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

 

Advertisements

Resurrection Day 2016

Resurrection Day 2016 (3/27/16)

Today is Resurrection Day! We celebrate the Lord Jesus rising from the dead. In fact we just had our church’s Sunrise Service…it’s watching the Sun rise as we celebrate the Son’s rise!! In a sermon I gave a couple months ago (click here to listen) we talked about John 20:1-31.

What stands out to me today is in verses 11-16: “But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb.  And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. Then they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, “Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.”  Jesus said to her, “Mary!

Jesus has truly risen from the dead and what is His first thought? It’s for us, for our comfort (“why are you weeping?”) to each of us personally (“Mary!”). Jesus has so much love for us to save us from all the bad stuff we’ve done, to die for our sins and give us hope that we too can be resurrected from the dead (read last year’s Devotional # 131 Special Resurrection Day blog about that). As we read in last week’s regular Devotional (Devotional # 182) from 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10, “For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,  who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.” We have obtained salvation through who alone? “our Lord Jesus Christ”! How? What did He do for us? He “died for us” that we will one day “live together with Him”!!

Praise Jesus today, and every day, He rose from the dead! What a miraculous work He has done and continues to do in our lives every day!

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 # 143. Colossians 1:3-8

Devotional # 143. 6/29/15. Colossians 1:3-8.

Intro. Last week’s devotional was very meaningful and really inspirational to me. Not because of my words but because of the Holy Spirit speaking. I actually used the things that I talked about from verses one and two in the sermon that I gave yesterday. The important things to remember by way of context was that Epaphras, who had planted the church and was the pastor, had traveled to Paul who was in prison to ask about how to deal with the “Colossian heresy.” So Paul wrote this letter to the Christians in Colossae. He reminded them of where their roots were: although they had varying backgrounds and cultures (Hebrew and Greek) they should be united in Christ. Which brought him to their real roots: spiritual roots in truth.

We’re going to study through verses 3-8 today. When I just read this I was mildly surprised at how long the sentence is and then it reminded me that Paul had done the same thing in Philippians 1:3-8. He started with the greeting and then said a lot of good information in a really, really long sentence (by our English standards!) . So what is some of that good information?

WHO: “we” this was Paul, Timothy (v. 3) and Epaphras (v. 7 – the Colossian’s pastor who had visited Paul to get advice on the “Colossian heresy.”)
WHEN: “since we [first] heard of your faith” (v. 4).
WHY: “because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven” (v. 5).
WHAT: “The gospel…is bringing forth fruit” (vv. 5-6).

Now that we have a roadmap of where we’re going, let’s dive into what each verse is saying a little more.

v. 3. As mentioned above the “we” here is Paul who is dictating this letter, and Timothy, who was probably the one writing it and also from their pastor “Epaphras.” What do these three men of faith say first? That they are “thankful.” They are thankful to “God our Father” and to “the Lord Jesus Christ.” They recognize that it is God and God alone who should receive “thanks” when there is blessing.

And what is the most important thing that they can give to the church? Is it a million dollars? Is it good wishes? Is it world peace? Nope. It’s that they are “praying” for the church in Colossae. This is where the power is at. There is no other way to make change happen than to seek God and ask for His will to be done.

Did you know Paul didn’t know most of the people in Colossae and had never visited there? I think it’s incredible that he was praying for them all the time. This love really shows the power of Christian love.

v. 4. How long had Paul, and the others in Rome and other places been praying for these Christians? Since they first heard that there was a church in Colossae. These other churches were “praying always for you”. To hear that is a very encouraging thing! We as Christians need to be always praying, and part of that is to be praying always for our other brothers and sister around the world.

Paul says that it wasn’t just that they had heard about the Colossian’s faith in Jesus but also their “love for all the saints.” This “love for the saints” was shown in action towards other believers (we’ll talk more about bearing “fruit” in a minute). Did you notice that Paul used the word “saints“? Remember last week we said that “saints” implied a right relationship with God? So it’s not enough to just have faith in Jesus but a right relationship with God is reflected in also having a right relationship with our Christian brothers and sisters! And Paul is specific that it is “love for ALL the saints.” The Colossians didn’t discriminate between race or background or education or social class or annoyance or age. I personally need to work on this and I bet you do also. It can be so hard to force myself to “love” another Christian that doesn’t fit my personality preferences or if they intimidate me or if they smell or whatever it is. But I constantly need to pray that the Holy Spirit would teach me to love like Jesus loved.

v. 5. So Paul’s first word in verse 5 (“because”) should be read in the context of verse 3. Let me put them together for you: “We give thanks to God…because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven…” You see the Christians in Rome and other places were convinced that the people in Colossae were really Christians who were going to heaven. I was just talking to my son about church denominations and I explained that for me personally they weren’t really a big deal but some people’s whole life is wrapped up in their denomination or disliking a different denomination. I explained that the only way you can really know if a person is a Christian is to talk with them. When you develop a relationship (or at least start to) that’s when you can tell where a person is at with the Lord. However, denominations can provide a quick reference for people to know where other people stand. For example I’ve had someone come up to me and tell me they are a Christian and as we start talking I find out that they go to a Kingdom Hall, which means that they are a Jehovah’s Witness, so that is different than someone that tells me they go to a Baptist church or a Methodist church.

So the people in surrounding areas had talked with Epaphras and Onesimus (Colossians 4:9) and been convinced that the people back in Colossae were of the same beliefs and therefore they were going to heaven. Notice it doesn’t say they were going to “the new heavens and the new earth” or that they would be in Purgatory, but it specifically says they were going to “heaven.” This is another great encouragement both for the believers in Colossae and for the Christians in Rome and other areas. (Pay attention because this should be an encouragement and lesson for us to!) It was an encouragement for the Colossians because they were looking forward to seeing the other brothers and sisters, now with this letter, God had recognized them, the struggles they were going through and the “Colossian heresy”, and they were encouraged of the end result: that they would be in heaven! And it was encouraging for the believers in Rome and other areas because most of them couldn’t go visit Colossae (remember Paul was in prison) but they knew that they would see their spiritual family from Colossae in heaven. So it wasn’t just the great reward of one day getting to enter heaven but it also made this earthly life bearable – looking forward to fellowship with other believers!

We’ll talk about the “truth of the gospel” in the next verse.

vv. 6-8. Paul’s thought from verse 5 about the “truth of the gospel” doesn’t require much elaboration. As most of us have talked about in the past, “the gospel” just means “the good news” referring to the fact that Jesus died for our sins and came back to life showing us that our sins could be forgiven, if we put faith in Jesus and that we also could enjoy eternal life in heaven. So that “good news” is “truth.” Jesus said He is the “Truth” in John 14:6. There is nothing made up or fake about it. If you want me to email you 7 great proofs of the resurrection just email me back.

The good news of Jesus went to the Colossians in the same way that it went out to the whole world. It’s interesting I was just reading in my personal devotions in Acts 11 about how Jesus had told his disciples to go into the whole world and tell everyone the good news (Matthew 28:19) but they didn’t, they just stayed close to home and told people like them because that was more comfortable. But God allowed persecution of Christians (Acts 8:1) to force them out of their comfort zones and obey what He had told them to do. Isn’t that the same way with us? God tells us to go share His good news with others and we ignore Him or squirm around trying to get out of it but ultimately we comply. This is considered “bearing forth fruit” so the quicker we figure this out the better!

Sometimes we lose the focus of how it takes obedient individuals to bear this “fruit” in spreading “the gospel.” But Paul didn’t forget and he is quick to remind the Colossians that they have a faithful pastor in “Epaphras” since he was the one who first brought the good news to Colossae. But do you have to be a missionary to “bear fruit”? Do you have to be a pastor? Do you have to plant churches? No. Jesus called all of us to share His good news and if He did that then He expects us to be faithful in whatever calling He has given us. We don’t have to force anything on anyone but instead we “love in the Spirit”, we “love” them to Jesus. It is Jesus who is the root, the trunk and ultimately the “fruit” that we, “the branches”, are to bear. He will do the work we just have to be willing vessels.

 

Conclusion. We’ve talked about Christians being “thankful” when they hear about other Christians who are like minded with them in following Jesus. We talked about “praying” for and “loving” all the different types of Christians that we meet. We talked about being encouraged because when we die we will be in heaven” and not only that but we’ll finally get to meet all of the believers around the world who we have prayed for, and who have prayed for us. We talked about “bearing fruit” for the Lord by sharing the good news of Jesus with others and just obeying His commands in our lives. These are great things for us to pray about in the coming week.