Learn about Adam and Eve and what we can learn about God, Satan, and ourselves. Studying the creation and fall of these first humans can teach us how to fight Satan and gives us insight into Satan’s tactics. These two also show us the love of our Lord God.
We talk about the importance of learning about Bible characters as an adult and how we can strengthen our spiritual armor by learning about these people. Bible stories can grow your faith and understanding of God.
Sometimes I think Martha gets a bad deal.
In Mark 10:38-42, Jesus visits the home of Martha, Mary, and their brother Lazarus. While Martha bustles around preparing food for their guest, Mary sits at Jesus’ feet, listening to him. When Martha complains that she’s doing all the work, Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42).
Most analyses of this passage end with the admonition to “be a Mary, not a Martha.” Women are especially plagued by this notion, often caveman-like in its simplicity: “Martha bad. Mary good.”
Now, I’m not contradicting Jesus here. Martha got it wrong—that time. But it doesn’t follow that Mary was a better person, or a more devoted follower of Jesus. Another Bible story offers a side-by-side view of Mary and Martha: the events leading to the raising of Lazarus in John 11.
A Different View of the Sisters
Jesus receives word that Lazarus is ill to the point of death. Instead of going to the aid of his friend, however, Jesus delays. When he finally does arrive, Lazarus has already died. The moment she learns of Jesus’ arrival, Martha rushes to him. In the midst of her grief, she makes a remarkable statement of deep faith: “Martha then said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. Even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you’”(John 11:21-22).
Where is Mary? In the house, mourning. She doesn’t come to Jesus until he calls for her (v. 29). She doesn’t make a great claim of faith like Martha. She isn’t there to hear one of Jesus’s most remarkable claims about himself, in verses 25-26: “I AM the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
Mourning is not a sin. Neither is housework. I’m not highlighting these events to turn people against Mary in favor of Martha. Both were devoted followers of Christ. Neither of them were perfect.
We Need Martha and Mary
Martha is a “doer.” She has a take-charge attitude, and she will do whatever needs to be done. But when the chips are down and there’s nothing left to do, she knows that she can turn to Jesus. She loves to serve others—we see her three times in the Gospels, serving every time. She speaks her mind. Martha is dependable. If you need Martha to be somewhere, she’s probably already there, getting things done.
Mary is a woman of few words. She is not a typical leader, but she is a devoted follower. She doesn’t offer the kind of service or action that other people do, but she does offer herself, and she’s capable of tremendously beautiful acts of worship.
We need both Marys and Marthas. Say there’s a death in your family. Mary will sit with you and put her arms around you while you weep. But you still have to eat. Martha’s the one who brings you food, and makes sure someone waters the plants and walks the dog. Both of them are loving you. You need them both.
I can easily spend an hour or more in devotions every morning. Sometimes I have to force myself to stop studying Scripture so I can get other things done. That sounds very holy and spiritual, doesn’t it? But what if it makes me late for work? What if guests are coming and Daniel is left to do all the cleaning himself? What if I really needed to take the car to the shop—and now there’s no time?
The issue isn’t only whether Jesus is a higher priority. Of course, he is. But Jesus would never want me to sit there reading all day while my house falls apart and my family feels abandoned. Devotion can be an excuse for laziness, and allowing my life to become that imbalanced would not please the Lord.
Worship in All Things
We are told in Scripture to do all things to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17). Is Christ less present in my life while I’m making the bed than when I’m reading the Bible? No. The life of the Christian should be characterized by worship in all things, not just obviously religious activity.
In Luke 10, Jesus doesn’t scold Martha for working around the house; that’s not the issue. The one necessary thing was attention and devotion to him. Mary could’ve been letting her mind wander while Jesus was speaking to her, just as Martha could’ve continued cooking and cleaning and setting a nice table as an honorable offering to Jesus.
But Martha expresses her frustrations with Mary, and that’s when Jesus rebukes her. Sitting at his feet isn’t holier than cooking in the kitchen. Jesus tells Martha not to worry about Mary, but to follow him while she cooks and cleans.
The Christian life is not a competition to see who the “best” Christian is. We all sin and fall short. Rather, it is a turning of all our earthly deeds and passions toward the Lord Jesus Christ. So if you’re a Martha, stay a Martha! She was no less devoted to Jesus than Mary. Love him in your work—do it with all your heart!
The good news of Jesus Christ is for all those who know their need for him. Mary is not our standard of living any more than the many other notable figures in the Bible story. I checked, and Hebrews 12:2 says quite clearly that it is Jesus who is the perfecter of our faith.
Whether you are a Martha or a Mary, look to Jesus, and follow him.
Have you ever played “Would you rather”? My husband and I are youth directors at our church and if you’re around youth long enough, you will be drawn into a game. The rules are simple, someone listed two things and you choose which one you would rather do. Let’s play a quick game.
Would you rather be able to fly or read people’s minds?
* be blind or be deaf?
* eat skittles or m&ms?
* have a paper cut on your tongue or a booger you can’t reach all day?
* live or die?
If each of us were truly honest today, we would all say that we want to live? That’s a no-brainer! “I want to choose life!”
We are all very partial to the oxygen that we breathe and really prefer that our hearts continue to pump blood. So, why would I ask such a dumb question?
I was reading a book a while back and I came across a passage of Scripture in the book of Deuteronomy where God gives the choice to choose life.
Moses & the Israelites
In the events leading up to these verses, the Israelites were in slavery under Pharoah, led out by Moses, and were now grumbling and complaining. Once the Israelites have crossed the Red Sea, they are now on their way to the Promised Land. Because of their disobedience, an entire generation must wander in the desert and die before they would be allowed to cross into the Promised land. For the next 40 years, the Israelites wander around in the desert and wilderness. In order to claim the promised land, the people had to cross the Jordan River.
we are going to start with Moses giving a pep talk to the Israelite people. He has led them to the entrance of the Promised Land. It is now time to cross over the Jordan River and claim the land that God had given them. Moses begins his pep talk by telling the Israelites to obey the Lord God and follow His commands.
Moses explains to them the curses for disobedience and the blessings for obedience. He renews the covenant made that God had made saying that He would be their God and they would be His people.
He also reminds them of the miraculous things that God had already done for them. Sounds pretty good so far, right? Obey God, receive blessings. Disobey God, receive the curses. Then, Moses tells them a strange thing. He says that the Lord is giving to them an offer of life or death. Strange? Let’s pick up there and look at this offer to choose life or death.
“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess. But if your heart turns away so that you do not hear, and are drawn away, and worship other gods and serve them, I announce to you today that You shall surely perish; you shall not prolong your days in the land which you cross over the Jordan to go and possess. I call heaven and earth, as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the Lord your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days; and that you may dwell in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.”
Choose Eternal Life – Salvation
He tells them to choose life, that you may live.
Choose life. That you may live. What exactly does that mean?
Well, yeah, who wouldn’t want to do that? But, I think there is a little more to it than just breathing.
What does that look like? Choose life???
So, to find my answer, look to the Creator of Life. It says in Genesis 2:7 that “the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”
If God is the Creator of Life, and He is the one telling me to choose life, that I may live, then I think He should be the one that I should ask.
In Job 33:4, it says, “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.”
1 John 5:12 says, “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
If we are to “choose life” we need to understand what it means. We all know that in life we have many choices to make. We have to choose what to wear, what to eat for breakfast, what to do this weekend, how we will act in a given situation. Life is full of choices.
Just as the game “would you rather” that we played earlier made you make some kind of choice. This is also what God calls us to do.
Because he loves man so much, He allows them to make a choice about where they will spend eternity. He allows us to choose to spend eternity with Him in Heaven or He allows us to choose to spend eternity in a place called Hell.
Simple as that. We have a choice. It is this choice that He is referring to in Deuteronomy. He has set before us life and death. In His love, He wants each of us to choose life, that we may live in eternity with Him. This is His desire.
It says in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”
But, again, it is a choice. Do we wish to choose life and live? Or, do we choose to reject God and live a life completely separated from Him for eternity?
A woman rushed into a supermarket to pick up a few items. She was in a hurry, so she headed for the express line, where the assistant was talking on the phone with his back turned to her. “Excuse me,” she said, “I’m in a hurry. Could you check me out, please?” The clerk turned, stared at her for a second, looked her up and down, smiled and said, “Not bad.”
And I guess the point is that most mothers today are always busy, busy serving their families. Whether that be cooking dinner, taking the kids to school, keeping the house clean, or caring for the kids. Moms are always busy keeping their homes and their families running smoothly.
But what about the mother who’s trying to be a godly mother too? How much more of a challenge is that for you?
Now I know some of you might find this hard to believe but when I was a little younger I used to think I was useless and worthless. And I believed that until I read Genesis 2:18 where God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
And then I rather quickly learned that it was a woman(me) who was God’s gift to man.
We are going to look at a special woman in the Bible today, a woman who was a woman of prayer, courage and faithfulness. We are going to look at a woman from the Old Testament and we are going to discover that she has still got a lot to say to you mothers today. Because she too had her fair share of struggles within herself in her lifetime and she too had her fair share of ups and downs with her family.
We are going to look into the life of Hannah.
“There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.” 1 Samuel 1:1-2
So we find the scene is set, a man named Elkanah who was from Ephraim had two wives one named Peninnah and the other named Hannah. Peninnah had children but Hannah didn’t or as we will see in a minute she couldn’t have children. Now this is not your everyday family in terms of Elkanah having two wives. But it is your everyday family when it comes to jealousy within the home for someone’s attention. And its in 1 Samuel 1:3-5 that we find our 1st point.
1. All women need to be shown, just how much they are loved.
“Year after year this man went up from his town to worship and sacrifice to the Lord Almighty at Shiloh, where Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the Lord. Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb.” 1 Samuel 1:3-5
Here is a man who was dedicated to God. This was a man who tried to show his whole family just how important God was in their lives.
“Year after year he would take his family to worship and sacrifice to the Lord at Shiloh.” And that included Hannah. Year after year she too would go on this round trip journey of 40 miles to Shiloh with the rest of her family to worship God.
But for Hannah it would be a trip with mixed emotions. A time of love and a time of irritation. You see when the time of sacrifice came, Elkanah would give Peninnah and her children portions of meat which is in accordance with Deuteronomy 12:17-18. But he also gave a double portion of meat to Hannah for 2 reasons. He loved her and she couldn’t have children. But first and foremost Hannah was loved by her husband. All women need to feel loved, whether that loves comes from their children or their husband or their extended families like cousins and uncles.
When was the last time your husbands or children offered you something out of love? Ephesians 5:25-28.
That means letting the women around you know that you love them. That means loving them even when she’s going through some dramatic problems. You see it isn’t just a case of saying the words; it’s a case of love in action. The text says that ‘Elkanah gave portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters and to Hannah.’
You see a mother needs to know just how much she is loved. Sometimes its not enough just to say the words, “I love you.” Hannah was a woman who wanted to give her husband children but couldn’t. Now some of you can understand what it’s like not to be able to have children. And to most people that may not be a big deal but to a woman in Old Testament times, this was a big issue.
You see it was the children who did most of the labour in those days and it was the children who looked after their parents when their parents became old. Even her husband Elkanah had grounds to divorce Hannah because she couldn’t conceive children. A woman who couldn’t have children was considered a social failure in those days. And those were just some of the things that Hannah had to deal with. Because Hannah was also greatly distressed by the insults of Elkanah’s other wife Peninnah.
And although Elkanah showed her love, she was still hurting inside. And this went on for years before Elkanah realized there was something wrong.
“And because the Lord had closed her womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. Elkanah her husband would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” 1 Samuel 1:6-8
2. God knows what you are going through even when your family doesn’t.
How many of you were picked on at school because you were different? Maybe you wore glasses; maybe you had a speech impediment. You see getting ridiculed does hurt and hearing the same words over and over again can bring you down.
And maybe even now you still hear them ridiculing you years later, even though they are long gone. And those memories still hurt and what happens is that your self-esteem goes away from you and you end up feeling worthless. But Hannah shows us how we should deal with people who ridicule us. Matthew 5:44. Hannah took it to the Lord in prayer.
“Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up. Now Eli the priest was sitting on a chair by the doorpost of the Lord’s temple. In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord.” 1 Samuel 1:9-10
You ever had those nights when you have had enough? And you lie there in your bed crying your heart out on the pillow. And you don’t think anybody sees that but God does. Hannah opened her heart up to the Lord and cried whilst she was praying and God listened to her cries. And the reason He listens to your cries is because God doesn’t think you’re worthless. He loves you and cares for you and He thinks that you are of great worth.
Remember in Genesis 16 when Hagar who was Abram’s maidservant had a child for Saria and Abram? She became pregnant and was thrown out of the household and found herself in the desert. An angel appeared to her and told her to go back to them and she said in Genesis 16:13, “She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”
God saw her and she now knew that God knows her. And when you have those times when you are feeling low in self-confidence, your God sees you and knows you.
God heard Hannah’s cries of despair; God knew what she really wanted. You see she didn’t just want a child; she wanted a son whom she could devote to God.
That’s why she said in 1 Samuel 1:11, “O Lord Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.” Year after year she went to Shiloh, probably asking God to bless her with a child, but its only now does she submit to God and say, “Ok God, if I can’t have a child for my own purposes, please grant me a child for your purposes.”
In other words if God would bless her with a son, she would devote him to the Lord all of his life. But notice that her persecution doesn’t stop when she prays. Even when she’s pouring her heart out to God with what she is going through, her praying is misinterpreted.
Remember in Acts 2 when the Spirit of God came upon the apostles and they spoke in tongues? It says in Acts 2:12-15 “Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!”
God’s people being accused of being drunk is nothing new, Hannah was accused of the same thing.
“As she kept on praying to the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk and said to her, “How long will you keep on getting drunk? Get rid of your wine.” 1 Samuel 1:12-14
You ever had times like that in your life? When you are really upset about something that is happening in your life and your praying to God quietly and people wonder what is wrong with you?
Hannah said to Eli in 1 Samuel 1:15-16, “Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”
And that brings me to my next point.
3. A problem shared is more than a problem halved.
Hannah made progress in her life. Hannah a woman, who was greatly distressed to the point where she constantly felt physically sick and wouldn’t eat, left after her worship to God feeling stronger. She went to Shiloh to worship her God knowing her God but she left Shiloh knowing that her God knows her too.
“Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” She said, “May your servant find favour in your eyes.” Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.” 1 Samuel 1:17-18
Her whole outlook on her life changed because she took the time to earnestly speak to her God. She also received words of encouragement from Eli the high priest but most importantly she left her worries with God. 1 Peter 5:7.
The problem is that we give God all our problems when we talk to Him in prayer but as soon as we’ve finished praying to Him, we take them all back again. Hannah didn’t do that, she was no longer feeling unhappy with life and her problems and she was eating again. She still couldn’t have children; she was probably still being ridiculed by Peninnah.
So what’s changed?
Her God has changed. Not that God changes but her view of God has changed. He’s no longer this person whom she just talks to from time to time. He’s this God who can be approached with an honest heart, He’s the God who sees, the God who cares, the God who understands.
“Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the Lord and then went back to their home at Ramah.” 1 Samuel 1:19
I guarantee you that the way she worshiped the Lord on that day was different from all the other years of worship for Hannah. Hannah shared her problems with God and Eli but her problems weren’t halved, they were given to God.
Give God all your worries and leave them with Him. Allow God’s people to give you words of encouragement when you are feeling a bit down. Leave here today knowing that your God understands what you have been through, what you’re going through and what you’re going to go through.
4. Let God take care of you today and trust Him for a miracle tomorrow.
You see, if we truly believe that God is going to answer our prayers, we need to continue to walk like He’s going to answer that prayer. It’s no good asking God to send you someone to share the gospel with, if you never go out of your home.
It’s no good asking God to give you confidence to face the day when all you do is stay in bed. You need to do these things so that God can provide the answers to your prayers. And Hannah was no exception.
Because in 1 Samuel 1 and the 2nd part of verse 19 says, “Elkanah lay with Hannah his wife, and the Lord remembered her.”
She had to make love with Elkanah for her to become pregnant. And maybe this time when she made love with him. And when the Bible says that God remembered her, it’s not a case of God saying, “Oh I totally forgot about Hannah, I better do something.” It’s a case of when the time was right, He would answer her prayer.
“So in the course of time Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, “Because I asked the Lord for him.” 1 Samuel 1:20
She left the problem in God’s hands and went about her daily business and when the time was right God answered her prayer. And because she knew that God hadn’t forgotten her, she didn’t forget her vow to God either. Samuel was born and when he was old enough, 1 Samuel 1:21-27 tells us that she handed him over to the Lord to work for Him.
Can you imagine that for one moment?
Going through all sorts of ridicule all of your life because you couldn’t have kids, then handing him over to someone else? Samuel was probably around 3 years old when Hannah left him at the tabernacle. Imagine, 3 years of bonding with your child and then giving him up! You see Hannah understood that Samuel’s life was a gift from God, so she wasn’t really giving him up; she was simply returning him to God.
Now when we give something up that is precious to us, it’s a struggle sometimes to let it go. All to often, especially moms find it hard when their kids grow up and leave the home. I know of a lot of moms who dreaded that day and who are still dreading that day.
Now we know that children do grow up and leave the home and get married and sometimes that hurts but we also know that we still see them regularly. Especially if they need money or some advice for a problem they are having. But Hannah was no exception, every year she would go back to Shiloh and see her son.
You see for Hannah handing Samuel over to do the lord’s work was a sad time for her but God knew that, so He blessed her with even more children.
“And the Lord was gracious to Hannah; she conceived and gave birth to three sons and two daughters. Meanwhile, the boy Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord.” 2 Samuel 2:21
But when she handed Samuel over to the Lord, it was also a time of rejoicing.
You’ve got a heavenly father who loves you with the entire universe. He loves us all so much, He was willing to come to earth and die for us all. And if you’re not a Christian today then you can be sure that He died for you too.
And maybe you’ll leave here rejoicing in the Lord as Hannah did when submitted to His will being done, and not hers. Let’s read Hannah’s song of prayer as we finish.
“Then Hannah prayed and said: “My heart rejoices in the Lord; in the Lord my horn is lifted high. My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in your deliverance. “There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. “Do not keep talking so proudly or let your mouth speak such arrogance, for the Lord is a God who knows, and by him deeds are weighed. “The bows of the warriors are broken, but those who stumbled are armed with strength. Those who were full hire themselves out for food, but those who were hungry hunger no more. She who was barren has borne seven children, but she who has had many sons pines away. “The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up. The Lord sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honour. “For the foundations of the earth are the Lord’s; upon them he has set the world. He will guard the feet of his saints, but the wicked will be silenced in darkness. “It is not by strength that one prevails; those who oppose the Lord will be shattered. He will thunder against them from heaven; the Lord will judge the ends of the earth. “He will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed.” 1 Samuel 2:1-10
‘What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ Romans 8:31-39
‘Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.’ James 1:12.
The word blessed in this verse is used in the same sense as in Psalm 1 and it expresses the happy condition of the one who endures trials through trust in the Lord. The ability to persevere under trial comes from an unwavering resolution to follow the Savior whatever life throws at us.
This helps us understand the part of Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians. This is not different from when he asked the questions in Romans 8:35, ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?’
Simply put, will trials through these various dimensions take us away from the Lord and His love? If we count it all joy James 2:1, nothing shall separate us from Christ’s love.
Paul also provided an answer to these questions in later verses when he says: ‘No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ Romans 8:37-39.
Basically, because of our steadfastness and perseverance, we can be Joyful in Christ in spite of trials and we will stand firmly on the promises of Christ whatever life’s circumstances bring.
‘Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.’ James 1:12
‘The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full. ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. ‘I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.’ John 10:10-15
The lyrics of the hymn written by T.C. O’Kane entitled ‘There stands a rock’ emphasizes that the hope of the Christian is on the rock that shall stand forever though some people build their hopes on the ever-drifting sand while some build theirs on their fame or their treasure or their land. Indeed, most people often think that these transient items give joy but the wisdom from above instructs us otherwise.
A number of Christians often put up sad countenances thinking that a true Christian life is one devoid of joy. There is certainly a world of difference between being self-controlled and being sad.
A self-controlled life is one which is based on sound principles of love, justice, mercy and faithfulness in obedience to the will of the Master. It is one which puts God first and seeks as a priority, His Kingdom and righteousness. From this viewpoint, Christians ought to be the happiest people on earth.
A sad life is one without Christ. Jesus came to give us abundant life. An abundant life in Christ is certainly not a sad one. In the beatitudes, our Lord pronounced blessedness (or happiness) on us when we do His glorious will.
The beatitudes say in Matthew 5:12a ‘Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven ……’ There is no better reason to be joyful in this world than the truth that we have a great reward in heaven which has been made possible by Christ’s redemptive work. Praise God!
‘Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them. He said: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. ‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.’ Matthew 5:1-12
‘So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things, there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.’ Galatians 5:16-24
A joyful life in Christ is one that is characterized by walking by the Spirit. It is disciplined enough not to gratify the desires of the flesh. It is a life where the fruit of the Spirit is made visible.
In His letter to the Galatians, Paul listed the essential parts of the fruit of the Spirit. Oftentimes, I hear Christians mis-read this part of Paul’s letter to the Galatians as the fruits (plural) of the Spirit, but it clearly says the fruit (singular) of the Spirit.
The singular sense of the word ‘fruit’ suggests that the fruit of the Spirit is just one but it consists of all the listed virtues which are ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control’, Galatians 5:22-23.
It is a complete package of virtues that should be evident in our lives as God’s children. This again implies that the life of a Christian is such that should constantly radiate the joy of the Lord as much as it does not preclude self-control from being an essential aspect. Christ told His disciples to be joyful because their names are written in heaven. This is the right reason to be joyful as people of God.
Nehemiah told the people of God that the joy of the Lord is their strength, Nehemiah 8:10. If this is true, why should God’s people not be joyful?
To the Romans, Paul says ‘there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’, Romans 8:1. If there is no condemnation, then this calls for constant joy.
‘The prospect of the righteous is joy, but the hopes of the wicked come to nothing.’ Proverbs 10:28
‘The seventy-two returned with joy and said, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.’ He replied, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’ Luke 10:17-20
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
James 1:2–4 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Trials of life come in various forms, shapes and sizes and it is extremely difficult to be joyful when faced with various trials, but the outcome makes it inevitably important and hence, we should count it all joy because by the help the Spirit provides, we shall be victorious.
Steadfastness is inevitable to a viable Christian life. Paul encourages the Christians in Corinth to be steadfast (or immovable). This suggests the idea of consistency in faith and in our resolve.
A rock-solid faith is one that demonstrates steadfastness in upholding the truth in word and in deed. However, steadfastness does not come by accident!
Most times, it is produced through the ability to endure trials. James persuades us to allow steadfastness to have its full effect as this brings completeness. Paul admonished the Christians at Philippi to ‘rejoice in the Lord always’.
This is critically important that it necessitates emphasis. He goes ahead to repeat it: ‘I will say it again, rejoice!’ The word ‘always’ implies that our rejoicing should be all the time. This includes times of trial because we know that the Lord will never forsake us and He will see us through just as He saw Job through.
‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business. Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.’
Every Christian will face hard times and trials, this is inevitable. However, how we face those trails and what we learn from them help us grow and builds our faith. Life is like a bed of roses, in the beauty of it all there are thorns. Don’t allow those thorns to scar you for life. Heal them through Jesus and come back stronger.
v23 People whipped Paul and Silas very hard. Afterwards, they threw Paul and Silas into prison. They ordered the officer of the prison to guard Paul and Silas carefully. v24 When he received this order, the officer put Paul and Silas into the inner room. He put chains on their feet. And he tied their feet to heavy pieces of wood. v25 At about midnight, Paul and Silas were praying. And they were singing to praise God. The other prisoners were listening to them. v26 Then a powerful earthquake shook the strong base of the prison. Immediately, all the doors opened and the chains fell off the prisoners. v27 The prison officer woke up. He saw that the doors were open. So, he thought that the prisoners had escaped. He took out his sword to kill himself. v28 But Paul shouted, ‘Do not hurt yourself! We are all here!’
v29 The officer of the prison asked someone to fetch a light. The officer rushed into the prison and he kneeled at Paul and Silas’s feet. His whole body was shaking. v30 He led them out. Then he asked, ‘Sirs, what must I do to receive salvation?’ v31 They answered, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus and trust in him. Then you will receive salvation. This is true for your family. And it is true for everyone who lives with you.’ v32 Then Paul and Silas preached the Lord’s message to the officer of the prison. And they preached it to everyone in his house. v33 It was still night. The officer took Paul and Silas to another place. He washed their cuts and bruises. At once, he received baptism and so did everyone in his house. v34 The officer of the prison brought Paul and Silas into his home. He gave a meal to them. He and his family were very happy because they believed in God now.
Verses 23-24 Luke now describes how a third person from Philippi became a Christian. This man was neither rich nor poor. He was from the middle class. He did his job well as an officer of the prison. He did not want Paul and Silas to escape. He wanted to prevent their escape. So, he did everything that he could do for that purpose. He did not seem to be a kind man. But then he changed. He changed because he believed in Jesus as his Savior and Lord. Paul and Silas felt much pain because people had whipped them. But the officer tied their feet to heavy pieces of wood. This would cause even more pain.
Verse 25 Paul and Silas were very tired and they felt terrible pain. In their situation, most people would be angry and miserable. But Paul and Silas prayed and they praised God. They were very happy. This was not because of their circumstances. But it was because they knew Jesus. People who know Jesus are very happy. They are happy even when bad things happen to them.
The other prisoners listened. They were surprised when Paul and Silas praised God aloud. The other prisoners knew that these men were different. God was the reason that Paul and Silas were happy.
We must always praise God in difficult circumstances. In that way, we show something to people. We show to them that we are happy. We know that God is looking after us. That is why we are happy.
Verse 26 Earthquakes were common in Philippi. But this earthquake happened at exactly the right time. It was certainly very powerful. It shook the prison so that the doors opened. And the prisoners’ chains fell off.
Verse 27 The officer of the prison thought that the prisoners had escaped. So, he tried to kill himself. He wanted to die quickly. By Roman law, if any prisoner escaped, that prisoner would receive punishment. And the officer of the prison would receive that same punishment, even if the escape was not his fault. (Look at Acts 12:19; 27:42.)
Verses 28-30 But Paul saw the officer. Paul told him that all the prisoners were still there! The officer checked that this was true. Immediately he asked Paul and Silas how to receive salvation. Perhaps he had heard the slave girl when she was shouting about it (Acts 16:17). Perhaps he had heard Paul and Silas preach in Philippi. Or perhaps he had heard them in the prison when they were praising God. The earthquake proved to him that their message was true. He was afraid. The Holy Spirit had shown to him that he needed salvation. So, he asked Paul and Silas about this.
Verses 31-32 Paul and Silas told the officer what to do. He needed to have faith in Jesus. Then they explained what this meant. They told the good news about Jesus to him. And they told it to everyone in his house.
Verses 33-34 Everyone there believed the Lord’s message. They believed that Jesus was their Saviour and Lord. The officer of the prison showed kindness. He washed Paul and Silas’s injuries. Afterward, they baptized him and they baptized the people in his house. He continued to be kind. He invited them into his house and he gave food to them. Luke says that the officer and his family were ‘very happy’ (verse 34). So, it seems that they also received the Holy Spirit.