Through the Bible, September 25

Reading: Galatians 4

Summary: What the Galatians were failing to realize is that the approach to faith which they had adopted—which incorporated the notion of also keeping Mosaic Law—was, in reality, a return to the former enslavement from which they had been delivered upon coming to Christ.  Paul famously asks them, “Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (Gal. 4:16).

Devotional Thought:

To Know or Be Known

Have you ever thought you knew someone, then you learned something new about them?  It turns out you didn’t know them nearly as well as you thought?

Do you know God? Of course, no one knows all there is to know about God, but we may be fairly confident in our knowledge of Him.

Notice how this is said: “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God,…” (Gal. 4:9). The important thing is not that we believe we know God, but that God knows us.

Notice God’s statement to some in the judgment who no doubt thought they knew and served Him, “And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matt. 7:23).

But wait, nothing is beyond the scope of God’s knowledge.  How could He not know them?  Surely He’s not saying that they were not in His realm of perception.  Rather it is that He did not know them as His own.  It’s like the Jesus’ parable of the 10 virgins, to the unwise who tried to enter the wedding feast he said, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you” (Matt. 25:12).

Can I know if God knows me?  Perhaps this will help us: “But if anyone loves God, he is known by God” (1 Cor. 8:3).  And remember, to love God is to do so with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30).  It, therefore, follows that if we love God we will keep His commandments (John 14:15).  Further, “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3).

The one who truly knows God and is known by Him is the one who, above all else, seeks to do His will and to please Him (2 Cor. 5:9).

Through the Bible, September 24

Reading: Galatians 3

Summary: Paul speaks very strongly to these Christians regarding the error they have embraced.  The strength of his language bears testimony to the seriousness of this matter.  Paul would not stand for any change or adjustments to the saving truth of the salvation for all men through faith in Christ Jesus.  This demanded a right understanding of God’s work and purposes going all the way back before the Law, to Abraham.

Devotional Thought:

Faith in Bible Terms

The discussion from Galatians takes place in the deep end of the pool.  These are major themes of great import.  We dare not miss its message.

Paul argues convincingly—what else would one expect being guided by the Holy Spirit?—that faith is key to righteousness, long before works of the law. Thinking we can be justified by our law-keeping (aka, obedience) nullifies God’s grace (Gal. 2:21). Also, it places one under a curse (Gal. 3:10). Rather we received the Spirit “by hearing with faith” (3:2). God’s work is “by hearing with faith” (3:5).  It is those of faith who are the “sons of Abraham” (3:7). Further, it is by faith that the righteous live (3:11).

There were certainly things the law could not do, but it accomplished precisely that which God intended for it to do (3:21-25). Upon accomplishing that faith replaced law (v. 25). Galatians is an excellent expansion on the statement that we are saved by grace through faith” (Eph. 2:8).

Here’s something worth noting—particularly in light of much discussion to the contrary—it is precisely in the midst of this conversation of our being justified by faith and not works that the statement is made, “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27-28).

To suggest baptism is but a work and therefore not essential to salvation argues quite contrary to Paul here in Galatians.  I’ll stick with Paul.

Through the Bible, September 23

Reading: Galatians 2

Summary: As Paul showed the justification for his work among the Gentiles, he recounts some of the events of his life following his conversion and as he began to preach widely.  He provides some details here in Galatians not found in Acts.

He also begins to delve into the great Bible theme of justification by faith.  Both Galatians and parts of Romans constitute the classic texts on this subject.

Devotional Thought:

Nullified Grace

What could be worse?  Seriously, what could possibly be worse than voiding the greatest gift ever given to humanity?  That would have to go on par with “crucify[ing] again the Son of God” (Heb. 6:6).  Yet, Paul says some nullify God’s grace (Gal. 2:21).

It happens when one seeks to be justified by keeping the law.  It’s not crucifying Christ again, but it is making His death serve no purpose.  To think one is able to be right before God based their own ability to obey God and do His will is, in essence, to say we don’t need Jesus and what He accomplished at Calvary.  Again, what could be worse?

In Paul’s day, it was being done by those, particularly Jewish Christians, who suggested that keeping the Law of Moses was necessary to become a Christian. These were the ones who opposed Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles.  Today, it’s not the Law of Moses at issue, but it is those who still maintain the law-keeping principle.

Where does my confidence lie for salvation?  Is it in the completeness and precision of my obedience to God?  Or is it in what He has done for me?  There’s a big difference between those two.  Now, it is because of what He has done that I do obey, and to the best of my ability do His will in all things.  But when I begin to think that I’m saved because my obedience is somehow at the right level, I’ve kicked into the law-keeping mindset.  Instead, I trust in God’s power to save through Jesus blood and because of His great gift I seek to please Him in every thing.

It’s obedience “because of” God’s action on my behalf, not “so that” God will save based on my actions (obedience).

Through the Bible, September 22

Reading: Galatians 1

Summary: Paul’s mission to the Gentiles roused great concern and even opposition among his Jewish brethren (see Acts 18:6).  Not only that, but a perversion of the gospel, which attempted to meld Jesus’ saving message with Mosaic Law-keeping, had already begun to affect the church.  Paul found it necessary to defend not only his ministry but also the purity of the gospel message for all men.

Devotional Thought:

Angelic Fraud

Whom can you trust?  What can you trust?

Apparently not even angels.  It’s not that angels are inherently untrustworthy, but Paul is making a point when he says, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8).

His point is that the gospel message, God’s word, is unalterable.  Not even angels are at liberty to alter the message, much less men.  We may have full, complete, and absolute assurance in the word of God as it has been delivered.

Were an angel to appear, as some have so claimed, and had something to say, we can know this: the message would be no different than what we have already received from God.  And if this is so, then we really have no need of the angel’s message, we already have that information.

But, angels!?  That would be so compelling.  Satan knows this and so makes himself to appear as an “angel of light” (1 Cor. 11:14).

So how could we tell if it were a real angel or just a demonic imposter?  The thing is, we don’t have to.  What would be Satan’s purpose of appearing as such other than to promulgate a lie?  We can know what is a lie because we are in possession of the truth, and that cannot be changed—not even by an angel.

An angel’s appearance would be a phenomenal experience.  But what I need to know, and must know, I already have. God does not employ these marvelous beings to communicate truth.  Anyone that purports to do so is a fraud.

Through the Bible, September 21

Reading: No scheduled reading

Summary: Once again we have scheduled a to catch up if you’ve fallen behind in your reading. This one is for the third week of September. Otherwise, below are some thoughts for your consideration for today from this past week’s readings.

  1. The city of Thessalonica played an important role in the region of Macedonia as the chief city of the region and the seat of Roman administration. The city also enjoyed a strategic location having an excellent harbor as well as being located on the primary overland route to the east from Rome, the famous Roman highway–Egnatian Way.
  2. Thessalonica is sometimes remembered negatively because Paul’s experience in Berea, the town to which he fled following the threat of violence at Thessalonica. Luke speaks to the noble mindedness of the Bereans in receiving the gospel, especially compared to the Thessalonians (Acts 17:11).  It should be remembered that there were several conversions at Thessalonica—obviously—and that Luke’s reference is specifically to the Jews of the synagogue in Berea.
  3. How interesting to consider Paul’s work in Macedonia and Greece being instigated by the Lord (the “Macedonian call”) and yet his encountering so much opposition and resistance at Philippi, Thessalonica, and Corinth and apathy at Athens. Doing God’s work does not mean that all will go smoothly and bumps in the road are no reason to stop the journey.

Devotional Thought:

Increasing Love

For what do we wish to be known as followers of Jesus Christ?   How do we want people to see us?  Superior Bible knowledge? Great piety?  Member of a strong church?

Jesus said the world’s perception of us as His followers would come through the love we possess for each other (John 13:35).

Think about what the Bible says about this love.  As famously described and defined in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, this love is what every Christian is to have for others, not just husbands and wives.

Our cleansing from sin through obedience to the truth is not an end in itself, as important as it is.  But that purification is “for a sincere brotherly love” so we may “love one another from a pure heart” (1 Pet. 1:22).

Love is the pinnacle of Christian virtues.  It is greater than faith and hope (1 Cor. 13:13).  It is “above all these”; “these” being compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forbearance, and forgiveness (Col. 3:12-14).

No wonder Paul was so ecstatic over the Thessalonians.  His desire for them was that they would “increase and abound in love for one another” (1 Thess. 3:12).  What he later learned was that indeed “the love of every one of you for one another is increasing” (2 Thess. 1:3).

Is the very thing Jesus wishes to identify me as His follower the same thing I want others to know about me as His disciple?

Through the Bible, September 20

Reading: 2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:17

Summary: Paul wraps up his Thessalonian correspondence with encouragements to faithfulness, a request for prayers, a warning against idleness, and reminder to remain steadfast.

Devotional Thought:

Bad Tradition, Good Tradition

Wait a minute!  I thought religious traditions were bad.  Isn’t that what Jesus taught?  He said that keeping traditions led men to leave and reject the commandments of God and to make void the word of God (Mark 7:8,9, 13).  Yet, here Paul plainly says that Christians should “stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us” (2 Thess. 2:15).

What’s going on here?

Our trouble here is the word “tradition”.  The term used means a “giving up” or “giving over”.  Some English translations don’t even us the term “tradition” in the 2 Thessalonians text, they say something about the teachings that were passed on (see NIV, NLT, MSG).

The critical question here appears to be the source of what has been passed on; given over from whom or from where?  Jesus was warning against the teaching from men replacing God’s own word (see Mark 7:7).  Paul is talking about the teaching received from himself as an inspired apostle, either written or spoken (2 Thess. 2:15).  And that message was not from men, but from God (1 Thess. 2:13; 4:2).

Beware of men’s traditions and beware that we dare not neglect God’s traditions.

Through the Bible, September 19

Reading: 2 Thessalonians 1:1-2:12

Summary: This second letter to the Thessalonican church appears to have come quickly on the heels of Timothy’s delivering the first one.  Paul rejoices that some of the very things for which he prayed and was concerned were being answered (see 1 Thess. 3:10, 12 and 2 Thess. 1:3).  He returns to the familiar theme of Christ’s coming and the judgment as well as the unfamiliar (at least to us) discussion of the man of lawlessness.

Devotional Thought:

A Church to Brag About

Is there a church for which you have a particular fondness?  A congregation that you freely tell others about and would love to be a part of—if you’re not already?

What’s so special about them?  What appeals to you about this body of the Lord’s people?  Is it because they have growing numbers?  A dynamic worship assembly?  Are they meeting some particular need of yours or a loved one?  They say and do all the things just like you would?

For whatever reason(s), you want to be among their number.

Paul bragged about the church at Thessalonica and thanked God for them.  Notice why; their faith was growing abundantly, their love for one another was increasing, and they exhibited steadfastness and faith in the face of persecution and afflictions (2 Thess. 1:3-4).

Would you want to be counted among them?  Are these the kinds of things about which you would boast and be thankful?

Are the parameters for my assessments of churches and even individual Christians in need of adjustment?

Through the Bible, September 18

Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5

Summary: Of great concern to the Thessalonian Christians was Jesus’ return.  Some clarifying instruction had been called for (4:13-18), but also encouragement to be prepared for this unknown date (5:1-11).  Paul concludes this letter with a flurry of commands and instructions.

Devotional Thought:

A Metaphorical Drunk

The Bible is exceedingly clear when it addresses the issue of drunkenness and the dangers of strong drink (Rom. 13:13; 1 Cor. 6:10; Gal. 5:21; Prov. 20:1).  On at least one occasion, though, it talks about the drunk who may have never taken a drink. It’s the figurative, metaphorical drunk.

First Thessalonians 5:6-8 says, “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.”

Though the terms “sober” and “drunk” are used, he’s not talking about imbibing alcohol and becoming inebriated.  Instead, it’s a state of mind that is alert and controlled and aware as opposed to oblivious and unconcerned.  We know it’s not literal because sleep and being awake are paralleled with being drunk and sober

The encouragement is that in light of Jesus’ return, Christians should live accordingly; aware and alert and serious-minded.  They have prepared themselves for what will transpire at Christ’s coming, though we do not know when it will occur—it will be “like at thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2).  Otherwise, it is as though one was drunk, never giving consideration to this epic (and that’s even an understatement) event.

So, you may have never been drunk, but are you drunk?

Through the Bible, September 17

Reading: 1 Thessalonians 4

Summary: Keep in mind that Paul is writing to Christians from whom he feels he was separated prematurely.  His material is very fundamental and basic.  He reminds them of the very crux of Christian living, that is “to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more” (v. 1).  What is more, this is course is informed by the “instruction we gave you through the Lord Jesus” (v. 2).

Devotional Thought:

Then and Now

How’s this for a brief summation of what being a Christian is all about?  “Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more” (1 Thess. 4:1).  It’s all about learning how to walk and to please God.

That actually flies in the face of many perceptions of Christianity.  Apparently, there is something that one must do.  Not only that, but being a Christian is much more than what one claims or desires, it is very directly related to how one lives.  Further, pleasing God is what it’s all about, not God pleasing us.

Notice also that what the Thessalonians were doing was according to the instruction they had received from Paul.  I wonder what would happen if a person today would follow the same instruction?  Would the results be the same?

Could the results be the same?

Mustn’t the results be the same?

Through the Bible

Reading: 1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:13

Summary: Paul’s feelings for the Thessalonians and having to be separated from them is evident as you read, “But since we were torn away form you brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you…” (1 Thess. 2:17-18).

Devotional Thought:

Worry Over Faith

Paul worried unnecessarily.  But who could blame him?

His departure from Thessalonica had been premature.  Of that he was convinced.  Inability to return there he blamed on Satan and fervent prayers had been offered that God would bring him back (1 Thess. 2:18; 3:10-11).

Paul’s concern was for their faith.  Was it sufficient to withstand their inevitable afflictions?  Would it survive?  Would those whom he considered his “glory and joy” become a bitter disappointment?  Would his own efforts among them prove to be in vain?  Paul just couldn’t stand it.  He sent Timothy back “to learn about your faith” and “to establish and exhort you in your faith” while He remained alone at Athens (1 Thess. 3:2, 5).

Turns out Paul was very pleasantly surprised.  They had not only survived, they thrived in their faith. What Timothy found was that both the word of the Lord and their faith in God had “gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything” (1 Thess. 1:8).

Though Paul had contributed significantly to the conversion and early instruction of the Christians in Thessalonica, the quality and depth and strength of their faith was not dependent on Paul.  After all, they had received Paul’s message, not as the word of men, but as God’s word “which is at work in you believers” (1 Thess. 1:13).

It’s not that preachers and preaching aren’t important (see Rom. 10:14-15), but the power is in the message, not the messenger (Rom. 1:16).  Men may encourage faith, but only God’s word produces it (Rom. 10:17).  Paul learned that faith can flourish in his absence, but he knew it would die apart from the word “at work in you believers” (1 Thess. 2:13).

Now, about your own faith—is it what it is by the working of God’s word in you, or is it based on some man?

Just asking.