes to end up in Spain to spread the gospel there.
  • All this means that in our day some people have a rudimentary understanding. I was raised Luthran and went to catechism. I had an advantage over those who have never heard. It enabled me to understand better and come up to speed faster when God revealed Himself to me.
  • We should be willing to help those financially who have helped us spiritually. The Jerusalem church sent out missionaries but ended up in material need. Paul and the churches he helped found sent aid. It was a practical way of helping those who had helped them spiritually.
  • We should be willing to pray for our missionaries and pastors. Paul covets the prayer of others for both safety and the spread of the gospel.
  • We should pray for the peace of the saints – peace with others, peace with God, and peace in their souls.

Devotional Reading for August 12, 2022

Romans 14

There are some things that are a matter of conscience. We’re not talking about activities that are clearly sinful, but those things that people could have differences of opinion on. Apparently, some Jewish believers were having trouble leaving the dietary laws and the festival/feast days behind. Paul states that whatever you do, you do it because you want to bring glory to God since our lives are His from beginning to end (14:6-8). We shouldn’t judge others who think differently, because God is the final judge (14:9-12)!

And, since we are living together in community (with particular emphasis on Jews and Gentiles getting along), we shouldn’t want to cause distress to someone else, particularly if they view an activity as sinful (14:13-23). For example, in our day and age some believe that drinking alcohol is wrong, while others believe it is ok. Those who believe that it’s ok shouldn’t flaunt their belief or engage in drinking around people who don’t.

Does 14:23 describe a spiritual truth or an emotional reality? Since a lack of faith dishonors God, a failure to follow through on personal beliefs could be considered sin. However, it’s also possible that the person’s own conscience is condemning them because they believe they are engaging in a sinful activity. So, is it guilt, sin, or both? Most commentaries tend to believe that it is actually sin.

Devotional Reading for August 11, 2022

Romans 13

Paul continues to tell us what a transformed life looks like!

First of all, we are to submit to the government, because they have been instituted by God (13:1-7). They help make life better for everyone if they are doing what they are supposed to, because they punish evil by enforcing a certain standard of living for the community. We are to obey laws, pay taxes, and be respectful. They literally have the power of life and death (which refers to capital punishment – 13:4). The only time we are to disobey is when earthly laws are in direct contradiction to the Bible (Acts 5:29). Since we have the distinct privilege of living in a democracy, we have the ability to vote and influence our nations laws to reflect Biblical truth. We should take that responsibility seriously.

Paul goes on to reiterate that a transformed life is a life that loves others (13:8-10). It must be a real problem for us since he talks about it so much! He provides a very simple standard for us: “love does no wrong to a neighbor.” Loving neighbors was a significant part of the law too. Ironically, what we couldn’t obey before, we can now through the power of the Spirit.

Next Paul talks about one of the motivations to live a transformed life (13:11-14). That motivation is the return of Jesus Christ, which is the culmination of our salvation! We should make sure we are living for Him while we await His return, which means living “not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in discord and jealousy.” We do this by putting on Jesus Christ, which implies some effort on our part. We don’t just lay back and assume the Spirit makes us better. The Spirit provides the insight and the desire, but we must still pray, read, study, and worship.

Devotional Reading for August 10, 2022

Romans 12

Therefore = because of what has come before. Because God has saved us, gifted us with his Spirit, included the Gentiles, kept a remnant in Israel, and one day will turn even more hearts from Israel to the Messiah, we should transform our thinking and use our lives to serve Him (12:1-2)!

Part of this transformation process is making sure that we don’t think more highly of ourselves than we ought to, because each one of us has been gifted differently and we need to work together (12:3-8). Some of those gifts are listed here: prophecy, service, teaching, exhorting, giving, leading and showing mercy. Prophecy? If that is really about telling the future then why don’t we see more of it, or see the ones who try to engage in it be right more of the time!?!?!? Perhaps that gift was only for the apostolic age. However, there may be another way to look at it. A prophet in the Old Testament was not just a foreteller but a forth-teller. They challenged through God’s truth, and much of it was about the present rather than the future. In thinking about the difference in the church, a teacher can explain what the word of God says but may not be the best person to challenge others through the Word. That is more suited to one who has the gifting of a prophet.

A second way we are transformed is to show love without hypocrisy (12:9-21). While believers are gifted in particular ways, all are to show love. Love is a part of the community of faith. We should love enthusiastically. We are to hope with one another, support one another in troubles, and pray for one another. We should contribute to needs and show hospitality. We are to live in harmony with each other, not show favoritism, and not bearing grudges or seeking another’s harm.

Devotional Reading for August 9, 2022

Romans 11:25-36

Even though they have been set aside for a time, the Jewish people as a whole are still important to God.

  • Yes, they have experienced a hardening (11:25b).
  • And that hardening will continue until the full number of the Gentiles has come in (11:25c).
  • Then “all Israel will be saved” (11:26a).
  • It will take place when “the Deliverer will come out of Zion” and “will remove ungodliness from Jacob” (11:26b, c).
  • And it has to happen because God’s gifts and call are “irrevocable” (11:29).

Some think that when Paul refers to “all Israel” in 11:26 he simply means those Jews who will actually believe (in other words, all “elect” Israel). After all, doesn’t Jesus’ resurrection reveal that He is the deliverer and that His death took care of ungodliness (11:26)? However, “Israel” in 11:25 and the language in 11:28 seem to refer to Israel as a nation, so why would Paul suddenly change meanings in 11:26? And then we also have to consider that it doesn’t happen “until the full number of the Gentiles has come in” (11:25). It seems best to understand that the phrase “all Israel” is being used to show that someday and sometime in the future a large number of the Jewish people will turn to their Messiah! They will eventually receive mercy (11:31-32), and this leads Paul into a wonderful doxology where He praises God for His infinite wisdom and understanding (11:33-36).

Trust is a word that we use a lot in the Christian faith, but why should we trust? We see why here. We trust because God made us. We trust because everything we have is a gift from Him. We trust because He understands all things, even if we don’t. We trust because He has a plan. We trust because He keeps His promises. We trust because He shows mercy. We trust because He, quite simply, is God and we are not! To Him be glory forever, amen.

Devotional Reading for August 8, 2022

Romans 11:1-24

We tend to use the terms “chosen” and “elect” synonymously, but is that necessarily the case? It’s true that God chose Israel:

Ezekiel 20:5 “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: On the day I chose Israel I swore to the descendants of the house of Jacob and made myself known to them in the land of Egypt. I swore to them, ‘I am the LORD your God.’

But that doesn’t mean that all were elect, or that all were saved:

Romans 11:7 “What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was diligently seeking, but the elect obtained it. The rest were hardened,

God has always had a portion of the people who were legitimately his, as is seen from what God said to Elijah:

1 Kings 19:18 “I still have left in Israel 7,000 followers who have not bowed their knees to Baal or kissed the images of him.

However, the rest were hardened against Him, and during Paul’s time that has a divine purpose. By their overall rejection of God and His Messiah, the gospel came to the Gentiles and enabled the world to be reconciled to God (11:15). God is provoking the Jewish people to jealousy (11:11)! Is Paul speaking in generalities, or is he talking about his own ministry specifically? It seems that he may be talking about the current day and his own ministry: “if somehow I could provoke my people to jealousy and save some of them” (11:15). Even as an apostle to the Gentiles (11:13), he loves his own people (10:1) and wants them to know Jesus. What an amazing thing for a member of God’s chosen people to become one of the elect (11:12, 15, 16)!

He concludes with a warning to the Gentiles who believe. Don’t take anything for granted. Israel is like an olive tree. Some branches were cut off, and wild branches were grafted in. God is the one who does it. Branches can’t graft themselves in! There is no boasting involved! We are to “stand by faith” (11:20), recognizing God kindness towards us and understanding his harshness towards unbelief (11:22). After all, we are unnaturally grafted in. How much easier is it for someone to whom “belong the adoption as sons, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the temple worship, and the promises” (9:4) to be grafted in!

What should we learn from this? It’s all about grace. It’s not about us. We need to be humble in our relationship with God.