Today, we are looking at an interesting passage; it reflects a cultural issue within the early church, but the principle is as relevant today as it was then.
17Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. 18Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. 19For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. 20Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. 21Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) 22For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. 23You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. 24So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.
Circumcision was a big deal to the Jews, and much of the Old Testament law is built on circumcision. Jewish children were to be circumcised 8 days after birth, and converts to Judaism, mirroring Genesis 17:10, were circumcised as adults. With both Jews and gentiles being added to the church, circumcision had become quite the divisive issue. In the passage above, Paul writes that there is no need for the circumcised to try to alter that, nor is there a need for the uncircumcised to become circumcised. In Romans 2:29, he wrote that circumcision doesn’t even mean what either side thought that it did.
29But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
Paul also dealt with the issue of slaves. Slavery was much more common in that day than it is today, and was not viewed as the moral abhorrence that we have come to realize that it is. In some cases, entering into slavery was a way to pay off a debt. In other cases, it was a way for someone to attempt to better their lives, by living as a slave for a period of time. However, there were some slaves who, upon their period of slavery being fulfilled, chose to stay and work in their master’s house. These were called bondservants, and that title represented a lifetime choice.
Just as with circumcision, Paul emphasizes that one’s status regarding slavery has no effect on one’s ability to serve, and that coming to Christ does not require a change in status. In verses 19, 22, and 24, Paul zeroes in on where the focus should be. Circumcision and slave status are side issues, distractions from the “main thing.” Keeping God’s commandments is the focus, and slave status can be flipped either way in Christ. The summary, in verse 24, tells them (and us) that in whatever condition we were when we were called, we should remain there – but in God.
The person who tries to clean themselves up before coming to Jesus is like the gunshot victim performing surgery on themselves before going to the hospital.
He’s right - there is no reason for anyone to try to clean themselves up before coming to Christ. This runs against the way we normally think. We clean our houses before we have company - there are even people who clean before the housekeeper comes - because we do not want to expose our literal “dirty laundry” to others. However, Jesus already knows what we are, how we think, and what we have done; He knows all that, and still offers us His payment for sin, free of charge. All we must do is answer His call.
The set of people who God calls is as diverse as the set of people He created. There are Christian businessmen, MMA fighters, actors, retail workers, athletes, motorcycle customizers, landscapers, and on and on. God’s desire is not for every person, once saved, to go into full-time Christian service. He cares about all people, and by having His representatives in all these various fields, these people can tell their peers how their relationship with Christ has changed their lives. God doesn’t want to change your job; He wants to transform your life.
If you have never answered His call, today is the day! Take a look at God’s Simple Plan of Salvation, and begin your relationship with Him. If you are a Christian, consider where you are. Barring sin issues, you are where God wants you to be. He has chosen you because of your abilities and place in this world; use that for Him!
Today, our series “The 3:16s of the New Testament” reaches its other bookend (the end if you’ve been reading along, the start if you’re looking at it once it’s done), as we look at Matthew 3:16, presented here in context with verse 17.
16After Jesus was baptized, He went up immediately from the water. The heavens suddenly opened for Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on Him. 17And there came a voice from heaven:
This story is also covered in Luke 3:16, which we covered two weeks ago. This week, though, I’d like to focus on the One who was baptized - Jesus. After He was baptized, the sky opened up, and God the Father was heard confirming Jesus’ identity as His Son; He also expressed his pleasure with Him. This happened before Jesus was tempted (Matthew 4:1-11), and before the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). By allowing Himself to be baptized by John, He confirmed that John had been doing the right thing; He did the same thing that John had been telling the people they needed to do. So how do we find out who Jesus is? One of the best ways is to simply look at what He said about Himself, and what others said about Him.
First, Jesus said why He was here.
17"Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18For I assure you: Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all things are accomplished."
This was one of the first things Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, following the Beatitudes. This qualification was important for several reasons. First, Jesus said it - that’s a given, but it is a good reason nonetheless. Second, He was about to issue some pretty big clarifications to the law, and contradict some other teachings of the church of that day. He was letting His hearers know that what was about to come wasn’t meant to tear down the law, but to fulfill it. Third, this is early in His ministry. People may have only heard rumors about Him up to this point, and He wanted to make sure that these seekers and followers knew what He was about. Fourth, the current religious leaders were very strict legalists; they would react negatively to someone saying that the law was invalid. (They reacted negatively anyway, but that’s another story.) Finally, this lets us know, 2,000 years later, that everything we’ve read in our Bibles up to this point, the whole of the Old Testament through Matthew 4, is not null and void. Rather, He was the One who had been foretold. The law pointed to Him.
Jumping ahead, Jesus asked His disciples who they thought He was.
13When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
14And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15"But you," He asked them, “who do you say that I am?”
16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!”
At this point, Jesus had been at His ministry for a good long time; and, although He was very popular, it’s almost like they weren’t really hearing what He was saying. John the Baptist had been jailed and beheaded; Elijah had been gone for thousands of years; Jeremiah had been gone for hundreds of years. Yet people seemed to think that Jesus was one of these men, other than the Messiah, as He claimed to be. Of course, we can’t be too hard on the casual observers - even Jesus’ own disciples didn’t believe Him when He said He was going to die. However, the disciples were sure of His identity. Simon Peter makes what is one of the most famous declarations of Jesus’ identity in response to His question. Peter had the right answer, and the term Messiah was key in his response. Jesus was the One who had been promised ever since man fell, just a few days after the creation of the earth. All of the sacrifices were simply pictures of the Sacrifice to come; and, God could have made the sacrifices last longer than they did, but He wanted them to be continually reminded of what was to come. It’s a shame that, by the time He did arrive, the Jewish religion had become more ritual than heartfelt. (Is our religion today any different? If it’s not, whose fault is it?)
We’ll finish this with one final statement from Jesus, which he said after arriving in Bethany and finding Lazarus had died.
25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live.”
Fulfilling the law is good, and being the Messiah is great, but this is the awesome result of that! I’ve written in depth on this wonderful news when we looked at John 3:16 and Romans 3:16, so I won’t write a whole lot here. I will point out, though, the center of the verse, where Jesus very succinctly says who may obtain this eternal life - anyone who believes in Him! That’s it - it’s no more complicated than that. If you have not accepted this free gift of His, and would like to know more details about how you can accept this gift, please read God’s Simple Plan of Salvation - it explains, in detail, our need for a savior, and how Jesus fills that. If you have accepted Christ, rejoice in Who has claimed you for His own. He gave His life so that we could live with Him forever - praise God!
This week, we come to the most popular 3:16 of them all. It’s a verse so popular, people can write just the reference on a piece of poster board, and those seeing it know exactly what they’re trying to say. Yes, today’s 3:16 comes from the book of John.
16For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.
This verse is part of the larger context of Nicodemus’s visit to Jesus at night, described in John 3:1-21. While we won’t recount that story in detail, it is interesting to note that John 3:3 is the source of the term “born again,” and it came from Jesus. Also, we won’t rehash what we looked at two weeks ago, regarding man’s need for God; if you missed it or would like to re-read it, feel free. Rather, I’d like to focus on what the Old Testament says about the coming of Jesus. Notice that “gave” is past tense; at this chronological point in the Bible, most references to God’s Son were in the future tense.
The coming of Jesus is a recurring theme throughout the Old Testament, and it starts early in Genesis.
15I will put hostility between you and the woman,
and between your seed and her seed.
He will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.
This was God speaking to the serpent, after it had been used to deceive Adam and Eve. The “He” in this verse is pointing to Jesus. As we continue from there, Moses wrote in Leviticus 4 about the sin offering; while this description doesn’t mention Jesus by name, the picture of how the sacrifice was slain is a foreshadowing of the way Jesus would die, His blood spilled out all over the ground. However, His blood didn’t just cover sin - it completely washed it away! Further on, the Israelites began complaining about God leading them out of Egypt, and God sent poisonous snakes into their camp. Through their deliverance from the snakes, we have another picture of salvation, and the way Jesus would die.
8Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake [image] and mount it on a pole. When anyone who is bitten looks at it, he will recover.” 9So Moses made a bronze snake and mounted it on a pole. Whenever someone was bitten, and he looked at the bronze snake, he recovered.
As a child growing up, this was a passage that I had to memorize. As I worked to commit the words to memory, I either did not ever take the time to view them all together as a whole, or maybe I just didn’t know enough to really, really get it. Verses 2 and 3 describe an image to which I can relate, and I suspect you can too; have you ever seen what a root looks like? This person blended in, or maybe even stuck out in an undesirable way. People took one look and despised Him, turning away from Him. I’ve had people literally turn their backs to me and walk away, and it’s no fun. How much more did this hurt the One who had given up everything He had in heaven to come here with the power to save us? I can also tell you that it wasn’t love I felt in my heart towards the people who walked away from me. Not only did Jesus take this abuse, this hate borne of misunderstanding, He continued His mission - His mission of even more suffering, untold torture, and eventual death - all not for what He had done, but for the sins that these very
same people who rejected Him had done! What an amazing, unimaginable love He must have for us!
Verse 6 is one of the more well-known verses in this passage. We have all done wrong, every single one of us - if you’re like me, several times daily. We have all “turned to our own way.” No matter what we’ve seen, no matter what blessings God has given us, we all keep veering off the path, seeking our own way. (Yes, even saved people still sin; Jesus’s sacrifice paid for that sin too.) The King James Version translates the word “punished” in that verse as “laid on” - the picture I get from that is of our sin being piled and piled and piled upon Jesus, until He broke from the heavy load.
Verse 7 presents a concept that is completely foreign to many people today - Jesus did not defend Himself against the false accusations that were made against Him. The Sanhedrin council levied all sorts of charges against Him, and He presented no defense for them. The Roman authorities could find no fault with Him, even taking the step as to publicly wash their hands of any evil that the people wanted to do against Jesus. As a child, this was one verse I didn’t understand. I understood it as prophecy that was fulfilled as recorded in the Gospels, but I didn’t have my head completely around it. Why didn’t He defend Himself? I believe there are two main reasons. First, verse 7 - this was prophecy concerning the Messiah, and had He defended Himself, this prophecy would be unfulfilled; this would have given His detractors a reason to speak against Him. Second, it would have done no good whatsoever; the people who were coming against Him were not going to stop until they had Him.
Finally, verse 9 is just neat. “They made His grave… with a rich man.” Joseph, from whom Jesus’s tomb was borrowed, was a wealthy man who was also a follower of Jesus. (I wonder if Joseph gave Him a special 3-day rate…) The detail in these prophecies that are fulfilled really increases my faith, and I hope it does the same for you. Confidence in the Scripture is important, because without the solid foundation of Scripture as inerrant, our knowledge of God could not be certain.
So, how do you live forever? Jesus told us, right up there in the second paragraph of this devotional. Did you miss it? :) All kidding aside, it really is as simple as Jesus explained to Nicodemus - “so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” Paul put it this way to the church in Rome…
9if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
If you have never done this, I pray that today is the day that you trust your life to Jesus. Life is tough, and there’s no way I’d want to go through it without God on my side. If you’d like this broken down even further, check out God’s Simple Plan of Salvation. If you are a Christian, remember the sacrifice that Jesus had to make to be able to give you this free gift. Thank Him, and be sure to share His gift with others that you see.
We’ll definitely need some more context - let’s look beginning with verse 10, going through verse 20.
10as it is written:
There is no one righteous, not even one; 11there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God. 12All have turned away, together they have become useless; there is no one who does good, there is not even one. 13Their throat is an open grave; they deceive with their tongues. Vipers’ venom is under their lips. 14Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. 15Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16ruin and wretchedness are in their paths, 17and the path of peace they have not known. 18There is no fear of God before their eyes.
19Now we know that whatever the law says speaks to those who are subject to the law, so that every mouth may be shut and the whole world may become subject to God’s judgment. 20For no flesh will be justified in His sight by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.
The block quote in the passage above is a compilation of verses from the Old Testament. I won’t paste all of them here, but these can be found in Psalm 5:9, Psalm 10:7, Psalm 14:1-3, Psalm 36:1, Psalm 53:1-3, Psalm 140:3, Ecclesiastes 7:20, and Isaiah 59:7-8. In each of these passages, what immediately follows these descriptions is a call is for God to judge the people who are displaying these tendencies, and deliver His people from them. The passage in Isaiah is no different; the prophet writes how the Lord is going to judge those who have wronged Him and His people. Here’s how he described the coming judgment…
15Truth is missing,
and whoever turns from evil is plundered.
The Lord saw that there was no justice,
and He was offended.
16He saw that there was no man -
He was amazed that there was no one interceding;
so His own arm brought salvation,
and His own righteousness supported Him.
17He put on righteousness like a breastplate,
and a helmet of salvation on His head;
He put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
and He wrapped Himself in zeal as in a cloak.
18Thus He will repay according to their deeds:
fury to His enemies,
retribution to His foes,
and He will repay the coastlands.
19They will fear the name of the Lord in the west,
and His glory in the east;
for He will come like a rushing stream
driven by the wind of the Lord.
That’s quite a picture! The “rushing stream driven by the wind” is a powerful image. We’ve seen images of floods on TV - it’s amazing how just a little bit of water can completely overpower anything in its path. This is a strong force, but it is not indiscriminate, like a normal flood; the Lord is repaying people according to their deeds. At this point, we may be thinking “Boy, I’m glad I’m not one of those people who has wronged Him or His people!” But, are we really innocent? Let’s take a look further in Romans 3…
23For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
I once had a pastor who said that in this verse, “all” is from the Greek, meaning “all.” There is little ambiguity about whether you and I are part of the “all” that Paul is talking about - every one of us has sinned against God, and deserve any punishment we receive from Him.
So, we’ve wronged God, and God demands justice. How are we going to make this right? (Notice above in Isaiah 59:16, “His own arm brought salvation…”) Let’s see what Paul says.
21But now, apart from the law, God’s righteousness has been revealed - attested by the Law and the Prophets 22- that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction. 23For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 25God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. 26He presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus.
The word “propitiation” is an interesting word. When I started reading versions other than the King James Version, I thought for sure that “propitiation” was one of those words that wouldn’t make it. However, the more modern translation versions NASB, ESV, NKJV, and HCSB all have this word in this verse! The NIV translates it “sacrifice of atonement,” and that’s a good way to put it. The dictionary defines propitiation as making something favorably inclined or appeasing it. God presented Jesus as a way to appease His demand for justice! Since Jesus appeases this demand, all we have to do is believe in Him and accept Him (v. 26 “He would… declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus”). Not only does he declare us righteous, God will “pass over the sins previously committed.” (v. 25)
This is really good news. I imagine your experience on this earth is much like mine in this regard - I simply cannot always do what I know I’m supposed to do. I get angry. I say mean things. I let resentment build in my heart. If it were up to me to apologize for my sins and try to do better, I would be toast. But, look at what Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross can do for us! If we accept Him, God counts us righteous and doesn’t demand any further payment for our sin! (We may still have to deal with consequences here on earth - God forgives our sin; He never promised to save us from our bad decisions.)
Notice the end of verse 22 - “to all who believe, since there is no distinction.” There’s that “all” again, and yes, it’s still talking about you and me. This free gift, this payment for sin, is available to all people without distinction. Any race, any gender, any age, any marital status, any intelligence level, any financial status… well, you get the idea. Most importantly, it is available for you! If you are reading this, Jesus knew about you when He died on the cross; He paid for your sin with His life. All you have to do is accept that gift - as Paul and Silas told a jailer in Acts 16:31, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” If you would like more information on how to accept this gift, you can look at God’s Simple Plan of Salvation, which details more about this; also, feel free to contact me using the “Contact” link found at the top of the page.
This is part of the passage that Paul wrote to encourage the believers not to worry about those who had died. Here is the entire context, verses 13 through 18.
13We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, concerning those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. 14Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, in the same way God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep through Jesus. 15For we say this to you by a revelation from the Lord: We who are still alive at the Lord’s coming will certainly have no advantage over those who have fallen asleep. 16For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will always be with the Lord. 18Therefore encourage one another with these words.
I remember this being read at one of my grandmother’s funerals, and it was comforting, even though I was a young child at the time. However, in this passage, there are two ways out of this world before the apocalypse. (We’ll not debate eschatology here today; as my pastor said a few weeks ago, “I’m going on - if you’re staying, send me a postcard.”)
The first of these is through death. Death is not a happy topic for anyone - the end of life on this earth means that we will accomplish no more, and that those who remain alive will no longer have the companionship of the one who has died. However, for the believer, death is not “the end,” but a transition to a new phase of life. That doesn’t make those left behind any less lonely, but it does encourage them that they will see their loved ones again. Also, as we age, many of our bodies begin to wear out, often in painful, debilitating ways. While it’s not something commonly said at the time a loved one dies, sometimes death is a gift from God, His way of saying “you’ve endured enough - come on home!”
The second of these is through being caught up in the air while still alive. For those alive when Jesus returns, this will have to be the biggest rush imaginable - better than any thrill ride at any amusement park! There have been many who have written stories about what this may be like; the best-selling of those is the Left Behind series from Jerry Jenkins and Dr. Tim LaHaye. But, the truth is, we can read Revelation for ourselves, and try to guess at what certain things might be, but we won’t know until we’re observing it from a very, very safe distance.
There is a catch, though; these two ways to escape are only for believers. The Bible paints a much more grim picture for those who do not escape. From the seal judgments described in Revelation 6 and the first part of Revelation 8, to the trumpet judgments described in Revelation 8, Revelation 9, and the end of Revelation 11, to the bowl judgments in Revelation 16, the three-and-a-half years after the Rapture are not going to be pretty. For those who have not accepted Christ, this is the only choice they have.
So, then, we see that there are two paths, but only one Way. Accepting Christ as your Savior is the only way to avoid these things. As Jesus said,
6Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
I pray that each of you know Jesus, and have accepted Him as your Savior. He is the only way to heaven; His payment for your sins is free, but it is a gift that must be willingly accepted. If you want to learn more about this, check out God’s Simple Plan of Salvation.
This week’s book, Philemon, does not have three chapters; additionally, verse 16 of the only chapter is in the middle of the sentence. So, let’s start out by looking at the entire context - Philemon 8-16.
8For this reason, although I have great boldness in Christ to command you to do what is right, 9I appeal, instead, on the basis of love. I, Paul, as an elderly man and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus, 10appeal to you for my child, whom I fathered while in chains - Onesimus. 11Once he was useless to you, but now he is useful to both you and me. 12I am sending him - a part of myself - back to you. 13I wanted to keep him with me, so that in my imprisonment for the gospel he might serve me in your place. 14But I didn’t want to do anything without your consent, so that your good deed might not be out of obligation, but of your own free will. 15For perhaps this is why he was separated [from you] for a brief time, so that you might get him back permanently, 16no longer as a slave, but more than a slave - as a dearly loved brother. This is especially so to me, but even more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
Onesimus had been a slave of Philemon, and had run away after stealing from him. Philemon had several reasons to have Onesimus killed on sight; accepting him as a brother was likely the last thing on his mind. But Paul had witnessed a change in Onesimus that Philemon could have never imagined! In verse 10, Paul says that he has “fathered” Onesimus; while together, Paul shared the gospel with him, converted him, and trained him in the things of the Lord.
In verse 12, Paul goes on to say that Onesimus is a part of himself; and, in verses 13-14, although Paul would rather keep Onesimus there with him, that would be stealing from Philemon - taking Onesimus without Philemon’s consent. Paul also tells Philemon that Onesimus is now much more than a slave - he is a brother in Christ, and especially valuable.
This is the context of this short epistle - it is an object lesson illustrating 2 Corinthians 5:17.
17Therefore if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come.
Have you experienced this life-changing power? If not, take a look at God’s Simple Plan of Salvation; Christ died for you, and all that He requires is that you believe in Him to cleanse your sins and make you into that new creation about which Paul wrote - it really is that simple. If you have, are you living in that power? The new creation is not just about saving grace, but a living, day-to-day grace, and the power to continually triumph over sin. Don’t waste the gift you have received.
Daniel is a man who wants to be used of God however He sees fit.