13 “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13–14, NKJV).
We look for ways to make our lives easier, more convenient. Innovations in industry, transportation, technology, and communication produce greater efficiency for countless lives. However, striving for convenience can also have unintended consequences. It can lead to neglect and unrealistic expectations. A harmful entitlement mentality may develop, expecting and demanding comfort and convenience. Jesus uses the simple desire for things to be easy to teach a crucial spiritual truth. The broad path is easy, convenient, and desirable but leads to ruin and loss. Sin is easy, and its outcome is eternal death (Rom. 6:23). Many people walk this spiritual path. All of us have entered the wide gate at some point, for we have all sinned (Rom. 3:23). But we can choose a different path. The narrow gate opens to a path that is “difficult” (confined, like the walls of a narrow canyon) yet leads to life. Turning from sin, seeking, finding, and following Jesus is possible for all, but few choose this path (Matt. 11:28-30; Luke 13:23-24). Following Christ demands self-denial (Luke 9:23). The road to heaven is not lined with the pleasures of sin (1 John 2:15-17). Trials will come when we choose to follow Jesus. Convenience is not the motto of Christians. Faith is refined by trials, strengthening us as we live for heaven (1 Pet. 1:6-9).
22 “And now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For there stood by me this night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve, 24 saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ 25 Therefore take heart, men, for I believe God that it will be just as it was told me. 26 However, we must run aground on a certain island (Acts 27:22–26, NKJV).”
A terrible storm had wreaked havoc on the grain ship and its 276 souls for almost two weeks. They were lost at sea. All seemed hopeless, but God’s revelation to Paul and his faith in the Lord formed the basis of his confidence amid chaos. Paul, the prisoner, became Paul the encourager. Twice he urged those on board to take heart, to “be of good cheer, of good courage” (Thayer, 258). We can take several points from this event to help us be encouraged and also encourage others. (1) Paul trusted God’s word (v. 25). We must trust God’s revelation as we face life’s storms. God’s word prevails. (2) Paul was confident in the purposes of God (v. 24). The Lord’s angel told him he “must be brought before Caesar.” When we rely on God’s purposes, we can take courage to face every trial (1 Pet. 1:5-7). (3) Paul was also a realist (v. 22, 26). He was honest about the trouble ahead. Encouragement does not sugar-coat the situation. It is compassionate yet straightforward with its analysis and recommendations. Whatever storm you face, take heart in the Lord, His purposes, and His truth. He will not fail or forsake you (Heb. 13:5). Then, encourage others.
5 …and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 6 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, 7 casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. 8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:5–8, NKJV).
God is ready, willing, and able for us to cast our cares on Him. But how do we do that? When facing trials and trouble, we often hear it said, “Just give it to the Lord.” But, how? Today’s verse gives needed instruction on how to cast all our care upon Him to avoid being distracted and overwhelmed by life’s circumstances that test our faith. (1) It takes humility (1 Pet. 5:5-6). Pride prevents turning to God and obstructs grace from His throne of mercy (Luke 18:9-14). (2) It takes trust that God cares for you (1 Pet. 2:7). Faith in God’s mighty hand and attentive care compels us to prayerfully throw our anxious distractions at His feet (Matt. 6:24-25). (3) It takes self-control (1 Pet. 5:8). Anxious care is the devil’s tool to distract and devour us. Sober thinking is needed to make righteous choices when faced with difficult times of temptation (1 Thess. 5:6-10). (4) It takes vigilance (1 Pet. 5:8). Apathy prevents seeking God’s care and grace and prepares us to be an entrée for the devil’s dinner. Casting our care on God takes being watchful to do God’s will and avoid sin (Eph. 5:15-16). We cast our care on God by humbly trusting God (walking by faith), being diligent to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” and boldly approaching His throne of grace for “help in time of need” (2 Cor. 5:7; Matt. 6:33-34; Heb. 4:16).
1 Lord, how they have increased who trouble me! Many are they who rise up against me. 2 Many are they who say of me, “There is no help for him in God.” Selah 3 But You, O Lord, are a shield for me, My glory and the One who lifts up my head. 4 I cried to the Lord with my voice, And He heard me from His holy hill. Selah (Psalm 3:1–4, NKJV).
David’s son was attempting a coup. Absalom’s attempt to seize the throne caused David and his cohorts to flee Jerusalem to escape imminent harm (2 Sam. 15-16). David turned to the Lord when an adversary from his own house arose against him, and the Lord saved him from this moment of treason (2 Sam. 17-18). Still, many adversaries hinder and harm the righteous (1 Pet. 5:8; 2 Tim. 4:14-16). Christians wrestle against “principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). Like David, these opponents of the truth and godliness may come from within our family (Matt. 10:35-36). Take strength in the Lord. He is your shield, a strong defense against evil. Trust the Lord’s way and walk in it; He is your glory, not yourself (v. 3). David knew the Lord heard his supplications for relief; God was still reigning from His holy hill of Zion (v. 4). The Lord would overthrow the usurper (Absalom). May we be like David and continue to trust in the glory, power, and purposes of God when trouble arises for following Him (1 Pet. 3:13-17). Victory over every trial and danger is in Christ Jesus our Lord (1 Pet. 3:18). He will not fail you (Heb. 13:5-6). Continue to be faithful and do not fail Him.
3 Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You. In God (I will praise His word), 4 In God I have put my trust; I will not fear. What can flesh do to me? (Psalm 56:3–4, NKJV)?
Are you afraid of someone or something today? Over the past year, the Covid-19 virus has injected anxiety, doubts, and fear into many hearts and lives worldwide. Daily crime reports lead many to be afraid of their neighbors. The list goes on. David’s life was under constant threat from enemies when he penned Psalm 56. King Saul saw David as a threat and was looking for opportunities to kill him. The Philistines were a constant menace (Ps. 56:1-2; 1 Sam. 21-24). But David trusted God, so he resolved not to be afraid (v. 3). You and I can follow his example. God had given David His word that he would be king of Israel (1 Sam. 16:12-13). So, David praised God’s word. Faith in God removes fear, while doubt stirs it up. Come what may, David was confident his enemies would not prevail against the will and word of God. May we follow David’s model of trust and confidence in the Lord when faced with the fears and doubt of trials and troubles (Heb. 13:5-6). Do not be afraid. Put your trust in the Lord God.
5 And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; 6 For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.” (Hebrews 12:5–6, NKJV)
Jesus faced “hostilities from sinners,” and so do Christians (Heb. 12:3). Instead of becoming “weary and discouraged” when this happens, we should remember God’s exhortation to us, His children. God uses times of trial to discipline us (educate through instruction and correction), train our faith, and bring us to spiritual maturity (Heb. 12:11; Jas. 1:2-4). If you find yourself asking why you are facing trials, God’s explanations in Hebrews 12:5-11 will help sustain you. 1) God loves you (Heb. 12:5-6). Just as discipline shows love for a child, even so, trials are undergirded by God’s love for us (Prov. 13:24). Do not despise the discipline trials afford. 2) Develop endurance (Heb. 12:7-8). The presence of God’s parental love teaches us to endure the temporary pain of trials (2 Cor. 4:16-17). By accepting God’s discipline, our faith grows because we are “looking unto Jesus” for strength (Heb. 12:1-2; 2 Cor. 12:9). 3) Our faith needs this training (Heb. 12:9-10). Children need instruction and correction, and so do Christians (Eph. 6:4). We submit ourselves to the training trials bring so we may partake of God’s holiness. 4) The intended result (Heb. 12:11). Trials hurt and are not joyful. Still, the pain generates peaceable fruit in the lives of faithful saints. Trials help train our faith to rely on the Lord. Let’s do that when hardships arise. God loves us, and He will use our trials to strengthen our faith, not discourage our souls. Keep running the race set before you (Heb. 12:1-2).
1 But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! (2 Timothy 3:1–5, NKJV)
Perilous times. Times of trouble that are difficult, dangerous, harsh, and hard to bear. Such were the days that lay ahead for the early saints. “Last days” means “days after this” without necessarily implying the imminent personal return of Jesus (1 Tim. 4:1-3; Heb. 1:2; 1 Pet. 1:20). We live in the same days. Peter wrote extensively of the difficulties through which we must pass on our way to eternal joy (1 Pet. 1:6-9; 2:18-25; 3:13-17; 4:12-19, esp. 4:18). Today’s passage reads like the current events of 2021. We must turn away from those who revel in darkness. Do not be drawn into the ungodliness of this age. Let us “lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1). “Do not be overcome by evil” when it surrounds you, “but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). And again, “Repay no one evil for evil,” instead, “if it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Rom. 12:17-18).
“Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” (James 1:12, NKJV)
Endurance is essential to resisting the temptations of sin. Our adversary, the devil, continually probes for openings and opportunities to entice us not to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; to sin against God (Mk. 12:30). Endurance is spiritual, mental, and emotional fortitude that perseveres through the moment of trial. James reminds us of some reasons why we endure temptations. 1) Because endurance brings God’s approval. The trials of life test our faith, and the devil seeks to exploit them. When we endure them, our faith grows stronger and has God’s approval (Jas. 1:3-4). 2) Because God has promised us a reward. The crown of life is promised to those who finish the course and keep the faith, not those who shrink back (2 Tim. 4:8; Heb. 10:36-39). God will keep His word to us; We must keep our word to Him. 3) Because we love God. God has promised eternal life “to those who love Him.” We express our love for God over a love of this world when we endure temptation and do God’s will (1 Jno. 2:15-17). Endurance means committing ourselves to love God with more than words, but also with our deeds (Jno. 14:15; 1 Jno. 3:16-19). Enduring temptations is not easy but possible. God gives us a means of escape, that we “may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13, ESV).
22 And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me. 24 But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:22–24, NKJV)
What drives you to withstand trials, adversities, and obstacles of resistance to achieve your goal? Too often, we are driven from our spiritual goal to seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness by fear, by doubt, by uncertainty, and many other hindrances. Paul’s example helps us stay the course (cf. Heb. 12:1-2). 1) He was “bound in the spirit” (to go to Jerusalem, v. 22). His mind was set on things above (Col. 3:1-3). His obligation to Christ was fixed deep within his soul. 2) He was undeterred by personal hardship (v. 23-24). Fear of persecution did not pull him off course. He cared more about serving the will of God than his own life. 3) His goal was to finish his race with joy (v. 24). Paul would not just finish his race; he would do so with joy (2 Tim. 4:6-8). 4) The ministry the Lord gave him was more important than his life (v. 24). Paul’s priority to faithfully preach the gospel is evident from a review of what he endured for Jesus (2 Cor. 11:23-33; 4:7-11). Our faith will be tested. Will we be moved when our adversary puts the allurements of sin before us? Will we be moved when enemies of the truth put trials and persecutions in our path? Will fear of death move us away from finishing our race with joy (Matt. 10:28)? Or will we say with Paul, “None of these things move me?”
3 We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other, 4 so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, (2 Thessalonians 1:3–4, NKJV)
Twice in his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul declared an obligation (along with Silas and Timothy) to always thank God for them (see also, 2 Thess. 2:13). The word “bound” means “to be under obligation” and speaks of duty, in this case, to thank God for them. Paul thankfulness was not flattery; it was “fitting” (deserved) recognition. Their growing faith and abounding love compelled Paul to thank God for them. At the same time, he commended them to other congregations as an example of patient, enduring faith as they confronted persecutions and distresses. Being thankful for one another is a precious blessing that binds Christians’ hearts together in common faith, shared love, and devoted endurance through trials and trouble (Col. 2:1-2). We are obliged to thank God for faithful brethren. And, like Paul, we can encourage them by letting them know their examples are strengthening us and others to remain faithful to the Lord.