December 18 — Perfect Courtesy — Titus & Philemon. These two letters were written in reverse order. Philemon was written during Paul’s first Roman imprisonment and he wrote to Titus after he had been released. Part of Paul’s instruction to Titus was to urge people “to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people” (3:2). The word translated “perfect courtesy” in the ESV is often used elsewhere in the New Testament involving tense situations that require restraint. It was used when Paul asked the Corinthians whether they wanted him to come to them with a rod or with “gentleness” (1 Cor. 4:21). It involves controlled strength. That is exactly how Paul approached Philemon in the touchy circumstance involving the return of his runaway servant. He wrote, “though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you” (vs. 8). Although we may feel the right to come on strong to someone, in Christian love, let’s “show perfect courtesy” toward them.
December 19 — Perfection — Heb. 1-5. Many have speculated about the author of Hebrews but no suggestion is conclusive. (Perhaps it was the unnamed “brother who is famous” in 2 Cor. 8:18.) He wrote primarily to Jewish Christians, and when you compare it to the letters of Paul, it has no introduction, starting out almost like an essay or a sermon. In these early chapters, there is a great focus on the supremacy of Christ. He is called “the son of man” in 2:6 (quoting Ps. 8:4-6), the expression used for Ezekiel over 90 times and chosen by Jesus as His most used self-designation. The connection of this OT verse to Jesus is made clear with “namely Jesus” in Heb. 2:8. Jesus was God-become-man. Later, the other extreme is presented when He is called “Jesus, the Son of God” (4:14). the man who is wholly God. The Father’s perfect Man for His perfect plan!
December 20 — For Us! — Heb. 6-9. These chapters contain deep and mysterious elements that cry for further study. Jesus is compared to the mysterious king Melchizedek and the new covenant instituted by Christ is contrasted to the old. Two things about coming into God’s presence struck me today as I read. First, Christ the new, perfect, and eternal high priest has entered into the heavenly temple “to appear in the presence of God on our behalf” (9:24). It was for our benefit that this was accomplished. It has opened the door for us to approach God as “… those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (7:25). His intercession is also accomplished for our benefit. One day we also will be in that heavenly place without the hindrances of our flesh to distract and cloud our relationship with God. Then, we shall see Him face to Face.
December 21 — True Value — Heb. 10-11. It is interesting to see the contrast between the negative U.S. Bankruptcy Code Chapter 11 vs. chapter 11 in Hebrews, which is about faith, promise, and blessings. One focuses on a disappointing failure and the other on a promising future. One example of faith given was Moses, who was not bankrupt but rich. Because of his adoption by Pharaoh’s daughter, he had “the treasures of Egypt” (11:26), but by faith, he recognized what was of greater value. He willingly identified with the suffering, enslaved people of Israel and considered it to be of “greater wealth” because “he was looking to the reward” (11:26). Faith recognizes true value. It is “the conviction [evidence] of things not seen” (11:1). Do you see the wealth of this world in its true perspective? Let us rather focus our attention and desire on real wealth that is “not seen.”
December 22 — Pleasing Sacrifices — Heb. 12-13. The final chapter in this great book challenges us to give sacrifices to God. The first is “a sacrifice of praise to God … the fruit of lips” (13:15). It recalls the OT priests laying a sacrifice on the altar in worship to God. Our praises are offerings to God. The second stated sacrifice that pleases God is for us “to do good and to share what you have” (13:6). This is a good reminder for us at Christmas time. I received a note from our school in the Philippines that five families in the church pastored by one of our graduates had their homes washed away by flooding caused by a typhoon last week. The needs of people provide opportunities for us to please God. There was one more comment about material things in this chapter: “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have” (13:5). If you are not content with what you have, you will not be content with what you want.
December 23 — Wisdom — James 1-5. The book of James, written by the half-brother of Jesus, is very straightforward and practical. It has 50 commands in 108 verses. What impressed me today was what he said about wisdom. He gave a description of “the wisdom from above” as being “pure … peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (3:17). We need that! How can we have it? James said that “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God … and it will be given him” (1:5). That is one thing we can ask God for that we know is His will. But even so, we must “ask in faith, with no doubting” (1:6). Although we know it is God’s will to ask for wisdom, He still requires that we ask in faith, anticipating that He will provide it to us. Ask in faith before you read His Word every day that He will teach you His “wisdom from above.”
December 24 — Goodness — 1 Peter 1-5. Like James, 1 Peter is very directive, issuing 30 commands in its 105 verses. His focus is on living a godly life in the midst of suffering for one’s faith. Part of that godly living includes doing good, something he mentions nine times. It was interesting to me to note three responses of unbelievers who observe our good behavior. Some of them will “see your good deeds and glorify God” (2:12), apparently through their coming to know and follow Christ. For others, “by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people” (2:15). They don’t like you because of your allegiance to Christ but, in this context, they have no argument against the fact that you willingly obey governmental authorities that other people resent and resist. Finally, there is the response “when you are slandered, [by those] who … revile your good behavior” (3:16). They are “put to shame,” probably because their slander is exposed, revealing them to be liars. So, no matter how people respond to your good behavior and good deeds to others, keep it up! Some of them will come to know Christ because of it.