Tag Archives: Sanctification

The Shameful Failure of the Church to Address Sin (1 Corinthians 5-8)

Scripture reading – 1 Corinthians 5-8

We continue our reading of Paul’s first letter to believers in Corinth. Though our Scripture reading is 1 Corinthians 5-8, today’s devotional will be focused on the introductory verses of 1 Corinthians 5.

Paul had received news of troubles, trials, and sin issues that had arisen in the church of Corinth. He had heard how believers tolerated gross immorality, and he was writing to challenge, exhort, and command believers to condemn sin in their midst.

1 Corinthians 5:1-5

1 Corinthians 5:1 – “It is reported commonly that there is fornication [sexual immorality; adultery] among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife [referring to the sin of incest].”

The latter phrase, “his father’s wife” (5:1), would indicate that the sin was one of incest with the man’s stepmother, and not his mother. Nevertheless, although the heathen of Corinth practiced idol worship and tolerated all manner of sexual perversity in the name of religion, a son lying with his father’s wife was loathed even by Corinthian society.

Rather than shame, the believers in Corinth boasted of their tolerance, being “puffed up” (5:2). Though unable to be present and deal with the wickedness himself (5:3), Paul left no doubt what they were expected to do. With the authority of Christ (5:4), he commanded that the immoral son be “taken away” (5:2, 5), cast out of their midst, and delivered “unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (5:5).

The purpose of the discipline, and the removal of the man from their fellowship was that he would bear the weight of his sin (shame, physical sickness and disease, or death). The spiritual goal was to see the man repent of his sin, before he faced “the day of the Lord Jesus,” meaning the judgment of God (5:5).

The 21st century church is little different from the 1st century church of Corinth when it comes to addressing sexual immorality in its fellowship. Fornication (sexual immorality outside the covenant of marriage), adultery, and divorce are rampant. Pornography, which is the sin of adultery (Matthew 5:28) is epidemic. Sadly, the pulpits of America are themselves wrecked with sexual scandals.

I fear one of the major reasons the church has lost its power and influence (Matthew 5:13-16) in the world is because believers have failed to address sexual sins in the midst. Oh, that all believers would hear and heed Paul’s exhortation:

2 Timothy 2:22 22 Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

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

Are You Blessed? If so, You Will Be Persecuted! (Matthew 5-7)

Scripture reading – Matthew 5-7

Considered as Christ’s inaugural address to His followers, the “Sermon on the Mount” is an exposition of the heart of Christ the King, and a declaration of the character of those who would be citizens in His kingdom.

I do not believe it is an overstatement to declare, that, apart from the Law and Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount embodies some of the greatest truths ever known to man.

The Sermon on the Mount is not the means of salvation, but an exposition of the attitudes and character of believers who are spiritual citizens of the “Kingdom of heaven” (5:3). The sermon is Christ the King’s declaration of His will regarding the actions and attitudes of the citizens of heaven.

Matthew 5:1-12 – The Beatitudes

Sitting down on a hillside that overlooked the Sea of Galilee (5:1), Jesus taught the people a series of eight inspiring truths that we identify as the Beatitudes (5:3-12). In essence, the Beatitudes define the character of those who are sincere followers of the LORD Jesus Christ. Each Beatitude begins with the word, “Blessed,” which I suggest is a state of settled joy and contentment; a promise of joy and peace that surpasses one’s circumstances.

The Beatitudes are heavenly attitudes that are not only contradictory to society, they are in direct conflictwith the spirit of the world.

Christ taught, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (5:3); however, the world says, “believe in yourself.” We read, “Blessed are they that mourn” (5:4); however, the world says, “don’t let them see you weep.”

Christ encouraged His followers, “Blessed are the meek” (5:4); but society advises, “stand up for yourself!” “Thirst for Truth, hunger for righteousness” (5:6) was the example Christ gave His disciples, but the world cheers, “eat, drink, and be merry.”

Jesus taught, “Blessed are the merciful,” (5:7); however, society dares, “Do it to them, before they do it to you!” Christ urged, “Blessed are the pure in heart” (5:8), who seek only Him; but the worldly crowd warns, “You only go through life once.”

The world says, “Be a peacekeeper,” and be willing to compromise; however, Christ taught His followers, “Be a peacemaker,” (5:9) and seek to bring others to the Prince of Peace.

Finally, Jesus assured His followers who would find themselves as the object of derision and persecution:

Matthew 5:10–11 – “10Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.”

The righteous face three forms of persecution (5:11).

To be reviled, is to be mocked and have disparaging things said about your character and motive.

The word “persecute” is indicative of personal attacks. Persecution may come as physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual confrontations. Persecution is often relentless and is intended to drive the believer from his home, family, friends, and work. Persecution can come as threats to the believer or his loved ones.

The third form of persecution is verbal: “and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake” (5:11). The arsenal of this form of persecution comes as lies, innuendoes, and sowing questions on one’s motive or sincerity. As difficult as it may seem (and it is), the attitude of the persecuted is declared in this:

Matthew 5:12Rejoice, and be exceeding glad [jumping and leaping for joy]: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

How can a believer rejoice when he is persecuted? He can rejoice in this confidence: Troubles and trial have their purpose in the providence of God.

James 1:2-4 – “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into [encounter] divers temptations [various sorts of troubles and trials]; [3] Knowing this [understanding], that the trying [proving & testing] of your faith worketh patience [steadfastness]. [4] But let patience have her perfect [complete & thorough] work, that ye may be perfect and entire [without defects], wanting [lacking] nothing.”

As much as persecution may hurt (and it does), a believer must remember that persecution is the training ground for spiritual maturity and broader spiritual opportunities. Paul challenged his spiritual son in the faith: Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).

Believers who are committed to living out the Beatitudes will experience persecution.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

They Would Have Destroyed Him (Matthew 12; Mark 3; Luke 6)

Scripture reading – Matthew 12; Mark 3; Luke 6

Today’s Scripture reading entails parallel readings of the same events. Each Gospel account gives us an individual record of the life and ministry of Christ from the perspective of its human author, but as a whole, they evidence the inspiration of the Holy Spirit presenting us with a harmonious view of what appears to be a three-dimensional portrait. Today’s devotional commentary is from Matthew 12:1-21.

Matthew 12

Though the public ministry of Jesus was still in its infancy, nevertheless, the enemies of the LORD were present from the beginning. Performing miracles as a sign that He was the long-awaited Messiah foretold by the prophets of Israel, Jesus was enjoying a great following of the people. There was, however, antagonists who viewed Him as a threat to their position and influence among the people.

The Pharisees were Christ’s principal adversaries, and they would plot to discredit and destroy Him throughout His earthly ministry, up to His divine appointment with the Cross. It was their antagonism and hatred for Jesus that was the catalyst of the confrontation we find in Matthew 12.

The LORD’s fourth commandment to Israel, “Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8), was the issue the Pharisees raised against Jesus when they accused Him and His disciples of breaking the Law (12:1-2) according to their standards. Passing through a farmer’s field enroute to the synagogue on the Sabbath, Jesus’ disciples were hungry and “began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat” (12:1). Ever looking for an occasion to accuse Jesus of wrong doing, the Pharisees seized upon the opportunity to accuse His disciples of breaking the Sabbath Day commandment based on their oral tradition.

Rather than bow to his critics, Jesus reminded the Pharisees that the issue was not the fourth commandment, but their stringent interpretation of the Sabbath Day commandment.  The fourth commandment did not prohibit a man from providing for his physical hunger (after all, David had taken bread from the Temple and ate that which was dedicated to God, 12:3-4), and the priests ministered on sabbath days as their service to the LORD, (12:5-6) as outlined in the Levitical standards in the Torah.

Entering into the synagogue on the same day, Jesus encountered a man whose hand was paralyzed (12:9-10). Rather than show compassion for the man, the Pharisees demanded of Jesus, “Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? That they might accuse him” (12:10b).

Citing a common practice in that rural culture, Jesus demanded of His critics, would you not save a sheep that had fallen into a pit on the sabbath? Is a man not better than a sheep? (12:11-12) Jesus then declared, “it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days” (12:12b). He then spoke to the man with the withered hand, “Stretch forth thine hand,” and his hand was healed completely (12:13).

And how did the enemies of Jesus respond not only to His teaching, He being “LORD even of the Sabbath” (12:8), but also the healing of the man with the paralyzed hand? (12:13)

Matthew 12:1414Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him. (note – Mark 3:5-6; Luke 6:11)

Oh, the hypocrisy! On one hand they demanded their interpretation of the Sabbath Law should usurp the will of God; and in the other they plotted to destroy Jesus and violate the Sixth Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13).

How did Jesus respond to the wicked, malicious intent of His enemies? He “withdrew himself” from them (12:15).

I have found the decision to withdraw oneself is a difficult one, especially when an enemy is unrelenting in his plot to “destroy” you. The manner of Christ is one we should emulate, after all, the Spirit of God is gentle, not brazen.

Romans 12:18–19 – “18If it be possible [knowing is not always possible], as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. 19Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath [God’s anger]: for it is written, Vengeance is mine (Deuteronomy 32:35); I will repay, saith the Lord.”

Note from the author: For those following the chronological Scripture reading schedule, remember that some events in the Gospel accounts are not in chronological order. Also, chapter and verse numbers have been added by editors to assist us in studying the Scriptures, but sometimes those helpful numbers break up the flow of events. For instance, the Sermon on the Mount is recorded in the Gospel of Matthew 5-7; however, the Gospel of Luke records a portion of that same sermon in Luke 6:20-49. None of those facts take away from the inspiration and infallibility of the Scriptures; however, I hope my explanation might give you some rationale for the reading schedule.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

“He Knew What Was in Man” (John 2-4)

Scripture Reading – John 2-4

Our chronological reading of the Scriptures continues today with the Gospel of John 2-4. The focus of today’s devotional commentary is John 2.

John 2

Our Scripture reading begins with a statement that connects us with recent events in the previous chapter: “And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there” (John 2:1).

Jesus had arrived in Cana of Galilee and joined His mother Mary. Together they attended a wedding celebration (2:1), one to which Jesus and His disciples were invited (2:2). The wedding feast was the setting for Jesus’ first public miracle when He turned water into wine (2:1-11), and in doing so “manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him” (2:11). With this first miracle, the faith of the disciples grew from Philip’s confession that Jesus was “the son of Joseph” (1:45), to them seeing His miracle and believing He was the Messiah (2:11).

Jesus had then gone up to Jerusalem to observe the Passover, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread that followed (2:13-23). As He entered the Temple, He was appalled at the sight of the corruption He found there. The Temple had become a house of commercialism and exploitation (2:14) of those who came there to worship.

With righteous indignation, Jesus took in hand a “scourge of small cords” (2:15a), and drove them all out of the Temple, the sheep and oxen, and over turned the tables of the money changers (2:15b). The commotion was so great, that Temple officials demanded, “What sign [i.e. sign of authority] shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things?” (2:18) In other words, what right do you have to take upon yourself the purging of this Temple.

The LORD answered with a sign, but not one that would be recognized until His death, burial, and resurrection: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (2:19). The Jews were incredulous by the absurdity of one who could raise up the Temple in three days, citing the fact the edifice where they worshipped had taken forty-six years to build (2:20).

Interjecting His own explanation, the apostle John confessed that neither He nor the disciples realized Jesus was speaking of His own bodily resurrection, “the Temple of His body” (2:21-22).

Jesus began to perform miracles in Jerusalem and there were “many who believed in His name when they saw the miracles which He did” (2:23). Jesus, however, “did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, 25And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man” (2:24-25). You see, there were many who believed Jesus, for they had observed His miracles; however, Jesus knew their hearts, and He did not believe in them (2:24-25).

God knows your heart better than you know yourself!

The prophet Jeremiah declared, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). The LORD declared to Jeremiah, “I the LORD search the heart, try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings” (Jeremiah 17:10).

The LORD admonished His prophet Samuel, “for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

What is in your heart?

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

“I Have Loved You, Israel” (Malachi 1-4)

Daily reading assignment – Malachi 1-4

Today’s Scripture is our 273rd, and brings our year-long chronological reading of the Bible to the final book of the Old Testament. Today’s devotional commentary will focus on Malachi 1.

The Book of Malachi was written around 400 B.C. Malachi was the last of the Old Testament prophets. His ministry was to the remnant of Jews that had returned to Jerusalem following the Babylonian captivity.

Cyrus, king of Persia, had made an emancipation decree in 536 B.C., fulfilling Jeremiah’s prophecy that the Jews would return their land after a seventy-year captivity. The walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt around 446 B.C.  Less than a half-century later, we find Israel once again having broken covenant with God and facing the consequences of their sin and rebellion.

Malachi’s prophecy is the last word from the LORD recorded in the Old Testament Scriptures, until the nation heard the “voice of one crying in the wilderness” (Isaiah 40:3; Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4; John 1:23).

Malachi 1

Malachi described his ministry as, “The burden [weight and importance of the prophecy] of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi” (1:1), and declared to Israel on God’s behalf, “I have loved you” (1:2a). God’s love is unconditional (Deuteronomy 7:7-8; Romans 5:8), everlasting, unfailing love (Jeremiah 31:3-4).

Rather than acknowledge God’s love, the people obstinately asked, “Wherein has thou loved us?” (1:2b). In spite of the love and grace He had extended to Israel, the people questioned God’s favor (1:1-5).

Malachi reminded the people how the LORD had chosen Israel (Jacob), but rejected Esau. (1:2-3). He had left Edom impoverished, but had blessed the land of Israel. And yet, the people questioned the LORD’s love!

The people had dishonored the LORD’s name (1:6), and the priests were rebuked for offering sacrifices that were less than the covenant that bound them. God’s Law required perfect sacrifices (Deut. 15:19-23; Leviticus 22:17-33); however, the priests had offered “polluted bread” (food), and animals that were blind, lame, and sick (Malachi 1:7-8, 13). They dared offer to God what their own human authorities would have rejected (1:8b).

Malachi admonished the priests, it would be better to “shut the doors” of the Temple and offer no sacrifice, than to make a pretense of sacrifices that were less than their best (1:10, 14). 

Malachi then prophesied that there would be a future day (the Millennium Kingdom), when the Gentiles would worship the LORD and His name would be “great among the heathen” (1:11).

Sadly, the people whom God had chosen, and with whom He established His covenant, had once again turned from the LORD and despised His offerings (1:13). The LORD, faithful to His Word and covenant, warned, “cursed be the deceiver, which hath in his flock a male, And voweth, and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing” (1:14).

Friend, what attitude do you have toward the LORD in giving Him your tithes, time, and talents? Do you treasure the things that are eternal, or covet the things of this earth that are temporal and fleeting? (Matthew 6:21, 31-33)

Have you given Him your heart?

Romans 12:1 – “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.”

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

No Karma: My God Has Got the Whole World, In His Hands (Esther 6-10)

Daily reading assignment – Esther 6-10

The world calls it, “Instant Karma,” an ideology attributed to Buddhism and Hinduism. Instant Karma suggests a “payback” for one’s past actions. Of course, what one has done in the past might be good or bad, and the “payback” serve as its reward.

Instant Karma seems to suggest a “Cause and Effect” that is fatalistic and devoid of the influence of divine sovereignty and intervention. As a believer, I have faith in God’s promises. I know God is sovereignly directing the course of humanity to His purpose and end. I am confident, “that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

There is an undeniable principle of “Cause and Effect” in this world and it is summed up in this: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7).

Esther 6

Esther 6 is a beautiful example of God working in the heart of a king. King Ahasuerus (also known as Xerxes I), found himself in a place many of us have found ourselves…enduring a sleepless night.

It is revealed that the king’s insomnia (6:1) was used by God to direct his thoughts and the heart of the king to His divine end. From the king’s perspective, however, it was just another sleepless night, and thus he determined to have his servants read historical records that chronicled his reign.

Providentially, for there is no other explanation for it, the name of Mordecai, Queen Esther’s adopted father, came to the king’s attention. Ahasuerus, was reminded how Mordecai had intervened to foil a plot to assassinate the king (2:21-23). Recalling the event, the king wondered aloud, “What honour and dignity hath been done to Mordecai for this?” (6:3).

Learning from his servants that Mordecai had not been honored for his service (6:3), the king determined to immediately correct that slight and reward him. Providentially, in that very moment, Haman, the adversary of the Jews who had successfully plotted to have the king sign a decree to exterminate all the Jews, entered the king’s court (6:4-5).

Haman was approaching on a mission to request that Mordecai be hanged from the gallows he had constructed in his courtyard (6:4-5). In a wonderful twist of what some might call “Instant Karma,” Haman listened as the king desired his advice on the means of honoring a servant in “whom the king delighteth to honour” (6:6).

Haman mistakenly believed he was the man the king desired to honor, and suggested a lavish, public parade.

 Esther 6:8-9Let the royal apparel be brought which the king useth to wear, and the horse that the king rideth upon, and the crown royal which is set upon his head: And let this apparel and horse be delivered to the hand of one of the king’s most noble princes, that they may array the man withal whom the king delighteth to honour, and bring him on horseback through the street of the city, and proclaim before him, Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delighteth to honour.”

Ah, the irony when Haman was commanded to be the one to honor Mordecai, the very man whom he was plotting to hang (6:10-11)!

Esther 7-10

The balance of Esther 6 and the remaining chapters (Esther 7-10) give testimony to the sovereignty of God as He providentially directed the thoughts, plots and plans of men to His divine purpose and end.

Haman’s wicked scheme to annihilate the Jews was not only thwarted, but he fell victim to the very gallows he had constructed to hang Mordecai (Esther 7:7-10).

Dear friend, all men are free will agents; however, God can and does steer the course of human choices to accomplish His plan and purpose.  King, president, governor, judge, sheriff, employer, teacher, pastor, or parent…none are beyond the sovereign purpose and will of God.

Solomon taught his son, “The king’s heart is in the hand [power; rule; authority; under dominion] of the LORD, as the rivers [streams] of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will [pleasure; desire; favor]” (Proverbs 21:1).

No man acts independent of God; after all, “He’s Got the Whole World, In His Hands!”

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Overcoming Your Critics! (Ezra 4-6; Psalm 137)

Scripture reading – Ezra 4-6; Psalm 137

Seventy years after Nebuchadnezzar had taken the first Jews captive to Babylon, God had moved on the heart of Cyrus, king of Persia, to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem and restore the people to their land (Ezra 1:1-2).

Mount Moriah, the place where the Temple was being rebuilt, had been strewn with the rubble of Solomon’s Temple for nearly fifty years. That glorious place, once called the “house of the LORD” (Psalm 122:1) and served as a physical reminder of God’s presence among His chosen people; had become a testimony of God’s judgment against Israel for breaking covenant by disobeying God’s Laws and Commandments.

As we come to today’s Scripture reading (Ezra 4-6), we find the first remnant of Jews who had returned to Jerusalem, encountering both disappointment and discouragement. “The ancient men, that had seen the first [Temple],” perhaps remembering the glory of the previous Temple, “wept with a loud voice” (3:12). There were also enemies without who were determined to stop the effort to rebuild the Temple (4:1).

Reminding us only two of the Twelve Tribes of Israel had accepted King Cyrus’ proclamation that they were free to return to their homeland, we read, “the adversaries [enemies; foes] of Judah and Benjamin heard [took notice] that the children of the captivity builded the temple unto the Lord God of Israel” (4:1).

Under the pretense of friendship, non-Israelite enemies who had been resettled in Israel by Assyria, came to Zerubbabel (perhaps identified in Ezra 1:8 by his Babylonian name, “Shesbazzar, the prince of Judah”) and said, “Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assur, which brought us up hither” (4:2).

Evidencing godly wisdom and discernment, Zerubbabel and other leaders of Israel, answered, “Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the LORD God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded us” (4:3).

Undeterred in their opposition, those same enemies continued their antagonism for sixteen long years (Ezra 4:7-23; Haggai 1:1) and “weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building” (4:4).

Ezra 4 reminds us that when God’s people are doing God’s work they will face opposition.  Israel’s enemies employed four methods of discouraging and hindering God’s work.

The first, they suggested Assimilation, an unholy alliance, a partnership that God would not have blessed (4:2-3). Zerubbabel recognized his enemies for who they were, “the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin” (4:1)! In his letter to believers in Corinth, the apostle Paul stated the principle Zerubbabel employed: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14)

Aggravation was a second means Israel’s enemies employed in opposing the work on the Temple. Ezra and the leaders of Israel were strong and confident when they first confronted their adversaries (4:3); however, as time passed, “the people of the land weakened [made them weak and feeble] the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled[terrified; paralyze with fear] them in building, 5And hired counsellors [advisers; consultants; conspirators] against them, to frustrate [to cause to cease; bring to an end] their purpose” (4:4-5).

The enemy discouraged Israel with Adjudication, challenging the legality and legitimacy of the work on the Temple (4:6-10).

Fourthly, Israel’s adversaries prepared Accusations: Deception, suggesting the Jews were “building the rebellious and bad city” (4:12); Distortion, attacking the character and integrity of God’s people (4:13); and Deceit, questioning their motives (4:15).

Dear friend, there will always be critics. Some people have a negative, critical outlook on life. They can become a constant source of discouragement and if you allow them, they will hinder your service and God’s work. There are many who are spectators, not participators; they are watchers, and not workers.

Take a moment and reread Ezra 3:12-13 and notice the ones who were weeping as they remembered the past, and those who were shouting for joy and living in the triumph of the moment.

It was the “ancient men” (3:12), the “priests and Levites and chief of the fathers,” who were looking back and weeping. Old friend, memories can be cherished and pleasing; however, they can also turn you into nothing more than an old critic.

I challenge you who are faithfully serving the LORD, Be Not Discouraged!

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith