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.

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Devotional # 164. Colossians 4:12-18

Devotional # 164. 11/23/15. Colossians 4:12-18.

Intro.   Today we finish out the book of Colossians: we’ll be learning about more men of faith. As it seems with the world we know today, there were people in the early church that stuck with Jesus and the faith as well as some who fell away. What can we learn from Paul’s final words and goodbye?

vv. 12-13. Just like Onesimus (4:9), Epaphras was from Colossae (“one of you“). And as such Epaphras’ heart was with his hometown. Notice that Paul says he was “laboring fervently for you in prayers” (v. 12) and “great zeal for you” (v. 13). So even if we have moved out of our hometown it’s a good thing to keep the ministry there in prayer. If God has called you to another place other than where you grew up be faithful in that place, praying for it and acting in His will but don’t forget your roots. It will be such an encouragement for your brothers and sisters in your hometown to hear how you battle for them in prayer! And another thing we see about Epaphras, aside from the great compliment by Paul about him being a “bondservant of Christ“, is that he also kept Laodicea and Hierapolis in mind. 

Sadly, what we know from Scripture about Laodicea, things didn’t go so well. According to Revelation 3:14-22 the Church of  Laodicea was one of the “very bad” Churches. The city of  Laodicea lay on one of the great Asian trade routes, was a leading banking center and manufactured black wool. There are references to the emetic qualities of the soda-laden warm water from nearby Hierapolis, whose thermal springs ran into the Maeander. So we see that Hieropolis was close to Laodicea. It is believed that Hierapolis is where Phillip (the Apostle) was stoned to death.

v. 14. “Luke” and “Demas” are mentioned here. This is the Luke that wrote the Gospel of Luke, which was named for him. He was not an eye-witness of Jesus but he went around as a reporter and talked to eye-witnesses and as moved by the Holy Spirit wrote down the story of Jesus. He then worked with Paul, as more than an eye-witness, laboring with Paul and Timothy and Demas and the others who are mentioned here and in other epistles and gospels. He makes me think of our present day Lee Strobel who was a journalist for the Chicago Tribune and strong atheist who started investigating claims about Jesus and then became a Christian. He has written books like The Case for Christ (documenting his attempt to prove Christianity false, multiple interviews with evangelical Christian scholars and ultimately his conversion) as well as The Case for Faith, The Case for Christianity and The Case for the Real Jesus, among others. I would encourage you to read any and all of these. What we can learn from men like Luke who are educated (Paul was a doctor) is that Christians can be educated and still serve the Lord greatly. Obviously there are still men like Lee Strobel (and J.P. Moreland and Ravi Zacharias and R.C. Sproul and on and on) who carry on the tradition of telling others about Jesus with scholarship. Go ahead and look at this link of 20 apologists (and other cultural commentators): http://crossexamined.org/top-20-apologists . I suggest you look into how these people share their biblical worldview.

Notice Paul doesn’t give any positive mention of “Demas” and it seems like maybe that is for good reason. Although he is mentioned in Philemon 1:24 as a “fellow laborer” with Paul, the last mention of him in 2 Timothy 4:10 shows that Demas actually forsook Paul “having loved this present world” and that he went to Thessalonica (Source 1). It seems like Demas degenerated in his walk over time. We can learn a lot from this. It seems that the writers of the Bible are wise in reminding us that we can fall away from the Lord and our walk with Him. We may not plan it, or even think it would ever happen and yet it does. The longer we spend time in churches and fellowship with Christians the more chances we have to see this happen. Be warned do not lose your love for the Lord, do not allow your walk to become boring and uninspired. As soon as you settle in to monotony you will drift away from the Lord instead of sailing alongside Him.

v. 15. Here we’re told of “Laodicea” and “Nymphas.” We just talked about the area of “Laodicea” but now we’re introduced to “Nymphas.” Paul tells us that Nymphas’ had a church in his house and Paul greets Nymphas and all who are in that house church. Not much else is known about Nymphas himself but the house-church is an important part of church history. It wasn’t until some time in the third century that Christian churches were in there own large buildings. But knowing that Nymphas was a faithful man is encouraging especially in light of what we just learned about with Demas.

vv. 16-17. When a church got a letter from an apostle such as Paul or Peter they would read it in their church usually multiple times. They would often have people copy it and then pass it around to other churches. Paul gives specific instructions that the Colossians are to read the letter among themselves but then they are also supposed to pass it on to the Laodiceans and make sure that it’s read to them also. Paul is doing more than just reminding them, he’s making sure to call out the importance of the church in Laodicea. In just the seven verses Paul has mentioned the Laodiceans four times. He’s actually killing two birds with one stone: he’s making sure that the Colossians recognize the importance of the Laodiceans and other churches and that the Laodiceans both feel that they are important and recognize the importance of other churches like the one in Colossae.

Paul then says something interesting. He specifically tells the Colossians what to say to a man named “Archippus“. Archippus may have been Philemon’s son “since he is mentioned in the context of the wife of Philemon” (Philemon 1:1) (Source 1). We see Paul’s appreciated view of Archippus when he calls him “our fellow soldier.”

But it’s really interesting Paul doesn’t just say ‘hey, just remind him about this thing.’ Instead Paul specifically tells them the words that he wants used. God had a very specific message specifically directed at Archippus. I love that our Lord knows us by name, and that he has specific messages for us throughout our lives. Sure this message may speak to many other people who feel convicted that the Lord is speaking to them that’s one of the reasons God uses the Bible. But sometimes we can be so interested in applying it to our own lives that we forget about the person that it was initially intended for. Archippus was a real guy and really needed to be reminded by God to, “‘take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it’“. So it would seem that Archippus was not doing all he should with the ministry he had been given. I love the wording here, it was not “his ministry” it was a ministry that he had “received.” Every ministry that we have has been given by God to us it is owned by Him and He has hired us to do His work.

v. 18. Paul signs off on his letter to his friends in Colossae. He signs it by his “own hand” so that they will know that it is a credible letter and that they can believe it. As we’ve seen this was common for Paul and others of his age, to sign off on the letter whether they dictated it to someone else or wrote it with their own hand. Paul remind them of his “chains” – not to get sympathy out of them but because he wanted to remind them of his commitment level and what theirs should be. Not just was he able to give them encouraging words but he lived out his convictions. It also served to remind them to pray for him since it was a difficult place to be in. Paul then says, “grace be with you.” This is an appropriate reminder that God has extended kindness to us even though we didn’t deserve it. I think it’s really cool that even though Paul was in prison he still recognized God’s grace to him. Paul’s proper mindset on grace is then passed on to his friends there in Colossae. We can learn from this when we’re going through difficulties it is the mature Christian that can still encourage other Christians with words like “grace be with you” instead of “poor me”. Paul concludes with “amen” which means “may it be” or “so be it.” The use of “amen” is always the perfect bookend to a spiritual thought, prayer or letter. God is speaking through Paul saying, ‘everything that I’ve said here is righteous and true and will come to pass.’

Conclusion. As we close up the book of Colossians we should look back over some of the things we’ve learned. We talked about praying for others (1:9, 4:12) to be fruitful (1: 10) so that we can share Jesus’ salvation with others (1:14). We learned about Jesus’ nature and authority (1:15-18). We talked about how philosophy and legalism weren’t worth anything when compared with knowing Jesus (chapter 2). We spent some good time on the character of the believer and what our family relationships should look like (chapter 3). And here in chapter 4 we talked about walking in wisdom and redeeming the time (4:5). We then heard about some great men of the faith and how they can impact our lives nowadays (4:7-17). Again, all of these awesome and comforting thoughts were sealed with “amen” by God Himself, so we can take courage in knowing they are true and will come to pass.

I hope that as we transition into the blog format you will continue to receive these Devotionals and tell your friends, families and enemies (haha) about them. Again, it’s at: https://godsheartblog.wordpress.com , which is the main page where all devotionals will be posted.

 

References.

Source 1: David Guzik, https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/guzik_david/StudyGuide_Col/Col_4.cfm?a=1111001