Today we begin reading through the letter Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus. Ephesians is one of my favorite books in the Bible. I know I said that when we began Romans earlier, but these two books are my favorites. There is so much wealth in the book. And Chapter One absolutely lights me up!
It’s difficult to read this chapter without a sense of excitement as Paul adds thought after thought after thought without taking a breath to finish a sentence as he reflects on the multifaceted blessings we have in Christ.
It reminds me of looking at a diamond with a magnifying glass under a bright light. If you move the light just a tad, you see facets you didn’t see before. And with every note about one facet Paul describes, another one appears in all its brilliance.
When was the last time you stopped to just bask in God’s presence? No distractions. No background music. Just spending time worshiping God and letting His Word wash over you. That’s the kind of feeling I got when I read this a few minutes ago.
Take a few minutes to re-read Ephesians 1. Read it slowly. Read it again in a different translation; if you normally read a more “literal” translation, try it with a less “literal” translation (or vice versa). What differences do you see? As you read and re-read the chapter, what is one thing that you haven’t seen before? What’s another thing you can praise God for?
Paul continues developing his thoughts on justification by grace through faith in today’s Bible reading. He says, “So then, as through one trespass there is condemnation for everyone, so also through one righteous act there is justification leading to life for everyone.” Romans 5:18 (CSB)
Each of us is responsible for our own sin, yet each of us inherited a fallen condition from our first parents (specifically the First Man, Adam) because of one act of disobedience: eating the fruit from the one tree that God had warned against eating.
But that wasn’t the end of the story! Another
As much as sin, death, and judgment followed the one act of Adam’s disobedience, how much more did the one act of Jesus’ obedience bring life, righteousness, and forgiveness. In fact, Paul uses this phrase how much more four times in this one chapter. And counting his final parting shot, “where sin multiplied, grace multiplied even more.” Romans 5:20 (CSB), Paul drives home his point a fifth time!
There is no sin you have ever committed — or ever will — that will ever be so massive, so horrendous, that God’s grace cannot overcome. If you’ve ever felt that you’ve blown it and that you’ve done something God can never forgive, rest assured, you aren’t that powerful! You aren’t that bad. You haven’t surprised God. God’s plan to redeem Adam’s descendants didn’t arrive as Plan B. God planned redemption from before He spoke, “Let there be light.”
Wherever there is sin, there is even more grace. God’s grace is free for the taking from an unconditionally loving, reconciling God.
I love how Eugene Peterson translated Romans 5:20-21 in The Message Translation:
Sin didn’t, and doesn’t, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down. All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that’s the end of it. Grace, because God is putting everything together again through the Messiah, invites us into life—a life that goes on and on and on, world without end.
That’s good news! That’s the Gospel!
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
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Today’s Bible reading is Galatians 1. Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians to counter a dangerous theology that added to Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice.
A group of Judaizers (not just “Jews”) said that Jesus’ death was sufficient for our forgiveness, but in order to be a good Christian, you have to be a good Jew, obeying the Old Testament Law, including the rite of circumcision. Paul was quite vocal in his response.
I am amazed that you are so quickly turning away from him who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are troubling you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, a curse be on him! Galatians 1:6–8 (CSB)
I’m glad that the Christian Standard Bible brings out the differences in Paul’s word choices that some other translations gloss over. By using the words different and another, the CSB points out that the gospel preached by these Judaizers is not just a little different from the gospel that Paul (and the other apostles) preached. The gospel they preached isn’t just an additional gospel than what Paul and the apostles preached. The Judaizers’ gospel is an entirely different gospel. It has
If you are a believer, a true child of God, you don’t have to add to your salvation (as if you really could!). Jesus accomplished everything necessary to make you righteous in God’s eyes. Because of what Jesus did, your salvation has been fully secured. You don’t have to — and you cannot — add to what He has done to make God any happier with you than He already is!
Sure, with being a child of God, there are commands in Scripture that still apply, but you can obey with a completely clear conscience and obey since you already have a relationship with your Father — as opposed to obey in order to have or maintain a relationship with Him.
That’s good news! That’s the gospel!
With today’s Bible reading, we conclude our reading through the book of Acts. The book ends rather abruptly, almost as if Chapter 29 has been lost. But of course, that didn’t happen. Some have suggested that Dr. Luke didn’t finish the book and that we are living today in Acts 29.
One very important thing I want to point out from today’s reading is easily missed by reading many of our Bible translations. Now, before I go any further on this, please hear me say this loud and clear: I believe that God’s Word is inspired by God, it is infallible, and it does not err in any way. Having said that, let me add that modern translations of the Bible accurately convey God’s Word very clearly. I encourage you to read from several recent Bible translations in your native language, comparing words and phrases used by the translators. Doing so can bring out nuances that don’t always translate as clearly as they should..* No, I don’t believe that you have to be a Greek or Hebrew scholar to hear God speak as you read your Bible. But knowing the languages can help to bring out a better clarity in your study.
Most of us in the US have at least one TV in our home. A few of the older TVs display shades of black and white, while the newer ones display in color. Some of the newer TVs are digital. And some of the newest (and most expensive) ones have 4K High Definition displays. It’s possible to watch your favorite football game on a 13″ black and white TV and not miss a single play. However, watching the same game on a 60″ high-definition 4K color TV allows you to see more detail as you watch. Reading and studying with most of our modern translations is like watching the game on most people’s TVs. Studying the Bible in its original languages is like watching the game on a high-definition TV.
Unfortunately, several modern English translations miss a very important point in Acts 28:8-9. This is one of those cases where comparing translations, and perhaps using some language tools can help to bring God’s Word into clearer focus.
Ok, I’ve spent a LOT more time prefacing this than I intended, but here’s the point. Let’s compare a few translations of Acts 28:8-9.
Christian Standard Bible
8Publius’s father was in bed suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went to him, and praying and laying his hands on him, he healed him. 9After this, the rest of those on the island who had diseases also came and were healed.
English Standard Version
8It happened that the father of Publius lay sick with fever and dysentery. And Paul visited him and prayed, and putting his hands on him, healed him. 9And when this had taken place, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured.
Did you catch the difference? The CSB uses the word healed twice, but the ESV uses two different words: healed and cured. Dr. Luke was very precise in how he described what Paul did with Publius’ father and what he did with the other islanders.
When Paul visited Publius’ father, God gave
So what difference does it make? It makes a huge difference!
Someone may tell you that you don’t need to see a doctor; all you have to do is believe and pray. Another person may tell you that there are no miraculous healings; the way God heals today is with doctors and medicine. Each person prays differently. One prays that God will miraculously, instantaneously heal you. The other prays that God will use the medicine and guide the surgeon’s hands during surgery to restore you to health.
I pray both ways because both ways are Biblical! And you can’t (or you shouldn’t!) do either one without the other. Know that regardless of how He does it, God always heals!
God may choose to heal you miraculously. God may choose to cure you through medicine, surgery, or some other therapy. Either way, praise God for restoring you to health! But don’t neglect praying for healing, and don’t neglect going to your doctor and taking your meds.
What about people who aren’t restored to health miraculously or cured over time? Great question!
A couple of paragraphs back, I said that regardless of how He does it, God always heals! But God doesn’t always restore people’s health the way we want Him to and He doesn’t always restore people’s health when we want Him to. Sometimes God brings healing when the person crosses over to the other side of eternity, where there is no sickness, no pain, no suffering, and no tears.
The bottom line is: God is God. Let Him accomplish His work His way in His time. Yes, pray for healing! Yes, pray and seek medical help.
Do both … and trust God to be God.
* I don’t want to get distracted too much by this, so please refer to my other posts on Bible translations for more information.