The Best Laid Plans….

1 Samuel 27-28, Romans 16

Then David said in his heart, “Now I shall perish one day by the hand of Saul. There is nothing better for me than that I should escape to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will despair of seeking me any longer within the borders of Israel, and I shall escape out of his hand.” – 1 Samuel 27: ESV

Even the godly, when they find themselves in difficult circumstances, can come up with ungodly plans. And what makes their plans ungodly is that they lack God's blessing or approval. They may sound wise and appear legitimate, but if any plans we develop are done so apart from God, they will always lead to future trouble. In these two chapters in 1 Samuel, we find both David and Saul coming up with their own solutions to their problems, apart from God. Each found himself in a tough spot and, driven by fear and a sense of panic, developed his own remedy to his predicament. David, while he was a man after God's own heart, eventually lost heart and wrongly concluded that, “I shall perish one day by the hand of Saul” (1 Samuel 27:1 ESV). Even though God had clearly chosen and ordained him as the next king of Israel, David had finally lost hope. He figured that his ongoing exile and life as a man on the run was going to end in his death at the hand of Saul. So he came up with a solution. He developed a plan. Saul, when faced with the prospect going up against a superior Philistine force, first turned to God for counsel. But when God refused to answer, he sought the help of a necromancer, a witch. He came up with a work-around in order to get the help he desperately needed.

What does this passage reveal about God?

While neither David or Saul were operating out of divine inspiration, God was still in control of the circumstances. Their unwillingness or inability to know God's will did not diminish in any way the fact that God's will was going to be done in their lives. While David had lost hope and was convinced that he was going to be a dead man if he didn't do something quick, God was not in a panic. He knew exactly what was going to happen. He was in complete charge or David's life and future. Even David's poor planning could not stop the divine will of God for his life. Saul, unable to hear from God, decided to do the unthinkable. He sought out the services of a witch, a woman who made her living communicating with the dead. Saul desperately wanted to know what to do, so he willingly broke the law of God in order to try and communicate with Samuel, the dead prophet of God. And God let it happen. The witch, much to her own surprise, was able to call up Samuel, and the prophet gave Saul a very clear picture of what was going to happen to he and his sons. God was in control. At no point in the story did He ever lose control. So while both David and Saul felt like God was nowhere to be found, He was there. He was working. He was fully in control of the circumstances.

What does this passage reveal about man?

When we take matters into our own hands, it almost always involves compromise, lying and deceit. Our plans, when developed without God's input, tend to require us to compromise our convictions or to go against God's revealed will for our lives. We can find ourselves fraternizing with the enemy. In David's case, his plan involved living with the Philistines, the enemies of Israel and of God. Rather than warring against the enemies of God, David found himself living with them. He became the personal body guard for the king of the Philistines. Saul fraternized with the enemy of God, Satan himself, by seeking out the services of a witch. The law of God had strictly forbidden such activity. In fact, the passage makes it clear that Saul was to have removed all such individuals from the land. But obviously, he had not done so.

But not only will our plans tend to cause us to fraternize with the enemy and compromise our convictions, they will almost always result in lying and deception. David had to lie to King Achish in order to conceal what he was doing. He had to cover his tracks and hide his real motives. But eventually his actions were exposed. The day came when David's ruse was uncovered. His original plan to seek refuge among the enemies of God put him in a difficult spot. He was going to have to fight with the Philistines against His own people or have his whole plan unravel before his eyes.  Saul disobeyed the will of God and sought out the services of a witch. In order to do so, he had to come up with a plan that involved deception and lies. He couldn't just admit that he was seeking out a necromancer. So he disguised himself. He lied. He deceived. But his actions got exposed. And the news he eventually received was as bad as it could have been.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Any plans I make apart from God will always lead to some form of compromise. They will eventually involve deception and require me to lie, either to myself or others. Self-deceit is one of the hallmark characteristics of plans made without God's help. I can deceive myself into thinking that I am doing the right thing. I can then find myself twisting the facts in order to get others to agree with me and see my plan as wise and godly. But if my plans lack God's input or blessing, they are ungodly by nature. Paul wrote to the Romans, “For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil” (Romans 16:19 ESV). Paul was commending their reputation for obedience to God. But he reminds them that the real issue was that they be wise as to what is good. He wanted them to know what God's will was for their lives. He wanted them to obey God by doing what God deemed to be good. He wanted them to be innocent of evil. In other words, he wanted them to refrain from doing what was not in God's will for them. The evil they were to be innocent of was doing anything contrary to the will of God. When we make plans apart from God, we are doing what is evil. We are compromising our convictions and deceiving ourselves and others into thinking that what we are doing is good. We lie to ourselves and allow the enemy to lie to us. When all is said and done, God wants His will done, not ours. He wants us to seek His wisdom, not lean on our own. And while it is clear that His will always gets accomplished, either with us or without us, He still prefers that we walk in obedience to Him. Our compromises always have consequences. Our deception always leads to discipline at His hands. It is far better to trust Him than to attempt to develop plans apart from Him.

Father, I find it far to easy to come up with my own plans rather than wait for Yours to be fulfilled. Sometimes it seems as if You are silent. So when I don't hear from You, I act. Other times I don't even bother to ask You what Your will is in a given circumstance. I just launch out on my own. Then I justify my actions and usually end up having to compromise my convictions. Forgive me. Help me to trust You more. He me to wait on You longer. Your will and Your plans are always better in the long run. Amen

The Godly Life Done God's Way.

1 Samuel 25-26, Romans 15

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. – Romans 5:1-2 ESV

There is always the temptation to live the godly life on our own terms, instead of God's. Situations arise that can cause us to take matters into our own hands, and make us forget that we are always better off if we listen to God. When David had his unfortunate encounter with Nabal, he quickly determined that the best response to this foolish man's insult was to wipe out the entire male population of his household. David was so incensed by Nabal's boorish treatment that he was willing to commit genocide against his people. But thankfully, God intervened. He sent Abigail, Nabal's wife, to intercede and intervene. She persuaded David to give up his plan for revenge. “Now then, my lord, as the Lord lives, and as your soul lives, because the Lord has restrained you from bloodguilt and from saving with your own hand” (1 Samuel 25:26 ESV). Even Abigail recognized that David was attempting to take matters into his own hands, and that the results would be disastrous, not only for Nabal, but for David. And David, once he had calmed down and listened to reason, understood the significance of what Abigail had done. “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me! Blessed be your discretion, and blessed be you, who have kept me this day from bloodguilt and from working salvation with my own hand! For as surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, who has restrained me from hurting you, unless you had hurried and come to meet me, truly by morning there had not been left to Nabal so much as one male” (1 Samuel 25:32-34 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

God was not only protecting David from Saul, He was protecting David from David. David was to be a king unlike any other king. He was to be a man after God's own heart. But sometimes David's heart was tempted to pursue what David wanted. He was prone to follow his own heart. But God stepped in. He sent Abigail to protect him from himself. And David was given the opportunity to see God work. Because in just a short matter of time, Nabal became sick and died. David would see the hand of God in Nabal's death. “When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, ‘Blessed be the Lord who has avenged the insult I received at the hand of Nabal, and has kept back his servant from wrongdoing. The Lord has returned the evil of Nabal on his own head’” (1 Samuel 25:39 ESV).

David was learning the valuable lesson of trusting God and living according to His will. David's near-miss encounter with Nabal would prove to be a great lesson for him to remember when he found himself with yet another chance to take the life of Saul. David and his companion, Abishai, had crept into Saul's camp at night and found the king sound asleep. Abishai counseled David to take Saul's spear and kill him, putting an end to David's plight as a fugitive. But David refused, saying, “‘Do not destroy him, for who can put out his hand against the Lord's anointed and be guiltless?’And David said, ‘As the Lord lives, the Lord will strike him, or his day will come to die, or he will go down into battle and perish. The Lord forbid that I should put out my hand against the Lord's anointed’” (1 Samuel 26:9-11 ESV). David was learning to trust God with his battles.

What does this passage reveal about man?

The godly life is to be just that – godly. It is meant to be lived on God's terms, not our own. Living godly requires that we see life through God's eyes, not our own. It means that we must look for God in the midst of our troubles and trials, fully believing that He is there and that He has a plan in mind. Paul writes, “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves” (Romans 15:1 ESV). The strength Paul speaks of is not human strength, but strength provided by the Lord. Our strength is to come from God. As we live according to His terms and in His power, we are able to live with our eyes focused not on ourselves, but on others. David knew that his only job was to live faithfully to God. He told Saul, “The Lord rewards every man for his righteousness and his faithfulness, for the Lord gave you into my hand today, and I would not put out my hand against the Lord's anointed. Behold, as your life was precious this day in my sight, so may my life be precious in the sight of the Lord, and may he deliver me out of all tribulation” (1 Samuel 26:23-24 ESV). David was having to put up with Saul. He was having to endure his constant harassment and unjustified treatment. But David was learning to be more focused on pleasing God and less on pleasing himself.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Paul writes, “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:5-6 ESV). As believers we need God's help and strength in order to live godly lives in a godless environment. We even need His power to live among fellow believers. Because we will always be tempted to take matters into our own hands and live to satisfy our own selfish desires. Given the right opportunity and the wrong treatment, we could easily determine that our way is the best way and end up doing something we greatly regret. David was learning to live his life in a way that pleased God, not himself. I must learn that same lesson. Had David taken matters into his own hands, he would have murdered Nabal and every other male in his household. And he would have had to answer to God for his actions. Had David listened to the “wise” counsel of Abishai and taken Saul's life, he would have had been guilty of killing the Lord's anointed. But David was learning that God's ways are not man's ways. He was learning that the godly life is distinctly different than the way most of us tend to live our lives. The godly life is lived to please God, not men. The godly life is based on God's will, not our own. The godly life results in God's blessing, rather than some short-lived form of self-satisfaction.

 Father, I want my life to please You. I want to continue to learn to give up my agenda for Yours. Help me to understand that the godly life is only possible with Your help. It is impossible in my own strength. Thank You for giving me Your Spirit as a source of empowerment and encouragement to live the life You've called me to live. But I ask that You give me a growing sensitivity to Your presence in my life and a willingness to live according to Your plan for my life. Amen

Living For God.

1 Samuel 23-24, Romans 14

For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. – Romans 14:7-8 ESV

David had no idea what was going on in his life. It had to have made no sense to him why he was having to spend his life as a fugitive, running from the wrath of King Saul. He had done nothing wrong, but he was still under a death sentence, with a bounty on his head and an entire army hounding his every step. We know David struggled with his circumstances because he wrote his feelings down in the form of psalms. Psalm 54 records his impressions when the Ziphites attempted to betray him into the hands of Saul. “…strangers are attacking me; violent people are trying to kill me. They care nothing for God” (Psalm 54:3 ESV). But in spite of his dire circumstances, David was going to trust God. “But God is my helper. The Lord keeps me alive!” (Psalm 54:4 ESV). David took the attitude that his life was in God's hands. He was going to live in such a way that his life glorified God. Which is why, when given the chance to take Saul's life in the dark recesses of the cave in the wilderness of Engedi, David refused. Instead, David responded, “The Lord forbid that I should do this to my lord the king. I shouldn’t attack the Lord’s anointed one, for the Lord himself has chosen him” (1 Samuel 24:6 ESV). David was willing to let God be the judge between he and Saul. He knew that he was innocent of any wrong doing and that God would avenge him. He was going to live his life for God's glory and honor, not his own.

What does this passage reveal about God?

As bad as things seemed to be for David, God was always there. The intensity of the situation would seem to have communicated otherwise. It seemed that Saul was always just around the corner, seeking to take David's life. Each time David found a place of rest and the opportunity to enjoy a brief respite, Saul would show up again. The sheer stress of it all had to have weighed heavily on David. It seemed that no matter where he went, Saul was always there, just a few steps behind him. But David knew God was there as well. So he called out to him. “Come with great power, O God, and rescue me! Defend me with your might.Listen to my prayer, O God. Pay attention to my plea” (Psalm 54:1-2 ESV). David turned to God in the midst of his troubles. And he put his trust in the character and nature of God. He had seen God rescue in the past and he knew that God could rescue again. “I will sacrifice a voluntary offering to you; I will praise your name, O Lord, for it is good.For you have rescued me from my troubles and helped me to triumph over my enemies” (Psalm 54:6-7 ESV). While David may not have understood or even liked his circumstances, he was not going to use them as an excuse to live in a way that would dishonor God. Instead, he was going to trust God and honor him through obedience and faithfulness.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Saul thought God was on his side. In spite of all that had happened and the words of the prophet, Samuel, telling him that God was taking away his kingdom and giving it to another, Saul continued to believe that God was going to give him victory over David. But his actions were far from godly. He was motivated “by fear, anger and revenge. Nothing he was doing was honoring to God. He could justify his actions all day long, but one day he would have to give an account to God for his actions. Saul's motivation was purely selfish. It was all about him. He was not interested in God's will or bringing God glory. He was obsessed with prolonging his own kingdom and preserving his petty reign over Israel.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

The apostle Paul stresses that our lives should be lived in order to honor the Lord. “For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's” (Romans 14:7-8 ESV). As children of God, our lives don't belong to us. We are not here to bring glory and honor to ourselves. We exist for God's glory, not our own. David seemed to know that fact. He lived with an eye on God's glory. While he could have easily justified taking revenge on Saul, he was not willing to do anything that was outside of God's will. He was content to let God be his judge. He was going to do the right thing, not the expedient or logical thing. David's circumstances were difficult. He was being forced to live in less-than-ideal conditions. But as Paul wrote, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Romans 14:17-19 ESV). It was not about David's comfort. It was about God's glory. It was not about ease and affluence, it was about righteousness and godly influence. Even while running for his life, David was busy fighting for God's kingdom, seeking to eliminate the enemies of God's cause. Rather than live for himself, David lived to honor God. And he was willing to die for God, if necessary. Because he knew that “whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's” (Romans 14:8 ESV).

Father, may I continue to learn the lesson of living for You, rather than for me. I want to honor You with my life, regardless of the circumstances of my life. I want my actions to bring You glory instead of me. Help me learn to see my life as belonging to You and not me. Help me to see the circumstances of my life as opportunities to watch You work and to give You glory and thanks for all that You do. Amen


The Armor of Light.

1 Samuel 21-22, Romans 13

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. – Romans 13:11-12 ESV

David was on the run. He was a fugitive with a bounty on his head, even though he was completely innocent of any wrong doing. He had been anointed by Samuel to be the next king of Israel. He had faithfully served Saul as both a servant and a soldier, and yet he found himself a victim of false accusations and suffering for his success as a soldier. Saul was jealous of David and feared him. He inherently knew that David was a threat to his kingship and so he was willing to do anything and everything to eliminate him as a threat.

But rather than retaliate, David simply accepts his fate. Much of what David does in response to his situation reveals why God referred to him as “a man after my own heart.” David was far from perfect. He would make many mistakes along the way, but he did have a heart for God and a sensitivity to God's leadership in his life. When he was forced to seek refuge in the caves of Adullam, David's family soon joined him, fearing retribution from Saul in order to get to David. But David, knowing that life in the wilderness would be too much for his aging parents, sent them to Moab, the homeland of his great-grandmother Ruth. David expressed his trust in God when he told the king of Moab, “Please let my father and my mother stay with you, till I know what God will do for me” (1 Samuel 22:3 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

David had no idea what God was doing, or why? But he was willing to trust Him. In his heart he knew that God was somehow behind all of this. God was directing his path and orchestrating events in such a way as to prepare David for his future role as the king of Israel. When David fled from Saul, he was lone. He had left behind his wife, Michal; his mentor, Samuel; his family; and all of his comrades in arms. But by the time David arrived at the cave of Adullam, he found himself far from alone. “And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him. And he became commander over them. And there were with him about four hundred men” (1 Samuel 22:2 ESV). God would provide David with an army. Yes, it was an army of misfits and malcontents, but God would gradually transform these men into the mighty men of David.

What does this passage reveal about man?

It is interesting that the men who joined David in the cave of Adullam were in distress, in debt, and were bitter in soul because of King Saul. He had made their lives miserable. In essence, these men were joining David in hopes that he might rebel against the rule of Saul and bring them relief and release. But interestingly enough, David did not give them the satisfaction of seeing Saul dethroned. All throughout his time in exile, David remained committed to the king. He continued to fight for the nation of Israel and stand opposed to its enemies. When given the opportunity to take Saul out, David would refuse. When encouraged by his own men to kill Saul, he would reject it. David knew that Saul was still king of Israel. He would not raise his hand against the Lord's anointed, even though Saul was unjust in his actions against him. David was living out the words of Paul found in Romans 13: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (Romans 13:1-2 ESV). Later on, when faced with what appears to be a God-given opportunity to take the life of Saul, David would say, “The LORD forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the LORD’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the LORD’s anointed” (1 Samuel 24:6 ESV). David may not have like his circumstances. He may not have fully understood what God was doing, but he was willing to trust Him and wait for His outcome. As best as he knew how, he would refuse to take matters into his own hands.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Paul goes on to write, “Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:11-14 ESV). David was living in a period of personal darkness. Things looked bleak and foreboding, but he was going to “put on the armor of light.” He was going to walk properly, living just as he would as if everything was bright and sunny. Circumstances were not going to dictate his behavior. He would not use his predicament as an excuse for sinful behavior.

I must do the same thing. I must live in the light, dressed in the armor of light and empowered by the love of God. I must constantly remind myself that salvation is nearer than I realize it to be. My God is in charge. My God is fully aware of my situation. He is not asleep, indifferent, preoccupied, or powerless. Like David, I must realize that my reaction to my circumstances is a huge indicator of the condition of my heart. My fear, anger, desire for revenge, and tendency to take matters into my own hands, reveal my lack of trust in God. l must wake up from my sleep and recognize that God is nearer than I realize. He is at work in and around my life, constantly providing salvation from my circumstances, and slowly transforming me into the man of God He longs for me to be.

Father, help me to live alert not only to my circumstances, but to Your presence. Let me focus on You rather than on what is happening to me or around me. I want to learn to put off the works of darkness and live in the armor of light. Amen

The Life of Godliness.

1 Samuel 19-20, Romans 12

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. – Romans 12:14-16 ESV

Saul despised David. He hated him so much that he wanted him dead. He even attempted to kill David himself by tossing a spear at him. On several different occasions Saul tried to arrange David's death. But God intervened and protected His anointed one. David was to be the new king of Israel, and there was nothing Saul could do about it. And while the primary character in this portion of 1 Samuel seems to be Saul, the actions and attitude of David make him the real protagonist of the story. He is completely innocent of wrong-doing, and yet Saul wants him dead. David has done nothing wrong. In fact, he has been a faithful servant of Saul, having killed Goliath and then successfully leading military campaigns against the Philistines. David has served in Saul's household. He has married Saul's daughter, Michel. He has become the best fried on Saul's son, Jonathan. But in spite all of this, Saul seeks to take David's life.

What does this passage reveal about God?

As in any story where injustice seems to take place, the first question most of us ask is, “Why?” Why is David having to go through all of this? What has he done to deserve such treatment? Where is God in all of this? But the truth is, God is all throughout this story. He is clearly in charge of all the events taking place. He anointed David while Saul was still on the throne. He knew Saul would react negatively and violently. God was behind David's military successes. He gave David his musical abilities and military acumen. When Saul sent messengers to find David and bring him back for execution, God caused those men to be filled with His Spirit and prophesy instead. Three different times Saul sent messengers to do his evil bidding, and three times God intervened, miraculously altering the agenda of the Saul and the intent of his messengers. Even when Saul himself attempted to go and get David, God stepped in, causing Saul to strip himself of his clothes and prophesy. God humbled and humiliated the king, clearly showing that He was in control of the situation. He had already stripped Saul of his kingship and was showing that his days of rule were coming to an end.

What does this passage reveal about man?

But one of the most amazing things about this story is the reaction of David. Yes, he is shocked and surprised. He can't understand why Saul is treating him the way he is. And while the passage doesn't reveal David's inward thoughts, he had to be wondering why God had anointed him king, only to let him die at the hands of Saul before he could ever sit of the throne of Israel. Nothing about this whole affair would have made sense to him. One moment he was serving in the palace of the king, the next he was running for his life. But nowhere does David express anger at Saul. He does not shake his fist at God or demand Him to explain himself. He simply says, “But truly, as the Lord lives and as your soul lives, there is but a step between me and death” (1 Samuel 20:3 ESV).

Over in Romans 12, Paul writes the Christians living in Rome, instructing them regarding the manner in which they are to live together. “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit,serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:9-12 ESV). He goes on to write, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘f your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:14-21 ESV). These words could easily be applied to David. In spite of all that was happening to him, David continued to love Saul. Rather than seek vengeance or try to defend himself, he tried to do the honorable thing. He desired to live in harmony with Saul. He could have rationalized that he was the rightful king of Israel, having been anointed by the prophet of God. It would have been easy to justify taking matters into his own hands and turning his anger against Saul, even attempting to kill him in order to protect himself. But David did the right thing. He did the godly thing. He didn't try to repay evil for evil. He didn't attempt to avenge himself. And he was going to learn to rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation and constant in prayer.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

David didn't necessarily understand or even like his circumstances. Having some hurl a spear at your head is not exactly a pleasant experience. Having to run for your life is not what most of us would consider an attractive proposition. The next years of David's life would be filled with difficulty and a constant temptation to question the will and love of God. He would spend years in forced exile, with a bounty on his head. But in spite of his circumstances, David would continue to trust God and honor Saul as king. Little did he know, but he was in God's school of leadership, where he would learn to become the king he had already been anointed to be. David was not yet ready for the throne. He had much to learn about being a king. He had much to learn about himself and God. But even in the early days of his life as a falsely accused fugitive, David exhibited a heart for godliness. He revealed that he wanted to do the right thing. He exhibited why God had called him “a man after my own heart.” That is the kind of man I want to be. That is the kind of man Paul describes in Romans 12. He reminds us to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1 ESV). We are not to be conformed to this world. But are to “be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2 ESV). We are to live lives of godliness, exhibiting a heart for the things of God and a willingness to accept all things as having come through the hands of God.

Father, I want my life to be marked by godliness. Help me to see that my circumstances are not what dictate my godliness, but my heart in the midst of them. I want to learn to trust You more. I want to rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation and constant in prayer. I want to bless those who persecute me, and live in harmony with all men. Rather than be overcome with evil, I want to overcome evil with good. Amen

The Mercy of God.

1 Samuel 17-18, Romans 11

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! – Romans 11:33 ESV

Too often, we read the Bible as a collection of independent books contained in two separate sections – one that chronicles the ancient history of Israel while the other records more recent events. We fail to see the Scriptures as a cohesive story written by the Spirit of God through the pens of men. We overlook the central theme that pervades the book and the unmistakable reality that the entire Bible is the revelation of God, from beginning to end. We turn the Bible into a collection of Sunday School stories, told in isolation from the rest of the content of the book. Then we assign to these stories man-centered, morality-based lessons that we hope will help us live better lives. The story of David and Goliath is a perfect example. There are very few people who attended church as children who don't know that story. And if asked, they could probably provide what some of the life lesson's from David's defeat of Goliath. They might talk about facing the giants in our own life through the power of faith. Their recollection of the story might have Goliath as a representation of all the trials and troubles of life. David might represent the underdog, or the individual who finds himself facing seemingly insurmountable odds. And while there is nothing inherently wrong with some of these ideas, the problem is that we tend to miss out on the real story behind the story. We can also fail to see that the story of David and Goliath is really not about either one of these characters. It is about God.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God had chosen David. The prophet Samuel had already anointed David as the God-chosen replacement for king Saul. And David was already working part-time for Saul as a court musician, playing his harp any time Saul had one of his fits of anger. God's hand was on David. He was orchestrating the entire situation, preparing for the time at which David would succeed Saul as the king of Israel. In the story of David's defeat of Goliath, it seems that David is the only Israelite who had faith in God. He alone, as a young shepherd boy, had the gumption to ask, “For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26 ESV). He could believe that the entire army of Israel was shaking in its sandals as a result of the taunts of this one Philistine. David told King Saul, “Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God” (1 Samuel 17:36 ESV). It would be easy to make this statement all about the faith of David. But the real point is the ONE in whom David's faith was placed. This is about God. David even told Goliath, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand” (1 Samuel 17:45-46 ESV). David's faith is not the issue. It is the God in whom his faith was placed. The entire story of the Bible up to this point has been about the faithfulness, power, mercy, love and goodness of God toward His people. David knew the history of Israel, so he knew the character of God. It wasn't David's faith that was great. It was his God.

What does this passage reveal about man?

One young man was willing to stand on the character and trustworthiness of God and face the enemies of God. While the rest of Israel stood by, quaking in their sandals and doubting the ability of their God to do what He had done hundreds of times before, David was going to step out on nothing more than God's reputation and past track record. This story is just one of many stories found in the Bible that reveal man's inability and unwillingness to trust God. The fear and faithlessness exhibited by Saul and his army is not an anomaly. It is the norm. From Old Testament to New Testament we see the continuing struggle of men to recognize God for who He is. When Jesus came, the people of Israel had been waiting and searching for their Messiah for generations. But when He showed up on the scene, they refused to acknowledge Him for who He was. They rejected the very one they had waited for for so long. But Paul tells us that even their rejection was part of God's plan. The story is NOT about their rejection or their lack of faith, but God's divine plan for the redemption of mankind. Paul writes, “So I ask, did they [the Jews] stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusionmean!” (Romans 11:11-12 ESV). The rejection of Jesus by the Jewish people was part of God's plan to open up the gospel to the Gentiles or non-Jews. But God was not rejecting the Jews. He was simply using their refusal to recognize His Son as an opportunity to share His grace outside the household of Abraham. In so doing, God would make Israel jealous. All along they had thought they were the exclusive recipients of God's mercy and grace. Now they were learning that God's love was available to all. The story is not about the faithless of Jews and the faithfulness of Gentiles. It is about the love, mercy, grace, and sovereignty of God. “Their rejection [of Jesus] means the reconciliation of the world” (Romans 11:15 ESV).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

The Bible is about the mercy of God. All men have sinned against His holy commands. All men stand condemned before a righteous, just and holy God. There's not a one of us who can claim to have lived in perfect obedience to God's will and yet, only perfect obedience is acceptable to a holy God. From cover to cover, the Bible reveals the sinfulness of men. And it doesn't matter if they are pagan Philistines or the chosen people of Israel. Saul was just as faithless as Goliath. He put his trust in his armor and sword just like Goliath did. But the story here is not about the battle, slings, stones, David, Saul or even Goliath. It is about God and His unwavering mercy shown to men who don't deserve it. Again, Paul writes, “For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they [the Jews] too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may nowreceive mercy.For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all” (Romans 11:30-32 ESV). God showed mercy to David that day. David didn't deserve to defeat Goliath because of his faith. David's faith isn't the issue. David's God is. He showed mercy to Israel by overlooking their faithlessness and giving them victory over their enemies. He showed mercy to Saul by not forcing him to face his own death at the hands of Goliath. God is still showing mercy on mankind. And there is a day coming when He will shower His mercy on Israel once again, fully fulfilling His promises made generations ago to Abraham.

God is a merciful God. He is a compassionate, faithful, loving God. He is a sovereign God. “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33 ESV). To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

Father, it is all about You. We are not the stars of the story, You are. It is not about our faith. It is not about our obedience. It is not about our victories in battle. It is always about You. Your love. Your mercy. Your power. Your plan. Your Son. Your salvation. Your Kingdom. Your glory. Your righteousness. Help me learn to stop making the story about me. May I learn to see You on every page of Scripture and recognize You in every moment of my life. Amen

Ears To Hear.

1 Samuel 15-16, Romans 10

Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. – 1 Samuel 15:22 ESV

God gave Saul one last test. This king of the people had proven himself to be disobedient, impetuous and impulsive. He went through the religious motions and gave all the outward indications of being a man of God, but in the end, always seemed to do things his way. When God commanded Saul to destroy the Amalekites, he obeyed, but not fully. Instead of doing just as God said, Saul “spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction” (1 Samuel 15:9 ESV). Saul disobeyed God. Not only that, he caused the people to follow his example. When confronted by Samuel, Saul protested and declared himself innocent, claiming to have fully complied with God's commands. When Samuel accuses him of disobedience, Saul blames the people. He says that they were the ones who wanted to spare the best of the spoil. Then he justifies their actions by declaring that they intended to use the animals as sacrifices to God. He had clearly heard God's command, but had chosen to disobey it. And now, when confronted with the reality of his sin, he attempted to justify, deny, shift blame, and rationalize his way out of trouble.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Samuel made it painfully clear. God didn't need or want Saul's sacrifices. What he wanted was obedience. “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22 ESV). While Saul continued to claim that he had been obedient, Samuel exposed the fact that he had “rejected the word of the Lord” (1 Samuel 15:26 ESV). Rather than do what God had told him to do, Saul had chosen to do what he wanted to do. He had practiced partial obedience. But God was not interested in partial obedience. Saul's failure to do what God had told him to do revealed a disregard and disrespect for the word of God. He didn't take God's word seriously. He didn't fear God. He believed he could do things his way rather than God's way and get away with it. And when he got caught, he thought a few well-timed sacrifices would get him out of trouble with God. But God knew Saul's heart. He knew that this latest episode of disobedience was just one more illustration of Saul's faulty character. He was never going to obey God fully. Saul had a heart problem. So when God sent Samuel to look for Saul's replacement as king, He told the prophet, “For the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about man?

Saul was hard-hearted. He had heard the word of God, but had refused to obey it fully. His partial obedience was not enough. At the core of his disobedience was a distrust of God. He didn't fully believe that what God said was important. His disobedience reflected a disregard for God's Word. Even today, men choose to disobey God. They hear His Word and yet refuse to obey it. And they refuse to obey it, because they refuse to believe it. Paul wrote that his “heart's desire and prayer to God for them [the Israelites] is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1 ESV). He longed to see his fellow Jews come to faith in Christ. He knew they had a zeal for the things of God. They kept the sacrificial system. They attempted to keep God's commands. But they were “ignorant of the righteousness of God” (Romans 10:3 ESV). They were still trying to depend on their own self-righteousness, believing that they could somehow earn their way into God's good favor through good works and obedience to His law. They still believed that keeping the commandments could bring them eternal life. And even when Paul preached the good news of Jesus Christ and the reality of righteousness based on faith, they refused to listen. He described them as a “disobedient and contrary people” (Romans 10:21 ESV). It wasn't that they had not heard the truth. Paul himself had faithfully proclaimed the gospel among the Jews in every city and town he had visited. But the majority of the Jews were unwilling to listen to God's Word, choosing instead to create their own version of the truth. Paul had made the way of salvation crystal clear. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Romans 10:9-10 ESV). Jesus, the Messiah, had been predicted in the Old Testament. He had proven His Messiahship through signs, miracles and wonders. He had died and been miraculously raised back to life. But they refused to believe. They didn't want to listen to what Paul and others had to say. They would continue to offer their sacrifices and practice their version of what they believed to be the truth. But the sad outcome of their refusal to listen and obey would be, “Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you” (1 Samuel 15:23 ESV).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

God doesn't take delight in my sacrifice and my attempts at practicing my religion. He wants my heart. He desires my willful obedience to His Word. Saul partially obeyed. He got ninety-percent accuracy. But his heart was not in it. At the end of the day, he doubted God and his doubt led to disobedience. The refusal of the Jews to hear the message of the gospel and believe was because they doubted God. They refused to accept His terms for salvation. They preferred to do things their way and according to their own agenda. They were disobedient and contrary. And while I have confessed with my mouth that Jesus is Lord and believed in my heart that God raised Him from the dead, I can still live in disobedience to the will of God for my life. I can hear Him speaking through His Word, convicting me of sin and clearly revealing to me what He wants me to do, and simply disregard what I hear. I can refuse to obey, choosing instead to do things my way. And when I do, I am revealing that, in my heart, I don't truly trust God. I don't have a high regard for His Word. When I refuse to believe, I illustrate my lack of fear of Him. I don't take Him seriously and prove to be just as disobedient and contrary as Saul or the people of Israel in Paul's day. At the end of the day, it is a heart problem. God wants me to be a man after His own heart. He wants me to love Him first and foremost. My obedience is to stem from my love for Him. My desire to please Him should come out of a deep-seated understanding of just how much He loves me.

Father, I want to be a man after Your own heart. I want to obey You out of love for You. I want my life to be an expression of gratitude for all You have done for me. Forgive me for my blatant disregard for Your Word. It happens far too often and far too easily. May I be quick to hear what You have to say. May I be slow to speak out in my own self-defense when You rightfully expose my disobedience. And may I never become angry at Your discipline for my willful refusal to obey Your Word. Amen

The Gift of God's Mercy.

1 Samuel 13-14, Romans 9

“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion,but on God, who has mercy. – Romans 9:15-16 ESV

Saul was an impetuous, impatient man who seemed to have a hard time waiting on God. He was impulsive and quick to act, and even quicker to defend or excuse his actions when they didn't turn out as expected. At times he appears religious and faithful, turning to God for counsel, but then just as quickly, he acts on his own impulses rather than wait for a word from God. It's clear that Saul was disobedient to God. Samuel the prophet informed him, “But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you” (1 Samuel 13:14 ESV). Saul was going to be replaced with another man, a man who would have a heart for the things of God. But interestingly enough, God continued to give Saul victories in battle – in spite of his stubbornness and disobedience. Even Saul's unwise and unnecessary vow to put to death anyone who ate until the Philistines were defeated, did not keep God from giving the people of Israel victory over their enemies. But it did almost end up with Saul having to execute his own son, Jonathan. Unaware of his father's vow, Jonathan had eaten honey in order to regain his strength from a long day of battle. Saul's vow also caused the people of Israel to sin against God. Because they were so famished by the time the Philistines had been routed, they ended up slaughtering and eating some of the animals they had taken as spoil, but in their haste they failed to drain off the blood. In so doing, they violated the command of God. “Only you shall not eat the blood; you shall pour it out on the earth like water” (Deuteronomy 12:16 ESV). Rather than take the blame for the people's sins, Saul looked for a scapegoat. When he discovered that his own son had violated his vow, he determined to put him to death, preferring to place the guilt on his head rather than his own. But God showed mercy and intervened, causing the people to step in and stand up for Jonathan. Despite Saul's sinful, selfish, rash actions, God showed mercy and spared Jonathan's life and gave the people victory over their enemies.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Over in Romans 9, Paul records the words of God: “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Romans 9:15 ESV). God is sovereign. He can and will do whatever He wants to do. He does not have to answer to man. In fact, Paul asks the question, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” (Romans 9:20-21 ESV). God is free to do as He wills. And what He does, He does not because man deserves it, but because He willingly, mercifully wills it so. “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Romans 9:16 ESV). Paul reminds us that God shows mercy on whomever He wills and he hardens whomever He wills. We struggle with that concept because it appears to go against our idea of free will, but we must never lose sight of the fact that, ultimately, God is in control of all things.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Saul was a control freak. He had to have things his way. While he may have been reluctant to take on the kingship of Israel at the beginning, he seems to have warmed up to the task. In time, he let the power go to his head. He even saw no problem with extending his authority beyond what God had ordained for him as king. When Samuel the prophet commanded Saul to go to Gilgal and wait seven days for his arrival, he became impatient. On the seventh day, when Samuel had not yet shown up, Saul decided to take maters into his own hands, offering sacrifices to God – a right reserved for the priests of God alone. This sinful act would lead to Saul's removal as king and his replacement by a man after God's own heart. But mercifully, God did not remove Saul immediately. He did not put him to death for his sin. God showed Saul mercy, and even gave him victory over the Philistines.

This entire story is a tremendous testimony to God's sovereignty. God was acting behind the scenes to accomplish His will and fulfill His promises made to Abraham. He was orchestrating His divine plan for the salvation of mankind. It would be into David's line that Jesus would be born, not Saul's. It would be to David that God would make the promise to provide him with a perpetual kingdom and a descendant who would rule on the throne of Israel forever. And yet God had placed Saul on the throne. He had given the people the king they wanted so badly. But God was not done yet. In spite of their rejection of Him, God was going to show them mercy and continue to fulfill His covenant promises.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

God is at work in my life, oftentimes in spite of me. His mercy is not based on my actions or on my qualifications. He extends His mercy graciously and undeservedly. His gift of His Son had nothing to do with my worth or inherent value. He sent His Son to die for me while I was completely immersed in sin and in rebellion against Him. And even now, as a believer in Jesus Christ, I have the propensity to live selfishly and sinfully, refusing to do things God's way. But He continues to show me mercy. He will not renege on His promise to provide me with eternal life and an “inheritance of the saints in light” (Colossians 1:12 ESV). I must accept the fact that God is in control and has the right do whatever He desires to do. I may not always understand His actions. I may not always like what I see Him doing. But I must never question His motives or doubt His goodness and righteousness. The ways of God are a mystery to us. We have limited capacity to understand what He is doing. We aren't able to see the outcome or discern the purpose behind His plans for our lives. But we must learn to trust Him because He is God and He is trustworthy. That is one of the characteristics that set David apart from Saul. He was a man after God's own heart. He seemed to have an innate understanding of God's character and was willing to trust Him with his life, his future, and his kingdom. Oh, that I might do the same thing.

Father, Your mercy is great. Your power is beyond my capacity to understand. I can't comprehend all that You are doing in my life. I don't always get what it is that You are doing in the world today. But I know that You are in control. You are sovereign. You are mercifully accomplishing Your will in the lives of men, accomplishing Your divine plan to perfection. Help me to trust You, even when I don't understand You. Amen

The Patience of God.

1 Samuel 11-12, Romans 8

And Samuel said to the people, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart.And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name's sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself.” – 1 Samuel 12:20-22 ESV

The people got what they wanted: Their very own king. In 1 Samuel 12, Saul is officially anointed king of Israel, and Samuel gives his retirement speech. He resigns as the final judge of Israel, but before he disappears into the sunset, he leaves the people with one final word. First of all, he made them testify as to the integrity of his character and ministry. He had not defrauded anyone. He had not taken advantage of his role as judge or attempted to profit personally from it. There had been no bribes taken or any hints of impropriety on his part. Which gave Samuel the permission to address the people bluntly and honestly about their spiritual condition. “Your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the Lord, in asking for yourselves a king” (1 Samuel 12:17 ESV). And he confirmed his words by calling on God to send rain and thunder right in the middle of the wheat harvest. The people had followed in the footsteps of their ancestors, having forgotten God and all that He had done for them over the years. When faced with possible war with the Ammonites, rather than turn to God, they had demanded, “‘No, but a king shall reign over us,’ when the Lord your God was your king” (1 Samuel 12:12 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

But in spite of their sinful actions, God was ready to forgive them and to continue leading and providing for them. But Samuel reminds them that they were going to have to fear, serve, and obey Him. They were going to have to stop rebelling against His commands. Not only them, but their new king as well. He would be immune to or exempt from God's commands. Samuel told them, “If both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God, it will be well” (1 Samuel 12:14 ESV). God was still willing to bless them, in spite of them. But they would have to faithfully serve Him and honor Him as God. “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name's sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself” (1 Samuel 12:20-22 ESV). God would not forsake them. But they had to stop turning after “empty things” – those worthless, vacuous replacements for God. Samuel warned them that heir habit of coming up with God-replacements was going to have to stop. But the reality would be that this condition would continue for generations to come, ultimately ending with their defeat at the hands of their enemies and their exile into foreign lands as captives. But God would still not forsake them. He would still prove faithful to them.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Mankind is inherently unfaithful. Our sin natures make it impossible for us to do even what we want to do. And obedience to God doesn't come naturally to any of us. The Israelites could not keep the Law of God, no matter how much they vowed to do so. Their flesh just wasn't up to the task. So, Paul tells us, “God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:3-4 ESV). God did for us what we couldn't do for ourselves. He provided a way for men to be made right with Him that was not dependent upon their own sinful flesh, because if left to the Law and our own capacity to keep it, we would all fall short. God sent His Son to live the life He had required of all men. Jesus came in the form of human flesh and lived in perfect obedience to the Law of God. He was faithul and obedient, even to the point of death. He did everything that God the Father required of Him. And it was His perfect obedience to the will of God that allowed Him to offer Himself as the sinless sacrifice on man's behalf. He took our place and our punishment, so that we might receive His righteousness. His blood covered our sin. His sacrifice atoned for our unrighteousness. God sent His Son to die on our behalf and to accomplish for us what we could never have done for ourselves. All because He loved us.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

I am no different or better than the Israelites. Without Christ I would be just as prone to faithlessness and rebellion against God, no matter how much I might want to live differently and obediently. My flesh just doesn't have what it takes to do what God demands. But because of what Jesus has done, I have been made right with God. And as Paul so aptly puts it, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, now will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32 ESV). God is for me. That is an amazing thought. And His Son sits at His right hand making intercession for me. On top of that, no matter what I may face in this life, whether it be trials, troubles, pain, sorrow, persecution, danger, hunger or even death itself, I will never find myself separated from the love of God. Because it is not based on my ability to live perfectly or sinlessly. He will never forsake me. I am His adopted child and an heir to His kingdom. So while life may throw all kinds of curves my way, they are never an indication that I have fallen out of God's favor. I am His and He has my future fully secured. And while I know I will fail Him in this lifetime, He will never forsake me. He is a patient, loving, gracious, merciful God. And my response should be exactly what Samuel required of the people of Israel. “Only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you” (1 Samuel 12:24 ESV)

Father, thank You for your incredible patience and love for me. I did not deserve Your grace and mercy. I could not have earned Your favor any more than the Israelites did. But You sent Your Son to pay for my sins and die in my place. You provided a way for me to be made right with You that I could never have done on my own. You showed me patience and You continue to do so as I struggle with obedience and faithfulness every day of my life. Help me to fear You and serve You faithfully with all my heart, and to never forget all the great things You have done for me. Amen


The Problem of Sin.

1 Samuel 9-10, Romans 7

For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. – Romans 7:18 ESV

The people demanded a king, and they were very specific as to the kind of king they wanted. “But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:19-20 ESV). And God was very specific as to the motivation behind their demand. “…but they have rejected me from being king over them” (1 Samuel 8:7 ESV). The people of Israel were dissatisfied with having God as their King and Judge. They wanted an earthly king, just like all the other nations. But the problem with any earthly king is always the problem and presence of sin. God was not opposed to Israel having kings, because He already planned for them to have one. It was that the people were rejecting Him as their rightful sovereign. They didn't want to listen to Him and live under His leadership. They thought the answer to all their problems was a powerful warrior king who could deliver them out from under the constant oppression of their enemies. But as the book of Judges reveals, their problem was sin. The reason they had ongoing problems with their enemies was their ongoing problem with sin, and an earthly king was not the solution. But God would give them exactly what they asked for. He would give them Saul. Saul had it all. He was wealthy, tall, handsome and from the tribe of Benjamin. “He was taller than any of the people” (1 Samuel 9:2 ESV). He looked like a king. He walked like a king. He was from a wealthy family, so according to the mindset of most Jews in that day, he obviously had the blessings of God on his life. But it would quickly be revealed that Saul had a sin problem, because he was human.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God is sovereign. He is the King. He is in control of all things. So while men were clamoring to have their own earthly king, God was revealing His ultimate sovereignty over all things by the way this whole story unfolds. From the search for the lost donkeys to the unplanned encounter with Samuel the prophet, the divine influence of God can be seen all throughout the events surrounding Saul's selection as king. God had even told Samuel in advance that He was sending “a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be prince over my people Israel” (1 Samuel 9:16 ESV). When Saul arrived, God told Samuel, “Here is the man of whom I spoke to you!” (1 Samuel 9:17 ESV). God even arranged for the lost donkeys to be found. Everything about this story reveals the sovereignty of God. He was still the King of Israel. Their desire and demand for an earthly king had not changed the fact that God was still on His throne and was clearly ruling over the affairs of men. God even provided three signs for Saul to prove that the words Samuel had spoken were true. Each of these signs were highly specific and revealed that God knew ahead of time what was going to take place. He was orchestrating events in such a way that they were as good as done before they even happened. And when it came time for Samuel to announce to the people that God was going to give them the king they so greatly desired, he also warned them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I brought up Israel out of Egypt, and I delivered you from the and of the Egyptians and from the hand of all the kingdoms that were oppressing you.’ But today you have rejected your God, who saves you from all your calamities and your distresses, and you have said to him, ‘Set a king over us’” (1 Samuel 10:18-19 ESV). The people were expecting an earthly, human king to do what only God could do. They were desiring a flawed, faulty man to serve as their savior and god. But without God, all men have the same problem: SIN.

What does this passage reveal about man?

There is nothing inherently wrong with Saul, except for his own sin. Just like the rest of us, Saul was a man who struggled the constant presence of sin in his life. He may have been tall, handsome, wealthy and kingly in his countenance, but his problem was an internal one. Like every other Israelite, Saul lived his life under constant condemnation from the law, because he couldn't keep it. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't live up to God's holy, righteous standards. The apostle Paul clarifies the real purpose behind the law of God. “The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me” (Romans 7:10-11 ESV). God's law promised life to all those who lived up to its standards – perfectly and completely. But no one was capable of keeping the law to the letter. The law was given so that men might know exactly what sin was. Paul wrote, “if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin” (Romans 7:7 ESV). The law clearly commanded that men were not to covet. But as a result of God's law, the sin in men created within them an even greater desire to covet. “Sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness” (Romans 7:8 ESV). Due to their own indwelling sin nature, men tend to make lousy kings, because they are all inherent rule-breakers. As kings, they are to enforce law, but their own natures cause them to do just the opposite. The same would prove true of Saul, but also of David and Solomon. The only thing that could make the reign of any earthly king even remotely righteous was their relationship with God, the one true King. Dependency on and submission to God was the key to a successful reign. Ultimately, earthly kings must bow before the heavenly King. If they recognize that their authority is God-given and their power is delegated to them from a much higher authority, to whom they must one day answer, they stand a much greater chance of ruling righteously, in spite of their own sinful tendencies.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

It would be so easy to find fault in Saul and make him the villain of this story. But Saul was simply a painful illustration of what happens when sinful men reject the rule and reign of God in and over their lives. God gave Israel just what they demanded: a king just like all the other nations. Saul was a well-qualified candidate for the kingship, but his sin nature would end up making him a lousy leader. His disobedience, doubt, stubbornness, fear, pride and a host of other sinful characteristics would show up in no time. He is the perfect illustration of a man who wanted to do what was right, but didn't have the capacity to pull it off. The apostle Paul paints this human dilemma all too well. “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15 ESV). “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18-19 ESV).

Men make lousy kings, especially those who refuse to allow God to be king over their lives. And the same is true of me. When I refuse to let God rule and reign over my life, it is because I prefer to manage my own affairs. I want to do things my way, not His. But because of my sin nature, I prove to be a lousy king. I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. And like Paul, I find myself crying out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24 ESV). And the answer is always the same. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” I have been delivered from the rule and reign of sin in my life by the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I don't have to live under the control of my own sin nature any more. I have the God-given capacity to live differently and distinctively – through the indwelling power of God's Spirit.

Father, I would have made no better a king than Saul did. Apart from Your Son's work on the cross and Your Spirit's presence in my life, I would be left to my own sinful nature, and I would find myself living in a constant state of sin and rebellion against you. But when I submit to Your authority and live according to Your Spirit's power and not my own, I find that I am able to accomplish so much more than I ever could have dreamed of. I find I have strength to face any obstacle and peace to endure any trial. May I never forget that You are King, and not me. Amen

The Reign of God.

1 Samuel 7-8, Romans 6

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.. – Romans 6:22-23 ESV

At this point in the story of the people of God recorded in 1 Samuel, we find them demanding that Samuel, their judge, appoint for them a human king. It wasn't necessarily wrong that the people were asking for a king. God had long ago told them that this day would come. But he had also told them the kind of king they should look for. “When you come to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me, you may indeed set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you” (Deuteronomy 17:14-15 ESV). God had made provision for a king to reign and rule over Israel. But at this point in time, the demand of the people for a king really revealed their rejection of God as their true King. “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them” (1 Samuel 8:7 ESV). For years they had been rejecting God's reign over their lives by continually disobeying His commands. Without knowing it, they were living under the rule and reign of their own sinful habits and behaviors. They were motivated by their lusts, driven by their passions, and controlled by their evil desires. And now they wanted “a king to judge us like all the nations” (1 Samuel 8:5 ESV). In their minds, the answer to all their problems was an earthly king, not a heavenly one.

What does this passage reveal about God?

It is amazing how God had always made provision for these moments. He had predicted it would happen and it did. He knew this day would come because He is sovereign and omniscient. He knows all. He even knew the motivation of their hearts and what was really behind their demand for a king. So God warned them exactly what would happen if they got what they were asking for. He told them their king would conscript their sons into his army. He would amass for himself horses and chariots, in violation of God's commands (Deuteronomy 17:16). He would force their daughters to work for him as perfumers, cooks and bakers. He would tax them beyond belief, taking the best of their fields, vineyards, orchards and flocks. He would even forcibly take their slaves and servants and put them to work for himself. In essence, the people of Israel would become slaves of their king. And yet, in spite of this warning, the people said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, that we may also be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:19-20 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about man?

They were expecting from a mere man what they should have known was the responsibility of God. They wanted an earthly king to judge them and do battle for them. But that was God's job, and He had done it quite effectively for many years. But they were dissatisfied with God's reign over their lives. They had a better idea. They had a better solution to their problem.

In chapter six of Romans, Paul talks about the reign of God in the life of the believer. We were once slaves to sin, but have been set free by God and are now slaves to righteousness. “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:17-18 ESV). At one time, our lives were marked by slavery to sin. We couldn't help but sin. But because of Christ's death on the cross, He was able to pay the penalty due because of our sin, and replaced our sinfulness with His own righteousness. He made us right with God. As a result, Paul encourages us, “just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification” (Romans 6:19 ESV).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

I am to live as a slave to righteousness, doing what it demands, not what my old sinful nature demands. It am to obey righteousness, not wickedness. Paul puts it this way, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life” (Romans 6:22 ESV). Ultimately, I am to live as a slave to God, willingly obeying His commands, and faithfully following the life of righteousness His own Son modeled. God is my King. He is my Judge. He is the Captain of the army of heaven. He is the one who is to lead me into battle. He is the one who is to direct my path and determine my destiny. And any time I try to place a new king over my life, I am essentially rejecting the one true King. Any time I turn to anyone or anything other than God to fight my battles or judge my life, I am rejecting the rule and reign of God in my life.

Father, You are my God and King. But I confess that I often reject Your rule and reign over my life by doing things my own way. Too often I appoint myself king of my life or I turn to someone or something else and allow them to direct my life. In doing so, I reject You. I even allow myself to become enslaved to sin at times, falling back under its spell and living as if I was under its control again. But Your Son died so that I might be free from the rule of sin and that I might live in obedience to the reign of righteousness in my life. Help me live my life so it reflects my submission to Your rightful reign as the King of my life. Amen

The Salvation of God.

1 Samuel 5-6, Romans 5

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. – Romans 5:10 ESV

The story of the captured Ark found in 1 Samuel 5 and 6 seems designed to stress the superiority of God. While the Israelites were wrong in assuming they could use the Ark as some kind of good luck charm by bringing it into battle and hoping it would guarantee them a victory, God was still in control of the situation. The Philistines placed the Ark in the temple of their god, Dagon. This was a visible testimony of their belief that their god was the superior god. But the next morning they were shocked to find the statue of Dagon lying face down in front of the Ark of the God of Israel. They set their god back on his feet, only to return the next morning to find him fallen again, and with his head and hands sheered off. They immediately recognized that Yahweh was superior to Dagon. In fear, they sent the Ark to a neighboring Philistine city, where the people were immediately afflicted with tumors. They then sent the Ark to the city of Ekron, where they encountered the same problem. What ensued was like a game of hot potato, where the Ark was passed around from city to city, until wiser heads prevailed and determined to send the Ark back to Israel.

What does this passage reveal about God?

This entire scenario is about God's saving power. The Ark was holy. It belonged to God and was dedicated solely to His use. And while its presence among the Philistines was due to the ignorance of the people of Israel, it's salvation was completely up to God. There was no one in the land of Israel who was even remotely concerned with trying to rescue the Ark out of its captivity among the Philistines. They had abandoned it. But God had not. The text makes it clear that God was behind all that was going on involving the affliction of the Philistines and the eventual salvation of the Ark. “The hand of the Lord was heavy against the people of Ashdod, and he terrified and afflicted them with tumors…” (1 Samuel 5:6 ESV). God even seemed to be behind the actions of the two cows used to pull the cart carrying the Ark, by causing them to ignore their natural, instinctive concern for their own calves and walk directly to the nearest Israelite town.

God stepped in and did what no man could or would do. He saved the Ark. He rescued what belonged to Him. Not only was God superior in power, He saved.

What does this passage reveal about man?

The Ark had been lost in battle, and the people of Israel stood helplessly by, incapable of doing anything about it. One of the most significant things about the loss of the Ark is that it represented their atonement. Once a year on the Day of Atonement, the high priest would enter into the Holy of Holies and offer sacrifices for the sins of the people. He would sprinkle the blood of a lamb on the Mercy Seat which was found on the top of the Ark. This action would provide atonement for the sins of the people, allowing them to continue to enjoy God's presence rather than experience His wrath. The Ark was the visible representation of the presence of God. He had told the people of Israel, “There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel” (Exodus 25:22 ESV). Now the people of Israel had lost the presence of God and their only source for experiencing the mercy and forgiveness of God for their sins. They were in a hopeless, helpless state. But God stepped in. He did what they could not do. He provided salvation.

Paul talks about the same thing in Romans 5. God provided salvation for mankind through His Son Jesus Christ. “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6 ESV). “Since therefore, we have not been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:9 ESV). God did what no man could do. He stepped in and provided salvation, rescuing man out of his helpless, hopeless condition. He corrected the problem that man had created.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

I am reminded of the words of the song, “Mighty To Save.”

Everyone needs compassion

A love that's never failing

Let mercy fall on me

Everyone needs forgiveness

The kindness of a Savior

The hope of nations

Savior he can move the mountains

My God is mighty to save

He is mighty to save

Forever author of salvation

He rose and conquered the grave

– Mighty To Save, Ben Fielding, Reuben Morgan, Hillsong Music

Jesus conquered the grave.

God has rescued us from captivity to sin and death. Through Jesus, we can experience the mercy and grace of God. Jesus' sacrifice of His own life provided a way for men to be restored to a right relationship with God. He has made it possible for men to enjoy the presence and power of God in their lives once again. God is the author of salvation. He provided a solution to man's problem. He corrected what mankind screwed up. He did the impossible. “For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19 ESV).

Father, thank You for providing a way of salvation. Thank You for making it possible for us to enjoy Your presence and power in our lives, for restoring us to a right relationship with You. We were in a hopeless and helpless state, incapable of fixing the problem we had created, but You stepped in and did what we could not do. And we are eternally grateful. Amen

The Knowledge of God.

1 Samuel 3-4, Romans 4

Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. – 1 Samuel 3:7 ESV

Young Samuel had been dedicated to God by his mother. She had turned him over to Eli, the priest, and given him to the service of God. So Samuel found himself “ministering to the Lord under Eli” (1 Samuel 3:1 ESV). He even slept in the tent of meeting, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. Because of his relationship with Eli and his close proximity to the Tabernacle and the sacrificial system, Samuel would have had plenty of exposure to the things of God. But the text tells us, “Samuel did not yet know the Lord” (1 Samuel 3:7 ESV). This does not mean that Samuel did not cognitively know about God. He would have had a strong mental awareness of God. The Hebrew word for “know” is yada and it can refer to “knowledge through personal experience.” The text goes on to say that “the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him” (1 Samuel 3:7 ESV). Samuel did not have an intimate and personal knowledge of God at that point of his life. In fact, “the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision” (1 Samuel 3:1 ESV). At this point in the history of Israel there were few who heard from the Lord directly, so their knowledge of Him was academic rather than personal. But all of that was about to change. This young man was going to have a personal encounter with God Himself. God audibly called Samuel on three separate occasions, but the young man mistakenly concluded that it was Eli's voice he was hearing. But the fourth time “the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, ‘Samuel!, Samuel!’” (1 Samuel 3:10 ESV). God spoke to Samuel. He desired to have an intimate and personal conversation with him. Not only that, He revealed to Samuel His plans concerning Eli and his two wicked sons. “And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground” (1 Samuel 3:19 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

In spite of all that God had done for the people of Israel, they seemed to have no knowledge of Him. Their relationship with Him had become little more than religion and ritual. They had His law, but rarely kept it. They knew His requirements regarding the sacrificial system, but followed it more out of fear than loving obedience. Their sinful behavior, chronicled in the book of Judges, had led to an ever-increasing silence on the part of God. He rarely spoke and seldom revealed Himself or His will through visions. As a result the people really didn't know God. He had become little more than a legend recounted in stories told by the old. But God was there. He was simply waiting for someone who would not only hear Him, but listen to Him when He spoke. He had been waiting for someone who would believe Him and, in faith, act on what He told them. In other words, God was looking for someone like Abraham. Paul tells us, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3 ESV). Abraham had also had a personal, intimate encounter with God. He had appeared to Abraham at the burning bush and spoken to him audibly. But not only did Abraham hear God, he listened to what He said and stepped out in faith, leaving his homeland and setting out to a foreign land, trusting in nothing more than the word of God. He believed God's promise “that he would be heir of the world” (Romans 4:13 ESV) and the “father of many nations” (Romans 4:17 ESV). Paul makes it clear that “in hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told” (Romans 4:18 ESV). He believed God. Why? Because he knew God. He had a personal relationship with God. And he believed God to be trustworthy and reliable. “He grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was counted to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:20 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about man?

It is interesting that Samuel is juxtaposed with the people of Israel. Here is this young man, who had a personal and powerful encounter with God, contrasted with the people of Israel who seem to have long ago forgotten who God was and all of which He was capable. When they lose a decisive battle with the Philistines, rather than turn to God in prayer, they send for the Ark of the Covenant. They assumed their defeat was God's doing, but they make no attempt to talk to Him about their situation or seek His will regarding what they should do. Instead, they bring the Ark of the Covenant into their camp, treating it like some kind of talisman or good luck charm. In essence, they turn the Ark into a representation of God, making it nothing more than a common idol. Because they didn't have a personal knowledge of God, they put their trust in an inanimate object that was never intended to be worshiped or used as a stand-in for God. They viewed the Ark the same way the Philistines did, seeing it as a symbol of their God. When the Philistines got word that the Ark had arrived in the Hebrew camp, they said, “A god has come into the camp. Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these might gods” (1 Samuel 3:7-8 ESV). Sadly, the Israelites seemed to have no better knowledge of God than the Philistines did. They didn't understand how God works. They didn't have a personal knowledge of His ways. And as a result, they not only lost the battle, they lost the Ark.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Abraham believed God. He trusted what God had to say. He placed his hope in the promises of God. He relied on the word of God. All because he had a personal knowledge of God. That is what I long for in my own life. He has revealed Himself to me through His Son, Jesus Christ. He has placed His Spirit within me. He has provided me with His written Word. I regularly hear from Him, but I must learn to listen, trust and obey. My knowledge of God must go beyond the academic and cerebral. It must become intimate and personal. “Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground” (1 Samuel 3:19 ESV). In other words, God did not allow any of the words He spoke to Samuel fall to the ground unfulfilled. He brought about all that He predicted. He fulfilled all that He promised. And Samuel grew to trust God more and more. As I hear God speak and watch Him work, I grow. As I see Him fulfill His will in my life, my faith grows, and I learn to listen more carefully and obey more quickly. I become increasingly more convinced that God is able to do what he has promised to do.

Father, You are reliable and trustworthy. You are powerful and personal. You speak, but too often I fail to hear. Or I hear and refuse to listen and obey. Help me to have the attitude of Samuel, so that I always respond, “Speak Lord, for your servant hears.” I want to hear You, trust You, and obey You. I want to believe, based on nothing more than what I know about Your unwavering character. May my personal knowledge of You grow greater and greater with each passing day. Amen


The Sinfulness of Man.

1 Samuel 1-2, Romans 3

None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. – Romans 3:10-12 ESV

The Old Testament is brutally raw in how it depicts the sinfulness of man. It does not attempt to sugar coat the facts, but presents life exactly as it was, uncensored and painfully unflattering. Even the Jews, having been chosen by God and given His law, could not seem to live in faithfulness and obedience to His commands. Their incessant failure to remain faithful to God is chronicled throughout the pages of the Old Testament. Take Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, the priest of Israel. These two young men also served as priests, but the writer of 1 Samuel describes them as “worthless men” who “did not know the Lord” (1 Samuel 2:12 ESV). They were using their position as priests of God for personal gain and to satisfy their own perverse desires. “Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the Lord, for the men treated the offering of the Lord with contempt” (1 Samuel 2:17 ESV). These two men glaringly illustrate the truth found in Psalm 14:1-3 and quoted by Paul in Romans 3:10-12: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” This passage is not saying that man is incapable of doing good, because we see in 1 Samuel 3 the actions of Hannah are obviously good and righteous. She makes a vow to God and keeps it. She dedicated her son to God and followed through on her commitment. But there are no actions that man may perform that will ever earn him salvation. Even on our best day, our attempts at righteousness fall woefully short. The prophet Isaiah put it this way: “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

Paul makes it clear that God gave the law to the people of Israel in order to reveal their sinfulness. “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law come knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20 ESV). The law required perfect obedience and adherence. James wrote concerning the law: “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10 ESV). In other words, God's law required perfection. And so it regularly revealed to men their shortcomings. No one was capable of measuring up to God's righteous standards. The story of Hophne and Phinehas shows us just how bad things had gotten during the days before Israel had a king. Even the priesthood had become corrupt. They were immoral and unfaithful, showing more concern for their own personal pleasure than they did for God and His law. This vivid portrayal of the sinfulness of man provides a stark backdrop onto which will be displayed the coming of the Son of God in the New Testament. God will clearly show that man's sin was so great and his need for a source of salvation outside of himself was so necessary, that when Jesus appears on the scene, men should have flocked to His presence, begging Him to save them. Because as Paul wrote, “the whole world may be hold accountable to God” (Romans 3:19 ESV). Paul makes it clear that being made right with God is possible, but only through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ on the cross. “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:23-25 ESV). In the end, God would remain just in His treatment of man's sin. He would be perfectly within His divine rights to punish the sins of mankind. But the good news is that God is also the justifier. By sending His Son to die for the sins of man, He is able to declare “sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus” (Romans 3:26 NLT). Jesus became the only man to live in perfect obedience to the law of God, keeping each and every one of them and remaining sinless in the process. And His sinlessness made Him an acceptable sacrifice or payment for the sins of mankind.

What does this passage reveal about man?

It would be easy to demonize Hophne and Phinehas. In our own self-righteousness, we could condemn them for their blatantly sinful behavior and wonder how they could have gone so bad so fast. But as the old saying goes, “But for the grace of God go I.” All of us are capable of the same degree of sins as these two young men. Their story is there to remind us of our own capacity to sin against God. One of the saddest statements of all of Scripture is the one used to describe them: “They did not know the Lord” (1 Samuel 2:12 ESV). Here were two sons of the priest of Israel, who were priests themselves and as such, offered daily sacrifices before the God of Israel. But they did not know the Lord. This does not mean they had no idea who God was, but that they didn't understand just how serious God was about His commands. They treated God's law flippantly and with disdain. The NET Bible translates verse 12 this way: “They did not recognize the Lord’s authority.” They saw God's laws as optional, obeying their own sinful desires and passions instead. And that is a risk we all face. When we disobey God it is as if we don't even know Him. As Paul said, “The Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God” (Romans 3:2 ESV), but they failed to obey those oracles. They regularly refused to do what they knew to be the non-negotiable laws of God. And in doing so, they lived no differently than the Gentiles who didn't know God at all. In fact, their guilt was even greater.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

My sin is real. At one time it separated me from a relationship with God. And there was nothing I could do to earn favor with Him. I was incapable of living my life in a way that would satisfy the righteous expectations of a holy God. And while I may not have committed sins of the same caliber as Hophne and Phinehas, my guilt was just as great. And yet, God justified me “by his grace as a gift” (Romans 3:24 ESV). And all it required of me was faith in Jesus Christ as my sin substitute. I simply had to recognize my sin and my need for a Savior. I needed something or someone outside of myself to make it possible for me to be made right with God. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-25 ESV).

Father, I have no problem recognizing my own sinfulness. I even acknowledge that there are days when I live as if I don't even know you, just as Hophne and Phinehas did. I willingly ignore Your will for my life, disobeying or sometimes just ignoring Your Word. But You provided payment for my sin. You purchased my life out of slavery to sin and made it possible for me to escape the death sentence I was under. Now you see me through the righteousness of Your Son. My sins are forgiven. My future is secure. But continue to help me live in keeping with the change that has taken place in my life. May I never forget my sinfulness, but always lean on the righteousness of Christ, because apart from Him, all of my works are like filthy rags. Amen


Ruth 3-4, Romans 2

Remain tonight, and in the morning, if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then, as the Lord lives, I will redeem you. Lie down until the morning. – Ruth 3:13 ESV

The story of Ruth is really the story of God and His relationship with man. Here was Ruth, a poor, widowed Moabite, a non-Jew, who found herself living with her widowed mother-in-law in Bethlehem. They have nothing. They have lost their husbands and have no source of income. As women, they are vulnerable and helpless. They have no rights. And Ruth, as a Gentile, is particularly hopeless, because the Jews would have viewed her as an outsider and undeserving of Yahweh's kindness, let alone their own. But Naomi knew the laws concerning the Levirate marriage. She understood that the nearest kinsman of her deceased son was obligated by law to care for her daughter-in-law. And it was Naomi's wish that Ruth be provided for and protected so that she might have the joy of perpetuating her dead husband's line through the bearing of children. Ruth followed the instructions of her mother-in-law and appealed to Boaz as her kinsman-redeemer. She boldly confronted him and asked him to become her provider and protector by marrying her. “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer” (Ruth 3:9 ESV). Here was this poor Gentile widow appealing to the much more wealthy and powerful Boaz to do what the law of God required him to do. She was putting herself at his mercy. She was appealing to his grace and kindness. Without his help, her future was bleak and hopeless. Her very existence depended upon his reaction to her cry for help.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God is our redeemer. And we are each like Ruth, helpless and hopeless and in need of someone to rescue us from our dire and desperate condition. Like Ruth, we are undeserving and unworthy of God's kindness. But because of what Christ has done on our behalf, God is obligated to extend mercy and grace to us, regardless of our worthiness. Christ's death on the cross has made our redemption possible. God has provided a way for us to be made right with Him. “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14 ESV). The story of Ruth is the story of mankind and God's desire to redeem and restore them. Ruth provides a picture of the individual who recognizes their need and humbly places themselves at the mercy of their redeemer. She came with nothing and was depending on Boaz for everything. We must come the same way to God. We must appeal to Him, not based on our merit or worth, but on the basis of His own requirements. His Son's death has paid the price for our sins and we must come based on that one fact alone. In essence, we must ask God to spread His wings over His servant, for He is a redeemer.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Boaz was a man of character. He was a man of integrity. When Ruth came to him and appealed to him as her kinsmen-redeemer, he did not take it lightly. Even when he knew that there was another relative who had the first right to play that role in Ruth's life and not only redeem her, but also the lands that belonged to her deceased husband, Boaz told Ruth, “Remain tonight, and in the morning, if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then as the Lord lives, I will redeem you” (Ruth 3:13 ESV). He was going to do the right thing. Boaz knew the law as well. He was fully aware of Leviticus 25:25-28 and what it said about the redemption of property. He was also familiar with Deuteronomy 25:5-10 and what it taught about levirate marriage. But not only did Boaz know what the law said regarding these things, he was willing to obey them – at all costs. Paul warned the Jews, “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God” (Romans 2:28-29 ESV). Boaz was a good Jew. But not because he knew the law and had been circumcised according to the law. He had a heart that was receptive and obedient to the will of God. He wanted to do what God wanted done. It's interesting to note that when Boaz made the other gentleman aware of his responsibilities as kinsman-redeemer, he only told him about the land belonging to Ruth's deceased husband. Immediately, the man was ready to redeem the land, but when he found out that his responsibility included taking Ruth as his wife and making sure that her children were included in his inheritance, he quickly relinquished his rights as kinsman-redeemer. He knew the law, but did not have the heart to keep it. It was too costly for him. “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it” (Ruth 4:6 ESV). Paul warned, “It is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified” (Romans 2:15 ESV). Boaz was willing to do what the law required, regardless of the cost. He obligated himself to redeem Ruth and become her provider and protector.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

God has redeemed me. He has bought me out of my slavery and spiritual poverty, providing me with new life and a position as His child in His family. And all I had to do was admit my need and appeal to His grace and mercy made possible by the death of His own Son on the cross. But I also want to be like Boaz, who was not willing to simply know the law or will of God, but was willing to do it. His actions revealed his heart. He was a man of integrity, not because he had all the proper spiritual credentials, but because he was willing to live his life according to God's standards, regardless of the cost. Throughout the story of Ruth, you see what happens when men and women do things God's way. Ruth listened to the advice of her mother-in-law and placed herself at the mercy of the Hebrew law of the levirate marrage. She was a Gentile who knew nothing about this law, but was willing to rely upon it for her future. Boaz was willing to listen to God's call for him to perform the duties of the kinsman-redeemer. And the result was that Boaz redeemed Ruth, made her his wife and they had a son. And that son would become the grandfather of King David, into whose line Jesus Christ would be born. When men and women live their lives God's way and allow their hearts to be directed by His Spirit, the outcome will always be according to His divine plan. Our obedience always results in God's blessing.

Father, thank You for redeeming me. Thank You for providing a way when I had no way out. May I never take Your love, mercy and grace for granted. Help me to be a conduit of that same love, mercy and grace to those around me, willingly sacrificing my comfort and security for the sake of others, just as Boaz did. Amen

Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands.

Ruth 1-2, Romans 1

The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge! – Ruth 2:12 ESV

The sovereignty of God is a difficult concept for most of us to get our hearts and minds around. The idea that He is completely in control of all things can be a comfort at times and a confusing contradiction at others. When things are going well in our lives, it seems to make sense that God is in control. But when difficulty shows up in our lives, we can either begin to wonder where God has gone or why He is doing what He is doing to us. In the story of Ruth, we find a fascinating snap shot of God's sovereignty over the lives of men. The book chronicles the life of an obscure Moabite woman, who becomes the great-grandmother of King David, and one of the few women whose names appear in the family tree of Jesus Christ found in the gospels. But along with the sovereignty of God, the book of Ruth provides a wonderful illustration of how God uses men to accomplish His divine will. As the title of Paul David Tripp's book so aptly describes them, men and women can become Instruments In the Redeemer's Hands. Even in the book of Romans we see Paul writing to the believers in Rome, expressing his sincere longing to visit them. He reveals that he has repeatedly asked God to allow him the privilege of traveling to Rome in order to spread the gospel among the Gentiles there. And little did Paul know that his prayer would be answered in the form of his arrest in Caesarea and a long and arduous boat trip to Rome under Roman guard. He would eventually get his wish and arrive in Rome, but as a prisoner. In God's sovereignty, He would arrange for Paul to get free passage to Rome as a “guest” of Caesar, with all expenses paid by the Roman government. And once there, Paul would have the opportunity to act as God's instrument in the lives of the people of Rome.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God is in control. We can't always see it and we may only be able to recognize it long after the fact. In other words, it is oftentimes in hindsight that we best see God's sovereign hand in our lives. The story of Ruth provides us with a perfect example of that fact. It gives us a 36,000-foot view of the events surrounding the lives of Elimelech, Naomi, Ruth and Boaz, allowing us to see what they could not see at the time. For Naomi, none of what was happening in her life made sense. In fact, she wrestled with God's actions, wrongly assuming that God was against her. “…the hand of the Lord has gone out against me” (Ruth 1:13 ESV). And who could blame her? She and her husband had been forced to flee from their hometown of Bethlehem because of a famine. They ended up in Moab, where she had to watch her husband and two adult sons die prematurely and unexpectedly. She was left a widow in a foreign land with no source of income and responsibility for two widowed daughters-in-law. Her conclusion, based on all that had happened to her was, “the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away very full, and the Lord has brought me back empty” (Ruth 1:20-21 ESV). Noami's take was that, “the Almighty has brought calamity upon me” (Ruth 1:21 ESV). But while her life had been difficult, her conclusion could not have been more wrong. The sovereign God of the universe was orchestrating events in such a way that what Naomi thought was a curse from God would prove to be a blessing.

Paul's desire to visit Rome and to “reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles” (Romans 1:13 ESV) was obviously from God. And yet, it would be easy to wonder where God was when Paul ended up sailing on a boat to Rome in the custody of Roman guards. He could have easily questioned God's sovereignty when faced with a perilous storm and the likelihood of shipwreck and even possible death as they made their way to Rome. But all of this was part of God's plan. And instead of questioning God, Paul determined to see himself as an instrument in the hands of the Redeemer, ministering to the men on the boat with him. And when he eventually made it safe and sound to Rome, he would continue to operate as an instrument in the Redeemer's hands, bringing help, hope and healing to all those with whom he came into contact.

What does this passage reveal about man?

One of the most encouraging and inspiring characters in the book of Ruth is that of Boaz. While Ruth is the main character and exhibits some remarkable character qualities, it is Boaz who holds the story together and best illustrates someone who sees himself as God's instrument. When he finds out about Ruth and her relationship with Naomi, he steps in. After hearing about all that had happened to Naomi and how Ruth ministered to her even in the midst of her own pain and loss, Boaz tells her, “The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” (Ruth 2:12 ESV). Boaz believed in the sovereignty of God and he also believed in the mercy, grace, and compassion of God. But he also knew that God sometimes expresses Himself through the lives of men. He understood that God had placed this woman in his field and in his life so that he might minister to her needs and becomes God's instrument to repay her, reward her, and provide refuge for her. He immediately began the process of providing for her needs and arranging for her protection. God used Boaz to bless Ruth and Naomi, just as He used Paul to bless the people of Rome. They were both conduits of God's blessing to others, willingly allowing themselves to be used by Him to redeem and restore those who were in desperate need.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

I don't always understand how God works. At times I even question His actions, wondering what in the world He thinks He is doing. But these two passages remind me that God is always in control, regardless of what I may see or think. And they also encourage me to see myself as an instrument in His hands, providing help, hope and healing to those around me. God places people in my life at key times to whom He expects me to minister. And He places people in my life from whom I unexpectedly receive His love, mercy and comfort. The moments of pain and sorrow in our lives are difficult to bear, but we must always remember that God has an overarching purpose and plan for our lives and can and does use “all things” to work together for our own good (Romans 8:28). We may not be able to see it or appreciate in the heat of the moment, but given time and perspective, we will always be able to see that God was there, ministering to us and providing for us. And the most amazing thing is that He will typically, if not always, use one of His children as an instrument of His redeeming love in our lives. Our heart's desire should be to live like Boaz and Paul, willing to be used by God and confident that He is ultimately in charge of the affairs of our life, so that we rightly conclude that there are no unexpected and unintentional moments that ever happen that He has not ordained or intends to redeem for our good and His glory.

Father, make me a Boaz for my day. Let me live like Paul, with a desire to be used by You and the perspective to see Your hand in all that happens in my life. May I live with a attitude of expectancy, willing to be used as an instrument in Your loving, redemptive hands. Amen

A Final Word of Warning.

Romans 16:17-27

And now I make one more appeal, my dear brothers and sisters. Watch out for people who cause divisions and upset people’s faith by teaching things contrary to what you have been taught. Stay away from them. – Romans 16:17 NLT

Paul wraps up his wide-ranging treatise with a single, simple warning: Stay away from anyone who might want to cause division in the church or negatively impact another believer's faith. Paul had a special disdain for false teachers – those who taught anything contrary to the Gospel message he had received from Christ Himself. These individuals were not to be tolerated. Paul did not live in an age of political correctness or rampant tolerance. He didn't have to put up with those who chose to present their own version of the Gospel or offered up a slightly variant form of salvation. As far as Paul was concerned, there was no reason to accept or tolerate these people and their messages. He knew just how dangerous they could be.

Paul had warned the believers in Galatia, "This false teaching is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough! I am trusting the Lord to keep you from believing false teachings. God will judge that person, whoever he is, who has been confusing you" (Galatians 5:9-10 NLT). In their case, he was addressing those who were teaching that circumcision was a necessary requirement for salvation to be complete. These were Jews who were demanding that Gentiles adhere to all the rituals and requirements of Judaism in order to be fully saved. For Paul, this was a clear case of trying to add to the Gospel message. It was Jesus + something. And as far as Paul was concerned, the Gospel was Jesus + NOTHING. No-thing. No works. No merit. No circumcision. No rituals. No sacrifices. No rules. Nothing.

So why would Paul wrap up his lengthy letter with a warning against false teachers? Because he knew that they were alive and well and would be continuing to spread their false teaching to anyone who would listen. And as Paul told the Galatians, all it would take was a little false teaching to permeate and impact the entire church. Within any local body of believers it is essential that those who are more mature and knowledgeable of the Scriptures to be on the lookout for false teaching and errant doctrine. Those who are new to the faith are especially susceptible to false teaching. They do not yet have adequate knowledge of the truth to discern falsehood from truth. That is why pastors, teachers, and elders of the local church carry a special responsibility to protect the flock from false teachers and faulty doctrine. Paul warned the elders from the church in Ephesus, "So guard yourselves and God's people. Feed and shepherd God's flock – his church, purchased with his own blood – over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders" (Acts 20:28 NLT). That is a high calling and a weighty responsibility, and one that every elder should take seriously.

Paul warned Titus that any man who served as an elder "must have a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught; then he will be able to encourage others with wholesome teaching and show those who oppose it where they are wrong" (Titus 1:9 NLT). Why was this important to Paul? "For there are many rebellious people who engage in useless talk and deceive others. This is especially true of those who insist on circumcision for salvation. They must be silenced, because they are turning whole families away from the truth by their false teaching" (Titus 1:10-11 NLT). They must be silenced. They must be avoided at all costs. They must be dealt with strongly and severely. Because the health of the body and the well-being of the flock is at stake. And the same holds true today. Paul warns us with these words: "Such people are not serving Christ our Lord; they are serving their own personal interests. By smooth talk and glowing words they deceive innocent people" (Romans 16:18 NLT). We need to see them for what they are. Deceivers who are motivated by their own personal interests and who prefer their version of the truth over God's Word. They sound good. They tend to make sense. But if they contradict the truth of God's Word and alter in any way the Good News regarding Jesus Christ, they are to be avoided at all costs. Don't tolerate them. Don't listen to them. Don't allow them to influence your fellowship. The Gospel message is far too precious and valuable to allow it to be diluted or altered in any way. Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6 NLT). Anyone who attempts to add to or alter that message in any way, is not only wrong, they are dangerous. Tolerance may be politically correct, but it is spiritually deadly. That's why Paul told the Corinthians, "You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed" (2 Corinthians 22:4 NLT). Their tolerance was going to have devastating results on the health of the local church. And the same is true today. So let us stand up for the truth. Let us defend the Gospel. And let us protect the body of Christ from false teaching – at all costs.

Father, there are so many confusing and conflicting message out there today. So many are trying to water down the Gospel and make it all-inclusive. They want to teach that there are many paths to Your Kingdom. They want to lower the standard and increase the number of options available for being made right with You. But Jesus said He was the only source of salvation. He was and is the only means for man to be restored to a right relationship with You. Help us remain faithful to that truth. Don't let us lower our guard or tolerate anyone who wants to dilute or confuse the Gospel in any way. Amen.

The Church: A Melting Pot.

Romans 16:1-16

Give my greetings to Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in the ministry of Christ Jesus. In fact, they once risked their lives for me. I am thankful to them, and so are all the Gentile churches. Also give my greetings to the church that meets in their home. – Romans 16:3-5 NLT

Phoebe. Priscilla. Aquila. Epenetus. Mary. Adronicus. Junia. Ampliatus. Urbanus. Stachys. Apelles. Aristobulus. Herodian. Narcissus. Tryphena. Tryphosa. Persis. Rufus and his mother. Asyncritus. Phlegon. Hermes. Patrobas. Hermas. Philologus. Julia. Nereus and his sister. Olympas.

What a list. Paul closes out his letter with this lengthy compilation of individuals to whom he wished to send his greetings or offer introductions for the local congregation in Rome. In addition to the sheer number of names on the list, what should jump out at us is the cosmopolitan nature of the list. It contains Romans, Greeks, Jews, Gentiles, men, women, rich, poor, slaves and citizens in high standing. In just 16 short verses, Paul gives us a glimpse into life within the early church. In less than a century, the body of Christ had grown from that small, rag-tag group of disciples who had gathered in the days just after Jesus' resurrection and ascension. Just as Jesus had promised, they had received the Holy Spirit and were immediately transformed into agents of change and messengers of the Good News, spreading the message of salvation throughout the known world.

Now we see that their efforts, and those of Paul, Barnabas, Silas, and others, had been effective. The Good News was being preached and people from all walks of life were being saved. Individuals from every strata of society were hearing and accepting the message of reconciliation with God made available through belief in Jesus Christ. These people, whom Paul knew personally and loved deeply, were not just Christians, they were fellow servants, co-workers, brothers and sisters in Christ, friends, ex-inmates, house-church leaders, and co-laborers within the Kingdom of God. Paul gives little to no explanation or clarification about most of these individuals. He doesn't tell us how he knew them or where he met them. He simply explains that they are his brothers and sisters in Christ, and offers them to the believers in Rome as well worth getting to know.

The church was designed to be a melting pot. It was intended to be a place of unity, where individuals from every walk of life were joined together within the Kingdom of God because of their common relationship with and reliance upon Jesus Christ. While in Rome there would have been a well-defined social strata and caste system, within the church there was to be no such division. The body of Christ is about diversity. Paul put it this way in his letter to the church in Ephesus: "And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus. By God’s grace and mighty power, I have been given the privilege of serving him by spreading this Good News" (Ephesians 3:6-7 NLT). There is unique quality of unity and cohesiveness that should mark the church. Paul reminded the believers in Corinth, "But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength" (1 Corinthians 1:24-25 NLT). Social standing, economic status, personal attributes and educational background had nothing to do with it. "Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God" (1 Corinthians 1:26-29 NLT).

God chose. God called. God saved. Not based on merit or worth. Not according to our own worthiness or some arbitrary standard of value. The one thing that binds every single believer in Christ together is our inherent unworthiness. God's gift of salvation was just that – a gift. It was undeserved and unmerited. Christ died for us while we were still neck-deep in our sins, not after we got our spiritual acts together and somehow earned His favor. Each of the individuals listed in Paul's closing to his letter to the Romans shared one thing in common – their complete dependency upon God for their salvation. As a result of God's redeeming work, they had become part of the body of Christ and found themselves inextricably linked to one another regardless of income, ethnic background, social standing, or personal history. Paul tells his readers to "Greet each other in Christian love" (Romans 16:16 NLT). The fact that they didn't know each other well was irrelevant. That some were Greeks and some were Romans was immaterial. The reality that his list included both Jews and Gentiles didn't matter. They were all part of the body of Christ and each belonged to the other. Together they represented God's unique, one-of-a-kind plan known as the church.

Father, what an amazing thing You have accomplished through Your Son Jesus Christ and the faithful witness of Your servants over the centuries. Men and women from all walks of life and every tribe, tongue and nation have found salvation, hope and life through Your Son and have been included in Your family – the Church. Thank You for the diversity and unity found within the body of Christ. May we continue to seek to expand the reach of Your Kingdom and the spread of the Gospel throughout the world. Give us a love for ALL believers, not just those who look like us and talk like us. Help us look past our differences and see our common bond in Jesus Christ. Amen.

To the Ends of the Earth.

Romans 15:23-33

Dear brothers and sisters, I urge you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to join in my struggle by praying to God for me. Do this because of your love for me, given to you by the Holy Spirit. – Romans 15:30 NLT

Over in the book of Acts, Luke records for us the words of Jesus, spoken to the disciples after His resurrection and just prior to His ascension back into heaven. He was giving them His marching orders. He told them, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere — in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8 NLT). This statement had to have amazed the disciples on a number of levels. First of all, He was leaving. They were going to be on their own for the very first time since they had begun following Jesus. That thought had to be intimidating to them. Secondly, He was telling them that they were going to spread the Good News all over the world. These were men who were unlearned and who had not traveled beyond the region of Palestine. Now they were being told to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. But they did. And one of the men who played a significant role in accomplishing Christ's commission was the apostle Paul. While he was not present when Jesus spoke the words quoted above, Paul clearly knew about them and took the seriously. He spent his entire adult life, post-conversion, doing just what Jesus had commanded. As a result, people all throughout the areas of the world we now know as Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria and Italy heard the Good News about Jesus Christ. Paul traveled thousands of mile, under less-than-ideal conditions, in order to make Christ known to the Gentiles. He faced difficulties, setbacks, and opposition of all kinds. He even went through the life-threatening experience of a shipwreck. Paul was relentlessly obedient to the command of Christ.

And he longed to visit the believers in faraway Rome. But not before he made a trip to Spain. Think about the significance of what Paul was planning. Travel in his day was not easy or comfortable. It wasn't inexpensive either. And Paul's travel plans were not driven by wanderlust, but a deep desire to see people come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. He wanted people of all nations to hear the Good News and experience the same life-changing transformation he had gone through on the road to Damascus all those years ago. Paul was driven by a love for the lost. He wanted more and more people to come to faith in Jesus Christ. He knew that the only hope for the world was Jesus. And he knew that the only way they were going to hear about Him was if someone was willing to tell them. Paul expressed this very sentiment earlier in his letter to the Romans. "But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?" (Romans 10:14 NLT). So Paul went and Paul told. And he asked the believers in Rome to pray for him. He knew that not everyone was free or able to do what he did. Not everyone could spend their lives traveling around the world spreading the Gospel. But they could join in his efforts through prayer. They could give financially to help fund his travels. Paul viewed what he did as a family affair. They were in it together. He had his part to play and they had theirs. And the same it true today. There are those who have been called to full-time ministry, spreading the Gospel to the nations. But all of us have been commissioned by Christ to take the Good News to the ends of the earth, and it begins in our own neighborhood. We are all missionaries, messengers of Good News to the nations. Some of us can go. Many of us can give. All of us can pray. And we need to do so until Jesus returns. Like Paul, we need to learn that it is not enough to be content to hear the Good News and to benefit from it. We must spread the Good News so that others might come to experience the same joy, forgiveness, freedom, and hope that we have. "How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!" (Romans 10:15 NLT).

Father, we have a job to do. We have a message to share. We have a commission to keep. Give us a focus like Paul had. Don't let us ever think that the spread of the Gospel is someone else's job. Never let us buy into the lie that we are somehow exempt from keeping the Great Commission. Constantly remind us of the importance of going, telling, giving and praying. May we learn to sacrifice our own agenda for Yours. May we give up our conveniences and comforts for the sake of those who are lost and dying. There are still so many who have not heard the Good News regarding Your Son. Give us the desire and determination of Paul in this generation. Amen.

You Have What It Takes.

Romans 15:14-22

But I myself am fully convinced about you, my brothers and sisters,that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another. – Romans 15:14 NET

While Paul has spent a great deal of time critiquing the behavior of the Christians in Rome, he begins to close out his letter with some words of encouragement. He wants them to know that they not only have within them the power to live lives that are different and distinct from those around them, they are actually pulling it off. His letter was not meant to depress and demoralize them. He was simply doing what God had called him to do as a minister of the Gospel. And that sometimes included having to say and write difficult things. But his goal was always the same: "that the Gentiles may become an acceptable offering, sanctified by the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15:16 NET). Paul wanted them to live lives that were set apart, different and distinct from the way they used to live. He wanted their lives to be marked by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit – who alone can make a life of holiness possible. Paul knew that they had what it takes to live holy, set apart lives because he knew they had the Holy Spirit residing within them. As a result they were "full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another" (Romans 15:14 NLT).

Paul uses the term "goodness." It is the Greek word, agathōsynē and it means "uprightness of heart and life." It is the goodness that comes from God and reveals itself in spiritual, moral excellence. In other words, it is an inner quality that shows up in our character and our interactions with others. Paul uses the word in three other places in his letters and it is always associated with the work of the Holy Spirit. In other words, it is not of human origin, but is divine. In Galatians 5, Paul includes it in the list of the fruit of the Spirit. In Ephesians 5, Paul tells the believers in Ephesus that they are full of light and, as a result, they should live as people of light. For the light that resides within them only produces "goodness" – spiritual and moral excellence. In 1 Thessalonians 1:9, Paul prayed that they would be make them worthy of His calling and fulfill for them every desire they had for "goodness" and every act that was prompted by their faith. Paul wanted to see the power of the Holy Spirit "fleshed out" in their lives by the way they lived their lives and interacted with one another. They had it in them, but they had to live it out.

The key for Paul was dependence upon and obedience to the Holy Spirit. His life was marked by a constant reliance upon the Holy Spirit's direction. He did what he was told to do. He went where he was told to go. He preached what he was told to say. In spite of opposition, difficulty, set backs, his own apprehensions, fear, physical illness or any feelings of inadequacy or inability. Again, Paul was simply doing what the Holy Spirit had directed and empowered him to do. "I bring you the Good News so that I might present you as an acceptable offering to God, made holy by the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15:16 NLT). Anything he had accomplished through his life had been done by the Spirit, not him. His life had been marked by "goodness" – spiritual, moral excellence. By allowing himself to be used by the Spirit, Paul had been able to see lives changed, and the message of the Gospel spread throughout the Roman Empire. The power of God had been "fleshed out" in Paul's life, making a difference in not only his own life, but the lives of thousands of others. The goodness of God had done a good work in and through Paul. And Paul wanted to see that same thing happen in the lives of the believers in Rome. Having the Spirit of God living within us is great. But the key to living the Christian life is learning to let the Holy Spirit reveal His power through us. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes, "We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves" (2 Corinthians 4:5 NLT). Our darkness has been penetrated by the light of the Gospel and the presence of the power of God in the form of the Holy Spirit. Now we need to let that light shine. He describes us as fragile clay jars. We are weak and worthless, and yet God has placed His Spirit within us, so that His power might flow from us – revealing and testifying to His life-changing presence in our lives. But if the Spirit's power never shows up, if the "goodness" of God never reveals itself in spiritual, moral excellence in our lives – God doesn't get the glory and the darkness around us remains unchanged. We have what it takes. Now we have to take what we have and let it out.

Father, too often we live in our own power and fail to reveal Your power that resides within us. Show us how to let the power of the Spirit within us out of us. May His light shine through us, proving that we truly are Your sons and daughters. May Your goodness flow from us in acts of kindness, works of faith, and the fruit of the Spirit. Amen.