Romans 3-4

Read Romans 3-4.

I’ve got some good news and I’ve got some bad news – which would you like to hear first?

I guess since I’m the one writing this, you’ll get whatever I give you first. So without further adieu, here’s the bad news:

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

Romand 3:23

In very few contexts can you use the word all and it actually mean all, but such is the case here. All is not hyperbole. All have sinned. Every last one of us. There are no exceptions. And not only have we all sinned, the result is that we have all fallen pathetically short of God’s standard. Woefully short. Like, not even past the tee boxes kind of short.

This is very bad news, indeed.

Ah, but there is still good news:

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

Romans 3:23-24 (emphasis added)

I love how our modern English translations separate verses 23-24 with a comma. There’s hardly a pause between the two clauses – the good news quickly renders the bad news out of date and expired like that half-empty jar in the back corner of your refrigerator. Yes, I have sinned. Yes I have fallen short of the glory of God. But by God’s grace, through faith in Christ Jesus, I am justified – “just-as-if-I’d” never sinned.

Take heart, dear friends – there is more grace in Christ than sin in us.

Romans 1-2, Acts 20:1-3

Read Romans 1-2, Acts 20:1-3.

“Do as I say, not as I do.” I’m sure you’ve heard this statement made or maybe have said it yourself. I know I have. Either way, it can be an easy sentiment to relate to. It’s a real conundrum when you are fully aware of your less than great choices but see someone you care about going down a similar path. It’s hard to tell them to stop when you know you haven’t. They can look back at you and say, “But you do the same thing!” A lot of times, it’s just simple things that we utilize this saying for. Things like telling our friends not to take their work home, knowing we take it home on the regular. Or telling our kids not to use their greasy fingers to erase the white board, knowing that we do it all the time when we are in a hurry. We understand the consequences of these choices, but we don’t follow our own advice to avoid them.

Here in these passages, Paul is taking His readers down a similar but more serious path of thinking. Living by faith requires our actions to match our words and our understanding. It’s one thing to know how God calls us to live and another thing to actually live in that way for His glory. If we understand His call to love our neighbor as ourselves but then put ourselves first, what good is that understanding? If we teach others of our call to seek His glory but then seek our own, what good is our teaching? Sometimes it can be hard to practice what we preach, but ultimately, it’s what we’ve been called to do.

2 Corinthians 11-13

Read 2 Corinthians 11-13.

What’s bothering you?

We can find a lot to be upset about, especially if we make habit of thinking about reasons we should be upset. Maybe our problems or the world’s problems weigh heavy on us. Maybe it’s just all of the small stuff that adds up to a pile of trouble. Why doesn’t God just take away all of this bothersome stuff?

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10, ESV

Paul shares in 2 Corinthians about a “thorn in the flesh” that was given to him. We don’t know what it was, but we know from his words that it bothered him enough to plead with the Lord to take it away. Paul keeps his thorn and is redirected to the sufficiency of God’s grace.

We often find ourselves in the exact same situation as Paul. We ask God to take away our problems, but He doesn’t always do that for us. We could be disappointed, but Paul offers the choice of a different response. We can choose to boast of our weaknesses and be content with our hardships, because God’s grace is sufficient.

2 Corinthians 9-10

Read 2 Corinthians 9-10.

Have you ever read something or listened to someone and wondered at the end of it, “So…what’s the point?” I know I have. I’m sure you have. I may even be the one who prompted you to ask that question. The good news for us is that Paul doesn’t leave us with that question. Highlighters weren’t invented when Paul was writing, so he gives us the next best thing, kind of like a big flashing arrow to draw our attention to his point:

[6] The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. [7] Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

2 Corinthians 9:6-7, ESV

What precedes these two verses are the logistics of the collection, and what follows is broader exploration of Paul’s point about sowing and reaping and cheerful giving, followed by a defense of his approach to ministry. Lest anyone get lost in the weeds, however, Paul points us to the main thing. Employing sowing and reaping as a metaphor for generosity, the apostle wants to be sure we understand that sowing generosity is a prerequisite to reaping a harvest of joy. This, he explains, is the outworking of God’s grace in our hearts.

Paul had a specific opportunity for generosity to set before the Corinthians. What opportunity for generosity has God placed before you today?

2 Corinthians 7-8

Read 2 Corinthians 7-8.

“I don’t care too much for money. Money can’t buy me love.”

Paul McCartney

The Paul who authored 2 Corinthians and the Paul who wrote the lyrics above probably don’t have a lot in common. Yes, they both traveled a lot, but beyond that, their lives have a lot more differences than similarities. That doesn’t mean, however, that they wouldn’t have agreed on some things, starting with the line above.

As Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth, he wrote about a joy that flows not from a great supply of wealth but from his close relationship with them. And as he encourages them to give generously, he shares the example of the churches in Macedonia, who gave generously out of “their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty.” Paul’s (the one from the Bible) message is that there is greater joy to be found in one another than in wealth. So, whether we have a little money or a lot of money, we can have a “wealth of generosity.” We can give generously to others, just as God has given generously to us. Money can’t buy you love, but love can make you rich.

2 Corinthians 5-6

Read 2 Corinthians 5-6.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:21

My driving record is, shall we say, less than perfect. I have amassed several traffic violations over the years (along with more than a few written warnings). All of them were deserved, but I would contend that some were questionable–for example, did you know anything over 80mph is considered reckless driving in the state of Virginia? I am confident that I was in perfect control of my vehicle. The state of Virginia disagreed.

My wife, on the other hand, has an impeccable driving record–not a spot or blemish to be found. I don’t think she’s even been pulled over in any capacity. It’s quite amazing, actually.

So let’s pretend for a moment that we’re shopping for car insurance. The agent takes our information and begins a search into our driving history. I begin to brace myself for the worst, waiting for the agent to get done scrolling through the list of violations. Upon completion, he lowers his glasses from his nose, looks over his computer monitor and says, “Mr. Larkin, your record is quite extensive, but we are going to give you a rate based on your wife’s impeccable driving history.”

What a joyful day that would be!

This “great exchange” is at the heart of the gospel message. Unlike you and me, Jesus lived a sinless life–he had a perfect record. On the cross, Jesus willingly took upon himself all of our sin and paid in full the penalty that it deserved. Three days later, he walked out of the tomb proving that his payment for sin was sufficient. For all who trust in Jesus alone for the forgiveness of sin, he exchanges our imperfect record for his perfect record so that on the day we stand before God to give an account, we will be judged by Jesus’ perfect, spotless, unblemished record rather than our own.

What a joyful day that will be!

2 Corinthians 3-4

Read 2 Corinthians 3-4 .

Have you thought recently about how bold our world has become? In the age of the internet it is no uncommon thing to see someone boldly proclaiming their views on something. People will happily tell you what political candidate is the best or why a certain word someone used is now taboo or where the best place to get a haircut in town is or why that place is a scam after someone tells you to go there or the best kind of cobbler (c’mon people, its cherry and we all know it). We find ourselves in a culture that is incredibly bold about so many things that have such little eternal significance. The boldness is good, the content is lacking.

Scripture calls us to be bold but bold about the right things. Verse 12 of Chapter 3 says “Since we have such a hope, we are very bold”. Our boldness is not from things of the world. Our boldness is not from skills or achievements we have. Our boldness is not from some temporary authority or place we have. Our boldness should only be found in the hope that we have found in the work of Jesus Christ. Christ who rescued us. Christ who is transforming us “from one degree of glory to another.” Christ who sends to us the Spirit to live in us and give us the very boldness we so often use to proclaim everything but the gospel.

Paul drives it home for the church. Our hope is the type that is never perishing and never failing. It is a hope that is greater than any struggle or fear or doubt or persecution or failure. That means our boldness is of the same type, and it means that it is a boldness that always points towards that hope. So who needs your boldness in the gospel today? Is there a neighbor or a family member or a waiter or a store clerk that needs you to boldly proclaim the gospel today? Someone that needs you to boldly live the way Christ did so that they might ask for the reason for your hope? I am praying you feel that hopeful boldness today.

2 Corinthians 1 & 2

Read 2 Corinthians 1 & 2

As usual, there are many things we can learn from Paul’s teachings. 2 Corinthians 1 and 2 provide snapshots of several things we can hold on to, but I want to focus on two main themes that stand out—suffering and forgiveness. 

Often, we dwell on our sufferings by living in the pain of the moment, without realizing God is sustaining us through those difficulties. Well-intentioned as they may be, our words can offer hope in the midst of suffering as we misquote God with phrases like, “God won’t give us more than we can handle.” That phrase is not only a false teaching, but it puts the focus on us, as if we are the ones who will get us through. But we are not. God is the one who sustains us. God is in control and is with us amid the ups and downs of life. 

In chapter 1, Paul paints a word picture of suffering as being something that will bring glory to God by helping others through their suffering. It’s paying it forward, allowing God to move in our pain and use it for good in our life, in the lives of others, and ultimately for His glory. There is always purpose for our pain, even if we don’t see it this side of heaven. 

Paul’s word picture in chapter 2 portrays radical forgiveness. This forgiveness is geared toward ones who speak or act against us. Forgiving people who have wronged us is no easy task. Paul warns us not to be outwitted by Satan, saying we are ignorant of his design, meaning that harboring emotions of unforgiveness will only allow Satan to work in that situation. Forgiveness may not be easy, but it is commanded of us, and is a sign of our faith (Matthew 6:14-15). 

Whether we’re in times of suffering, peace, or needing to forgive, Jesus is with us. He’s working in us and through His power, we can live out this faith journey we’re called to. And in the end, it’s all for His glory! 

Blessings 

1 Corinthians 15-16

Read 1 Corinthians 15-16.

There’s a lot going on right now. You’ve got a lot going on right now (if you don’t, then please teach me your ways). Lately, it feels like every couple days brings a new crisis of global proportions, all while the concerns and crises of everyday life keep coming our way at a dizzying rate. Sometimes it is hard to know where to begin. How do we tell what is most important when every voice crying out for our attention insists it’s what they’re crying about? As things mount, maybe we even wonder if we can make any real difference at all.

Paul and the Corinthian believers were no stranger to crises and controversies. They had a lot going on. All of Paul’s instructions and corrections–though needed–could have been disorienting. What is most important? Thankfully, as he brings his letter to a close, Paul has an answer.

[3] For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, [4] that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.

1 Corinthians 15:3-4, ESV

Paul made sure to remind the Corinthian believers of what was of “first importance”–a reminder we often need as well. Remembering what is most important has a way of clarifying what comes next. By pointing the Corinthians and us to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, Paul reminds us of the good news by which we are being saved, if we hold fast to it. His point surely wasn’t that all the issues he’d already raised didn’t matter because they weren’t of “first importance” or “gospel issues.” I’ve seen and heard these verses misused in this way more times than I can count, but if that was Paul’s point, then why spend fourteen chapters writing about them? His point was that everything else matters because of the good news we’ve believed. Cynicism and confusion are understandable responses to everything that is going on in the world, but what if Christ has been raised from the dead? Then we can keep on taking the next step God puts before us.

[58] Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

1 Corinthians 15:58, ESV

1 Corinthians 13-14

Read 1 Corinthians 13-14.

Have you ever realized that you were just going through the motions? It can happen in any area of our lives. We drive either to work or home, only to realize once we’ve arrived that we recall nothing at all from the journey. How? We went through the motions, but our minds were somewhere else. We can do it at work or around the house, completing the tasks we need to complete without being mentally and emotionally present for any of it. I don’t know how it happens. I know just enough about the human brain to know that I don’t know anything about the human brain. What I do know is what Paul tells us in today’s passage–that we are capable of doing the same kind of thing when it comes to exercising spiritual gifts. We can go through the motions, seeming to get a lot done, but if we do it apart from love, then we’ve accomplished nothing, especially not anything that will last. There can be lots of reasons we do things, even those that are expressly spiritual in nature like reading this devotional. What really matters, though–and what endures–are those things that we do with love. Maybe it would be helpful for us to ask ourselves often, when we’re at risk of just going through the motions, “Why am I doing this? Is it motivated by love?” And if we have a hard time discerning the answer, let’s take a moment to peer into the mirror of 1 Corinthians 13:

[4] Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant [5] or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; [6] it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. [7] Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

1 Corinthians 13:4–7, ESV