Devotional # 187. 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12

Devotional # 187. 4/25/16. 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12.

v. 11. “Therefore” always refers to what was just talked about. So just prior to this, in verses 4-10, Paul was talking about God’s righteous judgment (see Devotional # 186). He said that the “persecutions and tribulations” (v. 4) that the Thessalonians went through were “manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God” (v. 5). He went on to explain what God’s Final Judgement will look like and how we can be confident that it will be righteous justice. This is very important for us to understand here in today’s section but also for next week’s Devotional # 188.

So with that in mind Paul, Silas and Timothy pray for the Thessalonians all the time (see Devotional # 179 for more on praying continually). What do they pray for the Thessalonians? They pray “that (1) our God would count [them] worthy of this calling and (2) fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and (3) the work of faith with power.”

Regarding the first part of their prayer which is “that our God would count you worthy of this calling”: our first question probably is ‘what have we done to be worthy?’ and second, ‘what is our calling?’ Well, it should be no surprise that neither of these have much to do with something that we’ve come up with on our own. In fact the last thing should be our first focus: “our calling.” A person’s “calling” in the Bible “usually refers to God’s initial call to salvation, but the idea here probably includes the culmination of that initial act (1 Thessalonians 2:12)” (Devotional # 178) (Source 1). So our “calling” here is talking about everything from when we are first called by God to accept Jesus and be saved from our sin through when we are taken to heaven, which at that moment will show God faithful in His “calling” of you. Now that we have “our calling” well defined we can understand that God will only “count us worthy” by our response to “our calling.” As usual, we haven’t created something that is worthy of God and we also haven’t in and of ourselves done anything to be praised, we simply have been humbled and obedient to His call.

The second part of the prayer is to “fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness.” I was reminded by a friend today about the goodness of God (Source 2). It was because of a book I had given him to read titled, The Great Evangelical Recession by John S. Dickerson. I highly encourage you to buy it, read it and then give it to someone else! I think the following quote is impactful for many reasons but I am surprised at how well it applies to what we’re learning here. Earlier in the book the author told us about a young woman who was enslaved in prostitution named Steph…

“Goodness can’t be claimed from a distance. It has to be demonstrated in person. Steph put it this way: ‘how important it is to go into these dark places, because that’s where the victims are comfortable… The reality is that these victims want us to come to them in the jails and alleyways, in the pimps apartments… There’s no way they’re going to be drawn out of those dark places without going into those places ourselves.’ … And isn’t this exactly what Jesus did?… We must go into their place of darkness, while maintaining our personal integrity and purity. Even after conversion, we can expect someone from a foreign tribe and culture to take months or years to fully embrace new life in Christ. Their full freedom from slavery will be a long process” (Source 3).

Of all the great things summarized in this quote (personal evangelism, personal application, the tragedy of sin) I think the most applicable to this Scripture is that God’s goodness was shown in the God-Man Jesus and how He reached every one of us. Beyond that it points us towards our “calling”, that we just talked about, which involves us sharing the good news of Jesus with others until we go to heaven.

Lastly, “the work of faith with power” is the third part of their prayer. The “faith” (1 Thessalonians 1:3, Devotional # 174) that we possess in Jesus is used by God to answer the first two parts of this prayer “with [His] power.” This should be the reason that we pray, not just because it’s a habit, not just because the Bible tells us to, not just because God asks us to, not just because it’s good for us, but because it truly is “power.”  This is the most direct way to see God work and also for us to live within God’s will!

v. 12. And what is the result of these constant prayers? (Actually, in my mind this is partly a result but also a final petition of the prayer of Paul, Silas and Timothy.) The result of prayers like this is that the name of Jesus will be glorified. That is the paraphrased version but we can learn even more if we look at it verbatim: “that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you.” Notice: our (we belong to Him and He to us) Lord (Master) Jesus (His proper name) Christ (Savior) may be glorified (magnified and lifted up) in you (in us…can you believe it? It’s in “us” that He is glorified!). We are fortunate to be used by the Lord to glorify Him. But how do we glorify Him? Why don’t you try to “Sing to the LORD a new song; Sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, bless His name; Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day. Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples” (Psalm 96:1-9 condensed)? In fact in Philippians 1:9 I asked you what was the meaning of life? The answer was “to glorify God” and how you answer that question determines where you spend eternity (Devotional # 121). Again, what a blessing to know Jesus is being glorified in us!

And not only that but “you in Him.” We are actually glorified in Jesus too. This is not because of anything we’ve done or how pure we inherently think we are. In fact, it’s purely because of the “grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” It is the shared and same “grace” given by the Father in the Trinity and the Son in the Trinity.

Conclusion. We have learned several things today.  We have seen how God’s future righteous justice is important in leading up to the Rapture but also in our day to day lives. Knowing that God will set things right is a big comfort. When we consider those things and couple that with Paul, Silas and Timothy’s constant prayer for the Thessalonians we find some very interesting things. They pray “that (1) our God would count you worthy of this calling and (2) fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and (3) the work of faith with power.” And finally, that the precious name of Jesus gets to be glorified and magnified in each one of us. It is a comfort that I am not “worthy of this calling” because of anything more than my response of obedience to Him, since it’s only possible through the “grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Aren’t you thankful that God has chosen us to glorify His name? And it gives me a future hope, like we read last week, that He will one Day “be glorified in His saints and to be admired” (2 Thessalonians 1:10).  Next week we will be returning to a specific discussion of the end times and a deep and heartfelt study of the “hope” we have in the Lord.

 

References.

Source 1: The New Testament and Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 831.

Source 2: Personal conversation with G. R. on 4/23/16.

Source 3: John S. Dickerson, The Great Evangelical Recession, pp. 139-140.

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Devotional # 186. 2 Thessalonians 1:4-10

Devotional # 186. 4/18/16. 2 Thessalonians 1:4-10.

Intro. This whole section today is about God’s righteous judgment. I’ve done my best to break it down for us to understand but I must acknowledge that it’s meant to be taken as a unified explanation for us to understand Gods righteous justice. As I mentioned last week in 2 Thessalonians 1:1-3 (Devotional # 185) we’ll look at verse 4 and following to see how the “faith” and “love” that has grown affects other churches (verse 4) and is evidence of “the righteous judgment of God” (verse 5). In fact, for all of the important prophesy of the future that Paul gives us we’ll see him tie it all back to the persecutions we currently face and the faith and love that continues to grow. Finally, I will wrap up with a special application about groups that call themselves “Christian” but don’t believe in hell.

vv. 4-5. Paul, Silas and Timothy tell other churches about the Thessalonians “patience and faith” in all of the trials and tribulations they go through. In 1 Thessalonians 3:2-5 (Devotional # 179) we talked about how Paul and the others had “sent Timothy” to check in with the Thessalonians since they were going through such difficult persecution. There, as he does here, Paul contrasts the difficulties with the “faith” they have in the Lord. Make no mistake, most of us do not go through the kind of persecution that the early Church went through but that doesn’t mean God won’t take care of us in our spiritual difficulties. Is it possible that God is helping us grow our faith through these trials?

One of the most important things Paul draws our attention to here is that enduring “persecutions and tribulations” is “manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God.” So often people ask, ‘God, if you’re real, why are You letting me go through this?’ They become so focused on themselves that they don’t see His bigger plan and the positive affect it can have on others. Paul tells us in Romans that we will be considered brothers and sisters with Jesus, “if indeed we suffer with Him…” (Romans 8:17). So our longsuffering through trials is actually preparing us for heaven and is ultimately “evidence” for God’s righteous judgment. But how? Let’s keep reading to find out…

vv. 6-10. We often think of God’s judgment as scary wrath (which is true, as we’ll see in a minute) but it is more importantly “justice”. God’s justice is unquestionably fair and impartial. What Paul is talking about here is the Final Judgment. So the evil people who are persecuting the Thessalonians will be dealt with justly by God. God will give the Christians “rest” (v. 7) but also pay back the evil persecutors (v. 6). This gives us the right mindset that we shouldn’t seek or expect justice while we’re alive on earth, instead God alone is righteous and He will “repay” on His own timeline.

What does His timeline look like? Well, after the Millennium of peace Satan must be briefly released (Revelation 20:7), then he mounts a final assault (20:8) but then “fire [will come] down from God out of heaven and [devour] them” (20:9). This is followed by Satan’s final imprisonment in the “lake of fire” (Revelation 20:10) and God’s White Thrown Judgment (20:11-15). Here in 2 Thessalonians 1:7 when it says, “the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels” as if they are a “flaming fire”, I believe that this “fire” is His glory coming down from heaven in Revelation 20:9*. We’ve seen God appear this way in the bush with Moses (Exodus 3:2) giving of the Law (Exodus 19:18) which is “symbolizing His own bright glory and His consuming vengeance against His foes (Hbr 10:27, 12:29; 2Pe 3:7, 10)” (Source 1).

In verse 9 we move into what that punishment will look like: “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.” You’ve probably heard it said that the worst thing about hell is being separated from God, and I would agree. Remember in 1 Thessalonians when we realized that the “coming” of Jesus at the Rapture could be translated the “presence” of Jesus (1 Thessalonians 3:13, Devotional # 179)? For how incredible it will be to be in the presence of our Lord it will be equally awful to be excluded from that presence. So, yes, the separation from God will probably be the worst thing about hell, but the rest doesn’t sound like a picnic either! Did you notice it says, “everlasting destruction”? I’ve never really thought about it but this is unimaginable to our finite minds. By definition when something is “destroyed” it’s gone. It’s finished and ended. But somehow in hell non-believers will be “destroyed” over and over and over forever. That sounds absolutely horrifying to me.

Paul finishes up this section by bringing this to its logical end: Jesus bringing right justice and judgment will drive us Christians to glorify and admire Him (v. 10). Not only that but Paul masterfully ties this all back to the Thessalonians (and our) present afflictions.

*Fire from heaven: I believe Revelation 20:9 is Jesus and His angels coming down from heaven. However, since the word for “fire” (pyr, Source 2) can translated as literal and/or figurative I can certainly see where it could be both literal fire AND a description of Jesus coming down (2 Thessalonians 1:8). I don’t think it’s ONLY literal fire because it says that it “devoured them” and since the “them” here is Satan and his armies we know they are not truly “devoured” (as in “dead”) but more properly “defeated.”(Greek katesthio, Source 3). As far as I can tell it’s impossible to be dogmatic.

A Special Application for 2016

Did you know that there are people who call themselves Christians but don’t believer in hell or that God will judge with wrath? Places in the Bible like Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24-25) and Korah’s rebellion (Numbers 16:31-35) are not conclusive enough for them. It’s important to note that as Christians who believe that hell is real and that God is just it is not because we want to see people go to hell or because we’re cruel but because it justice is simply who God is and because the Bible tells us it’s true. How God defines justice is up to him not us. Brian Broderson says there are two main reasons that people reject the idea of the wrath of God: 1. Because we don’t fully grasp the holiness of God and 2. Because we don’t understand how sinful we are (Source 4).

In his chapter asking how can a loving God could torture people in hell, former atheist and legal editor for the Chicago Tribune, Lee Strobel, quotes renowned atheist Bertrand Russell. Russell says, “There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ’s moral character, and that is that he believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment” (Source 5). Isn’t it interesting that an atheist like Russell can clearly see that Jesus believed in hell and yet, regardless of whether Russell’s conclusion is true or not, these supposedly Christian groups deny that Jesus believed in hell.

Pray for the people who do not trust God at His word or have been misled into believing that what we humans think is right should somehow govern what God determines as right. In essence, although these groups will not acknowledge it, that is what they are doing. They are allowing thinkers like Bertrand Russell and cultural ideas and opinion outweigh God’s truth. Pray that they would not allow culture and emotion to trump God, but that instead they would look deeper at why God said what He said then whether they think a loving God couldn’t create hell. I have taken pains to be ambiguous and not specifically call out the different groups that think they are Christians but don’t believe in hell or “eternal destruction.” You can look up that information on your own and I encourage you to have conversations with your friends and family that may believe this way. Just know that I’ve tried to debate and persuade them with the Bible and I personally haven’t seen that work. What I have seen work is praying for them and allowing Jesus’ love overcome them.

Conclusion. Paul started off talking about “faith”, “love” and persecution and ended up talking about persecutions. Did you miss it? While giving us prophetic descriptions of the future Paul also builds our faith in telling us God will take care of perfect justice at the Great White Thrown Judgment! I pray that you start praying for your friends and family who don’t know or are unwilling to admit that hell is a real place and God’s judgment is final and just. The next time you feel called to share Jesus with someone consider the “eternal destruction” that they are facing if they don’t hear the gospel.

 

References.

Source 1: Jamieson, Fausset & Brown (https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/jfb/2Th/2Th_001.cfm?a=1117001

Source 2: pyr, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G4442&t=KJV

Source 3: katesthiohttps://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G2719&t=KJV

Source 4: Brian Broderson in a message given 4/17/16.

Source 5: Bertrand Russel quoted by Lee Strobel in his book The Case for Faith, Zondervan, p. 235.

Devotional # 185. 2 Thessalonians 1:1-3

Devotional # 185. 4/11/16. 2 Thessalonians 1:1-3.

Intro. Last week we finished up 1st Thessalonians talking about how each person has a body, soul and spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23) and how the order Paul put them in is important (Devotional # 184). Before we become a Christian our body is first, next our mind (“soul”) and then our spirit; but when we become a Christian Jesus transforms us and our spirit is first, next our mind and then our body takes a backseat. This week we’re starting the book of 2nd Thessalonians and there is plenty more to learn. We’ll talk again about “grace” and “peace” as a unifying factor but also look into our growth in “faith” and “love.”

vv. 1-2. Paul is going to start with a very similar salutation as he did in 1 Thessalonians. In fact the first two verses here are identical to the first verse of 1 Thessalonians. Just like in 1st Thessalonians, this letter comes from “Paul, Silvanus [Silas], and Timothy” although it was Paul who wrote the letter. My first question is, how much time passed between the two letters? “Because of its similarity to 1 Thessalonians, it must have been written not long after the first letter—perhaps about six months. The situation in the church seems to have been much the same. Paul probably penned it (see 1:1; 3:17) circa A.D. 51 or 52 in Corinth, after Silas and Timothy had returned from delivering 1 Thessalonians” (Source 1). 

So the greeting is from these men but also from “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul has full authority to write this since it is God who is inspiring him to write this letter. When he says, “grace to you and peace” (again, from “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ“) it’s the same as we’ve talked about before, “grace” was a common greeting among Gentiles and “peace” was common among Hebrews so there is recognition of the diversity of the Church while at the same time bringing unity!

v. 3. When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians the first time it was because he had gotten a good report from Timothy’s visit (Acts 18:5) and wanted to encourage them. It appears that he had gotten another good report and wanted to encourage them again. I mentioned that the first two verses here are the same as 1 Thessalonians but the theme of this verse is very similar to the last letter also: thankfulness. Here Paul says, “we are bound to thank God always for you.” There is such appreciation from Paul, Silas and Timothy that the Thessalonians are doing as God has instructed them. I know first-hand how rewarding it is to see other Christians remaining steadfast in the things of God. You must understand that the way you live doesn’t just affect you, and not just affect non-Christians who are watching your testimony but also other Christians. And when our brothers and sisters (“brethren”) are faithful in this, it is “fitting” for us to thank God also.

Notice that the way they are being faithful is that their “faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other.” These are valuable lessons to learn: 1. Our “faith” can continue to grow and 2. Our “love” for other Christians can continue to grow. Let’s look into this more deeply:

  1. Our “faith” can grow: Never think that your current “level” of faith is enough. Never become comfortable in this. Always allow the Holy Spirit to increase your faith. This sounds great on paper but are you really willing to allow God to stretch you beyond your comfort zone? Be used by God so that the increase of your faith produces a furthering of God’s will in the world. We need it!
  1. Our “love” can grow: Don’t be discouraged if you feel like it’s too hard to love other Christians. I get it – people are hard to love. But what did Jesus do when one of His friends sold Him out for a couple of bucks and the rest of His friends deserted Him? He loved them. He loved He didn’t wait for their apology, He didn’t beat them over the head with a lesson; He loved them. In the same way when we love our brothers and sisters, regardless of what they’ve done, it produces, among many other things, a thankfulness on the part of other Christians.

Conclusion. If you read ahead then you noticed Paul’s first sentence is 8 verses long! I split up the sentence since there is plenty just in the first half. Next week we’ll look at verse 4 and following to see how the “faith” and “love” that has grown affects other churches (verse 4) and is evidence of “the righteous judgment of God” (verse 5). For now, here in verses 1-3, it is good that we meditate on how we as a Church in 2016 can be like the Thessalonians. How can we do this, you ask? By celebrating our diversity in unity (“grace” and “peace” – verse 2). By recognizing that these come from both “our Father” and “the Lord Jesus Christ” – verse 2). By thanking God for our brothers and sisters (verse 3). By recognizing that it is “fitting” to have that thankfulness (verse 3). By demonstrating our growth in “faith” (verse 3). And finally, by demonstrating our growth in “love” for each other (verse 3). These are great things for us to aspire to! I pray that you have the patience and determination to be encouraged by the Church and to encourage the Church. Remember, the Church is not four walls, it is the people that have admitted they are sinners who need Jesus as their Savior. If Jesus can forgive them so should you! Have patience with your brothers and sisters in the Lord! God bless!

 

References.

Source 1: http://www.biblica.com/es-us/la-biblia/biblia-en-linea/scholar-notes/niv-study-bible/intro-to-2-thessalonians