Devotional # 194. 1 Timothy 1:5-11

Devotional # 194. 6/13/16. 1 Timothy 1:5-11.

Intro. I’ve spent a lot of time on today’s Devotional because it is exciting! We’re told that the law comes from love, but how can that be true? We’ll walk through several sins that were present in Ephesus (v. 3) and see how they contradict the 10 Commandments and how those sins also interestingly directly contradict Jesus’ love.

vv. 5-7. Last week we talked about the first part of this verse: how “love” should be behind everything we do. It’s easier to do this when we’re sharing the sharing the message of Jesus but it also needs to be done when we’re telling someone they’re doing something wrong (like Timothy has to do here with the Ephesians). For more about this “love” read Devotional # 193.

After “love” the person giving the “commandment” (which ultimately comes from God’s word) of correction should also be speaking “from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith.” Basically we shouldn’t be hypocrites when we’re telling people what not to do. It always convicts me when I’m talking to someone about not sinning and I’ve just done something similar. Our takeaway from this is to constantly be walking with the Lord so we can always have “a pure conscience” since we never know when God will put us into a situation where we need to lovingly correct someone.

Following his thought of “the commandment” (v. 5) Paul starts talking about “the Law.” Here (vv. 6-7) he explains that some of the Hebrews who converted to Christianity were defaulting back to their old religion. Their desire “to be teachers” so overcame them that they lost their “understanding” of the Scriptures and only desired the Law.

vv. 8-10. The law wasn’t bad since it convicted a person that they had made mistakes which the Bible calls “sin.” But as Romans 18:8 tells us, ‘the end of the commandment is love.’ Paul goes on to name some sins that apparently were happening in the Ephesian church. We’re going to look at how these break the law, for example those who are “unholy and profane” break the 3rd & 4th Commandments (“you shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain” and “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” in Exodus 20:7-8). But why does this matter to us now if we don’t live by the Law? First, that we know what is not lawful and second, that we see how it conflicts with Jesus and His perfect keeping of the law. Here are the sins matched up with Jesus and how we apply it to our lives:

  1. murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers” – In the Greek the words are separate here: patroloas (Source 1) and metroloas (Source 2). It does mean to kill your parents but also includes “smiting.” So this has more to do with not beating or striking (expressly to death) your parents. The 5th Commandment says, “honor your father and mother” (Exodus 20:12). When the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus about ceremonially washing hands, Jesus turned the conversation towards a person’s inner defilement by talking about parents (Matthew 15: 1-11). Why did Jesus use this analogy? Because the Pharisees taught that people didn’t have to take care of their parents if they used the money to tithe at church. On the surface Jesus was teaching it was wrong to disrespect and abandon your parents, but on a deeper level He was teaching that we can’t misconstrue God’s word which is evidence of a defiled heart. Jesus’ conclusion was that it was “not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man” (Matthew 15:11).
  2. manslayers” –I wasn’t sure if this was like our term “manslaughter” but in looking at the Greek (androphonos) the word definitely means “murder” as in premeditated killing (Source 3). The 6th Commandment says, “you shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). Jesus told us do not murder and not to say “‘Raca!’” (which literally means “empty headed”) or ‘You fool!’ (Matthew 5:21-22). Jesus is saying verbal abuse is as bad as murder because anger and hatred are the motivations. It is very obvious that hatred is the opposite of love.
  3. fornicators” –For this and sodomy we must look at Genesis for what God intended, not what sinful people have created. In Genesis 2:22-24 God commands that two people make a promise to be committed to God and to be committed to each other. A fornicator has made no promise to God or a spouse but selfishly looks for emotional fulfillment and sexual pleasure in another person. This is unnatural in God’s eyes. The idea of the 7th Commandment which says, “you shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14) can apply here. In Matthew 5:27-32 Jesus digs down to the real matter: not just telling people not to commit adultery but questioning them about their heart and motives. True love is unselfishly committed to another person. In the same way Jesus became the groom dying for His bride on the cross; when we selflessly die to ourselves we can love others in such a way it introduces them to Jesus and His perfect love.
  4. sodomizers” – In the same way as fornication, sodomy seeks sexual pleasure in place of proper sexual union. Again this is unnatural in God’s eyes (1. babies can’t come from this, 2. numerous medical problems, as well as 3. disease and 4. simple disregard for God’s word, etc.) This also falls under the 7th Jude 1:7 tells us, “Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” We have been given examples so we don’t make the same mistakes. What are the mistakes? As the ESV translates this, they “likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire.” When we allow ourselves to be consumed by “unnatural desire” then we disagree with God; we reject His love and say we know better. In the same way that sodomy seeks love, to pursue that lifestyle actually rejects the true love of God.
  5. kidnappers” – Apparently this can mean ‘slave traders’ (Source 4) as well as “kidnappers”. We can apply this to the 8th Commandment which says, “you shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15). Whether you are kidnapping a child or trapping an adult and selling them into slavery it is opposed by Jesus. Note we’re not talking about slaves and masters but instead those who trap or kidnap people. To steal a person’s freedom is one of the worst contradictions to Jesus’ love. Jesus told us to serve others since “even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). When we know Jesus’ love we give ourselves to serve Him (a bondservant) but this is our choice, no one can force us to do this. (See 1 Timothy 6:1-2, Devotional # 206 for more on slaves and masters).
  6. liars” – When a person lies they know the truth but tell a false story instead. But is a white lie all that bad? In Isaiah 65:16 God gives Himself the title “God of truth” and in Titus 1:2 we’re told “…God, who cannot lie…” promises us eternal life. Our God is a God of truth which is applied here since this comes from the 9th Commandment in Exodus 20:16, which says, “you shall not bear false witness.” What does John 8:31-32 say? “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” If I think my kids or my wife or my boss are lying then I can’t trust them. And it makes me wonder why they don’t trust me enough to tell the truth. Lying brings suspicion and doubt which is the opposite of Jesus’ love.
  7. perjurers” – Perjury is lying in court when you promised under oath that you would tell the truth. This is again from the 9th In Matthew 5:33 Jesus tells the people they’ve been taught to not “swear falsely” but He elaborates saying not to swear by anything because we don’t have control over situations, only God does (Matthew 5:34-36). Jesus goes on to say simply keep your word. If you say “yes” to something then do it. When we get to the heart of what Jesus is saying we see that when we love a person (friend or stranger) we won’t lie under oath to them. Honesty in love is the best testimony.

In case the Ephesians (or we today) thought they could get away with something not in this list Paul generalizes all other sins as “any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine”. Just as the 10 Commandments could be applied to the ones above we know the 10th Commandment says, “you shall not covet your neighbor’s house, wife, males servant, etc.” (Exodus 20: 17) so it covers anything else our mind could dream up.

As one commentator reminds us, “we understand what love is only when we see it spelled out for us in terms of the law: thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal—these are ways of describing how love acts” (Source 5). In other words the way the 10 Commandments are written (“you shall not”) is actually showing how to love others. Jesus makes this clear when He says, “love your enemies” because anyone can be nice to a person that is nice to them but it takes Jesus working through us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48).

v. 11. After this list of problems and profane things we’re given the answer: it’s Jesus! Paul basically told us the law isn’t bad but it’s a process to get to a goal, not the goal itself. Jesus and His love is the end goal. Paul was entrusted with sharing this “glorious gospel of the blessed God” and he is passing this important task on to Timothy and on to us. 

Conclusion. Paul started this section reminding us that the purpose of the law was love even though there were some in Ephesus who set themselves up to teach the law only and had removed the proper understanding of the Law, which, again was love. That’s why as we walked through each sin, we saw what it meant, which of the 10 Commandments it matched up to and how breaking that law was a direct contrast to the love of Jesus.

Without understanding that we are all “ungodly” and “sinners” (v. 9) we wouldn’t see our need for saving, but if we don’t acknowledge that these things are unhealthy sins and don’t accept Jesus’ love then we are not responding to the command to repent and we reject Him and His love.

 

References.

Source 1: patroloas (“murderer of fathers”): https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G3964&t=KJV

Source 2:  metroloas (“murderer of mothers”): https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G3389&t=KJV

Source 3: androphonos (“manslayer”): https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G409&t=KJV

Source 4: New Living Translation, Berean Study Bible, etc. Also Jamieson, Fausset & Brown, https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/jfb/1Ti/1Ti_001.cfm?a=1120001

Source 5: Ray Stedman, https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/stedman_ray/Adv_1Ti/Adv_1Ti.cfm?a=1120001

Advertisements

Devotional # 193. 1 Timothy 1:3-5

Devotional # 193. 6/6/16. 1 Timothy 1:3-5.

Intro. Last week when we started 1 Timothy we talked about how the apostle Paul was writing to Timothy to instruct and encourage him. I gave you the list of problems the church in Ephesus was dealing with (see Devotional # 192) and today we’ll see a couple of those. In addition to that we’ll learn about standing against false doctrine, myths and pedigrees, but doing all of this in “love.”

v. 3. Here we see Paul had planted Timothy in Ephesus because they were doing some things that needed correction. Obviously there was no one in the church that was mature enough, experienced enough and competent enough to be trained by Paul to do this job. Let’s apply this to our lives:

I’m an Assistant Pastor at my church and if God moved our Lead Pastor to a different church we should be able to weather the transition.  Now let’s say some problems arise within the congregation; if someone from outside our church has to be brought in to keep things in order until a Head Pastor can be brought in then there is a problem. The reason is that in this example, the current leadership in our church relies upon the Lord and is mature and experienced enough to handle any issue. Personally I have been a Christian for 28 years, been in church leadership for 4+ years and have been discipled and discipled others. I have no excuse. And that’s just me, there are other men and women who should be able to prayerfully handle any issues. Sure, we may not have gone through the exact problem before but we rely on the Bible as our foundation and we know that God has placed the perfect people that He has gifted at every ministry to see it flourish. So when I see a lack of volunteers for Sunday School or an overworked pastor I know that there are other people who are resisting the call of God. In the same way that Paul is about to remind us that we do all of this in “love” (v. 5) we are not to be angry or combative with those that we feel are not helping out because we don’t fully know who God wants to put in that position. Often we think a certain person should be stepping up but we’re wrong, and then the most unlikely of candidates answers God’s call and does an incredible job. My point is that you are responsible to answer God’s call of duty in your church. Don’t worry about others (although we can pray!) just make sure there isn’t a Paul having to send a Timothy to pick up your slack!

Therefore, what are Timothy’s objectives?

First, to make sure no one teaches a false doctrine. Why is this first? Because when doctrine is taught people listen and apply it to their life. When false doctrine is taught the danger is that people won’t know it’s unsound and they will apply it to their lives and possibly teach it to others. We just saw how important it was to have the Bible as our foundation, let alone having seen “teach no other doctrine” twice in 2 Thessalonians (Devotional # 191).

v. 4. Second, to make sure no one pays “heed to fables” and third to not entertain “endless genealogies”.

Regarding “heed to fables”, “fables” here is mythos in the Greek, and can be a narrative story that can be fiction or an invention (Source 1).  I love that Timothy (and by extension, us also) is told to not allow fictional stories to be put through the church. Have you ever heard someone say “those Bible stories are all just made up” or “the stuff in the Bible didn’t really happen, that’s just where myths came from” ? Well, we believers should hate myths and fables as much as non-believers. In Paul’s day there were teachings passed down through Rabbinical leaders that added fanciful stories to the Bible’s truths. Often people who say the Bible is full of made up stories are actually just uneducated. Or, rather, they were educated on lies. And for some of this they can’t be blamed. If their parents taught them the Bible was full of lies that’s a hard foundation to walk away from. Beyond that they may have had a professor and a few disreputable websites under their belt which causes them to be confident. But if they truly want to know the truth, and aren’t just searching for an excuse, then they will be like C. S. Lewis who set out to prove the Bible was full of fables and errors and ended up being convinced of it’s validity and becoming an outspoken Christian. Yes, a Christian’s enemy are “fables” just as much as the non-Christian says “fables” are their enemy.

When Paul says, “endless genealogies” he is referring to the teaching of the family heritage that was so important to the Jews of their time. Paul isn’t against genealogies since Matthew and Luke trace Jesus’ family line to prove he is the Messiah and some of the Old Testament has family lines, instead Paul says “endless” genealogies are unprofitable. To be caught up in researching and arguing over family lines is non-essential to Jesus’ plan of redemption. This is hard for us to understand in our day and age when we can’t even name our great, great grandparents let alone have our heritage be a part of our everyday life. As Barnes says, “the whole system was, moreover, contrary to the genius of Christianity, for it served to keep up the pride of blood and of birth” (Source 2). So for our application in the present day it would be kind of like if believers had come from a family of Christians and they made a big deal about it. If you were the first Christian in your family then you would feel like you weren’t as spiritual as others who were constantly telling you what a great godly family they had. Again, this takes the focus off of Jesus and puts it on us.
The last phrase here in verse 4 is what is really important and should be applied to our churches today: “which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith.” We understand this to mean regardless of what our concern is, we can run it through this litmus test: does the concern cause a dispute or does it edify? Is the concern how short a woman’s skirt is? Well, modesty is commanded in the Bible but the issue shouldn’t cause the body of Christ to split. That’s a non-essential. OK, but what if the issue is bigger? What if the concern is that church leaders are selling pieces of paper that supposedly free you from your sins (“indulgences”)? Was it acceptable for Martin Luther to post his “Ninety-Five Theses”? Yes, it was necessary. Why? Because the indulgences that were being sold taught a false doctrine (v. 3). This should be clear now: if the issue is a non-essential we don’t let it “cause disputes”, if it is essential we stand for what’s right. As I mentioned two weeks ago (Devotional # 191) the desire is always for reconciliation between believers (1 Corinthians 5:5; 2 Corinthians 5:20; James 5:19-20).

v. 5. We’re only going to talk about one thing from verse 5 today and we’ll talk more about the rest of it next week. The reason we’re talking about it at all is because it mentions “love.” In a Devotional about teaching “no other doctrine” and not heeding “fables and endless genealogies” we need to keep “love” as our focus. Love. Not just a pretty word with benign emotion attached but the “love” of Jesus. A love for God first, in the same manner that He loves us. A potent love that commits to honesty yet compassion. A love of others before self. A love of the person rather than the pedigree. Truly our righteous fervor should be shrouded in a warm comforting blanket of love.

Conclusion. Paul had placed Timothy as temporary  pastor and leader over the church in Ephesus. God’s power, Timothy’s willing heart and Paul’s encouragement are an unbeatable formula. Our first encouragement is to hold first and foremost to correct doctrine. We’re not to allow myths or genealogies to divide us. If we keep these things in “love”, true love of God, we will be doing His will, while building up our brothers and sisters in the faith.

 

References.

Source 1: mythos , https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G3454&t=KJV).

Source 2: Barnes Commentary, http://biblehub.com/commentaries/1_timothy/1-4.htm

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

 

Devotional # 174. 1 Thessalonians 1:2-5

Devotional # 174. 2/1/16. 1 Thessalonians 1:2-5.

Intro. Two weeks ago (Devotional #172) we started the book of 1 Thessalonians (pronounced “thess-uh-lone-ee-ans”) and we talked about how Paul wrote this letter to encourage the church there. In verse 1 we saw Paul’s multi-layered greeting and the significance between God being both “the Father” and “our Father.” And we saw the multi-layed title/name of “Lord Jesus Christ” as being very important.

Today we’ll have a lesson in two huge tenants of the faith: “thankfulness” and “prayer”. And we’ll also see the three attitudes of the Christian: faith, hope and love. Lastly, we’ll see four things that the gospel came “in.”

v. 2. Just in this one verse Paul gives us possibly the two most important rules to live by in the Christian faith: thankfulness and prayer. As was Paul’s custom, and we should make it our own also, the first thing that he does is to give “thanks to God“. By being thankful he puts his heart and mind in the right place. He knows that whatever he’s about to say, whatever he’s going to do and however he’s going to exhort them or correct them it is with thankfulness to God for providing the wisdom to do these things. If Paul recognizes how blessed he is and the church recognizes how blessed they are, their thankfulness will pour over onto non-Christians and they will have to seriously consider who God truly is. And so Paul is thankful to God “always for you all” which tells us that Paul is never not thankful for them (“always“). No matter how lackadaisical or frustrating or seemingly perfect our sisters and brothers in the faith are we should “always” be thankful for every single one of them (“all“).

And then Paul says that he, Silas, Timothy and others make “mention of you in our prayers.” What an encouragement to know that men like Paul and Silas and Timothy were praying for you! That they remembered you and your needs and brought them before God. This doesn’t just have to be a thing that we fantasize about, this should be something that we do in our own lives. For us to go out of our way and get to know little churches all over this country and all over the world will take some time but we have more than enough resources. When we start to recognize the names and families of people that we may have never met it starts to change her heart and that’s when God can use us. It may seem trivial but it will put a little more weight behind your prayers of “and God take care of the church around the world.”

From “thankfulness” and “prayer” will come everything that we need to know to do in the Christian faith. Think about it, if we’re not thankful for what God has done, is doing, and will do, why would we be willing to serve Him or help others or share Jesus with others? And if we’re not praying about it how will we know what is God’s will for us to do, who we should speak to and how we should love? It all comes down to “thankfulness” and “prayer”.

vv. 3-4. I like lists, or at least lists from the Bible, because it helps me clearly see what I’m supposed to do. Here Paul shows us three things the Thessalonians were doing: 1. “work of faith”, 2. “labor of love” and 3. “patience of hope.” The “work of faith” can be simply being used by God for anything He asks you to do. He’ll never leave you to do it alone, He’ll always have prepared you (even if you don’t know it) and He’ll have given you the spiritual gift(s) to accomplish it. We’re used to hearing the expression “it was a labor of love.” It generally means something was a lot of work but it wasn’t that bad because you enjoyed doing it. That’s exactly what God is saying here. He will give you a passion that you never had, to do work you never knew, to impact others you never cared for. This passion you have is not something you came up with on your own, often it’s the furthest thing from your mind, but once you’re saved His thoughts become your thoughts, His passion becomes your passion and His love becomes your love. Lastly, the “patience of hope” is an attitude only available to a Christian. Really, without Jesus no one has “hope” and so the believer has a comfort and “patience” in knowing that this world is not the end and there is always “hope” in Jesus. Each of these (the work, the love and the hope) were done “in Jesus” and with God the Father watching (“in the sight of“).

Next we see the Thessalonians “election” was evident to Paul by their unceasing “work of faith” their “labor of love” and “patience of hope.” God had “elected” them to salvation and to do these things while still on earth. This is a great thing and still applies to us to this day! But I must make a warning: if you’re like me you like lists because they clearly tell you the expectation of what’s due. In other words I don’t like “to do” lists but if I have to do stuff I like it clearly stated and separated. The mistake we can make here is to look at this as a “to do” list and think that we’re working ourselves into getting “elected” to go to heaven. But that’s wrong. All signs here (and elsewhere in the Bible) point to the opposite. Let’s look at it again. Their “work of faith” was in who? Faith in themselves and their abilities or Jesus’? Their “love” came from themselves or Jesus? Their “patience of hope” was a hope in themselves and how great they were, or in Jesus? It clearly states here it was “in our Lord Jesus Christ.” So it is only after we have been saved by Jesus that we have the power to do any of the things that God works into us. Let’s look into that power in the next verse…

v. 5. When Paul says “our gospel” he’s not saying that it’s his and Silas and Timothy’s. He’s saying “our” as in it is something shared by all Christians, including the Thessalonians. They should be proud of their spiritual heritage and the blessing of being “elected” and hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Here we see four things that the gospel came in 1. “word” (not in word only, implies that it did come in “word”), 2. “power“, 3. “the Holy Spirit“, and 4. “much assurance“:

It would be amazing in and of itself that the good news of Jesus came in “word” only but if that word didn’t include “power” then at best it would be just another religious writing. But it did come with “power” – the power to heal people’s physical bodies, to heal their minds and to heal their spirits. The gospel also comes with the power of the “Holy Spirit”, one member of the Trinity, God Himself! And the power of the Holy Spirit “will convict the world of it sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment” (John 16:8). Amazingly it is both the Holy Spirit that convicts us of our sin and comes to live in our heart when we accept this gospel of Jesus. And lastly the gospel came “in much assurance” which just means that the people prior to this were assured by God that this good news was true and for them.

Conclusion. We have received much today. Keep in mind the reminder to be “pray” and be “thankful.” Practice the three attitudes of the believer: faith, hope and love. Treasure how the gospel came: in “word”, in “power“, in “the Holy Spirit“, and in “much assurance“. Have a blessed day!

Devotional # 102. Ephesians 3:14-21

Devotional # 102. 9/17/14. Ephesians 3:14-21.

Intro. We have come to the third part of Ephesians chapter 3. Two weeks ago (vv. 1-7) we talked about the unity of believers. Last week (vv. 8-13) we talked about the unity of believers. This week, guess what we’ll read about? Right, the unity of believers! So we see the theme that Paul is giving us in this chapter. The importance of we Christians putting aside our self-centeredness, petty squabbles and uninformed judging is so important. As we read from John Stott last week, “How can we take lightly what God takes so seriously?” (Source 1). Not only does this further the kingdom of God but it has a direct effect on non-Christian’s salvation. Why would a non-believer ever want to learn more about a Jesus whose followers seem to hate each other? Why would they go into a church where their view of Christians being hypocrites is just reinforced? They wouldn’t and, I have a feeling, that’s why so many Christians skip church every Sunday. So we will be that change, right!? We will take instruction from God, through Paul, and we will be faithful in the areas God has given us.

v. 14. Do you remember last week we talked about how humble Paul was (Ephesians 3:8, Devotional 101)? In the same way he notes that he bows before God the Father. This would be especially important to Paul’s audience as he would be brought to trial in the future and all he had to do was say the Emperor was god. But Paul doesn’t just bow in reverence to an unknown god or even in reverence to the One true God, for no good reason. He tells us “for this reason…” Wait, for what reason? The same one that has been the focal point of the first and second sections of this chapter. The same one he called a “mystery” earlier. It was the unification of our family, the body of Christ. That Gentiles would be equal to Hebrews as “heirs”, from “the same body” and  participants in forgiveness of sin from Jesus, the Messiah (3:6).

vv. 15-16. Here we see that we aren’t left to our own devices. We’re not left powerless but powerful (“strengthened with might”). Who gives us this strength? It is God’s “Spirit”, the Holy Spirit who strengthens our “inner man”. What is this inner man? The word “inner” in the Greek is eso (G#2080), meaning “within: the internal inner man; the soul or conscience” (Source 2). The word “man” is anthropos (G#444) and is a general term for a human being, whether male or female (Source 3). So we can understand that this applies only to the Christian who has his soul and conscience awakened by the Holy Spirit. Every person has a conscience along with having knowledge of right and wrong in their heart (Romans 2:15). But only the believer, only the person who has accepted Jesus’ death on the cross for their sins, has the Holy Spirit living in their heart. When this happens the Holy Spirit impresses spiritual things, godly impulses, through their conscience. This is why Christians hear a “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:12), this is why they are led to help a certain person or share Jesus with someone in need. This is why we “bear fruit” (when the Holy Spirit works through us, almost involuntarily having us serve others) and, most importantly, this is why we love like Jesus loved. Not “love” as in “I love this hotdog”, but the love where we’re willing to die for someone else to hear about how they can go to heaven. This segues into the “love” that Paul talks about in the next verses…

vv. 17-19. The “love of Christ” provides a human with a paradox. We are technically unable to “know” this love and yet we are “able to comprehend” it and therefore will be “filled with all the fullness of God.” How is this possible? Paul already explained it. The inability to “know” (“passes knowledge”) is from the human perspective: both the mental ability and the logical reasonableness of such a thing. We’ll never be able to get enough knowledge on the subject of Jesus’ love in order for it to make sense. We’ll never be able to run enough experiments to quantify conclusive data that Jesus’ love is ‘x’ (width) by ‘y’ (length) by ‘z’ (depth) by ‘q’ (height). (Paul covered his bases by giving us 4 dimensions!) But that doesn’t mean it’s not real. It just means that it exists in a separate reality than that of visual planes. It means that we can find it with the instructions Jesus has given us here in the Bible. It also means that we can know it by “faith.”

Ask yourself if spiritually you “know” this “love” that “strengthens” your “inner man” and if you are “filled with all the fullness of God”? Are you confident that God is good and that He is increasingly building you into the person you are supposed to be? When hard times come do you freak out or patiently wait on the Lord (Philippians 4:6-7)? If you have the confidence that Paul had (and yes, it’s possible for each one of us to have it) then great! You are maturing and can mentor other believers. If you do not have that confidence then I have three suggestions. No, they’re not 12 steps. You may have heard them before; you may not like them, but you need to hear them because they are truth: 1. Read your Bible cover to cover, 2. Pray for the Holy Spirit to “strengthen” you for the ministry God has given you and 3. Love Christians and non-Christians with the love of Jesus. Do you want to know why? 1. If you read your Bible cover to cover all of the fears and confusions that come from your life and the lives of friends and family will be answered and God will give you confidence. 2. If you pray for the Holy Spirit to give you this strength you are both acknowledging that you can’t do it on your own and recognizing that you believe in God’s power to change your life. 3. Loving others is commanded by Jesus over and over (John 13:34; 15:12 etc.): loving Christians promotes the kind of family that God (and Paul) are trying get us to be and loving non-Christians gets our eyes off ourselves and puts the compassion that God looks at His lost children with, into our eyes and actions.

vv. 20-21. Paul finishes the chapter by glorifying God. God is obviously the “Him” who is “able to do exceedingly abundantly.” But what does He do abundantly? Everything. God makes every single thing He does incredibly plentiful. God does more than we can ever imagine (“above all that we ask or think”). So why do we doubt Him? The very power that “works in us” is the power that we can’t imagine. My first thought is how much better heaven is going to be than anyone can imagine! But Paul’s context, although looking towards infinity still has practical meaning for our time on earth. The church is told to give “Him glory” by “Christ Jesus” to who? To “all generations.” This is a legacy that we leave for all kids. Whether they are the kids in Hungary that we visited a couple months ago or your kid in the next room or the children in Sunday school. We have a responsibility to pass down a lifestyle of glorifying the One, true Lord. As Joshua declared, “as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15).
Conclusion. So Jesus’ body, Christ’s Bride, we the Church, is incredibly important to God. He won’t let racism or classes or generations stand in the way. As I mentioned above Paul finishes the chapter with a doxology, which is very fitting when we think about all that he has covered. But he is also wrapping up the section of chapters 1-3 and getting ready to move into the next section of chapters 4-6. Next week we’ll start in on how the body is made up of many parts which might be easy to slip into legalism with. For now let’s focus on the 3 steps that build confidence in the Lord and what He is doing. Remember: 1. Read your Bible, 2. Pray for strength, 3. Serve others, both Christian and non-Christian! Have a great rest of your week!

References

Source 1: John R.W. Stott, The Message of Ephesians, 1979.

Source 2: http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G2080&t=KJV

Source 3: http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G444&t=KJV

Devotional # 94. Galatians 6

Devotional # 94. 7/7/14. Galatians 6.

Intro. Last week we dug down into the fruit of the Spirit and what that means to the Christian. How “love” is truly the “fruit of the Spirit” because all other spiritual things come from love. Today we’ll see how we put love into practice. Pay attention if you want to know how to handle your problems and help other believers through their issues.

v. 1. The first thing we notice is Paul identifies the people he is talking to as “brethren“, which are his spiritual brothers and sisters. So he loves them and shares a kinship with them, what he is saying is for their benefit not to hurt their feelings. He is telling Christians how to help other Christians. We know this because Paul says for the “spiritual” person (i.e. a Christian) to “restore such a one” (i.e. another Christian). Also the Bible never tells a Christian to exhort a non-Christian to not sin. A non-Christian can’t stop sinning until they accept Jesus. But we take note because if we are a Christian then we have a responsibility to help other Christians get through a tough time. It doesn’t say whether the person has recognized that they’re sinning or not. Sometimes we have to approach a brother or sister about their sin, not judgmentally but in love. Other times a brother or sister will come to us about their issue. MacDonald notes that “overtaken in any trespass” means surprised in a sin; so basically it’s not habitual sin (Source 1, p. 55). Remember when we talked about a specific sin habit in Galatians 5:19-21, Devotional 92? So if a Christian is struggling with sin (i.e. “trespass“) we are to deal with the situation gently, since we could just as easily fall into the same sin. But why should we do this? The next section will tell us.

vv. 2-5. We should lovingly “bear one another’s burdens” because then we are fulfilling the “law of Christ.” First, what is bearing a burden? Think of a heavy backpack. A true friend will help you with the weight in the bag. So, spiritually, when a Christian has a burden such as “failures, temptations, testing and trials…instead of standing off at a distance and criticizing, we should fly to the side of a brother in trouble or distress and help him in every possible way” (Source 1, p. 56). Second, what is this “law of Christ”? I thought Jesus gave us freedom. His “law” is for us to love each other as He has loved us. His measuring tape of love is eternal in length. He suffered for us, so we should be willing to suffer for our Church family. Let me be clear regarding the context: we should be willing to suffer and sacrifice our time or money or resources, if it benefits a believer.
We are reminded that humility is the top characteristic of a helpful Christian. The immature believer or carnal Christian will think they have been through some tough times and read the Bible so they have all the answers and are the best qualified to be God’s spokesperson to help others. But when they realize that, as Lamentations 3:26-27 says, “it is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. It is good for a man [or woman] to bear the yoke in his [or her] youth“; it is the humble who are used by God. Here in Galatians some might take verses 4-5 out of context: that the individual must “examine his own work” and “bear his own load” in a self-righteous, lone wolf way. This might lead to two things: a person might feel that self-examination is all that’s required and/or an overwhelming feeling of loneliness. These verses in context show that a person needs to be self-aware with humility (remember that was mentioned first) and realize they should worry about themselves being spiritually right with God before they try and solve other people’s problems.

v. 6. Paul is saying that the pupil (the person who is being helped) should be given all good things by the teacher (the one who is giving the help). Notice that the teacher is teaching “the word“. So it should never be an opinion or “my pastor says” or a self-help book that is used as wisdom to help the believer through the sin; instead it is the word! It is the foundation that we stand on – the Bible: God’s word.

vv. 7-10. There is a lot in this section but the main theme is to live a godly life which blesses other Christians. Although it’s true in a general sense that “whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” remember the context is “an exhortation on Christian giving” (Source 1, p. 57).
Recently I have thought a lot about not giving up on the Christian life (“let us not grow weary while doing good“) because it can be tough. If God is training us and our servitude to Jesus threatens the devil then we will have a difficult life. But the promise is that in God’s timing (“due season“) we will be rewarded for perseverance (“we shall reap if we do not lose heart“). We must “do good” to everyone but especially to our brothers and sisters in the Church (beautifully put as “the household of faith“). It’s always important to remember that regardless of denominations or divisions we are all part of the family of God so “our kindness is not to be limited to believers, but is to be shown to them in a special way” (Source 1, p. 57).

vv. 11-15. I love verse 11! Paul couldn’t type in all caps or bold his font so he wrote in big letters. Also some of the letters Paul wrote would actually be dictated by him to a secretary. So what was important enough for him to note that he had grabbed the “pen” and written in big letters? It was the things just written in verses 7-10 and now he’ll elaborate. As he closes the letter he brings the reader’s attention back to the focus of the start of the book: that the Galatians shouldn’t allow false teachers to push them into adding requirements to faith in Christ. Those false teachers want to boast in keeping the law (like circumcision) but they don’t even keep the law themselves. Paul says not even he boasts in anything except the sacrifice of cross of Christ. You see Paul didn’t do anything on his own but he accepts the cross. When it says “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation” it means that in Jesus’ reality baptism or no baptism, small church or big church, we must be a new creation. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 Paul explains, “Whoever is a believer in Christ is a new creation. The old way of living has disappeared. A new way of living has come into existence” (God’s Word Translation).

vv. 16-18. So any Christian following these things will receive mercy. Paul wraps up by basically saying ‘please don’t question whether I speak for Jesus because I have literal scars on my body having been persecuted for Him.’

Conclusion. Paul finishes the chapter, and the book to the Galatians with many things that apply to us still. Don’t let false teachers add things to Jesus’ free gift of salvation, love others with the fruit of the Holy Spirit, bear and share each other’s burdens and know that if we suffer persecutions for Jesus we will be rewarded in heaven, not boasting in anything but Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins.

References

Source 1: William MacDonald, The Letter to the Galatians, 2007.