November 20 — Acts 11-12 — Overcoming Prejudice. We read yesterday about the sheet-vision that led Peter out of his prejudiced attitude toward Gentiles. Today, we find him confronting the same prejudice with Jewish believers in Jerusalem, people called “the circumcision party” (11:2) because of their strong bias against those not bearing this mark of the Old Covenant. They were upset because Peter “ate with them” (v. 3). But Peter had seen the light and explained his experience to them, which convinced them that God had opened the door of salvation to Gentiles (v. 18). Another group of seemingly biased Jews was composed of those who were scattered abroad after the stoning of Stephen. They were “speaking the word to no one except Jews” (v. 19). But as with Peter, God used a small group of these evangelists to reach out to the Hellenists (Greek-speaking Gentiles) in Antioch, with the result that “a great number who believed turned to the Lord” (v. 21). There was apparently still some prejudice in the Jerusalem church, however, because when they heard about this “outbreak” among Gentiles in Antioch, they sent Barnabas to check it out (v. 22). We struggle with prejudice, too. Sometimes it involves race, economics, education, language, or even accents in our own language! But God gives us all we need to open our hearts and minds toward all those whom God loves. Let’s love them, too!
November 21 — Acts 13-14 — A New Name. There is an interesting paragraph in chapter 13 that mentions five people with double names, which was not that common in New Testament times. The use of the Hebrew name Saul was changed near the beginning of the First Missionary Journey to a Greek name, Paul, which was always used thereafter (13:9). John Mark was another double-named individual, starting out as an immature deserter (v. 5, 13) but later proving to be helpful in Paul’s ministry. The third character was Bar-Jesus Elymas (vv. 6, 8), who was solidly on the side of the devil’s opposition to Paul’s ministry. The fourth was the Roman proconsul Sergius Paulus, who became a believer (vv. 7, 12). The last one was Barnabas (v. 7) whose other name was Joseph (4:36). All of this reminded me of Christ’s message in Rev. 2:17: “To the one who conquers … I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.” We are going to have a new name in heaven! And that reminds me of the chorus of an old song by C. Austin Miles:
There’s a new name written down in glory,
And it’s mine, oh yes, it’s mine!
And the white-robed angels sing the story,
“A sinner has come home.”
For there’s a new name written down in glory,
And it’s mine, oh yes, it’s mine!
With my sins forgiven I am bound for heaven,
Nevermore to roam.
November 22 — James 1-5 — Be Doers. James the Just was a half-brother of Jesus and the leader of the Jerusalem church. Although placed here in our chronological reading, this could have been the first letter penned in the NT, written around A.D. 40-45, before Paul wrote his first letter to Galatia. Perhaps because of his leadership position, he wrote this letter with authority, using over 50 commands in its 108 verses. James was a very practical Christian and his overall theme seems to be that we should “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving ourselves” (1:22). That is a good reminder for us as we read God’s Word every day. To guard against gaining only information and insight, we need to seek for application as well. Before you read, ask God to teach you but also to show you where you are lacking and what you can do to correct wrongs and effect change. That is reading with humility and with a desire to fully please God.
November 23 — Acts 15-16 — The Way of Salvation. As it happened many times with Jesus, so with Paul at Philippi—a demon-possessed person unexpectedly spoke the truth about how to be saved: “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation” (16:17). What is the “way of salvation”? How is one saved? The jailer wanted to know and asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (v. 30). There was some confusion in the church at Antioch about the answer to that question when some believers came from Jerusalem to announce to the new Gentile believers, “Unless you are circumcised … you cannot be saved” (15:1). The great debate that resulted was finally brought to Jerusalem for a decision. Peter’s conclusion was that “we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus” (15:11). Saved by grace—God reaching out to us, though undeserved. Paul gave this answer to the question asked by the jailer: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (16:31). Saved through faith—our response to God’s gift of grace.
November 24 — Galatians 1-3 — The Gospel of Faith. This is Paul’s first letter, written around A. D. 48. In it, he firmly challenged someone who had distorted the gospel message first delivered to them by Paul. What is the gospel? It means “good news” and is mentioned 12 times in these chapters, being described as God’s truth entrusted to man through revelation rather than something derived from man (1:11-12). There are two other important words used 19 times each in this passage: faith and law. The Mosaic law was temporary but faith is permanent. Although exemplary faith existed earlier in the lives of people like Enoch and Noah, it was Abraham who has become known as “the father of faith” and is the model for our faith. We who belong to Christ entered that relationship by receiving the Spirit through faith (3:2) but sometimes, like the Galatians, we tend to slip back into a law-mindset, thinking that our Christian life can be somewhat relaxed in terms of faith. However, we are not only saved through faith but we are also to “live by faith in the Son of God” (2:20; emphasis added). Living by faith should involve our prayer life, believing that God is going to give us what we unselfishly ask for. Faith should also involve our ministry to others as we share our faith with the confidence that God is working in their hearts as we talk to them. Take an intentional step of faith today as you grow in learning how to “live by faith”!
November 25 — Galatians 4-6 — Freed from Sin to Serve. Paul wrote, “For freedom Christ has set us free” (5:1). Freedom from what? His concern for the Galatians was that they were being tempted to fall back into the slavery of being required to fulfill the ceremonial commandments of the Mosaic Law. He was also concerned that they may want to fall back into the slavery of sin: “Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh…” (5:13). Paul then listed some of “the works of the flesh” in vv. 19-21. We are probably not tempted to submit to the OT law system but we are often tempted to fall into these kinds of listed sins. Don’t do it! We have been freed from sin. In addition to the question of “Freedom from what?” is the question of “Freedom for what?” Paul says for us to use our freedom to “serve one another” (v. 13). We are to shift from the selfish focus of “the works of the flesh” to the outreach focus of serving others. Two suggestions for serving others are given: helping to restore a believer who has slipped into fleshly desires (6:1) and to “share all good things with the one who teaches” (v. 6). Restore strugglers and support nourishers.
November 26 — Acts 17 – 18:18 — Responses to the Word. There were three different groups of people in this reading that responded to Paul’s message in a variety of ways. The men of the Thessalonian synagogue who did not believe Paul’s message that “Jesus … is the Christ” (17:3) were “wicked men” (v. 5) who showed their true colors by forming a mob, attacking Jason’s house, and dragging him before the city authorities. No wonder they didn’t believe—they were fighters who were stubbornly set in their sin. What Paul found in Berea, however, were enthusiastic Jews who “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily” (v. 11) to confirm the truth of what Paul was teaching. They were seekers. The third group was composed of philosophers in Athens who were “very religious” (v. 22) and said, “We wish to know … what these things mean” (v. 20), referring to Paul’s teaching. They were thinkers. I would like to think that all of you who read God’s Word daily are like the Berean seekers, eagerly digging into the Scriptures to discover God’s truths and being willing to apply its principles and commands.