In today’s Bible reading, Paul talks about living a consistent Christian Life. (Ephesians 5:15-22) Nobody wants to see a hypocritical Christian. And nobody wants to live a hypocritical Christian Life. So how do you live a consistent Christian Life? Paul answers the question in verse 18.
And don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless living, but be filled by the Spirit Ephesians 5:18 (CSB)
Paul contrasts getting drunk on wine with being filled with the Holy Spirit. Many years ago, I heard a preacher say, “Getting drunk on wine makes you do foolish things. Getting drunk on the Holy Spirit makes you do things that seem foolish.”
Being controlled by alcohol leads to reckless living. And Paul spells out what being controlled by (which is what the Greek word “filled with” means) the Holy Spirit leads to:
speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music with your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,submitting to one another in the fear of Christ. Ephesians 5:19–21 (CSB)
Being controlled/filled by the Holy Spirit expresses itself in praise and thanksgiving to God. It also expresses itself in mutual submission to other believers.
In the following verses, Paul expounds on how being filled with the Holy Spirit and submitting to each other expresses itself: it bubbles up and overflows into marital relationships, relationships between parents and children, and relationships between employers and employees.
But what is being filled with the Spirit? First off, the verb expresses a continual process. In other words, you aren’t just filled with the Spirit once and that’s all you need. Paul says, “Keep on being continually filled/controlled by the Holy Spirit.” Being filled with the Holy Spirit isn’t a one-time experience; being filled with the Holy Spirit should be a moment-by-moment experience.
Next, being filled with the Spirit results in relationship changes, beginning with a believer’s relationship with God and extending to the believer’s relationships with other believers.
So how is someone filled with the Spirit? Some would say by someone laying their hands on you and you speaking in ecstatic words. But is that what Paul says? Look at what Paul tells the Colossians in a parallel passage:
Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:16–17 (CSB)
Just like being filled with the Holy Spirit is a continual, moment-by-moment process, letting the word of Christ live in us is a continual, moment-by-moment process: Let the word of Christ “keep on continually living in you”.
Notice: The expressions of being filled with the Holy Spirit are identical to letting the word of Christ live richly among you: relationship changes between the believer and God (praise and thanksgiving) and relationships with other believers. Just like he does in the verses following Ephesians 5:18, Paul spells out these marital, parent/child, and employer/employee relationships in the verses following Colossians 3:17.
So being filled with the Holy Spirit is the same thing as letting the word of Christ dwell in you. In other words, as believers spend time reading God’s Word, studying God’s Word, and memorizing God’s Word, our relationship with God and our relationships with other believers change. These changes won’t happen overnight. It’s a continual process as we keep on being filled and as we keep on letting God’s Word fill our lives.
Are you keeping on being continually filled with the Holy Spirit? Do you let the word of Christ live in you? Do you read it? Do you study it? Do you memorize it?
How would you describe your relationship with God? Are you full of praise and thanksgiving to Him?
How are your relationships with other believers? Is your life characterized by mutually submitting to other believers? How is your relationship with your spouse? Your children or parents? Your employer or employees?
Again, being filled with the Holy Spirit and letting the word of Christ live in you is a continual process. Don’t be discouraged by the process. Trust the process. Spend some time in the Word today. And spend some time today just praising and thanking God.
This devotional was originally published June 12, 2019.
In today’s Bible reading from Matthew 17, we come across a passage that is easy to misunderstand. Admittedly, I only came to see a nuance of this about a week or so ago. I was in our Adult Bible Study class at church and a friend brought out this issue of the “faith like a mustard seed”. (Matthew 17:20 ) He pointed out that the verse doesn’t refer to faith the size of a mustard seed. The verse refers to faith like a mustard seed.
Seriously? Am I really straining at the meaning of one little word? Actually, yes! Now, before I go any further, let me reiterate that I said that I came to see a nuance of this recently. I didn’t say that I didn’t understand it until recently. That’s one of the things about God’s Word that’s so interesting. I have no idea how many times I have read this passage, yet a brief comment in a Sunday School class revealed a new facet of faith that I had never seen before.
Words have meaning. But words only have meaning in relationship with other words. That’s why it can be dangerous to do “word study” Bible studies. A word in one language may be translated into ten different words in another language. It’s probably an urban legend, but I have heard that Inuit (aka “Eskimos”) have sixteen different words for “snow”. Assuming that’s true, it’s quite understandable; their knowledge of snow and their need to communicate about snow is much deeper than a simple “cold, white, powdery stuff that sometimes falls from the sky in winter”. The same can be true when translating words from the Biblical languages to English. And that’s why it is very helpful to use a couple of different modern Bible translations. It’s not just words, but how they’re used together that brings out meaning.
So what’s the difference between “faith the size of a mustard seed” and “faith like a mustard seed”? Your Bible may use either of these translations.
A mustard seed is small. It’s a little smaller than a sesame seed on your hamburger bun, but it’s larger than the poppy seed on your bagel. That tiny mustard seed — the smallest of the seeds known to First Century Palestine — grows into a large bush, large enough for birds to nest in it. (Mark 4:31-32) So, inside that small seed is a large bush. Inside an acorn is a strong towering oak.
When Jesus mentions mustard seed faith, he isn’t talking about the initial size of the seed, but rather the potential that’s in the seed. But unless that seed is buried and allowed to grow, it will never be more than a small seed. But once it’s planted, it can grow into full maturity. (John 12:24)
Perhaps the disciples weren’t exercising their faith when they were unsuccessful in trying to deliver the demonized seizure-ridden young man. The problem wasn’t that they didn’t have faith, but they had small faith, (Matthew 17:20a) and it sounds like maybe they weren’t exercising and growing it.
In the grand scheme, it doesn’t matter how much or how little faith you have. What matters is what you’re doing with your faith. Are you letting it grow? Are you feeding it with God’s Word? Are you exercising it?
Believer, you are indwelt with the same Holy Spirit Who raised Jesus from the dead! (Romans 8:11) Let Him empower you to strengthen your faith.
This devotional was originally published on April 27, 2019.
In today’s Bible reading, as Jesus and His Disciples entered Caesarea Philippi, He asked them who people thought He was. They replied that some people thought He was John the Baptizer, Jeremiah, or Elijah.
Next, He asks, “Who do you think I am?” Simon immediately responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus praises Simon’s response and says that he couldn’t have come up with this on his own. The truth of that response was imparted by God. Jesus doesn’t tell us how God told Simon this awesome truth, only that He did. (Matthew 16:17)
Next, Jesus says that He’s changing Simon’s name to Peter (rock) and that He would build His church on this rock. Now, it’s important to note the different Greek words used in Jesus’ statement, otherwise, we’ll make the error that the Roman Catholic Church has made in attributing to Peter the title of the First Pope.
Actually, Jesus says, “You are a rock. And on this boulder, I will build my church.” What was the boulder? The boulder was Simon’s confession of Jesus’ Divinity. Jesus says that He would build His church on the confession that Jesus is God’s Anointed Messiah, the Son of the living God.
Jesus never said He would build His church on Peter — any other person, for that matter! Instead, Jesus promised that His church — built on the confession Simon made — would prevail against the gates of hell.
And just seconds later, when Jesus told the Disciples that He would suffer and die, Simon said that Jesus shouldn’t have to go to the cross. Jesus responds, “Get behind me, Satan for you are not setting your eyes on God, but man.” (Matthew 16:23) Within a few seconds, Peter goes from being the toast of the party to being cursed like the devil. And the only thing that changed was his mindset.
All of the Disciples may have thought the same thing, but Simon is the only one who spoke up. They were ready to reign with Jesus in Jerusalem as He overthrew the Roman occupiers. They were willing to fight to keep Jesus from going to the cross and dying. Or so they thought. They thought that Jesus’ ascent to Kingship over Israel would come easy. They rejected the suggestion that Jesus would have to suffer. And die.
How true is that for Jesus’ Disciples today? How many of us follow Jesus, thinking that He’ll just bless us with everything we could ever want. And the first time we hear anything about suffering?! What’s up with that?
But suffering and persecution is part of following Jesus. Along the way, we have to give up a lot of idols — some of which we don’t know we even have — in order to follow Him more closely and walk into the destiny He is calling us.
But every idol we reject and every point of suffering and persecution is worth the all-surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3:8) Not His blessings that come from His hand, but Himself, Who He is.
Do you know Him?
Today’s Bible reading includes a passage that many people have heard about. It strikes fear in the hearts of many. And yet, there’s no need for anxiety over the issues of “The Unpardonable Sin“.
Let’s look at what Jesus actually says about it.
Therefore, I tell you, people will be forgiven every sin and blasphemy, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the one to come. Matthew 12:31–32 (CSB)
So, Jesus says that speaking against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven. Let’s look at the context of these two verses.
Leading up to this point in the chapter, Jesus has just dealt with the Pharisees on the issue of healing on the Sabbath. He points out that there is more going on than just having a special day and that He is the Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus frequently points out that the Pharisees miss the forest for the trees. They emphasize the Law, and yet miss the reason God gave that part of the Law in the first place. In the case of the Sabbath, God gave the Sabbath to recognize that we are created in God’s image. God rested after creating the universe in six days — not because He was tired, but as an example — so we should also rest from our work and regularly take some time to pause to remember God’s presence and work in our lives.
When Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath, simply by telling the man to stretch out his hand, the religious leaders claim that Jesus is doing His miracles by the power of satan himself. Jesus points out that satan could not drive out himself. (Matthew 12:26) However, the fact that Jesus is exorcizing demons by the Spirit of God demonstrates that He has initiated the Kingdom of God. (Matthew 12:28)
After talking about the unforgivable sin, Jesus says that trees are known by their fruit. Matthew 12:34 records Jesus’ next words which are the key to understanding the question at hand.
Brood of vipers! How can you speak good things when you are evil? For the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. Matthew 12:34 (CSB)
The Pharisees are watching Jesus perform miracles right before their eyes. They say that He’s doing it by the power of satan. He says that speaking against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable and He concludes by saying that your heart will be revealed by what you say.
In other words, this unforgivable sin, this “blasphemy of the Spirit” is watching God’s miracles happen right before your eyes and yet insist it’s the work of the devil. The person who would make such a blasphemous claim is speaking from a depraved heart.
On the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, Peter announced that the people were watching Joel 2 being fulfilled right before their eyes. Part of the initiation of the New Covenant was that God’s Spirit would be poured out on ordinary people, not just ordained people. (Joel 2:28–29) And the Holy Spirit would live in God’s people, not just on God’s people.
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will place my Spirit within you and cause you to follow my statutes and carefully observe my ordinances. Ezekiel 36:26–27 (CSB)
The new, soft heart is able to see the works of God for what they are. And with a new, soft heart comes the ability — and the desire — to attribute the works of God to God, not satan.
Lost people with lost hearts behave like lost people. Speaking against the Holy Spirit is the fruit of a lost heart, a heart that does not recognize God or His works. If you are a believer, you haven’t done anything that you can’t be forgiven of. In fact, your sin has already been forgiven.
That’s good news!
That’s the Gospel!
This devotional was originally appeared on April 20, 2019.
In today’s Bible reading in Matthew chapter eight, we’re told several stories of faith. The words “faith” (noun) and “believe” (verb) are the same Greek word. They are used three times in the passage. Not all of the stories include the words faith/believe. But faith/believe is implied in the story.
For instance, in the first paragraph, Matthew tells us that a leper comes to Jesus, asking to be healed. The words don’t appear in the paragraph, but we know the paragraph is about faith/believe because why would a leper seek Jesus out unless he believed that Jesus could heal him? Jesus doesn’t tell him that his faith has healed him, but elsewhere when Jesus heals/delivers, He connects faith and healing/deliverance. (Matthew 9:22, Matthew 15:28, Mark 5:34, Mark 9:24, Mark 10:52, Luke 8:50, Luke 17:19, Luke 18:42 [this list is not exhaustive])
If you look up some of the verses above — as with Matthew 8:5-13 — you’ll see that in some cases the faith of the one healed isn’t even factored into the equation. Rather, the faith of the one requesting healing/deliverance is honored by Jesus. And although Jesus rebuked the Disciples’ “little faith”, He honored what little faith they had.
Does this mean that if you have even a little bit of faith, all you need to do is ask Jesus and He’s obligated to answer your request? NO! It doesn’t work that way! Jesus isn’t your heavenly genie!
And that’s one reason we don’t get what we pray for: we ask with the wrong motives. (James 4:3) Nowhere in the Bible are we given a blank check with the authority to command God to do anything. Remember Christian Life Rule #1: God is God. and Rule #2: You aren’t God. Always remember that your place is to submit to God’s authority, God’s sovereignty. He calls the shots. And the reason we pray isn’t to change God, but to change us.
If you are a Believer, you are an adopted child of God. And being one of His gives you incredible authority and privilege. But that authority and privilege must be a balanced with reverence and awe of the Great God Who created it all, owns it all, and rules it all.
And that requires a great deal of humility and killing of pride.