Category Archives: Doctrine

Don’t Quit! (Galatians 6)

Scripture reading – Galatians 6

Today’s Scripture reading concludes our study of the Epistle to the Galatians. Previous chapters answered enemies who attacked the doctrine of salvation by grace, and were an exposition on the Law and grace of God through Christ. You will see Galatians 6 is practical, and needs little commentary. The focus of this devotional is Galatians 6:1-9, where Paul urged the believers of Galatia to be faithful and compassionate toward others, and in particular fellow believers.

Restoring Sinning Believers (6:1)

Paul urged spiritually-minded believers to be gracious, and patient with those who were overcome by the temptation to sin (6:1). Ruling out a spirit of judgment that is too often seen in churches, Paul encouraged “spiritual” believers to address the fault of another in a “spirit of meekness” (6:1b). The goal for going to a sinning believer is not to judge and condemn, but to the end they might be restored to the fellowship of believers (6:1b). Lest a believer be tempted to be harsh or judgmental, Paul urged, “considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (6:1).

Loving Encouragement (6:2)

Notice restoring a backslidden believer is to be done not only with a spirit of meekness (6:1), but is also a labor of love. Paul writes, “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (6:2). The word “bear” indicates the need of coming alongside a faltering believer, and steadying them as they have stumbled. Such an effort is to be done with patience, love and compassion, which is “the law of Christ” (6:2b).

What is the “law of Christ?” It is the sum of all of the commandments stated in one directive regarding man with man, to “love thy neighbour as thyself” (Leviticus 19:18). Jesus quoted Leviticus when He taught His disciples, “Thou shalt love they neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 19:19). When He was questioned near the end of His earthly ministry, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” (Matthew 22:36), Jesus answered, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  38This is the first and great commandment. 39And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:37-39).

A Call to Humility and Self-examination (6:3-5)

Because the nature of man is prone to be proud, harsh and judgmental, Paul admonished the Galatian believers, “3For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself” (6:3). You see, when we have a right perspective on who we are, we realize we are nothing apart from Christ and His righteousness. Pride and self-righteousness have no place in the fellowship of believers.

How can believers avoid an attitude of pride and a spirit of judgment? Paul exhorted, “4But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. 5For every man shall bear his own burden” (6:4-5). We need to honestly examine ourselves, and avoid the error of fools, for comparing ourselves with other is foolish, and “not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12).

The Duty of Believers to Support Those Who Minister (6:6-8)

Continuing the practical application of our devotional, Paul challenged believers to remember those who were faithful teachers “in all good things,” and “communicate unto him” (6:6). To “communicate” meant to share in the financial support of those who dedicated their lives to instructing believers in the highest truths and moral principles of God’s Word (Deuteronomy 25:4; 1 Timothy 5:17).

Within the context of supporting faithful teachers, Paul taught the spiritual principle known as “Sowing and Reaping” (6:7-9). Unfortunately, those verses are seldom taught in their context, notice what Paul wrote:

Galatians 6:6–87Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. 8For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.

Stated simply, the duty of believers is to support their ministers, knowing God will not be ridiculed (mocked, 6:6a). Taking a lesson from the farm, what a farmer sows, he reaps (i.e., sow wheat, you harvest wheat; the more you sow, the more you reap). Then, as a believer sows (in this context, supports those who minister the Word), so he will reap (6:6b). Please the flesh and you will reap the consequences. Obey the Word, feed the spirit, and your will reap eternal life (6:8).

Closing promise (6:9) – We conclude our devotional commentary with Paul’s exhortation, “let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (6:9). It is the promise of the harvest that encourages the farmer to labor long hours and days in his field. So it is the spiritual promise of reaping “if we faint not” (6:9b) that encourages and stirs hope. When the time is right, faithful believers will reap eternal rewards. Don’t Quit!

* You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please enter your email address in the box to the right (if using a computer) or at the bottom (if using a cell phone).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

Redeemed, and able to cry, “Abba, Father!” (Galatians 4; Galatians 5)

Scripture reading – Galatians 4; Galatians 5

Today’s Scripture reading is packed with doctrinal content, and I hardly know how to begin. For brevity’s sake, I will limit our devotional to a portion of Galatians 4.

In Galatians 3, Paul presented “the law [as] our schoolmaster [instructor, teacher] to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (3:24). The law of God instructs man regarding sin, and shows him how to live to please God. It is the revelation of God’s promises of grace, mercy, and forgiveness that brings sinners to saving faith. As God’s spiritual instructor [schoolmaster], the law serves to lead sinners to Christ as Savior Redeemer (3:24; 4:5).

From Slavery to Sonship as a Child of God (4:1-5)

The introductory portrait found in the opening verses of Galatians 4 contrasted a servant\tutor with the law of God. It was common in that day for a wealthy master to choose a servant who was charged with the responsibility to instruct his son. Though the son’s standing was as his father’s heir, as a child he was nevertheless subject to the servant\teacher. Only when the father declared his son mature enough to oversee his inheritance and matters of the home (4:2) was he no longer subject to the servant.

Keeping in mind the illustration of the master’s son being subject to the servant, consider Galatians 4:3-7.

Every one was born into the world under the bondage and curse of sin (for we are sinners by nature, 4:3; Romans 3:10, 23). God the Father, knowing man’s bondage to sin, sent His Son into the world when the law had fulfilled its purpose. Having instructed man concerning his sinfulness, “the time was come” on God’s timetable when Jesus was born (4:4a).

How did God’s Son come? (4:4)

The implication of God sending His Son is that He was with the Father eternally, before He was sent forth “made of a woman, made under the law” (4:4). The Son of God was in essence Eternal God, and “equal with God” (Philippians 2:6). Being “made of a woman” (4:4) he became flesh (“form of a servant…likeness of men,” Philippians 2:6), and was therefore “made under [subject to] the law” (4:5). By being “subject to the Law, Jesus was subject to the demands of the law, and yet He was “without sin (Hebrews 4:14; 9:28).

Why did God’s Son Come? (4:5)

“To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (4:5). As sinners, we are born in bondage to sin, and condemned by our own sinfulness.  The law and commandments serve to convince man of his sinfulness, and bring him into a right standing with God. Because we are slaves to sin, no amount of works or “deeds of the law” can justify us in the sight of God (Romans 3:19-20; Titus 3:5; Ephesians 2:8-9), nor indeed ever could. The Law was never intended to save mankind. Only God can save.  The law was given to help us walk pleasing to the Father.

God the Father, seeing man’s universal need of a Redeemer, sent His Son to “redeem them that were under the law” (4:5). Who needs redemption? Every one of us, for “there is none righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:19). We also know from the Scriptures that “all the world [is] guilty before God” (Romans 3:19), “for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12).

What does redemption accomplish?

Those who receive the gift of God’s redemption by faith, the sacrifice of His Son, are no longer slaves to sin, but adopted as sons (4:5). We read in John 1:12, “But as many as received him [Jesus], to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.”

Through our redemption in Christ, we are no longer slaves to sin or aliens to God. We are “sons” (or children of God), and have the assurance “God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into [our] hearts” (4:6). Because we are sons, we are able to cry, “Abba, Father” (4:6). We who are redeemed are no more slaves to sin, but sons and heirs “of God through Christ” (4:7). When we sin, we must confess our sin (1 John 1:9), knowing “we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).

Closing thoughts“Abba, Father”—what a loving, wonderful expression of a believer’s personal and intimate relationship with God. We are no longer slaves bearing the burden of a spiritual debt we cannot pay. Instead, we are through Christ, redeemed, adopted as children of God, and through our relationship with Christ, able to pray, “Abba, Father!” What a wonderful, blessed relationship!

* You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please enter your email address in the box to the right (if using a computer) or at the bottom (if using a cell phone).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

Contending for the Gospel of Grace (Galatians 2; Galatians 3)

Scripture reading – Galatians 2; Galatians 3

We are continuing our study in Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. Our Scripture reading is Galatians 2 and 3 with the focus of this devotional being limited to chapter 2. We considered in our prior study Paul’s defense of his apostleship (1:1-2, 10-24), and a fundamental doctrine of our faith, salvation by grace (1:6-9; Ephesians 2:8-9). Galatians 2 introduces us to two events in two geographical settings. The first event recalls Paul and Barnabas’ meeting in Jerusalem with the apostles and elders of that church (2:1-10; Acts 15). The second event was the drama that unfolded in Antioch when Paul confronted the hypocrisy of Peter (2:11-21).

Galatians 2

Our study of Acts 15 considered the meeting of the Jerusalem council with Paul and Barnabas. Paul acknowledged that same meeting in Galatians 2, which had taken place 14 years after his first missionary journey through Asia Minor (modern day Turkey, 2:1).  Many Gentiles turned from worshipping idols, were saved, and churches were established. As a reminder, the subject of Paul’s teaching was the Old Testament Scripture, which laid the foundation of the Gospel of Grace he preached.

Paul’s Private Conference with Church Leaders (2:1-2)

In Paul’s absence, false brethren had entered the churches in Asia Minor and attacked Paul’s credibility as an apostle. Those same enemies taught salvation ideas that conflicted with Christ as Messiah, which included circumcision of the flesh to be saved (1:1, 6-7, 15-17). When Paul confronted the false teachers, the contention was so great he and Barnabas were sent to Jerusalem to conference with the apostles and church leaders (2:1-4; Acts 15:4-6). I invite you to consider three primary points in the opening verses of Galatians 2.

Paul states he went up to Jerusalem “by revelation,” and followed the leading of the Lord (2:2). Notice Paul first addressed the leaders of the Jerusalem church privately, and acknowledged they were men “of reputation” (2:2) and “pillars” of the church (2:9). His motive was to not risk being publicly discredited, though he confessed he was passionate about his ministry among the Gentiles (2:2). Paul and his peers were “received of the church,” and with that reception was an acknowledgment of his apostleship to the Gentiles (Acts 15:4). Paul observed, Titus, a peer of Paul who was a Greek, was not “compelled to be circumcised” (2:3).

Paul’s Public Confrontation with his Adversaries (2:4-5; Acts 15:5-7a)

Paul did not make the mistake of failing to define his enemies (2:4). In fact, he described them as “false brethren” 2:4), and in Acts 15:5 as “of the sect of the Pharisees. Those “false brethren” came in secretly, and demanded Gentile believers observe circumcision to be saved (2:4).  The debate was heated, for the “false brethren” caused “much disputing” (Acts 15:7). Refusing to yield to the enemies of the Gospel, Paul writes, he gave no “place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you” (2:5).

Public Confirmation [affirmation] of Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles. (2:6-10)

Paul was not awestruck nor intimidated by men (2:9). He had not come to Jerusalem to seek men’s favor. Yet, he did desire the Jerusalem leaders would acknowledge God’s grace and favor on His message and ministry to the Gentiles (2:7). The apostles and elders affirmed Paul’s ministry (2:7-8), and Peter, James and John publicly affirmed Paul and Barnabas as ministers of the Gospel to the Gentiles (2:9).

Contending for the Faith (2:11-16)

Galatians 2 also chronicled Peter’s visit to believers in Antioch (2:11). This event occurred before Paul’s second missionary journey (Acts 15:36-41). Following the first Jerusalem council, Peter came to Antioch where he fellowshipped and “did eat with the Gentiles” (2:12). Later, a second delegation from Jerusalem came to Antioch, and was comprised of believers who “came from James” (the leader of the Jerusalem church, 2:12). Sadly, in the company of the men from Jerusalem, Peter “withdrew and separated himself” from the uncircumcised Gentile believers (2:12).

Paul, a passionate defender of the faith, would not allow Peter’s hypocrisy to pass, and “withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed” (2:11). Paul observed, Peter feared “them which were of the circumcision” (2:12c). Unfortunately, others followed Peter, including Barnabas who “was carried away with their dissimulation [hypocrisy]” (2:13).

Paul’s Controversy with Peter (2:14-16)

We take away many lessons from Paul rebuking Peter. Notice his rebuke was specific, and pointed, “because [Peter] was to be blamed” (2:11). We also learn that Paul, an apostle, was Peter’s equal (2:11,14). He openly opposed and reproved Peter whose public failure demanded public correction.

Closing lesson (2:14-21) – The most important lesson was Paul’s zeal for keeping the “truth of the Gospel” (2:14). Peter had failed to walk “according to the truth of the gospel,” and Paul openly challenged his hypocrisy, saying, “If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?” (2:14). Error demands reproof; public error demands public reproof. (1 Timothy 5:19-20)

* You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please enter your email address in the box to the right (if using a computer) or at the bottom (if using a cell phone).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

“The Gospel: God’s Grace Through Christ” (Galatians 1)

Scripture reading – Galatians 1

Our chronological study of the Scriptures brings us to Paul’s Epistle to believers living in Galatia (modern Turkey). Ancient Galatia was due north of the isle of Cyprus, and was a thriving Roman province in the 1stcentury. The Greeks referred to the people of that region as “Gauls,” a name derived from the Latin word, “Gallia.” They were believed to have been Celtic, a Germanic tribe of western Europe. Major cities of the southern region of Galatia included Antioch of Pisidian, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe.

Paul’s Defense of His Apostleship

Judging by the subject matter of the Epistle to the Galatians, we find false teachers had infiltrated the churches. Those heretics called into question Paul’s credibility and authority as an apostle, and were undermining the doctrine of grace that is central to the Gospel. Paul had two objectives in writing the epistle: The first, a defense of his apostleship. The second, a defense and declaration of the Gospel of Grace through Jesus Christ.

Paul commenced the letter introducing himself as its author, and boldly declaring his apostleship was “not of men, neither by man” (1:1b). In other words, he did not look to a council of men for his office. Paul proclaimed his apostleship was from God, and wrote: “Paul, an apostle…by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised [having raised] him [Jesus Christ] from the dead” (1:1c).

Four Qualifications of an Apostle (1:1-2)

The Scriptures reveal a man had to meet four qualifications to be an apostle. The first, he had to have seen the LORD after His resurrection (Acts 1:22; 9:3-5; 22:6-8; 1 Cor. 9:1). Secondly, he had to receive His calling from Christ Himself (Luke 6:13; Acts 9:6; 22:10; Galatians 1:1). The third qualification was that his teaching had to be divinely inspired (John 14:26; 16:13; Acts 9:15; 22:14; 1 Thess. 2:13). Finally, he must evidence the power to perform miracles as a sign of his apostleship (Mark 16:20; Acts 2:43; 14:8-10; 16:18; 10:10-12; 1 Cor. 12:8-11).

Paul met the four requisites of a man divinely appointed as an apostle. Not only had he been commissioned “by Jesus Christ” (1:1b), he was called by “God the Father, who raised Him [Jesus Christ] from the dead” (1:1c). He had the witness of “all the brethren” (1:2), which were traveling with him. Though not named, it is certain the believers in Galatia were aware of those men who labored with Paul.

The Recipients of the Epistle (1:2b)

In the custom of formal letters of his day, Paul introduced himself as the author, and addressed the intended recipients of the letter: “unto the churches [assemblies or congregations] of Galatia” (1:2b). The letter served as a general message to the believers of “the churches of Galatia,” and would have been read publicly, and shared with each of the assemblies of believers.

The Historical Context (1:6-9)

Having formally greeted the Galatian believers, Paul moved to address the provocation of the letter, stating: “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel” (1:6). Like a loving shepherd, Paul was concerned some believers had been so easily led astray. Not only had some lost confidence in his authority as an apostle, but there were some who even defected from the faith and followed “another gospel” (1:6b). Yet, it was not another gospel, but a contradiction of the gospel of grace Paul had preached (1:7a).

Who were those false teachers? They were known as Judaizers, men of Jewish descent who troubled the congregations, and perverted the “gospel of Christ” (1:7b). They were men who taught, “Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1, 5). Paul was not opposed to believers following the Law and Commandments (Acts 15:20-21, 29); however, he was passionately opposed to teachers who contradicted the “gospel of grace.” Paul declared, “If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed” (1:9).

Paul’s Spiritual Authority and Biography (1:10-24)

We have followed Paul’s life through the Acts of the Apostles: From his zeal as the persecutor of the church (Acts 8:1-4; 9:1-2), to his dramatic encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus and his salvation (Acts 9:3-22). Galatians 1:11-17 fills in the blanks in Paul’s personal testimony, and gives us how he was taught, not by man, but by the Lord Jesus in the desert of Arabia for three years (1:17-18a). He writes he “went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. 19But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother” (1:18-19).

Closing thoughts (1:20-24) – Rather than look to man for his authority, Paul looked to the LORD and the authority of His Word. The first chapter of our study concludes with Paul’s transition from the persecutor of the Church, to becoming its greatest preacher (1:21-24). Though he was known best among the believers in Asia Minor, his reputation as a preacher of the faith proceeded him to “the churches of Judaea” which he once persecuted.

Paul’s life and testimony should inspire believers of which, Paul writes, “glorified [magnified] God in me” (1:24).

* You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please enter your email address in the box to the right (if using a computer) or at the bottom (if using a cell phone).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

Marvelous Grace! (Acts 15; Acts 16)

Scripture reading – Acts 15; Acts 16

I introduced you to James, the author of the Epistle of James, in a prior devotional. He was believed to be the half-brother of Jesus (Galatians 1:19), and the head of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 12:17). That same James appears in today’s Scripture reading in the role of the senior pastor\elder of the congregation in Jerusalem.

Acts 15

Today’s Scripture reading chronicled the growth pangs of the 1st century church. While the church began with Jewish converts, the growing number of Gentiles who believed presented a theological crisis. Because there were historic prejudices between the Jews and Gentiles, it was inevitable that conflicts would arise in the Antioch congregation that was comprised of both Jews and Greeks. The arrival of “men which came down from Judaea” (15:1a) created a conflict that threatened not only the unity of the church, but questioned the foundational doctrine of salvation by God’s grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). The men of Judaea taught, “Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved” (15:1b).

Paul and Barnabas confronted the dissension that was created by those men, and it was determined they, along with other men, should “go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about [the] question” (15:2). The same debate soon raged in Jerusalem as believers “of the sect of the Pharisees” maintained that Gentile believers must not only be circumcised to be saved, but also be commanded “to keep the law of Moses” (15:5).

The Jerusalem Council (15:6-21)

The apostles and elders gathered as representatives of the congregation, and listened as the dispute over circumcision raged (15:6-7a). Peter finally arose, and declared what had already been agreed upon in an earlier council (15:7b). It had been determined the Gospel was not only for the Jews, but for all men (Acts 10:1-48). When Cornelius, a Roman centurion heard the Gospel and believed, God gave him the indwelling of the Holy Ghost (Acts 10:44-48). Peter observed how God had “put no difference” between the men of Jewish ancestry, and those who were Gentile. All sinners come to salvation by faith (15:9).  Peter declared, whether Jew or Gentile, “we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved” (15:11).

Then, the people fell silent, as Paul and Barnabas shared how the Lord had validated their preaching and teaching by “miracles and wonders” that only the LORD could have produced (15:12). James, whom I believe was the senior pastor\elder of the Jerusalem congregation (Galatians 1:19), declared he was in agreement with Peter (i.e. Simeon, 15:14). He reminded the believers how the prophet Amos had foretold that Gentiles would be a part of God’s kingdom (Amos 9:11-12). James counseled the members of the church to accept the doctrine of salvation by grace though faith alone, and not overburden Gentile believers with instructions that were not required for salvation (15:19-21).

There was a consensus to accept James’ summary, and affirm the decision in writing. Furthermore, two men of the Jerusalem congregation were chosen to accompany the letter, and act as representatives of the church to believers in Antioch (15:20, 22-23). The letter also urged Gentile believers to, “abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood” (15:20), truths from the Old Testament they needed to know and practice.

The Effect of the Letter Addressed to Antioch Believers (15:31-41)

The letter affirming salvation by grace alone stirred up a spirit of rejoicing among believers (15:31). Silas, one of the two men sent from the Jerusalem congregation, remained in Antioch, and became a missionary peer of Paul (15:34). Paul and Barnabas “continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord,” and “many others also” became teachers and preachers (15:35).

Closing thoughts (15:36-41) – The concluding verses of Acts 15 remind us that, though Paul and Barnabas were giants of the faith in the early church, they were nevertheless human. With the dissension over the doctrine of salvation by grace resolved, Paul announced his desire to journey and visit believers in the cities and towns where he and Barnabas had “preached the word of the Lord” (15:36). Yet, Barnabas insisted on bringing John Mark (15:37), whom Paul opposed for he had deserted them in Pamphylia (15:38). The quarrel between the two men was so great, they separated themselves, “and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus” (15:39).

There has long been a debate regarding who was right concerning John Mark, Barnabas or Paul? I could make several arguments on this point, but because Paul was an apostle and Barnabas was not, I wonder if Barnabas failed to submit to authority? Another point in Paul’s favor is, when he and Silas departed, they were “recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God (15:40). The same affirmation was not said of Barnabas and John Mark. Nevertheless, at the end of his life and ministry, Paul wrote of John Mark: “Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11).

In the providence and sovereignty of God, John Mark not only came to Paul’s aid, he would later author the Gospel of Mark! What marvelous grace!

* You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please enter your email address in the box to the right (if using a computer) or at the bottom (if using a cell phone).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

Persevering in Trials, and Overcoming Temptations (James 1; James 2)

Scripture reading – James 1; James 2

Our two-year chronological study of the Scriptures continues with a brief departure from our readings in the Acts of the Apostles, and picks up in the book of James. Completing our prior study of Acts 14, we found Paul and Barnabas returning from their first missionary journey to towns and cities in Asia Minor (an area we know today as modern Turkey). Jews and Gentiles were professing faith in Christ, being baptized, and added to the church daily. That diversity, Jew and Gentile (many of them of Greek and Roman backgrounds), introduced differences that arose between the circumcised Jews and the uncircumcised Gentiles. (That will be a topic of study in Acts 15, when Paul and Barnabas journey to Jerusalem and account for their ministries to Gentiles.)

Why interrupt our study of the Book of Acts, and focus on the Epistle of James? That question is answered by identifying its author.

Introduction (1:1)

The “Epistle of James” is a letter that bears the name of its author. The writer introduced himself and his recipients in the opening verse: “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes [the Tribes of Israel] which are scattered abroad [dispersed], greeting [rejoice; be glad]” (James 1:1).

With humility, James identified himself as “a servant,” a slave to “God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:1). There are several men identified as James in the New Testament; however, this James did not feel the need to introduce himself, perhaps because he needed no introduction. By the time this epistle was penned, the apostle James, brother of John and the son of Zebedee was martyred (Acts 12:2), and thereby eliminating him as the author. Most scholars identify the writer as James, the half-brother of Jesus (Galatians 1:19), being born of Joseph and Mary. We know James and his siblings were not followers of Jesus until after His crucifixion, death and resurrection (John 7:5). Acts 1:14, however, identified Jesus’ “brethren” among those who assembled in “an upper room” after He ascended to heaven.

This same James was recognized as a leader of the church in Jerusalem (Galatians 2:9). In a future devotional, Paul and Barnabas will give account to the believers in Jerusalem, and it will be this James who addressed the assembly (Acts 15:13) of apostles and elders. James was also mentioned by name with leaders of the church in Acts 21:18. The letter was addressed “to the twelve tribes which were scattered abroad” (some of the captivity who never returned to Israel, and others recently scattered by persecution, 1:1b). You will find the Epistle of James is practical, insightful, and convicting.

A Righteous Attitude Toward Trials and Temptations (1:2-4)

James opened his letter with a bold exhortation for believers: “My brethren, count [regard; judge] it all joy [a cause for rejoicing] when ye fall [stand in the midst of] into divers [various] temptations [trials]; Knowing this, that the trying [testing] of your faith [what you believe] worketh [performs; works out; produces] patience [steadfastness; endurance]. But let patience [steadfastness; endurance] have her perfect [maturing; complete] work, that ye may be perfect [mature] and entire [complete], wanting nothing [i.e. lacking not one thing]” (James 1:2–4).

Means to Overcome Trials and Temptations (1:5-12)

What should you do when you face hardships and persecution? Ask God for wisdom (1:5), trust Him (never give in to doubts and fears, 1:6), and rejoice (1:9). Whether you are brought low by poverty, or tempted to be exalted and dependent on riches, remember wealth is temporal (like grass that withers, or flowers that fade, 1:10-11). Do not forget, the person who loves the LORD will be blessed, when he endures trials (1:12).

Origin of Trials and Temptations (1:13-18)

Among the great truths we might take from trials and troubles, is foremost the promise God will never tempt you to sin (1:13). In fact, when you are tempted to sin, remember temptations arise from within the heart: “Every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed” (1:14). Some might whine, “the devil tempted me;” however, the appeal to sin arises from lust seeded in the heart of sinners, and comes with a death sentence: “sin, when it is finished bringeth for death” (1:15).

The effect of lust and sin is death (Hebrews 9:27). Sin deals a death-blow to marriages, families, careers, hopes, and one’s health. Sin ends with physical, spiritual, and eternal death (Romans 6:23). Remember: God is the source of only good (1:16-18).

Closing thoughts (1:19-27) – How might believers prepare for trials and temptations? I find three major principles that answer that question in the closing verses of James 1.

1) Be Quick to Hear the Word of God, and Slow to Speak (1:19-21). In other words, obey God’s Word (1:19), restrain your anger (1:20), and renounce any sin that comes between you and God (1:21).

2) Be a Doer of the Word, not a Hearer Only (1:22-24). Hearing, but failing to obey God’s Word ends in self-deception (1:22). The Word of God is a perfect, flawless spiritual mirror of man’s soul, if he will remember what it reveals, and obey its truths.

3) Bridle Your Tongue (1:26). Some appear pious, and spiritually devout; however, if they do not bridle their tongues, they are self-deceived and their religion is vain and empty.

A devotional study of James 2 will need to wait for another year.; however, I conclude our study of James 1, by spotlighting the qualities of a sincere heart: Selfless and compassionate (caring for orphans and widows), and unstained by the sins of the world (1:27).

How’s your heart?

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Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

Be Strong in the LORD and Bold in Your Witness! (Acts 7; Acts 8)

Scripture reading – Acts 7; Acts 8

Recorded in Acts 7 and 8 are two of the great pivotal points in the maturing of the early church: The death of Stephen, the first martyr of the church (Acts 7); and the conversion of Saul the great persecutor of the church (Acts 8).

We first met Stephen in Acts 6 when he was named among the seven men chosen to assist the apostles in the rapidly growing congregation. Though there is some debate, I believe the seven were the first Deacons, one of only two Biblical offices in the New Testament church, the other being the Pastor\Elder (1 Timothy 3).

The role of the seven was defined as serving tables (Acts 6:2), meaning the menial, but intimate care of the members of their assembly. Particularly noteworthy was the spiritual character that was demanded of those who would be Deacons. Those men were to be “men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom” (Acts 6:3).

Of the seven chosen, Stephen, was specifically distinguished as a man, “full of faith and power, [who] did great wonders and miracles among the people” (6:8). His testimony and boldness in faith, spiritual wisdom, and power in the spirit made him a formidable witness among those in the synagogues (6:9-10).

As it was with Christ, so it was for Stephen; the enemies of the Gospel were determined to silence him. After arresting Stephen, evil men were employed to bring false accusations against him (6:11-13). Hurling lies against his character, those who sat in the council were amazed, for his countenance was “as it had been the face of an angel” (6:15).

Having heard the charges of his accusers, Stephen was asked by the high priest, “Are these things so?” (7:1).

Stephen’s defense reflected a breadth and depth of knowledge in the Old Testament Scriptures, that made his argument before the council powerful and convicting (7:2-53). He systematically set forth a historical case for Christ beginning with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, and Solomon (7:2-50). Concluding his defense, Stephen fearlessly rebuked the council, exposed their hypocrisy, and charged them and their fathers with the deaths of the prophets (7:51-53).

Rather than answer Stephen’s indictment, the lawless members of the council broke their laws, and without an answer or passing judgment, stoned him to death (7:54-58).

The religious hypocrites were guilty. They were guilty of the blood of the prophets, and having already rejected Jesus Christ, they added to their condemnation the blood of Stephen. There was, however, one exception in that crowd of mockers: “the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul”(7:58). Saul of Tarsus, the great persecutor of the church, would soon come face to face with the reality of a crucified, buried, and risen Savior, Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9).

Closing thought – I trust Stephen’s knowledge of the Scriptures, and his courageous example will stir your heart to study the Old and New Testament Scriptures, and embolden your faith to be a faithful witness for Jesus Christ.

* You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please email your request to HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

Rejoicing in Suffering and Persecution (Acts 5; Acts 6)

Scripture reading – Acts 5; Acts 6

Our Scripture reading in the “Acts of the Apostles” continues with today’s study, Acts 5 and 6. Acts 4 chronicled the early stirrings of persecution against followers of Christ, and concluded with a testimony of love, unity, and selfless, sacrificial giving among the believers (4:32-35). One prominent example of generosity was displayed by Barnabas, a Levite of Cyprus, and a wealthy man. We read concerning Barnabas, he, “having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (4:37). (This is the same Barnabas who will be Paul’s fellow missionary.) Our devotional is taken from Acts 5.

Acts 5

There was a man in the Jerusalem congregation named Ananias, whose wife was Sapphira. Perhaps not to be outdone by Barnabas and others, it appears Ananias and Sapphira vowed to sell their possessions and give the proceeds to the apostles. Tragically, they determined to portray they were giving all the earnings from the sale, and deceive other believers. Peter, though, discerned the disingenuousness of Ananias, and asked the man, “Why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?” (5:3)

Ananias did not deny the deception, and Peter continued, “4Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God” (5:4). God’s judgment was swift, and when “Ananias [heard those] words [he] fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things” (5:5). We are not told the physical cause of his death, but the spiritual cause was that he lied to the Holy Ghost (5:3).

Three hours past, and unknowingly Sapphira, now the widow of Ananias, entered the meeting. Sadly, it was apparent she was complicit in her husband’s sin (5:7-8), and Peter asked her, “How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out” (5:9). Because her sin was public, so was Peter’s judgment, who publicly denounced her sin, and Sapphira fell dead (5:10).

The effect on the congregation concerning the consequences of lying to the Holy Ghost, was immediate and understandable. We read, “great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things” (5:11).

The balance of Acts 5 chronicled a single-hearted, vibrant growing body of believers (5:12-15). Yet, the blessing of the Spirit on the congregation was also accompanied by a growing persecution (5:17-27). Once again, the apostles were arrested, brought before the Sanhedrin, and questioned by the high priest (5:27). Stirred with indignation, the high priest asked, “Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us” (5:28).

“Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men!” (5:29) What a great model of courage, faith, and fortitude! Fearless and faithful, the apostles condemned those religious hypocrites, and ascribed to them the slaying of Jesus, and declared: “Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him” (5:31-32).

Closing thoughts (5:33-41) – What was the effect of that bold, unapologetic confrontation with the men who were guilty of the blood of Christ?

We read, “they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them” (5:33). They were convicted, but rather than humility, they were infuriated and renewed their determination to add to their guilt the blood of the apostles. There was no reasoning with calloused-hearted, wicked men of Jerusalem. They were murderers, and the spirit of murder was in their heart (John 8:44). Confronted by a message of truth that was powerful and unapologetic, they were incensed, and beat the apostles, warning them “they should not speak in the name of Jesus” (5:40).

How did the apostles respond? “They departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. 42And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ” (5:41-42).

Lesson – If you find yourself suffering for your faith in Christ, remember to rejoice that God has chosen you to suffer for His name (5:41).

* You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please email your request to HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

We Will Obey God! (Acts 4)

Scripture reading – Acts 4

Our chronological study of the Scriptures is taking us through the first days and months of the early church following Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 1). Christ’s final words to His apostles (literally, His messengers) comprised a promise, command, and the scope of their mission: “But ye shall receive power [might; strength], after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses [more than messengers; literally, martyrs] unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). With that command, known by believers as “The Great Commission,” Jesus ascended to heaven (Acts 1:9)

It was on the Day of Pentecost, 50 days following the Passover, when the promise of the Holy Ghost’s coming was fulfilled (Acts 2). The filling of the Holy Ghost empowered the men from Galilee to “speak with other tongues [languages], as the Spirit gave them utterance” (2:4). Simon Peter had denied Jesus three times, but after witnessing the bodily resurrection of Christ, He was so transformed He would not be silent (2:14-21). He called upon the Jews to, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (2:37-38).

In Acts 3, we find Peter and John making their way to the Temple as was their custom (3:1). Sitting in the gate of the Temple, they found a “man lame from his mother’s womb” (3:2-5). With the command, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk,” the man leaped to his feet and entered the Temple “walking, leaping, and praising God” (3:8). The miraculous healing of the man whom everyone knew as a cripple, gave Peter an opportunity to confront those who were guilty of denying Christ, and demanding He be put to death (3:12-15). While none denied their guilt, Peter revealed Christ’s suffering and death were necessary that the prophecies be fulfilled (3:17-22).

Acts 4

The miraculous healing of the lame man (Acts 3), became the catalyst for stirring opposition to the apostles preaching the Gospel (Acts 3:2; 4:22). As Peter and John were speaking to the people, they were suddenly confronted by “the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees” (4:1).  Those men, all adversaries of Jesus and guilty of His blood, were stirred to indignation, knowing Peter and John “preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (4:2). (Remember, the Sadducees taught there was no resurrection.)

Because it was late in the day, the religious leaders decided to arrest Peter and John, and hold them in prison for the night as they debated what they would do with them (4:3). In spite of the abuse, and opposition to the Gospel, we read “many of them which heard the word [the Gospel of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection] believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand” (4:4).

The Interrogation (Acts 4:7-16)

The next day, Peter and John were brought before the Sanhedrin to be tried by the same men who not long before presided over Christ’s trial, and demanded His crucifixion (4:5-7). The apostles were asked, “By what power, or by what name, have ye done this?” (4:7). Rather than fear and cower before Christ’s enemies, Peter and John were bold, and being “filled with the Holy Ghost” (4:8), declared their authority and power to heal the “impotent man” was done “by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole” (4:10).

What a powerful moment in the Scriptures! Peter not only declared the power and authority Jesus promised they would be given, he dared to confront the wickedness and sin of those who crucified Him (4:10). Peter’s faith evoked boldness and courage (4:9-11). He did not shy from identifying Christ as the source of his power to heal the lame man. He leveled against his enemies the weight of their guilt in crucifying “Jesus Christ of Nazareth… whom God raised from the dead” (4:10).

Then Peter, revealing an aptitude for the Scriptures exceeding a mere fisherman of Galilee, quoted a messianic prophecy from the Psalms: “22The stone which the builders refused Is become the head stone of the corner” (Psalm 118:22). With fortitude, Peter declared, Jesus “is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner” (4:11). Leaving no doubt forgiveness of sin is in Christ alone, Peter declared, “12 Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (4:12).

The religious leaders were amazed at “the boldness of Peter and John,” and marveled that “unlearned and ignorant men” (men who lacked rabbinical schooling, 4:13), would have insight and discernment into the Scriptures. What could explain their wisdom? The leaders, “took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus” (4:13).

The Intent of the Adversaries (Acts 4:16-18)

Unable to deny the miraculous healing of the man who had been lame since his birth (4:16), the Sanhedrin were pressed to agree on a solution to address Peter and John, and the spread of the Gospel (4:17). They finally determined to threaten them, and “commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus” (4:18).

A Righteous Response to An Enemy of the Gospel (4:19-21)

Unwilling to be silenced by threats and intimidation, Peter and John answered their interrogators saying, “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. 20 For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (4:19-20).

Closing thoughts (4:21-32) – God is the Judge of right and wrong, and His authority exceeds all human authority. Because Christ had commissioned, and empowered Peter and John to preach (1:8), they would not, and could not be silent. Rather than silencing them, Peter and John’s faith propelled many believers to glorify “God for that which was done” (4:21).

When Peter and John reported what had been said to them by “the chief priests and elders,” other believers “lifted up their voice to God with one accord” (4:23-24). They prayed, acknowledging the LORD as Creator and Sovereign. They trusted Him, and prayed, “do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done” (4:28).

Acknowledging the threats of their enemies, they prayed God would give them boldness to speak (4:29). As they prayed, the LORD confirmed His blessing, shaking the foundations of the place, and filling them with the Holy Ghost so that “they spake the word of God with boldness” (4:31).

Let us be so filled, and given over to the Holy Ghost, that we will speak with boldness even when men might seek to silence us.

* You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please email your request to HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

Are you ready for Christ’s coming? It may be today! (Acts 1)

Scripture reading – Acts 1

The “Book of Acts,” also known as the “The Acts of the Apostles,” is a pivotal book in the New Testament. The book is, as its name implies, a record of the actions and activities of the Apostles following Christ’s bodily resurrection.

 Jesus appeared to His followers on at least ten separate occasions following His resurrection from the dead.

He first appeared to Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18; Mark 16:9), and other women who came and found His tomb empty (Matthew 28:8-10).  He then appeared to Peter (Luke 24:34; I Corinthians 15:5), and later to two followers on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). He then appeared to ten of the disciples, less Thomas who was not present (Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-29).  Eight days later, He appeared in the midst of the eleven disciples, and Thomas was present (John 20:24-29). Jesus also appeared to seven of His disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, which was known to the Jews as the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1-23).

In his epistle to the church at Corinth, Paul chronicled Jesus’ appearance to five hundred followers at one time, and then to James (I Corinthians 15:6-7). Lastly, before He ascended to heaven, Jesus appeared to His disciples, and commissioned them to “be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Observations – The literal bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is the central hope of believers (Luke 24:39-40; 41-43; Acts 1:3). Therefore, Jesus stayed with His disciples 40 days after His resurrection, and emboldened them with “many infallible proofs,” that forever changed their lives (Acts 1:3). After exhorting His disciples to “WAIT for the promise of the Father… [and] ye shall be BAPTIZED with the Holy Ghost” (1:4-5),  Jesus “was taken up; and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (1:9).

Then, two angels appeared to the disciples, and assured them with a promise that has been the hope of believers for 2,000 years: “This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven” (1:11).

Closing thoughts – The resurrection and promise of Christ’s imminent return forever changed the disciples’ perspective on their lives and ministry. They lived, ministered, and died in anticipation He would come again, and His coming would be sudden and unexpected (1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10).

 Are you ready for His coming? It may be today!

* You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please email your request to HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.