Tag Archives: Bible

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.

Through the Bible, September 15

Reading: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-2:16

Summary: Paul obviously had great fond affection for the Christians in Thessalonica and was impressed with what he heard from Timothy about them even in the relatively short time he’d been gone. It’s interesting to read Paul’s description of the very personal nature of their work among Thessalonians.

Devotional Thought:

Still, These Three Remain

I guess Paul wasn’t kidding.  He famously said that faith, hope, and love abide (1 Cor. 13:13).  But this isn’t a letter to Corinth, this is to Thessalonica.  When Paul prays for these dear Christians, he remembers their faith, hope and love before God (1 Thess. 1:3).  Specifically, it was their “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

It turns out these three show up often together, 1 Corinthians 13 just happens to be the best known. For instance, for the Colossians Paul thanked God “since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven” (Col. 1:4-5).

It’s not even the only time it shows up in Thessalonians.  “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 (1 Thess. 5:8). You might also want to look at Galatians 5:5-6 and 1 Peter 1:21-22.

Would you not agree that these three serve as an excellent barometer for our spiritual condition at any given time?  How deep is my faith?  How firmly anchored is my hope? How lavish is my love?

These three remain. Do I remain in them?

Through the Bible, September 14

Reading: No scheduled reading

Thoughts and Reflections: Today is the regularly scheduled day for the second week of September to catch up if you’ve fallen behind in reading. Otherwise, below are some thoughts for your consideration for today from this week’s readings.

  1. The address of the book of James to “the Dispersion” may seem unusual to us, but was a common thought among first century Jews. During Jesus’ ministry, He said to ones sent to apprehend Him, “You will seek me and will not find me.  Where I am you cannot come.”  Not understanding Jesus’ meaning, the Jews said, “Where does this man intend to go that we will not find him? Does he intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks?” (John 7:34-35).  Following the time of Babylonian captivity more of the Jews lived outside of Palestine that within.  A condition referred to as “the Dispersion.”
  2. Why is so much of Acts focused on the work and ministry of Paul? Undoubtedly, others of the apostles also traveled and preached.  We know, for instance, that Barnabas and Mark—though not apostles—upon parting with Paul sailed to Cyprus (Acts 15:39).  What happened there and where else they may have gone we are not told.  Additionally, early church history tells of a strong representation of Christians in Alexandria, Egypt.  Someone took the gospel there.  We simply don’t know who and when.  So why the nearly exclusive attention given to Paul?  In part, it may well be the purpose for which the book was written. It, along with Luke, is addressed to one named Theophilus as an account first of Jesus, then of the spread of his message—primarily through Paul.  With Acts’ abrupt ending with Paul in prison, it is suggested that perhaps the books were written initially as a part of Paul’s defense for his trial and that Theophilus was somehow involved.
  3. Paul’s mission efforts were hardly individual endeavors. In addition to Barnabas and Silas as primary companions, he obviously enlisted the efforts of many other preachers.  Reading his letters, in addition to Acts, one pieces together a picture of a traveling band who evangelize a town, and sometimes a larger region, with Paul at some point in time moving on while others remain behind to assist and teach these fledgling churches.
  4. Luke’s participation in the work of Paul can be traced by following the personal pronoun “we” in the accounts of Paul’s travels. The first person plural pronoun, which would include the narrator of the story—Luke—is found in Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 17:1-28:16.

Devotional Thought:

It’s Not In the Bible

Just so you’ll know, this devotional is really based on what’s not in the Bible.  That might sound a little dicey but stay with me.

We are quite familiar with Paul and his evangelistic efforts because the book of Acts devotes so much attention to them.  We ought to be duly impressed.  What Acts doesn’t tell us about are the mission efforts of the other apostles.  Is that because they didn’t do anything?  No, I do not believe that to be true.  The Bible is always selective in what it chooses to record.  Just like with Jesus, John says he did and said many other things that aren’t recorded in his Gospel (John 20:30; 21:25).  The same, I believe could be said of the rest of the apostles.

A very popular tourist attraction in Kiev, Ukraine is called Saint Andrew’s Slope.  It is a street on a steep hill rising from the Dnieper River.  The street is cobble stone and near the very top is situated Saint Andrew’s Cathedral, a comparatively small, yet very ornate Russian Orthodox Church.  Inside is a portrait of Andrew, probably ten or twelve feet tall.  The legend is that Peter’s brother, the apostle Andrew, traveled north across the Black Sea (the very southern portion of which usually shows up the very top of the map at the back of your Bible of Paul’s journeys) and evangelized the region that is today covered by parts of Ukraine and Russia and perhaps beyond.

We don’t know if he did or not.  Many legends are based in fact and we have not definitive records of his or any other of the apostles’ travels, so, perhaps it’s true.

I’d love to know the stories of Andrew’s travels.  I’m sure many are no less thrilling than those from Paul’s travels.

Here’s the point.  What we and others do in service to God does not have to be, or need to be, known by others.  As far as history is concerned these other faithful servants of God worked in anonymity—compared to Paul—and that’s OK.  It could be said we only know 1/13th of the apostolic work in taking the gospel into all of the world (the number is actually much smaller because we don’t even know all that Paul did).

Don’t let the fact that others don’t know what you’re doing discourage you.  As a matter of fact, there’s inherent danger if they do (see Matt. 6:1).

Might one of the great joys of heaven be learning the stories of all the other things Jesus, Paul, and the twelve other apostles did that Scripture didn’t record?

Through the Bible, September 13

Reading: Acts 19-20

Summary: Paul’s third journey is dominated by his time spent in Ephesus.  This is Paul’s lengthiest stay in any one location as far as the record of Acts is concerned.  It becomes a basis of operation for the evangelization of all of Asia, likely including the beginning of many of the congregations of which we later learn in the New Testament.  As several of Paul’s epistles are written during the time of his journeys (particularly the second and third), we will turn our attention in our daily reading to these letters—beginning next week—before returning to the historical account of Acts (during the second week of November).

Devotional Thought:

The Way

“If we don’t change direction soon, we’ll end up where we’re going.” (Professor Irwin Corey).

That showed up today in my “Quotes of the Day” widget on my browser’s homepage.  In today’s Bible reading, the Christian faith (or we could say the church or the kingdom or Christianity—as used biblically, not popularly) is referred to as “the Way” (Acts 19:9).  That’s not the only time this happens (see also Acts 9:2; 19:23; 22:4; 24:14,22).

The word literally and simply means a way, a road, or a path. So the Christian faith is seen as the way to God and life and eternal bliss.  The native American’s name for Christianity was “the Jesus road.”

Of course, Jesus famously spoke of two possible roads on which one might travel.  One is narrow and restrictive, the other very broad and accommodating.  The first, as Jesus said, leads to life, the second to death (Matt. 7:13-14).

Now, back to the quote of the day.  Few people take the time to consider where they are going; that is, where the path on which they currently travel in life will take them.  Most need to change direction—sounds kind of like repentance, doesn’t it?  Most are on the path leading to destruction, Jesus says.

“The Way,” by all means, is the way to go; otherwise we’ll end up where we’re going.

Through the Bible, September 12

Reading: Acts 17-18

Summary: This eventful journey of Paul and Silas continues.  Having read yesterday of Paul’s first venture into Europe in response to the “Macedonian call” (16:6-10), the gospel has come to Philippi and now also to Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, and Corinth.   Before the conclusion of chapter 18, Luke tells of Paul’s start of his third journey and the arrival in Ephesus of another prominent and effective preacher, Apollos.

Devotional Thought:


Isn’t what Jesus has done wonderful?  His care and His love for people?  His marvelous teaching?  His dying for me?  Wow! It’s just all pretty amazing.

Has someone ever done something for you that was very nice and for which you were quite appreciative, but it wasn’t really necessary?  You could have done it yourself, someone else could have done it, or maybe it didn’t really have to be done at all—though it was still a wonderful thing they did?

None of that is true of what Jesus has done.  Paul explained and proved to the Thessalonians that it was necessary for Jesus to suffer and rise from the dead (Acts 17:3).  Necessary.

It was necessary because of sin.  It was necessary because of God’s justice and mercy.  It was necessary because only He could accomplish receiving sin’s penalty on our behalf. It was necessary so that we might have salvation and hope, which every person needs.  It was necessary because it answered the “finality” of death.

It was necessary because it had to be done; I could never do it for myself, and He alone was able to accomplish it.

Is what Paul proved lost on me?  Has the weight of the necessity of Jesus suffering and rising from the dead fallen fully upon me?

Through the Bible, September 11

Reading: Acts 15-16

Summary: The first missionary journey concludes with Paul and Barnabas rejoicing over the fact that the “door of faith” has been opened to the Gentiles (14:27).  These men soon learn that not all their brethren are as joyful as they concerning this turn of events.  A major gathering of prominent leaders in the church takes place in Jerusalem in order to address this contentious subject of Gentile conversions to Christ. Though the leaders come to a definite conclusion as to how this matter should be handled, the question is far from over and would continue to plague Paul’s efforts for the rest of his life.  The books of Galatians and Romans devote significant space to addressing this subject.

Following the “Jerusalem conference”, so-called, Paul and Barnabas find it impossible to continue to work together, due to strongly differing opinions regarding the inclusion of John Mark in their effort.  The two part ways and consequently now two mission teams go out.  Acts traces the work of Paul and his new companion Silas.

Devotional Thought:

A Good Heart or a Clean Heart?

The condition of one’s heart is of extreme importance.  Yes, that is true literally and physically, but we’re talking figuratively and spiritually.

A frequently spoken, well-meaning and kind pleasantry is that a person has a “good” heart.  That’s better than a bad one for sure.  It’s rather ambiguous, though, isn’t it?  Is this merely a pleasant person?  a well-intentioned, nice, and otherwise innocuous kind of a person?  Good-hearted is hard to nail down.

When the controversy about Gentiles becoming Christians came under discussion in Jerusalem, Peter observed that God “made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:9).  Such was also David’s desire when his pled, “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Psa. 51:10).

Sincerity does not cleanse a heart.  Neither does good intentions or fervent desires.  Those may make a heart good; one that would not hurt or harm and one that would favor what’s good and right.  But hearts must be cleansed.

Peter says that for the Gentiles—no doubt thinking of Cornelius and his household, see Acts 10—that cleansing happened by faith.  That’s consistent with other Scriptures.  God is both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).  Salvation is “by grace…through faith” (Eph. 2:8).

Cornelius’s heart wasn’t cleansed by his pious, benevolent life, nor by the coming of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues.  It was only by faith; his “faith in the powerful working of God” as he was baptized into Christ, making his appeal to God for a good conscience (Col. 2:12; Acts 10:48; 1 Pet. 3:21).

Is my heart clean or just good?

Through the Bible, September 10

Reading: Acts 13-14

Summary: Today brings us back to the historical book of Acts.  Our previous reading from this book—from September 6—left off with the spread of the kingdom among the Gentiles.  Beginning with the conversion of Cornelius and his household (Acts 10) and continuing to tell of the dynamic, and predominately Gentile, congregation at Antioch of Syria, Luke is setting the ground work for the spread of the gospel to distant regions.  We left off with Barnabas and Saul (he will come to be called “Paul” first in 13:9) in Antioch and chapter 13 opens with their being singled out by the Holy Spirit “for the work to which I have called them” (13:2).  So begins the primary focus for the remainder of this great book, the evangelistic endeavors of the apostle Paul.

Devotional Thought:

Like David or Not? 

Few biblical characters can compare to King David.  About him many remarkable statements are made.  He is the one by whom subsequent kings of Israel are measured and compared.  He repeatedly “inquired of the Lord” (1 Sam. 23:2, 4; 30:8; 2 Sam. 2:1; 5:19, 23). “David strengthened himself in the Lord his God” (1 Sam. 30:6).  “David became greater and greater, for the Lord God of hosts was with him” (2 Sam. 5:10).  The opening words of the New Testament introduce “Jesus Christ, the Son of David” (Matt. 1:1).

There are many others.  Perhaps the best known is actually found in the New Testament where he is called “a man after my [God’s] heart, who will do all my will” (Acts 13:22).   Just a few verses later is what might be considered the most meaningful accolade of the great king of whom it is said, “he had served the purpose of God in his own generation” (Acts 13:36).

Many of the things that are said of David will never be said of us; different people, different times, different circumstances, different needs.  But what possible better thing could ever be said of us than that which was said of him; that we served the purpose of God in our own generation?

I may not be king, I may not slay a giant, I may not write many psalms of praise, I may not stand before and lead God’s people.  But I can serve God’s purpose in my life, in my family, in my job, in my community, in my church, in my….

To do that, I must—again like David—determine to do all of God’s will.

Through the Bible, September 9

Reading:  James 3-5

Summary: The “practical gospel” continues by addressing the matters of the Christians speech, divine wisdom, worldliness, dangers of wealth, suffering, and prayer.  This letter demonstrates that much of the New Testament’s contents are not only relating historical events or doctrinal content, but making practical application of Christianity to daily life.

Devotional Thought:

The Surprising Path to Spiritual Excellence

The gulf is quite expansive that spans the difference between my talents and abilities and those of a professional athlete, musician, painter, etc. They are what they are because they possess and exercise exceptional gifts is certain fields.

We make a mistake when we try to apply that same truth in the spiritual realm.  Those who excel spiritually aren’t those who are especially gifted to do so.  Rather it is those who give attention and effort in areas within the grasp of each of us.

Take the tongue for instance.  Our inability to completely and finally control our tongues is readily acknowledged.  But one who works on it diligently and consistently has gone a very long way in controlling the whole body (Jas. 3:2).  Earlier James said that making a claim to being religious while failing to bridle one’s tongue renders the entire venture worthless.

Every one of us has a tongue, every one of us speaks, every one of us employs words in our communication. Not every one of works on controlling their tongue.  It’s not a matter of some special capacity with which one endowed, but the will and determination to do what would please God regarding this “small member”.

If one is interested in exceptional spirituality, the tongue is a very good place to begin.

Through the Bible, September 8

Reading:  James 1-2

Summary:  James, likely the brother of Jesus and the one identified in Acts as an elder in the Jerusalem congregation (Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18), identifies himself only as a servant of both God and the Lord Jesus Christ. He addresses his letter to “the twelve tribes in the Dispersion” (1:1).  As mentioned previously, the contents of this letter are exceedingly practical for matters of Christian living.  In these two chapters it speaks to rejoicing in trials, doing—not just hearing—God’s word, favoritism in the assembly, and the relationship of faith and works.

Devotional Thought:

The Birds and the Bees

No one knows for sure the origins of the euphemistic phrase that evades direct reference to the biological processes of reproduction.  Maybe, as some suggest, it’s just that the natural world around us provide a more comfortable context to address the sensitive subject.

Minus the euphemism, Scripture uses the same biology to help us understand both sin and salvation.  James 1 has two such occurrences.  First of all, don’t blame God for the presence of sin.  Because of God’s absolutely pure and holy nature, He can have nothing to do with sin, much less entice man to engage in it (Jas. 1:13).  Instead, Satan uses our own desires to lure and entice us.  When we act upon those temptations, that is the conception from which sin is born.  To take it a bit further, if this newly birthed entity is allowed to mature, the consequence is death (Jas. 1:14-15).

Second, and in deliberate contrast to the first, the will of God results in His giving us birth (James 1:18; ESV.  This the meaning of the phrase “brought us forth” NKJV, NASB).

We’ve got to understand spiritual biology.  Satan uses our own desires against us, and if allowed to reach his desired end, it is death.  On the other hand, it is only by the exercise of God’s divine will in my life that I am born, and that “by the word of truth.”

This language surely reminds us of other language in Scripture; the idea of being “born again” and being God’s “child.”

We cannot afford to misunderstand Bible “birds and bees”.

September Week 2 Bible Reading Introduction

Week 2: The Gospel Spreads (James, Acts 13-20)

September 8-14

The epistle of James is widely recognized as one of the earliest New Testament books written, some believing it to be the very first—others suggest Galatians or 1 Thessalonians.  It likely was not written as early as prior to Paul’s first missionary journey, of which we’ll read the last part of this week, but this is a good place to insert the reading of this letter.  Moving from chapters 12 to 13 in Acts marks a significant transition in the emphasis of the book.

The book of James likely bears the name of Jesus’ brother, who plays a prominent role in the life of the early church in Jerusalem.  The book of James has been called the “Proverbs of the New Testament” or the “practical Gospel.”  Unquestionably it affords great benefit to the Christian with very practical instruction in Christian living.

The reading from Acts for this week covers all of Paul’s missionary journeys, that is, the three prior to his ultimate arrest in Jerusalem and first Roman imprisonment (with which the book of Acts concludes).  Several of Paul’s letters are based on this time of his ministry and will be the subject of the readings for the remainder of this month as well as October.