Devotional # 191. 2 Thessalonians 3:5-18

Devotional # 191. 5/23/16. 2 Thessalonians 3:5-18.

 

Intro. One of the reasons I chose to put verses 5-15 together is because of the theme of Christian living. Of course God put it together because of a common theme first but I think it will do us a lot of good not to split it up into different Devotionals. We’ll do things a little differently today and not break it down by verses but instead by teaching: 1. Withdrawal from the Disorderly (vv. 6-7, 13-15), 2. Work, Don’t Gossip (vv. 8-12) and 3. Paul’s Farewell (vv. 16-18).

On a section about how to deal with other Christians Paul fittingly reminds us to accept: 1. direction from Jesus (“the Lord direct your hearts”), 2. “the love of God” and 3. “the patience of Christ” (v. 5). Pay attention to this Devotional if you’re struggling with a relationship of someone in your church or another fellow believer at work, etc.

Withdrawal from the Disorderly (vv. 6-7, 13-15)

In this section we’re told to not hang out with Christians (“brothers”) who don’t follow the Bible (“the tradition…received from us”). But why not and how are we supposed to “withdraw” from them? First, the “why not?” Well, we were told in 2 Thessalonians 2:15 (Devotional # 189) to hold to these “traditions.” And because everything from the apostles (and therefore from God) was good and beneficial for believers lives (Matthew 4:4). Paul ties this to a specific problem the church in Thessalonica was having: people not working but instead gossiping. We’ll talk more about this in a minute but here the reason to withdraw was to show those Christians that what they were doing was unacceptable, to make sure the good weren’t counted as one of the wrong people and also to set a good example to non-Christians who are always watching us to see if Jesus is real and Christianity is true.

Second, how are Christians supposed to “withdraw” from those who are doing wrong? First, in absolute love, as we saw in verse 5. Next, Paul lays it out for us to “not keep company with [them]” (v. 13). Note that we don’t just avoid them whether they notice or not, Paul says the end goal is for them to be “ashamed” (v. 14). Not that we take joy in shaming our brothers and sisters but that they would recognize their mistake and change. Remember the goal is always reconciliation (1 Corinthians 5:5; 2 Corinthians 5:20). Paul couldn’t be more clear that we don’t treat our fellow believers as “enemies” but “admonish as a brother [or sister]” (v. 15).

Work, Don’t Gossip (vv. 8-12)

As I briefly mentioned above Paul is tying the sins of slothfulness and gossip to “walking disorderly” but these are not all that we should “withdraw” from, instead these were issues happening in real time in Thessalonica.

First, why should Christians work? Because any reasonable person recognizes that no one deserves a free ride. If the majority of able bodied people work for a living what makes someone who is fully capable any different? I belong to a generation of entitlement, and it is wrong. Thank goodness I had the Bible to guide me away from that mentality. As Paul says, if you want to eat, you have to work for it (v. 10). In addition to that we are all representatives of Jesus who never took a free ride. If we want to do the right thing then: 1. We should lead other Christians by example as Paul, Silas and Timothy did (vv. 8-9) and 2. We should be a good example to non-Christians also.

Second, let’s define “gossip.” Some people think gossip is lying about someone or something but that’s not true at all. Gossip is telling the truth about something when you should have kept your mouth shut. What determines when you shouldn’t say anything? Usually common sense but if you don’t have that then follow this guide: Would you say it to the person’s face or only behind their back? Would they appreciate it if you told others about their personal issue? Is it helpful? Does it encourage and build up? Does it serve a purpose?

Now that we know what gossip is we should ask how can it hurt others? I’ve been reading a book called Captive In Iran  about two Iranian ladies who were imprisoned a few years ago for being Christians. They tell a story about an elderly woman they called “Mommy” who was always gossiping and trying to stir up trouble, turning prisoners against each other. After many attempts to stop her from this behavior it all came crashing down one day when “Mommy” had encouraged a drug addict to bully other ladies. One of the other prisoners named Tahmasebi had enough and almost killed the bully and then she went to “Mommy” and told her if she gossiped and instigated bullying ever again she would be killed. That night the warden moved “Mommy” onto another floor with all of the murderers (Source 1).

Obviously this story is quite dramatic but don’t fool yourself into thinking your gossip wouldn’t have the same effect on you and everyone around you. Proverbs 6:16-19 says, “There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers” (ESV). If nothing else makes you believe that gossiping is wrong and that you should stop let the verse that tells you God hates it, be the one!

Paul’s Farewell (vv. 16-18)

After these specific things (love, patience, withdrawing from disorderly believers, working and not gossiping) and other things from the letter (perseverance in persecutions, God would be glorified in us, our salvation, sanctification, words and work) Paul says, “may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always in every way.” So the title “Lord of peace” is applicable because He will give you “peace” in all things. It’s also interesting that Paul states, “the Lord be with you all” because of the portions of this book (and 1st Thessalonians) where Paul gave us doctrine on the end times (the Rapture, THE apostasy, Antichrist and Final Judgment). For the Christian, Jesus will always be with us, for those who reject Him, He will separate Himself. And that is the worst punishment of all.

 Paul proves that he wrote the letter by signing it and then tells them that he does this for all his letters. This is important for us today because the early church would have been able to spot frauds and the fact that they passed these on (and kept the originals as proof) gives yet another assurance that our New Testament books are true, from God and inerrant (without error).

Lastly, as he usually does, Paul finishes with a closing statement from Jesus. Interestingly Paul doesn’t mention God the Father here but the complete authority of Jesus alone. It is Jesus who gives us “grace” which will be with all of us.

Conclusion. The book of 2nd Thessalonians has been short but good. I gave a little summary above but I believe it is a book that can be read over and over, always giving us new things. We’ll make more connections within it (and especially tying back to 1st Thessalonians) the more we read it. I hope it blessed you as much as it blessed me. Look forward to 1 Timothy next week and have a great day!

 

References.

Source 1: Maryam Rostampour, Marziyeh Amirizadeh, John Perry, Captive In Iran, Tyndale Momentum, pp. 185-186, 2013.

 

 

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Devotional # 190. 2 Thessalonians 3:1-4

Devotional # 190. 5/16/16. 2 Thessalonians 3:1-4.

Intro. Last week we talked about “THE truth” and God’s “calling” us to “salvation” (Devotional # 189). This week we start the final chapter of the last communication we have from Paul to the Thessalonians. We’ll talk about what prayer to ask for and the faithfulness of Jesus. We’ll find these things give us “confidence in the Lord”.

vv. 1-2. It makes sense that Paul, Silas and Timothy, having started this epistle talking about how they pray for the Thessalonians (1:3, 1:11) would here ask the Thessalonians to pray for them. When you truly believe prayer works then you are praying for other Christians and asking them to pray for you. What do Paul and the others request? Is it freedom from a prison cell or for money? No, they ask for:

  1. The word of the Lord”: A. to be shared all over the world (“run swiftly”) and B. for it to be honored and exalted (“glorified”).
  2. God to deliver them from “unreasonable and wicked men.”

We should keep these things in mind; the same things that we struggle with today Paul and his compatriots struggled with in the first century. We need to be praying for an honoring of God’s word, unlike anything this world has ever known. We also need to be praying for an evil retardant. We know that this world will get worse (especially considering the end times studies we’ve had recently) but we don’t know when the Rapture will happen and it is entirely possible for God to give us a great revival prior to the Rapture, so let’s pray for these things.

vv. 3-4. Paul says, “but the Lord is faithful.” Why does he remind us by starting with “but”? Because his last thought was on “wicked men” who do not “have faith.” What a fantastic contrast! Sure, we can become depressed by the wicked people who oppose Jesus in us every day, but Jesus strengthens us. The lack of faith displayed by lost people isn’t just equally combatted by the faithfulness of Jesus, “but the Lord is faithful” in words and actions completely overpowering “the evil one” by “establishing” and “guarding” us. Imagine yourself in battle, you have the best body armor on and no matter what caliber, the bullets can’t break through. Your combat boots are like when you’re at the ocean and the water slowly buries your feet so they can’t be moved. Jesus is protecting and establishing us – nothing can move us because He is faithful!
What should this give us? Confidence. It gave Paul and his guys “confidence in the Lord” that He would keep His word. Paul knew the Thessalonians were currently doing the right things (“that you do”) but it was so important to be committed and never drift away from the faith (“will do”). Yes, it’s important to have a current, steady walk with the Lord but what’s the point if you’re going to falter a year, 10 years, or 20 years from now? I’ve never started a race thinking I was going to lose. Sure, I’ve lost plenty of races but I never started with the assumption that if things got too hard I would just quit. The Christian life is the same way – it’s not an emotional rollercoaster, it’s not a series of spiritual highs from conferences and camps. It’s a slow maturing in the Lord for the rest of our lives. “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary” (Galatians 6:9, Devotional # 94). And how can we do this? Because we have “confidence in the Lord” that He will help us persevere. In fact we’re also promised a crown in heaven, “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).
Conclusion. Did you notice that Paul and his companions didn’t have any personal requests when they asked their brothers and sisters for prayers? It’s a great idea when you’re one-on-one with another believer to ask for a few personal prayer requests but when we have opportunities for corporate prayer it should be for what will glorify God and hamper the devil. Do not lose heart today, and do not be persuaded to slowly drift away from your walk with the Lord. Be intentional in your relationship because “the Lord is faithful.”

Devotional # 189. 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17

Devotional # 189. 5/10/16. 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17.

Intro. Three weeks ago we started digging into God’s righteous judgment and justice in 2 Thessalonians 1:4-10 (Devotional # 186). Last week we talked about some specifics of the end times and the many “hopes” believers have in the Lord (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12; Devotional # 188).

At the end of last week’s Devotional I very briefly asked you about “love” vs. “pleasure”. I was fascinated with the use of the phrase “the love of the truth”, especially in contrast with the “pleasure in unrighteousness” (v. 12). The original text for “love of the truth” is agape (love) aletheia (truth). As we’ve said before (Devotional # 121) agape love is God’s unconditional love (Source 1). The term aletheia is “truth” objectively as ‘absolute truth’ or ‘truth about God’ or ‘the truth from the Bible’ (Source 2). The “pleasure in unrighteousness” in Greek is eudokeo (pleasure) en (in) adikia (unrighteousness). Eudokeo means “seems good to someone” or “to choose or decide” (Source 3). And adikia means injustice or violating the law (Source 4). Paul tells us that everyone who didn’t believe in God’s unconditional love, which is an absolute truth, instead welcomed injustice that they thought “felt right.” For a chapter mostly about the righteousness of God’s justice we really should be paying attention to the truth of God’s love.

This week we’ll talk more about “THE truth”, God’s “calling” us to “salvation” but also our role of believing in Him.

vv. 13-14. Paul starts with “but” noting that he’s about to contrast the discouraging information he has just given in verses 1-12. Along the theme of a Christian’s hope we had last week (Devotional # 188) Paul’s “but” here is telling us there is hope. He talks again about their (Paul, Thomas and Silas’) thankfulness for the brothers and sisters in Thessalonica, the same way he started the letter in verse 1. Why are they thankful? Because the Thessalonians were “called” (v. 14) “for salvation” (v. 13) by two things. What are these two things? This is important because it’s also how we were “called” by God to receive “salvation.”

First, “through sanctification by the Spirit.” Just a couple weeks ago we talked about sanctification meaning purification (Devotional # 180). “Sanctified” also means to be “set apart”; so the Holy Spirit has set us apart by making us pure. For more on sanctification go here.

Second, Paul says, “belief in the truth.” We have two key words here: “belief” and “truth.” The “belief” that a believer (ever wondered why we’re called that?!) is exercising is faith in the Lord, what He says and what He does. The other important word is “the truth.” Not just “truth” (that some people think doesn’t exist) but “THE truth.” In the Greek “THE truth” here is aletheia, the same as the “truth” from verse 12 that I mentioned in the “Intro” above. “The truth” is the one and only, unquestionable, verified reality. The truth of God comes from the true Creator who literally is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Do you remember “THE apostasy” from last week (Devotional # 188)? In many ways “THE truth” is the opposite of “THE apostasy.”

It’s interesting that in a section of Scripture that Calvinists use to show that we are “called” by God (which we obviously are) there is also a portion where the ball is in our court by “belief in the truth” (also true). So, as I’ve said before, Scripture doesn’t allow for hyper-Calvinism or hyper-Arminianism. It is best to be middle of the road. This is another one of God’s contrarieties (not contradictions) where two things that we can’t understand as co-existing (i.e. both God pre-ordaining us to be saved and our acceptance and choice in the matter) do in fact somehow harmonize perfectly.

How “thankful” we should be to know we have been sanctified by the Spirit and given the ability to believe in the truth! As Ephesians 2:8 tells us “by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”

v. 15. The Thessalonians are reminded by Paul that they needed to “stand fast” and “hold” to the “traditions they were taught.” They were taught these in two ways: 1. “by word” – in those initial 3 short weeks (Acts 17:2) as well as when Timothy and Silas made the second trip out (Devotional # 185) or by “epistle” – which were both letters we now call 1st & 2nd Thessalonians. We need to pay attention to this because although Paul is not going to instruct any of us personally, the Holy Spirit still does speak through women and men on a regular basis. Be open and willing to hear what the Lord says to you through brothers and sisters. For us, the second should come before the first: we need to heed the “epistles” before listening to a fellow Christian.

Why is this important? Because the Holy Spirit has spoken in times past and kept it, without error (Psalm 12:6, Proverbs 30:5-6, 1 Corinthians 12:12-13), for our doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). This is crucial because anything any human being tells us better line up with Scripture otherwise its wrong. If I’m told the Holy Spirit will make me bark like a dog that’s not a new revelation or a special anointing. How can I be sure? Because I don’t see it in Scripture and if God doesn’t change (Malachi 3:6) and I don’t see it in the Bible then its wrong (not to mention its disorder and God is not a God of chaos according to 1 Corinthians 14:33). What is best for my life is to know the Bible (“epistles”) and encourage and be encouraged by fellow believers who speak “words” that line up with the Scriptures.

vv. 16-17. Paul ends the chapter with the realities of hope and comfort that both our Lord (Master) Jesus and God (“Father”) give us. First, they “loved us”, second they gave us an “everlasting consolation”, third, they gave “hope by grace.” What an amazing time you will have when you meditate on the love of God! The “everlasting consolation” is a special relief that has already started but will continue for eternity. Lastly, that “hope by grace” is a positive outlook on the future, knowing that God has given us what we don’t deserve. For more on grace (and how it’s different from mercy) see Devotional # 98.

I love that this comfort to our “hearts”* will “establish you in every word and work.” It bears the reminder that both the words and works here are given by God. Regarding the “words”, the Bible says that the we shouldn’t worry about what we’re going to say about Jesus because the Holy Spirit will give us the words we should say (Luke 12:12). Regarding the “works” 1 Timothy 6:18 says, “Let them do good, that they be rich in good works...” In both cases it is “our Lord Jesus Christ”, “our God and Father” and the Holy Spirit who gives us the ability to say and do these things. I can’t help but notice that the “word and work” here in verse 17 is similar to the “word” and “epistle” that Paul told us were traditions we should hold on to (v. 15). Certainly the “words” and the “epistle” that Paul produced were not of his own working or authority, instead they comforted his heart and the hearts of many others including us today.

 

*heart – this word is how the Bible describes in what way our soul and spirit are mysteriously tied together.

 

Conclusion. In the same way that Paul produced many great things in “word and work” we are told the Trinity will supply us with the same power. Today we reviewed “THE truth” that gives us hope: an “everlasting consolation” and “hope by grace.” Be encouraged by the “words” and “epistles” as well as the “word and work” that you have today!

 

References.

Source 1: agape, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G26&t=KJV

Source 2: aletheia, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G225&t=KJV

Source 3: eudokeo, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G2106&t=KJV

Source 4: adikia, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G93&t=KJV

Devotional # 188. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12

Devotional # 188. 5/2/16. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12.

Intro. Two weeks ago we started digging into God’s righteous judgment and justice in 2 Thessalonians 1:4-10 (Devotional # 186). Last week we talked about Paul, Silas and Timothy’s prayer for the Thessalonians. It was in three parts: “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” (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12,  Devotional # 187). Notice the “goodness” of God mentioned, we must remember that as we move through today’s Scripture. In that Devotional I mentioned that this week we would be returning to some specifics of the End times and also that we would see the many ways Christians have hope.

vv. 1-2. Paul returns to telling his brothers and sisters (“brethren”) about the “coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him.” He names two separate events: 1. “The coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”, which is the Second Coming of Jesus ending the Great Tribulation, and 2. “our gathering together to Him” which is the Rapture. Do you remember the two charts I gave in Devotional # 181 showing the similarities and differences between the Rapture and the Second Coming? In 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 we talked about how “the Day of the Lord” (here “the Day of Christ” is better translated as “the Day of the Lord”) always refers to God’s Judgment (Devotional # 182). Paul’s heart here is to correct the Thessalonians fear and doubts. He had already explained how these things would happen (v. 5) but they had forgotten or been led astray. We need to act as quickly as Paul did when we hear that someone from our family of faith misunderstands Scripture. Notice how loving Paul is in his explanation.

Specific to this section, one commentator says, “this was the event the Thessalonians were anticipating” (Source 1). And it should be the same for us 2016 Christians! When Jesus is at the center of our universe then finally meeting Him in our glorified bodies should be the things we’re looking forward to right now. Our desire to be perfect in the presence of the One who perfected us should partly fuel our hope for the future. Remember the hope that these things give us as Paul mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 (Devotional # 181)? But why does this only partly give us hope?

There are different levels of maturity for a Christian. In my mind one of the factors is where we place our hope. The very bottom level, let’s call it “0”, is where non-Christians are. If they have any hope at all it’s in themselves or temporal things. But when someone becomes a Christian they hit “level 1” where they trust Jesus as their Savior. This is a very basic realization that there is in fact hope in eternal life and they will spend it in heaven. From here it can go one of two ways: they can stay at “level 1” but focus on the problems of this life with the hope of eternity in the back of their minds; or they can move to “level 2” where they are encouraged by reading their Bible that they have hope in being raptured by Christ. It seems like many pastors nowadays push the hope of eternity or the hope of the Rapture or both.  And that’s great – those truly are the foundation of a believer’s hope. But there is more to hope in! And this is where, something like a third level would come into play. The Christian is looking forward to the hope of eternity with the Lord in general and the hope of Jesus pulling His Church from the earth prior to the Tribulation (not just an escapist mentality) but now the believer also looks forward to: prophecy being fulfilled, sin ending forever, the Lord’s will completed, people returning to the state God designed them for, communion and fellowship for the totality of the Church with the Lord, Satan and his demons being stopped, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, new heaven, new earth, the New Jerusalem and final righteous justice and judgment given by God (and I’m sure there are more). You see all of these things will happen after the Rapture and they don’t only affect us personally but they affect all of humanity and all of creation.

Please understand the “levels” I just created to explain believer’s hope are just that – something I created to explain the truths of God’s word. I’m not saying these are rungs of a ladder of works or that if you’re at what I described as “level 1” then you’re not good enough. My point is that we all need the reminder that there is so much to hope in the Lord for!

vv. 3-4. Paul gives us an important timeline. He tells us “that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed.” So the Second Coming will not happen until “the man of sin” (also known as “the son of perdition”) comes on the scene. So what does the “the falling away” mean? The original Greek is apostasia which is where we get our word “apostate” and “apostasy” as we have here. It means “to forsake” or “fall away” (Source 2) and, in a religious sense, is used when someone has been part of a church or religion and then leaves it. But here, in verse 3, it is a unique and specific event of “THE apostasy”*. One commentator says that the key to understanding the event of THE apostasy “is to identify the main person, which Paul does, calling him the ‘man of sin’” (Source 1). The “man of sin” is the Antichrist and how he sits as God in the temple can be found in Mark 13:14-20. If you don’t remember going through this in Devotional # 34 then here is a portion:

The Anti-Christ re-builds the temple and puts the “abomination of desolation”, which is an image of himself, in the temple. This was actually prophesied 560 years prior to Jesus, in Daniel 11:31 (Source 2)! Here it says “standing” which indicates that it will be continuously there for 3 ½ years (according to Revelation 12:6). This is interesting because the Jews may have been persuaded that the anti-Christ was the Messiah when he re-builds the temple but when they see him put his image inside they will know he is an imposter. This will be when Romans 10 & 11 (among many others) are fulfilled and Israel accepts Jesus in their hearts and not because of birthright or works of the Law. They (and others) will run to the mountains to hide, if they don’t take off immediately they will be caught and killed. This will be the worst warfare the earth has ever known (Devotional # 34).

Back here in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, we have a clearer understanding of what will happen in these End times. One last thing before we leave this portion: “the apostasy” (“falling away”) that takes place is scary and saddening. If you read 2 Timothy 3:1-5, the apostate people have a “form of godliness“, so they go to church and look like a Christian, but “deny its power“, so they don’t have the Holy Spirit. I was reading in the last book of the Bible recently and thought this applied to what we’re studying. The seventh church that Jesus walks through is “the church of the Laodiceans” in Revelation 3:14-22. This was both a real church in the first century and a prophecy of a future Church age. It is the worldly church that backs Antichrist and the church that Jesus knocks at their door asking to be let in (“I stand at the door and knock“). What?! Why is Jesus outside of the church? Shouldn’t the church have Jesus at its center? Yes! And yet this church that masquerades as “rich, wealthy and needs nothing” is actually “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17).

 

*THE apostasy:  Some have thought that this was another mention of the Rapture. The problem with that is in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 the catching away is harpazo, which is an act of God, but this apostasia here is an act of man, this is apostate.

5-7. In the midst of the disconcerting news of the future we find more hope as well as important theology. As I mentioned before, Paul says that he has told the Thessalonians about these things in the past. It certainly was important for him to remind them of the timeline of these things so that they didn’t live in fear of having missed the Rapture, but it also showed them, and it shows us, that God is in control. Not only had Paul prophesied that these things would happen in this order but verses 6 & 7 tell us about a “Him” who is “restraining” the Antichrist. Who is this “Him“? It’s the Holy Spirit! The Holy Spirit is currently holding back “the mystery of lawlessness” which “is already at work“. So we see this “mystery” is more than just current sin (“lawlessness“) but in fact it is the demon spirit currently on earth that will inhabit the Antichrist but is being “restrained” by the Holy Spirit. What does this tell us? Several things but first, this gives us hope and faith knowing that God is holding back Satan’s plan. And it’s not like God is a grandpa who loses his grip on the leash of a large dog. It is in the perfect timing of the Father’s plan that He takes the Holy Spirit out of His restraining role. Does this mean the Holy Spirit stops working? No, “the passage says the Holy Spirit will no longer restrain the growth of evil, but that does not mean He will have no ministry whatsoever” (Source 3). Read through the book of Revelation and you will see how much the Holy Spirit continues to work during the end times. What an encouraging thing to know that everything is according to God’s will and that the Holy Spirit continues to work for all eternity!

vv. 8-9. Spoiler alert! Just as quickly as we’re told that the Holy Spirit will allow the Antichrist to take action, we find out that God ultimately destroys him! Paul is saying, ‘don’t worry Thessalonians, Satan and his demons will have a time to tempt people but God will deal harshly with them in perfect righteous justice and judgment.’ Why do they have to be released? Because God gives everyone a choice whether to be saved by Him or trust in themselves and Satan (as we’ll see in vv. 10-12). Let’s look at that next.

vv. 10-12. Verse 10 is the continuation of what Paul started saying about the evil empowered by Satan, worked out by the Antichrist (v. 9) but it gets personal now because humans are mentioned. We’re told that people will be “deceived” but this is because they made a choice to “not receive the love of the truth” (and we see this again in v. 12). They made a choice to reject salvation and “had pleasure in unrighteousness“* because they have made that decision God will confirm their hearts desire by “send[ing] them strong delusion.” This is the same type of thing as we see in Romans 9:14-18, and by context back to Exodus 4-14. The “hardening” of Pharaoh’s heart is mentioned twenty times, ten are used speaking of Pharaoh being the originator (example: Exodus 7:13, “And Pharaoh’s heart grew hard”) and ten are speaking of God being the initiator (example: Exodus 9:12, “But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh”). Even when God is mentioned as hardening his heart there are still times (Exodus 9:12, 9:34) where it says that Pharaoh hardened his heart, implying there would have been the ability to repent. It’s important to understand that the “hardening” is a progression for Pharaoh and for every person. God shows mercy but He also will give a man or woman what they demonstrate time and again they desire. This is the justice and fairness of God’s judgment.

Conclusion. Today we’ve learned more about God’s justice but also the many things the Christian has hope in. We’ve also seen how the hardening of the human heart against God is a progression. We can be praying for our friends, family and strangers that they would trade the hardened heart for the hope we have in Jesus. And, although I didn’t mention it above, I was fascinated with the use of the phrase “the love of the truth”, especially in contrast with the “pleasure in unrighteousness.” What do you think about those phrases? Leave a comment below and maybe we can talk about it next week!

 

References.

Source 1: John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1854.

Source 2: apostasia, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G646&t=KJV

Source 3: S. Michael Houdmann, http://www.gotquestions.org/Holy-Spirit-tribulation.html

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.

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