Category Archives: Salvation

The Salvation and Testimony of Sosthenes (1 Corinthians 1-4)

Scripture reading – 1 Corinthians 1-4

Our chronological reading of God’s Word brings us today to Paul’s first letter to the saints in Corinth. In the preceding devotional (Acts 18), you were introduced to the city of Corinth, the capital of Achaia, a Roman province. Corinth was a seaport city on the Mediterranean Sea, and by Paul’s day had eclipsed ancient Athens in commerce, culture, and wickedness.

Paul’s eighteen month-long ministry in Corinth had been fruitful (Acts 18:11), and many Jews and Gentiles had come to believe and accept Christ as Savior. Nevertheless, there was a great opposition to the Gospel, so that Paul had rebuked the Jews saying, “Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles” (Acts 18:6). Paul had soon after departed from Corinth.

1 Corinthians 1-4 – An encouraging letter, to a struggling church.

The members of the church in Corinth were far from perfect. Remembering the moral wickedness of that culture, the presence of idolatry, and the universal depravity of man, we understand the spiritual stress on the church from within and without. Not one to shy from his role as an apostle and preacher, Paul’s first letter to the believers in Corinth passionately addressed several issues: 1) The moral failures of believers in the body; 2) A contentious, divisive spirit; 3) Various questions regarding a believer’s liberty (for instance, eating meat offered to idols), marriage and divorce, spiritual gifts, and the resurrection.

I encourage you to read today’s Scripture; however, the balance of today’s devotional will focus on one verse, 1 Corinthians 1:1.

1 Corinthians 1:1 – “Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother.”

Who was Sosthenes, and why is the mention of his name noteworthy? To answer that question, we must return to Acts 18:9-17 where he is first mentioned, not as a friend, but as an adversary of Paul (Acts 18:17).

Remember how the Hellenistic Jews in Corinth (being of Greek origin), had been stirred and “made insurrection with one accord against Paul (Acts 18:12). They “brought [Paul] to the judgment seat” where Gallio, the deputy and Roman procurator of Achaia sat in judgment. Gallio, demonstrating his prejudiced toward the Jews, had no tolerance for their religious squabble with Paul (Acts 18:13-15). Humiliated by their dismissal (Acts 18:16), the Greek-Jews turned on Sosthenes, the leader of their insurrection. We read,

Acts 18:17 – “17 Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the chief ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment seat. And Gallio cared for none of those things.”

It was this same Sosthenes, the leader of the insurrection, who later became a believer and follower of Christ. His salvation had so transformed his life that he became a peer of Paul in the Gospel ministry!

Paul opens his first letter to the church in Corinth with not only a greeting, but with “Sosthenes our brother” (1 Corinthians 1:1). What a wonderful testimony of spiritual transformation! God’s Holy Spirit had so worked in Sosthenes’ life that he became not only Paul’s spiritual brother, but also his fellow-laborer!

Friend, have you known the transformation of a new spiritual nature that begins with sincere salvation?

2 Corinthians 5:17 – “17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

No Cause for Fear, When You are In the Center of God’s Will (Acts 18-19)

Scripture reading – Acts 18-19

We find ourselves nearing the end of Paul’s second missionary journey, this time with Silas (15:40), and later Timotheus (16:1; 17:14), as his travel companions. Paul’s ministry in Athens had been a fruitful one, and he had with unapologetic boldness declared to the Jews and Greeks that Jesus Christ was LORD, whom God had raised from the dead (17:31).

Acts 18 – Paul’s Ministry in Corinth

Departing from Athens, Paul traveled alone to the city of Corinth some 40-50 miles west of Athens. Corinth was the capital of Achaia, a Roman province on the Mediterranean Sea, and was renowned for its commerce, culture, scholarship, and its wickedness.

In Corinth, Paul was employed by “a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla” (18:2). This couple had been exiled from Rome by the decree of Claudius, the fifth Roman emperor, who around 49 A.D., commanded that all Jews were “to depart from Rome” (18:2). Providentially, God led Paul to the home of Aquila and Priscilla who were like himself, tentmakers, and there he resided while ministering in Corinth (18:3).

As was Paul’s custom, he began preaching “in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded [convinced] the Jews and the Greeks (most likely Hellenistic Jews)” (18:4). Silas and Timotheus’s arrival in Corinth (18:5) stimulated Paul to boldly and earnestly testify “to the Jews that Jesus was Christ [the Messiah]” (18:5).

The Jews’ strong rejection of the Gospel, and Paul’s rebuke of them is described in the following verse:

Acts 18:66  And when they [the Jews] opposed themselves [resisted; i.e. raised up in opposition to], and blasphemed [railed; reviled; slandered], he shook [to shake violently] his raiment [robe; i.e. indicating exasperation], and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own heads [i.e. a  disclaimer; Paul was not responsible for their souls]; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles.”

Literally and figuratively shaking his robe (18:6), Paul continued his ministry in the home of a man “named Justus, one that worshipped God, whose house joined hard [bordered on; beside] to the synagogue” (18:7). No doubt Paul’s proximity to the synagogue infuriated his enemies. Adding to the offense was the news that “Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed [commitment of faith] on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized” (18:8).

In spite of the opposition and threats he faced, after the LORD assured him “in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: 10  For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city” (18:9-10), Paul continued “teaching the word of God” among the citizens of Corinth another eighteen months (18:11),

Believer, it is comforting to know that even a man like Paul needed assurance that the LORD was with him.

Lesson – There is no greater place of safety, or comfort, than in the center of God’s will.

Isaiah 41:1010 Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Spiritual Virtues: Faith, Love, and Hope (1 Thessalonians; 2 Thessalonians)

Scripture reading – 1 Thessalonians; 2 Thessalonians

We continue our chronological reading schedule today originating from two epistles authored by the apostle Paul to believers in Thessalonica. For perspective, I invite you to recall our study in Acts 17. Paul had arrived in Thessalonica, the capital city of ancient Macedonia, and for three Sabbaths he boldly preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the synagogue of that city, “alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead” (Acts 17:3), and that according to the Scriptures (Isaiah 53).

Some in Thessalonica had believed, including a great number of Gentiles: “The devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few” (Acts 17:4). The success of Paul’s ministry in that city had provoked unbelieving Jews to envy, and they stirred up a mob against them, forcing Paul and Silas to flee the city (17:10).

With that introduction, we come to today’s Scripture readings, 1 Thessalonians; 2 Thessalonians.

As you read the epistles, notice what I believe is “a shepherd’s heart,” and longing for the saints of God. For instance, consider the salutations in both letters, and notice how they effuse a pastor’s sincere love and longing.

Paul writes in his first epistle, “1bGrace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers” (1 Thessalonians 1:1b–2).

Paul beings his second epistle with a greeting that is similar to the first epistle: “Grace unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We are bound to thank God always for you” (2 Thessalonians 1:2–3).

Notice the themes: Grace, God’s loving favor that He gives and cannot be merited, and Peace, like grace, a gift that comes from God, through Jesus Christ. Such peace and harmony come from the believer’s security in God’s love (John 14:27; Romans 5:1; Colossians 1:20).

Having greeted the saints with a longing and desire that they would rest in the blessings of God’s grace and peace, Paul erupted into prayers of thanksgiving! Paul wrote, “We give thanks to God always for you all” (1 Thessalonians 1:2). In his second epistle he wrote, “We are bound to thank God always for you” (2 Thessalonians 1:2-3).

When Paul remembered the saints of Thessalonica, his fond remembrances stirred his heart to rejoice and give thanks to the LORD. Those believers were not without their faults; however, they manifested three spiritual virtues that should inspire all believers: Faith, Love, and Hope (1 Thessalonians 1:3). Paul writes,

1 Thessalonians 1:3 – “Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father.”

Their faith was more than a profession, it was a working faith (1 Thessalonians 1:3a). Believers in Thessalonica demonstrated their faith by their works (James 2:18-22, 26).

The second virtue was their “labor of love” (1 Thessalonians 1:3b). Love is an enduring motivation for ministering to others (Galatians 6:10; 1 Peter 1:22), and a sincere love for God will be demonstrated in a readiness to love and serve others (2 Corinthians 5:14-15; Hebrews 10:24).

Patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 1:3c) was the third virtue of believers in Thessalonica. Literally, a longsuffering, enduring, steadfast hope in Christ.

What motivates a believer to work, labor, and not lose hope? The promise of Christ’s coming!

Titus 2:13b – “…Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.”

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Hello, Athens! (Acts 17)

Scripture reading – Acts 17

Today’s Scripture reading follows Paul’s ministry in Philippi, and what some might describe as a “hullabaloo” (i.e. uproar, tumult, clamor) that was created after he and Silas were falsely accused of teaching “customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans” (16:21). Those men were thereafter beaten and jailed (16:22-24). The next day they were set free and departed from Philippi (16:39-40), traveling “through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica” (17:1).

Acts 17 – Paul and Silas’ ministry in three prominent cities of the first century: Thessalonica (17:1-13), Berea (17:10-14), and Athens (17:15-34).

Notice that it was Paul’s custom to go into a city, and on the Sabbath enter into a synagogue, and boldly declare Jesus as the Messiah (i.e. the Anointed One) and Savior (17:1-3). Time and space prevent me from an in-depth study of Paul’s ministry in those cities; however, I trust my amplification of some key verses will be a blessing.

The city of Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-13)

Acts 17:1-3Now when they [Paul and Silas] had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: 2 And Paul, as his manner was [i.e. as was his custom or habit], went in unto them [the Jews in the synagogue at Thessalonica], and three sabbath days reasoned [disputed; preached; conversed] with them out of  [from] the scriptures [i.e. The Old Testament Scriptures], 3  Opening [explaining; setting forth] and alleging [setting forth], that Christ must needs [ought; should] have suffered [experienced pain], and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach [declare; proclaim] unto you, is Christ [the Messiah].

The response of some was to believe; however, the response of many was to reject Jesus Christ and oppose witnesses.

Acts 17:5-7But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy [jealous over Paul’s success], took unto them certain lewd [evil; wicked] fellows of the baser sort [vulgar; good for nothing], and gathered a company [crowd], and set all the city on an uproar [tumult; disturbance], and assaulted [rushing at] the house of Jason [a man who was a Christian], and sought to bring them [Paul and Silas] out to the people [for the purpose of publicly accusing and attacking]. 6 And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned [made an uproar] the world upside down [made an uproar] are come hither also; 7Whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary [oppose; against] to the decrees [laws; ordinances] of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus.

The city of Berea (Acts 17:10-14)

Acts 17:11 – These [the people of Berea] were more noble [i.e. noble minded] than those in Thessalonica, in that they received [accepted] the word with all readiness of mind [eagerly; joyfully], and searched [examined; investigated] the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.

The city of Athens (Acts 17:15-34)

Known for both its scholarship and idolatry, Paul journeyed to Athens and seeing the idols of that ancient city in every place, he boldly declared Jesus Christ in both the synagogue and public places.

Acts 17:16-17 Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit [soul; inward man] was stirred [provoked] in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry [i.e. was full of idols]. 17  Therefore disputed he [reasoned; preached; teach public twin ] in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons [religious; reverent], and in the market [i.e. The town square; public thoroughfare] daily with them that met with him [that he chance to meet].

Acts 17:20-22For thou bringest certain strange things [surprising; shocking] to our ears: we would know [understand; desire to know] therefore what these things mean. 21  (For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.) 22 Then Paul stood [standing] in the midst [center; lit. he seized the opportunity] of Mars’ hill [a hill in Athens; a meeting  place], and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things [everything] ye are too superstitious [religious ;i.e. fearing the gods of idols ].

Acts 17:29-31Forasmuch then as we are the offspring [family; people] of God, we ought not to think [suppose; regard] that the Godhead is like [similar; i.e. the nature of God] unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven [scratch; etched; sculpted] by art and man’s device [thought or imagination].30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at [overlooked;  do not punish]; but now commandeth [ declares] all men every where to repent [change of mind accompanied by sorrow]: 31  Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge [condemn] the worldin righteousness [justice] by that man whom he hath ordained [i.e. Jesus Christ]; whereof he [God] hath given assurance unto all men, in that he [God] hath raised him [Jesus Christ] from the dead.

We might imagine the shock to the pride and feelings of those men of Athens who, in the words of the Scripture, did nothing more than want to “tell, or to hear some new thing” (17:21). Here was a man who boldly declared what they knew in their hearts, that the God of creation and heaven (17:29a) is nothing like the idols they had sculpted with their own hands and imaginations (17:29b). Paul warned, God would no longer overlook their willful ignorance, and was commanding “all men every where to repent” (17:30).

Like in our own day, many mocked and rejected the Gospel (17:32a), some desired to hear more (17:32b), and there were some who believed (17:34).

What about you? What do you believe? Is your heart ready for God’s judgment? (2 Corinthians 5:10)

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Time for a Spiritual Self-Portrait (Galatians 4-6)

Scripture reading – Galatians 4-6

Today’s Scripture reading completes our study of Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. Our devotional commentary will focus on Galatians 5:19-25.

Paul challenged believers in Galatia to “Stand Fast…in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free” (5:1).

There were many things that might have shaken the faith of first century believers living in the Roman province of Galatia. There was the ever-present threat of persecution, the rejection of family and friends, and the ever-present pressures and influence of living in the midst of a sinful, pagan culture. Understanding the cultural temptations that surrounded them, Paul’s letter urged believers to “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (5:16). What is the “lust of the flesh” that the Spirit will enable a believer to overcome?

The “lust of the flesh” is manifested in what Paul defined as “the works of the flesh” (5:19-21).

1) Galatians 5:19bSexual immorality (“adultery, fornication”) and moral debauchery (“uncleanness, lasciviousness”)

2) Galatians 5:20aReligious sins (“idolatry, witchcraft”)

3) Galatians 5:20b-21aRelationship sins (“hatred [hostility], variance [contentious], emulations [envy; jealousy], wrath, strife, seditions [divisions], heresies [departure from the Truth], 21 Envyings”)

4) Galatians 5:21Moral corruption (“murders, drunkenness, revellings [drunkenness; sinful indulgence]”)

Did you notice the sins of first century Galatia are the sins of our 21st century world?

The heart of man has not changed, and the nature of sin is passed from generation to generation, from father and mother, to the son and daughter. Though “the works of the flesh” are characteristic of our fallen world and society, they have no place in a believer’s life. Paul warned, “of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (5:21b).

After admonishing believers concerning the “works of the flesh,” Paul turned his focus to a brief exposition of the spiritual graces that the Holy Spirit should manifest in the life of a believer when he is fully-yielded to the work and leading of the Spirit of God.

The Spirit-Filled Life (Galatians 5:22-23)

Notice that the Holy Spirit will produce a spiritual transformation in a believer’s life (5:22-23).

Galatians 5:22-23But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy [gladness of heart], peace [tranquility], longsuffering[patient; restrains from vengeance], gentleness [kindness, without harshness], goodness [good deeds toward others], faith[conviction], 23Meekness [not soon angry; humility], temperance [self-control]: against such there is no law.

When a man is genuinely saved, and the Holy Spirit is present, there will be “fruit of the Spirit.” The degree of fruit produced, and evidenced in a believer’s life, will be dependent on their walk with the LORD, and obedience to His Word.

Realizing that the “works of the flesh” have no place in a believer’s life, there should be a transformation that is noticeably evident:

Where there was hatred, there is love. Where there was wrath, there is joy. Where there were divisions, there is peace. Where there was wrath, there is patience. Where there was contentiousness, there is gentleness. Where there was envy, there is goodness. Where there was heresy, there is faith. Where there was murder and hate, there is meekness. Where there was drunkenness and self-indulgence, there is self-control.

How can this be? How might a believer get victory over the “works of the flesh,” and his life and spirit evidence the “fruit of the Spirit?” Paul’s answer:

Galatians 5:24–2524 And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

Friend, I encourage you to take a few minutes and do an honest, self-evaluation of your life and spirit. Is the “fruit of the Spirit” apparent in your life?

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Troubles in Galatia (Galatians 1-3)

Scripture reading – Galatians 1-3

Our chronological reading of the Scriptures brings us to Paul’s epistle to believers living in Galatia (modern Turkey). Galatia, lying due north of the isle of Cyprus, was a Roman province in the 1st century. The Greeks referred to the people of the region as “Gauls” (a name derived from the Latin word, “Gallia”), and they are 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.

What was Paul’s purpose in penning this epistle to Galatia?

The content of the letter reveals that false teachers had infiltrated the churches in Galatia, and were calling into question Paul’s credibility and authority as an apostle, and were also undermining the doctrine of grace that was central to the Gospel.

Paul had two objectives in writing the epistle: The first was a defense of his apostleship; The second, a defense and declaration of the Gospel of Grace through Jesus Christ.

Leaving no doubt as to his purpose in writing to Galatian believers, 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 declared that he did not look to a council of men, nor an ecclesiastical authority. Paul proclaimed that his commission as an apostle was from God, writing: “by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised [having raised] him [Jesus Christ] from the dead;)” (1:1c).

Four Qualifications of an Apostle

The Scriptures reveal that a man had to meet four qualification 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 have received 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 all four of the 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 also 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 – “unto the churches [assemblies or congregations] of Galatia” (1:2b). The epistle has a general address to the believers of “the churches of Galatia,” and the letter would have been read publicly, and shared with each of their assemblies.

I have merely introduced Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians; however, it is good to note not only who is writing, but also why. Most importantly, however, is to remember that all Scripture is divinely inspired., literally God-breathed.

2 Timothy 3:1616 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.”

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

A Dissension: How Might a Sinner Be Saved? (Acts 15-16)

Scripture reading – Acts 15-16

In our previous devotional (James 1-5), I introduced you to James, the author of the Epistle that bears his name. He was believed to be the half-brother of Jesus (Galatians 1:19), and the head of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 12:17). James will reappear in today’s Scripture reading in the role of the senior pastor\elder of the assembly in Jerusalem.

Today’s Scripture reading is a record of growth pangs in the first century church as the membership expanded from predominantly men of a Jewish ancestry, to a body of disciples that included Gentiles (15:1-3). There were some believers who had been saved out of the Pharisaical teachings of Judaism, and they insisted that if Gentile believers were not circumcised, they could not be saved (15:1).

After Paul and Barnabas faced a major insurrection in the assembly in Antioch over the subject of circumcision, it was determined that 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 be circumcised to be saved and commanded “to keep the law of Moses” (15:5).

The apostles and elders, had soon after gathered as representatives of the congregation, and listened as the dispute over circumcision erupted (15:6-7a). Peter finally arose, and declared what had already been agreed upon (15:7b) when Cornelius, a Roman centurion had heard the Gospel, believed, and God gave him and believers of his household the indwelling of the Holy Ghost (Acts 10:1-48).

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). The people fell silent, as Paul and Barnabas shared how God 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), after hearing Paul and Barnabas’ report, was in agreement with Peter (i.e. Simeon, 15:14). He counseled the leaders 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 to send two men of the Jerusalem congregation with a letter of exhortation (15:20, 22-23). The letter urged Gentile believers to: “Abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye do well” (15:29).

I close inviting you to consider four effects of the letter to the Antioch congregation:

There was rejoicing (15:31), exhortation and affirmation (15:32), Silas remained in Antioch and would become a missionary peer of Paul’s (15:34), and “teaching and preaching the word of the Lord” increased as “many others also” became teachers and preachers (15:35).

What a wonderful conclusion! From dissension to rejoicing; however, a controversy was about to separate Paul and Barnabas (15:36-41). I will leave that subject for another time, and another year.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Are There Hypocrites in the Church? Oh yeah! (Acts 11-12)

Scripture reading – Acts 11-12

“There are hypocrites in the church!” Sadly true, and often the excuse some sinners give for rejecting the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, “hypocrites in the church” is also the pretext for carnal saints to excuse their unfaithfulness (Hebrews 10:25).  Rather than defend the contention that there are hypocrites in the midst, let us acknowledge that such has been the case from the beginning of the New Testament assemblies!

Those who follow Christ are not exempt from disputes and contentions, as we will see in today’s Scripture reading. I marvel, not at the imperfections found within the ranks of the church, but that a membership so fallible might continue and not degrade into oblivion!

Acts 11-12 offer us four portraits of life of some believers in the early church: Contentious (Acts 11:1-18), diversified (Acts 11:19-26), charitable (Acts 11:27-30), and persecuted (Acts 12:1-19). Today’s devotional will focus on the first portrait:

Contentiousness (Acts 11:1-18)

We read, “when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended [argued; opposed; judged; disputed] with him” (Acts 11:2). It is a striking scene to find brethren in Jerusalem who opposed the apostle Peter! Peter had been an early disciple of Christ, a member of the Twelve, and was named in Jesus Christ’s most intimate circle (along with the brothers, James and John). The thought of church members challenging Peter is perplexing, but a reminder that none of us are exempt from criticisms or personal attacks.

Having heard how Peter had preached the Gospel to Gentiles, who “had also received [accepted; welcomed] the Word of God” (11:1-2), there were some Jewish believers (“of the circumcision”), who were ready to fault him for eating with “uncircumcised” men (11:3).

Consider Peter’s response to the unjust inquisition, and his humility (Acts 11:4-17). 

Peter might have taken offense that he, a disciple and apostle of Jesus Christ, should suffer such an interrogation, however, such was not the case. Demonstrating the humility of Christ, Peter lovingly rehearsed how the LORD had, in a vision, sovereignly instructed and providentially directed him to declare the Gospel to the uncircumcised sinners of Joppa (11:4-17).

Contemplate the dynamic between Peter and the members of the early church: While some came, not to enquire, but to argue; Peter responded with humility and truth explaining,

Acts 11:15–17 – “15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning. 16 Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost. 17 Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?

Disarmed by truth and his explanation, Peter’s inquirers “held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (11:18).

I commend those early saints, not for their contentious spirit, but for their humility and acceptance of Peter’s explanation. Though he was a formidable figure, and a leader among the apostles, Peter’s response to those who were contentious is a lesson in “servant leadership.”

What about you? What manner of believer are you? Contentious believers can become a curse to the church, and a discouragement to those who labor in ministry.

Are there hypocrites in the church?

 Absolutely; however, be sure you are not one of them!

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

The Persecutor and the Preacher (Acts 9-10)

Scripture reading – Acts 9-10

Our previous devotional concluded with Acts 8 where we read, “1And Saul [He will become known as Paul after his conversion] was consenting unto his [Stephen’s] death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem…3As for Saul, he made havock [shamefully treating believers] of the church, entering into every house, and haling [dragging] men and women committed them to prison” (Acts 8:1a, 3).

The religious leaders of Judaism looked upon Saul as a rising star in their ranks (Philippians 3:4-6; Galatians 1:13-14), and believers considered him a formidable, tireless foe. Saul’s zeal against those accepting Jesus as the Messiah is described in the opening verses of Acts 9.

Acts 9:1–2 – And Saul, yet breathing [blowing; expelling] out threatenings [reproaches] and slaughter [murder] against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, And desired of him letters [permission; authority] to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way [The WAY; believers in the Gospel of Christ], whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound [with ropes and chains] unto Jerusalem.

Saul’s passion opposing believers of “The WAY” (9:2), and his thirst for the blood of martyrs was unrequited. Under the deluded pretense that he was serving God, he requested and received letters of authority from the high priests, and set out on a journey for Damascus. Driven by a religious zeal that was contrary to the Law and Commandments (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:16), Saul intended to drag followers of Christ out of the synagogues of Damascus, and take them in chains to Jerusalem, a journey of 175 miles.

As he neared Damascus, there was “a light from heaven” (9:3), a light that may have been the shekinah glory of the Son of God, Jesus Christ (Luke 2:9; John 1:14). Blinded by the light (9:8), Saul fell to the earth “and heard a voice” (9:4a).

Notice that the LORD confronted Saul’s sin asking, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” (9:4) With humility, Saul answered, Who art thou, Lord? Then Jesus revealed Himself to Saul by name, identifying his persecution of believers as an offense against Himself.

“The Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” (9:5b). Like an ox that is goaded with a long stick to prod it to obey its master, Saul had foolishly been goading God. “Trembling and astonished [amazed]” (9:6), he realized he had been persecuting the Son of God.

Blind and shaken, Saul surrendered his will to God, and acknowledged Jesus Christ as his Lord. His pretense of spiritual piety revealed for its hypocrisy, he asked, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” (9:6a).

Saul was led to Damascus by the men that had traveled with him on his initiative to persecute followers of Christ. Rendered “speechless,” those men had heard a voice, but “seeing no man,” were unchanged by the experience that had transformed Saul’s heart and life (9:7).

Arriving in Damascus, with the Lord’s promise he would be told what he must do (9:6c), the great persecutor of believers found himself blind, and with no appetite for food or drink (9:9).

While Saul waited, the Lord moved on the heart of Ananias (9:10), a godly man whom He had chosen to restore Saul’s sight. Knowing the path of death and destruction that had been perpetuated by Saul, Ananias resisted. However, he was assured by the Lord, “behold he prayeth” (9:11), “he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel” (9:15).

Obeying the Lord’s command, Ananias came to Saul, and “putting his hands on him” (9:17), he received his sight (9:18).

I close today’s devotional, marveling at the transformation in Saul’s life. From the great persecutor of the followers of Christ, to a faithful apostle; what a testimony of saving, transforming grace! No wonder Paul would later write, “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

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

Scripture reading – Acts 7-8

Recorded in Acts 7-8 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 body of believers.  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.

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 men chosen, Stephen, is specifically distinguished as a man, “full of faith and power, [who] did great wonders and miracles among the people” (6:8).   Stephen’s testimony and his boldness in faith, spiritual wisdom, and power in the spirit made him a formidable witness among those in the unorthodox 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, Stephen amazed those who sat in the council against him, 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, and made his argument before the Sanhedrin powerful and convicting (7:2-53). Stephen systematically set forth a historical case for Christ beginning with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, and Solomon (7:2-50).   Concluding his defense, he fearlessly rebuked the Sanhedrin, exposing their hypocrisy, and charging them and their fathers with the deaths of the prophets (7:51-53).

Rather than answer Stephen’s indictment, the lawless members of the Sanhedrin broke their laws, and without an answer or passing judgment, they 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).

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.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith