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)
How does knowing God’s promises change the way you approach your everyday life?
How have you experienced these promises in your own life?
What other promises does God make throughout scripture? Hint: there’s 7,479 more!
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.
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?
Does it surprise you that Apollos was trying to spread the news he had, even though it was incomplete?
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?
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?
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…)
The gospel of Luke was written by Luke the physician (Col 4:14), who traveled with Paul. Luke was a gentile who learned about Jesus through careful research from eye witnesses. Luke wrote the gospel of Luke (the longest Gospel), and the book of Acts – which combined make Luke the most prolific writer in the New Testament.
The gospel of Matthew was written to a Jewish audience, Mark was written to a Roman audience. Luke was written to Theophilus, for a Gentile audience – to assure Theophilus the truth of what he had been taught about Jesus. Multiple times, Luke stressed that salvation was for the Gentiles. For example, Luke 2:30-32, “For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
Luke highlighted Jesus’ love for and ministry to outcasts, including: immoral women, Samaritans, runaways, tax collectors, lepers, and criminals. Luke also emphasized Jesus’ prayer life.
The gospel of Luke starts with the story of John the Baptist’s birth, and details the familiar birth of Jesus. Luke then details Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. The majority of the book focuses on Jesus’ heading to Jerusalem – where he knew he would be crucified. (Luke 9:51 says, “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.”) Luke then records Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.
Luke is the only gospel to detail the story of Jesus’ joining two men on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection. I find this story moving. I love their response as recorded in Luke 24: 32, “They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
I pray that your heart will be burning within you as you let Jesus speak to you as you open the Scriptures to read the book of Luke.
DEVOTION by Juliet
There were many who tried to compile an account about the things accomplished by the disciples of Jesus, as handed down to them by the eyewitnesses and servants of the word, but it was Luke’s compilation that made the cut.
Luke investigated everything carefully from the beginning (of Jesus’s ministry) and wrote it out in consecutive order. He wanted his reader(s) to know the exact truth about the things that he was learning, which meant that his reader could have been believing some things in error, even though his reader was learning things not too long after there were eyewitnesses to Jesus’s ministry. This should cause us to pause and be mindful of all that we know or think we know.
Truth matters. We should all endeavor to be careful to investigate everything written about and spoken by Jesus, because in him is the knowledge of salvation.
Did you notice though that Luke’s intro makes a statement we don’t often hear? He said his compilation was an account of the things accomplished by the eyewitnesses and servants of the word, or of the gospel. Whether the “word” here represents Jesus or the entirety of the gospel message, which you find in Jesus the Christ, I am not sure. What I am sure of is that if you want to be a servant of the word, the gospel, you should probably know what it is, desire it, and serve.
Do you know the word, the gospel? Do you desire it, both to know it and serve it? Do you know what it means to serve the word, the gospel? If we don’t, we should investigate it carefully, just like Luke did, to serve it rightly, in truth and without error. But that can be difficult.
The god of this world, Satan, has blinded the minds of those who will perish without the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ (2 Cor. 4:4). That’s why we have such a great commission set before us as his disciples, to make known to the world the word, which is the gospel of the kingdom of God, which is found in Jesus, who is in the image of God, which leads to salvation.
God wants none to perish, but without the knowledge of the word, the gospel, Jesus, we will perish. It is our service to the word to preach the gospel.
Notice again that Luke says, “servants of the word,” not just knowledge bearers of the word. It follows that if you are servants of the word, that your life and your character will reflect that. If you are servants of the word, then you will be a person that serves self-sacrificially, to whatever extent is needed in the plan of God, for the salvation of others.
Within our commission, we may have specific tasks that God grants us to do for him on an individual basis to accomplish his work. If we want to know what that work is, we have to get to serving. The more we do for him through Christ, the more service he will give us to do work with while his son is away.
In Joshua, we read about his service and sacrifice to God for the salvation of others, which involved conquering all the lands that God told him to conquer, to be the one through whom he would give his people of his time the promised land. But he didn’t become this servant of the words God spoke to him just because he acknowledged that what was spoken by God was true. He became this servant because of his service to do what God told him to do, reflecting his character, his faith in God to do what he said he’d do.
In Psalm 100, we can read about one of many services that David is well known for. He brought the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to God when he came before him, acknowledging who his God was often, acknowledging his name Yahweh, and the work of his hands, namely, us. The byproduct of David’s service reflects his heart, his character, which is after God’s own heart.
Through Luke’s personal service and sacrifice to God through his narrative, we’ll read about our Messiah Jesus, and see his self-sacrificial service embedded in his entire life, written in consecutive order. Once his ministry began, the man didn’t even have a place to call home, as he was too busy serving others to settle in one location. His servitude and devotion to his God culminated in his final earthly work at his death on the cross, leading to the salvation of all.
Remember as we read Luke’s narrative that he was one of only 4 writers out of many whose compilation succeeded in becoming what are commonly referred to as “the gospels”. What an accomplishment! This tells me that if you want to be servers of the word, you’ve got to have a desire to do it and to do it with everything that is in you, because that’s the person you’ve become after receiving the knowledge of Christ.
As we continue on in our reading in Luke chapter 1, let’s take note of all the witnesses and servants of the word with the same careful investigation that Luke gave to his narrative. While we search for the exact truth about the things we’ve been taught, let’s examine the servitude and character of the people who were closest to Jesus, as well as the consequences that followed. After gaining the knowledge of what was accomplished by the original servants of the word, the gospel, let’s get to being the servants of the word of our generation.
Luke’s narrative was written in consecutive order. Do you know how the other three narratives that met the gospel cut were ordered?
How are you a servant of the word?
What character trait do you want to portray to others after being a servant of the word?
Paul’s letters always offer great lessons, and his letter to the Galatians is no different. In this letter, to fully understand the lesson or example Paul has for us, we have to dig into the context and understand why Paul is writing in the first place.
In this letter, especially in the introduction, Paul is not impressed with how quickly the Galatians have fallen away from his message of truth and started to doubt his “credentials” as an apostle. Despite this, Paul still greets these believers with grace, peace, and truth about Jesus (v. 3-4). I don’t know about you, but if I have been abandoned, disowned, and essentially ignored, I don’t know that I would have the same gracious greeting… Think of all the energy, effort, and overall dedication Paul poured into this group of people when he was traveling, only to find out that someone came along shortly after and messed with everything he built. You would feel so betrayed by this group! You would maybe even want to give up on them and just focus elsewhere, but Paul writes to rebuild and refocus the Galatians.
While Paul does go into a defense for his apostleship, you’ll notice that he isn’t defending himself or his character, but rather he is defending his story that brings glory to God and explains the importance of Jesus. Paul is not interested in being seen as a popular guy; he specifically has no interest in that (v. 10)! He is passionate about making sure the churches of Galatia know the truth about Christ, and that is all! In fact, in some areas he didn’t even want people knowing his name, only his story of redemption and God’s grace, as a way to glorify God (v. 22).
Without explicitly telling us how to live in this chapter, Paul’s response to Galatia churches models several things about living the life of a Christian:
1. We should greet and treat others with grace, and speak truth, no matter what our relationship with them may be.
2. Proclaiming the gospel can be lonely and there will probably be people working against us at times, but our purpose is not related to gaining favor or status with people; it is focused on sharing Jesus.
3. God wants to be glorified in our life, no matter what path we started on, and God has the ability to use our bad history for his glory.
Questions for reflection:
Who in your life needs to be greeted with grace, peace, and truth by you?
Where do you see yourself proclaiming the gospel in your life? If you aren’t sure, try starting with the person that came to mind from the previous question.
Paul says God set him apart from birth (v. 15); what does this reveal to you about God’s character?
God, thank you for the amazing gift of your son, Jesus Christ. Please help us to share this gift with everyone we meet – but today I pray that you reveal to each one of us exactly who you want us to share your truth with. Give us strength and courage when we get lonely, help us remain focused on you and not our own status, and above all, let our lives be glorifying to you. In your son’s name, Amen.
Paul had asked one of his best supporters, Timothy (Philippians 2:19-22), to stay at Ephesus and address false teaching (1 Timothy 1:3-7). In 6:20-21 Paul warns against “the opposing arguments of what is falsely called ‘knowledge’ – which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith.” (NASB). By writing of “knowledge” (gnosis in Greek) this way Paul suggests the presence of “gnostic” thought in Ephesus. “Gnosticism” covers a range of belief systems from the early centuries of the Christian era and grasping all of that history isn’t the point here, but I will mention some possible links to a gnostic group later.
The chapter begins with a support for prayer, highlighting its benefits for good order. The Jews had an exemption from sacrificing for the emperors and gave prayer for the emperors. The Romans accepted this compromise in part because they knew the strength of the Jewish conviction in their one God, and the risk of rebellion if they rejected it. For a time Christians were accepted under that compromise by the Romans, being seen as a category of Jewish believers. But Paul was not necessarily speaking of the compromise at all, but just of the benefits of prayer itself.
Paul goes on to state that he wants all to know the truth: “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.” (verses 5-6). The fact of Jesus being a mediator between God and humanity doesn’t come up often – the word for mediator only shows up six times in the New Testament, here, in Galatians 3, and in Hebrews 8, 9 and 12. Mediation is relevant for Jesus in his position as High Priest, one of the three tasks tied to being the Christ / Messiah, the anointed one. Once a year the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies (where the Ark of the Covenant was) and pray on behalf of the nation. This text in 1 Timothy addresses how Jesus is also the ransom, the sacrifice, which permitted the High Priest to enter the Holy of Holies. The High Priest did not perform a sacrifice inside that room, he brought in blood from a sacrifice of a lamb that had taken place outside the room, and sprinkled it in the room. And so Jesus, our High Priest, is able to enter the true Holy of Holies in heaven and remain there – not one day but perpetually – based on having provided his own blood as the lamb (Revelation 5:9; Hebrews 10:11-25).
I also see Jesus as a proper mediator in how he understands the perspectives of both sides – he is the one sinless human being (1 Peter 2:22), better fit than anyone else to speak for God’s concerns (and, of course, God’s chosen representative as the Christ), but he is a human who suffered temptations as we do (Hebrews 4:15).
The later part of the chapter may explain why Paul was giving a brief explanation of the true faith – I would suggest he made his statement when he did in contrast to the teachings being presented by those he was having issues with in Ephesus. Sometimes people have argued about whether these statements should be taken as universal to all churches. I do not see them as universal, nor do I see them as restricting all women in Ephesus, because of inconsistencies this would create and because of an alternate explanation I perceive. But first the inconsistencies.
Some translations say “teach or have authority” in verse 12, but texts like 1 Corinthians 11 show that Paul accepted women as teachers (and he named various female co-workers in his letters, such as the well-known Priscilla, Phoebe, etc.). It seems better from the Greek to see this phrase as “teach with authority” which means it is not two issues but one, guided by whatever type of authority we are dealing with – because this is not the normal word for “authority” in the New Testament. The Greek word used in 1 Timothy 2:12 for “authority” only appears here in the Bible, telling us little, but its extrabiblical uses suggest it is more like a kind of stolen authority which Paul would not wish any Christian (male or female) to obtain. The reason that this passage links it to women will be made more clear shortly. The text says that Adam was created before Eve but does not state why this is significant – many have suggested this should relate to some greater authority for Adam due to being made first, an authority extending to men in general. But this is not discussed elsewhere in the Bible, and commonly greater responsibility results in greater punishment upon failure, not a continuation of such responsibility after failure. Next, the text says that Adam was not “deceived”, which has sometimes been thought to mean (in supposed context of Paul’s point) that Adam handled the truth about the tree better than Eve so men were to be able to handle the truth better than women. But both Adam and Eve sinned regarding the tree, and most texts about this Bible event refer to Adam, not Eve, as key to the punishment of humanity for sin (even if they are only using his name symbolically because he was the first human). And lastly, verse 15, in some readings, makes it sound like a woman’s salvation depends on bearing children rather than upon her relationship with Jesus. This seems to be a complete absurdity, particularly considering Paul’s stated support for Christians remaining unmarried (1 Corinthians 7:8).
Now to a proposed alternative, that there were female teachers in Ephesus advocating for a gnostic sect who had infiltrated the church. Such sects cover a range of ground, but they included those who claimed that the physical universe in which we live was created by accident as an off-shoot from the powers of a purely spiritual being too different from us to even interact with us or to create matter. They would propose that this far away being self-generated a lesser spirit (like a plant gives off fruit) which in turn generated a lesser spirit, and so on (some versions went through hundreds of levels, possibly mocked as the “endless genealogies” of 1 Timothy 1:4). Eventually the story would arrive at a being that was weak / foolish enough to produce matter rather than spirit, and that being created our universe. The result was the trapping of fragments of spirit in matter – souls stuck in bodies – which needed to be retrieved to re-merge with the higher beings. Thus one of the higher spirit beings gets sent to provide the necessary knowledge to these fragments (which are unaware of their own origins) for them to escape their reality.
It was popular in some gnostic circles to steal the writings of other groups, Jewish, Christian, Zoroastrian, philosophy, etc., and rewrite it to present the beliefs of the gnostic group. The Genesis account of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was popular to twist, given the tree’s name. One particular group we know of presented that tree as a positive thing to eat from to gain understanding, and described the snake as a heroic spirit-being who came to convince Eve to eat from it. They described the God of the Old Testament as the creator of the physical universe who was blocking information about higher reality from the creation. Eve was presented as having been the original human (not Adam) and, since the snake supposedly told truth, she was also specifically not deceived. This type of switch in Eve’s origin story also plays into the fact with some gnostic groups of favoring priestess figures over priests.
You can see how what Paul says in verses 13 and 14 may be a repudiation of teachings by people in Ephesus who supported gnostics. Paul is asserting truth from Genesis. Adam was created first. Adam was not deceived by God about the tree, Eve was deceived by the serpent.
Verse 15 caps things off – among gnostics there were two views on sexuality. Some groups said that they should be celibate to avoid physical attachments, since their goal was to leave the world behind as spirits. Some groups said that since they were going to leave their bodies behind it didn’t matter what they did with them at all. But all gnostics agreed on one thing as being an unforgiveable sin – to have a child. They saw having a child as trapping a fragment of “soul” in flesh within the creation. I see verse 15 as offering reassurance to women who had been told they were not allowed to have children that doing so was fine. What actually mattered was continuing in faith, love, and sanctity with self-restraint.
I can’t demonstrate that the particular gnostic group I discussed was active in Ephesus – I can’t even demonstrate that the writing I was discussing about Genesis 3 had already been written at that point – but the details do seem to match together pretty well. If my proposed alternative were certainly incorrect, the inconsistencies I am concerned with would continue to concern me. And, of course, the ministry of the many women who worked alongside Paul would continue to be notable and compelling.
Lord, thank you for the opportunity to write these devotions. It has been difficult, but it has been useful to me as a demonstration that I can still be of use. I pray that I have not offended unnecessarily by anything I wrote, and that I have not mislead anyone or made an error in emphasis that would put them on the wrong course. I know that you are able to guide what people perceive in my words by your Spirit to take them where they actually need to go, and so now that my part is finished I entrust the next steps to you. Not that I did not rely on you to have been helping me along the way already. Please forgive my pride whenever I thought I was writing well, I was only writing about your words in the first place. Thank you for taking care of me, and for letting me know that you do. In the name of your son Jesus I pray these things, Amen.
Do you make a practice of praying for worldly leaders? Do you pray only for your own leaders, or also for the leaders of other areas? Do you expect these prayers to matter?
What do you think of 1 Timothy 2:5-6 as a possible stand-in for John 3:16? John 3:16 has a ring to it, but I wonder if these verses would be more likely to get people looking for the details they need. Sometimes the idea of “believing in him” sounds vague, without the context. Saying there is “testimony” might remind people to find out what the testimony said. Of course no one is meant to be a Christian without context. What do you think is your “key” verse or verses for your faith at the moment?
Verse 8 says, after Paul’s statement about faith and truth, that he wants prayer everywhere “without wrath and dissension” – do you think this might be another reference to the unity of the believers being a testimony to the world? Does prayer with wrath and dissension sound appealing?
The fact that Paul kept saying what he wanted from the believers may suggest that he wasn’t always getting it from them, or that he was warning them, or that he was aware how many other people would read his letters. It really isn’t clear. Which do you think is the most likely situation? How often do you read something Paul said to do and think about applying it directly to yourself? How often do you read something Paul said to do and object to the idea of applying it to yourself? How much of that is based on you thinking your circumstances are different now?
I am very much into reading the Bible literately; that is, as the literature of the book dictates. The Gospels demand to be read literally: Jesus did not convince people to share their food, but multiplied the fish and the loaves on two separate occasions. However, poems and parables are full of symbolic imagery; no one should say that Jesus meant the rocks would ACTUALLY sing (though he could make them) or that the trees have hands or that the mountains have throats. (Isaiah 55:12)
Revelation is Apocalyptic literature, meaning it is full of metaphor and symbolism. A dragon chases a woman into the wilderness when the women instantly grows wings and flies off to safety… we aren’t seeing something that will play out *literally*. Be assured, poetic imagery is just as true as “literal history”. God wins… that’s not a metaphor nor a feeling, but a fact. But there won’t be a woman on a beast, but a city full of imperial power eaten by her own pride, gluttony, lust, and sin.
We can see the metaphor and symbolism in the last 2/3 of the chapter this morning. The city has twelve gates, twelves angels, twelve tribes, twelve foundation stones, each a different costly stone, twelve apostles. The city is a cube, 1200 stadia (in the Greek) long, wide, and tall. The walls are 144 cubits thick. Notice how often twelve is used! Even the length is 12*1000 and the thickness is 12*12! How should we read and interpret the clear metaphor and symbolism we see in the last part of Revelation 21 could be an interesting puzzle.
However, that’s not the most important thing. Moreover, it’s not my favorite verse in the Bible.
Revelation 21:1-8 does not produce in me a desire to pick apart metaphor and symbolism. I readily admit that I am constantly trying to understand the Bible based on genre, but I can’t help but read 21:1-8, as not only a literal description of the beginning of forever, but I lose any “objectivity” and place myself in the text. I see the brilliant shining holy city of God, the promised home for all believers, big enough to fit us all, dead and living, coming down from heaven. A loud voice calls out that we are promised that God will be with us, be our God, we his people, and he will dwell among us. I watch as God himself, with something like the hands of a father who has worked in a field, radiating strength, calloused from work, yet gentle to touch his child, reaches out, and he cups my head in his hands. He uses his thumb to wipe the tears (of joy? Sorrow? Relief?) from my eyes. He pulls me into a hug.
I am home at long last.
While I encourage you to study and understand the Bible always, to question it and pull at it, because it is strong enough for our hardest probing because the truth has nothing to fear… I want you to believe it’s true. It is true that God will take the time to wipe our tears away. Mine, yours, and all those who believed, from the distant past to the far future. The resurrection will lead to life eternal, and we will drink from the spring of the water of life. I will be with my Father, because God will be my God and I will be his son. But I will also be with my father, my mother, my grandparents, those who have been with me along this journey of life but have died. And the entire family of God will be raised to life, all those who have been faithful. One day, death, mourning, crying, and pain will be no more. There is a new order of things; all is life, joy, shouting, and pleasure!
“East Wall, Middle Gate.”
I have a good friend whose family and friends know that this is the meeting place in the New Jerusalem. What a powerful way to believe in the truth of Revelation. That’s the kind of faith my favorite verses in the Bible should engender in us. We are so confident in the love, power, and promises of God we have a plan to meet as a family (all of us brothers and sisters) in the new Jerusalem.
May your faith never waver, may your hope never falter, and may you stand among those who have overcome in the new heavens and new earth.
See you at the East Wall, Middle Gate.
Revelation is a hard book. Sometimes, when trying to figure a book out, we can forget to read the message. How can you live into the truth of Revelation today? Instead of trying to figure it out, how can you rest secure in the knowledge that one day God will fulfill all his promises and all things will be made new?
Do you have a favorite verse of the Bible? How does it help you grow in faith? Ask God to put someone in your path who needs the message in your favorite Bible verse and then share it with them when God puts them in your path.
We are in a battle right now. However, that is not a unique characteristic of today. In the New Testament, Jude recognized it and wrote in Jude 3, “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.” He wanted to warn people so that they could be prepared.
It is no different today. We live in an age that touts religious freedom and tolerance, yet people are still dying for their faith and the faith of many continues to fall further and further from the truth. We still have a job to do.
Though we may be seeing a change in culture in our own country, we are still fairly blessed when it comes to the freedoms that we have in our faith. In looking at the whole world, there are many countries in which admitting to being a Christian is liable to get you killed. In that way, the fight for the faith is considerably different. They are literally fighting for their physical lives as they fight for the faith.
We have a different, less physical fight in the U.S. A decline in church attendance, a falling away from the faith, a bending of the faith to fit what culture says. Are we willing to stand up, to contend, for our faith?
Jude 3 tells us that the faith was entrusted to all of God’s holy people. I believe that by accepting Jesus into our lives, we become one of those holy people. That means we are entrusted with the faith. We should be fighting for what is true, to hold on to that faith, so that at Christ’s return, we, and as many others as possible can be found faithful.
After urging his readers to contend for the faith, what warnings does he give through the rest of his short book? What situations, sins, and characteristics of people is Jude warning against?
What does Jude want to see from God’s people?
Where do you see a battle for the faith taking place today? How do you think God wants you to participate?
In the third and final letter from John, truth is once again evidenced in his thoughts.
John is writing, in part, to commend a man named Gaius. John said of Gaius that he was walking in the truth and that he was being faithful in providing support for strangers who were traveling around sharing the gospel (perhaps like modern day missionaries?).
While there are many who are called to travel around sharing the gospel – to be missionaries – most of us are not. That doesn’t excuse us from the responsibility of the Great Commission (Mark 16:15, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”). We can all come alongside those who are called to do such work by providing prayer, encouragement, and financial support. This makes us the “fellow workers” that John talks about in verse 8.
John then goes on to contrast the faithful and loving behavior of Gaius with the selfish and subversive behavior of Diotrephes. In verse 11 he tells Gaius, and us, “do not imitate evil but imitate good”. It’s not enough to just not imitate evil, but it is commanded that we imitate good. The one who does good is from God.
-Todd & Amy Blanchard
Do you know who the missionaries we, as a church, support? You can learn about them and our organization for supporting them, Lord’s Harvest International here: http://lhicog.com/
Who do you know that you could imitate? How?
Are the choices you make (attitudes, actions, words, etc.) worthy of imitation?
For such a short letter, John really packs a lot into it. The greeting, which, if I am being honest, often gets skimmed, offers some insight into what the letter contains. He mentions truth or the truth four times in the greeting alone. I think his point is that truth matters. So, what is the truth that he is talking about? Verse 9 talks about abiding in the teaching of Christ. This is the truth that is empathized in his greeting. Verse 7 says that a deceiver is one who does not confess (believe) that Jesus Christ came in the flesh – that he was a real man who lived on this earth. No one likes to find out they were deceived, tricked, or made to look foolish because they believed a lie. The truth is that Jesus is the Son of God, he did live on the earth, he did preach a message of the coming kingdom, he did die for our sins, he was raised up, and he will come back. We are to abide in that teaching, in that truth.
I looked up abide and was surprised at the many definitions it has. Here are a few:
to accept or act in accordance with
to remain in a stable or fixed state
to continue in a particular condition, attitude, or relationship
to be able to live with or put up with
Not only are we to abide in this truth, but to NOT abide in it is to NOT have God. That is a scary thought!
John provides a warning to us in verse 8 to “Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward”. He warns us because there will be “many deceivers” – many people who won’t be abiding in the truth about Jesus. The only way to know if you are being told the truth or if you are being deceived is to “test everything” (I Thessalonians 5:21). In order to do that, we need to know the truth ourselves. We need to “test” what we are being taught against what is in God’s word, the Bible.
Todd & Amy Blanchard
Have you ever been deceived by someone? How did you learn about the truth and what steps have you taken so you aren’t deceived in that way again?
How can you apply that to being watchful with regard to your faith walk (walking in the truth)?
Being aware that knowledge of the truth prevents deception, how can you share your knowledge to help keep others from being deceived?