January 31 - Hebrews

Saturday, January 31, 2009

January 31 - Hebrews

I've been thinking about this book all month long. In all honesty, I have (I know ... it's sad). I question whether or not to include it in a study on Paul. This is the book with the most problems regarding authorship. There are several reasons for questioning this.

All of Paul's letters begin with him identifying himself and this does not. Scholars also have told us that the structure of this letter is nothing like any of his other letters. Several authors are put forward as possibilities: Luke, Apollos, Barnabas. We simply don't know. The best ideas put forth hold that is a letter from Barnabas. In fact, in very early canons of the Bible, it was called "The Epistle of Barnabas." But, in all honesty, the author remains unknown.

Clement of Rome write about this letter in 96 AD, so we know that it was written prior to that date. Timothy is spoken of in Hebrews 13:23. He had obviously been imprisoned. If Paul wrote this letter, that means that it was written towards the very end of his life, possibly 68 AD. Hebrews 8:4-5; 10:11 seem to imply that the Temple was still in existence, so that places the writing prior to 70 AD with the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Many find themselves avoiding Hebrews due to its very difficult teachings. We know bits and pieces of it, such as the Hall of Faith found in Hebrews 11:1-40 and the extensive teaching on Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:1-28).

There are many warnings in this letter, warnings that the author hopes all Christians will take to heart as they read. The Christians that he was writing to were in danger of falling away from the passion and zeal that they had when they first became Christians. We see in Hebrews 2:1-4 that some were in danger of drifting away, while Hebrews 3:7-4:11 the author is concerned with the fact that they are hardening their hearts.

He is concerned that they are turning back to the religiosity of Judaism and away from the living God (Hebrews 3:12). Jesus was the perfection of the New Covenant (Hebrews 9:11-15) and fulfilled the anticipation of the Old Testament (Hebrews 10:1)

The author of Hebrews had an extensive background in Hebrew scripture and uses passages throughout the letter.

The New Bible Commentary says that the author introduces five major themes throughout the book. In Hebrews 1:4, he tells us that he will speak to Jesus' preeminence over the angels and then proceeds to work through that issue. In Hebrews 2:17, the theme he takes up is that Jesus is the merciful and faithful high priest. In Hebrews 5:9-10, Jesus is brought forth as the perfected high priest in the order of Melchizedek. Faith and endurance become the theme for the next section beginning with Hebrews 10:36-39 and Hebrews 12:12-13 bring the message home with appeals for a God-honoring lifestyle, followed up with personal messages.

Whoever the author, whatever the time, this is one of the greatest portions of the Word of God.

Hebrews 1:1-14
Hebrews 2: 1-18
Hebrews 3:1-19
Hebrews 4:1-16
Hebrews 5:1-14
Hebrews 6:1-20
Hebrews 7:1-28
Hebrews 8:1-13
Hebrews 9:1-28
Hebrews 10:1-39
Hebrews 11:1-40
Hebrews 12:1-29
Hebrews 13:1-25

This has been a very quick overview of Paul's life. I've learned a lot actually and though he will continue to annoy me, I think I better understand the reason why. He passionately approaches everything that he teaches and believes. He was not a man to be taken lightly and polarized people wherever he went. But, Jesus Christ knew exactly what He was doing when He chose this man to further His kingdom. One day in Damascus changed the world - our world! Paul transformed Christianity from a small sect among the Jews to an ever-expanding, world-changing religion. Everywhere he went, he changed people's lives. He calls us to be evangelists, in whatever way God will use us.

January 30 - 2 Timothy

Friday, January 30, 2009

January 30 - 2 Timothy

Paul is nearing the end of his life and he knows it (2 Timothy 4:6-8). There is a sense of urgency as he asks Timothy to try to get to Rome (2 Timothy 4:21). This young man has been with him for a long time and we see the intimacy with which he greets him when he calls him 'my dear son' in 2 Timothy 1:2.

The first part of this letter is meant to encourage Timothy. Notice a couple of phrases that show us how Timothy is handling his ministry. 2 Timothy 1:7-8 and 2 Timothy 2:1-3 show us that the young man is hesitant about standing up for what he knows is right.

Paul reminds him that the faith he stands on has a long history in his family, coming through his grandmother and his mother. Look at 2 Timothy 1:6. "Fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.' Paul remembers the day that this happened. It is a special memory for him. He would have recognized the power of God moving through Timothy and he wants Timothy to remember it as well.

In chapter 2, we see Paul trying to teach Timothy the difference between being a brash young man, given to saying anything that comes to mind and being the Lord's servant.

This is a beautiful letter from Paul to Timothy. We have taken many of the verses out of context, yet when they are read within the body of the entire letter, the meaning is so much more powerful.

Read this letter today - it's short - it's amazing.

2 Timothy 1:1-18
2 Timothy 2:1-26
2 Timothy 3:1-17
2 Timothy 4:1-22

January 29 - Titus

Thursday, January 29, 2009

January 29 - Titus

Titus was another young man that Paul trained to be a successor. Paul left him in Crete (Titus 1:5) to finish his work there and to also take Paul's work out to the churches in the surrounding area.

We meet Titus heading to Jerusalem with Paul and Barnabas (Acts 11:29-30; Galatians 2:1). In Galatians 2:3, we see that Titus was not compelled to be circumcised, even though he was Greek, when he made that trip to Jerusalem. This was obviously a test to ensure the truth of the message that Paul was bringing to the Gentiles. Paul wanted to ensure that he was teaching correctly and when the young man that he trusted (Titus) was able to come through without feeling the need for circumcision, Paul's message to the Gentiles was moved forward. God did not require everyone to become a Jew so that they could enter the kingdom of God!

Titus had a few tasks set before him by Paul. He was to organize the church - appoint (ordain) elders and teach them how to act in that role. (Titus 1:5-9) Titus was told to refute false teachers. The quote in Titus 1:12 is from a famous poet - Epimenides and the creation of the term 'Cretan' comes from this time.

Paul did not ask Titus to deal with these people by being nice to them, he was told to rebuke them sharply, but this was to be done so that they would be sound in the faith, not just to take them out.

The second chapter of Titus deals with three different groups of people within the church: the elderly (Titus 2:2-5), the young (Titus 2:6-8) and the slaves (Titus 2:9-10). Paul wanted everyone to come into a better relationship with each other and with God.

The third chapter takes on two more groups of people in Paul's exhortations to Titus regarding the ministry of the local churches. Civil rulers (Titus 3:1-7). We should all be good citizens. The list seems to be long, but it's nothing that can't be achieved. Heretics (Titus 3:8-11). A heretic is actually someone who is divisive. Someone who causes a church to split apart as they choose who to believe. Titus is told to avoid the controversies and warn the divisive person twice. After that - be done with it! Not so easy sometimes, though.

This is a terrific letter, filled with insight that was to be used in organizing the local churches. It's only three short chapters, take some time to read it.

Titus 1:1-16
Titus 2:1-15
Titus 3:1-15

January 28 - 1 Timothy

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

January 28 - 1 Timothy

We met Timothy in Acts 16:1-3, where we find that he comes from a mixed heritage. His father was a Greek and his mother was Jewish. In 2 Timothy 3:15, we are told that he learned the scriptures from infancy. Paul had left him in Ephesus to continue his work there.

The last three letters (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus) are called Paul's Pastoral Epistles. He knows that he doesn't have a lot of time left on earth and he needs to let the churches know how they are to act. Paul fully expected to return to Ephesus, but just in case he was delayed, this letter was written so that Timothy would know of his expectations for the church (1 Timothy 3:14-15).

It is obvious that Paul loved Timothy dearly, but he had placed Timothy in a well-established church and in a church that was dealing with false teacher. When he opened the letter by calling Timothy his 'true son in the faith' (1 Tim. 1:2), he was giving this young man the authority that came from the one who established the church in Ephesus. Though the letter was written to Timothy, it would have been read to the church at large.

Much of this letter consists of instructions on what the church should look like and how the people within the structure of the church should behave. From instructions for worship to advice on caring for widows, Paul laid it all out for them.

Paul's words are better than mine - take the time to read this letter today.

1 Timothy 1:1-20
1 Timothy 2:1-15
1 Timothy 3:1-16
1 Timothy 4:1-16
1 Timothy 5:1-25
1 Timothy 6:1-21

January 27 - After Acts - Paul's later life

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

January 27 - After Acts - Paul's later life

There is a lot of dispute regarding what happened after the book of Acts ends. Two schools of thought: Paul was beheaded by Nero in 64 AD, not long after Acts 28, the second puts his death a few years later. Those that teach the former, also teach that he didn't actually write the letters to Timothy and Titus - that they were written in his name. However, in believing that he was actually the author of those letters, it changes the timeline for his death. In all of the reading I have done on this subject to this point, I am going to assume that he was killed closer to 67AD and that he did write these three letters. That is the way I will approach today's study.

Scholars take information from these letters as well as other historical writings. Clement of Rome (died 101AD) spoke of Paul and implied that he did actually get a chance to go to Spain, which was in his plans (Romans 15:28) after being released from the Roman prison in 64 AD. Remember, that is the year that Rome burned to the ground and Nero concocted ways to blame the Christians for the tragedy. Tradition also says that Paul was able to travel to Britain, but there is no proof of that.

Using the letters to Timothy and Titus as a guide, we find that he left Titus in Crete (Titus 1:5) traveled through Miletus (which is south of Ephesus) which is where he left Trophimus sick (2 Timothy 4:20) on his way to Macedonia. He visited Timothy in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3) and left his books and cloak with Carpus in Troas (2 Timothy 4:13).

While he was in Macedonia, he wrote his first letter to Timothy and the letter to Titus. He had decided to winter in Nicopolis (Titus 3:12). At this point, we don't have much information. Whether he did stay the winter in Nicopolis is up in the air, but we know he didn't have his cloak. At some point he was re-arrested and imprisoned in Rome. He asks Timothy to bring his cloak (2 Timothy 4:13) because winter is coming (2 Timothy 4:21).

Many people deserted Paul during this time (2 Timothy 4;16), including friends in Asia (2 Timothy 1:15) and Demas (2 Timothy 4:10). Luke stayed with him (2 Timothy 4:11) and Paul asked Timothy to bring John Mark with him (2 Timothy 4:11). Apparently, Timothy did come and was himself imprisoned (Hebrews 13:23).

Paul had two trials before Nero and only the Lord stood by him at the first one (2 Timothy 4:16-17). We know nothing of the second trial, but tradition tells us that he was condemned. He was decapitated by the sword of the executioner. Since he was a Roman citizen, torture was not allowed. A swift execution was to take place. This happened no later than 68 AD since that is the known date of Nero's death.

Paul knew that his time was near and concluded his teaching with these words:

"For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day - and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing." (2 Timothy 4:6-8)

Research from: Elwell, Walter A.; Comfort, Philip Wesley: Tyndale Bible Dictionary. Wheaton, Ill. : Tyndale House Publishers, 2001 (Tyndale Reference Library), S. 1003

January 26 - Colossians & Philemon

Monday, January 26, 2009

January 26 - Colossians & Philemon

While Paul was living in relative comfort, though imprisoned within his own home in Rome, he wrote a letter to the people living in Colosse. Colosse, Laodicea and Hierapolis are sister cities located relatively close to Ephesus. In Colossians 4:16 Paul asks that this letter be transmitted to the church in Laodicea as well.

There is no record of Paul having traveled to Colosse. More than likely Epraphras (Colossians 1:7) was influential in bringing the message from Ephesus and Archippus (Colossians 4:17) was a leader within the church.

We'll see Archippus again in the letter to Philemon (Philemon 1:2). Since Paul mentions that the believers met in Philemon's home, it is more than likely that Philemon lived in Colosse.

Epraphus visited Paul in Rome and brought him news of this church. Paul acknowledges the faith and love that they have and lets them know the intensity of his prayers for them (Colossians 1:1-14).

False teachers had sprung up in Colosse and were teaching the believers there that mysticism, strict legalism and self-denial would help them discover heaven.

Paul teaches that Jesus Christ is preeminent in all things (Colossians 1:13-19) and warns against heresies that would teach against that. The heresy that was predominant at the time combined several things: Old Testament laws (Colossians 2:8, 11, 16) with human philosophy (Colossians 2:8) and angel worship (Colossians 2:18) as well as teaching that offered special knowledge into the workings of the universe and man (Colossians 2:4, 8, 18).

Paul’s response stressed Christ as Creator and head over the church (1:16–18); the source of all wisdom and knowledge (2:3–4); the fullness of the Deity and head over all authority (2:9–10); and the only source of hope for future resurrection glory (3:1–4). All believers, who are Christ’s body, are connected to Christ, their head (2:19). They are to seek after heavenly things (3:1–2), put on the new self (3:9–10), and let the word of Christ dwell in them richly (3:16).

Hughes, Robert B. ; Laney, J. Carl: Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary. Wheaton, Ill. : Tyndale House Publishers, 2001 (The Tyndale Reference Library), S. 607

The letter to Philemon was written for one purpose - to substitute forgiveness and acceptance for the legal rights of ownership. Paul asked him to see relationships as they are based on the bonds created with Christ, rather than social structures, status and achievement. Philemon was a wealthy man, a slave-owner. The church met in his home. While the letter was a private one, Paul obviously intended for the matter to be made public. More than likely, the hope was that other slave-owners would follow Philemon's example.

Colossians 1:1-29
Colossians 2:1-23
Colossians 3:1-25
Colossians 4:1-18
Philemon 1:1-25

January 25 - In a Roman Prison

Sunday, January 25, 2009

January 25 - In a Roman Prison - Acts 27:1-28:31

This story is probably one of the best-known of all of Paul's travels. Notice that Luke seems to still be with the group. Luke also continues to extol the kindness of Roman guards and gives us their names as well. They have set sail for Italy and on one of the stops (in Sidon), the centurion allows Paul to meet with his friends. This was not an easy voyage, they actually transferred to a different vessel so as to make way against the winds. Even that wasn't going to help them. (Acts 27:1-8)

Now, why would a centurion listen to a tentmaker over the pilot of the ship? I don't know that I would, but we soon discover that he should have done exactly that. (Acts 27:9-12) Winter is coming, the storms are increasing, they haven't seen the sun for days, they are tossing things overboard to keep the ship afloat. All seems lost. But, Paul encourages them by telling them God's plan for him to stand before Caesar. Keep courage. (Acts 27:13-26)

I probably would have tossed him over myself at that point, but fortunately I wasn't on that ship because I would have been wrong.

Acts 27:27 says that they were still on that same ship after fourteen days. Battered and tossed about with no food (I would have probably tossed any food in my stomach anyway) they begin to sense that they are approaching land. They were afraid of being dashed on the rocks so sailors let down the lifeboat. Paul told the centurion and soldiers that was a bad idea. The lifeboat was cut away. I guess the centurion learned his lesson about who to believe - Paul or the sailors. (Acts 27:27-32)

Paul told them to eat something and then told them that everyone would be saved. He also got them to throw all fo the grain into the sea. Wow. They are listening to him now. A sandy bay, a sandbar, the boat's stern is pounded to pieces, a murderous plot against the prisoners and a faithful centurion. They all got to shore (Acts 27:33-44). Whew!

While the sailors had no idea where they were, there aren't any unpopulated islands in the Adriatic. Soon they discovered that they were on Malta and found themselves among a group of very kind islanders.

We read the story of the snake's attack on Paul. Don't you love the way the islanders were ready to believe that he was a murderer because they saw the snake hanging from his hand? And yet, their attitudes quickly changed when he didn't die from the bite. Now they believed he was a god. On Malta, Paul healed Publius' father and then many sick from the island. (Acts 28:1-10)

Another ship was found, supplies were set in and the tour proceeded to Rome. (Acts 28:11-16)

Once in Rome, Paul calls the leaders of the Jews together and speaks to them. They haven't heard anything from Judea about him, but have heard about the Christians. While he was under guard, he spoke with them over and over. Some believed. Some did not. (Acts 28:17-27)

Paul reaffirms his mission to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles and the book of Acts ends by telling us that Paul spent two years under house arrest (he had to rent the house) preaching boldly about the Kingdom of God. (Acts 28:28-31)

Paul's story isn't finished yet. The impact of his humble, yet bold, life has barely begun to show in the world at this point.

January 24 - Philippians

Saturday, January 24, 2009

January 24 - Philippians

We'll look at one more letter that Paul wrote while in Rome, though we haven't actually gotten him there yet. Philippi was named after Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great and was established in 42 bc. This is the home of Luke and of Lydia. Paul visited them during his second missionary journey (Acts 16:11-40) and this was the first European city that he visited. This is where Paul and Silas were imprisoned and miraculously released.

The church that he established in Philippi would have been largely Gentile. In Acts 16:13, 16 we see no signs that there was a temple, since Paul generally spoke there first. This church supported Paul with significant financial gifts (Phil. 4:15-16). Epaphroditus had come from Philippi to offer support to Paul and was being sent back with this letter (Philippians 2:25-30, 4:18). Paul anticipates his release from prison in Philippians 1:19; 2:24 so that puts the date of this letter around 62AD.

Joy. It's all about joy.

The main theme of this letter was joy. Paul hoped to encourage his readers. Even though he was in prison and things seemed dark, Paul asked them to look beyond the immediacy of the prison cell to see how Christ could work.

Philippians 2:1-11 is a beautiful description of who Jesus is. Many believe that Phil. 2:5-11 were the words to a liturgy of the early church.

In Paul's later years, he spent more and more time in prison and less time with the churches that he had established. He had to communicate with them through his friends and through his letters. It was important that he continue to teach them as the newness of conversion wore off and the reality of everyday life set in. Philippians 3:3-11 is a very personal testimony. He follows it with verses that are very familiar to us. But, the teaching was important as people realized that he was teaching them not to look to some far-off future, but to live in the present as we move to the future.

Philippians 4 is filled with personal notes, but the depth of the teaching found in those notes is incredible. Passages that can easily become mundane to us have been written by a man passionate about helping his churches grow as Christians. Philippians 4:9 says "Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me - put it in to practice."

I pray that you find joy as you take time to read this letter.

Philippians 1:1-30
Philippians 2:1-30
Philippians 3:1-21
Philippians 4:1-23

February Study

Friday, January 23, 2009

I thought about doing "Great Lovers of the Bible," but honestly, there aren't 28 great marriages (or non-marriages) to write about, so I created a different outline for the month.

I'm going to call it "What I Did For Love."

There was no problem finding 28 different relationships to discuss. Everything from marriages and lovers to best friends. For the most part, they are love stories, which means that I avoided Samson and Delilah, Herod and Herodias and some others that were so vile.

I will be all over the Bible and hope to put lots of references into the text so that you don't have to chase everything down with me. Maybe you will meet someone you haven't met yet, maybe you'll have a different outlook on the passage than I will, but that is what this is all about.

Now is the time to invite someone else to join us on the journey. They can either get to my blog here at pouroutablessing.blogspot.com or can email me to sign up for these to hit their inboxes every night at nammynools (at) cox (dot) net. Tell a friend!

January 23 - Ephesians

January 23 - Ephesians

I'm going to interrupt the flow of the story a little here. While Paul was in Rome, he wrote a lot of letters. Rather than throw them all at you at the end of the month, I'm going to mix it up a little. One of the first letters that he wrote was to the people in Ephesus.

This letter was written to a group of people that didn't really have any major problems. Look at Ephesians 1:15-23. Paul is thankful for this group of people and he wants to encourage them to go deeper in their relationship with Jesus Christ.

It is important for him to encourage the unity of the church, especially between Jews and Gentiles. Certain phrases occur regularly - phrases with words such as 'with' and 'together' are found in Ephesians 1:10; 2:6; 2:22. The word 'one' occurs - one new man (Ephesians 2:14-15), one body (Ephesians 2:16), one Spirit (Ephesians 2:18), one hope (Ephesians 4:4), one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all (Ephesians 4:5-6).

Paul taught the plan of salvation in different ways in his letters. In Romans, he emphasized faith apart from works; in Galatians, he discussed faith apart from ceremony and in Ephesians, he teaches about the unity of believers.

The letter breaks down into two parts. Part One is found in Ephesians 1-3. This is what Thompson (Chain Reference Bible) calls "The Church and the Plan of Salvation." Part Two is the "Practical Application and is found in Ephesians 4-6.

Paul's prayers for the church are found in Ephesians 1:16-23 and Ephesians 3:14-21. You will find the passage on spiritual armor in Ephesians 6:10-17.

Ephesians 1:1-23
Ephesians 2:1-22
Ephesians 3:1-21
Ephesians 4:1-32
Ephesians 5:1-33
Ephesians 6:1-24

I also blogged on Ephesians 1-5 on my "Oracle" blog back in 2006. My world fell apart by Ephesians 6. I really thought I went back and finished that, but I can't find it right now. Here it is:

Ephesians 1
Ephesians 2
Ephesians 3
Ephesians 4, pt. 1
Ephesians 4, pt. 2
Ephesians 5

January 22 - Paul in Caesarea

Thursday, January 22, 2009

January 22 - Paul in Caesarea - Acts 23:23

This point in the story is actually the point that allows scholars to identify a timeline for Paul's story. They know that Felix was the governor in Caesarea from 52-58 AD. This man was known as an evil man. He was married to Drusilla, who was the daughter of Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:1), the sister of Herod Agrippa II (Acts 15:13), was Jewish and had left her husband to marry Felix. She was his third wife. The historian Tacitus said that he "exercised the power of a king in the spirit of a slave" and others called him a vulgar ruffian.

The commander of the guard, Claudius Lysias, was an honorable man as were his soldiers. They took Paul out of Jerusalem at night, got him to Antipatris, where he was placed with cavalry who took him on to Caesarea. Once there, the governor put him in Herod's palace awaiting the arrival of his accusers from Jerusalem. (Acts 23:23-35)

It took them five days to get there. The accusers were Ananias and other elders along with a lawyer named Tertullus. Tertullus began with flattery and presented his case. (Acts 24:1-9)

Paul was given a chance to speak. Felix had heard of The Way (the Christians) and didn't really want to deal with this. In fact, we find that he wanted Paul to bribe him. Paul spent a lot of time talking to Felix because of this.

Felix kept Paul in Caesarea for the next two years without conducting a trial. He was then replaced by Porcius Festus. (Acts 24:10-27)

Those same Jews, after two years, were no less determined to get Paul transferred to Jerusalem. They still wanted to kill him. I do wonder, though, how long they managed to hold out on their hunger strike.

While Festus was on his way to Caesarea, he traveled through Jerusalem. He spent eight to ten days with the Jews there and invited them to join him in Caesarea. Luke tells us that court was convened and though they levied many charges against Paul, they could prove none of them.

Festus still wanted to placate the Jews and tried to talk Paul into going to Jerusalem to stand trial. However, Paul layed it all out. He appealed to Caesar. At that point, there was nothing more that anyone could do. An appeal to Caesar meant that Paul would go to Rome. (Acts 25:1-12)

The next part of the story continues to get interesting.

Festus consulted with King Agrippa (Herod). (Acts 25:13-22) Then Agrippa met with Paul. Paul gave his testimony one more time. (Acts 25:23-26:27).

The last bit of the story with King Agrippa is heartbreaking. (Acts 26:28-32) Agrippa asks Paul if he thinks that he can be persuaded to become a Christian. Paul's honest response is that he prays that everyone listening would become what he is.

And then, King Agrippa says it. "This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment. ... This man could have been set free, if he had not appealed to Caesar." (Acts 28:32)

January 21 - Paul's Story Continues

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

January 21 - Paul's Story Continues - Acts 22:22-23:22

When last we saw Paul, he was giving his testimony to the people of Jerusalem. (Acts 22:1-21) As soon as he told them that Jesus had sent him to the Gentiles, they went NUTS! They were so out of control that they were throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust in the air. (Acts 22:23)

The guards that had brought Paul to the barracks were a bit confused by the entire spectacle and decided that torture was the appropriate thing to do to figure out why the crowd was so upset with him. Now, I find it very interesting that they were willing to do this to anyone except a Roman citizen. As soon as Paul made it clear that he had citizenship in the Roman empire, they were even concerned that they had chained him. (Acts 22:24-29) The interesting thing to me here is that there is nothing new under the sun. If we read this in the Bible, we are appalled and yet it occurs within our world today, two thousand years later.

The next day, Paul was taken before the Sanhedrin. Now remember, Paul had been a Pharisee and had studied under one of the leaders of the Sanhedrin - Gamaliel. When he comes before them, he is not unknown. However, Ananias ordered that he be smacked around a little and Paul's back went up. "God will strike you, you whitewashed wall!" (Acts 23:3) I wish I could speak like that sometimes.

He was about to be in a lot of trouble, but since he was an intelligent man and had been a Pharisee, set the two groups against each other by brinigng up the resurrection. The Sadducees and Pharisees erupted. Things became so violent that the commander of the guards who had brought Paul to the Sanhedrin took him back to the barracks. (Acts 23:1-10)

One of the most amazingly tender moments is about to occur and it's hidden in one simple verse, "The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, 'Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.'"

How many times have we yearned to hear the voice of the Lord say to us, "Take courage." Maybe we just have to listen.

These Jews were serious about their fury at Paul. Forty of them formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath to not eat or drink until they had killed Paul. They took this oath to the Sanhedrin and demanded that they bring Paul in so that he could be killed.

Paul's nephew heard about this. Hmmm ... I didn't even know Paul had a sister until this point and who knew that she was living in Jerusalem! Philippians 3:8 tells us that Paul lost everything when he became a Christian and that would have included his family. Maybe they were converted later. Paul told us earlier that he was the son of a Pharisee. His sister's family would have been able to access information in the Sanhedrin, they probably continued to have contact with many friends and associates.

Her son got the information to the commander of the guard, who listened earnestly and put together a plan to get Paul out of Jerusalem.

The plot thickens ...

January 20 - Community

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

January 20 - Community - Romans 12-16

Paul begins this last section of his letter to the Romans by laying out expectations and offering perspectives on what the essentials of community are with regard to yourself, the church and society.

The first word in Romans 12:1, "Therefore" (NIV) is meant to tell his readers that this conclusion will wrap up everything that he taught them in the first eleven chapters. I also love verse two, where it very beautifully tells us that we are not to be changed from the outside in (conform to the world) but from the inside out (transformed). Paul fully understands the world that we live in and how easy it is to fall into patterns that aren't within the will of God. In fact, he clearly tells us that by this transformaion, we will be able to comprehend what God's will is. There should be no question! (Romans 12:2).

After speaking to the arrogance of both the Jews and the Gentiles in earlier chapters, Paul once again reminds us that humility is the only way we should be exercising our gifts in Christ. (Romans 12:3-8). He then goes on through the last part of Romans 12:9-21) to tell us that love is the proper context in which we work within the community, but every statement he brings forth shows us that love begins with humility.

Romans 13:1-7 describes the expectations Paul has for Christians as they live under the authority of government. He then returns to the basis for all community - love (Romans 13:8-14). When I am sick or stressed, the night time becomes the worst time for me. It seems as if the hours will never pass as I toss and turn, get up, lay down. The worst things seem to happen in my mind at night. The worst things in our lives seem to happen at night as well. His comparison in Romans 13:13-14 of day and night ends with clothing ourselves in Jesus Christ. That would definitely eliminate a lot of sinful desires.

As Christians, we walk a fine line. What is right and wrong, but even moreso, how will our choices affect other Christians? In Romans 14:1-15:13, Paul spends some time teaching us how to look at those choices. It is never about us. It is always about the other person. We may believe a choice is correct, but if it affects someone else negatively, we have made the wrong choice.

Paul wraps up his letter to the Romans with some general and then personal notes. In Romans 15:14, he compliments the Christians in Rome. These people are living fulfilled lives in Christ. They do not need a letter of correction from Paul, but received a letter of encouragement.

We see in Romans 15:23-25 that Paul intends to visit Rome on his way to Spain, but he has a stopover in Jerusalem first. We left him in Jerusalem with things getting a little exciting for our traveler. We'll return to his life tomorrow.

Romans 16 is filled with personal notes to the people he has met along the way and with a quick warning in Romans 16:17 to watch out for the same people that have caused such conflict in his other churches.

"To the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen." (Romans 16:27)

January 19 - Paul teaches about Israel

Monday, January 19, 2009

January 19 - Romans 9-11 - Paul teaches about Israel

These three chapters are based on Jewish criticism that Christianity eliminates God's promises to Israel. Paul begins by immediately saying that God's heart goes out to Israel. He also states that he would willingly give up his life if it would save the people of Israel (Romans 9:3-4).

Romans 9:6-29 goes on to say that God has not broken His covenant with Israel, but Paul asks us to consider what 'Israel' really means. He points out that God continually surprised His people by the choices He made in men through whom the covenant would be supported. If God were a covenant breaker, how could we, as Christians, trust Him to maintain a covenant with us. Paul has just spent quite a bit of time ensuring that Christians know the eternal security there is when placing your faith in Christ.

Paul is pointing out that God's sovereign will is beyond the works of the patriarchs or of any man. He will do what He chooses and it will be the right choice. Romans 9:31-33 very clearly states that works will not achieve righteousness.

Paul continually speaks of 'Israel' in this section, rather than the Jews. He emphasizes over and over that the true children of Abraham are not necessarily those who are descendants by birth, but those who come into the fold by faith. He is arguing that the true Covenant community is composed of Gentiles and Jews.

Romans 10:1-15 continues the development of the thesis on righteousness by faith and not by works and then in Romans 10:16-21, Paul uses Old Testament scripture to show that God was preparing the world for inclusion of the Gentiles.

The last chapter of the section speaks to Gentile's arrogance regarding their inclusion over the Israelites. (Romans 11:18, 25). He also categorically denies that God rejected his people (Romans 11:1, 11).

Romans 11:11-24 is such an exciting passage. Because of what happened to and through the Israelites, provision was made made for Gentiles - that's you and me! - to be reconciled to God. In Romans 11:25-32 Paul reminds his readers of the promise that all of Israel will be saved and points out that this is a mystery. Only as God makes it known, will we understand.

The last few verses of this chapter, Romans 11:33-36 are a climax and benediction for the first half of the letter. Amen.

January 18 - Paul Looks at Faith

Sunday, January 18, 2009

January 18 - Romans 1-8 - Paul looks at Faith

Romans most completely encompasses Paul's teaching on basic tenets of Christianity. It was written in AD 58 and Paul had known Jesus for 22+ years. His main missionary journeys throughout Asia were complete. By now, the church was coming alive in the region. The power of God through the Holy Spirit was strong in his life (and yes, I heard Yoda speaking as I typed those words) and God assigned Paul the task of defining the doctrine for the future. Thousands of years have passed, and this book is still the defining force for the Christian church. I can not do it justice in 3 days, but it is such a good idea to read it, even if you do it quickly, during this time.

In these first eight chapters of Romans, Paul makes it very clear that faith was always the way to salvation - even before and during the time of Moses. The first three chapters point out that Gentiles and Jews are under God's condemnation, with or without the law. Romans 4 points out that Abraham did not have the law, but his faith was secure. Romans 5 tells us that our faith secures our redemption, even though in Adam all died, yet in Christ all may live. The last three chapters of this section, Romans 6-8 discuss how the law and flesh relate to Christ and the Holy Spirit.

To begin with, though, how does Paul identify himself to his readers? The NIV reads in Romans 1:1, "Paul, a servant of Christ ..."

This word, servant, actually translates to mean 'bond-servant' or 'slave.' Paul saw himself as Christ's property, subject to the will of his owner. Now, while we are all servants of Christ, how many of us allow ourselves to be truly subjugated to His will? Paul did.

Wycliffe tells us that Romans 1:17 is the key verse to this letter. The word righteousness (just, justified, righteous) is used over 60 times in Romans. The verse from Habakkuk 2:4 (The righteous will live by faith) is quoted three times in the New Testament. In Romans, 'righteous' is explained, in Galatians 3:11 it is used as 'will live' is explained and in Hebrews the words 'by faith' are explained (Heb. 10:38 quotes the verse).

Romans 1:18-32 begins with opening statements of proof that the Gentile world is guilty. As soon as Paul finishes this section, he moves on to the proof that the Jews are guilty in Romans 2:1-3:8. Beginning in Romans 3:9, he declares that the entire world is guilty. The use of the words 'none' and 'all' are used often. He quotes liberally from the Old Testament to make his proof clear. (Romans 3:9-20)

Guilt has been clearly established. We can make no excuses for ourselves, we can simply stand before God ... silently ... in repentance.

In Romans 3:21-31, we see Paul beginning to define righteousness through faith. Romans 4:1-25 tells how Abraham was justified by faith, not by works ... not by the law which had yet to be established and his faith came prior to his circumcision. The circumcision served to seal his righteousness, not create it.

How can something intangible like faith bring security? Paul answers that question in Romans 5:1-11. We are restored to a relationship with God. The last half of this chapter, Romans 5:12-21 explains fully the free gift that is offered to us by Jesus Christ while Paul contrasts Adam and Jesus. One brought death, the other brings life.

Romans 6:1-8:39 explain how righteousness is given to us through sanctification. To be made holy means to be set apart for God's possession and use. These chapters focus on experiencing holiness as we approach righteousness.

The final verses of Romans 8 offer 5 points of security for the believer. There is no need for fear, there will be no separation from God. God is for us (Romans 8:31), Christ died for us (Romans 8:32), God has justified us (Romans 8:33), Christ intercedes for us (Romans 8:34), Christ loves us (Romans 8:35-39).

Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:39b).

January 17 - Paul in Corinth, writing to the Romans

Saturday, January 17, 2009

January 17 - Paul in Corinth, Writing to the Romans

In Acts 20:3, we see that Paul has left Ephesus and spent three months in Greece. During these three months, the winter of 58AD, he was actually in Corinth staying at the home of Gaius (Romans 16:23, 1 Corinthians 1:14), where he wrote the letter to the Romans while dealing with the issues he knew he had to face with the Corinthians.

The church in Rome was predominantly Gentile, though with the extensive use of Old Testament references found in the letter, there was an expectation that believing Jews would read this letter as well. There are more Old Testament references in Romans than in any other letter of Paul's, which also teaches the great importance of the Old Testament in understanding the Gospel.

It looks as if Phoebe carried this letter to Paul's friends in Rome (Romans 16:1) and as you read the next verses, you see the names of many of his friends. Since he had never been in Rome, it is likely that these people were converted while he was in other communities and then moved into Rome. These names not only signify friends, but also show us that there were gatherings of Christians in homes throughout the city. It had been 22 years since Paul's conversion and he had planted churches on three different missionary journeys.

He intended this presentation of the Gospel to prepare the Christians and others in Rome for his arrival. It is not a call for conversion, but was written to bring his readers to a place where they would rely fully on God and become 'living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God' (Romans 12:1). Romans contains the foundation of Christian doctrine. It was through study of this book that Martin Luther was converted to Christianity

Tyndale gives us this outline of Romans:

A. The Introduction of Paul and His Message (Romans 1:1–17)
B. Righteousness Rejected by All Men (Romans 1:18–3:20)
C. Righteousness Accepted by Faith (Romans 3:21–5:21)
D. Righteousness and Personal Sin (Romans 6:1–8:39)
A. God’s Righteous Election of Israel (Romans 9:1–29)
B. God’s Righteous Witness to Israel (Romans 9:30–10:21)
C. God’s Righteous Restoration of Israel (Romans 11:1–36)
A. The Renewed Mind: Proper Perspectives on Self, Church, and Society (Romans 12:1–13:14)
B. The Renewed Mind: Acceptance and Edification of the Weak (Romans 14:1–15:13)
C. The Trip to Rome: Reasons (Romans 15:14–33)
D. Final Remarks: Friends and Enemies (Romans 16:1–24)
E. Ascription of Glory (Romans 16:25–27)

Hughes, Robert B. ; Laney, J. Carl: Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary. Wheaton, Ill. : Tyndale House Publishers, 2001 (The Tyndale Reference Library), S. 527

We will look at the letter to the Romans over the next three days, though it could take years to ever begin to understand the depth of teaching that Paul offers to us.

January 16 - 2 Corinthians

Friday, January 16, 2009

January 16 - 2 Corinthians

The need for money and status. How many of us would agree that deep down, this is not only the root of most of our problems, but is something we either embrace or make attempts to reject daily. We couch it in terms such as 'caring for our family,' or 'just doing my job,' or any number of other excuses, but we all spend too much time trying to increase our status or make more money.

This is just what Paul was trying to face down in Corinth. The first letter that he wrote to them did not fix the problem and he knew that he was going to have to go one more time to deal with their rebellion. In 2 Corinthians 1:23, he tells them that the reason he hadn't gotten there yet was to spare them. I can only imagine his frustration and his fury with these people. He had spent a lot of time with this church and invested his heart and passion, yet they were not willing to relent.

2 Corinthians 1 and 7 focus on how their repentance brought comfort to Paul, yet 2 Corinthians 6:12 shows that they continued to have hard hearts. Paul emphasized over and over that in their weakness they would see God at work.

Outside leaders were still working on the church in Corinth. They had come in and made things much worse (2 Cor. 11:4). Paul calls them false apostles in 2 Cor. 11:13-15, 18, 23.

More than anything, Paul wanted to love these people. He warned those that continued to doubt his authority, but his return signified a desire to enter into a close relationship with the Corinthians.

In 2 Cor. 12:19-21, we see Paul preparing the Corinthians for his return. Everything in this letter was written to bring his readers to righteousness. The letter teaches two things: a believer should not cover his inadequacy with prideful boasting, nor should he become so depressed in his weakness that he cannot enjoy Christ's blessings. (Tyndale)

"...he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Cor. 12:9-10)

In our weakness, Christ will make us strong. It was hard for the Corinthians to accept. It is nearly impossible for most of us to accept. We don't have to worry about Paul showing up in a few months and being 'harsh in his use of authority - the authority the Lord gave him for building us up, not for tearing us down.' (2 Cor. 13:10)

His letter remains as a warning to avoid that behavior. Will we read and obey?

2 Corinthians 1:1-24
2 Corinthians 2:1-17
2 Corinthians 3:1-18
2 Corinthians 4:1-18
2 Corinthians 5:1-21
2 Corinthians 6:1-18
2 Corinthians 7:1-16
2 Corinthians 8:1-24
2 Corinthians 9:1-15
2 Corinthians 10:1-18
2 Corinthians 11:1-33
2 Corinthians 12:1-21

January 14 - 1 Corinthians

Thursday, January 15, 2009

January 14 - 1 Corinthians

About 3 years after Paul had been in Corinth, while he was in Ephesus, he began hearing about problems they were having. While Acts doesn't record it, he made a quick trip to Corinth to try to fix things - this is mentioned in 2 Corinthians 2:1; 12:14; 13:2. That last verse (2 Cor. 13:2) shows that he left them with an ultimatum. He would not spare those who sinner earlier or any of the others.

1 Corinthians 5:9 mentions an earlier letter, one for which there is no record. 1 Corinthians was written towards the end of his stay in Ephesus (56-57 AD) and 2 Corinthians was written 6 months after that.

This poor church had many problems, the first of which is addressed in 1 Cor. 1:12. They were divided amongst themselves, following different leaders. 1 Cor. 5:1 tells us that there was sexual immorality happening and 1 Cor. 6:1 shows that there were lawsuits happening among the believers. They were abusing the Lord's Supper and arguing over spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12-14) and in 1 Corinthians 15:12 we read that some were even denying the resurrection.

The church was becoming arrogant and focused on worldly things, such as wealth and social status (1 Cor. 4:6-8). They believed that they were better than Paul himself.

The letter implies that they will see him soon and he addresses issues that should either be cleared up before he arrived or he will see to it that these are taken care of: purity (1 Cor. 5:1–7:40), idols and sacrifices (1 Cor. 8:1–11:1), traditions (1 Cor. 11:2–33), spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:1–14:40), the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:1–58), and the offering for Jerusalem (1 Cor. 16:1–4). (Tyndale Reference Library)

This letter is a prime example of an early church with massive problems. But, Paul knew that these problems could be dealt with and fixed. His heart reached out to these folks and he knew that they could be better than what they were.

Wisdom versus foolishness is one of the issues that he speaks to. There are over 30 references to those two words in this letter, 23 of them occur in the first three chapters. He also speaks often of the Kingdom of God, using it to bring into context their problems with pride (1 Cor. 4:20) and to teach them that their behavior could exclude them from the Kingdom (1 Cor. 6:9-10).

As you read 1 Corinthians, you will find that Paul answers many of the questions raised today about how to act within the church. He knew what he was teaching and God knew we would need those teachings even today.

1 Corinthians 1:1-31
1 Corinthians 2:1-16
1 Corinthians 3:1-23
1 Corinthians 4:1-21
1 Corinthians 5:1-13
1 Corinthians 6:1-20
1 Corinthians 7:1-40
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
1 Corinthians 9:1-27
1 Corinthians 10:1-33
1 Corinthians 11:1-34
1 Corinthians 12:1-31
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
1 Corinthians 14:1-40
1 Corinthians 15:1-58
1 Corinthians 16:1-24

January 15 - Galatians

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

January 14 - Paul's Letter to the Galatians

There is actually some question as to when this letter was written, but scholars generally assume that it was written during the years Paul lived in Ephesus. He identifies part of the timeline by telling us about his time in Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-13, Galatians 2:1-10). If you read the first verse, Paul seems to be alone, so neither Timothy nor Silas were with him.

At the beginning of his third journey, he passed through Galatia before arriving at Ephesus. The two cities are not that far apart, so his astonishment in Galatians 1:6 seems to be warranted.

Galatia is a region in southern Asia Minor that became part of the Roman Empire in 25 bc. Antioch, Lystra, Derbe and Iconium were major cities in this province.

This letter was written to deal with teachers that were insisting on a Jewish model for Christianity. These teachers influenced the people into believing that Paul had taught them incorrectly. They called into question the very essence of his teachings. These Jewish teachers would come into newly formed churches and begin insisting that they conform to Jewish ways of life - they were called "Judaizers." Gentiles were told that to become perfect Christians, they first had to become perfect Jews.

To contradict this, before he taught on anything else, he let them know that the authority by which he taught came directly from Jesus Christ. There are three sources of authority that he offers to them: Galatians 1:1-2 - his ministry. He was an apostle and though many called this into question, he flattened them with the fact that it came directly from Jesus Christ. He had also founded the churches in the region. Teachers were trying to draw the church away from his teachings about Jesus Christ by creating legal regimens, so as to draw them back to Judaism. Galatians 1:3-4 - his message. These teachers were trying to change the message of Jesus Christ. Paul insists that Jesus Christ was a person who paid the price to accomplish a purpose. Bondage versus liberty. Galatians 1:5 - his motive. In Galatians 6:12-14 we see Paul admonishing these teachers for doing things purely for selfish reasons. The only thing that Paul wanted to do was to glorify Jesus Christ.

One of the commentaries I have read says that Galatians is the "Magna Carta of Christian Liberty." Paul wanted people to know that they did not have to take an extra step to become a follower of Christ. Simple belief in Him and his death on the cross was all that was necessary for salvation. Following Jewish rules could not add to what Jesus had done for us.

Take some time today to read quickly through this book, keeping all of this in mind. It will give you a greater appreciation for the passion with which he wrote this letter. Imagine his fury as he received the report of what was happening in the churches in Galatia. Now, imagine him calling on the Lord to give him the words to say to these people. Not only was he angry with the Judaizers, but with the people in the church for not having the strength to stand up for themselves and the message they knew was true!

Galatians 1:1-24
Galatians 2:1-21
Galatians 3:1-29
Galatians 4:1-31
Galatians 5:1-26
Galatians 6:1-18

January 13 - Paul in Ephesus

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

January 13 - Paul in Ephesus - Acts 19:1-41

We're going to step back in time just a bit so that we can look at Paul's 2 1/2 - 3 year stay in Ephesus. He began the third missionary journey in the spring of 54 AD and arrived in Ephesus in the fall of the same year, staying there until 57 AD. Now, the closest that scholars can figure, he met Jesus on the road to Damascus in 37 AD and was executed in 67 AD. There was a 30 year span of time that Paul spent teaching the world about the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Ephesus becomes a center of outreach to the Gentile world. John would settle there, and legend has it that Jesus' mother, Mary settled there with him until her death. John became a beloved bishop in that city and after receiving the Revelation on Patmos, returned there to live out his life.

But, when Paul arrived 30-40 years earlier, the disciples that he found there were stuck between the Old and New Testaments, not knowing that the Messiah had come. These twelve men received the influx of the Holy Spirit into their lives and from this mini-Pentecost, a church would grow. If you turn to Revelation 2:4, you will find Jesus chastizing this church for having lost its first love. Twelve men, completely in love with their Lord, willing to do anything, had given way to an institution that was hard working had persevered through much. Repentance was called for.

Again, though ... I've wandered from the time period and Paul's interaction with the community in this city.

Notice in Acts 19:10, Luke tells us that all of the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province heard the word of the Lord. He might be exaggerating, because there are years ahead of him that he spends teaching in the communities and cities.

Miracles were occurring and others were trying to lay claim to those miracles, using the name of Jesus Christ, but not knowing Who it was they were claiming. (Acts 19:13-20)

The story of the riot in Ephesus is a popular story about Paul found in Acts 19:23-41. Because so many people were turning to Jesus, that many people were no longer purchasing little silver Artemis shrines. Ephesus was home to one of the great wonders of the world - the Temple of Artemis. Not only was this a religious temple, but served as a bank in which people from all over the world deposited funds. Artemis was a big deal in Ephesus. Jesus was challenging people's pocketbooks in Ephesus by drawing them away from goddess worship.

What better way to get rid of Paul than to stir up a riot and so they did. We see in Acts 19:29 that Paul had two other traveling companions - Gaius and Aristarchus. They were seized and taken to the great theater. This outdoor ampitheater is still in existence today and can be seen at this website: http://www.bibleplaces.com/ephesus.htm. (scroll to the bottom for pictures of the ampitheater).

The theater was filled and Paul wanted to speak his piece, but cooler heads prevailed and he was begged to stay away from the craziness. Acts 19:32 says that most of the people didn't even know why they were there. Poor Alexander got pushed to the front and had to stand there for two hours while people shouted (Acts 19:34). They finally settled down and the city clerk was able to calm them down (Acts 19:35-41) and asked them to take their concerns before the courts. He dismissed them, the fervor settled down and Paul realized it was time to leave. (Acts 20:1).

During those three years in Ephesus, Paul wrote a letter to the Galatians and two letters to the Corinthians. We'll look at those next.

January 12 - Paul's Third Missionary Journey

Monday, January 12, 2009

January 12 - Paul's Third Missionary Journey

Things are starting to really move now. If you have your map, now's the time to look at it again. In Acts 18:23, we see Paul begin his next journey. He takes off from Antioch and moves to Galatia (now central Turkey) and Phrygia. There's a short aside in the passage where we meet Apollos and find him being mentored by Aquila and Priscilla in Corinth. In Acts 19:1, Paul travels through the interior of Turkey - what they called Asia Minor and ended up at Ephesus. He spent nearly 3 years in Ephesus, making it his home base for this time. I will concentrate on the stay in Ephesus tomorrow, but today we're going to skip around this point of stability in his life and see where else he travels.

Paul writes the letter to the Galatians while he is in Ephesus (though the date on this is disputed a little by scholars) and toward the end of his stay there, he wrote the first letter to the Corinthians.

Paul sent Timothy and Erastus ahead to Macedonia, knowing that he would be heading to Jerusalem and traveling through that area (Acts 19:21-22).

Once again, an uproar precedes Paul's leaving a city, but leave it he does. He set out for Macedonia (Acts 20:1-6), traveling throughout the area and after spending some time in Greece, left from Philippi and ended up in Troas.

Troas is better known as the home of a young man named Eutychus, who got bored during one of Paul's long-winded sermons, fell asleep and out of a third story window. We see Paul healing the young man ... we think (Acts 20:7-12).

Whenever you see the use of the word 'we' in these passages, remember that it is Luke writing this report, so he is traveling with Paul or as in Acts 20:13, he went ahead with a group to Assos by ship and met Paul there, who was traveling on foot. After Assos, they traveled to Mitylene, Kios, Samos and Miletus. (Acts 20:13-16)

Paul didn't want to take time to go back to Ephesus, so he sent for the elders of the church (Acts 20:17), told them that he was going to Jerusalem and would soon be facing prison and would never see them again. He blessed them. (Acts 20:18-38)

Paul set sail for Rhodes, Patara, Cyprus, Syria (Tyre) and stayed with disciples there who urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. He left them and went on to Ptolemais, Caesarea. (Take a moment to read Luke's aside in Acts 21:8-9 - awesome!)

Agabus came down to see Paul in Caesarea and prophesied that Paul would be bound over by the Jews in Jerusalem and they begged him to not go, but he refused to listen, knowing that the Lord's will needed to be done. (Acts 21:10-14)

Paul arrived in Jerusalem (Acts 21:17) and met with the brothers there. They asked him to complete a purification vow to appease the Jews in Jerusalem, which he does, but before that period of time was over, he was seen at the temple and the rabble rousing began. (Acts 21:27-29). He was dragged from the temple and only the arrival of Roman troops stopped them from murdering him.

He received permission from the Roman commander to speak to the crowd, so he gave them his testimony (Acts 21:40-22:21), but as soon as he told them that God had sent him to the Gentiles, they stopped listening and began shouting and rioting.

I'm going to stop the story here, before it gets any more exciting. Tomorrow we will look at Paul's stay in Ephesus and then at some of the letters he wrote during this period of time. We will return to this story in a few days.

I often wonder if I would have the conviction to stand strong through the same things that Paul faced.

January 11 - 2 Thessalonians

Sunday, January 11, 2009

January 11 - 2 Thessalonians

Two or three months later, Paul has received another report regarding the good folks at Thessalonica (I'll be glad to move on - typing that name over and over forces me to concentrate!).

They are still doing well, read 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4, but if you look at 2 Thessalonians 2:2, you find that false teachers have infiltrated the group and are confusing them with bad teaching regarding the Day of the Lord. Some of the believers thought that they were in the middle of it - right then and had given up working because the world was going to end (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12). Hah! And we think we have nuts in the world now. There is nothing new under the sun.

For some images of modern day Thessoloniki, go here:

And for some light Sunday reading, there are only 3 chapters in 2 Thessalonians:

2 Thessalonians 1:1-12
2 Thessalonians 2:1-17
2 Thessalonians 3:1-18

January 10 - 1 Thessalonians

Saturday, January 10, 2009

January 10 - 1 Thessalonians

Paul was in Corinth when Timothy and Silas brought him a rave review on what was happening in Thessalonica. Remember, though, that Jews from Thessalonica (it actually takes a few moments for me to type that word) also chased them out of Berea. The Christians were doing well. 1 Thessalonians 3:6-10 tells a little of the report that Timothy brought to Paul.

In some of your Bible translations, you will see that the letter comes from Paul, Silvanus and Timothy. Silvanus is just the expanded Greek translation of Silas. Same person. Same name.

Thessalonica was a city of about 200,000 people, the largest city in Macedonia. It was a harbor city and strategically placed to make it a commercially viable location. 1 Thessalonians 1:8 shows that it was also a strategic location to locate a missionary ministry.

The church was under distinct pressure from the Jews in the city as referenced in 1 Thessalonians 3:3, but you will notice in 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9 that Paul assures them of rescue from future wrath of God. The day of Christ's coming is a prevalent theme in this letter (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:13–5:11; 5:23). Paul wanted them to understand what that meant so as to encourage living a sanctified life (1 Thessalonians 3:13; 4:3–4, 7; 5:23).

The Thessalonians had come up against a truth that we recognize today - Christ's blessings do not necessarily mean a cessation of struggle. Paul needed to clearly distinguish between human and divine wrath so that his readers could go on in faith and steadfastness (Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary).

I'm going to cut my part short today. Read through the 5 chapters of this letter. Imagine the excitement of the church in Thessalonica as they received an affirmative letter from the man who had given them so much Good News!

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
1 Thessalonians 2:1-20
1 Thessalonians 3:1-13
1 Thessalonians 4:1-18
1 Thessalonians 5:1-28

January 9 - Meet the Corinthians

Friday, January 9, 2009

January 9 - Meet the Corinthians - Acts 18:1-22

We are a year and a half out from the end of the second missionary journey (Acts 18:11), but that period of time is spent in Corinth, a city about 60 miles to the west of Athens and the worship center of Aphrodite, the goddess of love.

It's hard for us to imagine meeting up with someone like Aquila and Priscilla out of the blue without God's hand being active in the progress. But, Claudius wanted the Jews out of Rome, so the two of them had to find a new home.

Claudius reigned from 41-54 AD and the edict commanding Jews to leave Rome was issued in 50AD. Seutonius, an ancient historian, stated that the "Jews were indulging in constant riots at the instigation of Chrestus." He assumed that Chrestus was instigating the riots, when they were actually riots about Chrestus, a reference to Christ. (Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary)

Since they were tentmakers and Paul was obviously going to be staying in town for awhile, he needed a job. His father had trained him in the trade and what better way to support himself while telling people about the Savior!

Paul was probably thrilled to be staying with Jewish Christians, such as Aquila and Priscilla, but it wasn't going to be for long. Silas and Timothy showed up (Acts 18:5) and Paul was able to transform his ministry from all-encompassing to just preaching.

As you read Acts 18:6, I hope you see the utter passion of his ministry. When the Jews opposed his teaching and became abusive, he didn't take it lying down. He shook out his clothes in protest and in essence, he cursed them. This marked the end of Paul's preaching to Jews. He then moved out of Aquila and Priscilla's home and moved in with Titus Justus, a Gentile. He was probably protecting them from the behavior of their fellow Jews and more than likely, continued to work for them.

The Lord spoke to Paul in a vision and encouraged him in is preaching. This was an important point in the growth of the early church and Paul was in a position to encourage new Christians.

Gallio (Acts 18:12-17) was a well-loved proconsul in the region of Achaia from 51-64AD. Sosthenes (Acts 18:17) had apparently replaced Crispus (Acts 18:8) as leader of the synagogue and even after this beating, became a Christian (1 Corinthians 1:1).

While Paul was in Corinth, he wrote the two letters to Thessalonica. In 1 Thessalonians 3:6-7, we find that Paul has written the letter to the church there just after Silas and Paul had delivered an excellent report to him in Corinth.

His time in Corinth has come to a close, it was time to return to Antioch. Priscilla and Aquila traveled with him as far as Ephesus and during this time, he completed his Nazarite (Numbers 6) vow (Acts 18:18). Though the Ephesians asked him to stay, he went on to Caesarea and then to Antioch.

The second journey has come to a close. Paul's impact on the Gentiles and the Jews has grown.

January - Paul's Second Missionary Journey

Thursday, January 8, 2009

January 8 - Paul's Second Missionary Journey - Acts 16:1-17:34

Get out your maps, because we're back on the road. The year is 51 AD and Paul now has Silas traveling with him. They travel to Derbe and then to Lystra where they meet Timothy. Now, this meeting was great for Paul, but a little painful for Timothy. Read Acts 16:3. This young man was dedicated to the cause! While my whole body cringes a bit at this, I have to really honor Paul's thought process here. Everyone in the area knew that Timothy was Greek, the Jews would not have been able to see him as a teacher and leader without the circumcision having happened. Ouch.

Paul sees a man in Macedonia calling for help. If you read the context of Acts 16:10, you will see the use of the word 'we.' It is likely that Luke (the author of Acts) was traveling with them as well. They have traveled through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, but couldn't get into Asia. I really wonder what it was like to try to enter that region but finding the Spirit of Jesus refusing them entry. (Acts 16:7) They went down to Troas, sailed to Samothrace and Neapolis. They then got to Philippi and stayed several days. They met Lydia, a Gentile, a wealthy woman who worshipped God.

Paul and Silas managed to get themselves thrown in prison because they released an evil spirit from a young girl (Acts 16:16-24). And because they were such honorable men, they also managed to bring the jailer and his family into the saving grace of Jesus.

However, Paul's honor seemed to open his mouth a little more than it should. When he was released from prison, he wasn't going to go quietly. He demanded that the magistrates apologize to them for treating them badly since they were Roman citizens. It goes to show that Rome held a lot of sway over the local authorities.

They left town, passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia to Thessalonica. (Acts 17:1) Paul's custom was to go to the synagogue to teach. Jews were none too appreciative of his teaching about Jesus Christ and the fact that Gentiles and Jews were joining them, so they started a riot int he city (Acts 17:5). A poor man named Jason was arrested and tossed in prison because the news of Jesus was spreading in the city and there were so many that were offended by this.

I love Acts 17:10. "As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea." I would think so! Paul went to the synagogue again and began teaching. The Bereans were fine with this until Jews from Thessalonica showed up stirring up trouble. Paul was sent to the coast, while Silas and Timothy stayed in Berea.

Paul waited for them to rejoin him in Athens (Acts 17:16). Paul spent time in the synagogue in Athens, but he also spent time in the marketplace. Acts 17:18 says that a group of Epicureans and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. They took him to the Areopagus. For most of us, these words mean absolutely nothing and we skip by them. But, this was pure Hellenistic (Greek) life. If we read Acts 17:21, we find Luke's snide remark about the Athenians who spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.

The Areopagus was a council of morality that introduced new religions to the area. The Epicureans were pleasure-seekers. Paul speaks of them again in 1 Corinthians 15:32 when he mocks their belief of "Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die." While they believe in a form of hedonism, Epicurus believed that the greatest good was to seek modest pleasures in order to attain a state of tranquility and freedom from fear as well as absence of bodily pain through knowledge of the workings of the world and the limits of our desires (Wikipedia).

The Stoics considered passionate emotions to be the result of errors in judgment, and that a sage, or person of "moral and intellectual perfection," would not have such emotions. (Wikipedia).

Paul introduces these learned idiots to the Unknown God (Acts 17:23). His teaching that men should seek him (Acts 17:27) goes against the Epicurean's teaching and that in him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28) goes directly against the teaching of the Stoics.

Paul's speech impressed many and while they may have sneered at him (Acts 17:32), they wanted to hear more.

After this Paul went to Corinth. And that, my friends, is a story for another day.

January 7 - Change of Companions

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

January 7 - Change of Companions - Acts 15:36-41

When I was young, we managed to move every 4-6 years as Dad was transitioned from church to church within the Methodist system. I remember packing up my stuff, leaving my friends and knowing I was going to have to get used to new people and new locales. I actually learned to enjoy it. I can, however, remember comforting my friends as I left them, telling them that change was always good if you approached it correctly. I'm still saying those words to friends as I move through my life. It may not be easy, but it can always be used for good and that has generally been my choice - to use change to make my life better.

I don't know if Paul and Barnabas recognized that this split would impact the world in a positive manner, but it did. Both of them were able to mentor new young men into the ministry.

This is one of the first places that I start running into trouble with Paul. But, what I love is that though I see him through very human eyes, God sees the big picture and also allows us to see that though we are human, we are still very capable of being used by God.

Paul is ticked off at John Mark for leaving them. He felt that the young man was unstable and would not be suitable for a second missionary journey. There is only a short mention of this in Acts 13:13, but it must have really been a turning point for Paul in that relationship. The good news is that at some point in the latter years of Paul's life this relationship was healed because in 2 Timothy 4:11, Timothy is instructed to bring Mark since he is helpful to Paul in his ministry.

Barnabas and Paul had a sharp disagreement (Acts 15:39), in fact it was such a sharp disagreement that they could no longer travel together. I can only imagine how John Mark felt about all of this. He probably apologized to Barnabas over and over again as they traveled to Cyprus. We find from Colossians 4:10 that Barnabas and John Mark are related. If you read Acts 4:36, you will find that Cyprus is Barnabas' home. They traveled there to visit churches that had already been established.

Though we see Barnabas mentioned in Paul's letters, this is the last we will see of him in the history of the early disciples. From this point on, Paul's ministry continues to explode with growth.

He calls for Silas to join him from Jerusalem, they are commended by the other disciples and begin the Second Missionary Journey of Paul.

January 6 - Council at Jerusalem

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

January 6 - The Council at Jerusalem - Acts 15:1-35

Religion has always gotten in the way of relationship. Rules are much easier to follow than the truth. And there is always someone around who is thrilled to tell you that unless you act in a certain manner, you aren't a Christian.

Well, it happened and there were words spoken (Acts 15:1). Finally, cooler heads prevailed and Paul and Barnabas were sent to Jerusalem to speak to the disciples and elders. While they were on the road, they couldn't help themselves, though. They told everyone about how the Gentiles were converted. Isn't that awesome? The Good News just kept spreading and spreading. (Acts 15:3)

Remember, the believers had begun as Jews and Paul's entrance onto the scene is really the entrance of Gentile believers. So in Acts 15:5, when we read that some of the believers belonged to the Pharisees, these men were Jewish, yet believed in Christ's work on the cross. Their world-view existed fully in Jewish thought. They had been indoctrinated for generations and generations in the Law and only saw things through that point of view.

In challenging this, Paul, Barnabas and other disciples were leaping out of their traditions. Peter stands up in the meeting to consider the question and tells of God's gift of the Holy Spirit to Jews and Gentiles alike, with no distinction made. In Acts 15:10 he asks why the disciples should put a yoke on these new believers that even Jews can not bear. The grace of Jesus Christ crosses the boundaries of Jew and Gentile

Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:12) begin telling of miracles and wonders that God was doing among the Gentiles. And then James speaks up. This is Jesus' brother James, who will later become the head of the Jerusalem church.

Imagine that he is sitting quietly listening to the discussion and animated conversations that are happening in the room. He is a thoughtful man and his sermon in Acts 15:14-21 reflects this. While Peter claims that grace alone brings salvation, James backs him up with Old Testament support. (Acts 15:15-18)

In Acts 15:19-20, he offers common sense advice with regards to polluted food. Wycliffe says there was no need to wave red flags in front of Jews steeped in Law. However, these prohibitions were not about gaining or marking salvation, but were intended to increase community within the fellowship of believers.

Two leaders from the community were chosen to return with Paul and Barnabas to Antioch along with a letter from the church in Jerusalem. It's a simple letter and absolves them of undue hardship in becoming Christians, yet lays out some things that they would 'do well to avoid.' (Acts 15:23-29)

The church was in a period of explosive growth. Signs and wonders, prophecies and miracles were happening. People were excited about the word of the Lord. Because they listened to the Holy Spirit, they were able to meet a major obstacle in taking the Good News to the Gentiles. While some thought that they had all of the answers, because things had always been done one way, there were those that opened their hearts and minds and allowed the Spirit to guide them into truth.

January 5 - Paul's First Missionary Journey

Monday, January 5, 2009

January 5 - Paul's First Missionary Journey

Have you ever looked at the maps in the back of your Bible and tried to comprehend how to relate Paul's missionary journeys with the correct scripture passage? Well, I have. It drives me to insanity sometimes. The maps are cool. I see lots of cities with arrows moving around them trying to help me define where he went and what he did. Then I become annoyed because it makes no more sense to me than it did when I accidentally landed on them while trying to get to the concordance.

I may not be much help to you here. If you want to track down the cities on the map and in the scriptures, good for you. Start with Acts 13-14 for this part of the adventure.

After Paul left Jerusalem under the protection of the disciples, he returned to Tarsus, his home. While he was there, the Good News of Jesus began spreading throughout the region. Acts 11:19-21 tells of some of the communities that were reached. One of these was Antioch. Acts 11:22 says that Barnabas headed to Antioch to find out what was happening. Well, he remember Saul and thought that this would be a good learning experience for him. So, he went to Tarsus, found him and brought him back to Antioch where they taught for a year. This is where the name 'Christians' was first used to describe disciples of Christ. (Acts 11:25-26)

Moving ahead to Acts 13, we find that the Holy Spirit moved within the people and called Barnabas and Saul out for missionary work. The disciples there fasted, prayed, and layed hands on them and sent them out on their journey. Those two men were commissioned by this amazing group of Christians to tell others about the Good News.

I love the first verse (Acts 13:1). In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manean and Saul. These men were important to the growth of this church! And for the growth of Christianity in the area. While two of them separated from the leadership to become missionaries, two others remained behind.

We see in Acts 13:5, that John joined them as their helper. This is John Mark, Barnabas' cousin, the author of the second Gospel.

They traveled to Cyprus and to Paphos, where they meet a sorceror and false prophet - Bar-Jesus. He tried to block their message and at this point, Saul began calling himself Paul and through the Holy Spirit called him out. He was blinded, which transformed the lives of many. (Acts 13:6-12) From Pahos, they sailed to Perga in Pamphylia. John left to return to Jerusalem. They went on to Pisidian Antioch where Paul taught in the synagogue (Acts 13:16-41). After his message, they continued to meet with many (Acts 13:42-43) and in Acts 13:44 we are told that nearly the entire city gathered to hear to word of the Lord! Paul spoke to the Gentiles while the Jews spoke against him. They incited powerful women and leading men who stirred up persecution. Paul and Barnabas shook the dust from their feet (Acts 13:51-52) and left filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.

They went on to Iconium and immediately went to the Synagogue (Acts 14:1). Many believed, others refused to believe. Acts 14:4 says that the people of the city were divided. However, as we all know - the negative can far outweigh the positive and with a stoning on the horizon, they left for Lystra and Derbe (Acts 14:6-7).

Paul healed a cripple in Lystra and the people believed that he and Barnabas were gods come to earth (Acts 14:8-13). That totally freaked the two men out, so much so that they tore their clothes! (Acts 14:14)

They taught about the living God, yet the people wanted to sacrifice to them. And to top it off, Jews from Antioch and Iconium incited them to violence and they stoned Paul, leaving him for dead outside the city (Acts 14:18-19).

Disciples gathered around him, he got up, went back into the city, but left the next day with Barnabas for Derbe. Acts 14:21-28 tells us that they won many disciples there, and returned home, encouraging the groups of Christians and helping to appoint elders. Prayer and fasting surrounded all that they did in committing things to the Lord (Acts 14:23).

They returned to Antioch, reported on all that God had done through them. The first missionary journey was complete.