Category Archives: Leadership

Saints and Scoundrels in the Church (2 John; 3 John)

Scripture reading – 2 John; 3 John

As noted in my observation regarding the authorship of The First Epistle of John, the brief letters in today’s Scripture reading are believed to have been authored by the same disciple who penned The Gospel of John. The Second Epistle of John and The Third Epistle of John were most likely written prior to the book known as “The Revelation,” and near the end of John’s life. This devotional will offer a brief introduction to 2 John and 3 John.

The Second Epistle of John

Though not by name, the introductory verse of 2 John identifies the letter’s recipient: “The elder [John identifying himself as a pastor\elder of the church] unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth; and not I only, but also all they that have known the truth” (1:1).

The identity of the “elect lady and her children” has been cause for debate. Many suppose the phrase, “the elect lady,” is a reference to the Church in general. Others believe John was writing to an individual believer (“elect”), one who was beloved by all believers, and respected for her testimony among them (1:1b).

Another strong reason to suppose 2 John was written to a specific “elect lady and her children,” are the closing verses of 2 John where the apostle greets her sister’s children:

2 John 12–1312 Having many things to write unto you, I would not write with paper and ink: but I trust to come unto you, and speak face to face, that our joy may be full. 13 The children of thy elect sister greet thee. Amen.

The Third Epistle of John

In his third letter, John introduces himself as “The Elder” (1:1), and the word could have served as a description of not only his office as an “elder\pastor” (John served as the elder\pastor of the church in Ephesus), or an older pastor. The epistle is addressed to a believer named Gaius, whom John speaks of as “the well-beloved,” and writes of him, “I love in the truth” (3 John 1:1)

John’s affection and admiration of Gaius as both his friend and brother in Christ is undeniable. Remembering the apostle’s challenge to love the brethren “in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18), and “love one another” (1 John 3:7, 11), John’s third letter effuses sincere agape’ love (3 John 1:1-8).

Of course, not all in the church are loving, and John identified one named Diotrephes who was anything but loving (3 John 1:9-11). The apostle spared no words identifying Diotrephes’ hypocrisy, exposing the man for self-promotion (1:9), spiritual insubordination (1:10a), and for criticizing, accusing, and opposing John’s leadership as an apostle and elder (1:10). John leaves no doubt regarding the fate of Diotrephes, and identifies him as one who “doeth evil [and] hath not seen God” (1:11).

The third epistle closes with a note of affirmation for a believer named Demetrius, of whom John writes, “Demetrius hath good report of all men, and of the truth itself: yea, and we also bear record; and ye know that our record is true” (1:12).

I close noting that, though times have changed, people have not!

There are the loving “elect ladies” (2 John 2:1), Gaius’ who encourage the hearts of pastors and believers (3 John 1:1), and the Demetrius’ who have testimonies of being faithful and true (3 John 1:12). Nevertheless, there are always some of Diotrephes’ stripe who in words and examples desire the preeminence, even to the destroying of faithful pastors with “malicious words” (3 John 1:9-10). Of such a one, the church must recognize them by their works and words, and cast them out (3 John 1:10).

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Keep the Faith! Wear Your Spiritual Combat Boots to the Grave! (2 Timothy 1-4)

Scripture reading – 2 Timothy 1-4

Our chronological reading schedule brings us to Paul’s final epistle, and his second letter to Timothy, whom he addressed as “my dearly beloved son” (1:2a). The date of 2 Timothy is presumed to be sometime between A.D. 65-68, and was written during Paul’s second imprisonment in Rome.

2 Timothy 1:1-12

Paul’s letter evidences the agape’, self-sacrificing love and concern that he had for Timothy, a man whom he loved as his spiritual son. The epistle was purposed to encourage the young preacher, and assure him of the apostle’s love, though he found his own ministry limited to Nero’s prison (1:2-4).

After affirming the sincerity of Timothy’s faith, and reminding him of his godly heritage (1:5), Paul began to challenge and exhort him to not lose heart: “Stir up [rekindle] the [spiritual] gift of God, which is in thee” (1:6). Take courage: “God hath not given us the spirit of fear” (1:7a). Don’t fall victim to shame, whether it is to give testimony for the Lord, or identify with Paul as “his prisoner” (1:8). Understand that preaching the Gospel will bring its share of “afflictions,” but accept them in “the power of God” (1:8b).

Paul reminded his “son in the faith,” of his own life and testimony as a “preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles (1:11). He declared, “12 For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” (1:12).

2 Timothy 1:13-2:26 – The next verses and chapters build upon the responsibility that Timothy, and every other preacher of the Gospel bears.

The preacher is challenged to herald the Word of God with conviction (1:13), and not be deterred by adversaries (1:15). He is to “be strong” (2:1), “endure hardness” (2:3), be disciplined in studying the Scriptures (2:15), and not get entangled with foolish, pointless, vain conversations (2:16). He must not allow himself to be drawn into a quarrel or fight that has no righteous purpose (2:23).

2 Timothy 3

2 Timothy 3:1-9  describes the ungodliness, and wickedness that will be characteristic of the last days. Reflecting on his own life and ministry, Paul challenged Timothy to be a godly example, and be true to his godly heritage, and the Scriptures he had been immersed in since he was a child (3:10-17).

2 Timothy 4

Though he realized his life and ministry were in their twilight; Paul’s love for the Lord, his passion for the Gospel ministry, and his affection for the saints of God were undiminished (4:6-8).

He had suffered persecution, and knew the sorrow of desertion (4:10a, 16). He understood his death was imminent; however, he had experienced the Lord’s presence, and strength (4:17), and was confident the Lord would “preserve [him] (4:18a). Paul was determined that he would not quit until the Lord was finished with him and took him home to heaven (4:18b).

For nearly two millennium, Paul’s life, and the manner in which he approached his last days, has served as an inspiration to believers. The aged apostle left us not only an inspiring example, but a challenge to finish our course in life, and keep the faith (4:5-8)!

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

A Call for Unity (Ephesians 1-6)

Scripture reading – Ephesians 1-6

Our devotional study of the Acts of the Apostles concluded with Paul under house arrest in Rome, where he was imprisoned for two years (Acts 28:30). Today’s Scripture reading, The Epistle to the Ephesians, is one of four “Prison Epistles” that the apostle wrote during those years of confinement (the others being Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon).

You might remember that Paul had spent three years ministering in Ephesus, and had warned the leaders of that congregation, that “grievous wolves” (Acts 20:29), would enter the assembly after his departure and would spiritually ravage the believers. Indeed, the very life and health of the church would be threatened by enemies from within the congregation.

Ephesians 1-3 – The Believer’s Relationship in Christ

In the first three chapters, Paul reminded the believers of their position in Christ: Redeemed “through His blood” (1:7), “saved through faith…created in Christ Jesus unto good works” (2:8-10), “sealed [secured] with the Holy Spirit of promise” (1:13), “made nigh by the blood of Christ” (2:12-13), Jew and Gentile “fellowheirs, and of the same body” (3:6) which is the church.

Ephesians 4-6 – The Believer’s Life and Walk in the World

Paul exhorted the believers of Ephesus to live, “with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love” (4:2), to the end that they “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:3). Whether Jew or Gentile, Greek or Roman, slave or master, sincere believers were to have a mutual affection, a spiritual kinship because they were “one body, and one Spirit” (4:4-6).

Paul taught that unity and harmony would characterize believers as they accepted their place and function in the body of Christ (4:7-8, 11-12, 4:16). While the world was known for its self-centeredness, and narcissistic pursuit of sinful pleasures (4:14, 19, 22, 25-30), the believers were to “put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (4:23-24).

Because the Gentile believers had been saved out of a heathen, idol worshipping culture, Paul took pangs to define the character of God’s people and the transformation their salvation and sanctification was to have made in their relationships with others. Unlike their culture, believers were to be characterized by self-sacrificing love (5:2), “goodness and righteousness and truth” (5:9), gratitude (5:20), and submission (5:21).

Husbands were commanded to love their wives, “even as Christ also loved the church” (5:25), and their wives were to love and revere their husbands (5:33). Children were to fulfill the fifth commandment (Exodus 20:12), and obey and honor their parents (6:1-3). Servants were to obey their masters “as unto Christ” (6:5-8), and masters were to treat their servants with dignity and respect (6:9).

In other words, salvation and sanctification was to have turned their world upside down from the common order!

Paul’s letter closes with a challenge, a warning, and an exhortation: “Be strong in the Lord11 Put on the whole armour of God12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. 13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (6:10-13).

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Four Spiritual Principles for Ministry and Missions (Acts 13-14)

Scripture reading – Acts 13-14

While the inception of the Great Commission was found in Matthew 28:19-20 and Acts 1:8, the birth of missions is recorded in Acts 13-14. I invite you to consider some simple, but central principles for missions found in Acts 13. 

The first, God calls to missions those who are serving (Acts 13:1).  Barnabas and Saul (i.e. Paul, Acts 13:9) were named among the “prophets and teachers” who were at Antioch (13:1). When God called that dynamic duo of preachers to be ordained and sent out by the church in Antioch, they were numbered among those who “ministered to the LORD” (13:2).

A second principle of missions is that Gods call is specific (13:2).  We read, “the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” (13:2). There were many serving in the church at Antioch; however, the Holy Spirit explicitly called Barnabas and Saul to a specific ministry: “for the work whereunto I have called them” (13:2b).

The third principle of missions is separation (13:2-3).  A call to missions will often mean a parting, a separation, from home, family, friends, aspirations, and comforts. Barnabas and Saul’s departure would be defined by seas, distant lands, hardships, persecutions, and adversaries.

A fourth principle of missions is that the leaders of the church sanctioned and confirmed Gods call on Barnabas and Saul.  We read, “when they [the church and its leaders] had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away” (13:3).

Called by the Holy Ghost, set apart for service, and ordained by the elders of the church in Antioch, Barnabas and Saul, accompanied by John Mark (13:5), set sail for the island of Cyprus (13:4-6). They traveled the island, preaching the “the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews” (13:5). There is a subtle change in the leadership of the missions team that began as “Barnabas and Saul” (13:2), and came to be identified as “Paul and his company” (13:13). Soon after the change in leadership, John Mark left the team, and returned to his home in Jerusalem where his mother resided (13:13; note Acts 12:25). We are not told why John Mark departed, but it will later be revealed that his departure would become a catalyst for Paul and Barnabas to divide their team and go their separate ways (15:36-41).

Unlike Paul and Barnabas who were faithfully serving in the church in Antioch when God called them, I fear many 21st century believers are content to be spiritual spectators. The questions Paul expressed in Romans 10 should haunt us all.

Romans 10:14-15a – “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? 15  And how shall they preach, except they be sent?”

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” (Luke 23; John 18-19)

Scripture reading – Luke 23; John 18-19

Today’s Bible reading brings us to the third of the Gospel accounts concerning those things Christ suffered for our sins, according to the Scriptures (Isaiah 53). Having declared Jesus was innocent of political sedition (Luke 23:4), the charge brought against Him by the chief priests (John 18:29-30), Pilate sought an escape from the demands of His accusers (23:1-5).

Declaring, “I find no fault in [Jesus]” (23:4), the chief priests defied Pilate saying, “He stirreth up the people…beginning from Galilee to this place” (23:5). When Pilate heard Jesus was a Galilean, he sent Him to King Herod, a puppet ruler of Galilee appointed by Caesar, and a man who was the Roman governor’s political nemesis (23:6-7).

Though his hands were bloodied from beheading John the Baptist, Herod had longed for an opportunity to encounter Jesus, and had hoped to witness one of His miracles (23:8). The King’s eagerness quickly soured when Jesus refused to answer or acknowledge his authority (23:9). Incensed by the snub, and having heard the charges brought against Jesus by the chief priests and scribes (23:10), Herod and his “men of war” began to mock and deride the LORD (23:11).

An ancient adage, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” comes to mind when I read Luke 23:12: “And the same day Pilate and Herod were made friends together: for before they were at enmity between themselves.”

Pilate and Herod became friends, because they shared in the greatest travesty of justice in human history. They were forever guilty of the most egregious act, having condemned the holy, altogether sinless Son of God, Jesus Christ.

Pilate, having declared, “I find no fault” in Him (23:4), attempted to shirk his responsibility to exercise judicial integrity (23:13-16). Unfortunately, when he failed, he lacked the moral character and fortitude to do the right thing, and release Jesus (23:17-23).

Luke 23:24–2524 And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they [chief priests and scribes] required. 25 And he [Pilate] released unto them him [Barabbas] that for sedition and murder was cast into prison, whom they had desired; but he delivered Jesus to their will [to be crucified].

As much as we might be tempted to look upon Pilate with disdain, and wonder about his sudden friendship with the likes of Herod, we should look into our own souls. The pressure to compromise with evil men and women, is never too far from any of us.

How often have you denied Jesus because you lacked the courage and moral fortitude to do right, even while others were choosing to do wrong? How easy is it to long for popularity and acceptance, at the sacrifice of obeying God’s Word and walking in His Truth?

Tradition insinuates that Pilate died an insane, broken, miserable soul. His conscience was no more able to bear his guilt, than his soul could escape God’s judgment.

Romans 12:1–2 1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Whose Glory Are You Seeking? (John 7-8)

Scripture reading – John 7-8

Today’s Scripture reading is a pivotal moment in our study of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. John 7 and John 8 indicate a change in Christ’s relationship with the religious rulers of His day. They had plotted in secret to arrest Him, and would have killed Him if the opportunity had presented itself. Jesus, however, knowing the hearts of men, “would not walk in Jewry [Judaea]” (7:1) and took care to not fall prematurely into the hands of His enemies, mindful that His “time [was] not yet come” (7:6).

“His brethren” (half-brothers of Jesus, who were sons born of Joseph and Mary), bid Him to go up to the Feast of Tabernacles (7:2-3). They challenged Jesus, “there is no man that doeth any thing in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly (7:4a). The apostle John would later reflect, For neither did his brethren believe in him” (7:5).

Jesus refused the invitation of His brothers saying, “8Go ye up unto this feast [Feast of the Tabernacles]: I go not up yet unto this feast; for my time is not yet full come” (7:7-8).

The “Jews,” meaning the religious rulers and leaders, were awaiting Jesus’ attendance at the Feast of the Tabernacles and began to question, “Where is He?” (7:9-11). The people too, anticipated Jesus would be present at the feast, and there was a contentious debate that arose among them: “Some said, He is a good man [loving; caring; compassionate]: others said, Nay; but he deceiveth [leads astray] the people [i.e. with His doctrine]” (7:12).

Now Jesus followed His brethren covertly to Jerusalem, until He revealed His presence in the Temple where He began to teach (7:14).

The Jewish leaders, knowing Jesus lacked a formal rabbinic education, were stunned by His insight and understanding of the Scriptures and “marveled [at His teachings], saying, How knoweth this man letters [meaning an understanding of the Law and Commandments], having never learned [lacking academic credentials]?” (7:15)

John 7:16-18 16Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine [teaching; instruction] is not mine, but his [God the Father] that sent me. 17If any man will do his will [the will of God], he shall know of the doctrine [teaching; instruction], whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.18He that speaketh [reasons] of himself [speaks of himself and not the One who sent him] seeketh his own glory [seeks his own fame; boasts of himself; seeks the favor of others]: but he that seeketh his glory that sent him [giving glory and honor and praise to God and not seeking his own following], the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him.

There are several insights, spiritual truths, and principles we can derive from Jesus’ response to His enemies (John 7:1-18).

For instance, Jesus knew His enemies and was cautious to not fall into the trap they would have set for Him. Knowing even His brethren were not believers, and had rejected Him, Jesus refused to allow the taunts of His family to provoke Him (7:3-8).

A second lesson gives us cause to examine the words, doctrine, and example of the men and women whose teachings and writings we follow (7:16-18). Social media and internet blogs have given platforms and influence to men and women who profess to be bearers of God’s Word, but whose doctrine is not the Truth.

What should a discerning believer look for in the writings and teachings of a teacher or preacher?

1) Whose doctrine are they teaching?

Jesus said, “My doctrine [teaching; instruction] is not mine, but his [God the Father] that sent me” (7:16b). Jesus came to be God the Father’s Ambassador and His works and teachings were faithful and true to the One Who sent Him. Jesus said, “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me” (John 6:38).

Believer, be careful of teachers who take a seed of “truth,” and wrap around it their own reasoning and logic. Beware the teacher who takes a verse, proceeds to spin a web of personal opinions and human reasoning, without context and supporting Scriptural texts.

2) Whose glory are they seeking? What is their motive?

Jesus warned, “18He that speaketh [reasons] of himself [speaks of himself and not the One who sent him] seeketh his own glory [seeks his own fame; boasts of himself; seeks the favor of others]” (7:18a). Christ taught the Truth and performed miracles, not for His glory, but to glorify God the Father. Jesus prayed to God, “I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do” (John 17:4).

False teachers are “glory-seekers.”  They are interested in self-promotion, and seek a following that advances themselves, even at the sacrifice of others. They seek their own glory, and not that of Christ and His Church.

Whose glory are you seeking?

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

God Restores Failures and Uses Imperfect People. (Matthew 3; Mark 1; Luke 3)

Daily reading assignment – Matthew 3; Mark 1; Luke 3

Today’s Bible reading assignment consists of three chapters in three of the four Gospels, and is also the first taken from the Gospel of Mark. Having introduced you to the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John, it is my joy to introduce you to the Gospel penned by John Mark.

Who was John Mark?

Unlike the authors of the other Gospels who were numbered among Christ’s Twelve apostles, John Mark was not a disciple.  The Book of Acts identifies him as a citizen of Jerusalem (Acts 12:12).  Some believe he was the man whom Mark identified as “a certain young man” (Mark 14:51), who fled into the night without his robe when Jesus was arrested in the Garden (Mark 14:50-52).

Mark became a traveling companion of Barnabas and Saul (i.e. Paul) when that dynamic missionary duo set out on their first missionary journey (Acts 12:25; 13:1-5). Fortunately for us, but unfortunately for John Mark, his journey with Paul and Barnabas became a spiritual crisis and ended abruptly when we read that, “John [i.e. Mark] departing [going away; deserting] from them [Paul and Barnabas] returned [turning his back]to Jerusalem” (Acts 13:13).

The cause for John Mark’s sudden departure is not revealed. It could have been the hardships of travel; however, I believe it was the ever-present threat of persecution. John Mark reappears in Acts 15 and became a point of conflict and division between Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:36-39). That dynamic missionary duo was preparing to depart on their second missions’ trip when we read, “Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark” (Acts 15:37).

Paul, however, “thought it not good [desirable] to take [John Mark], who departed from [quit; deserted]them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work” (15:38).  The dispute over John Mark’s company became so contentious that we read, “they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus; 40And Paul chose Silas, and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God. 41And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches” (15:39-41).

What became of John Mark?

We do not know what transpired in John Mark’s life after he departed with Barnabas and set sail to Cyprus. We do know that he went on to distinguish himself as one of God’s faithful servants, and is the author of the Gospel of Mark!

How did John Mark go from a man with whom the apostle Paul was unwilling to travel, to becoming the author of the second Gospel in our New Testament?

Paul regarded John Mark as a disappointment, however, Barnabas had looked on the young man through the eyes of a mentor, and lovingly restored Mark to ministry.  Perhaps it was this real-life lesson that moved Paul’s heart when he wrote:

Galatians 6:1-2 – “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. 2 Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”

I close with a spiritual lesson that we should take from the life of John Mark:

God restores failures and uses imperfect people to do His work.

Remember, God has not called you to be perfect, but He has called you to be faithful!

1 Corinthians 4:22Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

“Ezra: Man of Faith” (Ezra 7-10)

Scripture reading – Ezra 7-10

* Note from the Author: I begin with a brief apology to those who follow my daily devotional posts. A dear friend brought to my attention that I had overlooked Ezra 7-10 (which chronologically should have come after Esther 6-10, and before Nehemiah 1-5). Tomorrow’s devotional in Malachi will conclude our Old Testament readings! Thank you for your patience and faithfulness.

Where do you look to for encouragement and spiritual inspiration?

Hebrews 11 is full of heroic, spiritually inspiring examples. We find Noah, an example of faithfulness in a wicked generation where he stood alone as a man of faith (11:7). Abraham, a man of incomparable faith, who left his family and country, to go to a land he had never seen, but which God had promised Him for an inheritance (11:8-10). Jacob was an example of the foresight of God, who saw in him, not what he was (a self-centered, deceitful man), but who he would become—Israel and a prince with God (11:21). Joseph serves as a model of inordinate forgiveness: He had unwavering confidence in the sovereignty of God, even when he was hated by his brothers and sold as a slave (11:22).

Though not mentioned in the Hebrews 11 “Hall of Faith,” Ezra should be one of our spiritual heroes. He was not a great soldier, nor a descendant of blue blood royalty; however, he was a great man because he was faithful.

Who was Ezra?

Ezra was, as his name suggests, a “Helper.” He was a man of godly character. He was “a ready [trained, experienced; skilled] scribe in the law of Moses,” and “had prepared [fixed; set] his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach [instruct] in Israel statutes and judgments” (Ezra 7:6, 10).

Four Stages for Becoming a “Spiritual Giant” (Ezra 7:6, 10)

Ezra had a passion for studying God’s Word. He was a “ready scribe in the law of Moses,” and was a disciplined student and teacher of God’s Word (7:6).

Ezra “prepared [fixed; set] his heart to seek the law of the Lord” (7:10). He had a right attitude and focus because he made preparing his heart a priority. Solomon taught his son, “The preparations of the heart in man [belong to man],and the answer of the tongue [the outcome of a matter], is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:1). Ezra was ready to serve God because he had prepared his heart.

The third stage of becoming a “spiritual giant” is perspiration. Ezra was committed to not only “seek the law of the LORD,” but “also to do it” (7:10). He understood that what practiced was just as important as what he knew (James 1:22, 25).

We have seen Ezra was passionate, prepared, perspiring, and fourthly – a proclaimer:

He taught “in Israel statutes and judgments” (7:10). Our world is in desperate need of spiritually committed men and women. I fear there are many who lack spiritual disciplines and commitment, and are what the writer of Hebrews described in Hebrews 5:12-14 – “12For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you…and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat14But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”

Remember: Like an oak that requires a good foundation to grow tall and become a giant of the forest, you will never be a “spiritual giant” until you have the right foundation…faith and trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior\Redeemer.

Psalm 1:1–31Blessed is the man That walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor standeth in the way of sinners, Nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. 2But his delight is in the law of the Lord; And in his law doth he meditate day and night. 3And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, That bringeth forth his fruit in his season; His leaf also shall not wither; And whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Forgotten by Man, But Not by God (Nehemiah 10-13)

Daily reading assignment – Nehemiah 10-13

Today’s Scripture reading concludes our study of the Book of Nehemiah and his account of rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. Today’s devotional commentary will focus on Nehemiah 10.

Nehemiah 10 – Your Service is Important to God

Admittedly, Nehemiah 10 would be an easy chapter to pass over, especially with a host of names that are not only difficult to pronounce, but seem to serve no real purpose. Other than a historical record, what value or lessons can 21st century believers derive from this list of names?

Nehemiah 10:1-28 is a list of eighty-four men who, though inconsequential in our day, were nevertheless important to the LORD who directed Nehemiah to not only record their names, but also preserve them for us for over two and one-half millenniums.

More important than their labor on the wall of Jerusalem, was the commitment they made for themselves and their families when they renewed Israel’s covenant with God and sealed it with their signatures (10:1 – “Now those that sealed…”).

Nehemiah was the first to sign the covenant (10:1), and his signature was followed by the Priests (10:2-8), Levites (10:9-13), and the leaders or “chief of the people” (10:14-26).

Following the example of their spiritual leaders and heads of households, we read,

Nehemiah 10:28-29 – “28 And the rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the porters, the singers, the Nethinims, and all they that had separated themselves from the people of the lands unto the law of God, their wives, their sons, and their daughters, every one having knowledge, and having understanding; 29They clave to their brethren, their nobles, and entered into a curse, and into an oath, to walk in God’s law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the Lord our Lord, and his judgments and his statutes.”

Someone has observed that there are no “spiritual grandchildren” when it comes to passing on one’s faith to another generation. While the leadership of Israel had followed Nehemiah in confirming their covenant with the LORD (10:1-27), it was crucial that the people individually affirm their faith and understanding of what God required of His people.

The people did not enter into the covenant foolishly or unadvisedly. We read, “the rest of the people” (10:28a), and those included wives, sons, and daughters, understood the covenant and accepted their responsibility to “walk in God’s law” (10:29). They affirmed they understood both the reward (blessings) and consequences (curses) that comes to those who are a covenant people (Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28). They also promised their sons and daughters would not become unequally yoked with unbelievers (“the people of the land,” 10:30; 2 Corinthians 6:14).

Various other ordinances were acknowledged including observing the Sabbath (10:31), paying a required Temple tax of one-third shekels (10:32; Exodus 30:11-16 required one-half shekel, but the lesser amount here might have been due to the poverty of the people).

Various offerings were renewed including the requirement to give a “wood offering,” that was used for sacrifices and to keep a perpetual fire burning on the altar (10:34; Leviticus 6:12-13). The “firstfruits offering” was re-established, serving as a reminder that God requires tithes of our first and best (10:35, 36-37; Proverbs 3:9). Also, a firstborn son was to be dedicated to God and redeemed with by offering a lamb (10:36; Exodus 34:19-20).

The people were taught that their tithes and offerings were to be used to support the Levites (10:37-39; Leviticus 27:30-34). In turn, The Levites were to tithe of the tithes that were given to support them and their households (10:37b-38; Leviticus 27:30-34).

Having been instructed in the demands of the Law, and understanding both its blessings and curses, the people affirmed their covenant with the LORD saying, “we will not forsake the house of our God” (10:39b).

Friend I close this devotional by proposing to you a question:

Can you honestly say, “I have not forsaken the house of our God?”

Hebrews 10:2525Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Oh No! We’ve Got Problems! (Nehemiah 5-9)

Daily reading assignment – Nehemiah 5-9

 For one hundred and forty years the city and walls of Jerusalem had laid in rubble, a testimony of God’s judgment, and a reproach against Israel for breaking their covenant with the LORD.

The task of rebuilding the walls and setting the gates in place had been an all-consuming task for Nehemiah. His effort to rebuild the wall had faced immense opposition from enemies who openly mocked, ridiculed, and opposed him (Nehemiah 2:19; 4:1, 7-8). His challenges, however, were not limited to enemies without; he soon faced troubles from within that threatened to halt the work on the walls.

Nehemiah 5 – The Cry of the Oppressed

The men of Jerusalem and the outlying cities in Judah, had been required to labor on the walls. Their labor; however, had come at the sacrifice of working in their fields to plant seed and harvest crops that were needed to feed their families (5:1-2).

It came to Nehemiah’s attention that many who were toiling on the walls had been forced to mortgage their houses and fields to feed their families. Added to their hardships had been a tax assessment that was due the king on their lands and vineyards (5:4).

Wealthy lenders, who gave no regard to the sacrifices of those working on the walls, had begun to foreclose on their debtors’ properties, even enslaving the sons and daughters of those who could not repay their debts (5:1-5).

Nehemiah had become indignant when he learned how the wealthy had oppressed the poor and broken God’s Law (Exodus 22:25; Deuteronomy 23:19-20; Leviticus 25:35-37). He publicly rebuked the elders for exacting “usury” on the debts of those who had labored on the wall (5:7-13). (The rich had charged exorbitant rates of interest, making it impossible for debtors to repay their creditors.)

Nehemiah reminded the elders of the people that he had authority to “exact of them money and corn;” however, he had not exercised his right and charged them to “leave off this usury” (5:10). He warned them that God would judge them harshly for how they had mistreated the people. The elders then agreed to release the people of their debts and restore to them all that they had taken (5:11).

Twelve years had passed since Nehemiah had taken up the task of the governor of Judah and overseeing the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem (5:14). Though he had the right and authority to require the people to provide for his table and those who ate with him (5:17), nevertheless, he had not done so “because of the fear of God”(5:15). In other words, Nehemiah refused to burden God’s people for his needs, lest he do so at the sacrifice of God’s blessings (5:15).

Nehemiah knew what it meant to fear, revere, and please God. He was confident the LORD honors those who faithfully labor and do His will. Nehemiah prayed:

Think upon me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people” (5:19).

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith