In every period of time, God gives His people time to stop, worship, and celebrate. Nehemiah 8:1-12 shows one of those occasions. The nation of Israel was back from exile, rebuilding Jerusalem, and celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles. Scholars tell us the book of Ecclesiastes was usually read publicly at this festival. Nehemiah's admonition to the people to rejoice, not grieve, is a similar message to Solomon's. The best way to enjoy life is to enjoy it with God, by living according to His Word. Conviction should be a quick work, with grace then bringing joy.
As a child, were you fascinated by small wonders like lightning bugs? G.K. Chesterton said, "What is wonderful about childhood is that anything in it was a wonder. It was not merely a world full of miracles; it was a miraculous world.”
As Christians, God has placed us in a miraculous world of wonder. He calls it Christ's body, the church. As we move into the practical portion of the book, Romans 12:3-8 gives us the first practical aspect of our salvation.
We live in the most informed generation possibly of all time. We have an enormous amount of information available to us, whether it is legitimate or not. Thomas Jefferson used the phrase "knowledge is power" in his letters at least four times, each time regarding the establishment of a state university in Virginia. He also believed in the power of knowledge to bring safety and happiness.
Despite the amount of knowledge acquired by all generations leading to ours, we still have not curbed societal ills of hatred, violence, immorality, and addiction. Knowledge cannot control our passions. It cannot change the human condition.
There is only one kind of knowledge that can permanently change a person. "Only intelligent commitment of a life in light of God's gift of salvation can curb the human condition" (Bennett). Only God receives the glory for changing a human being and sustaining that transformation (Romans 11:36). Sinful people need to hear of Christ and surrender their hearts to His authority.
What Paul says about Israel in his context can be applied to religious people in our context. Even those who are stuck in their ways have not stumbled so badly as to never have opportunity to be saved again. The offer of salvation is always given to them. What Paul says of Gentiles in his context applies to irreligious people today. As they accept Christ, religious people see the joy that results and become jealous.
In this section of Romans, Paul has been working through his sorrow and grief at the unbelief of his fellow Jews (Romans 9:1). He reminds and comforts his heart that God saves faithfully, mercifully, and righteously. His deep prayer and desire is that they would understand and accept salvation through Christ (Romans 10:1). Religious people misunderstand the righteousness of Jesus and the grace of God. In Romans 11, Paul dwells on God's mercy to both Jews and Gentiles.
In most of Scripture, God speaks to mankind. The poetic books of the Old Testament are unique because in them, man speaks to God. Human authors used the poetic structures available to them in attempts to surpass the limits of human language and recreate their experience with God.
When religious people hear the Gospel, they respond to it sincerely from a heart that has been trained religiously. They generally reject God's free offer of grace without knowing so as they continue to work for God's favor. God never intended people to work for salvation; it is impossible! In fact, "religious good works shipwreck grace." God offers the free gift of eternal life only through His Son (Romans 6:23).
We live in a culture of self-indulgence. Because of the pervasive influence of sin, humanity can't help but ruin ourselves even if we intend to do right. Titus 1:10-16 illustrates that Paul was writing to a pastor ministering in a similar society. False religious teachers in Crete had head knowledge of God without true heart knowledge, so their actions were ungodly. Both religious and irreligious people miss the mark because they seek to do things their own way.
Humanity left to itself always brings its own ruin personally and corporately. Paul's letter to Titus presents the solution: a body of true believers led by a good pastor-shepherd and sound doctrine taught by older examples.
We continue to study the hymn of security and assurance in Romans 8:31-39.
We cannot be saved by grace and grown by the law. Trying to grow ourselves or others by the law is setting up any external standard of holiness by which to measure one's spiritual growth. Whether the standard is given by God or man, it can never produce spiritual growth.
Romans 6-7 are all about how a Christian becomes more Christ-like after he or she comes to know Jesus. Chapter 6 takes a positive approach, while chapter 7 takes a negative approach.
Romans 5:12-21 concludes the first major section of this book. Alva J. McClain said about these verses, "A constant reading of this passage, under the leadership of the Spirit of God, never fails to bear fruit." It is a refrain of the blessings of justification in Paul's presentation of the Gospel.
Hebrews 11:6 says that faith is essential to please God. Many claim to have faith that helps them through difficult times. But there is a difference between religious faith and saving faith. True saving faith can calm us in the midst of earthly storms and save our souls for eternity. Salvation always comes by faith in Christ.
Life can be difficult even during holidays. How can we handle it when hardship keeps coming? The apostle John knew about enduring affliction. He wrote five New Testament letters to assure hurting people of who Jesus really was.
John 1:14 summarizes who Jesus was and is. When we reflect on the truth of this one verse, we find that we are infinitely spiritually wealthy in Christ. We have been given everything that is needed for life and godliness both here and in eternity (2 Peter 1:3, Ephesians 1:3-14). Because of who Jesus is, the Christian does not have an option to disobey or quit. We have been outfitted to persevere.
New birth is the best defense against unbelief. A simple salvation testimony and evidence of a changed life shows that Jesus is enough. No rule or creative idea can change a person's life. Legalism and pragmatism simply do not agree with the Gospel.
Paul wrote the book of 1 Timothy to encourage the believers at Ephesus, then instruct them about the structure of the church so they could make spiritual progress. First he had to encourage their leader, his "true son in the faith," Pastor Timothy. Paul was Timothy's spiritual father. He had mentored Timothy in personal growth and in ministry. What fruits did Paul desire to see in his spiritual son -- and what should we pray to see in our spiritual children?
Last week we saw how Timothy learned and adopted the gospel burden of his spiritual leader and mentor, the apostle Paul. A “gospel burden” is a believer’s natural desire to share Christ with others. God’s designed this burden to be fulfilled first through personal evangelism, then through churches reaching their local community, and finally spreading the gospel message through the world.
Understanding the minutiae of Timothy’s life will help us understand the letters Paul wrote to help him oversee the pastor-shepherds of Ephesus. Timothy knew the Scriptures and came to Christ early in his life (2 Timothy 1:5, 3:15). From what we see in Scripture, Timothy was always a timid man. But his life teaches us that timidity is never an excuse not to minister. Everyone experiences a degree of fear when giving the Gospel or ministering publically. We must not let it keep us from obeying God.
We continue to study Timothy’s salvation history and character in preparation for understanding two pastoral letters written to him. Timothy’s life shows that we have no Gospel unless we have a changed lifestyle. Even when it becomes scary to serve the Lord, we step out in faith into the unfamiliar.
Our theme for the year is Living Worship-Filled Lives. Romans 12:1-2 exhorts us to present our whole selves to God as a logical act of worship. This includes times of corporate worship and personal worship in prayer and reading God’s Word. But we also worship as we go about our lives, showing the fruit of what we’ve learned. The integrity of our lives should mirror how we worship on the Lord’s Day.
As we prepare to study the Pastoral Epistles, we’ll begin by learning about Timothy, to whom Paul wrote two letters. Understanding Timothy’s character helps us understand the content of the letters written to him.
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