Wisdom, Please

Old Testament: 1 Kings 3-4

Poetry: Proverbs 31

New Testament: Acts 25

Throughout the month of May, we have been gleaning Solomon’s wisdom, as we read a proverb each day. In our broken world, wisdom is the ability to distinguish between what’s good and what’s fallen. It allows us to see from God’s perspective and make choices that honor Him. Solomon received wisdom in the same manner we do: asking for it.

At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.”

And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my
father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” (1 Kings 3:5, 7-9, ESV).

Solomon was humble. He knew that he could not navigate his responsibilities on his own. He refers to himself as a little child in charge of too many people to even count. The first step in asking for wisdom is recognizing you need it.

Solomon was prepared to receive. He goes to Gibeon to make a sacrifice on the
same altar he once sacrificed one thousand burnt offerings to God. Gibeon was
considered the most holy place at the time because it was home to the Tabernacle that Moses built (2 Chronicles 1:2-3). Solomon’s dedication is astonishing! I think we are sometimes quick to overlook how incredible facts like this are when reading our Bibles. I mean—imagine slaughtering, draining, cutting, and burning one thousand animals. It’s this dedication and intimacy with God that puts him in the posture to hear God’s voice and receive His gifts.

Solomon’s priorities were in order. He could’ve asked for wealth, to live forever, or a plethora of wives (well… he kinda does that later). Instead, he asks for wisdom to govern Israel, God’s chosen people, better. Solomon knew the great calling on his life and chose a gift accordingly. God honored the way Solomon ordered his desires and blessed him with the riches, honor, and longevity in addition.

At first, it’s easy to be jealous of God’s blank check offer to Solomon. But what if I told you that God has extended the same offer to you? Like Solomon, we can receive wisdom just by asking for it. God wants us to see from His perspective, to discern right from wrong, and make choices that honor Him. It’s really a win-win situation.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without
reproach, and it will be given him. (James 1:5, ESV)

God gives wisdom generously. Have you asked?

-Mackenzie McClain

Reflection Questions:

  1. Have you humbled yourself before God? We live in a broken, gray world that
    requires more than your own understanding. Unpopular opinion: you actually
    don’t have what it takes (on your own, that is). You need God’s help!
  2. Are you prepared to receive? Are you ready to listen to God’s voice? Do you
    spend your days with your Bible open, hands folded in prayer, and surrounded by godly influences?
  3. Are your priorities in order? Are you seeking after the right things?

All Prove True

Old Testament: 1 Kings 1 & 2

Poetry: Proverbs 30

New Testament: Acts 24

I try to always follow through on my word, but sometimes I forget, and other times the circumstances are out of my control. I teach 6th graders who are always quick (and annoyingly eager) to call me out on these times.

“You said I could go to the bathroom after the lesson.“ Sorry, I forgot. I can’t keep track of 130 students’ bladders.

“You said we’d have time to work on this assignment.“ Sorry, somebody pulled the fire alarm and we’ve spent all class outside.

I’m fallible, so my word is fallible, too. But, God never forgets and every circumstance is within His control. He is infallible. Today’s proverb holds the promise that all God’s promises are true. It’s like God extending his pinky towards ours and locking it in an eternal pinky promise.

Every word of God proves true.
(Proverbs 30:5a, ESV).

One man, Everett R. Storms, once counted 7,487 promises made by God to humankind. They. All. Prove. True. Of those 7,487, here are just a few promises to reflect on today:

God Promises Strength
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
(Isaiah 41:10, ESV)

God Promises to Fight For You
The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent. (Exodus 14:14, ESV)

God Promises Wisdom
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without
reproach, and it will be given him. (James 1:5, ESV)

God Promises to Be With You
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. (Isaiah 43:2, ESV)

God Promises to Answer Prayer
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. (Matthew 7:7, ESV)

God Promises Peace
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7, ESV)

God Promises Forgiveness
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9, ESV)

God Promises the Kingdom
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4, ESV)

-Mackenzie McClain

Reflection Questions:

  1. How does knowing God’s promises change the way you approach your everyday
  2. How have you experienced these promises in your own life?
  3. What other promises does God make throughout scripture? Hint: there’s 7,479

People Won’t Like You

Old Testament: 1 & 2 Kings Intro below

Poetry: Proverbs 29

*New Testament: Acts 23

“Do I need to be liked? Absolutely not. I like to be liked. I enjoy being liked. I have to be liked. But it’s not like this compulsive need to be liked, like my need to be praised.”
-Michael Scott

This quote is not the usual wisdom you’re accustomed to reading on this blog, but it does highlight something about our human condition: we like to be liked.

In Acts 23, we see Paul being—well, to put it understatedly—not liked. He’s been arrested for his teachings about the resurrection and his open arms toward the Gentiles. Because of his Roman citizenship, he is granted the right to a trial. Some Jews are unhappy that Paul is given a fair shake for his supposed crimes, and they take matters into their own hands (and bellies).

“When it was day, the Jews made a plot and bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. There were more than forty who made this conspiracy. They went to the chief priests and elders and said, “We have strictly bound ourselves by an oath to taste no food till we have killed Paul. Now therefore you, along with the council, give notice to the tribune to bring him down to you, as though you were going to determine his case more exactly. And we are ready to kill him before he comes near.” (Acts 23:12-15, ESV)

When I put myself in Paul’s shoes, I quake. I can’t imagine a mob of forty people who hate me so much that they make a vow to not even eat until I’m dead. I’ve never experienced anything close to this magnitude of persecution. While the occasional hostility we receive as Christians does not compare to the threats made on Paul’s life, we can still emulate Paul’s response.

He wasn’t paralyzed by people’s perceptions. He was captivated by God’s purpose for his life. He continued in boldness and went on to testify in Rome, just as God said he would (Acts 23:11). Paul writes more about this in Galatians:

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10, ESV).

Speaking vulnerably, this verse is difficult to move past my head and into my heart. In my head I know that my identity, value, and purpose are found in God. But in my heart it is HARD to give up validation from my peers. It feels so good to be in their good graces, and it hurts so badly to be left out, lied about, and laughed at.

It’s hard to tune out other’s voices when it’s quiet. Imagine a humming noise. In a quiet room it would dominate your thoughts, but standing at the foot of a roaring waterfall you wouldn’t even notice it. So here’s the first step for me—and for you too, if you struggle letting go what other people think. Like Paul, be so captivated by God’s purpose for your life, that the rest of the noises just fade into the background.

Live unabashedly how God has called you to live. No apologies. No compromises. No holding back.

-Mackenzie McClain

Reflection Questions:

  1. Have you been left out, lied about, or laughed at because of your faith? How did it make you feel? What does God say about facing persecution for your faith?
  2. God used Paul’s persecution to give him an opportunity to share his testimony to a larger audience. How has God used the bad in your life for good?
  3. How does knowing scripture help you counteract what others say about you?

1 & 2 Kings Introduction

The books of First and Second Kings describe the period of time between the death of King David and the exile to Babylon.  They record Israel’s decline over time as a nation – as they sink deeper and deeper into idol worship.

Solomon, David’s son, started out following God and was initially blessed by God; but he eventually turned away from God.  As a result of this, the kingdom was divided, with 10 tribes rebelling and choosing a new king (Israel in the North).  God allowed David’s descendants to continue to rule over the Southern two tribes, collectively called Judah – because of God’s love for David (which was a direct result of David’s love for God).

One godless king after another ruled the Northern kingdom of Israel until it was destroyed by Assyria in 721 BC.  While Judah declined more slowly, God finally allowed Babylon to destroy Judah in 586 BC.

2 Kings 24:3-4 records this sobering message, “Surely these things happened to Judah according to the Lord’s command, in order to remove them from his presence because of the sins of Manasseh and all he had done, including the shedding of innocent blood. For he had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the Lord was not willing to forgive.”

Even though the overall trajectory of these books is depressing, there are some exciting and uplifting stories, including:

  • Solomon’s dedication of the Temple, and God’s appearance to Solomon
  • Elijah and his miracles
  • Elisha and his miracles
  • Jehoshaphat’s and Hezekiah’s faith
  • The destruction of Assyria’s army by the angel of the Lord
  • Josiah’s revival

As you read through 1 and 2 Kings, please notice the strong correlation between obedience to God and blessings from God.  Also, notice the relationship between rebellion against God and punishment.

I’ll close with some of the last words of David, as recorded in 1 Kings 2: 2-3, “…So be strong, show yourself a man, and observe what the Lord your God requires:  Walk in his ways, and keep his decrees and commandments, his laws and requirements, … so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go.”

-Steve Mattison

Sometimes Like Saul

Old Testament: 2 Samuel 23 & 24

Poetry: Proverbs 28

New Testament: Acts 22

Have you ever seen a street-corner evangelist shouting into a megaphone about hell? I recently saw such a guy carrying his cross down the sidewalk—literally—he was pulling along a giant cross on wheels. It’s easy to point fingers at these people and think that their tactics are the very opposite of what Jesus intended (and his cross definitely didn’t have wheels).

But what if it’s not just these people? What if my actions and attitudes are contrary to the very heart of Jesus?

In Acts 22, Paul shares his testimony to the crowd after his arrest. It’s a scary story:

In one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you (Jesus). And when the blood of Stephen your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him” (Acts 22:19b-20, ESV).

Looking back at Saul’s life, it’s scary because of the heinous acts he committed, but even more so because he thought he was doing everything right. He thought he was carrying out God’s work; after all, he was a “Hebrew of Hebrews” (Philippians 3:5) and on fire for God. This facade crumbles when he hears Jesus’ voice calling him on the road to Damascus:

And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, “Saul, Saul, why are you
persecuting me?” And I answered, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said to me, “I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting”
(Acts 22:7-8, ESV).

You and me are sometimes like Saul. We think we’re right, but maybe it’s more like self-righteous. Maybe our priorities are mixed-up. Maybe we’re quick to judge, hesitant to forgive, or eager to avenge. Are we accurate reflections of who Jesus is, or do we persecute him? Jesus’ harsh words to Saul are a warning to us, too.

Here are two ways to heed Jesus’ warning:

  1. Get to know Jesus. Saul didn’t know Jesus for himself. He accepted what his
    circle of religious elite said about Jesus (and it wasn’t nice). Get to know Jesus
    personally—who he is and what he stands for. We get to know him through
    reading accounts in scripture, prayer, and worship.
  2. Leave the Judgment to God. Saul got into trouble when he sought to avenge the supposed heretics. He relied on his own flawed and limited perception instead of God’s, the perfect Judge. Your job is to love and forgive; God will handle justice.

-Mackenzie McClain

Reflection Questions

  1. In what ways have your actions and attitudes “persecuted” Jesus? How can you be a better reflection of him today?
  2. Saul’s transformation story is incredible! Is there anyone in your life who you’ve dismissed as being too far gone? God’s not done working!

Sharpening One Another

Old Testament: 2 Samuel 21 & 22

*Poetry: Proverbs 27

New Testament: Acts 21

     Today we will discuss a few pieces of wisdom from Proverbs 27. Some sections of the book offer extended advice on one topic, but for this chapter I will just comment on three verses.

     “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.” (Proverbs 27:6). I think this is a helpful reminder about the nature of wisdom, whether with human friends or our relationship with God. Love sometimes involves the willingness to say someone is wrong, but being told you are wrong can be painful. That means the friend can be taking a risk to offer that truth. And the pain involved for the one hearing the truth may be in proportion to how much pride has built up for them, how much of a false image needs to be removed. But truth is better than a lie, even when truth hurts. (A proverb can’t cover every detail, and this isn’t saying that a friend should seek to harm when giving the truth. Faithfulness and friendship are already assumed in this proverb.) But on the other side of matters an enemy will be quite ready to mislead while seeming friendly, giving deceitful kisses (perhaps only metaphorically) as they guide someone’s conduct and heart astray. Remember that truth is not determined by how we feel when we first hear it, it must be examined.

     When I was at Bible college we used to talk about Proverbs 27:14: “If you loudly greet your neighbor early in the morning, he will think of it as a curse.” To me the application for this text involved the frustration of being up early if you were not a morning person, if someone else was and they were not cautious about their conduct. At college we had added issues to watch out for, like people who had stayed up late into the night studying or writing, or talking about theology (or life). But when I looked up this text to see the views of researchers I found reference after reference treating it as about over-the-top flattery or kindness being treated as a sign of hypocrisy to be rejected. I was quite surprised. Maybe I was just too focused on one perspective, or perhaps I am too used to honesty to think in those terms. Still, it never occurred to me from the text to see the meaning that way. But this is a useful illustration of the fact that proverbs are open to interpretation. Dwelling on one, working it over in your mind, or even sharing your thoughts about it with another person, can allow you to gain insight.

Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” (v. 17) This is another proverb that I have been aware of and considered for many years. It brings to mind a late stage in the process of developing a tool, perhaps a sword. It supposes that we all are hardened, we all have gone through some discipline and experience. But seeking to grow with each other we can hone the edges of what we are meant to be. Some years ago there was a theological journal published out of Michigan called Sharpening Steel which took its name from this verse. I believe the idea of the title was that by people examining scriptures and writing about what they learned from them believers would be able to help each other gain new ideas and new thoughts about how to grow and serve. It is a useful principle for a journal but also for how we operate in our regular lives.

Lord, as I finish this week of writing devotions I ask you to watch over the people who have been reading these words. Help them to find the strength they need. None of them are meant to be acting alone. Please, Lord, help the ones that are trying to go it alone this week to reach out to a brother or a sister in Christ and acknowledge that they need more strength than they have. Don’t let any of us be closed off. I feel that this is not the case right now. Let your Spirit work in the hearts of your people. Let the knowledge of Jesus’s love warm us all. May we reach out to each other. In the name of your son I pray these things. Amen.

-Daniel Smead


  1. Can you look back on a time when you think you learned something that seemed painful and you later recognized it was true and valuable? Has that changed your behavior?
  2. What do you speak to other believers about? How often do you find time to talk about what you have valued in the scripture? Or what you find beautiful in the world? Or what you have struggled with?
  3. Don’t assume that you must be much stronger than those around you to be able to be of any help – iron can sharpen iron, it doesn’t take diamond. Notice that the proverb is meant to work both ways, are you prepared to be strengthened by those around you? For that to happen will there need to be any change in your thinking or your attitudes?

The Last Time

Old Testament: 2 Samuel 19 & 20

Poetry: Proverbs 26

New Testament: Acts 20

     Paul chose to bypass Ephesus based on an urgent drive he felt to be in Jerusalem for Passover, a drive that may have come from God more than himself. He describes himself as “bound by the Spirit” or “bound in spirit” – he is aware the bonds and afflictions await him, but he is not sure that death is near. But he is sure he will never see the Ephesians again. But Paul arranged to meet the church leaders from Ephesus and gave some words of encouragement and warning (Acts 20:18‑35). It is hard to imagine how that meeting must have affected them. A man who basically shaped their community through years of teaching and healing and tears now said he would never see them again, and that some of them would not remain true to the faith. Their greatest concern remained the loss of Paul. They loved and valued him. The news about their future must have been stunning, maybe even sickening, but what could be done? They had already faced opposition. They may even have anticipated that not all who claimed the name of Jesus would stay true to him. But such concerns had to be for later days.

     I wonder what further meanings they drew out of Paul’s words when they looked back on them, not simply as his closing thoughts about his own ministry, but as a commendation about their ministries. Some of his words are so poetic, or they seem so to me: “I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men.For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.” (v. 26-27). Looking back on it I think this may have seemed less a description of Paul’s own life and more a call to them of danger, for if he was innocent for not shrinking from the task, then that raised the threat that some of them who did so might be condemned for doing so. The image Paul offers of leaders becoming corrupt and seeking to build up themselves is an awful one. I would wish it was presented as a warning to them, something to be avoided, but as with Judas this was simply a prediction.

     A note on Acts 20:28: I prepared these devotions mainly using the 1995 NASB, which has the phrase “the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” Clearly there is a problem here, as God doesn’t have blood. Meanwhile you might have seen this NRSV wording: “the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son.” Or perhaps you read the American Standard Version: “the church of the Lord which he purchased with his own blood.” Why do these differences exist?

     You may know that the Bibles we read aren’t translated from a single master copy of the Bible in Hebrew and Greek (with a few chapters’ worth of Aramaic). It would be unlikely for a book on paper or papyrus to survive from the first century to today. Instead we have copies of what was written then. And it isn’t easy to prevent all confusion when copying by hand. You could always make just one copy and destroy the original – but that doesn’t remove all risk of errors, though it removes the ability to check if there were any. F.F. Bruce was a well-known Greek scholar, he wrote: “For Caesar’s Gallic War (composed between 58 and 50 B.C.) there are several extant manuscripts, but only nine or ten are good, and the oldest is some 900 years later than Caesar’s day.” People don’t tend to question the text of Gallic War. The text may be wrong if the error got in long enough ago, but we just aren’t going to know.

     The Bible was intended to be spread widely. And because the Bible was used so widely and copied for people in so many parts of the world we have lots of copies, way more than for most things – about 5,800 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. Having those different manuscripts meant they would get looked at, by language experts who wanted to know if they differed and how they differed. As it turned out almost none of the differences matter. The Church historian Philip Schaff (1819‑1893) wrote that in his time he was aware of only 400 New Testament variants that affected the meaning of a passage, and of those only 50 were of any significance. He didn’t think that any of the 50 rose to the level of affecting an “article of faith” (Companion to the Greek Testament and English Version, p. 177). The figures may be higher now, but it still isn’t something to lose your faith over. There are books (I have one) where committees of language experts evaluate the differences and what they think the situation is for each one.

     Back to Acts 20:28, it is an interesting case for involving two options. Is the issue that the text was changed at some point to say “Church of the God” rather than “Church of the Lord” – maybe because that phrase was more common in the Bible and the copyist thought it was what Luke originally wrote? Or at the end of the sentence was a reference to “son” dropped, changing what would have said “blood of his own son”? You can see here what Philip Schaff was getting at. Everyone agrees that Paul was trying to talk about Jesus here, not the Father, and that something got garbled in some of the manuscripts. It is not clear which of the manuscripts has the original intention, but this is not a big issue of doctrine.

     The matter of manuscripts and translation history can be fascinating, or it may quickly seem overwhelming. Rest assured it is not an area you normally need to concern yourself with if you are not interested in it. (For myself, with my history as an editor, it bothered me that the NASB had not addressed the issue in the verse even with a note.) As one more detail on this history, by the year 600 the gospels had been translated into nine languages. The Gospels were usually the first written literature of these languages. People were creating written forms of their languages just to better spread the news of Jesus to their people. I find that beautiful.

Dear Lord, thank you that you allow us to know about Paul’s struggles, and not just his successes. Help us to be more open with each other about our weaknesses, our tears, our losses. Let us be willing to admit that we need each other. It is more blessed to give than to receive, but if we don’t admit how much we need to receive sometimes people will not know to reach out. And help us, at least, who know that we are weak, to recognize that as a real possibility for others and offer them support and compassion and patience and time. We are not always hurting, but it is hard to make up for missing the opportunity of helping a hurting friend. So let me be more aware, more attentive. Let me listen with your son’s ears. And help me to speak with his words more often. Thank you, Lord. I love you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

-Daniel Smead


  1. Why do you think Paul valued meeting with the Ephesian elders? What are some things he may have been hoping for with the meeting?
  2. If you were among the Ephesian elders warned that some of the group would turn against Jesus, what do you think your reaction might be? Do you think that Paul’s statement may have changed how many elders fell, rescuing some?
  3. What do you think the Ephesian elders did when they returned to Ephesus? What kind of message did they have to tell the regular members? How soon?
  4. Did the discussion of manuscripts and translation leave you confused? If so, I’m sorry, email me with your question (danielsmead1993@gmail.com).

Faith, Not Magic

Old Testament: 2 Samuel 17 & 18

Poetry: Proverbs 25

New Testament: Acts 19

Paul spent over a year and a half in Corinth, probably the fifth largest city in the Roman empire at the time, and in Acts 19 we read about the over two years he spent in Ephesus, which was in fourth place (v. 10; for those who are interested, Antioch was in third). I have seen estimates for Ephesus having as many as a quarter million people when Paul was there. You may not often visualize what it was like in cities of the Roman empire, particularly not in the largest ones, without mass transit or mass communication. Demetrius the silversmith managed to stir up a crowd, which created a mob, that stormed into the theater to complain about Paul. At that time the theater was probably still under construction, its initial seating ended up somewhere in the 17,000 to 22,000 range (the theater was expanded later). When the mass of angry people eventually left most of them were still unclear why they had come. In a mob setting a person could die without ever getting a hearing. You can see why Paul’s friends did not want him to try and defend himself. But perhaps in the days that followed the details filtered out, and God let the aftermath of the controversy give more awareness to the presence of Christianity in Ephesus.

     When I read about handkerchiefs and aprons touched by Paul being carried to the sick and the possessed to give them relief (v. 11-12), I wonder about the practical reasons that may have been involved. He was “reasoning” in the school of Tyrannus every day (v. 9). I have to imagine that Paul would have found it difficult to also travel to all of the people in need of his help in that city. So, this solution developed. Maybe someone suggested the idea to him, or maybe he raised the possibility. The description brings several scriptures to mind. But first we need to recognize that this situation is about faith, not magic. There was not some kind of power being imbued into the cloth, and that matters. Taking the cloth from Paul to the person in need was intended as a symbol of trusting that Paul’s concern for the person mattered for them, which really related to the Holy Spirit power Paul wanted to be exerted on behalf of that person in the name of Jesus.

     For relevant Bible examples one that is close at hand is Peter in Acts 5:15, when people put the sick on cots and pallets near his path so that “perhaps” his shadow would fall on them. It doesn’t suggest Peter was involved in organizing these efforts. Also verse 16 says that healing was occurring, but it is ambiguous whether this is about people Peter’s shadow fell on.

     In Luke 8:43-48 Jesus encountered a woman who had hemorrhaged blood for twelve years and then tried to touch Jesus’ clothes to be healed. She succeeded, and Jesus knew power went out from him but not who received it. That text is well worth a discussion on its own, in part involving the feelings of unworthiness she felt and her not speaking up to Jesus at first, and her great faith that allowed her to seek healing. But she was able to get power by faith without Jesus knowing the details at first – God knew the details and took care of the problem while using Jesus as the path through which God’s power flowed. And in effect it all happened through contact with a piece of cloth.

     In 2 Kings 4 Elisha sent his servant Gehazi with his staff to put it on a dead child to restore the child to life (v. 29-31). The attempt was not successful. We may be tempted to link that to Gehazi’s negative issues (see 5:20, 25-27 with Naaman), but Elisha was already following Gehazi and then became involved more personally to help, so while the desire for this to work was there on Elisha’s part maybe he wasn’t certain about the idea.

     With 2 Kings 13:21 we have a particularly odd variation on a miracle taking place through an “object,” which doesn’t really fit the theme we are discussing. A dead body was put in the grave of Elisha and came back to life when it touched Elisha’s dead body. I think it likely that we are just not getting much of the story here, and that God raised this person for reasons specific to the situation. Perhaps God used the contact with Elisha’s body to make it clear that this was a miracle related to the God of Elisha, and nothing else.

     Unfortunately, examples like these can get taken up in an unhelpful way and be used to support the tradition of “relics.” To briefly explain that idea, sometime after Christians began to be killed as martyrs others began to save remains from their deaths. These remains might be just ashes after they were burned at the stake. The extent of what people tried to save expanded over time, and along the way what people thought about what had been saved also changed. There developed the idea that access to these remains involved the potential for special power, because martyrs were “special” and went straight to heaven when they died – and that being in heaven and with God they were now prepared to give special attention to those who had access to their bones, or hair, or teeth, or clothing, or etc. And the relic system expanded beyond what the martyr had when they died – every one of those handkerchiefs and aprons Paul touched would still matter. The idea also developed that if the relics changed hands the special attention of the martyr would change focus to wherever the relics went. It is striking how aspects of this tradition came to be formalized.

     The Council of Carthage in A.D. 401 determined that no shrines to martyrs were valid unless they contained relics of the martyr or were at sites known to be “hallowed” by the saint’s life or death, so all old shrines were to be destroyed unless those rules applied. In 787 the Second Council of Nicea said that every altar, in a church, a monastery, anywhere, needed to be consecrated by a relic. But by then it had been decided that a relic cut into small pieces still counted like the original whole. As far back as A.D. 430 Theodoret of Cyrhus expressed his support for cutting up the bodies of martyrs to provide relics. He described martyrs as the “ambassadors to the universal Lord” and said that the people of many cities gain benefits through them and “when a body has been divided, its grace remains entire, so that a small part has the same potency as the whole body” (quoted in The Oxford History of Byzantium, edited by Cyril Mango, p. 108). On the other hand the idea of moving martyr’s bodies around had not been accepted widely for quite a while, but it seems to have been fine as of 787. The fondness for relics peaked in the 9th to the 11th centuries when there were over one hundred recorded thefts of relics, taking them from one area to another in an effort to shift spiritual attention.

     As I wrote earlier, the power that was working in Ephesus was never in the cloth, the power was from God’s Holy Spirit. And there are not thousands of ambassadors of the Lord from whom people can seek to receive assistance, there is one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5). Nor, as the seven sons of Sceva learned, is there power in the name of Jesus if you have no understanding of him or faith in him. His name is not a magic charm. We are to have an actual relationship with an actual person. When we read our Bibles, or even our devotions, it may sometimes feel like we are involving ourselves with a story. But as marvelous and powerful as the actions of Jesus are, and as generous and loving as his actions are, he is not invented, he lives, he is real. He wants to be engaged with my life and your life. Allow him to be.

Dear Lord, thank you again for allowing me to serve you through your son. I look forward to being with you in your kingdom and understanding so many things that I do not understand now. For the moment, please allow me to be patient, to continue to grow, and to be of use where I can. Please help me to be bolder, and kinder. Thank you. In Jesus’ name, Amen

-Daniel Smead


  1. Some of the people Paul knew may have spent their entire ministries in just one city. How do you think things worked differently for Paul because he moved around so much?
  2. How do you think that Luke’s description of the disciples of John the Baptist in Ephesus compares with his description of Apollos? Does it seem like they believed basically the same things?
  3. If new converts brought out useless and somehow corrupt things valued at 50,000 days’ wages (v. 19) to be burned as a sign of now serving Christ, what sort of impact do you think that would have on your congregation? On your city?
  4. Right after the events of this chapter Paul left Ephesus. How do you think the Ephesian believers felt about Paul leaving the city?
  5. In Revelation 2:4-5 Jesus told the Ephesian church that they had left their first love and they needed to repent and do the deeds they did at first. From what you see in the chapter, what would you guess Jesus might be referring to?

Learning More About the Way of God

Old Testament: 2 Samuel 15 & 16

Poetry: Proverbs 24

*New Testament: Acts 18

     In Acts 18 Luke mentioned several workers active in the Church with Paul, giving background for some. It may miss our attention at first, but we don’t know if Aquila and Priscilla were already Christian disciples when they were exiled from Rome (v. 2-3). They were not just fellow tentmakers with Paul, he highly praised them, and a church met in their home (Romans 16:3-5). We know that Egyptians and Romans were present for the Pentecost event (Acts 2:10), so we should expect that some from those areas were present at every festival Jesus attended and perhaps learned from him all along. Logically people from those areas were present during the time John the Baptist ministered as well. There could have been people with imperfect understandings of God’s plans scattered across the empire, and outside it, waiting to encounter disciples. Alexandria was the second largest city in the empire (next to Rome) and had a very large Jewish population. No Bible book relates events there, so it basically disappears from our awareness. Apollos, from Alexandria, knew about Jesus, his identity and resurrection, but he missed some details involved with serving Jesus – particularly not having been baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection. Fortunately, Apollos met Priscilla and Aquila and they were able to take him aside and help him by explaining “the way of God more accurately.” This allowed Apollos to then be of great use to those who believed, through grace (v. 27-28).

     It is hard to visualize quite what version of belief Apollos was getting by with before he met Priscilla and Aquila. He still valued his understanding as coming from God, and wanted to share it, as John the Baptist had done. We know he was teaching accurately “the things concerning Jesus,” but what does that leave out? Was he still depending on the Law to carry him along? He understood the idea of repenting, but did he have an idea of how he was supposed to arrive at forgiveness? Perhaps Apollos simply trusted God and moved forward, expecting things to become clear. We can be thankful that he did.

     Dear Lord, thank you that as your servant I am not left uncertain about being forgiven. Please help me not to put any of the old weight of sin back on myself, let me accept that the past is in the past. Thank you for the opportunity to serve you, in whatever way it comes. Please help me to grow, not to accept staying as I am, but to seek to be more useful for you and for your people. Prompt me to accept the opportunities that come to me which are within my capacities. Help me to recognize your will. In the name of your son, Jesus, Amen.

-Daniel Smead


  1. What do you think it would mean for someone to try to live their life as a Christian aware of Jesus, and having repented, but without the Spirit? Do you think there is a limit on how long that would be able to last, or what a person could face and still attempt it?
  2. Does it surprise you that Apollos was trying to spread the news he had, even though it was incomplete?
  3. What do you see represented in the fact that Priscilla and Aquila “took Apollos aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately”? How do you visualize that event taking place? How long do you think it took, for example? How do you think they introduced themselves?
  4. How often do you think about the fact that on a given day your situation may not be the most important, but someone else you are interacting with may greatly need your attention?
  5. Do you think much about the idea that people today are trying to serve God with what they understand, and they are waiting to encounter someone willing to help them see the truth more clearly? Are you living in a way where you would feel open to speaking for Jesus if you meet one of those people?

(Sorry this wasn’t sent out til now…I thought it was posted this morning but it appears I shut my computer lid too quickly, or some other technical issue…here’s another try…)

Searching Scripture

Old Testament: 2 Samuel 13 & 14

Poetry: Proverbs 23

New Testament: Acts 17

     It is hard to discuss Acts 17 without mentioning verse 11, and the more “noble-minded” behavior of the Bereans, compared with the Thessalonians. They received the word with great eagerness and searched the scriptures daily to determine if what they were being told was true. The central comparison with the Thessalonians involved those residents of the city who had rejected the truth and driven out Paul and his companions. So it seems like the issue was the Bereans’ openness to examine the truth and receive it, making Bible study itself secondary. But the verse offers a lovely image of people being excited with the truths of the gospel they are hearing, while still being cautious to verify they are not being led astray. That image fits better for a group of Jewish believers, already familiar with the Old Testament, than it would have for a group of Gentiles who were only first hearing about the Gospel and learning about the scriptures. But you can see how the image may also apply to those who are familiar with the Bible and then are exposed to a new way of understanding it, perhaps the Gospel of the Kingdom, or the sleep of the dead. To first grasp such an idea and then figure out how sections of the Bible you previously thought you understood actually fit together and form a different picture may require examining dozens of texts. And in that process the new understanding becomes more fully owned, and more ready to be shared with others.

     After Paul left Berea he found at Athens one of the centers of Greek paganism, paired with one of the centers of Greek philosophy. Neither aspect of the city impressed him, but he considered that the altar to “an unknown god” (theos agnostos) gave him a discussion point for speaking with the philosophers of Athens. The idea of the altar wasn’t, apparently, to be cautious and try to honor some nation’s god which the people were not yet aware of. The phrase was intended to describe divinity in a Platonist way, saying there was a fully transcendent god, so “other” as to be unknowable to humans. It suggested a being who was infinite, formless and changeless. When Paul described “The God who made the world and all things in it” the philosophers present may have immediately known that Paul had in mind something quite different than the altar was for – our God is glorious and transcendent, yes, far beyond us, but also immanent, capable of creating, capable of loving that creation, and desiring to save creation. When Paul argued that God doesn’t dwell in temples, and can’t be represented by statues of gold, silver or stone he was rejecting aspects of the “pagan” Athens, not the “philosophical” Athens, and the philosophers may have been right in line with his words. But then he spoke of the resurrection, and most of them could get no grasp on what he was referring to. The normal philosophical notions of perfection were all about being freed from the physical realm, they involved the mind, and continuing life after death as a spirit being. The idea of desiring to regain a body after dying played no part in that. A very few members of the group were willing to leave with Paul and learn more, but it seems that Paul was not interested in coming back to keep talking to the rest of them. Their reputation was that they loved to talk and to listen, but Paul could tell there were better things to do with his time.

     As an odd note, the name of Dionysius the Areopagite (who left with Paul in v. 34) was taken up for a very prominent fraud. The tradition of studying and teaching philosophy in Athens continued into the 500s, though it is considered that the last major figure in that line was Proclus who died in A.D. 485. Sometime in A.D. 500-520 a set of ten letters and four treatises was released, portrayed as being by “Dionysius the Areopagite,” who was remembered as having become the first bishop of Athens. It presented a Christian philosophical-theology in line with Proclus’ writings. Because it claimed to be from the first century it could be used to support a number of ideas it contained, like the trinity, which were not established by the Bible. One of the writings is credited with coining the Greek word for “hierarchy,” and it describes the structure of the church with bishops, priests, deacons, monks, etc. After these works came to public attention in 533 a bishop did ask why, if they were really from Dionysius in the first century, they had never been heard about or quoted from before. But as people found these texts useful for claiming what they wanted to prove, objections were set aside. The writings of Pseudo-Dionysius-the-Areopagite weren’t properly questioned for centuries, and they were not widely rejected until issues were raised in the Renaissance in the 1400s. Eventually it was seen that the text of one of the works had plagiarized Proclus, which made the sequence of events clear, but that wasn’t recognized until 1895. Truly this was a case where it would have been better if people had been content to examine the scriptures and compare them to what they were learning elsewhere.

     Paul wrote to the Corinthians that “the Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:22-24). Paul had some experience with Greek people, not just in Greece, who wanted to hear things that would let them feel big, and wise. It is enough to accept that God is those things.

     Dear Lord, please help me be open to knowing you as your child, as Paul wrote. Simply, and lovingly. Please remove complications that aren’t needed, barriers that get in the way. Open my eyes to you, please, and let me see. Amen.

-Daniel Smead


  1. Have you attempted to examine the scriptures to determine that what you have learned was correct?
  2. Paul’s speech to the philosophers seems well crafted, he found an interesting hook, he cites Greek poetry, he pays attention to local concerns – it seems like a good example of Paul trying to be all things to all people that some might be saved. (1 Corinthians 9:22) How do you view the idea of trying to be “all things to all people”? Do you think Paul ever had much of a chance to have a big impact with the group he was trying to reach in Athens? Do you think there was more potential for those who he had reached to reach others there after he left?
  3. What do you think could cause someone to feel they needed to write a book under a borrowed name to present their beliefs about Christianity? What could they have done next?
  4. What do you think made it so hard for people to see the truth about the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius-the-Areopagite?

Great Expectations


Old Testament: 2 Samuel 11 & 12

Poetry: Proverbs 22

New Testament: Acts 16

     You can look at today’s chapter as about expectations, being anticipated, met, shifted, and subverted. For example, it might surprise us to read that Timothy was circumcised (v. 3) – we just went over this, and circumcision was ruled out, right? But circumcision was restricted for Christians as a religious choice involving the Law. This text shows it being chosen as a surgical procedure, to avoid offending Jews who believed Timothy should have been circumcised when he was a child. Timothy chose this just to be less objectionable and let the message of Jesus be conveyed better. Paul later described him as a “kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare” (Philippians 2:20).

     Paul had intended to revisit the places he and Barnabas went (15:36) but Barnabas set off with John Mark, at least going to Crete. Paul went a different route and was probably quite surprised after a while that God was not permitting him to speak the gospel. When he received a vision calling him to Macedonia (north of Greece) he accepted this and entered Europe, where he hadn’t expected to travel. It has been pointed out that Acts 15 marks a transition point in the mission account when we hear less about Jewish people coming into the Church, and more about Gentiles. Paul could have continued traveling to where large groups of Jews lived, but before long he is in Philippi where it seems there were very few Jews, or at least few Jewish men. It took ten Jewish men to set up a synagogue, and apparently Philippi lacked this, but Paul’s group located a Jewish “place of prayer” by the river – they were often by the water.

     One of God’s favorite things may be subverting our expectations, whether by using weak people to achieve a victory, or turning a persecutor into an evangelist, or having us confront our own prejudices. As a Pharisee Paul would have been taught to pray each day “I thank you, Lord, that you did not create me a slave, a woman or a Gentile.” I’ve been told that the meaning of the prayer isn’t as extreme as it first sounds, that the point was how any of those three categories would limit access at the Temple and drawing closer to God. But still, it seems like such a prayer would tend to affect one’s ideas on the importance of people to God. And, the way Luke tells it, as Paul and Silas began their ministry in Europe the first three people they reached were a woman, a slave girl, and a Gentile. (This understanding of the text was pointed out to me in The IVP Women’s Bible Commentary, edited by Catherine Clark Kroeger and Mary J. Evans.)

     While Lydia was likely wealthy, since she was selling a luxury item like purple cloth, it seems that the Jewish community in Philippi lacked political influence. The owners of the slave girl who was helped by Paul were willing to unjustly push around her houseguests, though they did gather a crowd before going to the authorities with their claims. Paul didn’t seem important to them, and these officials were all too ready to accept the accusation that he was proclaiming customs it wasn’t lawful for Romans to accept or observe.

     After the earthquake struck and opened the prison doors the jailer was ready to kill himself because when a prisoner escaped a Roman jailer’s custody he was subject to whatever sentence that prisoner was to receive – with so many prisoners in his jail he must have thought it impossible to survive the collective punishments. In this story Paul and Silas seem like Joseph in a night, so impressing their fellow prisoners with their songs and their attitudes that they managed to convince them to behave according to their best selves in the situation and wait to learn what would happen. Or perhaps the other prisoners were cowed and afraid, like the sailors on Jonah’s ship in the middle of the turmoil, and they, too, had asked what they needed to do to be saved. Whatever the exact situation, when the jailer learned they all were still there he was ready to accept that Paul and Silas were falsely accused. And in the morning the local officials were likewise prepared to accept that a wrong had been done, but they wanted it to be swept aside. This is one of several times that Paul’s Roman citizenship benefited him, and it makes you wonder how government officials were so careless about not checking in advance who they might be abusing. The initial order for release may have been due to fear, related to the earthquake, or it may have been recognition that the actions already taken were outside the law, but the response to knowing Paul was a citizen was probably a good lesson to them. We can hope it put some lasting caution into their minds for future interactions with the new community of believers in Philippi, and that it helped to encourage the community that God was watching over them.

     Lord, thank you that Paul was willing to leave his expected course to get where you wanted him to be. Please help me be willing to take the course you want me to take. Please help me to accept your guidance. Help me to seek it and desire it, and not fear it. Give me strength and trust to rejoice in the Lord always, amen.

-Daniel Smead

Reflection Questions

  1. How much do you think it helped Paul and Silas to be locked in prison together?
  2. If you were locked in prison for serving Jesus, do you think you would sing hymns of praise to God? I think that with Paul and Silas as our examples we may be likely to say we can do that. But is it sometimes harder to glorify God in more “normal” situations, so that they wear you down over time? Recognize that you are a child of God, and that we don’t see all that is going on. Isn’t every situation potentially the lead up to something extraordinary? Joseph was a kid being mistreated by his siblings. Hannah was a childless woman, being picked on by a rival, for years. Don’t reject them as examples because they are famous Bible characters, it may have been their faithfulness while they were unaware of what would happen that led to what happened next. Recall that we don’t know what Lydia had been praying for, her role in this story may be much larger than we realize.
  3. As you think about the people in the chapter, what connections do you make to your own life?
  4. Having thought about Acts 16 today, how will you look at your life differently?
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