HE THANKED GOD AND TOOK COURAGE

“And from thence, when the brethren heard of us, they came to meet us as far as Appii forum, and The three taverns: whom when Paul saw, he thanked God, and took courage.”
Acts 28:15

Paul’s journey had brought him almost to Rome. He had been arrested in Jerusalem, and then for his own safety, moved to Caesarea. After appealing his case to Caesar, he was transported toward Rome and was finally nearing his destination. For a long time, Paul had desired to see this great city. As the entourage traveled down the celebrated Appian Way, they passed two stopping places, “Appii forum” and “The three taverns.” The first location may have been as far as fifty miles from Rome. As Paul journeyed toward Rome, he was met by loyal believers who had traveled “as far as Appii forum and The three taverns,” in order to meet the aged apostle. Our text tells us that when “Paul saw, he thanked God, and took courage.” Their presence on the road to Rome, their faithfulness to Christ, and their desire to greet the soldier of the cross rejuvenated Paul. Meeting these fellow believers on the road to Rome caused Paul to give thanks, and it encouraged the great missionary.

There are two things that we all can learn from this experience in the life of Paul. First, we see that all of us need encouragement from time to time. We know that God gives us grace to endure whatever His will involves. When times are difficult, we are to press on and endure, knowing that God will see us through. But even the strongest of Christians can find themselves in need of some positive reinforcement. You might think that your spouse, friend, or even your pastor never needs encouragement, but that is not true. The surprising presence of these Christians on the Appian Way gave the apostle Paul the spiritual boost he needed. When he saw them, “he thanked God, and took courage.”

The second thing we should consider is that all of us are needed as the encouragers of others. These believers who took the time and put forth the effort to be there when Paul was traveling through Appii forum were just what the apostle needed. In fact, it was not even their words that uplifted the man of God. It was simply their presence. They were in the right place at the right time to encourage God’s servant. When Paul saw them, “he thanked God, and took courage.” May God use us to encourage others.

HIDDEN TREASURES

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.”
Matthew 13:44

What a treasure we have in the Gospel of our Savior! Nothing is more precious than the gift of salvation. How could one put a value on the death of Jesus on the cross and the resulting forgiveness of our sins? What glorious news to the convicted sinner, that One has paid the price for our redemption!

Like the “treasure hid in a field,” for years, the truth of the Gospel was hidden from us. Sin and Satan blinded our eyes. But then the glorious light of the Gospel did shine in our hearts and our eyes were opened. What a difference conviction makes. We sometimes look back with regret and shame to the days before we were saved. We did not value the things of God. In ignorance and pride, we lived without His fellowship and friendship. We had no time for His Word or worship and no interest in His will. How foolish and thoughtless we were. Days were spent on selfish ambition and senseless pursuits. Then the Gospel came to soften our hard hearts. Suddenly things began to change. Salvation was not something to be postponed or ridiculed. God was no longer an intruder into our lives, but a welcomed Deliverer. We found ourselves in reach of the greatest treasure of all, the kingdom of Heaven. The plans and ambitions that we previously valued seemed worthless in comparison to the spiritual blessings we now embraced.

It is unfortunate that the gifts of God are not always viewed as treasures. God loves us so much and His gifts are so gracious. What causes people to disesteem the treasures of God’s grace? Sometimes we get so busy that we fail to notice or appreciate the things that should matter most. Then, familiarity can result in a lack of fondness. It should not be this way, but it is possible that the treasures of God can be taken for granted. Like the disciples who were sometimes guilty of sleeping at critical moments, professing Christians become complacent toward the sweetness of the Spirit’s presence. Like the members of the Laodicean congregation, full of material blessings, we forget how much we need Him.

May we be reminded today of the great treasure there is in the Gospel and the eternal gift of salvation, and may our love and devotion reflect our appreciation.

KEYS TO LEARNING

“When the scorner is punished, the simple is made wise: and when the wise is instructed, he receiveth knowledge.”
Proverbs 21:11

There are two teachers mentioned in our text, both capable of helping the sincere learner. One is the instructor, “when the wise is instructed, he receiveth knowledge.” The other is the scorner. “When the scorner is punished, the simple is made wise.”

As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are to be ever learning. We want to know His Word and how it applies to our lives. We want to be acquainted with His ways. We need to know His will for the decisions we must make daily. We desire to know how He would have us respond to the situations that life brings to us.

How are we to learn? First, we must take heed to our teachers, or instructors. God gives us many teachers. Our parents are teachers, instructing us from the time we are born. We also have our pastor or other spiritual instructors. We have teachers in school. Friends can teach us things we need to know. The Holy Spirit is given to lead us into all truth. Unlike formal education, as disciples, we are always in the classroom. We are always learning. Perhaps you have found yourself able to perform some task because you previously watched someone else in a similar situation. We need to take learning seriously. Many adults lament the fact that they did not take learning as seriously as they should have when they were younger. May we never outgrow the desire to learn.

Our verse says, “when the wise is instructed, he receiveth knowledge.” Knowledge being received is the responsibility of the student, as well as the instructor. The wise person recognizes the need to pay attention to his teacher and receive knowledge from him.

There is another way of learning, other than formal instruction, and that is from experience. Our experiences, and what we observe from the experiences of others, can teach us valuable lessons. In particular, we are able to learn from mistakes. Our proverb tells us, “When the scorner is punished, the simple is made wise.” The simple are able to learn from the punishment of the scorner. The scorner, or rebellious mocker, is not willing to learn from the wisdom of others, but the wise can learn from the foolishness of the rebel. As we see the consequences of disobedience in our lives, or in the lives of others, we can be instructed.

INTERCESSORY PRAYER

“And Moses besought the LORD his God, and said, LORD, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand?”
Exodus 32:11

While Moses had been meeting with the Lord on Mt. Sinai, receiving the commandments of God, Aaron and the people made and were worshipping a golden calf. The Lord was angry with His people, and told Moses that He would destroy Israel for their idolatry and raise up a new nation through Moses. At that moment, Moses stepped into the gap and began to pray for God’s mercy. The Lord heard his prayer and preserved His people.

One of the greatest benefits of the Christian life is the privilege of prayer. Prayer has several aspects. We worship God in prayer and thanksgiving. We confess our sins to God in prayer. We are instructed to pray for our needs to be met. Also, we can pray for the needs of others. We can go to God on behalf of others, holding their needs up before Him. We sometimes call this aspect of prayer INTERCESSORY PRAYER.

Moses, in our text, was interceding for Israel. Moses knew that God would permit him to approach God on behalf of his people. Abraham interceded for Lot and the inhabitants of Sodom. Paul prayed for his people that they might be saved. Jesus prayed for those who crucified Him. Nehemiah prayed for the children of Israel. Jairus requested that Jesus might come to the aid of his daughter. One of the things about prayer that we will never fully comprehend is how God uses the person of prayer. The Lord wants us to pray for that which God wants to do. Of course, God could do as He desires without our participation, but He chooses to involve our intercessory praying.

Moses knew that God wanted to spare Israel. When he prayed, Moses reminded God of His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them this land. One of the things that makes prayer so powerful is when we are praying for something that we are certain is God’s will.

As we look around us, we see many things that we know God would want to do. He wants to revive churches and save sinners. He wants to reunite families and help the hurting. He wants to restore the Christian that is out of the way. Knowing these things are His will, we can confidently pray for Him to work.

STARTING OVER

“For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.”
Hebrews 5:12

This passage is written to those who were guilty of spiritual regression. Rather than going forward in their learning and walk with Christ, they were going backwards. Instead of moving toward maturity, they were moving toward immaturity. This should serve as a warning to all of us. If we are not progressing, we will soon be regressing. If we are not advancing, we will be retreating.

This process of regression takes time. Notice the words in our text: “are become such as have need of milk.” It is not something that happens instantly, but over a period of time. A person can go from being a growing and vibrant Christian to becoming spiritually complacent and weak. Our Scripture further describes the subjects as saying, “when for the time ye ought to be teachers.” These were not new believers. They had been converted long enough that they should have been teaching others. This should not be interpreted exclusively as meaning that they should have a public teaching ministry, but they should have been able to explain Bible truths to others. This is part of our privilege and purpose as ambassadors for Christ. We are to be able to give a Bible answer for what we believe. God would have us be capable to teach our family members, friends, neighbors, and associates.

The solution to this spiritual regression is simple and clear. They would need to relearn what they had been taught previously. The verse says, “ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God.” The word “again” means they had been taught before. This describes something quite common among professing Christians. They have forgotten what they learned. Because of spiritual neglect, they have been in a backslidden condition. This reminds us of the adage, “Use it or lose it.”

The answer for them is to get started on a steady diet of the basic doctrines of Scripture. Sometimes people want to skip over the basics and go to more advanced principles. It is always wise to begin with the elementary truths, or milk, of God’s Word. This is true of the new believer, as well as the one needing to be taught again.

SPEAK MY WORDS UNTO THEM

“And thou shalt speak my words unto them, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear: for they are most rebellious.”
Ezekiel 2:7

As a young adult, Ezekiel was among the thousands taken captive by the Babylonian army and exiled to Babylon. There God revealed Himself to Ezekiel, and called him to be a watchman and prophet to the captives of God’s rebellious people. His responsibility was simple and clear: “thou shalt speak my words unto them.” This is still the responsibility of God’s watchmen. We are to speak His Words unto the people. People need to hear the Words of God. They need to know the truth.

We all have realized that everyone does not necessarily have an appetite for the Word of God. There are those who claim to know the Lord who are not actively seeking to know God’s will. Multitudes are steeped in religion, yet are ignorant of what the Bible says. And so many others are simply blind to the ways of God. We are to speak God’s Word unto them. Thank God we have His Word! The Bible contains the full revelation of God’s Word and His will for mankind. We can speak with others confidently, knowing that what we are sharing is not our opinion, but the very Word of God.

God warned Ezekiel that the listeners might not always be interested. We should not be surprised or discouraged when people are complacent, critical, or calloused toward God’s Word. Such has always been the case. Our responsibility is not to make sure they listen or appreciate the message, only that they hear the message. The Lord said of those Ezekiel would preach to, “they are most rebellious.” The same could be said of some that we will speak to. They are not simply ignorant or unlearned; they are willfully disobedient. However, even the rebellious need to hear. In every way possible, we must attempt to get God’s Word to the people. Primarily, we are to personally tell those we can of the message God has for them. It is both a message of love and mercy, and a message of pending judgment. We should also invite people to church that they might hear God’s Word, and give out gospel literature that others might hear.

Like Ezekiel, our Lord has given us an assignment and purpose for our lives. We are to communicate God’s truth to our generation. Whether they receive or reject makes no difference. Our responsibility is to make certain that they hear it.

CHARITY NEVER FAILETH

“Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth.”
I Corinthians 13:7, 8a

The thirteenth chapter of I Corinthians is one of the most familiar portions of God’s Word, sometimes called “The Love Chapter.” The word “charity” is translated from the word agape, and describes the highest and purest form of love that exists. It is used in the Bible to speak of God’s love for man, our love for the brethren, Christ’s love for the church, and the husband’s love for his wife.

Our text says, “charity never faileth.” What a powerful and promising force this charity, or love, is! It always prevails. It endures whatever comes. It remains hopeful and optimistic. It is positive, believing the best. It is able to bear whatever comes its way. We all would agree that we need to see this kind of love, or charity, in our hearts, our homes, and our churches.

The most important area of our lives is the matter of relationships. Of course, our relationship to God is first priority. Other relationships include family, friends, and fellow Christians. All of these relationships are strengthened and enhanced by charity. Understanding the nature and power of charity, or love, is necessary to having meaningful, quality relationships.

Charity is not selfish, but selfless. Charity is not lustful and self-serving, but compassionate and self-denying. This is the love that motivated God to give His Son and caused Jesus to suffer on the cross in our place. It is this kind of charity that strengthened the disciples to suffer martyrdom rather than deny the Lord that saved them. This is the kind of love we need in our lives. We are to love each other as Christ loves us.

This is not simply an emotional feeling; it is a commitment to help others and meet their needs as God directs. Charity is an essential quality for a functional and pleasant family life. Families are too often torn apart because members are driven by personal ambitions or agendas, rather than meeting the needs of others. Churches are damaged and fractured because members are more concerned with getting their way than with promoting the cause of Jesus Christ. Humanly speaking, we know that our ability to love has its limitations. However, when God loves others through us, His “charity never faileth.”

One of the most positive influences that children can have in their lives is to see charity lived out between their parents and in the life of God’s church.

THIS THING IS DONE OF ME

“Thus saith the LORD, Ye shall not go up, nor fight against your brethren: return every man to his house: for this thing is done of me. And they obeyed the words of the LORD, and returned from going against Jeroboam.”
II Chronicles 11:4

Rehoboam was the son of Solomon and the heir to the throne of David. Soon after Rehoboam succeeded his father as king, the kingdom was divided. Because of Rehoboam’s decision to take heed to the counsel of his peers and ignore the counsel of the aged, the majority of the families and tribes rebelled, rejecting Rehoboam as their king, and followed after Jeroboam. Thus, Rehoboam was the king of Judah and Jeroboam became the king of Israel. As soon as Rehoboam was able, he assembled a great army to attack Israel and bring those back into the kingdom who had left him. However, God sent a prophet to give Rehoboam a message, which is recorded in our text. Judah was not to attack their “brethren” because God said, “this thing is done of me.” God had a hand in this division of the kingdom, and He did not want Rehoboam seeking to reunite those who defected. This must have been a very painful day in the lives of those who witnessed this great schism. Families and friends were torn apart, yet God said about the division, “this thing is done of me.”

The seeds of rebellion and idolatry were already producing an unholy harvest in Israel. Those who revolted and followed Jeroboam became even more openly idolatrous. Jeroboam produced two calves of gold and urged the people to worship them. He made priests of those who were not qualified to serve. As painful as the division was that divided Israel and Judah, it provided a separation that proved beneficial. Those who were comfortable with false worship and rebellion were content to follow Jeroboam. There were some who were earnest in their desire to seek the Lord and actually returned to Jerusalem, Judah, and Rehoboam. God used the separation for good.

Sometimes when things happen that we don’t understand, we can only imagine that harm and loss can come of it. What we fail to recognize, at least initially, is that God is able to use things in ways that we never dreamed possible. We ought to trust Him to work His will out, even in life’s most painful occasions. As children of faith, we want to rely on Him completely, refusing to lean on our own understanding.

GIVE EAR, O SHEPHERD

“Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock; thou that dwellest between the cherubims, shine forth.”
Psalm 80:1

The theme of the shepherd tending his sheep is common to the culture of Israel and frequently found in the Word of God. In the first family, Abel was a “keeper of sheep” (Genesis 4:2). Before guiding God’s people, both Moses and David were shepherds. It was to the shepherds that the angel announced the birth of the Savior. The New Testament pastor is charged to oversee and feed the flock of God.

Most importantly, the Lord Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd that “giveth his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). In our text, the psalmist speaks to God as the “Shepherd of Israel.” What a comforting image we are given as we are made to see ourselves as members of His flock and Christ as our Shepherd. Several assuring thoughts are given in this short verse of Scripture.

We see initially that the Shepherd hears us: “Give ear, O Shepherd.” The Shepherd is always aware of the sheep and alert to their cries. We can know that God hears us when we cry out to Him. We can pray knowing that our Shepherd cares for His sheep and is available to meet their needs. According to the Bible, He will never slumber nor sleep. Not only does He hear us, He also leads us: “thou that leadest Joseph like a flock.” Our Shepherd leads His sheep. We need His careful and loving guidance in our lives. We can ask Him to lead, with confidence that as a Shepherd, He will direct us. Too often we may try to direct our own lives or ask Him to bless and prosper our plans, but this is not God’s way. The sheep never lead the shepherd. Our Shepherd knows what lies ahead, and He knows what is best for us.

Next, we see that the Shepherd is always present with the flock. The psalmist says, “thou that dwellest between the cherubims, shine forth.” God promised to be present with His people. He manifested His presence in the tabernacle over the mercy seat, between the two golden cherubims. “Shine forth” is a request that He might manifest Himself in the life and affairs of the psalmist.

We can always be thankful that the Shepherd will never leave His sheep. His presence will always be with us. The hirelings will flee when danger comes to the flock, but the Good Shepherd is committed to the safety and protection of the sheep.

LIFE IS LIKE A VAPOR

“Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.”
James 4:14

At this time of the year, many of us are contemplating the fact that another year has come and gone. Life is ever so brief; and the longer we live, the more true this seems.

Our text asks the question, “For what is your life?” What can a life be compared to as far as its longevity? The answer we are given would be unacceptable or debatable for some, but it is absolutely accurate. “It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” Life is like a “vapour”, or a mist. It is like the early morning fog that burns away when the sun is rising, or the brief steam from a boiling kettle that soon disappears.

We observe two things that testify to the brevity of life. Our personal experience verifies this fact. For as long as I can remember, I have heard it said that the years seem to go by faster the older you get. It is true. Having lived for over half of a century, I can say that life has been good; but it has certainly gone by quickly.

Another argument for the brevity of life is when it is compared to eternity. The average life span in our country today is approximately eighty-two years. Occasionally, we hear of someone who lives to be one hundred years old. To us, that seems an unusually long life. But what is that compared to forever? We may live in this life for eighty or more years, but we will live forever in Heaven or Hell.

Compared to eternity, life is extremely brief. Because this is true, we ought to consider several bits of common sense counsel. We should make certain that we have received God’s eternal salvation through faith in Christ’s sacrificial death and His resurrection. It is foolish to live without Christ and His saving grace, and to spend forever in eternal torment. Also, because life is so brief and often very fragile, we should thank God for the gift of life. It is by His grace and blessing that we are alive to serve Him and others. We should learn to capture and treasure the moments we have. There is no guarantee of tomorrow on this earth. Let’s discipline ourselves not to take friendship, family, and fellowship for granted.

Finally, we should purpose to live for eternal things. The things of this earth are temporal, but we can lay up for ourselves treasures in Heaven.