In today’s Bible reading, Paul directly addresses the claims of the Jewish legalists. They claim that they are the heirs of the covenant promise God made with Abraham. But Paul rightly points out that the covenant that God made with Abraham was based on faith rather than obedience to the Law. In fact, Paul reminds the legalists that the covenant predated the law by over four hundred years.
Paul refers to Genesis 15:6, “And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” (ESV) He also refers to Genesis 12:3, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (ESV)
The covenant extends to Abraham’s sons through Jesus Christ. All who are “in Christ” are heirs of the promise. Paul writes extensively about the blessings to those “in Christ” in his letter to the Ephesians.
Abraham believed God and that belief was credited to him as righteousness. Looking at the diagram above, we can see that on God’s Faith Ledger, God kept a record of Abraham’s — and our — sin in the Liabilities column. Then He added faith to the Asset column on His Faith Ledger.
Given Jesus’ infinite righteousness, the balance at the bottom of the Ledger shows that Abraham — and we — are fully justified, due to the infinite righteousness that was added to the account. God justified Abraham on the basis of his faith, his belief. And like their spiritual father, those who put their faith in Jesus Christ are the heirs of the covenant promise. We receive the covenant blessing in order to share the covenant blessing with others, bringing them into the Household of Faith.
Have you put your faith in Jesus Christ? If you’re interested in learning more, please reach out to me.
In today’s Bible reading, we see that a majority of those voting said it would be best to sail, hoping to make it to Phoenix, a harbor on the island of Crete before Winter. (Acts 27:12)
It seems obvious that the Roman commander and the ship’s owner were more interested in efficiency than safety. And they paid little attention to a prophetic word from Paul.
If you’ve been around church very long, you’ve probably heard that the majority rules. At least in Baptist circles, a simple majority can dictate everything. That can be a good thing. But like in the case in today’s Bible reading, it can also be a very bad thing. Normally we assume that because there is a majority consensus, we know what we are supposed to do.
But is that how people in the Bible determined God’s will? As I type this, I can’t think of a single time the early church went with a plan simply because more people voted one way than another. When I think of the ways the early church made decisions, just about every time — if there was a vote at all — the vote wasn’t just a majority; it was unanimous. But it should be noted that even a unanimous decision can be counter to God’s plan.
The normal way the early church made decisions was through prayer and immediate obedience. When Paul planned to go one way, he might have a dream in the middle of the night, wake up in the morning and go in a different direction.
But today’s reading is a classic case in point that not everyone was seeking God’s plan. Some people had other motives than to glorify God. Some had selfish motives. And there’s the rub when it comes time to make decisions. Not everyone has pure motives and pure goals in mind.
So how is a church — or individual Believers — supposed to go about determining God’s will? First off, pray. Second, pray. Seek God’s plan. Seek God’s timing. Seek God’s way. Trust the leadership that God has put in place. And last, pray. And then pray some more.
Only with a yielded, unified heart can a church hope to successfully move with God’s agenda in God’s timing.
Yes, bad decisions will be made. But with a humble, yielded heart a church can seek God’s heart and make adjustments as he leads.
In today’s Bible reading, a prophet named Agabus walks up to Paul and binds his own hands and feet in Paul’s belt. He says, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'” (Acts 21:11)
Some are frightened by this visual aid and beg Paul to not go to Jerusalem. Paul brings them back to their senses by saying, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” The people respond, “Let the will of the Lord be done.” (Acts 21:13-14)
Paul’s friends are concerned for his well-being. This is normal. Who wouldn’t want the best for their friend? But Paul reminded them that God is in control. Nothing happens apart from His knowledge and permission.
Adding to yesterday’s devotional, the best place to be is where God wants you and that the worst place to be is anywhere else. And in the case of Paul being arrested in Jerusalem, it turns out that Paul’s life was probably spared because he was in the custody of Roman soldiers. There was a great deal of confusion so Paul was taken to the barracks so the Roman tribune could make sense of what was going on. Otherwise, he may have been killed by the riotous mob. (Acts 21:34-36)
Sometimes the safest place is the last place you want to be: in the custody of Roman soldiers.
As I read today’s Bible reading, I was reminded of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well: One conversation leads to an entire village coming out to hear more.
Paul is in Antioch of Pisidia on the Sabbath. After the reading of the Law and the Prophets (The Old Testament), the synagogue leaders open up the floor, asking for people to speak encouraging words to the people. Paul steps forward and briefly recounts the history of the people of Israel. Paul quotes a few Psalms and points out that Jesus was raised from the dead, according to the Scriptures. (Acts 13:33-35)
As the people left the synagogue, they asked the Apostles to tell them more the next week. On the next Sabbath, more people — Jews and Gentiles — showed up because of the news that had spread through the community throughout the week. Many people were saved in the hearing of God’s Word. But division arose from the Judaizers, those who said that you had to be a good Jew if you wanted to be a good Christian. The Judaizers stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, who were then invited to leave the region.
Their response to the persecution is typical of the Apostles: They rejoice in their persecution. Instead of being discouraged and withdrawing, they are emboldened!
How do you respond when you encounter persecution? I mean real persecution. Most Christians in Western society don’t have a clue what it’s like to be persecuted. We think we’re persecuted when we can’t say “Merry Christmas” and wear a cross necklace. No, real persecution occurs when people want to kill you. Real persecution occurs when people hate you for your Christian faith.
But there is subtle persecution that we may experience, such as the “Merry Christmas” greeting and religious display restrictions. In those cases, how do you respond? Do you feel threatened? What about when people make fun of you because of your faith? How do you respond then?
The Biblical response is not to assume a victim mentality. Instead, the Biblical response is to rejoice that you are worthy of their disrespect … just like Jesus was.
When you experience religious persecution — and you will — take joy! Be encouraged! And be emboldened!
In today’s Bible reading, the Apostles come to a point where they realize they can’t do it all. And that’s a good thing!
People began accusing the Apostles of overlooking the Hellenistic (Gentile) widows and giving preference to Jewish widows. That may or may not have been the case, but the accusation was made.
Rather than deny that there was a problem or telling the people to get over it, the twelve Apostles summoned the help of other believers. “We can’t do it all. Actually, trying to do it all is causing us to neglect our main calling. We need help. We — the ordained — need to delegate all of the ministry activities to you — the ordinary — so that we can dedicate ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word.” (Acts 6:2-4)
At this point, the Apostles more deeply understood the ramifications of the fulfillment of Joel 2:28-29. The Holy Spirit would empower ordinary people — not just ordained people — to do the work of ministry. The Kingdom-sized task of expanding the Kingdom of God through reaching out and equipping would require the gifts of Kingdom Citizens. For this specific task, they appointed only seven. Seven men, full of the Holy Spirit would serve tables. Seven men, full of the Holy Spirit would do menial — and important life-affirming and life-sustaining — tasks. Yes, even menial tasks require the equipping power of the Holy Spirit.
No task in the Kingdom of God can be done adequately without the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Kingdom Citizens. No task. Even serving food to widows.
If serving food to widows requires Holy Spirit empowerment, how much more does administering the business of the church, teaching and discipling, hospitality, evangelism, and church planting? How much more does preaching and leading of worship of the King?
No Kingdom Citizen can fulfill his/her Kingdom calling without being empowered by the Holy Spirit. Are you walking in His power? Are you relying on Him to guide and direct you in whatever ministry He has called you to do?
Ask God to fill you anew today. Ask for a fresh outpouring on you and your tasks for today.
All Kingdom Citizens need a fresh filling of the Holy Spirit because we all leak. (Ephesians 5:18)
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
(1 Peter 4:10–11 ESV)