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 # 163. Colossians 4:1-11

Devotional # 163. 11/16/15. Colossians 4:1-11.

Intro. As we begin Colossians chapter 4 I want to tell you that I’ll be changing the format of this devotional in the coming weeks. I’m going to transfer over to a blog and I hope that you’ll continue reading on there. The plan is that I can do mini devotionals more often. Stay tuned for more info in the coming weeks.

Regarding Colossians 4: Paul finishes off talking to bosses and then he helps us understand the importance of prayer, witnessing to others about Jesus, how vital working with trusted brothers and sisters is and what it means to forgive someone for the betterment of the kingdom of God.

v. 1. Paul is finishing his thought from the last part of chapter 3. As I mentioned last week we hear about “masters“, nowadays we would call them managers or supervisors or bosses. So for those of us who are not bosses this tells us what Christian bosses should be like. For those of you who are bosses God is pretty clear that you are to be “just and fair.” But to what standard are you to be “just and fair“? As always, to the Bible’s standard. I’ve been a team leader before and I’ve been told to do things that are not ethical. Standing up for what is biblically right is much more important than doing what your boss tells you is “right.” Why is that? Doesn’t obeying your boss mean that you get further in the company? Maybe. It could also mean that if you’re doing something illegal you could be fined or imprisoned. But even if that doesn’t happen as a Christian you have an obligation to the Lord. Why is that? Because God has put you in a position to be a “master” on earth but ultimately He is the “Master in heaven.” In other words be “just and fair” to everyone because you have to answer to God for how you’ve acted. But beyond that God is always interested in the heart. You shouldn’t be fair to your employees out of fear of what God will do to you, you should be fair to them because it’s right because your heart has been changed to desire justice and the love of Christ that all people would be saved. One last thought before we move on, make sure you note that this is for Christian bosses – this doesn’t apply to people who have not accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior. It would be nice if they acted this way but we cannot expect them to if they have not had Christ transform their life.

vv. 2-6. Paul transitions here having talked about what mothers and fathers and children and workers and bosses should live like to Christian prayer and sharing Jesus with others. By context, of course this ties to how we should live as families and workers and bosses: in prayer. But Paul isn’t just talking about our roles in those things but also in general as Christians. He tells us to “continue earnestly in prayer.” This tells us at least two things: 1. the Colossians had been praying (in order to “continue“) and 2, it was to be “earnest” prayer. This means to be serious and recognize the importance of prayer. You are talking to the God of the universe and He has the power to answer your prayers, do not be flippant or condescending or disrespectful when you pray. And, as is often the case with Paul, he reminds us that we are to pray with “thanksgiving.” When I read this I can’t help but think of the American holiday of Thanksgiving coming up next week. The whole point of the holiday, and what Paul is saying here, is that we recognize it is God who provides for us and takes care of us and blesses us. Regardless of what we are praying for we must recognize and give thanks for what He has already done and given us. Paul reminds the Colossians, and us also, that we are to be praying for other Christians that God would give them the boldness and the power to preach Jesus to those who don’t know Him. But how can we do this if we haven’t recognized our “thankfulness” for the abundant life that God has given us and the sinful life that He pulled us out of? When we talk about Jesus to others it is “as [we] ought to speak.” It’s not something that we should dread it’s not something that were forced into it just goes with the Christian life.

In verse 5 Paul gives us a short but very helpful set of instructions on how to witness to people about Jesus. In Ephesians 5:1-14 (Devotional # 106–107) we talked about three “walk” commands. They were “walk in love” (5:2), “walk as children of light” (5:8) and “walk circumspectly” or carefully (5:15). Now we’re told by Paul to “walk in wisdom” but what does that mean? Matthew Henry says this basically means to be smart in the way you approach non-Christians, don’t allow their customs to influence you and don’t do them any wrong (Source 3) so that they will not curse you but instead bless the Lord. This is to those “who are outside” which means not Christians. Personally I think of it as meaning outside the gates of heaven, because that puts it in perspective for me. If you’re not going to heaven then you’re going to hell. And every Christian is called to share Jesus with those who are going to hell, just as we who were going to hell were shared with. And how are we supposed to share Jesus with others? 1. Having our “speech always be with grace” which means “To speak what is spiritually, wholesome, fitting, kind, sensitive, purposeful, complementary, gentle, truthful, loving, and thoughtful” (Source 1, p. 1839). 2. Our speech is supposed to be “seasoned with salt“, we’re reminded that “just as salt not only flavors, but prevents corruption, the Christians speech should act not only as a blessing to others, but as a purifying influence within the decaying society of the world” (Source 1, p. 1839). And when these two things are done then we will know how we ought to answer each person who doesn’t know Jesus.

vv. 7-9. Now we come to a point which is fairly typical for Paul’s writings where he mentions specific people and their role within the church as a whole. A lot of times when we’re reading we discount people’s names because we don’t really know them and we think what can an old dead person really teach me about the Lord? But a lot can be learned! For example listen to my sermon on Romans 16 here: http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=83115034446 .

The first person mentioned here is Tychicus and what he does and that he’s traveling to Colossae is talked about in verse 7 which you can read and meditate on, on your own. But I found it interesting that along with him being “a beloved brother, faithful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord” he was one of the Gentiles who was saved through Paul’s preaching and then Paul took him to Jerusalem as a representative of what God had done in Acts 20:4 (Devotional # 60). We also spent a good amount of time talking about him when we were studying Ephesians 6:21-22, Devotional # 120, if you care to re-read that. He’s also talked about in 2 Timothy 4:12 and Titus 3:12.

The second person mentioned here is Onesimus who is also talked about in Philemon 1:10. I really like Onesimus. He was “the runaway slave who’s return to his master was the basis for Paul’s letter to Philemon” (Source 1, p. 1839). In his introduction to the book of Philemon, MacArthur does a great job of explaining some more key information. The thing that I want you to know is that when the slave Onesimus became a Christian he recognized that he needed to go back to his master but it wasn’t safe for him to return because of slave traders. So Paul had Tychicus (who we just talked about) accompany Onesimus and they were the ones who took this letter that we’re reading to the Colossians! (Source 1, p. 1890).

vv. 10-11. We continue on, hearing about Aristarchus, Mark and Justus. These guys were Jewish, we know this because they were “of the circumcision” (v. 11).

Aristarchus was Paul’s “fellow prisoner.” It is possible that this is referring to when Aristarchus was imprisoned along with Paul in Acts 19:29 (Devotional # 59) or how he accompanied Paul when Paul was a prisoner in Acts 27:2 (Devotional # 71). It could also be that at the time Paul was writing this very letter, Aristarchus was in prison with him. Isn’t it interesting that Aristarchus had a habit of being alongside Paul, getting imprisoned whenever Paul did (Source 2)? You can tell that Paul appreciates it and calls them his “fellow workers for the kingdom of God.” I challenge you, if you’re not called to lead a group of people working for the “kingdom of God”, that you find someone who is and become a “fellow worker” with them. You can’t believe what it means to someone who is sharing Jesus with others and praying (as Paul’s been telling us here) to have others come alongside and help with the burden. You can see Aristarchus again in Philemon 1:24.

This is the Mark who wrote the gospel of Mark. Remember that the story was re-counted by Peter and transcribed by young John Mark (as he is also called). I love that the Bible tells us the difficulties that have always existed between imperfect people doing the Lord’s work, and yet this is a section that shows us what reconciliation looks like. Do you remember when we went through Acts 13:13-38 (Devotionals # 53) we saw that Mark didn’t finish out the trip he was supposed to take and Paul didn’t accept it? In fact Barnabas forgave Mark and continued to work with him although Paul split off and went with Silas in Acts 15:36-40 (Devotional # 55)? But here in Colossians this shows us that Paul and Mark did patch up their differences (as well as 2 Timothy 4:11) and that they worked together. A couple weeks ago when we were going through “bearing with one another, and forgiving one another” in Colossians 3:13 (Devotional # 161) I mentioned that I’ve thought about leaving churches before because people hurt my feelings or made me angry but that too many times I’ve read in my Bible how much Jesus wants the church to have unity and not division. Now to be honest, I see where Paul is coming from in not feeling like he can trust Mark for ditching them, but I also have to understand that Mark was young and may not have had the perseverance to commit to doing what he was supposed to do. And I think the reasons I just mentioned were understood by the separate parties of Paul and Mark and that’s what helped them come to an understanding. And that’s what we need. Understanding to come to an understanding. If it’s up to you don’t allow yourself to never reconcile with another Christian, they might be able to be become a close, “fellow worker” with you. Notice that Paul had given the Colossians an open-ended “command” to accept Mark if he ever came through Colossae. A personal recommendation from Paul was no small thing.

And lastly is Jesus, which is the English translation of the Hebrew name Yeshua (which in English is Joshua). Obviously this isn’t Jesus Christ but another man who was born with the name Jesus. But now he went by the name Justus, which Matthew Henry thinks might have been out of respect for our Lord Jesus (Source 3). We don’t know anything more about him but that he was one of the three men in Rome at this time, who were of Hebrew decent that were of great comfort to Paul. It’s no small thing to be a comfort to a great man of God!

Conclusion. I think this is a great section of Scripture. There is so much here. We’re taught about general praying and praying for other Christians. We’re taught about “walking in wisdom” when it comes to sharing Jesus with others. We’re also given insight into what some of the guys who helped out Paul were like. I love the real people that we hear about in the Bible! What great stories so many Christians have, and how they are used by God. Next week we’ll go over some more people who were instrumental in the growth of the early church.

 

References.

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

Source 2: David Guzik, https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/guzik_david/StudyGuide_Col/Col_4.cfm?a=1111001 .

Source 3: Matthew Henry, https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/mhc/Col/Col_004.cfm?a=1111001 .

Devotional # 137. Philippians 4:4-6

Devotional # 137. 5/18/15. Philippians 4:4-6.

Intro. I have two friends that have started new jobs and both of them are dealing with stress. They are in leadership positions, expected to do more with less people. I have another friend that is finishing up school soon, will she be able to get a job in order to pay back the school loans? I know someone else who’s company just let a bunch of people go and they aren’t getting any new work so will the company go bankrupt? I have a friend who’s dad just died. Another friend has cancer in his leg and now his baby daughter has to get multiple operations.

There are different ways of “managing” stress. Maybe you work more (at your job maybe that’s  overtime or at home maybe that’s every week night and weekend). Or drinking alcohol more often. Or trying to be entertained all the time. Filling up on movies and TV and music. But whether the problems are money or health, they threaten to distract you and pull you away from God. And if that’s true then the real problem is that God is allowing you to go through something to bring you closer to Him but you’re trying to do the exact opposite.

So how do you fix it? “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Does this seem trite? Have we heard this verse so much that it doesn’t resonate? Well does stress and pain resonate with you? Then lets give Paul’s words a second chance.

v. 4. What is the context of what we have been studying? In 3:18-19 Paul says that there are some people who consider themselves Christians but really they are selfish and “their mind” is “on earthly things.” In 3:20 we were told that our citizenship is in heaven, in 4:1 Paul says that his sisters and brothers in the Lord are his “joy and crown” and just prior to this (4:2-3) he settles a minor argument by asking two ladies to be of the “same mind in the Lord.” He then reminds everyone that their “names are in the Book of Life.” In 7 verses Paul has talked about two painful and hard things but also balanced it by talking twice about heaven. So when Paul says “Rejoice in the Lord always”, he is coming from a background of stress and pain but always with the mind that Jesus has prepared a place for us in heaven (John 14:2).

Paul doesn’t want us to fake our joy, but wants it to be a true fountain gushing up from our soul. In church yesterday we sang the song “We bring the sacrifice of praise” (which comes from Hebrews 13:15). When we praise God we see our joy perfected, but mind you, it’s a sacrifice. This kind of joy that comes from knowing life is hard but we have heaven to look forward to and a “peace that passes understanding” (v. 6) here on earth is exciting and worth repeating. And so Paul does. He says, “Again I will say, rejoice!

v. 5. It is easy to not pay attention to this verse when it is book-cased by such famous verses like 4 and 6. When Paul says, “Let your gentleness be known to all men” the word “gentleness” stands out to me. Does that mean that we’re supposed to be weak and let everyone know about it? Let’s look at the original Greek. The word “gentleness” is epieikes (G#1933) meaning “seeming, suitable” or “equitable, fair, mild, gentle” (Source 1). That kind of gives us more questions than answers. Where else in the Bible is this used? It is the same word as used in Titus 3:2 which says we should “speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, showing all meekness to all men” (KJV). With an understanding that “meekness” isn’t weakness but the opposite – strength under control – we can see that this portion from Titus is saying for Christians not to bad mouth others, not to get in fist fights, not to be rough and not to abuse their strength in a threatening way. Getting back to our verse in Philippians, one commentator translates this: “let your sweet reasonableness be known unto all men” (Source 2). So it comes down to not being offensive and harsh to others but be a person that they want to be around. Understanding the “reasonableness” of a Christian is important too. To not be a bigot who is irrational and difficult is another way to put this.

As a Christian who has many family members and friends who want nothing to do with God and have no interest in heaven or hell or salvation, I still have opportunities to talk with them. But I’ve found I don’t have to be irrational because I believe in God. Sure, there are some things that are supernatural and therefore not normal to the worldly person, but that doesn’t mean its irrational. God is a Lord of order and precision. The Bible is full of well documented, connected points. Me saying ‘I believe that purple elephants are the best musicians’ is a lot different than saying, ‘sometimes life is really hard and really bad stuff happens.’ Or ‘isn’t it cool that everything produces after its own kind?’ When you quote from the Bible in your own words there is rationality. When you start with an idea that everyone can agree with, it’s a lot easier to follow up the ‘really bad stuff happens’ statement with ‘if there is really bad stuff then there must be really good stuff too, otherwise how can you contrast something as really bad?’ And that conversation can continue with talking about good and evil, and morality and a moral law Giver (God!) . A conversation that starts off with everything producing ‘after its own kind’ naturally flows into how it makes sense that it is designed and if its designed then there must be a Designer (God!).

So is that what you are? Are you rational with your conversations? Are you willing to admit when you don’t have an answer? Are you willing to say that it does seem crazy that God would come in the form of a human (Jesus) and save us from our sins? But are you able to make the points that convinced you that Jesus is God and did save you from your sins, to them? If not I suggest you think that one through for yourself before you try and talk to someone else! If you are someone who won’t rip another person’s head off and you admit that you don’t have all the answers you will begin to have a “sweet reasonableness” that is infectious. People will want to know where your “rejoicing” (as we just read from verse 4) comes from. People will ask you why you’re not stressed in difficult situations (as we’ll see in verse 6).

Paul says “the Lord is at hand.” This wasn’t a threat but a reminder. We need to be acting with a gentleness and reasonableness when we explain our hope, because Jesus could come at any moment. We shouldn’t be worried about how we’re acting but worried about where non-Christians are at with Jesus. Have we done all we can to lovingly present Jesus as He is, to these people?

v. 6.  This famous verse has been dissected many times, in many ways. For the best understanding we need to be reminded of the context: remember, in short, Paul has talked about two painful and hard things but also balanced it by talking twice about heaven. Now in verses 4 & 5 we’ve been told to rejoice and that our “gentleness” and reasonableness should be known by everyone we come in contact with. If these things are in our mind then hearing that we shouldn’t be “anxious” about anything, isn’t just a cheap catchphrase but actually touches and impacts our lives and the lives around us. If Paul recognizes that the world is tough and bad stuff happens but that we have a tangible and real eternal hope, then we should be willing to listen to why we shouldn’t be stressed.

The reason isn’t because the longer we’re a believer the more levels of enlightenment we’ve climbed. It’s not because some fake prophet has told us to get over our stress and stop worrying because everything will be fine. It’s not because it’s irrational. It’s not because if we’re religious enough and do enough good works we won’t have anything to worry about. If anything, we’ve studied in Ephesians and Philippians, Christians will end up with more weight on their shoulders. So why shouldn’t we be “anxious about anything”? Because if we do what God asks us then we are guaranteed “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” which will “guard” our “hearts and minds through Jesus Christ.”

Paul gives us three things: “prayer”, “supplication” and “thanksgiving.” But first we have to recognize that this applies to “everything.” We don’t get to give 95% over to Him but keep one or two little things to worry about. We shouldn’t feel like we’re giving up control because really…we never had control of our lives in the first place! Instead this should be a relief that we are to give everything over to Him. Let him have all the doubts and fears.

So first we are to do everything by “prayer.” Payer is one of the gifts God has given us to talk with Him. It shouldn’t be a memorized bunch of words without feeling or meaning. Prayer is the single greatest weapon we have against Satan. Prayer is just as much us listening to God as it is us talking to God.

Second, we are supposed to “supplicate” ourselves to Him. What is “supplication”? The word “supplication” is an action of asking for something humbly (as I mentioned in Ephesians 6:18-20, Devotional 120). So when we first tell God about the bad stuff in our life… the stress in our new job, the cancer in our leg, our dad dying… through “prayer” then we can humbly ask that we have peace. We can humbly ask to “rejoice” (v. 4). We can humbly ask to be more “gentle” (v. 5). You thought I was going to say, ‘we can humbly ask that God take it away’, huh? Why would I only ask for God to take it away when I’ve learned that He has me learning and growing through whatever the issue is? First, I ask that His will be done (but I have to really mean it!) and then I can ask if it’s His will to take it away. But when I “supplicate” myself I am recognizing that He is God and I am not. I am asking Jesus to sit on the throne of my heart and allowing Him to do what’s best. See I probably wouldn’t be in such a mess if I had just listened to Him in the first place! So why do I think I still know what’s best? No, I need to recognize that I am His bondservant and that I want His will over my own will.

Lastly, I pray and supplicate with “thanksgiving.”  When I name off the things I have been blessed with it does something to me. I am in awe of how good God is to me. I don’t deserve anything but He always provides above and beyond what I need. When I come to Him prayerfully recognizing what I’ve already been blessed with it changes how I pray. Instead of “give me this” or “get me out of that” it becomes “God, I have seen you prove yourself over and over again, so Lord if you want me to get this thing then great, but if not, thanks for that because You know best and it probably would have caused me a lot more trouble.” The great American evangelist, pastor, educator and writer R.A. Torrey said about “thanksgiving” in prayer: “Returning thanks for blessings already received increases our faith and enables us to approach God with new boldness and new assurance. Doubtless the reason so many have so little faith when they pray is because they take so little time to meditate upon and thank God for blessings already received. As one meditates upon the answers to prayers already granted, faith grows bolder and bolder” (Source 3).

Conclusion. We must take verse 4 with verse 6. If we “rejoice in the Lord always” then we will have a much easier time of not being anxious (v. 6).

 

References:

Source 1: epieikes, http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G1933&t=KJV

Source 2: Matthew Arnold, quoted by J. Vernon McGee, Philippians and Colossians, 1977, p. 89.

Source 3: R.A. Torrey, How to Pray, p. 60.