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

 

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Devotional # 172. 1 Thessalonians 1:1

Devotional # 172. 1/14/16. 1 Thessalonians 1:1.

Intro. Today we start the book of 1 Thessalonians! We have had a break from studying through just one book with the Christmas and New Year’s Devotionals. But now we continue on, having gone through Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians we come to the book of 1 Thessalonians (pronounced “thess-uh-lone-ee-ans”). As with many of the books in the New Testament we call them books but they started off as letters. This is the first letter (that’s why we call it “First Thessalonians”) that we have from Paul to the church in Thessalonica. Silvanus (Silas) and Timothy were with Paul on his “second missionary journey when [this] church was founded (Acts 17:1-9)” (Source 1) so although Paul is the primary author, he still acknowledges that his traveling companions also greet the church.

Thessalonica is modern day Salonica (see map below) and became the capital of Macedonia around 168 BC (Source 1).

250px-Salonica_Eyalet,_Ottoman_Balkans_1850s.png

It’s important for us to understand why Paul wrote this letter, and without breaking it down section by section, he simply had gotten a good report from Timothy’s last visit (Acts 18:5) and wanted to encourage them. This is a nice change of pace for us when so often we are reading something from Paul because Christians have screwed up!

v. 1. As mentioned above this letter is from Paul and he wrote it to one of their fellow, God-fearing churches. Just here in verse 1 we see the phrase “Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” twice. The first time Paul notes that he is writing “in” as in “through” God. The second time he notes he is writing “from” God. So God is both inspiring him to write and it is therefore true and important but it is also from God so it shows His heart towards them and the things they are doing well and things which will strengthen their walk with the Lord.

I’ve been careful to leave out the words prior to “Father” both times it’s used here because I wanted to draw special attention to them. The first time the phrase is “God the Father” because He truly is the one and only Father God. But the second time the phrase is “God our Father” because He is relational and His heart towards His people is to know them and be known by them. God the Father is a distinct Person of the Trinity (separate from God the Son) and Mighty Creator of the Universe but He is also “our” Father where He knows the small things like each of us by name, knitting us together in our mother’s womb and loves us unconditionally.

Both times Jesus is referenced it’s the same: “Lord Jesus Christ“. This is a great phrase because we get:

 

 

-His title – “Lord” meaning Master.
-His personal, Human name – “Jesus” meaning “Yahweh is salvation” (See Devotional Christmas: God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen for more).
-His purpose – “Christ” meaning Savior.

So what does our Master, God-who-is-salvation, our Savior, desire to make known to the Thessalonians and us today? It is: “grace to you and peace”! Do you remember how important this phrase is? “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! The importance of Christian unity cannot be understated in 2016. I’m serious. You may think the Christian church in the United States is probably as unified as it has been in the past but it’s never been more fragmented and disjointed. Read the book The Great Evangelical Recession by John S. Dickerson for both the sad statistics of how we’ve allowed ourselves to be divided and the encouraging solutions to fix it. Check out Devotional #142 for more on the importance of “grace and peace.”

Conclusion.

-Try picturing your “companions” in the faith when you read through sections like 1 Thessalonians 1:1. If you put yourself in Paul’s shoes it will come alive. Do you have a Silas and Timothy? If so be thankful and if not seek a few brothers and sisters that you can become close with in serving the Lord. You will hold each other accountable and “motivate each other in love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24).

-Take encouragement in knowing that “the Father” who is “our Father” speaks “in” and “through” the Holy Spirit using average people like Paul. In the same way God will speak through you if you are willing.

-Meditate on the “Lord Jesus Christ” who is your Master, personal representative with the Father Yahweh and your Savior. However, He is not yours only but Savior of your next-door neighbors, of people such as Paul and Mary Magdalene 2,000 years ago and Abraham and Sarah 6,000 years ago. Do not try and hoard or hide Him, there is plenty to go around! Tell someone about Jesus their Savior.

-Pass along your “grace and peace” to others, whether they are your enemies or friends. And share the “grace and peace” that can only come from God the Father and God the Son.

 

References.

Source 1: John MacArthur, The John MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1841.

Devotional # 58. Acts 18:1-28

Devotional # 58. 10/28/13. Paul in Corinth.

This week’s Reading: Acts 18:1-28.

Introduction. Last week we discussed the differences between three different groups of people:

the religious but hypocritical Thessalonians, the godly Beareans searching the Bible and the philosophizing Athenians. This week Paul settles down in Corinth and we meet quite a few interesting believers.

vv. 1-4. Paul leaves Athens and moves on to Corinth. Here we find that Paul had learned a trade (a job) in the past which was making and repairing tents (or possibly “leatherworking” (Source 1). This is an important thing to remember because people could say Paul was lazy, just living off of what others gave him as he went from city to city. But when there was work and time he did work. Nowadays some pastors don’t work at all outside of the church and other pastors only work outside the church and don’t get paid from the congregation. This just depends on what God calls each to do. But with this verse (v. 3) there is Biblical proof for both lifestyles. Interestingly “in the modern missions movement, people call any work that a missionary does to support himself on the mission field ‘tentmaking’ (Source 2). Notice Paul spoke weekly to “both Jews and Gentiles” at the local church.

5-8. Silas and Timothy travel to Corinth and meet up with Paul. They brought good news of how the Thessalonians had matured and how the church was doing so this was the point when Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians. We just read in verse 4 that Paul was speaking to Gentiles and Jews but now he specifically speaks to the Jews in the area. But they are angry that he said Jesus was God (an indirect inference since only God can be blasphemed) so they reject his teachings. And Paul gets fed up with them. He had been sent to the Gentiles and obeyed but he also had tried to explain things to the Jews. Now he changes his focus. It wasn’t that he gave up on the Jews, as we see with Crispus being saved, but Paul directed himself towards what the Holy Spirit had called him to do (Acts 13, Devotional 53). The conversion of Crispus must have made news since he was a very influential leader in the synagogue. It’s neat how this section also includes the conversion of a Gentile who lived next door named Justus.

vv. 9-11. Paul is probably frustrated and the implication is that he’s scared. Guzik says he may have been scared the persecution would cut his ministry short here or that the incredibly sinful worldliness of Corinth would affect him (Source 2). Up until now Paul’s M.O. has been to move from town to town but the Holy Spirit speaks to him and tells him he can have some safety and security for a year and a half. Notice he isn’t told no one will bug him but he is told that they won’t succeed (as we’ll see in the next section). In 1 Corinthians 2:1-16 Paul describes his bold preaching in Corinth which came from this time.

vv. 12-17. This is a parenthetical story that happened during the year and a half Paul was in Corinth. A man named “Gallio was proconsul [governor] of Achaia” and the Jews brought Paul to the “judgment seat” which was in the city square across from the governor’s house where he tried legal cases. The Jews want him to sentence Paul so that he leaves their city alone. But, in a scene reminiscent of Jesus’ trial, Gallio says that this isn’t his problem because it has to do with a cultural disagreement. Sadly the Gentiles who are in league with the Jews grab a man named Sosthenes and beat him. Who is Sosthenes? This is a question that has puzzled many scholars. I have heard that he was possibly a protector of Paul, probably a Christian but definitely another “ruler of the synagogue.” It is possible he is the same from 1 Corinthians 1:1. It appears that those beating Sosthenes did it in front of Gallio showing their disrespect of his office: “if he would not be their executioner, they would be their own judges” (Source 3). But even more pathetic is the fact that Gallio, a person in a position of power, did not stand up for God’s people as they were beaten in front of him. Of course we wouldn’t expect much from a pagan governor who doesn’t know the love of the Lord but the disregard and indifference make us question what kind of base ethics he had.

vv. 18-21. So as the year and a half drew to a close Paul takes off with Pricilla and Aquila (the couple from the beginning of this chapter, v. 2) and they go to Cenchrea. Although it is implied that the next verse refers to Paul’s hair being cut the reality of it is that the original manuscripts don’t tell us whether it was Aquila or Paul (Source 3). Either way it was a Nazarite vow and if it was Paul it would make sense if he was fitting in with other Jews there since in 1 Corinthians 9:20 he says, “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” Another theory is that he was thanking God for helping him through the “difficult time in Corinth” (Source 1). Then they move on and after leaving the couple in Ephesus, he preaches in the synagogue. They enjoy his speaking and ask him to stay longer but he says he can’t stay. This makes sense because if a person took a Nazarite vow and had their head shaved away from Jerusalem then they had to appear at the temple in Jerusalem within 30 days (Source 1).

vv. 22-28. Here we are introduced to Apollos who we will hear more about but it is interesting that he was “mighty in the Scriptures.” He was a Jew who was traveling around preaching John the Baptist’s message. He didn’t know that Jesus was the Messiah and that He had fulfilled John’s prophesies. He probably had heard about Jesus but all he knew was that John the Baptist was right and had spoken from God. Remember Pricilla and Aquila were left in Ephesus? Well, they had an active ministry in the city and they hear Apollos and take him aside and explain the fulfillment of the Scriptures. What an exciting time! I bet there was a visible change in Apollos’ countenance when he finally put the pieces together. John had preached repentance from sin so Apollo preached repentance from sin. But that wasn’t enough. Once you repent from your sin you must accept Jesus’ ransom on the cross. Apollos gobbles it up and becomes an even more influential (not to mention complete!) preacher. It was similar to Paul’s conversion where he had known the Old Testament so well that when it was fulfilled he was able to explain it clearly. It would be like knowing the alphabet inside and out, backwards and forwards and then one day someone telling you that words could be made with those letters! Your whole life would have meaning and you would be able to explain it in detail.

Conclusion. This devotional is neat because we see the humanity of Paul (angry at the Jews, afraid, shaving his head in a vow, etc.) but we also see that he gets his power and direction from the Holy Spirit. I think during this time he really saw how God had control of his surroundings. Even at this point Paul probably doesn’t know about Apollos who becomes one of the great preachers in the early church, but God is always training up his people to do His work.

 

References:

Source 1: John MacArthur, the John MacArthur Study Bible, pp. 1666-1668.

Source 2: David Guzik, http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/guzik_david/StudyGuide_Act/Act_18.cfm?a=1036001

Source 3: Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, NT, p. 508.

Devotional # 57. Acts 17:1-34

Devotional # 57. 10/21/13. Thessalonians, Beareans and Athenians.

This week’s Reading: Acts 17:1-34.

Introduction. Last week we talked about Lydia and a warden who both gave their lives to Christ. This week we’re talking about three different types of people: Thessalonians, Beareans and Athenians. As you’ll see some stir up trouble just to keep religious rituals, some are so smart that they’re stupid and some want to know truth…and are willing to change their lives accordingly.

vv. 1-9. Paul and Silas walk to Thessalonica (read what Paul wrote to this church in 1 and 2 Thessalonians) and immediately go into the synagogue (Israeli church) and preach. Some of the people listen but a small group created a riot, angry at the Christians who “turned the world upside down” !!!

vv. 10-15. So the Christians of the city send Paul and Silas to Berea where Paul does the same thing preaching in the synagogue. But there was something different about the people here, called Beareans, which is “now known as Veriain what is today Greek Macedonia” (Source 1). They have become famous (there is even a Christian chain of stores by this name) because of how they handled the gospel. They wanted to know truth instead of follow their own desires or religions. Jesus often asked people to check out if what He was saying was true (as did the apostles and many good pastors will ask this even now). We should model ourselves (and disciple others) to behave in a “fair-minded” way so that we “search the Scriptures” to make sure we are living according to God’s will and not our self righteousness.

Sadly, the small group of “jealous” men making “dissension” (see Galatians 5:19-21) worked themselves up to go to Berea and run Paul out of town. I feel sorry for people like this who feel obligated to stubbornly try and stand in God’s way as He’s working.

vv. 16-31. To understand this next section we need to know what “Epicurean” and “Stoics” believed. Epicurean philosophers believed that God didn’t get involved with humans and when you died your body and soul just disintegrated (Source 2, p. 1665). Stoic philosophy started around 200 BC and by Paul’s time was championed by men like “Seneca (4 B.C.E.–65 C.E.), Epictetus (c. 55–135) and the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121–180)” (Source 3). The basic idea of stoicism was indifference to pain or pleasure (Source 2) which is where we get the term “stoic” from today. These philosophers would sit around and discuss all kinds of ideas and worship idols but never get anywhere with it. So they initially mock Paul for his beliefs because his premises start with a loving God who would take action in sending His Son to die on the cross for every human’s sin. These biblical truths stood in contrast to everything they thought and theorized.

Paul gives us a great lesson when he points to the alter for “THE UNKNOWN GOD” and claims it for the One, true God. Often when we share the Bible with people we fail to meet them at their level. This can happen in our own neighborhood but it is even more obvious if we travel to a different country with dissimilar customs and a different language. I’ve been to England where they speak mostly the same words as Americans but it’s a totally different language and culture. From driving on the other side of the street to calling a cookie “a biscuit” and a biscuit a “savory scone” it took some getting used to. Here in Athens Paul points at an alter that every one of these people have seen many times and quotes their poets (v. 28) yet doesn’t water down the message. If God has sent us to share with people about Christ then we meet them on their level (1 Corinthians 9:19-23) but with personal, yet logical reasons (always having a reason for believing what we believe, 1 Peter 3:15) we convince them (Titus 1:9) with the foundation of the Bible (2 Timothy 2:15) as the Holy Spirit speaks through us (Matthew 10:20).

vv. 32-34. When Paul mentions Jesus’ resurrection many start mocking him. This is usually the case. Most people are OK with ethical teaching or discussing their idea of God but as soon as you mention raising from the dead, people get scared. The initial layer is that they’ve been conditioned to it sounding like a bad horror movie. So they don’t accept it because it goes against what we know to be truth. But the deeper layer, the spiritual battle, is this: if there really is a perfect God who took all of our sins and died for us so we could be in heaven with Him than that would demand some sort of response from us. It convicts us because we are living self-centered lives where we are the priority and we would have to change. We would have to humble ourselves and forgive others as Christ has forgiven us.

Conclusion. So who are you like? Are you a Thessalonian? Is it easier for you to just go to church or youth group instead of opening your Bible and having a relationship with Jesus? Are you an Athenian? Always thinking about ideas but never taking action, always debating but finding that you’re just addicted to feeling smart instead of humbling yourself and recognizing you and your bright ideas aren’t the center of the universe?

Or are you interested in becoming a Christian? If you haven’t accepted Jesus as your Savior then read John 3:16 and talk to God about it (also email me if you want).

Do you already consider yourself a Bearean? Well, there is always room for improvement and we have so much room! One of the greatest things you can do to see how much you still have to learn is to get involved in a younger (in age or maturity) believer’s life (Titus 2:1-10) and teach them to be a Bearean.

Are you a younger Christian who wants to become a Bearean? First, pray for God’s guidance. Second, start reading your Bible! I don’t care how many verses, just read until you get to something that makes you think – something that you don’t understand and have to pray about or ask another Christian what it means. There is a free Bible app for iOS and android called youversion (https://www.bible.com) with tons of reading plans to help you…so you have no excuse. Third, get connected with another human(s). You need fellowship no matter how much people, doctrines or how waking up before noon has hurt you. God is none of those things and in Hebrews 10:25 (and a lot of other places) He tells you to interact with other likeminded believers.  These are just three ways to start living spiritually-minded so that you “search the Scriptures” and find what you’re searching for!

 

References:

Source 1: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bereans

Source 2: John MacArthur, the John MacArthur Study Bible.

Source 3: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/stoicism