Devotional # 192. 1 Timothy 1:1-2

Devotional # 192. 5/31/16. 1 Timothy 1:1-2.

 

Introduction to 1 Timothy. The first time Paul was released from prison, he went through some cities he had ministered in before. One of the cities was Ephesus where Paul, being a good leader, decided to place Timothy there to lead them. This is what discipleship looks like. Jesus calls us to do what He did. He trained 12 guys and 11 turned out really well! But Paul didn’t just put Timothy there to be a good example but also to direct them away from the bad stuff they were already doing. There was “false doctrine (1:3-7; 4:1-3; 6:3-5), disorder in worship (2:1-15), the need for qualified leaders (3:1-14), and materialism (6:6-19)” (Source 1).

But that’s not all we learn from this book. We’ll also talk about “pastoral instruction from Paul to Timothy (cf. 3:14,15)”, “the proper function of the law (1:5-11); salvation (1:14-16, 2:4-6); the attributes of God (1:17); the Fall (2:13,14); the person of Christ (3:16; 6:15,16); election (6:12); and the second coming of Christ (6:14,15)” (Source 1).
Introduction to this Devotional. Today we’ll talk about Paul and Timothy and who the letter is actually from (God). We’ll also discuss “grace, mercy and peace” and briefly touch on mentoring (discipleship).

v. 1. The custom at this time was to put who a letter was from at the beginning instead of at the end like we do now. Paul tells you he’s writing the letter and on what authority: as “an apostle of Jesus Christ.” In the same way as we talked about in Colossians 1:1-2 (Devotional # 142) Paul could have mentioned his other qualifications but all that matters is that Jesus chose him to lead and teach these things.

Paul notes that his being an “apostle” wasn’t just something  he decided on and it wasn’t just a glorious title or a religious duty. Instead Paul had been “commanded” by “God our Savior and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Although we’re not called to be “apostles”, since an “apostle” was verbally called by Jesus, we are still “commanded” to answer God’s calling in our lives.

I find it interesting that Paul calls “God” (meaning ‘the Father’) “our  Savior” and then deliberately  separates “the Lord Jesus Christ” calling Him, “our hope.” Wait a minute! Paul time and again calls Jesus the Savior (Ephesians 5:23, Philippians 3:20, 2 Timothy 1:10, Titus 1:4) and explained that the only way “to salvation is through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9).

) so how can the Father be the Savior? And furthermore, if that is the case, how can Jesus be “the hope”, wouldn’t it be the Father? As always our answer comes from the Scriptures. 1 John 4:14 says, “And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world” (NIV). Lastly, what really bridges the gap is that it can be said of the Father that He is our Savior as well as the Son being our Savior, only since the Trinity is true.

v. 2. Paul clearly states who this letter is sent to: Timothy. Who was Timothy? Well, we’ve studied a bit about him here  and here , for example. But in the text here, Paul calls him “a true son in the faith.” We can understand this as Paul thinking of Timothy fondly as his own son. Paul had worked with Timothy since he was young (Acts 16:1-5, Devotional # 56) and Paul loved and trusted him so much that he calls Timothy a “true” son.

What words does he give to his young protégé? Paul greets him with words from the Father and the Son: “grace, mercy and peace.” In the past we’ve said the difference between mercy and grace is that: mercy is not getting what we deserve (hell) and grace is getting what we don’t deserve (heaven) (Devotional # 98).

And now Paul adds “peace”. In the same way that the Father and Son greeted the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 1:1, 2 Thessalonians 1:2) “peace” is coupled with “grace.” As we mentioned above, Timothy is dealing with a lot of church stuff, he’s probably stressed out but God reminds Timothy that He will give “grace, mercy and peace” in these times. How often do we allow our cares to overwhelm us? Do you have a godly mentor like Paul to remind you that the first thing God greets you with every day is “grace, mercy and peace” ? If not, seek one out. Be discriminating, pray about who God is leading you towards asking to be your mentor.

Conclusion. We’ve talked about the reason Paul wrote this (to instruct and encourage Timothy), who greets Timothy (God the Father and the Son) and what God says to Timothy (“grace, mercy and peace”). One of the things we can take away from this is forgiveness. This morning I was reading in Leviticus where God tells the people what sacrifices to give Him for their sins. If they do these things “it shall be forgiven him” (Leviticus 5:10). The concepts of “grace” and “mercy” and “peace” all are concerned with the idea of forgiveness. God has forgiveness us first so it is only logical that we forgive others. This is how we show our maturity and transformed life – by forgiving others in proportion to how Jesus forgave us (Matthew 18:22).

I’ve made a few comparisons and applications for your life but the last one I want to give you today has to do with you being a mentor. Over the course of 1 & 2 Timothy we’ll probably talk about Paul’s mentoring example quite a few times. So I don’t have to belabor the point but suffice it to say that we should be mentoring. In the same way that you should have unconditional forgiveness you should be mentoring (“discipling”) unconditionally. You can’t say ‘nobody is mentoring me so I’m not going to mentor someone else.’ Maybe you feel like you don’t know enough, or you’ll do it once someone puts a little time into you first, but in your heart you know that’s not right, you know that’s not how Jesus has asked you to handle it. If every Christian sought out who God was leading them to mentor, every believer would be discipled and discipling!

 

References.

Source 1: John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1858

Devotional # 189. 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17

Devotional # 189. 5/10/16. 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17.

Intro. Three weeks ago we started digging into God’s righteous judgment and justice in 2 Thessalonians 1:4-10 (Devotional # 186). Last week we talked about some specifics of the end times and the many “hopes” believers have in the Lord (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12; Devotional # 188).

At the end of last week’s Devotional I very briefly asked you about “love” vs. “pleasure”. I was fascinated with the use of the phrase “the love of the truth”, especially in contrast with the “pleasure in unrighteousness” (v. 12). The original text for “love of the truth” is agape (love) aletheia (truth). As we’ve said before (Devotional # 121) agape love is God’s unconditional love (Source 1). The term aletheia is “truth” objectively as ‘absolute truth’ or ‘truth about God’ or ‘the truth from the Bible’ (Source 2). The “pleasure in unrighteousness” in Greek is eudokeo (pleasure) en (in) adikia (unrighteousness). Eudokeo means “seems good to someone” or “to choose or decide” (Source 3). And adikia means injustice or violating the law (Source 4). Paul tells us that everyone who didn’t believe in God’s unconditional love, which is an absolute truth, instead welcomed injustice that they thought “felt right.” For a chapter mostly about the righteousness of God’s justice we really should be paying attention to the truth of God’s love.

This week we’ll talk more about “THE truth”, God’s “calling” us to “salvation” but also our role of believing in Him.

vv. 13-14. Paul starts with “but” noting that he’s about to contrast the discouraging information he has just given in verses 1-12. Along the theme of a Christian’s hope we had last week (Devotional # 188) Paul’s “but” here is telling us there is hope. He talks again about their (Paul, Thomas and Silas’) thankfulness for the brothers and sisters in Thessalonica, the same way he started the letter in verse 1. Why are they thankful? Because the Thessalonians were “called” (v. 14) “for salvation” (v. 13) by two things. What are these two things? This is important because it’s also how we were “called” by God to receive “salvation.”

First, “through sanctification by the Spirit.” Just a couple weeks ago we talked about sanctification meaning purification (Devotional # 180). “Sanctified” also means to be “set apart”; so the Holy Spirit has set us apart by making us pure. For more on sanctification go here.

Second, Paul says, “belief in the truth.” We have two key words here: “belief” and “truth.” The “belief” that a believer (ever wondered why we’re called that?!) is exercising is faith in the Lord, what He says and what He does. The other important word is “the truth.” Not just “truth” (that some people think doesn’t exist) but “THE truth.” In the Greek “THE truth” here is aletheia, the same as the “truth” from verse 12 that I mentioned in the “Intro” above. “The truth” is the one and only, unquestionable, verified reality. The truth of God comes from the true Creator who literally is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Do you remember “THE apostasy” from last week (Devotional # 188)? In many ways “THE truth” is the opposite of “THE apostasy.”

It’s interesting that in a section of Scripture that Calvinists use to show that we are “called” by God (which we obviously are) there is also a portion where the ball is in our court by “belief in the truth” (also true). So, as I’ve said before, Scripture doesn’t allow for hyper-Calvinism or hyper-Arminianism. It is best to be middle of the road. This is another one of God’s contrarieties (not contradictions) where two things that we can’t understand as co-existing (i.e. both God pre-ordaining us to be saved and our acceptance and choice in the matter) do in fact somehow harmonize perfectly.

How “thankful” we should be to know we have been sanctified by the Spirit and given the ability to believe in the truth! As Ephesians 2:8 tells us “by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”

v. 15. The Thessalonians are reminded by Paul that they needed to “stand fast” and “hold” to the “traditions they were taught.” They were taught these in two ways: 1. “by word” – in those initial 3 short weeks (Acts 17:2) as well as when Timothy and Silas made the second trip out (Devotional # 185) or by “epistle” – which were both letters we now call 1st & 2nd Thessalonians. We need to pay attention to this because although Paul is not going to instruct any of us personally, the Holy Spirit still does speak through women and men on a regular basis. Be open and willing to hear what the Lord says to you through brothers and sisters. For us, the second should come before the first: we need to heed the “epistles” before listening to a fellow Christian.

Why is this important? Because the Holy Spirit has spoken in times past and kept it, without error (Psalm 12:6, Proverbs 30:5-6, 1 Corinthians 12:12-13), for our doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). This is crucial because anything any human being tells us better line up with Scripture otherwise its wrong. If I’m told the Holy Spirit will make me bark like a dog that’s not a new revelation or a special anointing. How can I be sure? Because I don’t see it in Scripture and if God doesn’t change (Malachi 3:6) and I don’t see it in the Bible then its wrong (not to mention its disorder and God is not a God of chaos according to 1 Corinthians 14:33). What is best for my life is to know the Bible (“epistles”) and encourage and be encouraged by fellow believers who speak “words” that line up with the Scriptures.

vv. 16-17. Paul ends the chapter with the realities of hope and comfort that both our Lord (Master) Jesus and God (“Father”) give us. First, they “loved us”, second they gave us an “everlasting consolation”, third, they gave “hope by grace.” What an amazing time you will have when you meditate on the love of God! The “everlasting consolation” is a special relief that has already started but will continue for eternity. Lastly, that “hope by grace” is a positive outlook on the future, knowing that God has given us what we don’t deserve. For more on grace (and how it’s different from mercy) see Devotional # 98.

I love that this comfort to our “hearts”* will “establish you in every word and work.” It bears the reminder that both the words and works here are given by God. Regarding the “words”, the Bible says that the we shouldn’t worry about what we’re going to say about Jesus because the Holy Spirit will give us the words we should say (Luke 12:12). Regarding the “works” 1 Timothy 6:18 says, “Let them do good, that they be rich in good works...” In both cases it is “our Lord Jesus Christ”, “our God and Father” and the Holy Spirit who gives us the ability to say and do these things. I can’t help but notice that the “word and work” here in verse 17 is similar to the “word” and “epistle” that Paul told us were traditions we should hold on to (v. 15). Certainly the “words” and the “epistle” that Paul produced were not of his own working or authority, instead they comforted his heart and the hearts of many others including us today.

 

*heart – this word is how the Bible describes in what way our soul and spirit are mysteriously tied together.

 

Conclusion. In the same way that Paul produced many great things in “word and work” we are told the Trinity will supply us with the same power. Today we reviewed “THE truth” that gives us hope: an “everlasting consolation” and “hope by grace.” Be encouraged by the “words” and “epistles” as well as the “word and work” that you have today!

 

References.

Source 1: agape, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G26&t=KJV

Source 2: aletheia, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G225&t=KJV

Source 3: eudokeo, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G2106&t=KJV

Source 4: adikia, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G93&t=KJV

Devotional # 185. 2 Thessalonians 1:1-3

Devotional # 185. 4/11/16. 2 Thessalonians 1:1-3.

Intro. Last week we finished up 1st Thessalonians talking about how each person has a body, soul and spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23) and how the order Paul put them in is important (Devotional # 184). Before we become a Christian our body is first, next our mind (“soul”) and then our spirit; but when we become a Christian Jesus transforms us and our spirit is first, next our mind and then our body takes a backseat. This week we’re starting the book of 2nd Thessalonians and there is plenty more to learn. We’ll talk again about “grace” and “peace” as a unifying factor but also look into our growth in “faith” and “love.”

vv. 1-2. Paul is going to start with a very similar salutation as he did in 1 Thessalonians. In fact the first two verses here are identical to the first verse of 1 Thessalonians. Just like in 1st Thessalonians, this letter comes from “Paul, Silvanus [Silas], and Timothy” although it was Paul who wrote the letter. My first question is, how much time passed between the two letters? “Because of its similarity to 1 Thessalonians, it must have been written not long after the first letter—perhaps about six months. The situation in the church seems to have been much the same. Paul probably penned it (see 1:1; 3:17) circa A.D. 51 or 52 in Corinth, after Silas and Timothy had returned from delivering 1 Thessalonians” (Source 1). 

So the greeting is from these men but also from “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul has full authority to write this since it is God who is inspiring him to write this letter. When he says, “grace to you and peace” (again, from “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ“) it’s the same as we’ve talked about before, “grace” was a common greeting among Gentiles and “peace” was common among Hebrews so there is recognition of the diversity of the Church while at the same time bringing unity!

v. 3. When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians the first time it was because he had gotten a good report from Timothy’s visit (Acts 18:5) and wanted to encourage them. It appears that he had gotten another good report and wanted to encourage them again. I mentioned that the first two verses here are the same as 1 Thessalonians but the theme of this verse is very similar to the last letter also: thankfulness. Here Paul says, “we are bound to thank God always for you.” There is such appreciation from Paul, Silas and Timothy that the Thessalonians are doing as God has instructed them. I know first-hand how rewarding it is to see other Christians remaining steadfast in the things of God. You must understand that the way you live doesn’t just affect you, and not just affect non-Christians who are watching your testimony but also other Christians. And when our brothers and sisters (“brethren”) are faithful in this, it is “fitting” for us to thank God also.

Notice that the way they are being faithful is that their “faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other.” These are valuable lessons to learn: 1. Our “faith” can continue to grow and 2. Our “love” for other Christians can continue to grow. Let’s look into this more deeply:

  1. Our “faith” can grow: Never think that your current “level” of faith is enough. Never become comfortable in this. Always allow the Holy Spirit to increase your faith. This sounds great on paper but are you really willing to allow God to stretch you beyond your comfort zone? Be used by God so that the increase of your faith produces a furthering of God’s will in the world. We need it!
  1. Our “love” can grow: Don’t be discouraged if you feel like it’s too hard to love other Christians. I get it – people are hard to love. But what did Jesus do when one of His friends sold Him out for a couple of bucks and the rest of His friends deserted Him? He loved them. He loved He didn’t wait for their apology, He didn’t beat them over the head with a lesson; He loved them. In the same way when we love our brothers and sisters, regardless of what they’ve done, it produces, among many other things, a thankfulness on the part of other Christians.

Conclusion. If you read ahead then you noticed Paul’s first sentence is 8 verses long! I split up the sentence since there is plenty just in the first half. Next week we’ll look at verse 4 and following to see how the “faith” and “love” that has grown affects other churches (verse 4) and is evidence of “the righteous judgment of God” (verse 5). For now, here in verses 1-3, it is good that we meditate on how we as a Church in 2016 can be like the Thessalonians. How can we do this, you ask? By celebrating our diversity in unity (“grace” and “peace” – verse 2). By recognizing that these come from both “our Father” and “the Lord Jesus Christ” – verse 2). By thanking God for our brothers and sisters (verse 3). By recognizing that it is “fitting” to have that thankfulness (verse 3). By demonstrating our growth in “faith” (verse 3). And finally, by demonstrating our growth in “love” for each other (verse 3). These are great things for us to aspire to! I pray that you have the patience and determination to be encouraged by the Church and to encourage the Church. Remember, the Church is not four walls, it is the people that have admitted they are sinners who need Jesus as their Savior. If Jesus can forgive them so should you! Have patience with your brothers and sisters in the Lord! God bless!

 

References.

Source 1: http://www.biblica.com/es-us/la-biblia/biblia-en-linea/scholar-notes/niv-study-bible/intro-to-2-thessalonians

 

Devotional # 172. 1 Thessalonians 1:1

Devotional # 172. 1/14/16. 1 Thessalonians 1:1.

Intro. Today we start the book of 1 Thessalonians! We have had a break from studying through just one book with the Christmas and New Year’s Devotionals. But now we continue on, having gone through Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians we come to the book of 1 Thessalonians (pronounced “thess-uh-lone-ee-ans”). As with many of the books in the New Testament we call them books but they started off as letters. This is the first letter (that’s why we call it “First Thessalonians”) that we have from Paul to the church in Thessalonica. Silvanus (Silas) and Timothy were with Paul on his “second missionary journey when [this] church was founded (Acts 17:1-9)” (Source 1) so although Paul is the primary author, he still acknowledges that his traveling companions also greet the church.

Thessalonica is modern day Salonica (see map below) and became the capital of Macedonia around 168 BC (Source 1).

250px-Salonica_Eyalet,_Ottoman_Balkans_1850s.png

It’s important for us to understand why Paul wrote this letter, and without breaking it down section by section, he simply had gotten a good report from Timothy’s last visit (Acts 18:5) and wanted to encourage them. This is a nice change of pace for us when so often we are reading something from Paul because Christians have screwed up!

v. 1. As mentioned above this letter is from Paul and he wrote it to one of their fellow, God-fearing churches. Just here in verse 1 we see the phrase “Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” twice. The first time Paul notes that he is writing “in” as in “through” God. The second time he notes he is writing “from” God. So God is both inspiring him to write and it is therefore true and important but it is also from God so it shows His heart towards them and the things they are doing well and things which will strengthen their walk with the Lord.

I’ve been careful to leave out the words prior to “Father” both times it’s used here because I wanted to draw special attention to them. The first time the phrase is “God the Father” because He truly is the one and only Father God. But the second time the phrase is “God our Father” because He is relational and His heart towards His people is to know them and be known by them. God the Father is a distinct Person of the Trinity (separate from God the Son) and Mighty Creator of the Universe but He is also “our” Father where He knows the small things like each of us by name, knitting us together in our mother’s womb and loves us unconditionally.

Both times Jesus is referenced it’s the same: “Lord Jesus Christ“. This is a great phrase because we get:

 

 

-His title – “Lord” meaning Master.
-His personal, Human name – “Jesus” meaning “Yahweh is salvation” (See Devotional Christmas: God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen for more).
-His purpose – “Christ” meaning Savior.

So what does our Master, God-who-is-salvation, our Savior, desire to make known to the Thessalonians and us today? It is: “grace to you and peace”! Do you remember how important this phrase is? “Grace” was a common greeting among Gentiles and “peace” was common among Hebrews so there is recognition of the diversity of the church while at the same time bringing unity! The importance of Christian unity cannot be understated in 2016. I’m serious. You may think the Christian church in the United States is probably as unified as it has been in the past but it’s never been more fragmented and disjointed. Read the book The Great Evangelical Recession by John S. Dickerson for both the sad statistics of how we’ve allowed ourselves to be divided and the encouraging solutions to fix it. Check out Devotional #142 for more on the importance of “grace and peace.”

Conclusion.

-Try picturing your “companions” in the faith when you read through sections like 1 Thessalonians 1:1. If you put yourself in Paul’s shoes it will come alive. Do you have a Silas and Timothy? If so be thankful and if not seek a few brothers and sisters that you can become close with in serving the Lord. You will hold each other accountable and “motivate each other in love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24).

-Take encouragement in knowing that “the Father” who is “our Father” speaks “in” and “through” the Holy Spirit using average people like Paul. In the same way God will speak through you if you are willing.

-Meditate on the “Lord Jesus Christ” who is your Master, personal representative with the Father Yahweh and your Savior. However, He is not yours only but Savior of your next-door neighbors, of people such as Paul and Mary Magdalene 2,000 years ago and Abraham and Sarah 6,000 years ago. Do not try and hoard or hide Him, there is plenty to go around! Tell someone about Jesus their Savior.

-Pass along your “grace and peace” to others, whether they are your enemies or friends. And share the “grace and peace” that can only come from God the Father and God the Son.

 

References.

Source 1: John MacArthur, The John MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1841.

Devotional # 168. John 1:1-14 (Special Christmas Devotional)

Devotional 168. 12/21/15. Christmas, Part 4: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

This week’s Reading: John 1:1-14.

Introduction: We rarely hear a Christmas sermon from the books of Mark and John. Why is that? Because Matthew and Luke are the two Gospels with all the historical facts of Jesus’ birth. The book of Mark just starts off with John the Baptist paving the way for Jesus, no explanation of Jesus’s birth. However, Matthew, Mark and Luke are known as the synoptic Gospel’s which means that they are “same” in that many of their stories and explanations are similar. The book of John stands by itself when compared to the synoptic Gospel’s. The apostle John had a different goal in mind when he was used by the Holy Spirit to write his gospel. As we’ve seen before, the beginning of John actually parallels the beginning of Genesis quite closely. Have you ever thought about why Jesus came at the specific time that He did? Some people say Jesus was born a human and then became a god. Is that true? Why did Jesus have to come to earth in the first place?

Let’s read: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with GodAll things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of menAnd the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”

vv. 1-5. In this section of 5 verses there is a special importance to someone called “the Word.” This is before we’re emphatically told that this is someone who “became” human and lived with us in verse 14. Then in verse 15 we’re told that John the Baptist testified of Him and finally we have to wait until verse 17 before “the Word” is named as “Jesus Christ.” Here, in verse 1 we’re told that Jesus (“the Word”) was somehow “in the beginning” and “with God” and actually “was God.” We can understand “in the beginning” to mean “at the creation” which shows us that Jesus existed before anything that was created was created and therefore has always existed. And the fact that Jesus was both “with God” and “was God” can be confusing if we both don’t read on or read what’s already been given us. We see that Jesus was with God (v. 2) and actually was the One actively creating (v. 3). But in Genesis 1:1 we’re specifically told that “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

So at this point we can either dismiss this as a bunch of contradictory foolishness or we can see if there’s a way this can be explained. I’m always amazed at the people that walk out of the theater on movies like “The Matrix” or “Memento” after only 15 minutes saying, ‘I don’t get it.’ Any person with common sense would say you have to give it time to see if it’s any good and explains itself. So often people don’t apply the same common sense to the Bible. There is a good explanation for everything we’ve read here. Jesus was considered God and yet not the entirety of God. We begin to see how the Trinity makes sense. The doctrine of the Trinity says that God is One Being and yet there are Three Persons of God that make up that One Being. We shouldn’t be so worried about whether we completely understand this, since a Being who can create our entire world is probably greater than our intellect, instead we can agree that at least there is a good theory for how this is possible and also wonder at what kind of God would be interested in telling us all of this.

Did you notice that verses 1–4 are all in the past tense using words like “was” and “were” and “made” but in verse 5 it is present tense and therefore applies to us today? So that “Light” has always shown and yet there was a spiritual “darkness” that existed with sin and still exists today. I love that it’s in the present tense because it shows that the “darkness” has never, and will never beat out the “Light.” Later, in verse 10 it tells us that Jesus created all life and here, in verse 4, that He was also ‘life that was light’, this means eternal life. And this happened when Jesus died on the cross and then rose from the dead. That happened at a very specific time 2,000 years ago. And that “life was the light of men” which shown in the darkness and depravity of humanity and was unknown by it (v. 5). Let’s look at why Jesus came when He did in the next verses.

Next are verses 6-13:

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

vv. 6-13. John the Baptist (not the disciple John who wrote this gospel) was sent by God to testify of Jesus. Jesus again is called “the Light” and that He came to His own (those He created) but that they didn’t know Him. Didn’t we just hear something about that? Yes! In verse 5 it said, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehendit” so here we build on that because they were in “darkness” and therefore “did not receive Him.” One commentator says, “The distorted world could not continue to exist for a moment apart from the light imparted to it by its Creator, but fallen man, in spite of the light that is in Him, fails to recognize the worlds Creator and Preserver (see Romans 1:20)” (Source 1). 

Why did Jesus have to come exactly when He did?

A. The Pax Romana, or Roman peace, which was characterized by an epoch of relative calm made possible by the sheer power, not to mention the administrative expertise, of the dominant world power of the day, imperial Rome.

B. The [global] presence of the Greek language, attributable to the tremendous admiration the Romans had for all things Greek. The dissemination of the message of the Christian Gospel was aided in no small measure by the existence of Greek as a significant medium of communication.

C. The improvement of transportation throughout the Roman Empire, thanks to the wealth of Rome, not to mention, again, its administrative ability, its military might, and ready access to slave labor to do the dirty work in creating roads, some of which are still in existence today (e.g., the Applian Way, an ancient Roman highway extending from Rome to Brundisium–now Brindisi, which was constructed beginning in 312 BC by Appius Claudius Caecus, and was about 350 miles long). The better the infrastructure of transportation, the more readily the good news could spread to the far corners of the empire.

D. The spiritual state of Judaism at the time Jesus burst on the scene. If ever there was a time for a nationwide revival within the geographical heart of Judaism in Israel, it was the first century of the common era. That is why the forerunner of Jesus, His cousin (John the Baptizer), preached a message of repentance to prepare the way of the Lord. John bore witness to that light which was coming into the world as a testimony not only to the Jews but also to the Gentiles (see Luke 2:32, 38). We must remember that God’s covenant with Abraham was a far-reaching covenant which would touch with blessing all the nations of the earth, starting of course with Israel.

E. The receptivity of the people to the message of Jesus, due in part to the [split] within the Roman Empire between the “haves” and “have nots”. If ever there was a time for a Redeemer who would bring a message of hope to the underdogs of society, it was in the first century (see Luke 4:14-21 in this regard).

F. The need for God to fulfill not only His prophecies, but also His promises (Source 2).

Why did Jesus have to come to earth in the first place?

A. Jesus had to be born because of mankind’s sin.

B. Jesus had to be born because God wanted to reveal His own character to humanity.

C. Jesus had to be born to remove the sins of humankind through a perfect sacrifice.

D. Jesus had to be born for mankind to have a Mediator.

E. Jesus had to be born to provide the promised Seed of Abraham.

F. Jesus had to be born for God to make His Spirit available to all humankind.

G. Jesus had to be born for God to redeem mankind. (Source 3).

Let’s finish this section with the last verse:

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

v. 14. This is the crux of our Christmas message! “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” This is awesome because it embodies both word and deed! Jesus, “the Word” spoke to us through the Bible telling us what we need and then “became flesh” in an action of love giving us what we need. The “Word” was not invisible but a physical, tangible Human (“flesh”) who lived (“dwelt”) with us. The people of the first century, including John writing this, were eyewitnesses that God became Man. They “beheld His glory” and this wasn’t His complete “glory” since that would annihilate a person but it was “the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” The “glory” that was shown to us was shown in “grace and truth.” We’ve talked about the “grace” of God in several of these Devotionals recently. The “mercy” of God is not making us go to hell, the “grace” of God is allowing us to go to heaven. You notice that this is different than any sort of grace that a human can give to another human. Only God can make a way for humans to go to heaven and that’s exactly what Jesus did. We saw part of God’s “glory” in Jesus giving us salvation in heaven through the cross. And we also see Jesus’ “glory” in His “truth“. Later in this Gospel, John quotes Jesus when He said, “‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me’” (John 14:6). So Jesus is “truth” in that He will never lie to us and will always be honest with us (even when it’s hard for us to hear). But He is also “truth” as unique and perfect. Jesus is one way, one truth and one life, He is the only way to a personal relationship with God and the only way into heaven. We notice “truth” is shown primarily through the words of Jesus, so it is no surprise that we are back to where we started, in that Jesus is “the Word”!

Conclusion: Christmas approaches at the end of this week. But this is the celebration of the event of God coming down in human flesh for very specific reasons, at a very specific time. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Oh, what beautiful words, to have “the Word” come to us, to save us from our sins!

Lord Jesus, we praise you today as we prepare to celebrate your birth at the end of this week. We rejoice in Your willingness to put on the body of humanity to bring your “glory” of “grace and truth” to our world. Our world, which is Your world since You created it. Your world since You, and only You, redeemed it. We kneel in awe of You, the Word, that became flesh at a very specific time, knowing our depravity, and loving us in spite of ourselves. Lord, this year we exalt You with ‘Merry Christmas’ since You alone have given us the “merry” and the “Christmas”!!

Merry Christmas!!

 

References:

Source 1: R.V.G Tasker, John, p. 47.

Source 2: These are from: http://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/23819/according-to-the-lds-church-why-was-jesus-christ-born-when-he-was-born, answered by “rhetorician” about mid-way down the page.

Source 3: Donald Ward, “Seven Reasons Why Jesus Was Born”, http://www.ucg.org/the-good-news/seven-reasons-why-jesus-was-born .

Devotional # 142. Colossians 1:1-2

Devotional # 142. 6/23/15. Colossians 1:1-2.

Intro. I’m excited about starting the book of Colossians today. It’s great to be able to continue on, having gone through Galatians, Ephesians and Philippians (for most of you). We call Colossians a book but, like the other books I just mentioned, it was actually a letter. Colossians was written by Paul (and also came from Timothy, as we’ll see in verse 1) to the Christians in Colossae.

The church in Colossae was not founded by Paul, instead it was planted by Epaphras (Col. 1:5-7) who had gotten saved in Ephesus because of Paul’s ministry there (Acts 19). Colossae was made up mostly of Gentiles although there were a significant amount of Hebrews there. This translated into a racially mixed church, which was a good thing although it also meant that forms of heresy were issues. The Gentiles pagan mysticism and Jewish legalism became a weird mix that hadn’t been seen prior to this. It became known as the Colossian heresy and was a serious threat to the church at this time. It’s thought that Epaphras “made the long journey from Colossae to Rome (Col. 4:12, 13),” to ask for Paul’s advice regarding this heresy. And that’s why we ended up with this letter, which was written by Paul while in prison in Rome (Acts 28:16–31) sometime between A.D. 60-62″ (Source 1).

v. 1. Paul starts off similar to the other books giving his credentials of being an apostle. But the two cool things about it is that he actually had a lot more degrees and experience that he could have referenced here (as we talked about in Philippians 3:2-6, Devotional # 130) but he doesn’t because being an apostle was the only thing that mattered. The second thing is that it wasn’t him being an apostle by anything that he had done but it was all from “Jesus Christ by the will of God“. So, as always, Paul gives his credentials on why he should be listened to and believed -because God is speaking through him to the reader. As I mentioned in the intro above, this letter is also from Timothy, he believes in and agrees with what Paul, and ultimately God, are saying here.

v. 2. Paul isn’t classifying the Christians in Colossae into two groups here, instead he is saying this letter is to the Christians who fulfill both categories: they are both “saints” and “faithful brothers [and sisters]”. Although “saints” is another name for Christians in the church, it’s really important to note the “faithful brothers [and sisters]” because of what we now know about the church in Colossae, from the above “Intro”. The “Colossian heresy” that had morphed weird aspects of Jewish legalism and pagan mysticism was threatening to pull members away from the church. So Paul was encouraging the members of the church who would hear this letter read out loud in their church that they were and should continue to be “faithful” in the Lord. It is so crucial for us Christians to be “faithful” to the church that Jesus has called us to. This isn’t just “the Church” that is made up of many members of the faith over time and space but actually, established churches also. How many people do you know that went to church for a while but drifted away because sleeping in or tee-ball games became more important? I think one of the most difficult things to do in this life is to remain “faithful” to the Lord and the things of God. Jesus wouldn’t have said so much about persevering and remaining faithful if it wasn’t such a big deal.

Another way to look at the “saints” and “faithful brothers [and sisters]” here, is that where “saints” implies Christians being united with God, then “faithful brothers and sisters” implies unity between Christian men and woman (Source 7).

The differences and similarities of the Gentile and Hebrew cultures are evidenced by how Paul greets them. When he says, “Grace to you” it’s a Greek greeting and then he says, “peace from God” which is a Hebrew greeting. What can we learn from these? Well, the words Paul uses for “grace to you” in Greek are charis hymin* (slightly different from using the standard chairen**) and then “peace” is eirene *** but Paul basically coined his own greeting by combining two “standard” greetings. “By doing this he placed the focus on the unmerited blessings given to believers in Christ. Through God’s marvelous grace sinners are delivered from their sins and brought into a saving relationship with a holy God by the work of God on their behalf completely free of charge. This grace does not cease with salvation from sin’s penalty, but continues on as the foundation of the believer’s life with God throughout all eternity. These blessings of grace Paul and his associates wish for their readers” (Source 6). This is interesting and applies to us today, but that’s only half of Paul’s greeting blessing. The use of “peace” is more than just a flippant way of saying ‘I hope you’re OK.’ When a Jewish person, even to this day, enters or leaves a house the greeting or farewell is “shalom.” But, again, Paul means it more than just a customary saying, one of the reasons he says it is that, “peace with God refers to the peace of salvation wherein the barriers, like man’s sin and God’s holiness, which separate man from God are removed through faith in God’s gracious work in Christ. In Ephesians 2, Christ is seen as the Peacemaker” (Source 6).

I find it amazing that having just showed difference and similarity in cultural greeting, Paul then says that it’s from “God our Father” “and the Lord Jesus Christ”. Isn’t it interesting how he mentions them “jointly from both, and distinctly from each” (Source 5)? So Paul took the time to recognize the differences of the cultures, not ignoring them but bringing them together in unity, and in the same sentence he recognizes the distinction between the Father and the Son but also brings them together in unity with one small word – “and”!

 

*“Grace” is charis (G#5485) in Greek meaning “good will, loving-kindness, favour” (Source 2). “To you” is hymin (G#5213) in Greek meaning “you” or “to you” (Source 3).

** Source 6.

***“peace” is eirene (G1515) meaning “peace between individuals, i.e. harmony, concord” in Greek (Source 4) but translated in Hebrew is shalom.

 

Conclusion. As we begin the book of Colossians we’re hit with four contrasts, three of which  melt into unification. The first difference is between a man-made false religion combing pagan heresy and Jewish legalism and true Christianity.

The remaining three are great learning experiences for us: 1. The difference between “saints” and “faithful brothers and sisters” shows a unification between each of us with God and unity between our brothers and sisters. 2. The contrast between Gentile and Hebrew greetings, recognizing that we’re different by culture but that doesn’t mean that we can’t be united as Christians. Paul proves this even just by creating a new greeting (“grace and peace”). 3. The distinction between the “Father” and the “Son” showing they are indeed two different Persons (as the Scriptures teach) and yet the LORD is One (Deuteronomy 6:4).

I pray that you’re relationship with God is the most important in your life. And second to that is your relationship with other believers. I also pray that you recognize and celebrate cultural differences between yourself and other believers, actively allowing it to create something new and beautiful. Lastly, I pray you think rightly about God: that the Father sent the Son to die on the cross for our sins, but also that the Son went willingly and joyfully. The only way for Jesus to be a perfect sacrifice for our sins was if He was in fact perfect, which only God can be. So even if we don’t understand it, we celebrate the distinction and unity in our Lord God almighty!

 

References.

Source 1: John MacArthur, MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1830.

Source 2: http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G5485&t=KJV

Source 3: http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G5213&t=KJV

Source 4: http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G1515&t=KJV

Source 5: Matthew Henry, http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/mhc/Col/Col_001.cfm?a=1108001

Source 6: J. Hampton Keathley III, “Grace and Peace” article, https://bible.org/article/grace-and-peace

Source 7: A.R. Fausset, quoting Bengel, The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Colossians Commentary, http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/jfb/Col/Col_001.cfm?a=1108001 .

Devotional # 98. Ephesians 2:1-10

Devotional # 98. 8/18/14. Ephesians 2:1-10.

Intro. I am really excited about today’s Devotional because I think God has spoken this teaching into my life, literally today. I won’t waste time with a lengthy intro…read Ephesians 2:1-10!

vv. 1-3. Christians need to hear this because sometimes we forget what it was like when we were in sin. Sometimes the memories fade of what hopelessness and depravity we lived in. In other cases some of us never lived horrible lives, maybe we grew up in the church but this section shows us what the sin we were in was like. Even if we never did anything horrific we were still in opposition to God and this section helps us understand exactly what we have been saved from.

vv. 4-7. The first two words here are some of the most important in the Bible! “But God”. John R.W. Stott says, “these two monosyllables set against the desperate condition of fallen mankind the gracious initiative and sovereign action of God” (Source 1, pp. 79-80). Basically now that Paul has reminded us of our sin he turns to the hope only God can provide!

Notice in this section that both “mercy” and “grace” are mentioned. We need to know the difference between the two. “To summarize the difference: mercy is God not punishing us as our sins deserve, and grace is God blessing us despite the fact that we do not deserve it. Mercy is deliverance from judgment. Grace is extending kindness to the unworthy” (Source 2). This is so important that I am going to replace the words “mercy” and “grace” with their definitions and give you this section from the NKJV:

But God, who is rich in [not punishing us as our sins deserves], because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by [extending kindness to the unworthy] you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His [extending kindness to the unworthy] in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

This is exciting! Not only do we not pay for our sins but we are given riches. The more time we spend serving the Lord we see His will become our will, we see our daily, habitual sin grow less and less, we are loving and kind to others because our Master was first that way towards us.

One part that I didn’t quite understand when I read this was that we Christians would be sitting “together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Stott explains that the thing that makes Christians different in Jesus’ new society isn’t that they worship Jesus, not that they live by the rules of the church, and not even that they have good morals. It’s actually that they are now a people who are “in Christ.” He says, “by virtue of their union with Christ they have actually shared in his resurrection [and] ascension…” So the “heavenly places” is the unseen spiritual reality where Jesus reigns supreme and we are seated on what must be thrones! This isn’t just weird magical stuff. This shows us “a living experience, that Christ has given us on the one hand a new life (with a sensitive awareness of the reality of God, and a love for Him and for His people) and on the other a new victory (with evil increasingly under our feet). We were dead, but have been made spiritually alive and alert. We were in captivity, but have been enthroned” (Source 1, p. 81).

vv. 8-10. There is so much here, we could have an entire Devotional on just these 3 verses! Basically: 1. we did nothing to receive our salvation from sin. 2. Salvation has nothing to do with doing good things. 3. We have been created in and by Jesus. 4. Jesus created us to do good things. 5. The Father made these opportunities before we were born so we could do these good things.

Let’s look at vv. 8-9 again replacing “grace” with its definition:

For by [God blessing us despite the fact that we do not deserve it] you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

MacArthur explains it well, “good works cannot produce salvation but are subsequent and resultant God-empowered fruits and evidences of it (cf. John 15:8; Phil. 2:12, 13; 2 Tim. 3:17; Titus 2:14; James 2:16-26)” (Source 3).

Conclusion. Something that hit me today was why God said ‘if I was a man, I would be David’ (paraphrasing 1 Samuel 3:14). What an amazing statement!! What did David do? Was he super holy? No, he murdered and committed adultery! So what was it? In David’s heart he knew two things: 1. When He sinned it wasn’t against anyone but God (Psalm 51:4) and 2. When he had confessed sin he was able to continue with life (Psalms 32 & 51, etc). Here in Ephesians we have come to the difficult truths of God’s “mercy” and “grace.” It’s like we were drowning with the surf driving us straight towards a rock cliff and Jesus jumped into the water, pushed us ashore and died in the process. Then His Dad didn’t just dry us off with a towel but put a robe around us, paid all our bills, gave us early retirement and gave us His house in Malibu! We don’t deserve this and some of us will spend our whole life coming to terms with that. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad thing to be in awe of the “mercy” and “grace” God has extended to us, but we also should act on it. Now the opposite way are those who think grace means they can keep sinning because they have been forgiven. Bonhoeffer calls this “cheap grace”* stating, “cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate” (Source 4).

So we must find the middle of the road, the King David way, the godly disciple route! For me it has taken a long time (and I’m not there yet). I know that if I sin, I must confess it to God. It must be a heartfelt. And just as quickly He has “forgotten” it. So why can’t I? Because I feel I have failed. I feel that I deserve a period of time where I don’t get His love. But I never deserved it in the first place so I should just move on. I have seen that when I move on I more quickly allow myself to be used by God. Do you get it? By dwelling in your sin you actually can hurt others! Didn’t God put “good works” in your path before you were born? What if someone needs your help but you don’t notice because you are so depressed or immersed in your self-pity? When we confess and move on we can truly admit that “by grace we have been saved through faith, and that not of ourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

Lord, help us to praise You for your unreasonable love. Help us to accept your forgiveness and extend that love and forgiveness to others, in Your name. Help them to cling to Your salvation and experience Your riches as we do. We are undeserving yet determined to acknowledge your “costly grace” if for nothing else to put others needs ahead of our own. AMEN.
*Cheap Grace: Read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book “The Cost of Discipleship.”

 
References

Source 1: John R.W. Stott, The Message of Ephesians, 1979

Source 2: S. Michael Houdmann, http://www.gotquestions.org/mercy-grace.html

Source 3: John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, 1997, p. 1805.

Source 4: Bonhoeffer, quoted from: http://www.crossroad.to/Persecution/Bonhoffer.html