With his wife’s full knowledge, he kept back part of the money for himself but brought the rest and put it at the apostle’s feet.
“Ananias and Sapphira.” The names are mentioned together, like “Bonnie and Clyde.” We remember both couples for their crimes and the manner of their deaths.
We don’t know why God struck Ananias and Sapphira dead for lying about how much money they received for the property they sold. What is clear is that both husband and wife were held accountable. Sapphira knew the details of the transaction, but she stayed home while Ananias presented their offering. Three hours later, she arrived at the assembly. Perhaps she expected a grateful welcome. Instead, she saw no sign of her husband. Before she could wonder why Peter asked her a question: “Is this the amount of money you received?”
Carefully coached, she confidently said, “Yes.” She died in the same manner as her husband.
Sapphira could have made several choices. She could have objected when Ananias sold the land. She could have asked him to give all the money to the church, instead of holding some back. Most importantly, she could have refused to lie about it. When Peter asked her directly, she could have told the truth. Instead, she committed the same sins as her husband. When we stand before Christ we will not be able to say, “I was just following orders.” The choice to stand in truth will always be our own.
For this reason, although I have great boldness in Christ to command you to do what is right, I appeal to you, instead, on the basis of love.
Apphia (Philemon 1:2) was probably Philemon’s wife and therefore had a part in Onesimus’s situation. Onesimus was a runaway slave who had robbed his master Philemon and escaped to Rome. While there, he met Paul, and Onesimus became his spiritual son. Paul sent the runaway slave back to Apphia’s household with a letter appealing to Apphia and Philemon to respond to Onesimus in Christian love. How the newly converted slave would be treated depended upon how Apphia, as well as her husband, Philemon, reacted to the apostle Paul’s request for leniency.
No doubt, emotions ran high in Philemon’s household. He and his wife may have reacted with shock when Paul asked them to take back the escaped slave as a brother in Christ. After all, legally, they had complete authority over their slave and could even have had him put to death.
Though the couple could have made life very difficult for the runaway, Paul called them to compassion, even hinting that they might free Onesimus and send him back to continue the ministry he had begun with Paul (Philemon 1:12-16).
Like Apphia, we face times when our emotions may edge us toward revenge. Will we try to exact as much as possible, or listen to the apostle’s voice? Seeking retribution leaves us with empty hearts and spirits. But forgiveness can fill our souls and the lives of those around us.
A Roland for an Oliver means a tit for tat, a blow for a blow. Paul steps forward and asks Apphia and Philemon that if Onesimus had wronged them in any way, or owed them anything, to charge the debt to his account (1:18). Sounds a lot like Jesus. How we react to our own Onesimus’ will also display Jesus in our lives. When someone has wronged you, will you respond with a Roland for an Oliver (retaliation), or will you respond with a hand of mercy that has fully embraced the pure joy of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ of Nazareth? The choice is ours.
As Paul closes his letter, he says, May I have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ (1:20). When we choose love over retaliation, not only do we offer the refreshment of Christ to the one needing it, we also refresh anyone else with eyes to see and ears to hear.
But My righteous one will live by faith, and if he shrinks back, I have no pleasure in him.
Jesus says fear comes from little faith (Matthew 8:26). When we struggle with fear, and it causes us to be anxious or timid, the Bible says to look away from ourselves. We grab hold tightly to the beautiful truth: He Himself bore our sicknesses, and He carried our pains (Isaiah 53:4), and we see the emphasis is on He HIMSELF. The remedy to fear is not found in ourselves but in Jesus Christ. Our fear gets crushed when we turn our eyes to Jesus, “He Himself” because he is our remedy.
Below are four examples of women who did not shrink back when fear tempted them. Don’t think for a minute it was because the invitation to make a difference did not require bold courage. It did. These women were human just like you and I. Just because the text does not indicate their sweaty palms, their butterfly stomachs, and sleepless nights does not mean it did not exist for them. It just signifies they overlooked their body’s response to uncertainty and focused their eyes on something more significant.
During these days of uncertainty, we must choose courage. We need the courage to do what is hard. Courage to not fear. Courage to not retaliate. Courage to give a blessing when someone close to us is behaving like an enemy, and most importantly, the courage to stand when we feel like retreating. Choose bold courage today. Love when it’s risky. Be merciful. Be thankful. Forgive. Have peace. And most importantly, trust God.
She summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “Hasn’t the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you: ‘Go, deploy the troops on Mount Tabor, and take with you 10,000 men from the Naphtalites and Zebulunites? Then I will lure Sisera commander of Jabin’s forces, his chariots, and his army at the Wadi Kishon to fight against you, and I will hand him over to you.
Barak was hesitant to obey the LORD, but Deborah boldly reminded him of God’s promise to go before them, and the blessings that come with obedience. She encouraged him by saying, “Hasn’t the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you…to go?” She trusted God so much that she even planned to take part in his plan. Encourage someone to be brave. Remind them of God’s promises. We need courageous Christians to step forward. Be prepared to stand with God, come what may, and encourage someone who needs reminding.
Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: “Go and assemble all the Jews who can be found in Susa and fast for me. Don’t eat or drink for three days, day or night. I and my female servants will also fast in the same way. After that, I will go to the king even if it is against the law. If I perish, I perish.”
Esther is an inspiring and remarkable woman willing to risk her life to save others. She is an outstanding example of a woman ready to be courageous, even under the most stressful circumstances. Jesus Christ said, “Greater love has no one than this than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Most of the time, our lives may be pretty routine, but when defining moments present themselves, be prepared to put godly principles above personal benefit. She teaches us that we must break fear’s intimidation and use our influence to bring glory to God. Be a difference-maker.
Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed her with their tambourines and danced.
Moses’ sister Miriam displayed remarkable intelligence and confidence. She helped save his life by hiding him among the reeds at the edge of the river when authorities wanted to kill him. Later, Miriam, with her brothers Moses and Aaron, led the Hebrew people through the forty years when they searched for the Promised Land that God had promised. I like how Miriam led the women to worship the God who saves. She encouraged the women not to keep silent when God demonstrated his awe-inspiring works. Who can you invite to give God glory? It is always perfect to start with ourselves. Miraim did by picking up the tambourine.
“I am the Lord’s slave,” said Mary. “May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel left her.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, is one of the most admired figures in Scripture. It is her courage that is applauded because she was willing to trust God’s call even when that meant a disruption in the life she planned. Mary experienced considerable joy in her submissiveness but also significant suffering. Despite these things, she responded to God with great obedience and submission to His way. Her life did not rob Jesus of His glory, for her mission was to witness the glory of the Son of God. She humbly surrendered her life and reputation to the purposes of God. Her submission shows us that when we consecrate our life to the Lord, He can do amazing things. We too can lead courageous lives so that we, as well as others, are a witness to His glory.
By faith even Sarah herself, when she was unable to have children, received power to conceive offspring, even though she was past the age, since she considered that the One who had promised was faithful.
Sarah often gets blamed for lack of faith when she urged Hagar upon Abraham. But a closer reading reveals a startling fact: God did not promise Abraham a son through Sarah until more than a decade after Ishmael had been born. Perhaps she thought bearing a son through her maidservant was God’s plan all along.
Her faith is what is held up as an example in the Hall of Faith found in the book of Hebrews. Trying circumstances work out our faith — breaking down fragile hope and rebuilding robust hope in the strength of Christ. They expose faith in our own strength and wisdom, and they exercise our faith so that we will increasingly put our hope and confidence in Christ and his promises instead.
With twenty-twenty hindsight, we see her mistake. But apparently, this was an accepted practice in that era. After all, four of the twelve tribes – Gad, Asher, Dan, and Naphtali – were born to maidservants.
When God’s plan didn’t match Sarah’s expectations, she added her own spin. Did she pray about it? We are not told. If she had prayed…if she had waited…if Abraham had said no…if, if, if. What we do know is that once God promised Sarah, she would be a mother, she believed.
Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.”
Many of us have at least one “if only” in our lives. Like Sarah, our mistakes don’t end our usefulness to God. If we stumble, let us acknowledge our error and move forward with confidence because the One who promises is faithful.
After Jesus rose from the dead early on Sunday morning, the first person who saw him was Mary Magdalene, the woman from whom he had cast out seven demons.
Mary had seven demons cast out of her (Luke 8:1–3), was present at Jesus’s crucifixion (John 19:25), saw where Jesus was buried (Mark 15:47), and saw the resurrected Jesus (Matthew 28:1–10). Mary was living proof of Jesus’ power to change lives. Through her deliverance, people could see God fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy that He would “let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people” (Isaiah 58:6).
Jesus had removed Mary’s spiritual chains, and she responded with love, devotion, and service. Even in her grief and dashed hope, following Jesus’s death, she was up before sunrise on the Sunday after Jesus’ death and on her way to His tomb. What is so astonishing about Mary Magdalene is that she was the first person Jesus appeared to after being raised from the dead (John 20:11-18). Jesus did not first show himself to his mother, nor to Peter, James, or John, but to Mary.
Jesus met Mary in her overwhelming grief and let her be the first person to glimpse the resurrection proof of His victory over death so that she could share the message of victory and joy!
Mary Magdalene is a telling woman. She told herself that in Christ, she was a new creation. Her old self had passed away, and the new had come. She told herself that in Him, her past sin, or abuses and injustices she had suffered, and the ways she viewed herself and the way others saw her because of it, was not who she was. She told herself that in Him, she was God’s child (Ephesians 1:5). She told herself that He washed her and made her holy (1 Corinthians 6:11). She told herself that no one had the authority to say otherwise (Acts 10:15). She was His beloved (Romans 9:25). She was no longer represented as her sin (Psalm 51:7). Because Mary told herself these things, doubt and fear were merely distant reminders. What clung to her now was the beautiful joy of her foremost treasure. Nothing would stop her from spreading the victorious message to the others because lies no longer had the power to haunt her.
Jesus gave the resurrection proof to this telling woman. Tell yourself the things Mary told herself and proclaim the life-changing Message you know. Undoubtedly, Mary knew she had been given the new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3) and was thrilled to be the first herald of this wonderful news. Don’t allow any grief and dashed hope to halt the beautiful feet of the herald, who proclaims peace and brings news of good things (Isaiah 52:7).
Elisha replied to her, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?” “Your servant has nothing there at all,” she said, “except a small jar of olive oil.”
2 Kings 4:2
What did she have? The widow had a problem. Since her husband had passed away, she had no way to pay the debt that had amassed, and her children were going to be taken from her as payment. She appealed to Elisha to prevent this from happening. His solution for her was to gather as many jars as she could, take what oil she had, and start pouring it into the jars.
The widow did as she was instructed and was amazed to discover that jar after jar filled with oil. When there were no more jars left, Elisha instructed her to sell the oil and pay off her debt. Whatever remained would be enough to support her and her sons.
We too, like the widow, have real problems. For the widow, her courage, humility, and willingness to ask for help was bigger than her predicament. How she handled her difficulty says a lot about her:
She demonstrated her courage when she sought Elisha.
She demonstrated humility instead of bowing to pride.
She admitted to having a problem she needed help with and was willing to work to solve her problem.
She demonstrated her faith by following Elisha’s directions instead of questioning him.
What do you have? Do you have a problem, or do you have courage, humbleness, and bold faith? Like the widow, courageous faith should be the attitude we pray for when faced with difficulties. The widow’s problems did not go away because she had courage, humility and faith, but those things gave her what she needed to work through her problems. This approach worked for the widow, and it will work for us.
Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the LORD, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are the God who sees me.”
Invisible to the elite, Hagar was abused, and considered of little value. Who would even notice her absence if she left? Who would miss her if she was gone?
But God watched over Hagar. He knew what was happening in her life and noted the details of her circumstances. He came to help, guide, and provide for her and show this struggling woman that she, too, was a child of God, valued, accepted, and loved. In His provision, however, it required she return to her mistress and submit to her mistreatment (Genesis 16:9). In our life, we will often discover that God has provided for us, but yet he has not removed our difficult circumstances. During these times, it does not mean He doesn’t care; it means He has a plan we are currently unable to see.
At times in our own lives, we may feel we don’t matter. We can’t see that our lives are making any difference. Maybe our actions go unnoticed; our attempts to reach out are unseen. We feel alone and of little worth.
Just as God watched over Hagar, He guards us, too. Because He calls us his children, we know we are His loved ones whom He valued enough to redeem with the high price of His Son’s life. Not only has He saved us, but He has rescued us from invisibility. God sees you no matter who else you think does not. Embrace the One who creates your worth, defends your soul, and loves you without end. I encourage you today to consider, like Hagar did, an intimate name for God that describes how he has prospered your soul. Is He the lover of your soul? A Light shining in dark places? The irresistible Spring in a hot desert land? Or is He your heart’s desire? The One you long for? For me, He revealed himself as the taste of my most favorite food, the smell of my favorite flower, and the pure love of a child.
Behold his supreme worth. He loves you. You are so visible to Him that He sees the details of your life. Thank You, God, for teaching us what love is.
Haman had significant worldly advantages going for him: money, position, and the king’s ear. When he could not get what he wanted, namely Mordecai bowing down before him, his frustration turned to bitter resentment, and the resulting hatred drove him crazy. Haman needed advice, so he shared his infuriating situation with his wife and friends. They fed his out-of-control pride and advised him to have Mordecai hung on a 75-foot gallows.
His wife and friends had the perfect opportunity to offer Haman sound advice. Did Zeresh think twice before suggesting Haman should hang Mordecai? Conceivably she got caught up in the suggestions of Haman’s friends and went along with what they advised. Perhaps she’d spent so much time around Haman that she picked up on his bad habit of rash speaking. Or maybe her heart had grown to love the same worldly advantages Mordecai loved; therefore, she served her pride. Whatever the reason, Zeresh gave her husband nefarious advice, which led to his death.
We do not want to be the type of person who gives advice based on what we think the other person wants to hear, instead of what he or she needs to hear. Just as importantly, we do not want to be the kind of person who will not receive helpful advice because our pride is in opposition. If Zeresh had pointed out the pluses in Haman’s life or advised him to think through what he was about to do, things might have turned out differently. Instead, Zeresh’s tragic counsel cost her the life of her husband and later, the life of her sons. We do not have to wait until the stakes are high to give biblically rooted advice. Our words make a difference in the ordinary daily affairs of our lives.
Lord, I desire to seek the good and speak for the welfare of all those in my sphere of influence (Esther 10:5). I ask for the guidance of Your wisdom and the courage to give advice even if it is counter-culture. I want to make a difference. Amen.
The LORD said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.”
Unfaithful Gomer left her husband, Hosea, and turned to the temptations of the world with its evil desires. Eventually, she found herself in slavery, imprisoned by her sins. God instructed Hosea to find Gomer and bring her home. Hosea was also commanded to keep her safe and to provide for her. Most importantly, Hosea was to love her once again.
Gomer represents the children of Israel. God tells this story to illustrate His own willingness to find his people, to protect them, and to provide for His nation. He rescues them from their sins and brings them back to His heart, which is filled with unconditional love. Gomer symbolizes us, too, because we stray from God’s commands. If our heart is not committed to God, the lure of temptations will lead us to abandon him.
Be horrified at this, heavens; be shocked and utterly appalled. This is the Lord’s declaration. For My people have committed a double evil: They have abandoned Me, the fountain of living water, and dug cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that cannot hold water.
God is showing us in this verse in Jeremiah, the essence of evil. To God, evil is to prefer something else. When we have tasted and seen that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8) and we abandon the Glory (Jeremiah 2:11) because we desire something else, it’s because we have preferred our own provision. We obtain it faster, we create the choices we prefer, and the quantity we desire. We cast aside the living water and prefer to dig for water elsewhere. Eve rejected God in a similar way when she spurned the wisdom he provided for her and desired for the tree to make her wise (Genesis 3:6).
God is always faithful. He finds us when we hide in the so-called shelters of lust and greed, and He brings us home to his heart. In His forgiving nature, God continually seeks to restore our relationship with him because he stands firm in his commitment to love unconditionally. God’s unfailing love heals our broken souls and serves as a model on how we are to treat others. Like Gomer, some of us have been unfaithful. But God’s faithfulness is forever, for he cannot deny himself (2 Timothy 2:13).
Come, let us return to the Lord, and He will heal us. He will bind up our wounds. He will revive us and raise us up so we can live in His presence. Let us strive to know the Lord. His appearance is as sure as the dawn. He will come to us like the rain, like the spring showers that water the land (Hosea 6:1-3). Let us repent before the Lord because He is faithful to forgive and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). From the overflow of your heart, let your mouth speak. Amen.
The Lord has afflicted me: the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me. So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law.
Naomi, her husband, and her two sons left Bethlehem because of a famine and moved to Moab, hoping to thrive. While there, Naomi’s husband and two sons died. Afterward, Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem and tried to persuade her two daughters-in-law to not follow her but to return to their own people. Perhaps you have heard Ruth’s plea to her mother-in-law, Naomi: Do not persuade me to leave you or go back and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you live, I will live; your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. (Ruth 1:16)
Ruth and Naomi had grown close over the years, but the deaths of her husband and sons had turned Naomi into a bitter woman. When Ruth and Naomi returned to their home in Bethlehem, Naomi gave voice to her bitterness. By her own admission, she asked to be no longer called Naomi but Mara (meaning bitter). Her bitterness did not make her lovable.
Ruth had been at Naomi’s side through the same depressing turns their lives had taken. As Naomi repeated her stories to anyone who would listen, Ruth was forced to relive her own painful loss. No one would have faulted Ruth if she had fled Naomi’s company. Perhaps she would not have even been faulted if she had complained. Instead, Ruth loved Naomi, and it was shown by her actions. She traveled with Naomi, provided for their needs, listened to her, and heeded her advice. By the time Ruth handed her newborn son to Naomi, her mother-in-law had experienced a heart change.
If God’s providence puts us in close quarters with unpleasant people, may we love them by listening, respecting, and taking care of their needs. Leave it in God’s hands to heal their pain ~ through us. We are blessed to be a blessing.
Pray for your own heart. Ask God to soften your heart towards the difficult person, to put off anger and irritability, to put on meekness and kindness, to understand the person’s struggles and meet them with compassion (Colossians 3:12–14). Pray for them. Move toward them, not away from them.
If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that. “I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never – I promise – regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind. “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults – unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back – given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.”
Lord, help me to honor the difficult people in my life so that Your love is made known. Amen.