The apostle Paul was an encourager. He had put Christians through the wringer by persecuting them, even to the point of death. It’s no secret that Paul considered Christians to be blasphemers and he singlehandedly wrecked the lives of many innocent people. As Paul was on his way to Damascus to persecute more Christians, a man named Ananias saw a vision and the Lord told him that he would meet a man named Saul. Terrified, Ananias said that he heard all that Saul had done to the Christians. The Lord replied, “For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:16 ESV).
A long time after Paul was converted he began his mission journeys. He was stoned and left for dead at Timothy’s home village of Lystra. But Paul got up and went on to Derbe the next day. What happened next is incredible: “When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:21, 22).
Many people are struggling in life. Like the apostle Paul, many will suffer for the name of Jesus. But we should encourage them to remain in the faith even when our lives are a mess. Paul never gave up. He consistently taught people who God is. He suffered severely yet never gave up treating people with kindness and teaching them who God is. He was always thankful for what God provided and never lost his focus.
We spend much of our life attempting to be “right” as Christians. We want to know that we have the right answers, the right interpretation of the scriptures, and the right arguments to disarm people with wrong information. It’s great to be a student of the scriptures but our lot in life isn’t to be right. It’s to be faithful. When we are faithful God shows up in the most powerful ways.
The entire chapter 11 in Hebrews is about people who walked by faith. Many of them didn’t know what the future held or the troubles they would encounter. They only knew that God made a promise to them, and they were faithful. Abraham lived in tents for years and years, having no idea where he was going: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going” (vs. 8).
The author of Hebrews says that there were many people like Abraham who endured suffering or who waited for the promise. God delivered every time. Abraham became a father of many nations. Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt. Noah saved his family and began a new world. Even in their faith, they didn’t receive what they were promised, “since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect” (vs. 39, 40). We were promised something far better than even those giants of faith. Without our faith, those people from the past are not made perfect. Our faith really, really matters.
In the gospel of Matthew Jesus was still talking to the crowd about not blaspheming the Holy Spirit and told the story about a person who had seven evil spirits return when his family appeared. His mother and brothers asked to talk with him. Luke said that they could not get to him because of the crowd.
But he replied to the man, “Who is my other, and who are my brothers?” (Matthew 12:48 ESV). He then pointed to his disciples and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (vs 49, 50). Matthew, Mark, and Luke all have one thing in common with this story: this story is sandwiched between Jesus’ speeches about not hiding/squandering their faith.
Those stories include the parable of the sower, the parable of the weeds, the parable of the hidden treasure, the lamp under the stand, and so on. Jesus’ point that those who do the will of God are his family members was reinforced and even magnified by all the parables the precede and follow. It’s clear that Jesus puts the most emphasis on being doers of God’s word. He also makes a strong contrast between those who get “chocked out” of their faith by the worries of this world and those who set their roots down deep and grow. Being doers of God’s will requires tremendous discipline.
Hannah is one of my favorite Bible characters. Her faith in God was unwavering, even when she was mistreated and was barren. Hannah never gave up believing that God would do something incredible in her life. This is extremely challenging to do when our world is being torn apart. When things (and especially when people) are against us, it shifts our world view and makes us feel like the whole world is against us. This is where people can begin to lose hope, believing that nothing will ever change and that their destiny is to have mayhem in their lives.
This would have been an easy conclusion for Hannah to come to, but she remained faithful. One day she was at the temple, deeply distressed and weeping bitterly to the Lord. Hannah made a vow that day: “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head” (1 Samuel 1:11 ESV).
Hannah became pregnant and named her son Samuel, which means “God has heard.” She was true to her promise and dedicated Samuel to the Lord, dropping him off at the temple after he was weaned. Samuel was trained by Eli the priest and became one of the greatest leaders of Israel. It was only because of Hannah’s prayers that all of this happened this way. She had the faith that God would hear, and God was faithful in answering.
Consistency is incredibly important. We depend on consistency, and consistent people are dependable. Without consistency we have chaos. Consistency often feels boring and mundane. Often we like to feel accomplished, so we thrive when times are good and deflate when times lack movement. Many people leave churches that are routine and migrate to churches that are full of life and energy. But is this the wisest move?
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church, he addresses multiple sources of all kinds of divisions in the church. The church was on the brink of extinction because of all the division, and there was not much that was appealing about Christianity in Corinth.
Towards the end of the letter, Paul urges the saints to focus on their eternal destination. He wrote, “I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:50 ESV). He points out that death is swallowed up in victory for the Christian. He concludes: “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” (vs. 58).
Amen and amen! Paul warned the Corinthians about following the “super apostles.” It’s not about getting caught up in the emotions of these powerful speakers, but about being consistent in living out their faith and serving others.
When Jesus cleansed the ten lepers, there was no hesitation. Luke sets the story up by telling us that Jesus, on his way to Jerusalem, was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. This was a “no zone” for Jews who were not from Samaria. They typically would not enter into Samaria, and wouldn’t even associate with Samaritans. But Jesus was probably en route to Jerusalem and did not have any plans to enter Samaria.
As he entered a village, ten lepers met him but stood at a distance. This was most likely because they didn’t want to get near the Rabbi and make him unclean. Luke says they lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (Luke 17:13 ESV). Jesus answered, “Go and show yourselves to the priests” (vs. 14). Unlike other instances where Jesus touches unclean people, here he chooses not to call them closer. There’s no indication he had any intention of touching them and he did not tell them they would be healed.
They did as Jesus commanded and began walking away. As they did, they were healed. One of the ten, when he saw that he was healed, “turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks” (vs. 13, 14). The man was a Samaritan. Jesus asked him where the nine were. Jesus asked, “Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (vs. 18). Jesus then told him to go his way and that his faith made him well.
There are so many lessons that come from this story. But the main point is that it is ultimately God who heals, but our faith is important. It’s also vital to give praise to God when God blesses us. Too many people are like the nine who failed to return to Jesus to give praise.
Before Mark wrote the story of the widow who gave all she had, he prefaced it with a very important contrasting story–namely one of greedy hypocrites “who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers” (Mark 12:40 ESV). These scribes show boated their faith by walking around in long robes, they liked greetings in the marketplaces, and they had the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at feasts.
Mark introduces a dramatic contrasting scene where Jesus is observing people putting money into the treasury. Mark says that many rich people were putting large sums into the box. “And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny” (vs. 42). Jesus told his disciples that the woman put more money into the box than everyone else. His reasoning–“For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (vs. 44).
As we equip the saints for works of ministry, we should teach one another the value of freely giving to others. Some of the religious leaders who are held up by many as heroes of the faith are robbing people blind and padding their own pockets. The real heroes are the ones who faithfully and selflessly give of their own means to bless other people who are in need.