Tag Archives: Spiritual disciplines

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

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

Trials, Temptations, and the Tongue (James 1-5)

Scripture reading – James 1-5

Regarding the human author of today’s Scripture: The book of James is a letter, bearing the name of its author who introduces himself and his intended recipients in the opening verse:

James 1:1 – James, a servant [a slave or bondservant] of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes [Jewish believers of the Tribes of Israel] which are scattered abroad [dispersed], greeting [rejoice; be glad].

With humility, James introduces himself simply as “a servant,” a slave to “God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:1). There are several men we might identify as James in the New Testament; however, this James did not feel the need to introduce himself, perhaps because he needed no introduction. By the time this epistle was penned, the apostle James, brother of John and the son of Zebedee, was martyred (Acts 12:2), thereby eliminating him as the writer.

Most scholars are in agreement, and identify the author as James, the half-brother of Jesus (Galatians 1:19), being born of Joseph and Mary. James and his siblings were not followers of Jesus until after His crucifixion, death and resurrection (John 7:5). Acts 1:14, however, identifies “Mary the mother of Jesus” and “his brethren” among those who were assembled in “an upper room” after He ascended to heaven.

This same James is also identified as a leader of the church in Jerusalem (Galatians 2:9). Also, when Paul and Barnabas were giving account to the believers in Jerusalem, it was James who addressed the assembly (Acts 15:13) that consisted of the apostles and elders. James is also mentioned by name again with the leaders of the church in Acts 21:18.

Regardless of who we might believe the author is, we know the epistle was addressed to the twelve tribes that had been scattered by persecution (1:1b), and is wonderfully practical, insightful, and convicting as it addressed a reality of life that all believers face: trials and temptations.

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

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

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

The Secret to God’s Power (Acts 4-6)

Scripture reading – Acts 4-6

One would not presume the miraculous healing of a lame man, a man unable to walk from his birth, would be the catalyst for rousing opposition to the Gospel (Acts 3:2; 4:22). However, such was the case when members of the Sanhedrin, among them the high priests, Pharisees, and scribes (4:1-6), realized the death of Jesus Christ was not the end, but only the beginning of a movement that would turn “the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).

Peter, preaching with boldness the Gospel of Christ, had accused the people of Israel saying, “14 But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; 15 And killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses” (Acts 3:14-15)

Calling on the people to repent, and “be converted, that [their] sins may be blotted out” (3:19), Peter’s preaching was suddenly interrupted. “The priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them [Peter and John, Acts 3:1],Being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them, and put them in hold [prison] unto the next day.” (4:1-3, 13).

In spite of the abuse, and opposition to the Gospel, “many of them which heard the word [the Gospel of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection] believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand” (4:4). The next day, Peter and John (note Acts 3:1; 4:13) were brought before the Sanhedrin to be tried by the same men who not long before had presided over Christ’s trial, and finally demanded His crucifixion (4:5-7).

The Interrogation (Acts 4:7-16)

The members of the Sanhedrin repeatedly demanded, “By what power [authority], or by what name [person], have ye done this [i.e. healing the lame man and preaching]?” (4:7) Peter’s response to their examination is instructive and noteworthy for believers facing adversaries (4:8-12).

Peter was “filled with the Holy Ghost” when he responded to his enemies (4:8). He did not respond to his inquisitors in the flesh, but was yielded to the Spirit, and empowered to speak as God would have him to respond.

Peter’s response was respectful, and not spiteful. He acknowledged the office and position the leaders held with the people, and addressed them as, “rulers of the people, and elders of Israel” (4:8b).

Peter’s faith evoked boldness and courage (4:9-11). He did not shy from identifying Jesus Christ as the source of their power to heal the lame man, and leveled against his enemies the weight of their guilt in crucifying “Jesus Christ of Nazareth… whom God raised from the dead” (4:10).

Leaving no doubt that in Christ alone is forgiveness of sin, Peter declared, “12 Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (4:12).

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

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

Unable to deny the healing of the man who had been lame since his birth (4:16), but rushing to find a solution to the spread of the Gospel (4:17), the religious leaders threatened Peter and John, and “commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus” (4:18).

The Instruction of a Righteous Response to Enemies of the Gospel (4:19-21)

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

God is the Judge of right and wrong, and His authority exceeds all human authority. Jesus Christ had commissioned, and empowered them to preach (1:8), and they would not, and could not be silent.

Rather than silencing the apostles, Peter and John’s faith propelled believers to glorify “God for that which was done” (4:21). When Peter and John reported what had been said to them by “the chief priests and elders,” the people “lifted up their voice to God with one accord” (4:23-24) and prayed, acknowledging God as Creator and Sovereign. They trusted God, and prayed, “do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done” (4:28).

Acknowledging the threats of their enemies, they prayed for God to give them boldness to speak (4:29). As they prayed, the foundations of the place were shaken, and the Holy Ghost filled the people and “they spake the word of God with boldness” (4:31).

I close inviting you to notice that God’s power was present when there was unity among believers, for the people “were of one heart and of one soul” (4:32).

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith