December 11, 2017 Bible Study — Christ’s Return Will Be Unexpected, So Let Us Always Be Prepared

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on 1 Thessalonians 1-5.

    Once again Paul indirectly reminds us of the importance of prayer when he greets the believers in Thessalonica by telling them that he prays for them constantly. I seek the discipline to pray a fraction of the amount which Paul obviously did. Paul goes on to write about how the believers in Thessalonica embraced the Gospel message even though doing so immediately subjected them to persecution. The way in which they joyfully followed the Gospel in the face of persecution served as a beacon to draw people in other areas to the Gospel as well. Further Paul writes that rather than wear down their faith the ongoing persecution strengthened it.

    Paul writes that the believers should live in a way that pleases God, something he is confident that they already know. It is worth noting that, despite many in our society to downplay its importance Paul once again emphasizes that living a holy life means staying away from all sexual sin. In this letter Paul focuses on adultery, but it is clear from his other letters that adultery was not the only sexual sin he was warning us to stay away from. Paul even links staying away from sexual sin to loving one another, which is once again contrary to the way our society looks at things. If we love those around us we will be sexually pure, which means reserving our sexual desire for our spouse (and because our society has changed the meaning of words, that means an individual of the opposite sex to whom we are faithful as long as we both live), or restraining it entirely if we do not have a spouse.

    Paul goes on to discuss the resurrection of the dead and Christ’s return. He reminds us that if we believe that Christ was raised from the dead then we should also believe that God will raise from the dead the believers who have died. As a result of this belief we do not need to grieve for our fellow believers who have died, because we know that we will see them again. This resurrection will occur when Christ returns. Paul then makes an important point, Christ’s return will be unexpected. We do not know when He will return, so we must remain alert and ready for His return at all times. Part of being ready for Christ’s return is building each other up and encouraging each other when we begin to lose heart because of the evil in this world.

December 10, 2017 Bible Study — Die With Christ So That We May Be Raised To New Life With Him

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Colossians 1-4.

    Paul greets the believers in Colosse by speaking of how he prays for them constantly. Considering that Paul speaks of praying for various believers constantly in his letters we must conclude that Paul spent a lot of time in prayer. We should do the same. I know that I do not spend as much time in prayer as I should. I recently read a study which stated that a couple of hours a day spent in silent time is good for our brains. This leads me to think that I should spend much more time in silent prayer. Paul follows his greeting with what appears to be a creed of the early Church(similar to the Apostles’ Creed, or the Nicene Creed, but not as formally adopted). The creed declares that Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. In many ways I believe the rest of this letter is an exposition on what that means. Christ is the visible image of the invisible God and we are to be the image of Christ.

    In the meat of the letter Paul advises the believers not to be captured by empty philosophies or high-sounding nonsense (I would like to phrase that differently, but it is such a perfect description of so many false teachings that I had to go with it). Paul goes on to explain what he means by that. He refers to those who claim that believers need to be circumcised, follow special diets, or observe certain holy days and rituals. Paul further explains that we should not follow rules which tell us “Don’t handle, don’t taste, don’t touch.” He specifically tells us not to follow rules which call for severe bodily discipline. However, no sooner does Paul finish writing that than he writes that we should put to death the sinful, earthly desires within us.

    Paul gives a list of thoughts and behaviors we are to avoid. Actually he goes further than that and tells us to put those behaviors, and thoughts, to death. He then follows that list up with another list of thoughts and behaviors with which we are to replace those. Neither list a short list, but the things in each list are related, despite the attempts of many to divide the first list into unrelated items so as to justify the ones they wish to hang on to.
Thoughts and behaviors to get rid of:

  • Sexual immorality, impurity, lust, abd evil desires
  • greed
  • anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and lies.

I typed the list this way because there are people who believe that they can indulge in one of these three groups and as long as they avoid the other two, they are good people. Not only is that not true, but it rarely happens. One of the great things about the Gospel is that the more we focus on allowing the Holy Spirit to fill us with the second list (I will get to the list in a minute), the less there is room in our lives for the first list.
Here is that list of thoughts and behaviors to embrace:

  • tender-hearted mercy, humility, gentleness, and patience
  • make allowance for the faults of others, and forgive anyone who offends you
  • live with each other with love, harmony, and peace
  • sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs

I don’t really think there is much value in separating this second list into categories, but it looked nicer compared to the first list that way. This second list can be summed up by saying that everything we do or say should be done as a representative of Jesus. Look back over your last day, do all of your actions reflect well on Jesus? Even those which no one else witnessed? I am ashamed to say that my answer is,”No”. Even worse, I am convinced that if I repeat this exercise tomorrow at this time, the answer will still be “No”. However, I am going to strive to change that.

December 9, 2017 Bible Study –Think About Whatever Is True, Noble, Right, Pure, Lovely, Admirable, Excellent or Praiseworthy

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Philippians 1-4.

    Today’s passage is another one which is chock full of ideas and thoughts which are important to how we live our lives. I am not sure how many of them I will have time to touch on, but I really want to write about a lot of things today. I will start with Paul’s summation about those who preach Christ out of selfish ambition: who cares why they preach? All that should matter is that they preach about Christ. As long as what they preach is the truth about Christ, some will come to know Him because of their preaching. For that matter, even if they preach lies about Christ the Holy Spirit will use their lies to bring some to know Christ. In a similar manner, I do not care why unbelievers choose to read the Bible or listen to God’s word being preached. I have faith in the power of the Holy Spirit, and in God’s word, to bring those exposed to God’s love to Him.

    Despite the fact that Paul did not care why people preached Christ so long as they did indeed preach Christ, he advises us to do nothing out of selfish ambition. If we humbly value others above ourselves and look out for their interests rather than our own we will discover the life an joy which God promises us. If we serve God and others without grumbling or arguing we will stand out in a way which will draw many to the Lord. Let us embrace suffering and death in service to God because that is the only way to know Christ and experience the great power of God. As denizens of this sinful world we cannot escape death, but if we do not attempt to save ourselves from it, but instead ignore the threat of death in order to serve God we will experience the same resurrection from the dead which Christ experienced. Paul wanted to experience Christ’s suffering so that he could experience Christ’s resurrection. We should seek the same.

    Paul concludes his letter to the Philippians by reminding them to rejoice, even in the face of suffering, especially in the face of suffering. Suffering is proof that God has found us worthy. Paul explains how we can learn to rejoice in the suffering which we experience. Do not worry about anything, instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank Him for what He has already done. I am going to conclude today’s blog with the words Paul uses to conclude his message to the Philippians (what comes after this is just a bit of social business):

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

December 8, 2017 Bible Study — Put on the Armor of God

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Ephesians 4-6.

    In the beginning of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul repeats that our salvation is a free gift from God and nothing we can do can earn it. However, in today’s passage Paul makes clear that does not mean that we can continue to live a life of sin. Instead we are to adopt a new life and accept the new self which the Spirit gives us, a new self which was created to live with a righteousness and holiness like that of God. And what does this new life look like? It involves avoiding falsehood and deception, speaking truthfully to those around us. It involves working hard to do something productive so that we have something to give to those in need. It involves saying only that which builds others up and benefits those who listen. It means avoiding immorality, impurity, and greed. In all of this Paul emphasizes making our words and our actions reflect the love of God for those we meet.

    Paul goes on to explain how we can resist the temptation for sinful behaviors by living our lives as if everything we do will be witnessed by others, because in the long run it will be. Do that which is productive and fruitful while avoiding unproductive activity. Paul warns us against anger and bitterness, that they can destabilize our lives and make us unproductive. When he discusses the armor of God, he shows us how resisting temptation and defeating evil has both passive and active elements. The battle we are waging is not against our fellow humans. It is against the powers and spiritual forces which have entered this world through sin. By being truthful and accepting the righteousness which God gives us we can avoid attacks those powers will direct our way. When we buckle on God’s peace we can stand our ground and let anger and bitterness flow around and away from us. We can use our faith in God’s goodness extinguish the shots intended to make us feel useless and like failures (we were made in God’s image, according to His good plan, how can we be failures?). Finally, if we arm ourselves by allowing the Spirit to direct our study of God’s word we can take the fight to the enemy, revealing and exploiting their weaknesses (just remember, the enemy is not any of the people around, but the spirits and powers of this world).

December 7, 2017 Bible Study — To Him Who Is Able To Do Immeasurably More Than We Can Ask Or Imagine

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading. I am pleased that more people have been reading my blog, but am somewhat disappointed that so few bother to click the link and read the Bible passage which I am commenting on. Perhaps some of you are reading the passage in other formats. If so, that is wonderful. I have been blessed by reading through the Bible each year and promise that if you do so you will be as well. My wish is that each of you will read a portion of the Bible for yourself each day, even if it is not the passage which I am commenting on.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Ephesians 1-3.

    There are three themes which Paul writes about in today’s passage to which I want to bring your attention. Paul reminds us that we have been saved by the gift of God’s grace, which we receive through faith. We do not have anything to boast about because our salvation is a freely given gift from God, even the faith through which we receive it is a gift from God. Even though we have been made righteous through God’s grace we have no basis to consider ourselves better than anyone else because that righteousness is not a product of our own actions. Rather it is a product of the Holy Spirit acting within us. Paul goes further to indicate that the Holy Spirit created this righteousness within us in order that we might do good works. Our good works do not make us righteous, they are our response to being made righteous.

    One of the results of the Holy Spirit working within us is that the dividing walls of hostility which come between members of various human defined groups are destroyed. If the Holy Spirit is truly working within us we will be united with those believers whom the world teaches that we should hate. Anyone who accepts God’s grace becomes a member of the Body of Christ, no matter what their background. This is but one of the things which the power of God can accomplish. Throughout this passage Paul writes about the amazing power of God. Power which is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. Joining together into one Body those who were taught to hate each other is but one aspect of the ways this power can work beyond our power to imagine. I want to come back to what Paul says here about God’s power. God is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. We need to remember this when we pray about the things we struggle with. We are not even able to imagine the solutions to our problems which God has. One of our failures of imagination is seeing problems where God is providing blessings.

December 6, 2017 Bible Study — Freedom To Act According To The Leading Of The Holy Spirit

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Galatians 1-6.

    In Paul’s letter to the Galatians he focuses on salvation through faith not by works. The focus of his point is that we cannot be saved by following rituals, not even the rituals of the Law of Moses. We have been freed from following the Law by the Holy Spirit and faith.

I am going to take a slight aside here because I came across a story which suggested that there is a strain of Christian theology which teaches that women are inferior to men and will continue to be so in Heaven. That is an idea which Paul puts firmly to rest in this passage. In the same verses where he does that, Paul also puts to rest the notion that people of one ethnic background are superior, or inferior, to those of another ethnic background. Finally, Paul also rejects the idea that those from one social class is superior, or inferior, to those from another social class. In Galatians 3:28 Paul tells us that “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” I am not better than you, you are not better than me. And neither one of us is better than that other person over there (no matter who that is).

OK, back to my main theme. We have been freed from the obligation to follow the Law of Moses by Christ’s death and resurrection, which is a good thing because we would fail to follow on one point or another even if we were obligated to do so. We are not capable of being good enough to earn a spot in Heaven.

    However, if we have truly embraced the saving faith which the Spirit will give to us, we will not use our freedom to indulge our fleshly desires. Instead we will strive to serve others in love. Our fleshly desires are contrary to the Spirit. So, Paul points out that our freedom from the Law of Moses comes from being led by the Spirit, but if we are led by the Spirit we will act according to the Spirit, not according to fleshly desires. If we act according to fleshly desires we will find ourselves falling under the dominance of the Law once more. If we look at society around us we see how this works out. Harvey Weinstein used the freedom afforded him by the “sexual revolution” to indulge his desires rather than to serve others in love. He is now discovering that he is under the dominance of a Law which will demand he suffer the consequences of his actions, consequences of which he thought he was free. So, let us not make a similar error.

December 5, 2017 Bible Study — Rewards For Generous Giving

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on 2 Corinthians 9-13.

    Paul tells us that we should give generously to those in need, in particular to our fellow believers who are in need. In many ways what he writes here is a reflection of the guidelines to giving we can draw from Luke’s account of the sharing undertaken by the early Church in Acts. In Acts we were told that no one was under obligation to give of their wealth to help others. Here, Paul tells the Corinthians that their giving should not be under compulsion. We should cheerfully give as we are able. God is more than able to supply our needs and will do so. If we give generously, God will reward us generously…although we should not make the mistake of thinking that the reward which God gives us will necessarily be material. Nevertheless, the more generous we are in our giving, the more generous we will be able to be going forward. This comes to be in two ways. As we give generously God may reward us financially so that we can give even more going forward. However, even if He does not, the joy of giving will cause us to ferret out ways in which we can reduce our expenses so that we can give more.

    At the end of his letter to the Corinthian believers Paul makes a defense of his ministry against the teachings of other teachers whom some of the Corinthian believers were more impressed with than they were with Paul. His defense contains two lines of argument. He warns the Corinthians not to be impressed by the credentials and personality of people whose teachings contradict what they already believe. Paul does not go into detail about what these other “apostles” are teaching, but he makes it clear that even those who follow them acknowledge it contradicts what Paul taught. These teachers were building on top of the foundations of belief which Paul had laid among the Corinthian believers, yet contradicting his teachings. These “apostles” presented themselves as having great credentials and wonderful accomplishments. For the most part all the Corinthians knew about the credentials of these “apostles” is what they said about themselves. Which brings me to Paul’s second line of argument. Paul laid out to them his own credentials, credentials which had been attested to by others, many of which had been directly witnessed by Corinthian believers.
    From this we learn to judge teachers and leaders by how their teaching and leadership lines up with what we already know about the Gospel. A true leader or teacher from God should encourage us to go to Scripture for ourselves and see if what they are teaching is supported by Scripture. Any teacher who claims authority to interpret Scripture in a way which only those with “secret” knowledge would understand is suspect. The second part of Paul’s argument reminds us that we must occasionally explain to people how we came by our understanding and knowledge of the Gospel. We should not ask people to accept our understanding of the Gospel on the basis of “appeal to authority”, but we do need to remind them that we learned from authoritative sources. To put that in personal perspective: I have no special knowledge and have no authority to demand your obedience or agreement, but I have studied the Scripture and the Holy Spirit has guided my thinking.

December 4, 2017 Bible Study — Seeking To Put On Our Eternal Bodies

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on 2 Corinthians 5-8.

    At the end of yesterday’s passage, Paul wrote, “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” In today’s passage he continues that thought with a mixture of two metaphors. He compares our earthly bodies to tents which are temporary dwelling places which provide limited shelter from the elements and then compares our resurrection bodies to buildings which are permanent dwelling places which provide much better shelter from the elements. Just as a building is far superior to a tent as a place to call home, so our resurrection bodies will be far superior to our earthly bodies. Paul then transitions to comparing our earthly and resurrection bodies to clothing. He describes how our faith should lead us to desire death and resurrection, not as a desire to die and leave our earthly bodies but as a desire to enter into our resurrection bodies. Our only reason for desiring the death of our earthly bodies is to put on our resurrection bodies. Paul teaches that we should not seek death, yet we should welcome it when it comes, not just for ourselves but also for our fellow believers.

    A little further on Paul writes that a believer should not team up with an unbeliever. I remember when I was growing up this verse was often used to indicate that a believer should not date, let alone marry, an unbeliever. While that is very true, it is not what Paul is talking about here. This is a much more general instruction. I think that everyone needs to think about how this applies to their own lives, but I can think of examples of bands and business partnerships which foundered because believers partnered with unbelievers. As the band or business started to prosper, the believers and the unbelievers discovered that their priorities were in conflict. Paul continues on by describing how we are a temple to the living God. In light of this Paul tells us that we should cleanse ourselves of all impurity, of anything which could make us unfit to house the Spirit of God. By following Paul’s instruction to act out of our fear of God and work toward complete holiness we can go back and evaluate how Paul’s instruction to not team up with unbelievers applies in our lives.

December 3, 2017 Bible Study — Do Not Allow Anger To Override Your Love

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on 2 Corinthians 1-4.

    I am so glad I have been writing this blog for these last several years because I keep seeing things I never noticed before, sometimes things which always seemed convoluted and strange. For example, when I read Paul’s explanation for why he changed his plans about stopping by Corinth on his way back to Jerusalem. This has always seemed convoluted to me and like Paul is saying, “I really meant to come by, but I was mad at you and did not want to talk to you.” In fact what Paul said here was that he realized he was too angry about what he had heard and if he went to Corinth he would say things he would later regret. So, instead of visiting he expressed his anger in a letter, where he could carefully choose his words and not risk saying something which inaccurately expressed what he meant to say. In today’s world of instant communication this is a lesson we need to remember. There are times when we should pause and communicate in a way which allows us to carefully consider our words. Of course, there are also times when we need to communicate face to face because written words can be misunderstood and it is easier to know what you are saying that your audience is misunderstanding when you speak in person.

December 2, 2017 Bible Study — On The Resurrection Of The Dead

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on 1 Corinthians 15-16.

    In today’s passage Paul addresses the issue of resurrection from the dead. Paul tells the Corinthians, and through them, us, that the core of the Gospel is that Jesus died, was buried, and then rose from the dead on the third day. He immediately provides a list of witnesses to His resurrection. Paul makes it clear that he did not believe in some figurative or symbolic resurrection. Paul believed in the literal resurrection from the dead of Jesus Christ. Further, this belief was the basis of his belief that we would also be resurrected from the dead. If Jesus was not raised from the dead the whole of the Gospel is nothing but a fabric of lies. You cannot build a useful moral code on falsehood.

    I do not think it is possible to make too much of the importance of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus’ death shows us the path to victoriously exercising the power of God in our lives. Jesus’ resurrection shows us that God’s power will be victorious, even after what seems like the ultimate defeat. Jesus’ willingness to accept death led to His resurrection. In the same way we must be willing to accept death in order to be resurrected. Paul’s discussion about how our resurrected bodies will be different from our earthly bodies expounds on this point. An acorn which is preserved as an acorn will never grow into an oak tree. In the same way, if we seek to keep our earthly bodies we cannot be encased in the bodies which God intends for us.

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