An Observation of the Entire New Testament
Matthew 1: The New Testament begins with a chapter bringing great hope to women of all backgrounds. It appears from the genealogy in chapter one, that every time a peculiar character emerges, the Messianic line diverts itself to travel through the good, the bad and the ugly. Judah’s affair with Tamar produces Perez who continues on to Rahab, who was not even a Jew and who’s first act of faith was an act of treason, not to mention her background in prostitution. Rather than coming through one of David’s lawfuly6 wives, the line diverts to travel through the woman whose husband he murdered after having an affair with her. Finally, there is Mary, a humble peasant girl.
Matthew 2: An interesting picture of worship occurs in vs. 10-12 of chapter 2. The wise men begin at a distance following the only direction they know to take, “Follow the star.” This progresses to rejoicing upon recognition of the object of their worship. Upon even closer observation, they take the posture of prostration in worship of their King. After this, the worship of giving takes place. Their gifts appear to have to symbolisms: the monetary symbolism (the giving of tithe) and the spiritual symbolism, (the giving of spiritual gifts). All this is bestowed upon their King and when they leave they are giving direction in return. What a beautiful picture of worship!
Matthew 3: God seems to take great delight in using the peculiar. The times I have felt closest to Him have often been the times I have spent in close contact with the disabled. There is hardly a more intimate demonstration of love than the day to day care for the one who cannot take care of himself. Though seemingly odd these people have a close relations hip with God that I may never grasp in my lifetime. John the Baptist seems to be one of these “fairly odd people.” He does not fit in the box of societal norms. He is different. He is weird. He is God’s tool to proclaim the Gospel.
Matthew 4: Often it seems that we as Christians tend to see temptation as an evil to be avoided, which of course it is; however, temptation has another facet here mentioned. Jesus was “Led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” The Holy Spirit, man’s advocate before a Holy God is the one leading the Son of God in to a place of temptation for the purpose of temptation. A clear line must be drawn here: Jesus Himself did not seek out the place of temptation, but was led there. How often am I led to a place of testing and do not recognize it?
Matthew 5: Modern American Evangelicals today seem to pride themselves on how holy they can look on a Sunday morning. I too am guilty of this. Often, it seems that Sunday mornings in America are a show, a contest to see who can appear the most “blessed.” Yet here in the beatitudes, God goes out of His way to bless those we would probably avoid talking to during the dreaded “greeting time.” The poor, the mourners, the gentle, the spiritually hungry, the persecuted. These are the ones who are truly blessed.
Matthew 6: What a glorious permission is given in verse 9! “Pray then, in this way: Our Father…” Not only are we invited to call God Almighty, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob our Father, we are commanded to! (“Pray then, in this way…”) How often I neglect the miracle of this command. Upon this change of dispensation, the God Who has hereunto, required animal sacrifices, a demanding priestly service and very particular restrictions says, “Come, call me Father, for that is what I Am!” What an intimate relationship, for it is the father who gives a child his or her identity (name, gender etc.) This invitation is an invitation to a relationship and an identity.
Matthew 7: In chapter 7, the Father figure is built upon. Following the command to identify with Him as Father, we now see his personality added to in verses 7-11. The father identity has become severely distorted and one can imagine that those listening to Jesus speak had bad relationships with their fathers, just as many do today, but here, Father God is presented as loving, giving, providing, generous and kind. Like a breath of fresh air to the weary soul of one oppressed or abused by a father, the Heavenly Father steps in to provide love and relationship.
Matthew 8: There is a fascinating contrast in this chapter. In verse 10, a man’s faith causes Jesus to marvel and in verse 27, Jesus’ power causes man to marvel. Is my faith such that Christ looks at me and says, as He did the Roman Centurion, “I have not found such great faith with anyone…” In turn, do I marvel at the power of Christ over all? Am I astounded even mildly by His ability to calm the waves in my life? Do I even recognize it when He does? Do I give Him credit for the smooth waters?
Matthew 9: In this chapter we see Jesus’ immense compassion on the sick, the disabled and even the dead. In preparation for the commission He is about to give in the following chapter, He here demonstrates His healing abilities before His disciples. Before He had stilled the waves, now He progresses to the healing of people. What patience He must have had, to deal with the close quarters, and demanding crowds. What compassion He must have had to continue day after day to care for those who could not care for themselves. This is not only patience, but perseverance.
Matthew 10: In chapter 10, Jesus commissions His disciples to go to the Jews with the Good News of His arrival. However, His instructions are oddly limited. Instead of a meeting on booking travel arraignments, He simply says, “Go.” Instead of hosting a pastor’s seminar, He simply says “Preach.” Instead of sending the disciples to medical school, He simply says “Heal.” Jesus commissions, not just the elite, the trained and the educated. He commissions the poor, the untrained and the uneducated. His instructions are simple: “Do as I say.” Results are not guaranteed, just as the Jews were unresponsive to the Gospel. All we may ever hear is “Follow me.”
Matthew 11: Renewing rest requires one step. The step towards Jesus. “Come to me…” He bids. Rest is promised when we are by His side. His yoke is easy, “Come.” His instructions are simple, “Come.” His demands are easy to understand, “Come.” Rather than presenting Himself as forbidding and powerful, Jesus says, “I am gentle and humble.” What words to come from the One who could perform miracles, preach eloquently and survive hours of torture before a painful death. Jesus is a force to be reckoned with, and yet He says, “Come, rest with me.”
Matthew 12: In our culture the value of people is consistently lowered by various sources such as Darwinism and abortion and the value of animals is continuously raised by organizations such as the SPCA so that the playing field is “leveled” so to speak. I find it interesting that Jesus here makes a decided effort to separate the two groups, with the words, “How much more valuable is a man than a sheep!” The implication being, “Extraordinarily!”
Matthew 13: In a passage full of immensely practical parables, two of them stand out in comparison to one another: The Parable of the Hidden Treasure, and the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price. In each of these parables, the main character willingly sells all to obtain that which is more valuable. He is not compelled in either case. One man would appear to be a farmer, the other is a merchant, yet both gain the Kingdom.
Matthew 14: Fellowship is one of man’s greatest needs. What is one of our highest penalties for a crime? Solitary confinement. God knows this because He created it. Need for fellowship is like a deep hunger. Yet, this hunger is specific. It can only be satisfied by fellowship with One. Christ, Who in His wonderful kindness bids us daily to come to Him for nourishment just as He does here in verses 16-19. Only through Christ can our deepest need for fellowship be truly met in a way that is lasting. How wonderful it is that He would invite ME!
Matthew 15: What does it mean to be “rooted up?” Is it such a bad thing for a “plant” or part of me that is not grounded in Christ and planted by the Father to be uprooted. I want my life to be deeply rooted and grounded in the love of Christ for He is the only source of true life. Life that is everlasting and abundant. That is the life that I desire. Thus, some weeding here and there in the garden of my life might be a good thing.
Matthew 16: The all-important question, in fact the most important question a person can ever answer is asked here in this passage. In verse 15, Jesus questions Peter, “But, who do you say that I am.” It doesn’t matter who my roommate says Christ is. It doesn’t matter who my parents say He is. What matters is who I say He is. Is He “the Christ, the Son of the Living God” to me? Do I give Him the precedence that He deserves as the Lord, the Son of God? Or do I give Him the regard I give to the prophets of ancient times, whose words, not so much irrelevant as less significant are often skimmed over in my daily Bible reading?
Matthew 17: So often, I find myself afraid. Afraid of people, afraid of circumstances, afraid of myself. However, when the disciples were faced with fear, Jesus’ words are extremely comforting: “Arise, and do not be afraid.” It is a two-step process that interestingly enough involves first the subject’s actions and then his will. “Arise” – this is an act of the body. It does not involve the desire, but the physical response. “Do not be afraid” – this is an act of the will. A choice not to give in to fear, even when it makes sense to.
Matthew 18: I appreciate greatly the verses that regard “Godly Reproof.” This only recently became an issue when people I am in close contact with, decided that they wanted to have special time to get together and hash out issues that really should only be dealt with on a personal level. Here is seems that the first step is a one on one confrontation that is not designed to humiliate or embarrass. If accepted, the buck can stop there. I know that that is how I would prefer to be confronted over a personal sin and I hope that I would treat someone else with that same respect. (Verses 15-17)
Matthew 19: With my impending marriage I found verse 5 to be particularly intriguing. “And he shall cleave to his wife.” This action of “cleaving” cannot be accomplished from a distance, either physical, emotional or spiritual. For a man to cleave to his wife, he must be present to her. When Christ encounters the question of divorce later on in verse 9, it would seem that the reason for divorce might possibly be that lack of closeness between spouses. That separation occurs because of unfaithfulness. Other than marital unfaithfulness, Jesus’ attitude towards divorce is, “No divorce, no excuses.”
Matthew 20: Christ’s identity is revealed in verse 28, by His service. Rather than presenting Himself as the King of Creation and Master of the Forces of Nature, He highlights His true mission: to suffer and die. Christ came with the specific purpose of serving. Not only serving, but serving without expectations of reciprocation. Have I ever served with such pure motives? When I do a practical service for a friend, do I hope to receive a favor back? Do I send an uplifting text message to my boyfriend to make his day a little brighter, or do I hope to hear some encouraging words in return? If Christ was a servant, how much more should I be a servant!
Matthew 21: In chapter 21 there are several parables given: The Parable of the Two Sons, The Parable of the Householder and the Parable of the Marriage Feast. How immensely practical these parables all are! Who has not known young men? Who has not known a boss or CEO? Who has not been to a wedding? Even in our day, where the context has often been separated from the story, these parables are just that: Parables of daily living. The reach the soul of the average person.
Matthew 22: If even Jesus showed respect for the government then how much more should I. What a peculiar instance this is. The God of all creation comes down to earth and… pays taxes? It is also interesting to note that the God of all creation didn’t even have the money on His person. He had to ask to be handed a coin. What humility it must have taken, for the God who made the materials for that coin to be minted from, to ask for it to be handed to Him.
Matthew 23: How often has Christ wanted to gather me to Himself and comfort me and I “would not?” Is this a regular occurrence? Do I frequently refuse His comforting arms and instead rest myself in the arms of what? Achievements, other people, privacy? What do I allow to come between me and my Savior when He most desires to hold me in His grasp?
Matthew 24: With the terrible prophecy concerning the End Times, the question is begged, “Am I ready?” What does it mean to be ready? The American Church seems to portray “ready” as having a certain number of “spiritual kudo points” racked up after your name like a boy scout. I can’t imagine this to be correct though. I would imagine that “ready” is measured in relationship to Christ and understanding of Him. Am I ready?
Matthew 25: In verse 21, we see joy linked with stewardship and service. Just like the Levitical Priests were commanded not to wear wool, or any other garment that “causes sweat” as a picture of the comfort of Christian service, in verse 21 the “Good and faithful slave” is invited into the “joy of the Master.” And what joy that must be! With faithfulness in little comes the opportunity for faithfulness in more. God created man to feel the satisfaction of hard work done well. How much more incredible to be rewarded with the “joy of the Master.”
Matthew 26: What am I willing to give to Christ? Am I willing to give my money? My time? Both? This woman in verses 7-13 did not hesitate to give everything. Perhaps that perfume was her dowry… If so, she was giving away her only hope of a lasting, earthly relationship in favor of blessing her Savior. This is not only big. It is extravagant. It is costly. It is everything. Am I willing to give up everything, like this woman did in order to bring blessing to my Savior Who gave me everything?
Matthew 27: There is a fascinating connection between myself and Barabbas. Christ died in Barabbas’ place. Christ died in my place. Christ’s death set Barabbas free. His death set me free as well. Barabbas was a sinner worthy of death. I am also a sinner worthy of death. This passage provides a beautiful picture of the extravagance of Christ’s love and sacrifice on behalf of those who least deserve it.
Matthew 28: Where would I go if I truly believed that Christ was with me? I’d like to think that I’d travel the world and spread the gospel, but would I even go across the street? Talk to that person at the grocery store? Help an elderly lady carry her bags? Help a housemate with her homework? Speak that word of encouragement to my boyfriend? There is so much in life I believe I do not do out of fear of rejection or criticism. But Christ is with me. My identity and worth rest secure in Him alone. I have nothing now to fear!
Mark 1: In Mark, Jesus really is shown to be extremely powerful. The focus is much less on the human aspect of God as the powerful aspect of God in the flesh. In verse 36 there is an interesting verb: ‘Hunted.’ “And Simon and His companions hunted Him.” This is peculiar. Do I hunt Jesus when I don’t know where He is? This verb shows an active pursuit of the man the disciples had come to love and trust. That love and trust should provoke the same pursuit by me as well.
Mark 2: Another area that Mark displays Jesus’ power in is His power over the Sabbath. I find it fascinating that even though the Jews were the first culture to take a day off every week, even this day of rest that was ordered by God Himself was perverted. Man seems to have a need to be in control. Man’s takeover of the Sabbath was not only legalistic, but also a usurpation of the authority of Christ over the Sabbath. Man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for man and man’s Lord is Lord over the Sabbath.
Mark 3: Jesus picked out His own disciples. He summoned those who He wanted, called them to Him and they came. This sounds like solid Calvinism to me. But He didn’t stop at appointing them, where many college students seem to stop in their debates. He appointed them to be with Him, to preach Him and to cast out demons in His name. He went so far as to simply change one of their identities, from shifty and insecure to a powerful rock. We mustn’t stop at the debate about predestination. We must continue with the power we have been given and do the Lord’s work.
Mark 4: With Jesus there are pop quizzes. In verse 10, Jesus pulls the disciples aside and checks to make sure they understand what it was that He told them. He seems to do this in life too. At least in my life. I learn something about the word, or am personally convicted about something and then I go to church and hear a message on it. It’s as if He’s saying, “Did you get it, Abby? Did you hear what I told you? Yes, that was Me!” It’s so comforting to know that it’s not just my wild imagination, but God speaking through His Word and His people.
Mark 5: There is great contrast in chapter five. First, Jesus displays confidence and power as He heals a man filled with many demons. I have never personally witnessed anyone who was possessed by a demon, but I would imagine that it would be scary. Yet, the Jesus who commands the many demons to flee, with strength in His voice also reaches out His strong hand to lift up a dead little girl and bring her back to life. The contrast is incredible. Jesus was able to handle any situation that was given Him.
Mark 6: Wow, Jesus is cool. How many other people’s gods walk on water just for the sake of walking on water? This is amazing. He is so powerful, so…well…God. But He’s also just… Cool! It almost seem sacrilegious to say that and I know some people who would say it is, but come on! My God walks on water just because He can! My God is big enough to still the wave, and take an evening stroll on them if He wants to. I wonder how much of creation is simply because it tickles His funny bone. I mean…explain giraffes!
Mark 7: I verse 37, after Jesus heals the blind mankind of weirdly, it is said of Him “He does all things well.” This is so true. God doesn’t just do things, He does them well. He made the world in six days and takes a lifetime to build a person’s character. He is meticulous and careful. He is also creative and expressive. When Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding at Cana, He didn’t just make wine, His wine was the best the wedding had. God can do things better than anyone else.
Mark 8: I read somewhere that when Jesus says, “whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it,” the word “life” is actually the word psyche. Am I willing, not simply to give up my physical life, but my self opinion? I don’t know. I cling pretty tightly to what I think and feel about me. I’m pretty self-centered. But to enter into abundant life, Christ would ask me to give up that idea of self-worth and place my worth in Him only. That’s a lot to ask and a long way to go. I want to find my identity in Him.
Mark 9: I like Jesus. I don’t just like Him because He’s kind and gentle. He is truly a man’s man. A true man is supposed to be powerful when it comes to protecting His family. When Jesus is talking about those who are children and those who are young in the faith, He’s pretty scary. I’m so glad to be marrying someone like this. He is kind and gentle, but go after his family and you’re in trouble. How cool is it that Jesus has the same protective instincts about His own family? You can’t really go much farther than suffering torture to save your family from an eternity in hell.
Mark 10: Verses 6-9 have become especially pertinent to me in the last day or so. As I was talking with my soon to be fiancé about what it will take and how much it will cost for us to get by when we’re married, I was struck by the complexness of it all. Life is hard! Marriage is permanent! This is not a new revelation for me, I’ve realized since entering a marriage intended relationship with him that it’s very final, but wow! What God puts together, no one at all must separate. Not the two people He joins, no one outside of them. That’s a big deal. It’s an incredible thought to simply be joined by God to another human being for the rest of my earthly existence!
Mark 11: Here’s another case of “Scary Jesus.” I’m really getting to like this. Jesus isn’t just fierce when it comes to protecting His family, He’s fierce when it comes to protecting His house. I think this is a good quality in a man. He should be protective over that which is his own. Here, Jesus isn’t just defending property though, He’s defending the people who go to this place to be close to His Father. It’s comforting to know that as my High Priest, Jesus defends my ability to be close to God too. If something is getting between me and God, Jesus will remove it, with force if necessary.
Mark 12: I wonder if I have ever loved God with all my Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength? I’m sure that even if I had three of them going all at once in some selfless act one would go awry. Maybe I’d be feeling the right thing, believing the right thing and physically doing the right thing, but what is it if my mind goes the wrong way? Or what if I had my soul mind and strength in the right place and my heart goes astray? This is hard to live up to. Christ doesn’t just require most of me, He requires all of me.
Mark 13: Even Jesus does not know the hour of His return, but He seems to expect His people to have a certain amount of knowledge regarding the events surrounding His return. This creates an odd tension between knowledge and faith. Obviously there are signs that would denote the impending nature of the rapture, however, if even the Son of God doesn’t know when this glorious event will take place then how could any of His followers know? Jesus also offers consolation to those who are going to suffer with the promise that the Holy Spirit will be with them and give them words.
Mark 14: In regards to Mary of Bethany, Jesus says, “She did what she could.” Mary didn’t do anything too spectacular, it was simply what she could do. Yes, it was somewhat extravagant, but it was reasonable. Peter on the other hand swears that he won’t deny Jesus, but then when he is asked to pray he falls asleep. Not only that, but he caves in and denies Jesus completely at the questioning of, not a Roman soldier, but a slave girl. I see so much of myself in Peter. On the surface, yes, I am willing to commit. Underneath I tend to be lazy and wavering at times.
Mark 15: All the characters in the Passion Narrative seem to react in very different ways. Jesus stands out above them all in the integrity of His sacrifice. When offered a drink to dull the pain Jesus refuses it. When I am in pain, even a little, the ibuprophen bottle is right on hand. Jesus was truly…well…tough! Different characters give, and it’s the unexpected ones who do. Joseph of Arimethea courageously asks for the body of Jesus. Peter disappears. The women stay around until Jesus has been buried. The strong ones are not the ones you expect.
Mark 16: Just as Matthew begins his account giving place to women in the story of Jesus, Mark finishes his account by including women. Jesus seemed to be surrounded by them in a way unlike the cultural norm prescribes. They appear in His family history. He speaks to them respectfully even if they don’t deserve it. He first reveals His resurrected body to a woman. I really love the fact that Jesus made a place in His story for women not unlike myself. These are not “good little church girls.” They are scandalous, interesting and devoted.
Luke 1: I wonder if I am ever “tongue tied” because of unbelief. Zechariah lost the ability to speak until an appointed time because he didn’t believe that something so odd could happen to him. In Acts and in Matthew Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit who would give words when they were needed. This story is almost a parallel. Faith produces a willingness to hear the Spirit’s guidance and to speak. Lack of faith takes the words away. I want to be able to speak words of life into people’s lives, but do I believe they will come? Do I believe the seemingly detached promises God has spoken into my life?
Luke 2: When I was very young I remember Mama pulling me up to sit on her lap every afternoon. That was the time we’d spend memorizing. Mama had me memorize Psalm 23, The Song of Miriam from Exodus and Luke chapter 2 verses 1-20. The first part of this passage has been burned into my mind so well that I’m sure I’ll never forget it. But there is more that comes after. Simeon and Anna were both actively looking for the Messiah. I like that. I want to be one who actively looks for my savior in the every day. Also, they were in the Temple. They were actively seeking God in His house. I want not only to visit “His House” on Sunday mornings, but I also want to make my house His as well.
Luke 3: I find it really interesting that God went so far as to give His only Son Who He stuck with a human form a genealogy. God didn’t dump Jesus in the middle of the desert like the aliens do to Daniel Craig in the beginning of Cowboys and Aliens. God gave Him a family History, probably a lot like my own. In my family tree there are rum runners, prostitutes, horse thieves, preachers (who in some cases were the horse thieves.) swindlers and perfect Adventists (my mother’s side.) Jesus was so human that His family tree was full of people. Ordinary people.
Luke 4: Jesus seemed to have a really clear idea of His mission. One can only assume that this clarity came from the time He spent with the Father. In chapter four alone, Jesus quotes several Scriptures referring to Himself and explains His mission in verse 43. He wasn’t just sitting around wondering what it was that He was supposed to do with His life. I feel like college students do this a lot. I do this sometimes to. However, if I’m spending time with the Father and just doing “The next right thing,” in McMath’s immortal words, I can be doing the will of the Father too.
Luke 5: Experiencing the miraculous is truly not grounds for solid faith. If it were I would have no need to ever wonder if God would take care of my current need based on one or more past experiences of God providing for me. I wish it were true that one miracle could be performed and viola, instant gratification followed by a lifetime of faith. But I am more like the disciples. Yes, they had seen Jesus work wonders before, but they do not find Him capable of guiding fish into a net for their provision. Faith is a choice that is made every moment for a lifetime.
Luke 6: Jesus really does not mince words. He says exactly what He means to say, not matter how shocking it may sound. In this chapter there are many shocking words: Love your enemies. Whoever hits you on the chick, offer him the other one. Lend your stuff to people not expecting to ever see it again. Don’t judge or God will judge you. Wow. This is powerful stuff and yet we as believers seem to tuck this passage away and move on with our lives. When I was little the phrase What Would Jesus Do? was a really big deal. I think I even had a bracelet with WWJD on it. Yet I wonder if we really do want to know the answer to that question.
Luke 7: It’s oddly comforting to know that even John the Baptist wanted to be assured that Jesus was Who He said He was. It seems like great men of faith like Billy Graham or Brother Andrew are perfect… until we inspect them close up. They all have doubts, sins, fears in their lives. If we look no further than the amount of money their ministry is making we are missing the point entirely. John the Baptist was a successful minister, yet even he had fears and doubts. Even more comforting are the words that “he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
Luke 8: In verse 39 after Jesus has cast the demons out of the man at Gadara in sent them into the pigs (which any good Jew should not have had in the first place) He makes an interesting statement: “Return to your house and describe…” Return to where? Your house. Not next door, not the other side of the world. Your house. Your sphere of influence. The people that you are to be nurturing. I have seen many people desire to cross the globe for the sake of the gospel yet not face their family and explain their faith. I too am guilty of this. If I can’t tell my own family what God has done for me there is no way I can tell a tribe in Africa.
Luke 9: I find myself confronted with Christ’s question “But who do you say that I am,” again on a particularly significant day. I have been wondering if my entire Christian life has been something of a sham. I have known only the Christian faith from the time I was born and have built assumption on assumption about the doctrines I hold to be true. Which part of this belief system is my own, though and which part did I inherit from the surrounding influences? I want my faith to be my own. I want to be able to state with confidence who I believe Christ to be.
Luke 10: In verse 21, Jesus says that God has revealed things to babies that He has not revealed to the intelligent. I’d like to think of myself as one who understands the Word, knows it backwards and forwards. I am like the Pharisee in the story of the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet, or the lawyer that later on in verse 29 who wishes to justify himself. Intellectually, I know that only Christ can justify me, but does my heart know this? I am such a Pharisee. I appear to be a good Christian. Knowledge has been almost repulsive to me this past week. I usually enjoy picking apart big theological vocabulary, but lately I’ve only been frustrated by it. I just want to be changed!!!
Luke 11: Again I find myself making a perfect parallel between my own life and the Pharisees whom Jesus rebukes. In verses 42-44, He tells them that they pay their tithes but disregard the justice and love of God. However, even their tithes are not enough because Christ says that they should have done all of it. I cannot be perfect! I have tried! I have spent years attempting to be a straight A student who is capable and confident. I have run and run and now I am weary and can run no longer. Again, Jesus says that the Pharisees love being respected and noticed for their holiness, but on they are really like a casket the holds no more than a dead body. This is how I feel. A shell of a person concealing the fact that I am sleepwalking through life. Yet as Jesus says in verse 44, no one would ever know it for looking at me!
Luke 12: In verse 15, Jesus warns against greed with the words, “Beware…of every form of greed…” and later on it speaks of a man who laid up his treasure here and was “not rich towards God.” My treasure has always been in my mind. I only ever get as far as loving God with all of my mind. My heart stays out of the picture for the most part. But that seems to be the part of me that He wants. My treasure is knowledge and it is laid up in my head. This must make me a pauper in the eyes of God. How discouraging. If, as it says in verse 34 my heart will follow my treasure then I have very little reward to look forward to in the kingdom of heaven. What God must think of me.
Luke 13: I wonder how many times Jesus has wanted to shelter me under His wings but I refused Him. I don’t know if the refusal for Christ’s comfort is even a voluntary one. The result, as seen in verse 35 is desolation. My desire is not to be desolate but to abide in Christ the way He talks about in John chapter 15. How incredible to know that Christ desires me to abide in Him as well. He desires to shield me, just as “a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” Being human my first instinct is not to seek the love of Almighty God but to pursue my own agenda. Be competent.
Luke 14: Jesus’ teaching always tends to go against whatever the grain of human nature is. I see the instincts in myself to be competent, in control and to always be responsible. Whatever the situation, I must be good enough. I think if I lived during this time I would be a Pharisee. I’m such a rule follower that I might not pull the ox out of the hole on the Sabbath day. My logic has always been “God loves me because I am good.” However, the dangerous logic that follows this is, “If I cease to be good, God will not love me.” Here in chapter 14, God commands that we make less of ourselves. How contrary to my own plan.
Luke 15: In chapter fifteen Jesus tells three parables regarding the feelings of God over the repentant sinner: The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin and the Lost Son. Progressively these lost items more upwards in value. Even the lost sheep is rejoiced over. I wonder if the repentant sinner spoken of in this chapter is one who has never believed before, but now chooses to or if the repentant sinner is one such as I who realized they have been habitually making a mess of their walk with God and repents.
Luke 16: What a frightening picture of hell Jesus paints at the end of chapter sixteen! In verse 31 when he says “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead,” the audience must be taken into account. To whom is He speaking? Those who should have known what Moses and the Prophets said about His coming. And why did they not know? They did not understand. They worshipped their minds instead of the true God and worked to accomplish their own salvation by means of keeping the Law that was meant to point to Christ.
Luke 17: Three powerful words are uttered in verse 32 of this chapter: “Remember Lot’s wife.” Lot’s wife who gazed back upon her burning city and was immediately brought to her own destruction. Looking back with longing at the world is always a source of trouble. I can speak from my own experience here. In verse 33, however Jesus urges: “Whoever seeks to keep his life shall lose it, and whoever loses his life shall preserve it.” I’m on a constant path for self- preservation. The thought of willingly losing my life in day to day affairs is repulsive to me. And yet, it is this repulsion that I am so offended by.
Luke 18: Once again the image of the Pharisee rises up before me and I find myself looking into my own reflection. I have always tried to be good. I have always believed that to please God I must be good. I must be in control. I must have my life all worked out. However this Pharisee is so in control that he doesn’t recognize his need. He goes to church like he should, he fasts twice a week and he pays his tithes. I go to church, I do devotions, I pay my tithe and I assume it’s enough. My mind is reached but my heart remains cold and ignorant of its own depravity.
Luke 19: Once again the Pharisee and his friends reappear. This time they are calling on Christ to rebuke those around Him for praising Him. Much like the people in the Pharisee’s house in Luke chapter 7, who wanted Him to stop the immoral woman from touching Him these Pharisee’s look down on those calling out in worship to Jesus. I can’t say I’ve never looked down on someone who was worshipping perhaps more enthusiastically that I would. By the end of the chapter they are trying to find ways to destroy Jesus.
Luke 20: Here again the intellect is pitted against Christ as a weapon. The chief priests, the scribes and the elders join together to trap Jesus with words. Ultimately it was words that got Jesus’ killed. Of course Jesus has the answer to their questions, and thankfully so. But I wonder what my words do to Jesus. In James it talks about how words have extreme power. My words have extreme power. Later on the Herodians try to trap Jesus. However, ultimately Christ’s words are so infinitely powerful that it leaves the people marveling.
Luke 21: When persecution begins, believers are encouraged to “lift up their heads, because their redemption is drawing near.” Having never been persecuted I can offer no real feelings about this passage other than this: When my life becomes uncomfortable the last place I look is up. I remember last semester when my computer died during Missions Conference. All I could see was the inconvenience involved. I didn’t look up to see the Savior. No, I looked around trying to solve my troubles on my own. Hopefully when these verses come to pass, I’ll be in heaven. I would certainly hope that as I grow in maturity I will better be able to handle inconvenience and frustration.
Luke 22: I must have read this story a hundred times but once again I am struck by how brave Jesus was. There was no reason for Him to be brave. I would have been terrified. And He must have been as well, sweating great drops of blood and all, but His actions betray a deep seated courage that came from a life of integrity. When He is abandoned by His disciples in His hour of greatest need, He does not turn against them as I would, but protects them from themselves as the multitude comes to arrest Him.
Luke 23: How tired my Savior must have been on this awful night. Being carried from one place to another and intermittently beaten, question and beaten again. It must have been exhausting for both the body and the mind. I wonder if His feelings were hurt as well. After all, He had gone through all the trouble of leaving heaven, a perfect place and living in a horrible sin-filled environment only to be rejected by the people He loved enough to die for. That must have been a terrible feeling to carry around inside as He was condemned to die.
Luke 24: I absolutely love that the first people to see Jesus alive are women. Being one, I know that we have the hardest time keeping secrets. Nothing gives us more pleasure than gushing together about whatever wonderful thing has happened most recently. It must have given Jesus pleasure as well to allow two women, whose testimony would not have been enough in a court case to be the first witnesses of His resurrected body. Christ gives value to women the way no one else does. My value is found only in Him. He chooses to allow me to have a part in His story and that is absolutely miraculous.
John 1: For the “Word to become flesh and dwell among us,” a transition between abstract and tangible, 2D and 3D is required. Words are symbols. Pictures of a reality. The becoming of flesh required a transition between the higher reality of God’s world to the lower reality of our world. Have I left the “Word” in His 2D form, confined to the stories of the preacher on Sundays, or have I allowed Him to “become flesh” in my life? Do I confide in Him? Spend time with Him? What can I do to allow Christ to have more place in my life?
John 2: I find it interesting that God Almighty sent His only son to earth and had Him perform many miracles, not beginning with the healing of the sick, raising of the dead or giving back of sight to the blind. God allowed His Son to perform a miracle for the sole purpose of avoiding embarrassment! If the couple had run out of their wine at the wedding it would have been a shame to the family who had clearly not prepared well enough for the ceremony. How kind of God to help a young couple have a nice wedding!
John 3: All my life as a believer I have heard the words, “You are saved,” “You are going to heaven,” “God loves you,” I even heard once “God is pleased with you” and that just about knocked my socks off. However, the words of John 3:18 seem to be frequently lost to the spotlight of John 3:16. “He who believes in Him is not judged.” Wait a second… That’s me! I, Abigail Carlyle am not judged! I am free! God is not out to punish me! That is a huge encouragement for me in my daily life. I have nothing that is worth fearing.
John 4: I want the water that is talked about in verse 14. The kind of water that does not leave me thirsty. Even as a believer I tend to try to fill up on less than holy things. I try to quench my thirst for Christ with a good self-image, nice clothes, a good reputation or even hard work. It’s not that any of those things are bad, but they always leave me thirsty. I want to look to Christ to fill up the void in my soul. The void that He made to fill with Himself.
John 5: Even Jesus was here on earth not to accomplish His own agenda, but to accomplish the Father’s will. If the human form of God was willing to do what He was asked, how much more should I be! I have trouble in my day to day life when my agenda is interrupted by the unexpected needs of others, yet Jesus was never nasty to someone who needed His help. As far as I can tell, He never turned away someone who was looking for Him. I want to be that way too.
John 6: In this chapter, Jesus doesn’t just dive right in and perform a miracle. He gives thanks first! I wonder what it was He was giving thanks for? The food? The fact that He could feed thousands of people? The fact that He was bringing glory to God by this miracle? The fact that God had provided the loaves and fishes to perform the miracle with? This is true humility because Jesus doesn’t simply wow people and then move on. He pauses for a quiet moment of thanks.
John 7: Jesus did not take credit for His own teaching. Jesus wasn’t just an average quality teacher either. People called Him Rabbi almost right off the bat. He uses all different kinds of styles and creates phrases that are easily memorable, yet He doesn’t stick a copyright stamp on any of it. If I ever teach people the Word, even in this upcoming semester, I hope to not teach it as if it is my own, but the words of my Father through me.
John 8: Jesus appears to have a habit of early morning church attendance: “And early in the morning He came again into the temple…” The word “Came” here also interests me. “Came” implies that it was the place gone out from, and then the place returned to. The center of activity, as in a phrase like “I came home.” I greatly enjoy evening worship at my home church. It’s a place I can come to like a home away from home at the end of a long day. A place for my world to revolve around.
John 9: The man in this chapter who was born blind was not that way because of His own sin. Though he was born in sin, and conceived in sin the way David talks about in Psalm 139. His infirmity was put in place so that God could reveal Himself to man by taking it away. I also was conceived in sin and no doubt bear some infirmity too. It could be a personality thing, or a lack of people skills. I want to let God show Himself big through me!
John 10: I want to know Jesus voice the way that He explains a sheep knows it’s shepherd’s voice. A shepherd does everything for the sheep in his care. He feeds them, cleans them, cuts their hair in the summer so they stay comfortable, puts oil on them to keep the flies away. He cares for them on a very intimate, day to day level and they hear him. I want to hear and recognize the voice of the One Who cares for me this way. It is so important to be able to hear the Lord Jesus when He speaks.
John 11: The raising of Lazarus seems to be the miracle of miracles. The pinnacle of achievement. The capstone of accomplishment. The human mind can almost wrap around the idea of being healed of disease or cured of blindness because medical marvels have taken the edge off of that shock. However, before Jesus there was simply no precedent for a dead person coming back after three days. That is something so shocking that the human mind cannot grasp it fully.
John 12: Mary gave a hundred percent to Jesus. She didn’t only do what she had to do. She didn’t squeak by with the very least gift possible. She went to the absolute extreme. Am I willing to go to the extreme for Jesus? Not in a martyr’s way perhaps, but in my everyday life. I need to learn to be more open to His leading and be more willing to be uncomfortable. Worry is something I do a lot of. I need to learn to trust and follow.
John 13: I find it fascinating that one of the last things Jesus tells His disciples is to be nice to one another. And how we fail at this! Simply living in a community setting brings out feelings of annoyance and frustration that need not be. However, if it was important enough to be one of Jesus’ last words to His disciples, even before dying a painful death, how important it must be! Do I love others the way He loves me? Well, no. Is it important? Apparently very much so.
John 14: I misplace my peace quite frequently. Whatever the situation is that is bothering me, I tend to fixate on it and go over and over it in my mind. The worst part is that sometimes, these problems that I fixate on are ones that I can do absolutely nothing about. However, Jesus has promised me His peace. Not just any peace. His peace! This should take away all my stress and worry. I have nothing to fear. I can believe in Jesus and His power to control the situation.
John 15: I like that Jesus pauses before His death to make arraignments for His disciples’ care. My care. He does not simply depart to His death and leave them stranded as orphans. He says He will not do that. Just as someone would perhaps buy life insurance or make a will, Jesus arranges for the Holy Spirit to come and care for His disciples, continue their instruction and fill them with His presence. The Holy Spirit is here for me just as He was for the disciples. The Comforter that Jesus sent is available.
John 16: As Jesus continues to explain His departure and His sending of the Spirit, it’s interesting to me that He does not make hardly any statements about Himself. The tone is one of a man who is clearly upset, but His thoughts are not about His impending suffering. No, they are about the care of the men He has grown to love and invested in over the course of three years. He cares about them, more than about Himself! How unselfish of Jesus to spend so much effort comforting His disciples at a time like this.
John 17: So often I think I try to bypass the discomforts of the world all together. Or at least I expect to. But here, Jesus is speaking to the Father on behalf of His children and He asks that they not be taken out of the world, but left in the world and kept from the evil one. Jesus didn’t bypass any pain or suffering or discomfort being fully human. Why should I? What if I looked at life as a citizen of somewhere greater and walked through the stress and discomfort with my eyes up? How much more like Jesus I would be!
John 18: Jesus doesn’t wait for those who are coming for Him to get there. He goes out to meet them! What courage! Just as His protectiveness is portrayed in the care He has taken thus far for His disciples it is manifest even more in the fact that He goes out to meet the trouble and doesn’t wait for it to come to Him. Another courageous action along these lines was when He told Judas “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Jesus was not a coward. Jesus was a man’s man. Courageous and brave.
John 19: In Oregon when the law was passed that patients with terminal diseases could have an assisted suicide, one of the arguments was that everyone has the right to die with dignity. Though I fully disagree with the argument that man should control his own death Jesus certainly gave up His “right” to die with dignity. Everything that happens in this chapter was meant to shame and embarrass Him and yet He did not lose control of His tongue, He did not get angry. Jesus possessed Himself with dignity even during and undignified death.
John 20: I don’t understand why Thomas gets such a bad rap for not believe that Jesus had risen from the dead. Every other disciple had seen something that he hadn’t. This probably seemed unfair to him. Sometimes I don’t understand why other people see things in the accounts of the Lord that I do not. It seems unfair to me too. Sometimes, I ask myself “Why won’t Jesus show Himself to me the way He did to them?” But Jesus did appear again and single out Thomas for special attention. I long to have the specific attention of Jesus.
John 21: Building on my observations from last chapter, Jesus here is telling Peter to simply follow Him. I spend so much time looking at other people’s worship, analyzing their relationship to Jesus and wondering why I can’t have the same thing. Well, of course I can’t have the same thing. I’m a different person. What is my relationship with Jesus like? Who do I say that He is? Is He my Lord and my God? It shouldn’t matter so much to me what my housemates or my boyfriend sees in Jesus. What should matter to me is my relationship with Jesus.
Acts 1: Between the end of Matthew and the beginning of Acts there seems to be an intermission. A pause. And then, a fresh start begins. The Savior who came and died is gone and nobody knows what to think. They have dedicated three years of their lives full time to this man and now He has left them the Holy Spirit (not there’s a new concept) to be upon them (another new idea) so that they can spread His gospel throughout the world. It’s like an enormous blank canvas left to be filled in by the lives and deaths of these men.
Acts 2: The gospel seems to be first preached the way we do it today here in the second chapter of Acts. When Peter giving his sermon and explaining why the disciples are suddenly speaking in languages foreign to them, but known by those in town for Passover, he says that Christ was delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God. I like that. Sometimes it seems like we as believers forget that it was a predetermined plan. God didn’t look down one day and say, “Oh, shoot! My creation just went out of control. Whatever shall I do?” No, He had a plan from the beginning and was willing to sacrifice what was of extreme value to Him so that He could be with us.
Acts 3: In chapter three when Peter and John are going to the temple to pray like the classic children’s song says they make a statement that is incredibly profound: “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you…” They had nothing that I do not have today. Okay, so a cessationist would roll over at that statement, but it’s true. They had the indwelling of the Spirit. So do I. Maybe I couldn’t heal a lame man, but what can I do even without silver or gold? It took a man with the indwelling of the Spirit (Stephen) to even wait tables.
Acts 4: It says in verse thirteen that when the Sanhedrin observed the confidence that Peter and John had they knew that the men had been with Jesus. This is fascinating. I have very little confidence about anything. I wimp out, freak out and lash out sometimes but I’m definitely not known for my confidence. I want to be confident in the gospel of Christ because it is my salvation. I believe it, but I do not communicate it. The gap between my heart and my mouth is too wide and I let my religion become a “private” thing all too often. I want to be with Jesus enough to have the boldness to speak His word in my sphere of influence.
Acts 5: Ananias and Sapphira are two people in whose shoes I have never put myself. And with good reason. No one wants to be the Pharisee in the story. No one wants to be the sinner. Everyone wants to be an apostle or the one who was healed of something in the story. But Ananias and Sapphira present a great picture of what pseudo spirituality does: it kills. Maybe not physically, but certainly spiritually. They were not required to sell their land and even if they did, they were at liberty to keep the proceeds. It was their land. However, in an effort to appear spiritual they sold it and kept some back. How often do I look around during chapel and say, “Wow, they look really spiritual, I want to be like that!” And then offer God worship that doesn’t come from my heart but is for the sole purpose of fitting in.
Acts 6: Tonight I get to go to the Salvation Army soup kitchen for my Practical Christian Ministry assignment and do basically what Stephen did. But that job looks so much better on him. I feel like I’m just well… waiting tables. I see my friends teaching Butanes people to speak English, doing street evangelism or teaching Sunday school but all I do is put on that red apron and wash bowls and serve food. And yet, that’s exactly what Stephen did and he did it with the empowerment of the Spirit! I wonder what would be different if I sought the Lord in my work at the Salvation Army. Maybe the atmosphere wouldn’t change, but I certainly would.
Acts 7: It’s strange that when Stephen is on trial before the Sanhedrin, he gives them a history lesson of their own history. Presumably they should already know all this. They know they are Jews, they know where they came from. They know who they are. But they missed something huge. They missed the fact that their entire history was leading somewhere: the life of Christ. Again, nobody wants to be the bad guy in the story, but I see myself in the Sanhedrin. I read the Old Testament all the time and I feel like I miss stuff. I speed read the genealogies. Browse through the Law of Moses. Virtually ignore the context behind the Minor Prophets. But all the time, I’m missing the direction it’s all heading: my salvation.
Acts 8: “…and he preached Jesus to him.” I realize that in Scripture there is a big difference between prescriptive and descriptive language. Some really whacky doctrines have come out of taking descriptive as prescriptive and vice versa. However, I would assert that this statement from verse 35 is almost prescriptive in nature. Especially when taken with Paul’s statement, “I have resolved to know nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” That message is so simple and it doesn’t need to be added to, edited or revised. Jesus is enough. All of Scripture revolves around that one event: the actual occurrence of the Gospel.
Acts 9: I love the fact that in this story and so often in life, God is working out one big picture from many different angles and using many different people. Paul and Ananias had never met each other before and they even came from completely different circles of friends. However, God had a plan that involved them both. God doesn’t just restrict man’s workings to his own immediate context. He brings people out of their circles and together to accomplish His ultimate purposes. I also find it interesting that Paul rebukes Peter for Judaizing later on and yet Peter has a much longer history with the Christian faith and Paul was the one with the extremely Jewish faith.
Acts 10: “The God of the Jews Gives Salvation to the Heathen” would be a good title for this chapter. God doesn’t just keep His chosen people His chosen people. I’d never really pondered this reality before. Not being a Jew, myself, that’s a reality I can really appreciate! And yet, the fact that this salvation is extended even to the Gentiles seems to come as a shock to the Jew, as seen in this chapter. Apparently salvation doesn’t immediately cure one of bigotry. Here, in verse 45, they are amazed because the non-Jews among them receive the same Holy Spirit that they had. Did they think that had been given a better salvation?
Acts 11: When Peter goes on to explain himself in this chapter as to why he is ministering to the Gentiles as well as the Jews, they are still riled up about the Holy Spirit being given to all believers. Even in all our spirituality, we seem to still have trouble with the idea of anyone but our own little circle being empowered to do the work of God. However, when Peter explains himself they “quieted down and glorified God, saying ‘Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.” This at least reads like a pretty big U-turn, especially with the words “well then…” The salvation of the Lord is truly for the Jew and the non-Jew, those who we think should be saved, and those we think shouldn’t be saved.
Acts 12: “But the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied.” That really seems to be a trend in the New Testament. Actually, it seems to be a trend in the church as a whole. In reading about the church fathers and Tertullian’s statement, “The blood of martyrs is the seeds of the church” it becomes evident that the church doesn’t seem to grow the way with think it should. It’s almost like having a tree that only grows during hurricane season, or a flower that only blossoms when there is a tsunami. It simply doesn’t make sense, no matter which way you spin it. But, it’s true. The word of the Lord continues to grow and multiply regardless of outside pressures.
Acts 13: In chapter thirteen, the first missionary journey takes place. It is a fitting comment that is made in verse two. Right at the beginning of the larger spread of the gospel, at least geographically speaking, it is stated: “…while they were ministering to the Lord.” So much of church ministry today seems to be focused on ministering to people. I hear the question asked so frequently “How can we better minister to our brothers and sisters here and across the world?” or perhaps “Let’s get together for a ministry meeting to talk about how we can expand this ministry to reach more people.” But this is not so in Acts 13. No, they are “ministering to the Lord,” which in turn reaches people by nature. The salvation of souls seems to be almost a side effect of the apostle’s ministry to the Lord.
Acts 14: Paul seems to have a knack for getting into trouble. In this chapter he is stoned. I don’t think I’d still be “in the ministry” after getting stoned once, much less more than that. Paul is a serious man’s man. He’s not a sissified, metrosexual wimp out to change the world by buying a nicer suit. No, he’s tough and strong and very, very brave. He has no qualms with taking the Gospel to the hard places. In the book of Acts, he also wants to go into a temple where people are rioting and the disciples have to stop him. Talk about fearlessness. Death seems to be no real obstacle for this guy.
Acts 15: Here they are again, the Pharisees. But these Pharisees are different they are believers. However, though these particular Pharisees have been saved, much like myself they are still preaching a works based religion and trying to get those who are new to the faith to follow the hyper-religious practices they have followed all their lives. If they want others to do it, presumably, they themselves are still practicing the Law of Moses while being saved by faith. Now, there’s an interesting paradox. And yet, this paradox is not entirely unfamiliar. Being a Pharisee of sorts, myself, I can understand the desire to see everyone fitting into a neat little box of legalism.
Acts 16: I found verse six of chapter sixteen to be particularly interesting. I’ve always thought of the Holy Spirit as wanting to evangelize the whole entire world as fast as is possible. However, in verse six it says that the Holy Spirit actually forbade them to “speak the Word in Asia.” How odd. Especially since the Great Commission says to preach the gospel to the “ends of the earth.” Clearly timing is actually part of the agenda though. I wonder what mission agencies do to explain this verse. Are there still places that the Holy Spirit has left evangelized for one reason or another?
Acts 17: Paul’s spirit was “provoked within him” regarding the idols that were located in the city of Athens. For a missionary I would certainly imagine that the heart would hurt upon seeing the idolatrous nature of the people he had come to serve. In his sermon on Mars Hill, he takes full advantage of the people of Athens’ belief in many idols and he uses the idol to the unknown god as a picture of the God who made all things. Paul was a brilliant preacher and caters to his audience’s understanding of the world around them. He doesn’t attempt to change them into “Little Pauls” Anywhere in his ministry. Instead he seeks to make them “Little Christs.”
Acts 18: Priscilla and Aquila present a great picture of ministry in marriage. They work together for the gospel and not apart. I wonder if it was the social norm for husbands and wives to do this in this time or if it was a symptom of the gospel’s influence on the city. Whatever the case, when the brilliant teacher Apollos comes to town yet is only acquainted with the baptism of John, Priscilla and Aquila together take him aside (presumably to not embarrass him) and explain “the way of God more accurately.” Thus, not only is this couple ministering to the church behind the scenes but they also understand the way of God more accurately than this impressive teacher.
Acts 19: An interesting theological dilemma occurs in chapter nineteen. When the believers at Ephesus are reached by Paul, they are asked if they received the Holy Spirit when they believed. There answer is quite stunning. Not only did they not receive Him, they had not even heard whether or not there was a Holy Spirit to receive! However, their filling with the Spirit does not come at their belief and baptism of repentance (John’s baptism) but at their baptism into Christ in the name of the Lord Jesus. Y6666
Acts 20: Again, Paul is no wimp afraid of death. In his farewell message to the Ephesian believers he speaks of his life as being not dear to himself that he may finish his course in the ministry which he has received. Now, I have always thought of death as an obstacle to ministry. One really can’t minister very effectively if they’re dead now can they? But Lazarus did. Jesus certainly did! The martyrs Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Perpetua, Felicity, Blandina, Paul, James and the others certainly did. Death may not be quite the obstacle to effective ministry that I had always thought it was.
Acts 21: Again in chapter 21, the Holy Spirit forbids one who is attempting to spread the Gospel from going to his chosen destination. I just find this so odd. I’ve heard so many sermons saying, “Hurry up! Go now! Sign here on the dotted line and we can have you in Africa by next week!” But never once have I heard a sermon on the Holy Spirit saying, “No, do not go there. I have a different plan for you.” Presumably if one is in close connection with the Holy Spirit one should listen to His guidance regarding missionary endeavors.
Acts 22: Paul has an “elevator pitch” fairly well outlined in his head. This is only one of several times that I have noticed he gives his testimony to a crowd of people. Each time they all seem quite similar. He outlines his conversion an includes the same high points, Christ appearing to him, Ananias giving him is sight back, etc. The testimony of the Lord’s work in Paul’s life seems to roll off his tongue rather easily and comfortably. I want to be able to share my testimony this way, but it’s nowhere near as exciting. However, the Lord is at work in my life and I want people to know it.
Acts 23: Ah, the Pharisee again. Only this time it is different. I am apparently not the only one who feels conviction for being “one of them.” Paul here identifies himself with the Pharisaical movement and as demonstrated earlier in the book, they too are members of God’s family. Paul calls himself “A Pharisee, a son of Pharisees.” This probably was both figurative and biological. Paul was well trained, knew and practiced the Law of Moses. However, even Paul who persecuted Christians was able to teach the Law of grace. What an act of grace itself.
Acts 24: Paul claims in verse sixteen of this chapter to attempt to “maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before man.” What a tricky line to walk. What seems good to man is not always what seems good to God. I am a people pleaser by nature and I spend a lot of effort trying to make people think the best of me. I want people to see me as blameless before them, but what about when that contradicts what God wants me to do? I’ve never really made any unpopular decisions in my whole life. Paul, on the other hand, did all kinds of unpopular things.
Acts 25: Paul gets bounced around much like Jesus before he was condemned. And like Jesus, there is nothing that anyone can accuse Paul of doing to keep him in jail. Nobody wants to take responsibility for his condemnation because there is clearly something different about this man. He knows what he believes, and oddly enough, what he believes cannot be condemned as an offence to the government. God’s Law of love seems to work like that. Many religious certainly are offensive to the government and should be condemned as such, but Jesus said “give to Caesar what is Caesars,” which when applied to all of Christianity means showing respect. Paul demonstrates this respect even though he is treated unfairly.
Acts 26: Again, Paul is giving his testimony/elevator pitch, this time to Agrippa. The testimony of an individual is hard to refute and Paul seems to be maximizing this opportunity. Paul is very, very clear about his job as a believer and his mission as an individual and he seems to be quite content with it. He knows his identity is sure in Christ and he has the life story to back it up with. He also has a very clear understanding of the gospel that he preaches. Words seem to be a powerful weapon in his arsenal.
Acts 27: Paul’s life seems to be one mess that builds up, is overcome, mellows out and then leads to another mess. Between the shipwrecks, the beatings, the stonings, the trials and all the hatred I can see how one could get discouraged. Paul had every reason to become unhappy or even quit. People have left the ministry for less. But Paul perseveres. I wonder if he ever wanted to quit. I wonder if he even thought about quitting. Perhaps on a storm tossed ship one night he considered it. But whatever the case, he seems to be more committed to the work of Christ than even his very life.
Acts 28: The Gospel of Acts begins with the giving of the Spirit and lots of excitement and miracles and manifestations of the Spirit, but it ends with a near shipwreck and near death of an apostle. Odd closing words are given from Isaiah speaking of people who can hear, but won’t understand and can see but don’t perceive. This is not exactly the epilogue that anyone would expect. But it’s true. It’s how life works sometimes. The very last words are the most encouraging of all though: Paul continued to preach Christ to all who came to him “with openness, unhindered.”
Romans 1: When Paul opens up his letter to the Romans, he doesn’t start by puffing himself up, playing on his authority or emphasizing his power. Instead, he introduces himself as a “bond-servant of Christ Jesus.” Before launching into a theological discussion contrasting the results of justice and the results of faith he proclaims himself to be a servant by choice who has stayed with his master, though he could be free. Now, there’s an interesting place to begin one of the most famous letters of all time! Paul is truly different from everyone else.
Romans 2: My inner Pharisee is rolling over in her grave at Paul’s words about the pagan moralizers who are really no better off than the Jew who knows the law and is condemned by it. Not only do the Jewish mucky mucks seem to have a tendency to flaunt their morals, but so do the gentiles. However, those Jews who know the law backwards, forwards and sideways have missed the elephant in the room: they are being condemned by the Law they know so well. Does it not occur to these people (or me for that matter) that they keep messing up?
Romans 3: “For through the Law comes the knowledge of sin…” Here, Paul expounds on chapter two by explaining that the Law absolutely, positively cannot justify you. And yet, here I go with the rest of the Pharisees, attempting to show of my incredibly morality and responsibility thinking that, “Hey, if I work hard enough, God has to like me.” What a joke. God doesn’t have to like me. God doesn’t have to love me. God doesn’t have to do anything for me. God owes me absolutely nothing. And yet when Paul defines justification in verses 21-28, he explains that the God who owes me nothing gave me everything.
Romans 4: In chapter four, Paul goes back to Abraham and explains the faith of a man who believed God and was counted with the righteous because of it. In verses 21-22, Paul reaches his climax by explaining that Abraham did not waver though circumstantially, God’s promises seemed nullified. No, Abraham was fully assured that what God had promised, God could provide. What has God promised me? Justification. Can I provide this for myself? Heck, no. Did God? Absolutely. It sounds so simple, but only God can do what God can do. I can’t keep the promises of God for myself.
Romans 5: I think that chapter five of Romans has to be one of the most beautiful chapters in all of the Bible. Paul starts off with a very bold theses: “We have peace with God.” Then he explains the “how” of this theses. We have peace with God because at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. I love C.S. Lewis’ explanation of the world. It is a world at war. When, at one point I was on the fighting for the enemy I was reconciled to God through the death of His son. (Verse 10.) Thus, I now have peace with God as I have surrendered and chosen to fight for the right side.
Romans 6: Paul makes a great case that is often ignored: Your old self is dead. To quote Princes Bride – “ There is a difference between dead, dead, and mostly dead.” I tend to think of my old self as “mostly dead.” But this is not the case. To refer back to the previous analogy: I’m no longer fighting on the wrong side of the war; why act like it? That part of me that was at war with God is now dead. I have peace. My old self is not “mostly dead.” It is “dead, dead,” buried in baptism and united with Christ in His death only to be raised to a life of peace with Him.
Romans 7: Paul continues his discourse on the believer’s state of death to sin. So many times I have heard the phrase “dead to sin” but it doesn’t really mean a whole lot. Am I blind or stupid? Who knows. But, it’s like the phrase just rolls of my back as a fact I learned in Sunday school. A fact not unlike “the sky is blue,” or “ice is cold.” These facts are useless without context. Without the context of my own soul, the fact that I am dead to sin means very little. But here, Paul seems to be separating himself from his sin nature: “Now, no longer am I the one doing it.” Wait… What? Is Paul not taking responsibility for himself? No, because it is simply not himself. How I wish I understood this.
Romans 8: Paul now spends quite a significant bit of time focusing on the “perks” of a life that is hid in Christ: 1.) The Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, thus you are under no obligation to your flesh. 2.) You have received adoption and can call Almighty God “Papa.” 3.) The Spirit prays for you Himself (passionately) when you’re too stupid to know what to say. 4.) God causes all the difficult stuff to work together for your sanctification. Number three really begs a question: “Why does the Catholic church get so caught up in Mary interceding on their behalf?” Honestly, if I had the choice between Mary praying for me, or the Holy Spirit, I think I’d choose the Holy Spirit.
Romans 9: After his discourse on the “perks of being in Christ,” Paul goes on to a long explanation of the sovereignty of God that’s enough to scare one’s socks off. It’s as if he’s saying, “This God who chose you is so big that He could just as easily not have chosen you.” I don’t think I believe in a God who arbitrarily singles people out to go to hell, but neither do I believe in a God who does no work in the salvation of man. This is a difficult line to walk. If the clay has no right to say to the potter “why have you made me thus,” then how is a person to respond to the offer of salvation?
Romans 10: So, I guess McMath is right in saying that you simply cannot get rid of the tension between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. In chapter nine Paul spoke of how big God is and in chapter ten he ruins man’s excuse for not believing in Him. Basically he says in verse 18, quoting Psalm 19, if you can see stars you have no excuse for not believing. Who hasn’t seen stars? Wherever you go in the world there are stars there. The Jew has no excuse because He made things painfully obvious to them. Everyone else has no excuse because apparently He’s been found by those who weren’t even looking for Him and showed Himself to those who didn’t ask to see Him.
Romans 11: In verse 6, Paul makes a really strong point: If it is by grace, it is no longer works. If it is by works, then it just isn’t grace. Pastor James Ford said something like this at the Founder’s Day seminar: “If what you are becoming you are not becoming by God’s grace, than what you are becoming is not godly.” Whatever I am I cannot become on the merit of my works. That would be forgetting grace. If by grace I am saved than by grace I shall live.
Romans 12: “And because of God’s great grace and God’s great sovereignty we shall do thus” seems to be the point of this passage. Paul’s entire twelfth chapter is one command after another. He begins with the believer’s responsibility to God: Be a living sacrifice and use your gifts. Then he continues, moving outward to the believer’s responsibility to man: Be nice. Love each other and don’t do things manipulatively for your own good. Then he moves to the final sphere, the believer’s responsibility to the unbeliever: Be kind and respectful, even if they’re not.
Romans 13: Paul doesn’t just stop there either. Oddly enough he places his explanation on the believer’s responsibility to the government after his explanation of the believer’s responsibility to the unbeliever. According to Paul, the love that a believer should have for others is for loves own sake. The law being fulfilled by believers loving people, (i.e. If you love the neighbors across the street, you probably aren’t stealing their lawn chairs) is more of a side effect. Love for loves sake, not the Law for the Law’s sake. There is a huge difference between legalism and love.
Romans 14: Verse five of this chapter is very personal for me. It is regarding the way one man views every day of the week as holy unto the Lord and considers everyday “the Lord’s day.” Then there are those, as Paul says, who see one particular day of the week as holy above the others. Rather than holding up one view as correct, Paul simply says, “You all be convinced of what you believe.” This passage matters to me because my family comes from a Seventh Day Adventist tradition and views the Sabbath (Saturday) as particularly holy. We take a day off. Don’t watch movies with swearing, don’t do laundry till the sun sets, etc. However, the guy I’ll be marrying here shortly comes from a family that views every day as holy. It’s okay for me to leave my family tradition and become part of his.
Romans 15: Again, Paul says: “Wherefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.” Part of looking at marriage for Aaron and I has meant looking at the different family cultures we come from. Though very, very similar on a lot of things, they still are different. Bringing the two together into our own family is not a simple task. However, Paul would command me to accept Aaron, his family and his families traditions (just as godly as my families) though they are different from the ones I grew up with.
Romans 16: As Paul concludes his letter to the Romans with greetings to a dozen or so believers in Rome, He makes it clear that they should be wary of anyone who is trying to divide them. Finally, he tells them in verse 20 that “the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” This is interesting. He doesn’t say, “The God of war,” but the “God of peace.” Also, Paul doesn’t say, “The God of peace will crush Satan under His own feet.” No, he says that the God of peace will crush Satan under their feet! What a great mental picture to close a book with.
I Corinthians 1: Another verse supporting the sovereignty of God over the free will of man appears in the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. In verse 18, Paul writes that the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of life. Obviously, then for anyone to be saved, their eyes must be open to the word of the cross. However, this cannot take place on their own, it must be the work of Christ. Therefore, if anyone can receive Christ it is because He opened their eyes to understand His work of salvation.
I Corinthians 2: The Pharisee in me is dying a slow, wicked witch of the west style death. In verse 2 of this chapter, Paul claims to have laid aside all of his cunning and “superiority of speech” for the cause of Christ that he might know “Only Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” That’s pretty extreme for a “Pharisee of Pharisees.” Part of me, when reading this verse for my entire lifetime has asked “But is that really enough? Just knowing Jesus Christ and Him crucified?” Apparently, the answer is yes. God’s will is so simple and His work for me is simple as well: Believe on Him who was sent.
I Corinthians 3: Some might read verses five through eight to be something of a rebuke, but I would think they’d sure take the pressure off anyone in full time ministry. If there is no pressure on you to “cause growth” that should bring great freedom. So why are there so many mega churches that are focused on high numbers. Being part of the final growth seems to be a big deal as everyone wants recognition for their work. However, it really isn’t their work to take recognition for is it? Paul planted, Apollos watered and God gave the increase.
I Corinthians 4: Paul goes through some scary words in the early part of this chapter before launching into an explanation of the apostolic struggles. In verses 1 through 8, Paul talks about how each man’s works will come to light at the end of the age and God will judge whether he has done good or bad. However, at the end of verse five there is a ray of hope: “Each man’s praise will come to him from God.” I can’t even begin to imagine the God of the universe praising anything I’ve ever done.
I Corinthians 5: Okay, so Paul just went on a long rant about how believers themselves judge, but are judged by no man. Yet, here, Paul just said he had judged the evildoer. But he doesn’t even stop there. He says that he decided to deliver him up to Satan for the judgment of his flesh. That’s a little extreme. So how can Paul have it both ways? Judging and yet saying believers are judged by no one but God? It’s not even God doing the judging here, it’s Satan who is removing the flesh from the guy who’s going around sleeping with his mom.
I Corinthians 6: I don’t understand how anyone could make the statement, “Homosexuality is not condemned in the Bible.” Clearly they haven’t read Romans chapter one or I Corinthians chapter 6 where Paul says that no one who is homosexual will inherit the kingdom of God. Also, he brings to light a striking point: anyone who sins sexually is actually sinning against himself. I don’t recall any other verse saying that any other sin is against the one committing it. Homosexuality is clearly condemned in the Bible. More than once.
I Corinthians 7: Wow, Paul sure has some interesting ideas on marriage. It almost sounds like he himself had a less than ideal marriage. I know non-believing couples that seem to be more content and happy in their marriages than the picture Paul paints here. However, he does not claim that this is God talking. He owns this as his own opinion on marriage: if you can avoid it, do so! However, he does emphasize the responsibility of those in marriage towards each other. They no longer belong to themselves but to each other.
I Corinthians 8: The odd thing about Paul’s idea of freedom is that he very much claims to possess it, but also, he is willing to lay it down at a moment’s notice. Most people who have freedom cling to it as if it their only hope. However, a believer is free to lay down even his freedom. Just as Paul says in this chapter about meat sacrificed to idols: if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again… That is true freedom. Freedom that has already been won in Christ and freedom that one is free to lay down for the sake of another.
I Corinthians 9: Paul really does have a strong idea of his identity. He is so secure in himself that he knows exactly what he is owed by the church and he cites the Levitical priesthood as an example of this. The priests were given a portion of that which they sacrificed, why not Paul? However, Paul is secure enough in who he is in Christ that he has the freedom to become all things to all men. Strong to the strong, weak to the weak. He can fit in both with Jews and with Gentiles. He has the freedom to accept what he is given by the body or to do without.
I Corinthians 10: Paul offers great comfort in verse thirteen when he says that there is no temptation that you experience that everyone else doesn’t experience and when you are tempted, God will not allow it to go on to the extreme that you are helpless under it. The logic follows that if there is anything in my life that is difficult or trying, God has allowed it to take place because He knows that He has made me strong enough by His grace to withstand it. Thus, when the next and harder thing takes place, the previous trial will have prepared me for it.
I Corinthians 11: Paul, for all his peculiarities regarding marriage seems to place a very high value on it regardless of his personal feelings. In addition to his statement that a woman belongs no longer to herself but to her husband and the husband no longer belongs to himself but to his wife he adds that they are no longer independent of each other either. They are in mutual agreement to stay together through thick and thin with the wife in subjection to her husband’s authority. This does not come across as a negative thing, but as a privilege for, as Paul states: the woman is the glory of the man.
I Corinthians 12: When taken completely by itself, this chapter tends to cause enormous controversy in the church today. I have heard it taught many different ways all with a different spin: Cessationist and Charismatic. However, this chapter does not stand alone. Paul’s final words are “And I show you a still more excellent way.” Paul is using this chapter emphasizing diversity to lead up to his discourse on love which is the more excellent way and the one thing that binds the church with all its diversity together.
I Corinthians 13: Love is the pinnacle of all great achievements according to Paul. Living a life of love surpasses even martyrdom. This love itself as described here in this passage is no easy thing either. It is a high standard that no human being can achieve. The only true fulfillment of the love spoken of here came through Christ Himself, the perfect example of love that does not seek its own but is patient, kind and rejoices in the truth. Perfect love is only brought to life through Christ and only if Christ lives actively through me can His perfect love be in me.
I Corinthians 14: So, the question arises naturally, did the gift of tongues die out after the first century or is it still of practical value today? If “tongues” simply means the supernatural ability to speak in a foreign tongue like German or Greek without having to learn it then why should I believe that tongues are gone? However, Paul states that if he speaks in tongues he is only edifying himself. This statement makes absolutely no sense if tongues simply means foreign languages used to spread the gospel.
I Corinthians 15: Pastor James Ford’s words regarding grace come to mind once again: “If what I am becoming is not by the grace of God that what I am becoming is not by the will of God.” Paul takes no credit for his achievements but recognizes that they all are by the grace of God saying “By the grace of God I am what I am.” This is true of me as well. By the grace of God I am what I am and His work in me is not in vain. What He is making me into is beautiful in His sight.
I Corinthians 16: Paul closes his first letter to the Corinthians with an odd statement tucked into his travel plans and greetings. He says: “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” So often I see Christian guys walking around acting like boys, or worse yet, girls. Their mannerisms do not portray strength, but weakness and an effeminate nature. I realize that my own gender is responsible for this because of the feminist movement, but how I wish the younger men of the church would act like men. There is nothing attractive about an effeminate man.
II Corinthians 1: Paul never seems to begin his letters quite the way you’d expect. In the very first verses of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians he speaks of God (well, obviously) and highlights one characteristic of God: Comfort. Clearly the Corinthians reacted to his first letter because he has to tell them to let the guy who was sleeping with his mom but repented back into the church. Rather than beginning with a rebuke, this time he begins with God’s comfort and the symptoms of those who have been touched by it: they will comfort one another.
II Corinthians 2: When Paul speaks of the new covenant ministry he says, “…Thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph.” This is incredible. It doesn’t say that He sometimes leads us in His triumph. It says He always leads us in His triumph. Not only that but when we are close to God, we smell like God! That’s almost funny. I know that when my boyfriend and I are watching a movie with my family and we’re sitting close together on the couch and he’s got his arm around me I often end up smelling like Old Spice. It’s a nice smell. When it’s on me, it manifests that I’ve been with Aaron. When I’m sitting close with God and He’s got His arm around me, my closeness manifests itself: I smell like God!
II Corinthians 3: Verse 18 of this chapter has always been sort of a life verse for me. Again, building on the closeness with God metaphor, the more I am beholding the glory of the Lord, the more I will be transformed into His likeness. This implies that you’re looking in the right place though. It depends what you are beholding. Am I beholding myself? I certainly don’t want to be more like me. Am I beholding only a role model? That’s better, but I still don’t want to be more someone else. I want to be more like Christ.
II Corinthians 4: Paul speaks in chapter four about the ministry the believers have received “just as they have received mercy.” With the mercy (not getting the hell you deserve) comes a ministry. The two are inseparable. I have a job. I have a ministry. The same ministry that Paul had in essence: displaying Christ’s work in my life to a world that hasn’t seen Him yet. It’s like that quote “You’re the only Bible some people may ever read.” I think that takes the pressure of living a “good life” a little bit far, but it’s mostly right. Just like in chapter two: Be close to God, smell like God, let other people notice it!
II Corinthians 5: Ambassadors. That’s an interesting thing to compare Christians to. Ambassadors are not at home. If they are at home, they’re simply bureaucrats. Any believer who feels at home in the world is nothing more than a paper pusher, but a believer who realizes he is not at home gets the distinguished title of ambassador. Ambassadors aren’t just pawns on a chess board either. They’re important. The bring peace, they speak truth and they make the world a better place. According to Paul, God is entreating those we are speaking to that they be reconciled to God.
II Corinthians 6: Verses 16 through 18 of chapter six are both convicting and comforting. We are the temple of the Living God. That’s a pretty big idea. Almighty God makes His home in little old me? That’s way past good news. That’s incredible news. That’s like a King choosing to live in a mobile home. But this tremendous privilege comes with a command: separate yourself from sin and do not touch what is unclean. Why defile the temple of the Living God? If we did that, we’d be no better than those selling sheep outside the temple in Jesus’ day.
II Corinthians 7: Paul asserts in chapter seven, that because we have these promises we should cleanse ourselves from all the defilements of the flesh and spirit. So, apparently there are things that defile the flesh, and then there are things that defile the spirit. Also, he says that the sorrow of the world is only a foreshadow of death. The sorrow of believer leads to reconciliation with God. I wonder if it is possible for a believer to experience the sorrow of a non-believer. Can I experience false sorrow? Sorrow that does not lead to life?
II Corinthians 8: Paul sure knows how to give a good guilt trip. His words in chapter eight almost sound like those letters that come in the mail from televangelists asking for money. He cites the example of the Macedonian church’s giving to his ministry and then the example of Christ. Finally in the next chapter he really lays it on thick saying that no one can out give God. However, as much as his words sound like a televangelist, I doubt that any of them have been shipwrecked, stoned, beaten and whipped.
II Corinthians 9: Also, in verses six through eight of chapter nine it almost sounds like a prosperity gospel. However, Paul does not promise bounty in kind with what is sown. He simply says if you sow bountifully you will reap bountifully. It does not even state the location of the deposit of the reward, whether here or heaven. He simply asks that each do just as they have purposed in their heart, not out of guilt but out of love and with cheer. I remember my pastor saying that this word cheerful is the root of our word for hilarious.
II Corinthians 10: Chapter ten is extremely encouraging. So many Christians think they are still under some obligation to their flesh. Sermons are often geared toward guilt tripping them into leading better lives because their flesh is not overcome. However Paul says that we neither walk according to the flesh or fight according to the flesh. Our weapons are “divinely powerful” and are “for the destruction of fortresses.” I can’t remember the last time I heard a sermon that told me the weapons Christ has equipped me with are powerful enough to bring down a fortress.
II Corinthians 11: In his warning against false teachers from chapter eleven, Paul highlights two characteristics of devotion to Christ. Simplicity and Purity. The gospel of Christ which is the power of God unto salvation is incredibly simple. Unlike the neo-Platonic Gnostics who made the gospel complicated and full of secret rituals, the gospel of Christ is vastly simple. It is also pure. It has no defilement at all. Christ’s doctrine is pure just as His life was pure. Christ Himself is enough and it seems like people can’t even wrap their heads around that.
II Corinthians 12: Again, Paul offers more encouragement in chapter twelve. After explaining his unknown “thorn in the flesh,” Paul continues on to quote Christ’s words that His grace is sufficient and His power is made perfect in weakness. He does not boast in his own strength or power but in Christ’s power working through him. Paul believes that when he is weak, that is when he is strong in the strength that Christ offers him. This same power at work in Paul is also at work in me. When I am weak, Christ manifests Himself through me.
II Corinthians 13: Paul finishes up his letter with a fearsome command: “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith..” I wonder if I have even once in my life dared to test myself to see if I am walking in the faith. I certainly hope I am. I want to be. In Paul’s blessing though, he offers encouragement: be made complete, be comforted and be like-minded. He both begins and finishes his letter with a word about comfort. II Corinthians is truly a letter of comfort both to his original audience and to me.
Galatians 1: Once again, Paul jumps right into one of his letters saying exactly what he means to say: “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel.” And what is it that the Galatians deserted Christ for? The answer is clear from the rest of Paul’s letter: legalism. He spends around the first four chapters repeating to them that they are dead to the Law and alive to Christ. He claims the ultimate authority to tell them all this in verse fifteen saying that God set him apart from birth.
Galatians 2: Again, Paul reminds the Galatian church that they are dead to the Law and that there is now no point in trying to live up to it. They seem to think that they can be justified by the Law, but Paul corrects them in verse sixteen saying that only Christ can justify them. In verse twenty Paul reminds them that not only are they dead to the Law, but they were crucified with Christ and no longer live but Christ lives in them. That’s pretty extreme. If this is true, then why are Christians going around taking credit for anything?
Galatians 3: In chapter three, Paul continues on about believers being justified only by faith. The Spirit is only received by faith and the Abrahamic covenant is a covenant of faith. After exposing the positive, Paul quickly pulls a U-Turn and says that the person under the Law is under the curse of the Law. However not only did Christ die for them, but He became a curse for them. That’s a pretty extreme statement. The redemption of many came by One become a curse.
Galatians 4: Paul makes an interesting comparison in chapter four that goes all the way back to the book of Genesis. Towards the end of chapter four as he is comparing and contrasting a life by faith and a life under the Law, he uses Sarah and Hagar as examples, consecutively. Basically, he asks the Galatian church “Why do you want to be children of Hagar who was cast away instead of children of Sarah through whom God miraculously brought you into being as a nation?” This contrast is perfect and as he points out: we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free woman.
Galatians 5: As usual, Paul leaves most of his correcting commands till the end of his letter. First he gives an exposition of the doctrine he is trying to get across and then he explains how that doctrine should impact the reader’s life practically. In this case the doctrine is that of faith instead of the Law. The result of this should be that we should “not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” This is the intention of the entire book. It all hinges around verse one of chapter five. This way of life causes us to walk by Spirit and the result of walking by the spirit is that we simply do not fulfill the desires of the flesh.
Galatians 6: Personal responsibility is also high on Paul’s list of priorities. This is understandable because Paul certainly seems to have lived a life of great responsibility. In verse four he says: “Let each one examine his own work…” Basically: “Don’t examine the guy next to you, or that other one over there. Look at what you’re doing. Does it measure up?” I sure spend an awful lot of time looking at other people’s walks with God and not minding my own. Paul continues by saying that “Each one shall bear his own load.” I have a load of my own to carry. Why am I looking at what other people are carrying?
Ephesians 1: Paul begins his letter to the Ephesian believers with a long discourse on the bigness and the goodness of God. So much of the Calvinist vs. Wesleyan debate focuses on the predestination or freewill issue. However, it stops there. Rather than moving past predestination and into what we were predestined to. According to Paul in verse five of this chapter, we were predestined to adoption as sons. That’s a pretty big deal and should merit some response. This was, as he goes on to say: “According to the kind intention of his will…” God’s will verses man’s will should include a footnote at least about the “kind intention…”
Ephesians 2: Paul continues by speaking about the method of salvation. This is extreme. God Who was “rich in mercy” loved us while we were in our worst possible state. That’s really saying something. So how does this unlovable creation find itself feeling so lovable and worthy of salvation? It is a mystery. Where do we get off thinking that God saved us because we are good? Paul continues by speaking of the unity that salvation provides, both between the Jew and the Gentile. The church is “built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”
Ephesians 3: Paul’s words really are something special. So often I think I forget just how incredible my salvation is. It gets easily forgotten when it is heard so many times. However, according to Paul Christ wants to dwell in my heart and root me in His love. Not only that, but Christ wants me to be able to comprehend the length and height and depth of His love which surpasses all knowledge so that I can be filled up to all the fullness of God. That’s a big deal! I want to comprehend the vast love of Christ my Savior.
Ephesians 4: Paul opens up chapter four by giving himself an odd title. He could have said, “Paul, who has suffered greatly for the Lord,” or “Paul the one who explains the Pentateuch with great skill,” but no. Paul begins by referring to himself as “A prisoner of the Lord.” He doesn’t even say “Paul, a servant of the Lord.” The sins of the gentiles, mentioned in verse 17 begins in the mind. They walk in the futility of their mind. It is not put to good use for God’s glory and this leads to “sensuality, impurity and greediness.”
Ephesians 5: Where the Gentiles walk in darkness in the “futility of their minds,” Paul exhorts those who believe to be imitators of God, walking in love. Not just any love, however, as he continues, the kind of love that Christ had in offering up Himself for His people. He also says in verse fifteen to be careful how you walk not as unwise, but as wise. Walking in the light and in wisdom doesn’t seem to hard, but it’s the little decisions that make it up. As Paul goes on to describe at the end of this chapter, the life of the believer is a spiritual battleground.
Ephesians 6: Paul gives his famous Roman Armor analogy at the end of chapter six, but only after a long explanation of obedience. He begins with children submitting to both of their parents. Then slaves to their masters. That’s an odd order to put things in. One would think he’d first tell all the slaves to obey and then the children. But perhaps Paul is making a point here. Children should be even more careful to be obedient than even slaves are to their masters. After this comes the analogy of armor for the spiritual fight Paul mentioned in the previous chapter.
Philippians 1: Paul begins his letter to the Philippian church with a great promise: God, who started working on you, won’t quit until He’s done what He set out to do. For Paul, living is for the purpose of Christ and yet dying is gain to him. He instructs the believers to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel they share. Unit follows this as he tells them to stand firm in one spirit with one mind. Sharing the Gospel is an “us thing.” Paul desires his followers to follow Christ sharing His truth in unity.
Philippians 2: Paul commands meekness and unity in the second chapter of his letter to the Philippians. However, after telling them to look out for each other’s interests more than their own he continues by explaining Christ’s work of humility. For Christ, being part of the Godhead was simply a fact. However, if even Christ could step down out of heaven into a world that was a disaster how much should we have His mind in us? After this, Paul says to “work out your own salvation.” I’ve heard a lot of sermons on this verse, but none of them seem to go to the next verse that says it is God Himself Who is working in me.
Philippians 3: There goes the inner Pharisee again. Paul, if anyone had every right to brag about how spiritual he was, and even think that he was good enough as a Pharisee and never needed to move on into Christ. However, Paul left a super spiritual lifestyle for that of a traveling preacher who taught against legalism. All for the purpose that he mentions in verse ten: “That I may know Him…” I wonder if I have ever known Him. Even in my “good” lifestyle. I do my devotions. I go to church. I pray every day, but do I know Him?
Philippians 4: Paul wraps up his letter to the Philippians with some exhortations to unity and commands to a couple of ladies in the church to get along. Then he explains that anxiousness is unnecessary. When he speaks of the peace of God he says that it will guard two parts of the believer: The Heart and The Mind. He doesn’t say it will “dwell” in the heart and mind. He says it will “guard” the heart and the mind. When he speaks of being able to do all things in Christ it is in the context of being able to live comfortably with little or much. Paul is content with Christ.
Colossians 1: This time, Paul introduces himself in a way that gives him credibility: as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God. That’s a pretty intense resume. He begins by saying that believers should seek to please Christ walking in a way that is honoring to God. This is interesting considering the asceticism that cropped up not much later. Paul doesn’t tell believers to “sit still and pray” in a manner that is pleasing to Christ. Of course that’s important, but over and over in his letters he uses the verb “walk” to describe the idea lifestyle. This flies in the face of the neo-platonic ascetic ideal.
Colossians 2: In the second chapter of his letter to the Colossian church, Paul gives the secret of wisdom and knowledge. This caught my eye because I grew up in a family culture that valued intelligence. According to Paul all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are not found in books or in colleges. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found in Christ Jesus Himself. It’s not a “where” question. It’s a “who” question. If I want to become knowledgeable and wise I need to spend more time seeking Christ because that’s where it’s all hidden. I also like that word “Hidden.” It implies you have to look for it.
Colossians 3: Paul keeps using this mental picture of dying and being raised again in Christ. Here, we are dead to our sin and hidden in Christ. That’s a really cool idea. I am hidden in Christ. I always liked hiding in small safe places when I was little. Now, I am hidden in Christ kind of like when I was little and hid under the covers because it felt so safe and cozy. My life is hidden where Satan cannot get to it. Satan cannot touch me without getting through Christ because He is hiding me within Himself.
Colossians 4: Before wrapping up his letter with the usual greetings, Paul takes time to tell the believers to be fair because they all have Someone in heaven looking down at them. He tells them to be alert and pray. He also gives attention to the believer’s speech. It should not be crass or rude but graceful. It also implies that in knowing how to respond to each person, we are supposed to understand that each person is different and sharing the gospel needs to be done personally so that each person who is hearing it can understand it clearly.
I Thessalonians 1: Paul begins the letter by first establishing credibility as an apostle and then speaking of all the things that the church at Thessalonica are doing right. He commends them for being imitators of the apostles and receiving the Word with the joy of the Holy Spirit. Not only that, but the Thessalonian church spread the gospel to others, according to verse eight they shared with the believers at Macedonia and Achaia and those who heard from the Thessalonians got the word back to Paul. This church really does have a lot of things going right for it.
I Thessalonians 2: Paul again uses the word “walk” in reference to the believer’s life. In this case, the Thessalonians are told to walk in a manner worthy of the God who called them. That’s a pretty tall order. Again, “walk” is not an ascetic word. “Walk” is a doing word. Walk implies that you are living life, interacting with people, going places. It is impossible to have a sedentary walk with the Lord. It’s simply an oxymoron. It is possible however to have an active walk with the Lord. This is the type of “walk” that I want to have with my Savior. One that takes me from a point A to a point B.
I Thessalonians 3: In chapter three, according to my Scofield Reference Bible, is about the Model Brother and His Sanctification. In verse twelve, Paul blesses the believers at Thessalonica with the Lord causing them to increase and abound in love for all men. He doesn’t say abound in love for each other. It’s “all men” that Paul wants them to love. In verse thirteen, the result of this love is seen: so that He may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness. I want my heart to be unblamable in holiness, and not only that, but established. I want the Lord to love through me.
I Thessalonians 4: I live in a Moody house full of girls and I honestly wish that at times we could plaster verse eleven up to the wall: Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and to work with your hands. Sometimes the “everybody in everybody else’s business all the time” goes way past the bounds of Christian fellowship. I really believe in accountability, but it would be so nice if there were bounds around what we were supposed to share at house dinner. I’ve never thought believers had to share absolutely everything about them all the time with each other. It’s discouraging, disgusting and frustrating.
I Thessalonians 5: Like most of his letters, Paul sticks most of his commands and suggestions at the end of the letter. In this case the believers at Thessalonica are commanded to be sober and alert in light of the impending day of the Lord. They are also reminded that they are of the day and not of the night so they should walk like it. Their armor needs to be on and ready. They should encourage one another and build each other up and live at peace together, not repaying evil for evil, but rejoicing and praying and giving thanks. Not quenching the Spirit, but examining themselves.
II Thessalonians 1: Paul notes right away in his second letter to the Thessalonians that their faith has been “enlarged greatly.” In verse four, a possible reason for this enlargement is given: persecution. He comforts them by saying that Christ Himself will vindicate them. This same Christ will come and be glorified in His saints when He returns. Their belief is founded. They are also urged to be worthy of their calling. Their calling is to the high purpose of glorifying the Lord Jesus in their lives by the great grace of God.
II Thessalonians 2: In chapter two, they are urged not to be “shaken from their composure.” Deception regarding the second coming of the Lord seems to be an issue that the Thessalonian church is currently dealing with. However, this deception is a fulfillment of the prophecy itself. They are urged to love the truth as to be saved and reminded that God is still in control of a seemingly out of control situation. They are being sanctified by the Spirit. He also blesses them with grace, comfort and strength in every good work at the end of the chapter.
II Thessalonians 3: Paul not only reminds the Thessalonian church that he is praying for them, but he asks them to pray for him as well. He encourages them with the truth that the Lord is faithful and will protect them. Paul also compliments them by saying that he has confidence regarding them. They are commanded to “stay aloof” from everyone who is spreading falsities and to avoid busybodies. Paul finishes with a blessing from the Lord that He would be with them in all circumstances and claims to have written this letter in his own hand.
I Timothy 1: Paul jumps right into his letter to Timothy. After a couple pleasantries, he begins speaking about those who corrupt the true teaching of the Gospel. Apparently, in their straying they have chosen to talk about what is fruitless instead of what matters. They want to teach the Law, but they don’t understand it. Paul here, gives an odd defense of the Law. Though he is one who so frequently speaks out against the use of the Law, he says it is good if you use it right. The Law was meant for those people who are say… killing their parents.
I Timothy 2: I know so many apolitical people my age who’s basic view of America seems to be “let it burn, some persecution would be good.” This doesn’t seem biblical in any sense however. Paul seems to present “tranquil and quiet lives with godliness and dignity” as the ideal and even something that is blessed by God Himself. Isn’t Christianity supposed to have a staying power against the forces of evil anyway? Paul also speaks in this chapter about the adornment of women and that it should be modest. Also, women should learn in submission.
I Timothy 3: In the previous chapter Paul offered some direction concerning women and their roles in the church. He expounds in one verse of chapter three by saying that women are not to be gossips, but are to be dignified, temperate and faithful. This is tucked into a passage regarding the deacons and elders, so presumably these women are the wives of the men who are leading the church. Even though the man has the leadership role, the woman seems to have the responsibility of giving him credibility by her submission to him. This is no small task and is presented as a privilege.
I Timothy 4: Paul seems to be big on personal responsibility as well. Again, I see so many people in my generation getting away with so much, having so little discipline and expecting to be physically, emotionally and spiritually taken care of for their whole lives. In verse seven, however when Paul is outlining the proper walk he says that we are to discipline ourselves. This is the context into which the famous “let no one despise your youth” verse is set. Of course people will despise your youth if you’re irresponsible. But God has given us a higher calling that irresponsibility.
I Timothy 5: Paul lays out some really practical advice in this chapter regarding welfare. His opinion seems to be, “don’t even stick the church with what you can take care of yourself.” This really doesn’t sound like the social justice mantra I keep hearing in the news lately. My generation feels so entitled to so much. Sometimes, instead of taking responsibility for our own problems or simply bad luck we assume someone else will take care of it because they are “the body of Christ” and it’s their job. No, Paul says. Take care of your own widows.
I Timothy 6: Paul continues with his extremely practical advice right into chapter six. He speaks of the social classes and abiding within the respectful norms. He also commands those who have people under them to be fair. In verse six he mentions that godliness is great gain when accompanied by contentment. Life is a fight, he goes on to say. Therefore, we are to take hold of eternal life because of the confession we have made. People are watching and Paul wants all believers everywhere to be an example to those on the outside of what true religion is meant to be.
II Timothy 1: Paul starts off this letter similarly to the last one he wrote to Timothy. He says a few pleasantries and then jumps right in. There really are no excuses in Paul’s book because according to him, we have been given a spirit of power and love and discipline. Therefore, we should not be living out of a spirit of timidity. In verse fourteen, Paul exhorts Timothy to “guard the treasure entrusted” to him by the power of the Holy Spirit who is in him. What is this treasure? Presumably the gospel of Christ. It is a precious treasure to be guarded by the power of the Spirit.
II Timothy 2: Paul also teaches that the servants of the Lord are not to be messing around and wasting their time. According to Paul, unproductive spirituality leads to all kinds of messes that go on to cause even bigger messes. This seems to be a common theme throughout much of his recent writing. Instead, Paul encourages Timothy to flee youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace. As a bond-servant of the Lord, Timothy must not be quarrelsome but be kind to all and even be patient when other people treat him unkindly. When it is time to correct someone, Timothy is instructed to do it gently.
II Timothy 3: At the end of the age, Paul predicts that apostasy will be on the rise. He goes on and on, listing the results of lives that have fallen away from the truth or simply ignored the truth all together. It causes maliciousness, gossip and lack of self-control just to name a few. However, the believer’s weapon to combat this great unrighteousness is the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God which is inspired and profitable making the user adequately equipped. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like adequate equipment, but it is. God is not sending forth His soldiers without the proper tools.
II Timothy 4: Paul offers a few final words of advice at the close of his letter to Timothy. One piece is to be ready to share the Word, all the time, every time. Unlike David who got into trouble with Bathsheba for not going out to war in the season that kings do such, Timothy is to be ready in season. Even out of season. Paul never forgets to greet those who are being faithful within the church and he seems to understand that he is nearing the end of his ministry. He uses words like “fought” and “finished” to describe his work. However, even at the close of his time on earth, he has great confidence in Christ and this is evident at the end of the letter.
Titus 1: Paul begins his letter to Titus by identifying himself as a slave by choice to God and an apostle of Jesus. Then he begins by speaking of much the same thing in the same way as he did to Timothy. His discourse on eldership seems to bear the same standards of those in Timothy’s context. Thus, these standards do not vary according to context. In verse fifteen he makes a rather shocking statement in that “to the pure, all things are pure.” However, he follows this up by speaking of people who have violated their consciences and denied God by their deeds and their disobedience.
Titus 2: I find this passage to be particularly interesting. At the beginning of the chapter, Paul sets the standard for both men and women. Created equal, their roles however, are different and that is demonstrated will in this passage. Paul uses the word “sensible” at least three times in my NASB translation. In one case it is after he says that the grace of God has appeared bringing salvation and instructing us to live sensibly. Sensibility. That’s a very important trait that I don’t hear talked about very much. I hear all about how to be more spiritual, but I haven’t heard a good teaching on sensibility.
Titus 3: At the end of the letter to Titus, Paul also ties fruitfulness to meeting people’s practical needs. Fruitfulness isn’t just a spiritual thing. I think sometimes I tie up “fruitfulness” with the “fruit of the Spirit” and neglect the idea all together that the fruit of the Spirit is practical. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness etc. Paul also ends this letter very oddly. He continues chapter three much in the same vein as chapter two, however it is as if he stopped writing mid-sentence and then decided to send off the letter. He doesn’t even close it with his usual flowery blessings and greetings.
Philemon: Paul’s letter to Philemon exemplifies everything that he has been saying for the past several epistles. He tells masters to be kind and fair to their slaves. Paul in his letter asks Philemon to be kind and fair to Onesimus even though he doesn’t deserve it. He tells people to take care of the practical things in life themselves whenever possible. Here, Paul is taking it upon himself to solve the problem of a runaway slave rather than sticking someone else with the situation. Paul also kindly acknowledges the things that Philemon is doing right in the faith.
Hebrews 1: This letter begins much like those of Paul’s so I can see how some people might think that it was written by Paul or at least by a disciple of Paul’s. The author begins by talking about the Son of God who is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His nature. Knowing Jesus, thus, means knowing God. Having a relationship with Jesus means experiencing the very nature of God Himself. The author spends the entire book contrasting Christ’s priesthood with that of the traditional priesthood. He explains that only Christ could do what was necessary for the salvation of God’s people.
Hebrews 2: The author encourages the reader to pay special attention to the doctrine they have heard lest they drift away from it. The author continues speaking about Christ’s priesthood by setting up the humanity of Jesus. He says that Christ became like God’s creation and suffered like us tasting death for “everyone.” It doesn’t say “most” and from the context it’s hard to put a limitation on the number implied by “everyone.” The author also notes that Christ can understand our weakness because He was tempted in the same things we are tempted in regularly. Thus, not only is He the Great High Priest, but a High Priest Who is sympathetic.
Hebrews 3: The author notes Moses’ faithfulness in “his house.” Moses did that which he was commanded by God to do and inherited salvation by faith in the information that he was given. This leads to an urging for us to be faithful to Christ who was faithful in “His house.” We are to hold fast to our confidence in the Savior. Also, the reader is encouraged to encourage others around them every day. Not just on Sunday, not just when you feel like it, but every single day. The result of not encouraging is noted in the last half of the verse, it is a hardening by the deceitfulness of sin.
Hebrews 4: In this chapter the Sabbath Rest is spoken of. However, it is hard to tell if it means a literal day off at the end of every week or if it is speaking of the Sabbath Rest we enjoy every day as the result of our salvation. In my humble, ignorant and uninformed opinion, I would say that it could be both. My family takes a Sabbath Rest every week and it really is a special time for us. Also, because of my salvation I no longer have to keep every letter of the Law to earn my salvation, thus a daily Sabbath Rest. The author also mentions at the end of the chapter that we can enter God’s throne room confidently and get help when we need it.
Hebrews 5: The author continues speaking about the Great High Priest we have in Christ Jesus. He was in the order of Melchizedek from the Old Testament and while He was in His human form, He prayed and cried out on behalf of all of us. According to the author, Christ was heard because of His piety. At the end of the chapter, the author takes things in an interesting direction. He asserts that his audience should be teaching others how to grow in the faith, and yet they are still way behind where they should be. I wonder if this is true of me. Am I ready to teach others or am I still bogged down in the fundamentals of the faith?
Hebrews 6: The author continues on about maturity in faith in chapter six. He says that we are to leave the elementary things and move on to maturity. The “move to maturity” seems to be a very important step in the life of a believer and I wonder how many in my generation have taken it. I wonder if I have taken it. Where do I need to grow? The author already stated in the previous chapter that his step takes practice. I want to practice my faith so that it can grow and blossom into full maturity. As a believer, I am encouraged by the author to imitate those who inherited the promises by faith.
Hebrews 7: In chapter seven the author continues to speak of Christ Jesus, the believer’s Great High Priest as being in the order of Melchizedek. According to the author, the priesthood of Melchizedek is better than the Aaronic Priesthood. Two reasons that I can see are noted as being the reason for this. First of all, Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek. Secondly, because Melchizedek came first, he is the greater priest because Aaron had not even been born yet. In continuation, the author says that the Aaronic priesthood made nothing perfect. Only Christ can make things perfect because He was perfect.
Hebrews 8: Though the Aaronic Priesthood perfected absolutely nothing, but was merely a shadow of that which was to come, the author asserts that Christ is the believer’s Great High Priest because He alone could achieve perfection. Christ mediates a covenant that is superior to anything the world had seen before. The New Covenant is infinitely greater than the Old Covenant. By the New covenant we can enter into a personal relationship with the One Who mediates it. This is far greater than the daily sacrifice of animals in the tent of the tabernacle and later on in the temple. Those too were only shadows of what was to come.
Hebrews 9: In chapter nine, the author continues speaking of the temple and the Old Covenant as being only shadows of the coming New Covenant. Christ did not enter through the old tabernacle that was built by mere men. He did not work our salvation through the blood of goats and calves. He worked our salvation through the blood flowing through His own veins. Being without sin, He was capable of this great work. Without blood, as the author states later in the chapter, there is no remission of sins. However, Christ’s blood provides lasting remission of sin.
Hebrews 10: Much like Paul, this author places most of his exhortations, commands and encouragements at the end of his letter. In chapter ten he encourages the reader to have confidence to enter the holy place because of Christ Jesus the Great Mediator. Also, we can come close to God with a sincere heart because like the mercy seat, our hearts are sprinkled clean by the blood of Christ and our hearts are washed with pure water. Therefore, we can hold fast to the confession. We have no reason to doubt that which we have believed. Again, in verse thirty five we are told to not throw away the confidence that we have.
Hebrews 11: In chapter eleven, the author outlines the great faith of those who have gone before us. First there was Abel, in the second generation of man, Abel showed faith in offering what God had asked of him. Enoch simply disappeared up to heaven to be with God. Noah did something that made no sense simply because God had said so. Abraham left the world he had known to follow God. Even Sarah is mentioned for being one who had faith that God could do whatever He promises to do. Isaac, Jacob and Joseph are mentioned for passing on the promise to the next generation. Even Rahab the prostitute was mentioned for her obedient act of treason.
Hebrews 12: Again, like Paul, more commands are found here, towards the end of the book. The reader is encouraged to walk in faith because all those people mentioned in the previous chapter are watching in a cloud of witnesses and cheering them on! That’s kind of a big deal. I like the thought of Rahab, Moses and Polycarp watching from heaven as I seek to live a righteous life. A parenthetical passage is also tucked into chapter twelve as the author speaks of the chastening of the Father. It is simply proof that they are part of His family. Because we are part of that family we are encouraged in verses twelve through fifteen to strengthen others.
Hebrews 13: Verse eight of chapter thirteen is very encouraging. It states that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. This is good because the Great Mediator and High Priest hasn’t left His job. He didn’t walk out when He saw me coming. He’s still up there doing His job on my behalf. This should give me confidence to live the way He asks me to. Like Christ, I can offer a sacrifice too. My sacrifice should be the sacrifice of praise noted in verses fifteen through sixteen. I certainly have something to praise God for. Christ’s still up there working for me!
James 1: James certainly doesn’t mess around in his letter to the “twelve tribes” scattered abroad. He begins with a word to those who are being tested. Rather than offering words of comfort or understanding James tells them to “consider it all joy.” This encouragement to joy is not without merit however, as he continues testing of faith results in endurance and endurance makes one complete lacking nothing. He continues on his discourse about trials and states that every good thing that happens is from God, however God is not responsible for man’s temptations. He is the Author of all that is good and right in the world.
James 2: In chapter two James tells the believing Jews that they should not be showing partiality to other people just because they are dressed right. Faith and works go hand in hand according to James. Faith without works is dead and he asserts that he will demonstrate his faith by his works. Abraham is an illustration of one saved by faith. Abraham was not saved by keeping the letter of the Law which had not been given yet. No, Abraham was saved by faith in God. As he believed, his belief was accounted to him for righteousness. James goes so far as to say that just as a body is dead when it is not occupied by a spirit, so faith is dead when it is not demonstrated by works.
James 3: In chapter three, James speaks some almost ironic words concerning the power of the tongue. For one who uses his words so powerfully and persuasively throughout his letter he goes so far as to say that the fire of the tongue is set by hell itself. Like a rudder on a ship the tongue is so small, yet it has the power to control the rest of the body. My words matter to God. Everything that comes out of my mouth is not just two dimensions, it is significance. As James says later words are so powerful that one should “let their yes be yes and their no be no.” Words can give life as well. My words have the power to give life.
James 4: In his rebuke of worldliness, James continues with his strong verbiage. In verses seven through eleven he tells believers to submit to God and resist the Devil. This is accompanied by a promise though: Resisting the Devil will cause him to flee and drawing near to God will prompt Him to reveal more of Himself to you. That’s a pretty big promise. In verse nine he exhorts the believer to take their walk seriously. Repent strongly when you are wrong and humble yourself before God. It’s all very simple according to James. Nothing fancy, just humility.
James 5: In chapter five, James warns the rich again before continuing on about the impending nature of the Second Coming. Because Christ’s return is so near we should be patient for it. Look for it. We must strengthen our hearts and not complain against each other. For every problem or praise there is a right spiritual response and James outlines this in verses twelve through sixteen. If you’re suffering, pray. If you’re happy, sing praises. If you are sick, get some prayer. God knows the needs that you have. James ends his letter very abruptly by saying that if anyone strays from the truth, the one who turns him back is doing a great service to the kingdom.
I Peter 1: Peter begins his letter with very flowery words. Almost surprisingly flowery for a common fisherman turned preacher. He uses great eloquence in the first part of his letter to describe the suffering of the Church and the response they should take. His letter is almost comes across as a guidebook for practical theology. He goes back and forth between Christ’s work and Christ’s identity and then over to what our response as believers should be to those things. He says in verse thirteen that we should gird up our minds to action. The mind and volition are linked together interestingly here.
I Peter 2: Peter states in his second chapter that believers are to lay aside all of the negative things that they did in their old life and then like newborn babies grow by the “milk” of the Word of God. Why? This is another place where Peter’s theology touches Peter’s practice: because you have tasted of the kindness of the Lord. After some more exposition on the nature of Christ and his work he states that believers are to act as strangers in the world. They are to keep their behavior excellent among those who do not believe so that their lives be witnesses.
I Peter 3: In chapter three Peter takes a while to speak about how wives and husbands are to relate to each other. He begins, not with the husband, but with the wife. She has a high standard to live up to: Sarah, who was respectful of her husband, even when he was being an idiot. Women are to make sure that the “hidden persons” of their heart are in check, built up in the Lord. Husbands also are to love their wives and treat them as a fellow heir to the promises that they themselves will inherit. Husbands and wives are supposed to respect each other.
I Peter 4: In chapter four Peter says that because we live in tumultuous times when people are going about speaking ill of the truth we must keep fervent in our love for each other because love covers sins. This is one reason church splits send such a bad message: “If you people can’t keep it together, what makes you any different from me?” Also, we are to use whatever “special gift” we have been given for the glory of Christ. If it is speaking, speak well, if it is doing, do well. Work hard and honor the Lord with it.
I Peter 5: In chapter five Peter includes a set of guidelines that seem to appear frequently in Paul’s writings as well: directions for the elders of the church. Shepherds of God’s flock are to be responsible and careful about their home life as well as their public life. They will be rewarded for their efforts and should be careful because they will have to give an account for all that they did and said. Also, he exhorts believers to humble themselves before God. Peter says that God cares for the believer. He cares about what is upsetting to the individual and thus, they can cast (an interesting verb) all of the things that are worrying them on Him.
II Peter 1: Peter’s second letter is somewhat different from his first. Where the first letter was meant to exhort believers to practices that were in line with their theological beliefs, this letter focuses more on the end times and the suffering that accompanies them. At the beginning of the first chapter he says that believers should be diligent in their faith and moral excellence and the chain reaction of good behavior that follows. He also recalls the transfiguration and the glory of Christ. The Scriptures that are prophetic are also highlighted because of their significance and origination: the mouth of God.
II Peter 2: In chapter two, Peter takes a great deal of time to warn the believers against the false teachers that are going around spreading lies. These false teachers are not accompanied by the moral standards that the believer should have based on his previous chapters. No, these false teachers will be wicked men who practice all kinds of evil behavior. Peter mentions that when the believer suffers they should be suffering for doing what’s right and not what is wrong. After all, if they are suffering for doing wrong, they really are no better off than these men who are going about lying.
II Peter 3: At the end of his second letter, Peter devotes some time to speaking of what the Second Coming will actually be like. It will be a time when mockers come and make fun of the those who are believers. They will ask why the Second Coming has not happened yet. They will also assert that things have been going along just as they always have since the time that the world began. However, according to Peter, with the Lord a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as day. God always keeps His promises and He won’t leave the world and never come back for it. Peter says that we shouldn’t worry, the Second Coming was meant to be a surprise anyway.
I John 1: John begins his first letter much like he begins his gospel. He starts right of with the Word of Life and speaks of Him as being the Light of the world. He uses similar motifs to that of the prologue of the Gospel according to John. As the Light, there is no darkness in Him. If we are abiding in Him as we should be then we are not walking in the deeds of the darkness but in the Light of Life. This is a common theme throughout all the chapters of his book. We are lying to ourselves and to the world if we do not practice the truth.
I John 2: John refers to his audience as “little children” at the beginning of chapter two. He exhorts them to realize that when they sin they are no longer at war with God and have an Advocate, or Lawyer who will work on their behalf. Not only that but the Advocate Himself is the propitiation for their sins. He speaks in chapter two also of God’s immense holiness. Keeping His Word is important. He is so holy. He addresses believers also as his family at the end of the chapter and tells them not to love the world.
I John 3: In chapter three John makes a great statement regarding the Love of the Father. How great it is and how it is manifested: we are called the children of God. That would be a pretty big deal to the original audience. Pantheistic Romans who’s gods were all heroes. They lived in a world that the Romans could not touch. That imagery, I would imagine, resounded to some extent in the ancient world in a way that is missed today. In verse sixteen John tells us how this great love of God was manifested towards us: He died. He Himself gave up life temporarily so that we could take up life eternally.
I John 4: In chapter four John gives practical advice regarding “the spirits.” Basically he tells his readers not to simply believe everything they hear. He makes an enormous promise in verse four when he says that e have overcome because the God in us as already won the battle with the world. He continues to exhort his readers to loving one another in verses seven and eight and then speaks more about the love of God. We are to mirror the love that God has towards us to each other. In verse eighteen he talks about how love is separated from the concept of punishment.
I John 5: John finishes up his letter by speaking of the one who can be saved: the one who believes in Jesus Christ and that He was born of God. We demonstrate the love we have for God by simply loving each other. Loving the person next to you is really all that is required for keeping the Law. We are assured of our salvation because of the Greatness of God. We have Him abiding in us. The God of the universe lives in my heart and works through me. That demands attention. He finishes his letter very oddly by saying, “stay away from idols.”
II John: In his second letter John speaks of much the same thing as his first letter. He includes both an exhortation to love and a warning against false teachers/a recognition that they will come. The love he mentions is not a love that we “have” it is a love that we “walk.” Loving walk is such a Christian figure of speech that we bandy about to appear spiritual. It is so much more than that however. Love that we walk is a love that is taking us somewhere. A love that is impacting our world for the better. A love that demonstrates to the world: “Christ lives here.”
III John: John’s third letter is extremely short and it does not deal with quite the same themes as his previous two letters. This letter is addressed to a man named “Gaius.” It seems to be a letter of commendation telling of what is going right with the church. That’s kind of a breath of fresh air after letter upon letter speaking of everything that is going wrong with the church. One particular command that he makes in verse eleven says not to imitate what is evil, but to imitate what is good. I wonder how many churches today imitate not what is good but what is evil?
Jude: Jude’s letter is very different from John’s letters. Jude focuses more on the negative than the positive. He talks about apostasy right off the bat and cites examples such as the angels of heaven, Sodom and Gomorrah and other cities. He describes false teachers in verses eight through nineteen and then switches gears entirely and begins speaking to Christians about their lifestyle. In verse twenty one he makes a rather odd statement saying, “Keep yourselves in the love of God.” This appears to be something that man can actually do. Clearly it cannot mean salvation by works, but it does imply action on the part of the believer.
Revelation 1: The words of the book of Revelation are very familiar to me. My pastor at home loves to teach out of this book. I like to picture John as an old man sitting on the island of Patmos, maybe near the water writing down the things that God Himself dictates to him. John starts off his letter by claiming that the words are from God Himself and God makes some autobiographical statements: I am the Alpha and the Omega, Almighty, the first, the last, the living One, alive, and the One with the keys to death and hell.
Revelation 2: God, through John addresses several churches in the second chapter: The church at Ephesus, the church at Smyrna, the church at Pergamum and the church at Thyatira. In each of these statements God says, “I know.” God knows all about what all of these churches are doing. In some cases He says, “I know your deeds, tribulations, etc.” But to the church at Pergamum, God basically says, “I’ve got a really big sword and I know where you live.” That would sure make me behave! In each of these letters, God offers a promise and a command to the believers who are living there.
Revelation 3: In chapter three, God continues to address churches through John. It’s almost as if he’s a Boss dictating letters to His secretary John. And He’s got some real problems with these churches. Sardis is a mess and about to die, Philadelphia is actually getting things right and they’re the one church that God has nothing negative to say to, Laodicea is a mess with apostasy running rampant. However, God promises that He is standing at the door knocking and willing to become close to anyone who will let Him. He also promises eternal closeness to those who will abide with Him now.
Revelation 4: In chapter four, John is called up to heaven by God Himself and given a tour. I can’t imagine what that would be like. It would be pretty incredible. First, God shows him the throne and what it looks like. Then God shows him the elders that are around the throne. Then God shows him the four living creatures from Ezekiel. They sound kind of creepy. Then God shows John how the elders are worshipping God and what they are singing. In their song they praise God for being the One who created all things and is worthy to receive praise.
Revelation 5: Then John notices in God’s right hand there is a scroll with seven seals on it. An angel shows up and asks if there is anyone who is worthy to open the scroll and read its contents. It almost seems as if all of heaven is acting out a stage play for John to write down. John begins to cry because no one is found that can open the scroll. If he doesn’t know what’s in the scroll, I wonder why he’s crying. However, one of the elders tells him to knock it off because Jesus is able to open the scroll and read the contents. After Jesus comes and takes the scroll all the saints and elders bow down and start worshipping again.
Revelation 6: In chapter six, things really start to pick up and get interesting when Jesus opens the scroll. Every time He rips a seal apart things go from bad to worse. When He cracks open the first seal, a horse comes out and the rider is the Anti-Christ himself. Then when Christ cracks open the next seal there is a red horse and its rider represents war. Then the third seal is opened and a black horse representing famine comes. Then there is the fourth seal with an ashen horse representing death. With the fifth seal, the martyrs under the alter begin to cry out with impatience. Finally with the sixth seal there is anarchy, and geographical catastrophe.
Revelation 7: When chapter seven begins, the four horsemen of the apocalypse are gone and John sees four angels standing each at a different corner of the earth holding back the four winds. Then anther angel comes and tells the angels that are allowed to harm the sea that they should not do so just yet. God has to seal His bondservants first. So the numbers of the sealed are read off. One hundred and forty four thousand, twelve thousand from every tribe. Then John sees people from every tribe and nation standing before the throne crying out to God in praise
Revelation 8: John begins his eighth chapter mentioning Christ as the High priest and talking about what He does. Then there are the seven trumpets. The first trumpet goes off and hail and fire and blood come down and a third of the earth is burned up. Then the second seal sounds and the sea becomes blood and a third of the animals die. Then the third trumpet goes off and the water goes bad. The fourth trumpet sounds and a third of the stars just fall right out of the sky and an eagle goes flying through the sky cursing the earth because there are still three more trumpets.
Revelation 9: When the fifth trumpet sounds everything that was bad just becomes worse. A star falls from the sky and a pit opens up and everything gets dark because of the smoke. Then some locusts come out and they are given power. They are told not to hurt any of nature or any of the one hundred and forty four thousand, but they are allowed to torment the ones who have not been sealed. Their sting is like the sting of a scorpion. The sixth trumpet sounds and an army comes from the far east. They’re not just any army either, they’re way past scary and they cause all kinds of destruction.
Revelation 10: In chapter seven John sees another “strong angel” coming out of heaven. This one is clothed with a cloud. He cries out with a loud voice and seven peals of thunder follow him. The angel stands on the sea and lifts his right hand to heaven and the earth is cursed. Again a voice from heaven speaks to him and tells John to take the book and eat it. It tastes sweet in his mouth and it gives him a stomach ache. Then they tell John to prophecy again concerning the people and nations and tongues and kings.
Revelation 11: After this there is given to John a measuring rod which is apparently like a staff and someone tells him to get up and measure the temple of God. However, in his measurements, John is to leave out the court of the gentiles because it is to be given to the nations. The two witnesses come and are killed and all the people of the world watch. They lie in the street for a few days and then come back to life. That would sure get my attention. Then there is a parenthetical section about Christ’s reign.
Revelation 12: In chapter twelve we see the woman who, according to my Scofield, represents Israel, giving birth to a boy who represents Christ. The red dragon Satan shows up and tries to kill her sweeping away a third of the stars in heaven. The male child is born and the woman flees into the wilderness for a while. Then the Jewish remnant is attacked by Satan, who seeing the woman give birth tries to kill her but she is given wings and flies away to the wilderness. The dragon becomes angry with the woman and goes off to make war with the rest of her offspring.
Revelation 13: In chapter thirteen the Beast and the False Prophet show up. John is standing on the seashore and he sees a beast coming out of the sea with ten horns and seven heads. When John describes the beast he is very ugly and bears resemblance to several different animals. He speaks arrogantly and blasphemes. He is given the power to make war with the saints and everyone who worships him if their name has not been written in the book. This beast has people receive his own mark: 666 and without it they can’t buy or sell anything.
Revelation 14: In chapter fourteen there is another parenthetical passage regarding the Lamb and the 144,000 on Mount Zion. John sees them standing there with the name of the Father written on their foreheads. They are safe because they are sealed and cannot be sealed by the Beast. John sees a vision of an angel with the responsibility of preaching the gospel to everyone on the earth. He tells them in verse seven to fear God and worship Him because He made the heaven and the earth. Then in verses fourteen through twenty John sees a vision or Armageddon. It’s pretty terrifying and God is kind of like the grim reaper.
Revelation 15: In chapter fifteen there is another set of seven catastrophes. In chapter fifteen, however, the set is the Seven Bowl Judgments. They are introduced but they do not take place until the next chapter. There is a section of praise to God because He is great and His works are wonderful. He is righteous and true and the King of all the nations. Seven angels come out with the seven bowls and they are full of the wrath of God. The temple gets filled with smoke from the glory of God and His power. No one is able to go into the temple until the seven plagues are over.
Revelation 16: The seven bowl judgments begin in chapter. The first bowl is a sore that comes on the men. The second bowl of wrath is the turning of the sea into blood and everything in it dies. The third bowl is the springs and rivers turning into blood. The fourth bowl is the sun being heated up and burning men. The fifth bowl of wrath is a pain so bad that people begin chewing on their tongues. The sixth bowl of God’s wrath is the drying up of the Euphrates. Then there is a parenthetical section about Armageddon before the seventh bowl which is an earthquake that splits the city apart.
Revelation 17: In chapter seven John sees one of the seven angels with the bowls come and talk to him. The angel tells him to come and he will see the judgment of the great harlot who sits on the waters. My pastor says that the Great Harlot is the Catholic church. The harlot is overthrown in the middle of the chapter and the victory of the Lamb of God is talked about at the end. In verse seventeen it is said that God is the one doing all of this because He has the power to do whatever He wants to do. The woman is said to reign over the kings of the earth.
Revelation 18: In chapter eighteen, Babylon is destroyed. An angel goes about crying “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen.” All the nations have compared with a n immoral woman and the kings of the earth as having slept with her. Another voice from heaven calls out to the people saying that they should come out and not be part of her sin and so that they won’t be punished along with her. When Babylon finally falls all of heaven rejoices and are commanded to rejoice in verse twenty. A strong angel tosses a millstone into the ocean and says that is what Babylon is like.
Revelation 19: In chapter nineteen heaven rejoices over the death of the harlot. They praise God in verses one through six for being so powerful and able to destroy and judge the forces that are corrupting the world. The marriage of the Lamb takes place in verses seven through ten. It is said that the bride has made herself ready. That implies a certain amount of responsibility for the church. The ones who are invited are said to be blessed. The Second Coming is described in verses eleven through sixteen and God is spoken of as being a powerful warrior.
Revelation 20: In chapter twenty, Satan is finally bound and tossed into the Abyss. Oddly enough it isn’t God Who does it. It’s not even the archangel Michael. It’s a plain old ordinary unnamed angel. The kingdom age begins in verse four and those who have been persecuted are allowed to reign with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead stay that way until the end of the thousand years. When the years are over Satan is allowed to come back out and tempt those who have not had the chance to resist evil in the real world. Then, the Great White Throne judgment takes place.
Revelation 21: In chapter twenty one the new heaven and the new earth come into being in verse one. The New Jerusalem, the Wife of the Lamb is also described in this chapter. The New Jerusalem is coming down from heaven and has the glory of God. The city is beautiful and is made out of all different kinds of stones. There are gates of pearls, twelve in all. There is no sun or moon because God is all the light that is needed. This almost sounds like John’s Prologue to his gospel. The gates of the city are never closed because there is no reason for them to be. Everyone who could cause harm is now gone forever.
Revelation 22: In Revelation chapter twenty two, the final chapter of the Bible a final message is given. God promises to be coming quickly for the rest of us and we will be blessed if we take care to heed the words in this prophecy. In verse twelve, He says again that He is coming back soon. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last. John says that if anyone adds to the book then God will plague him with everything written in the book of Revelation. Finally, John blesses the reader with the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.