Week 51 Devotion
This week we will continue to read the letters of Paul but we will also throw in a little variety by reading Peter’s first epistle and the book of Hebrews. We have a lot of ground to cover this week so I want to try and give a brief overview of each book that we are going to read starting with Philippians.
Philippi was a city that Paul visited because of a dream. In Acts 16 Paul had a dream about a man who was urging Paul to, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Immediately, Paul, Silas, and Timothy made the arrangements to go to Macedonia to preach the gospel. Philippi was the leading city in the Macedonian region and it was home to a Roman colony that was filled with former soldiers, ex-Roman military officials who had retired and settled down in town.
But when Paul arrived bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ with him, the entire city was turned upside-down. A Church was planted and persecution was swirling around the new congregation of believers. Paul seems to have an intense love and appreciation for this church. In fact, this may have been his favorite church which is why his letter is filled with words of love, joy, and encouragement. He wants these Christian’s to live out their lives with great confidence that no matter what happens in this life, the one to come will be worth it.
Next, we will be reading 1 Timothy, which is one of the pastoral epistles, meaning that it was written to give instruction to Timothy on how to conduct himself as a shepherd/pastor of Christ’s sheep. In chapter 3 Paul actually tells us why he wrote this letter:
1 Tim 3:14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, 15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.
Paul was hoping to give this information to Timothy face-to-face, but just in case that didn’t happen he wanted to make sure that Timothy knew what to do to help the church grow in faithfulness and love.
Titus is another one of the pastoral epistles of Paul written to help his friend Titus know how to lead the church in Crete. In this letter, Paul helps Titus understand the need to address the false teaching in the church and he helps him understand how to guide the people to live faithfully for Christ.
The last book that we will read this week is the book of Hebrews and it is one of the most important and most informative books in all of the Bible. It is perhaps, the best commentary that we have on the Old Testament because it helps us to see how Jesus fulfills and completes the promises and plans of the Old Covenant. The key word in this book is “better,” because Jesus is better than everything that came before him. He is better than the angels, better than the Mosaic law, better than the Old Covenant priesthood, and better than the Old Covenant sacrifices.
This letter was written to Jewish Christians who were struggling to find their place in the religious landscape. They had lived their entire lives in the old testament system and now that Christ has come all of that system has been rendered obsolete and they are wondering if Jesus really was/is the Messiah that they had been hoping for all their lives. The temptation is for them to go back to their old way of life, their old way of religious practice and this letter is helping them to understand just how much better Jesus is than the old way.
Something to discuss…
The first chapter of Paul’s 1st letter to Timothy majors on instruction for how to address false teachers within the church. In fact, the very first thing Paul says to Timothy after the opening greeting is a reminder to, “charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine than the stewardship from God that is by faith (v. 3-4).” If you keep reading through verse 11 of the first chapter and you will see that Paul is still pointing out the type of false teaching and false teachers that Timothy is responsible to correct.
But in the middle of this challenge is something you don’t expect. In verse 5, Paul gives Timothy a summary of how we ought to conduct ourselves as Christian ministers and it goes like this.
The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
There are two ways we can view this verse: on the one hand Paul is using it to set up the standard for all of those who claim to be teachers. So, Timothy should be able to measure the teachers in the church with this statement and if they fall short they need to be charged not to teach. But there is a second way to read this verse and it is to see oneself as bound to this aim. In other words, Paul is giving Timothy instruction on how he is supposed to conduct himself in ministry and especially in the task of confronting false teachers.
There is a time for strong words when it comes to false teaching and there is a time for firm action as well, but the aim of our charge is always loved that issues from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. Love is a chief aim of pastoral ministry but isn’t this also a chief aim for the Christian life.
Even when we are addressing false teaching the aim is to love, the aim is not to win an argument but to win a heart. Yes, we want to correct but God wants us to do that in the context of love. Like Jesus, we are called to love even our enemies and to seek to win their hearts to the truth not just to win the argument over theology.
The point that I want you to discuss this week is how can we live as Christians with love as a chief aim in all of our relationships? How can we show love even when confrontation is called for? Why should we show love is a good question as well? What has Jesus taught us by example and by instruction about the scope of love that we should show to the various people in our lives?
Something to meditate on…
In Philippians 4:4-7 we read a familiar passage.
Phil 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Now, remember that the main theme of this letter is an encouragement. Paul wants to encourage the Christians who are living under persecution in the city. He wants them to be filled with joy and so we see here in verse 4 that he calls them to rejoice. This is an imperative, which means that Paul is commanding them to rejoice, to express their joy to God.
But that is not the only command Paul gives them here. In these verses, we see three imperatives: Rejoice, Be Gentle or Reasonable and Don’t be anxious. Depending on how you look at this verse it can seem encouraging or it can be discouraging. If you read this and think that the way to get over the hardships of life is to simply muster up the strength to obey then, in the end, you might find this discouraging. I mean, if you are already lacking in strength how is it going to help you to try to be strong.
But if you read these verse a different way it can bring life into your struggle. Notice that Paul does not just say rejoice here, he says rejoice IN THE LORD. He does not just say be gentle, he says be gentle and then reminds us that the lord is at hand. He does not just say don’t be anxious, he says take your anxieties to God your father who loves you.
This is a critically important lesson for us to learn about our faith. The imperatives (commands) of the Christian life are rooted in the indicatives (Objective fact) of God’s work of redemption.
It's not rejoicing, or God’s going to get you, it's rejoicing because in Christ He’s already got you. Rejoice because you have been freed from sin’ guilt and power, rejoice because you have been brought near to God even though you were once far off. Rejoice, because you have been reconciled to God through faith in Jesus Christ.
It's not gentle because God sees and can’t wait for you to mess up so He can zap you. He wants to remind us to extend the grace and mercy of God that has already been shown to us. Or like it says in…
Ephesians 5:1-2 “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children (not so you will be but because you are). 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Paul is not saying, “What’s wrong with you, why are you worried? Don’t you know God is in control?” Rather, there is a tenderness and encouragement here. This is a loving reminder that our cares and concerns shouldn’t pull us away from God but should cause us to draw near to God and to come boldly to His throne of Grace.
We need to let the truth of the gospel take deep root in our hearts. When we don’t feel his presence in our circumstance, we need to be reminded that He’s still there watching, protecting, encouraging and sustaining our lives. God wants to encourage us with these verses. He knows what you’re walking through, He knows how lonely you are, He knows how dark the horizon looks and he wants you to draw near to him for comfort and peace.
So, don’t just work yourself to death, or worry yourself to death…slow down, remember the cross and the love of God, come to the feet of Jesus and let his peace guard your heart and mind.
Something to pray about…
The motivation for prayer this week comes from Hebrews 4:14-16 where we read:
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
The backstory on this passage has to do with the fact that within the Old Testament temple system, prayer was offered by a priest. On the day of Atonement, the high priest would enter into the Most Holy Place before the presence of God and that priest would offer up prayers on the behalf of the people. This happened once each year and only one priest, the high priest had the honor of bringing our prayers before God.
But with the coming of Christ, everything has changed. We no longer rely upon a human high priest and he no longer takes our prayers to God once a year. As it stands, Jesus is at the right hand of God and He serves as our great high priest. He is sitting at God’s right hand in this moment and He is ready at all times to intercede for us. He is constantly bringing our prayers before the Father.
So, what do we do? Well, we draw near with confidence trusting that when we pray we are heard. Trusting that when we pray, God is ready to give us mercy and grace. The throne of judgment has become a throne of grace and we have a ready High Priest who ever lives to take our prayers to God. So, let us pray with confidence to God through our Lord Jesus Christ.