Devotional # 191. 2 Thessalonians 3:5-18

Devotional # 191. 5/23/16. 2 Thessalonians 3:5-18.

 

Intro. One of the reasons I chose to put verses 5-15 together is because of the theme of Christian living. Of course God put it together because of a common theme first but I think it will do us a lot of good not to split it up into different Devotionals. We’ll do things a little differently today and not break it down by verses but instead by teaching: 1. Withdrawal from the Disorderly (vv. 6-7, 13-15), 2. Work, Don’t Gossip (vv. 8-12) and 3. Paul’s Farewell (vv. 16-18).

On a section about how to deal with other Christians Paul fittingly reminds us to accept: 1. direction from Jesus (“the Lord direct your hearts”), 2. “the love of God” and 3. “the patience of Christ” (v. 5). Pay attention to this Devotional if you’re struggling with a relationship of someone in your church or another fellow believer at work, etc.

Withdrawal from the Disorderly (vv. 6-7, 13-15)

In this section we’re told to not hang out with Christians (“brothers”) who don’t follow the Bible (“the tradition…received from us”). But why not and how are we supposed to “withdraw” from them? First, the “why not?” Well, we were told in 2 Thessalonians 2:15 (Devotional # 189) to hold to these “traditions.” And because everything from the apostles (and therefore from God) was good and beneficial for believers lives (Matthew 4:4). Paul ties this to a specific problem the church in Thessalonica was having: people not working but instead gossiping. We’ll talk more about this in a minute but here the reason to withdraw was to show those Christians that what they were doing was unacceptable, to make sure the good weren’t counted as one of the wrong people and also to set a good example to non-Christians who are always watching us to see if Jesus is real and Christianity is true.

Second, how are Christians supposed to “withdraw” from those who are doing wrong? First, in absolute love, as we saw in verse 5. Next, Paul lays it out for us to “not keep company with [them]” (v. 13). Note that we don’t just avoid them whether they notice or not, Paul says the end goal is for them to be “ashamed” (v. 14). Not that we take joy in shaming our brothers and sisters but that they would recognize their mistake and change. Remember the goal is always reconciliation (1 Corinthians 5:5; 2 Corinthians 5:20). Paul couldn’t be more clear that we don’t treat our fellow believers as “enemies” but “admonish as a brother [or sister]” (v. 15).

Work, Don’t Gossip (vv. 8-12)

As I briefly mentioned above Paul is tying the sins of slothfulness and gossip to “walking disorderly” but these are not all that we should “withdraw” from, instead these were issues happening in real time in Thessalonica.

First, why should Christians work? Because any reasonable person recognizes that no one deserves a free ride. If the majority of able bodied people work for a living what makes someone who is fully capable any different? I belong to a generation of entitlement, and it is wrong. Thank goodness I had the Bible to guide me away from that mentality. As Paul says, if you want to eat, you have to work for it (v. 10). In addition to that we are all representatives of Jesus who never took a free ride. If we want to do the right thing then: 1. We should lead other Christians by example as Paul, Silas and Timothy did (vv. 8-9) and 2. We should be a good example to non-Christians also.

Second, let’s define “gossip.” Some people think gossip is lying about someone or something but that’s not true at all. Gossip is telling the truth about something when you should have kept your mouth shut. What determines when you shouldn’t say anything? Usually common sense but if you don’t have that then follow this guide: Would you say it to the person’s face or only behind their back? Would they appreciate it if you told others about their personal issue? Is it helpful? Does it encourage and build up? Does it serve a purpose?

Now that we know what gossip is we should ask how can it hurt others? I’ve been reading a book called Captive In Iran  about two Iranian ladies who were imprisoned a few years ago for being Christians. They tell a story about an elderly woman they called “Mommy” who was always gossiping and trying to stir up trouble, turning prisoners against each other. After many attempts to stop her from this behavior it all came crashing down one day when “Mommy” had encouraged a drug addict to bully other ladies. One of the other prisoners named Tahmasebi had enough and almost killed the bully and then she went to “Mommy” and told her if she gossiped and instigated bullying ever again she would be killed. That night the warden moved “Mommy” onto another floor with all of the murderers (Source 1).

Obviously this story is quite dramatic but don’t fool yourself into thinking your gossip wouldn’t have the same effect on you and everyone around you. Proverbs 6:16-19 says, “There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers” (ESV). If nothing else makes you believe that gossiping is wrong and that you should stop let the verse that tells you God hates it, be the one!

Paul’s Farewell (vv. 16-18)

After these specific things (love, patience, withdrawing from disorderly believers, working and not gossiping) and other things from the letter (perseverance in persecutions, God would be glorified in us, our salvation, sanctification, words and work) Paul says, “may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always in every way.” So the title “Lord of peace” is applicable because He will give you “peace” in all things. It’s also interesting that Paul states, “the Lord be with you all” because of the portions of this book (and 1st Thessalonians) where Paul gave us doctrine on the end times (the Rapture, THE apostasy, Antichrist and Final Judgment). For the Christian, Jesus will always be with us, for those who reject Him, He will separate Himself. And that is the worst punishment of all.

 Paul proves that he wrote the letter by signing it and then tells them that he does this for all his letters. This is important for us today because the early church would have been able to spot frauds and the fact that they passed these on (and kept the originals as proof) gives yet another assurance that our New Testament books are true, from God and inerrant (without error).

Lastly, as he usually does, Paul finishes with a closing statement from Jesus. Interestingly Paul doesn’t mention God the Father here but the complete authority of Jesus alone. It is Jesus who gives us “grace” which will be with all of us.

Conclusion. The book of 2nd Thessalonians has been short but good. I gave a little summary above but I believe it is a book that can be read over and over, always giving us new things. We’ll make more connections within it (and especially tying back to 1st Thessalonians) the more we read it. I hope it blessed you as much as it blessed me. Look forward to 1 Timothy next week and have a great day!

 

References.

Source 1: Maryam Rostampour, Marziyeh Amirizadeh, John Perry, Captive In Iran, Tyndale Momentum, pp. 185-186, 2013.

 

 

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Devotional # 190. 2 Thessalonians 3:1-4

Devotional # 190. 5/16/16. 2 Thessalonians 3:1-4.

Intro. Last week we talked about “THE truth” and God’s “calling” us to “salvation” (Devotional # 189). This week we start the final chapter of the last communication we have from Paul to the Thessalonians. We’ll talk about what prayer to ask for and the faithfulness of Jesus. We’ll find these things give us “confidence in the Lord”.

vv. 1-2. It makes sense that Paul, Silas and Timothy, having started this epistle talking about how they pray for the Thessalonians (1:3, 1:11) would here ask the Thessalonians to pray for them. When you truly believe prayer works then you are praying for other Christians and asking them to pray for you. What do Paul and the others request? Is it freedom from a prison cell or for money? No, they ask for:

  1. The word of the Lord”: A. to be shared all over the world (“run swiftly”) and B. for it to be honored and exalted (“glorified”).
  2. God to deliver them from “unreasonable and wicked men.”

We should keep these things in mind; the same things that we struggle with today Paul and his compatriots struggled with in the first century. We need to be praying for an honoring of God’s word, unlike anything this world has ever known. We also need to be praying for an evil retardant. We know that this world will get worse (especially considering the end times studies we’ve had recently) but we don’t know when the Rapture will happen and it is entirely possible for God to give us a great revival prior to the Rapture, so let’s pray for these things.

vv. 3-4. Paul says, “but the Lord is faithful.” Why does he remind us by starting with “but”? Because his last thought was on “wicked men” who do not “have faith.” What a fantastic contrast! Sure, we can become depressed by the wicked people who oppose Jesus in us every day, but Jesus strengthens us. The lack of faith displayed by lost people isn’t just equally combatted by the faithfulness of Jesus, “but the Lord is faithful” in words and actions completely overpowering “the evil one” by “establishing” and “guarding” us. Imagine yourself in battle, you have the best body armor on and no matter what caliber, the bullets can’t break through. Your combat boots are like when you’re at the ocean and the water slowly buries your feet so they can’t be moved. Jesus is protecting and establishing us – nothing can move us because He is faithful!
What should this give us? Confidence. It gave Paul and his guys “confidence in the Lord” that He would keep His word. Paul knew the Thessalonians were currently doing the right things (“that you do”) but it was so important to be committed and never drift away from the faith (“will do”). Yes, it’s important to have a current, steady walk with the Lord but what’s the point if you’re going to falter a year, 10 years, or 20 years from now? I’ve never started a race thinking I was going to lose. Sure, I’ve lost plenty of races but I never started with the assumption that if things got too hard I would just quit. The Christian life is the same way – it’s not an emotional rollercoaster, it’s not a series of spiritual highs from conferences and camps. It’s a slow maturing in the Lord for the rest of our lives. “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary” (Galatians 6:9, Devotional # 94). And how can we do this? Because we have “confidence in the Lord” that He will help us persevere. In fact we’re also promised a crown in heaven, “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).
Conclusion. Did you notice that Paul and his companions didn’t have any personal requests when they asked their brothers and sisters for prayers? It’s a great idea when you’re one-on-one with another believer to ask for a few personal prayer requests but when we have opportunities for corporate prayer it should be for what will glorify God and hamper the devil. Do not lose heart today, and do not be persuaded to slowly drift away from your walk with the Lord. Be intentional in your relationship because “the Lord is faithful.”

Devotional # 189. 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17

Devotional # 189. 5/10/16. 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17.

Intro. Three weeks ago we started digging into God’s righteous judgment and justice in 2 Thessalonians 1:4-10 (Devotional # 186). Last week we talked about some specifics of the end times and the many “hopes” believers have in the Lord (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12; Devotional # 188).

At the end of last week’s Devotional I very briefly asked you about “love” vs. “pleasure”. I was fascinated with the use of the phrase “the love of the truth”, especially in contrast with the “pleasure in unrighteousness” (v. 12). The original text for “love of the truth” is agape (love) aletheia (truth). As we’ve said before (Devotional # 121) agape love is God’s unconditional love (Source 1). The term aletheia is “truth” objectively as ‘absolute truth’ or ‘truth about God’ or ‘the truth from the Bible’ (Source 2). The “pleasure in unrighteousness” in Greek is eudokeo (pleasure) en (in) adikia (unrighteousness). Eudokeo means “seems good to someone” or “to choose or decide” (Source 3). And adikia means injustice or violating the law (Source 4). Paul tells us that everyone who didn’t believe in God’s unconditional love, which is an absolute truth, instead welcomed injustice that they thought “felt right.” For a chapter mostly about the righteousness of God’s justice we really should be paying attention to the truth of God’s love.

This week we’ll talk more about “THE truth”, God’s “calling” us to “salvation” but also our role of believing in Him.

vv. 13-14. Paul starts with “but” noting that he’s about to contrast the discouraging information he has just given in verses 1-12. Along the theme of a Christian’s hope we had last week (Devotional # 188) Paul’s “but” here is telling us there is hope. He talks again about their (Paul, Thomas and Silas’) thankfulness for the brothers and sisters in Thessalonica, the same way he started the letter in verse 1. Why are they thankful? Because the Thessalonians were “called” (v. 14) “for salvation” (v. 13) by two things. What are these two things? This is important because it’s also how we were “called” by God to receive “salvation.”

First, “through sanctification by the Spirit.” Just a couple weeks ago we talked about sanctification meaning purification (Devotional # 180). “Sanctified” also means to be “set apart”; so the Holy Spirit has set us apart by making us pure. For more on sanctification go here.

Second, Paul says, “belief in the truth.” We have two key words here: “belief” and “truth.” The “belief” that a believer (ever wondered why we’re called that?!) is exercising is faith in the Lord, what He says and what He does. The other important word is “the truth.” Not just “truth” (that some people think doesn’t exist) but “THE truth.” In the Greek “THE truth” here is aletheia, the same as the “truth” from verse 12 that I mentioned in the “Intro” above. “The truth” is the one and only, unquestionable, verified reality. The truth of God comes from the true Creator who literally is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Do you remember “THE apostasy” from last week (Devotional # 188)? In many ways “THE truth” is the opposite of “THE apostasy.”

It’s interesting that in a section of Scripture that Calvinists use to show that we are “called” by God (which we obviously are) there is also a portion where the ball is in our court by “belief in the truth” (also true). So, as I’ve said before, Scripture doesn’t allow for hyper-Calvinism or hyper-Arminianism. It is best to be middle of the road. This is another one of God’s contrarieties (not contradictions) where two things that we can’t understand as co-existing (i.e. both God pre-ordaining us to be saved and our acceptance and choice in the matter) do in fact somehow harmonize perfectly.

How “thankful” we should be to know we have been sanctified by the Spirit and given the ability to believe in the truth! As Ephesians 2:8 tells us “by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”

v. 15. The Thessalonians are reminded by Paul that they needed to “stand fast” and “hold” to the “traditions they were taught.” They were taught these in two ways: 1. “by word” – in those initial 3 short weeks (Acts 17:2) as well as when Timothy and Silas made the second trip out (Devotional # 185) or by “epistle” – which were both letters we now call 1st & 2nd Thessalonians. We need to pay attention to this because although Paul is not going to instruct any of us personally, the Holy Spirit still does speak through women and men on a regular basis. Be open and willing to hear what the Lord says to you through brothers and sisters. For us, the second should come before the first: we need to heed the “epistles” before listening to a fellow Christian.

Why is this important? Because the Holy Spirit has spoken in times past and kept it, without error (Psalm 12:6, Proverbs 30:5-6, 1 Corinthians 12:12-13), for our doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). This is crucial because anything any human being tells us better line up with Scripture otherwise its wrong. If I’m told the Holy Spirit will make me bark like a dog that’s not a new revelation or a special anointing. How can I be sure? Because I don’t see it in Scripture and if God doesn’t change (Malachi 3:6) and I don’t see it in the Bible then its wrong (not to mention its disorder and God is not a God of chaos according to 1 Corinthians 14:33). What is best for my life is to know the Bible (“epistles”) and encourage and be encouraged by fellow believers who speak “words” that line up with the Scriptures.

vv. 16-17. Paul ends the chapter with the realities of hope and comfort that both our Lord (Master) Jesus and God (“Father”) give us. First, they “loved us”, second they gave us an “everlasting consolation”, third, they gave “hope by grace.” What an amazing time you will have when you meditate on the love of God! The “everlasting consolation” is a special relief that has already started but will continue for eternity. Lastly, that “hope by grace” is a positive outlook on the future, knowing that God has given us what we don’t deserve. For more on grace (and how it’s different from mercy) see Devotional # 98.

I love that this comfort to our “hearts”* will “establish you in every word and work.” It bears the reminder that both the words and works here are given by God. Regarding the “words”, the Bible says that the we shouldn’t worry about what we’re going to say about Jesus because the Holy Spirit will give us the words we should say (Luke 12:12). Regarding the “works” 1 Timothy 6:18 says, “Let them do good, that they be rich in good works...” In both cases it is “our Lord Jesus Christ”, “our God and Father” and the Holy Spirit who gives us the ability to say and do these things. I can’t help but notice that the “word and work” here in verse 17 is similar to the “word” and “epistle” that Paul told us were traditions we should hold on to (v. 15). Certainly the “words” and the “epistle” that Paul produced were not of his own working or authority, instead they comforted his heart and the hearts of many others including us today.

 

*heart – this word is how the Bible describes in what way our soul and spirit are mysteriously tied together.

 

Conclusion. In the same way that Paul produced many great things in “word and work” we are told the Trinity will supply us with the same power. Today we reviewed “THE truth” that gives us hope: an “everlasting consolation” and “hope by grace.” Be encouraged by the “words” and “epistles” as well as the “word and work” that you have today!

 

References.

Source 1: agape, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G26&t=KJV

Source 2: aletheia, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G225&t=KJV

Source 3: eudokeo, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G2106&t=KJV

Source 4: adikia, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G93&t=KJV

Devotional # 188. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12

Devotional # 188. 5/2/16. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12.

Intro. Two weeks ago we started digging into God’s righteous judgment and justice in 2 Thessalonians 1:4-10 (Devotional # 186). Last week we talked about Paul, Silas and Timothy’s prayer for the Thessalonians. It was in three parts: “that (1) our God would count [them] worthy of this calling and (2) fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and (3) the work of faith with power” (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12,  Devotional # 187). Notice the “goodness” of God mentioned, we must remember that as we move through today’s Scripture. In that Devotional I mentioned that this week we would be returning to some specifics of the End times and also that we would see the many ways Christians have hope.

vv. 1-2. Paul returns to telling his brothers and sisters (“brethren”) about the “coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him.” He names two separate events: 1. “The coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”, which is the Second Coming of Jesus ending the Great Tribulation, and 2. “our gathering together to Him” which is the Rapture. Do you remember the two charts I gave in Devotional # 181 showing the similarities and differences between the Rapture and the Second Coming? In 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 we talked about how “the Day of the Lord” (here “the Day of Christ” is better translated as “the Day of the Lord”) always refers to God’s Judgment (Devotional # 182). Paul’s heart here is to correct the Thessalonians fear and doubts. He had already explained how these things would happen (v. 5) but they had forgotten or been led astray. We need to act as quickly as Paul did when we hear that someone from our family of faith misunderstands Scripture. Notice how loving Paul is in his explanation.

Specific to this section, one commentator says, “this was the event the Thessalonians were anticipating” (Source 1). And it should be the same for us 2016 Christians! When Jesus is at the center of our universe then finally meeting Him in our glorified bodies should be the things we’re looking forward to right now. Our desire to be perfect in the presence of the One who perfected us should partly fuel our hope for the future. Remember the hope that these things give us as Paul mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 (Devotional # 181)? But why does this only partly give us hope?

There are different levels of maturity for a Christian. In my mind one of the factors is where we place our hope. The very bottom level, let’s call it “0”, is where non-Christians are. If they have any hope at all it’s in themselves or temporal things. But when someone becomes a Christian they hit “level 1” where they trust Jesus as their Savior. This is a very basic realization that there is in fact hope in eternal life and they will spend it in heaven. From here it can go one of two ways: they can stay at “level 1” but focus on the problems of this life with the hope of eternity in the back of their minds; or they can move to “level 2” where they are encouraged by reading their Bible that they have hope in being raptured by Christ. It seems like many pastors nowadays push the hope of eternity or the hope of the Rapture or both.  And that’s great – those truly are the foundation of a believer’s hope. But there is more to hope in! And this is where, something like a third level would come into play. The Christian is looking forward to the hope of eternity with the Lord in general and the hope of Jesus pulling His Church from the earth prior to the Tribulation (not just an escapist mentality) but now the believer also looks forward to: prophecy being fulfilled, sin ending forever, the Lord’s will completed, people returning to the state God designed them for, communion and fellowship for the totality of the Church with the Lord, Satan and his demons being stopped, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, new heaven, new earth, the New Jerusalem and final righteous justice and judgment given by God (and I’m sure there are more). You see all of these things will happen after the Rapture and they don’t only affect us personally but they affect all of humanity and all of creation.

Please understand the “levels” I just created to explain believer’s hope are just that – something I created to explain the truths of God’s word. I’m not saying these are rungs of a ladder of works or that if you’re at what I described as “level 1” then you’re not good enough. My point is that we all need the reminder that there is so much to hope in the Lord for!

vv. 3-4. Paul gives us an important timeline. He tells us “that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed.” So the Second Coming will not happen until “the man of sin” (also known as “the son of perdition”) comes on the scene. So what does the “the falling away” mean? The original Greek is apostasia which is where we get our word “apostate” and “apostasy” as we have here. It means “to forsake” or “fall away” (Source 2) and, in a religious sense, is used when someone has been part of a church or religion and then leaves it. But here, in verse 3, it is a unique and specific event of “THE apostasy”*. One commentator says that the key to understanding the event of THE apostasy “is to identify the main person, which Paul does, calling him the ‘man of sin’” (Source 1). The “man of sin” is the Antichrist and how he sits as God in the temple can be found in Mark 13:14-20. If you don’t remember going through this in Devotional # 34 then here is a portion:

The Anti-Christ re-builds the temple and puts the “abomination of desolation”, which is an image of himself, in the temple. This was actually prophesied 560 years prior to Jesus, in Daniel 11:31 (Source 2)! Here it says “standing” which indicates that it will be continuously there for 3 ½ years (according to Revelation 12:6). This is interesting because the Jews may have been persuaded that the anti-Christ was the Messiah when he re-builds the temple but when they see him put his image inside they will know he is an imposter. This will be when Romans 10 & 11 (among many others) are fulfilled and Israel accepts Jesus in their hearts and not because of birthright or works of the Law. They (and others) will run to the mountains to hide, if they don’t take off immediately they will be caught and killed. This will be the worst warfare the earth has ever known (Devotional # 34).

Back here in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, we have a clearer understanding of what will happen in these End times. One last thing before we leave this portion: “the apostasy” (“falling away”) that takes place is scary and saddening. If you read 2 Timothy 3:1-5, the apostate people have a “form of godliness“, so they go to church and look like a Christian, but “deny its power“, so they don’t have the Holy Spirit. I was reading in the last book of the Bible recently and thought this applied to what we’re studying. The seventh church that Jesus walks through is “the church of the Laodiceans” in Revelation 3:14-22. This was both a real church in the first century and a prophecy of a future Church age. It is the worldly church that backs Antichrist and the church that Jesus knocks at their door asking to be let in (“I stand at the door and knock“). What?! Why is Jesus outside of the church? Shouldn’t the church have Jesus at its center? Yes! And yet this church that masquerades as “rich, wealthy and needs nothing” is actually “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17).

 

*THE apostasy:  Some have thought that this was another mention of the Rapture. The problem with that is in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 the catching away is harpazo, which is an act of God, but this apostasia here is an act of man, this is apostate.

5-7. In the midst of the disconcerting news of the future we find more hope as well as important theology. As I mentioned before, Paul says that he has told the Thessalonians about these things in the past. It certainly was important for him to remind them of the timeline of these things so that they didn’t live in fear of having missed the Rapture, but it also showed them, and it shows us, that God is in control. Not only had Paul prophesied that these things would happen in this order but verses 6 & 7 tell us about a “Him” who is “restraining” the Antichrist. Who is this “Him“? It’s the Holy Spirit! The Holy Spirit is currently holding back “the mystery of lawlessness” which “is already at work“. So we see this “mystery” is more than just current sin (“lawlessness“) but in fact it is the demon spirit currently on earth that will inhabit the Antichrist but is being “restrained” by the Holy Spirit. What does this tell us? Several things but first, this gives us hope and faith knowing that God is holding back Satan’s plan. And it’s not like God is a grandpa who loses his grip on the leash of a large dog. It is in the perfect timing of the Father’s plan that He takes the Holy Spirit out of His restraining role. Does this mean the Holy Spirit stops working? No, “the passage says the Holy Spirit will no longer restrain the growth of evil, but that does not mean He will have no ministry whatsoever” (Source 3). Read through the book of Revelation and you will see how much the Holy Spirit continues to work during the end times. What an encouraging thing to know that everything is according to God’s will and that the Holy Spirit continues to work for all eternity!

vv. 8-9. Spoiler alert! Just as quickly as we’re told that the Holy Spirit will allow the Antichrist to take action, we find out that God ultimately destroys him! Paul is saying, ‘don’t worry Thessalonians, Satan and his demons will have a time to tempt people but God will deal harshly with them in perfect righteous justice and judgment.’ Why do they have to be released? Because God gives everyone a choice whether to be saved by Him or trust in themselves and Satan (as we’ll see in vv. 10-12). Let’s look at that next.

vv. 10-12. Verse 10 is the continuation of what Paul started saying about the evil empowered by Satan, worked out by the Antichrist (v. 9) but it gets personal now because humans are mentioned. We’re told that people will be “deceived” but this is because they made a choice to “not receive the love of the truth” (and we see this again in v. 12). They made a choice to reject salvation and “had pleasure in unrighteousness“* because they have made that decision God will confirm their hearts desire by “send[ing] them strong delusion.” This is the same type of thing as we see in Romans 9:14-18, and by context back to Exodus 4-14. The “hardening” of Pharaoh’s heart is mentioned twenty times, ten are used speaking of Pharaoh being the originator (example: Exodus 7:13, “And Pharaoh’s heart grew hard”) and ten are speaking of God being the initiator (example: Exodus 9:12, “But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh”). Even when God is mentioned as hardening his heart there are still times (Exodus 9:12, 9:34) where it says that Pharaoh hardened his heart, implying there would have been the ability to repent. It’s important to understand that the “hardening” is a progression for Pharaoh and for every person. God shows mercy but He also will give a man or woman what they demonstrate time and again they desire. This is the justice and fairness of God’s judgment.

Conclusion. Today we’ve learned more about God’s justice but also the many things the Christian has hope in. We’ve also seen how the hardening of the human heart against God is a progression. We can be praying for our friends, family and strangers that they would trade the hardened heart for the hope we have in Jesus. And, although I didn’t mention it above, I was fascinated with the use of the phrase “the love of the truth”, especially in contrast with the “pleasure in unrighteousness.” What do you think about those phrases? Leave a comment below and maybe we can talk about it next week!

 

References.

Source 1: John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1854.

Source 2: apostasia, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G646&t=KJV

Source 3: S. Michael Houdmann, http://www.gotquestions.org/Holy-Spirit-tribulation.html

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 # 181. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Devotional # 181. 3/15/16. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

 

Intro. Last week we covered the first 12 verses of this chapter (Devotional # 180) where we saw how to be righteous Christians, but I mentioned that it was laying a foundation for us to understand how the Rapture of the Church was going to go.

vv. 13-14. Having said that it is God’s will for us to be sanctified and cleaned by not being sexually immoral (v. 3), leading a quiet life, not gossiping and working hard (v. 11), Paul finishes that thought by explaining we need to be good witness to non-Christians (“outside”) and that we Christians “may lack nothing” (v. 12). With the fact that we lack nothing, Paul moves in to the truth of what our resurrection and the Rapture will be like. You see, because we lack nothing we also do not lack knowledge. That’s why Paul can say, “I do not want you to be ignorant” because ignorance is the lack of information.

I was reading Proverbs 14 this morning (as I attempt to read the chapter of Proverbs that corresponds with the current calendar day) and verse 6 stood out as applicable to this study: “A scoffer seeks wisdom and does not find it, but knowledge is easy to him who understands” (Proverbs 14:6). From what we’re reading here in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 there are those who are “ignorant” that heaven exists and that the Rapture of the Church will happen. Today there are very few people in the “civilized” world who haven’t heard the truth about a biblical heaven and the idea of the Rapture with movies like “Left Behind” with Nicolas Cage and the “Left Behind” book series (and films with Kirk Cameron). So we can see that many of them are “scoffers”, making fun of a Savior who would die on the cross; the ideas of sin, the Rapture and heaven. But for the Christian, we have this “knowledge” and it is “easy to him who understands.” What does this do for us? We’re told this so that we will have “hope” (v. 13) but notice that verse 14 says “if”. The “if” here makes it a conditional promise. “If we believe…” Believe what? “That Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.” You can’t get much clearer than that!

In verse 14 we have the roadmap: What is to be done: “believe”, in Whom: “Jesus Christ”, Why: because He “died and rose again”, and the Result: the Father “will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.” To “sleep in Jesus” sounds a little strange but is actually a truthful and perfect way to put it. Anyone who has died but believed in Jesus is not really spiritually “dead” – they are merely “sleeping.” Do you remember what Jesus said to His disciples, the family and the mourners of the little girl He raised from the dead in Mark 5:35-43 (Devotional # 15) ? He said that she was just sleeping, and then proceeded to bring her back to life. What an incredible story and what an incredibly hopeful outlook – that death is not the end but merely a short time of sleep followed with the fullness of eternal life! We must keep in mind that for that little girl (and any other people Jesus raised from the dead during His ministry) they were going to have to die again since every person must die (1 Corinthians 15:22; Hebrews 9:27). But the principle still applies: God considers the physical death of His Church as merely sleeping.

vv. 15-17. Paul substantiates his claim by saying this is true because it is “the word of the Lord.” This isn’t something Paul made up or even connected the dots and made a hypotheses. No, the facts of heaven and the Rapture were told to him by God. Not only to him but we see it elsewhere in the Bible, proving the validity of these claims.

The Thessalonians were unsure in what order future things were going to happen. Would their dead friends and relative miss Jesus coming back? Hadn’t Jesus promised to save Christians from difficult times? Paul explains how things will happen and in what order:

 

First, at “the Rapture” Jesus will come down from heaven. This will be announced, as always, at Jesus’ command (“shout”), also announced by a separate voice of an archangel and lastly, announced by a trumpet blast.

Second, the Christians who have died before Jesus raptures the Church will rise before the believers who are still alive (“we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep” and “the dead in Christ will rise first”).

Third, the Christians who are still alive will be taken from their earthly bodies (essentially dying) and join Jesus “in the clouds.”

 

We’ll look into these things in more detail but I think at this point it’s important to note that although many Christians refer to Jesus’ return for his Church as the “Second Coming” technically the “Second Coming” is something different that doesn’t happen until after the Tribulation. Although The Rapture and the Second Coming share some similarities, here are several key differences:

 

The Rapture vs. The Second Coming (Source 1)

  Rapture Second Coming
The Church Jesus returns FOR His Church (1 Cor. 15:51-52; 1 Thess. 4:16-17) Jesus returns WITH His Church (Rev. 19:11-16)
Tribulation Before (1 Thess. 5:9; Rev. 3:10) After (Rev. chapters 16-19)
Reason Believers get delivered (1 Thess. 4:13-17; 5:9) Non-believers get judged (Rev. 3:10; 19:11-21)
Viewed Hidden (1 Cor. 15:50-54) Visible to all (Rev. 1:7)
Timeline Any time (1 Cor. 15:50-54; Titus 2:13; 1 Thess. 4:14-18) After specific events (2 Thess. 2:4; Mt. 24:15-30)

 

 

Contrasts Between the Rapture and the Second Coming (Source 2)
Rapture Second Coming
Christ comes for His own (John 14:3; 1Th. 5:28; 2Th. 2:1). Christ comes with His own (1Th. 3:13; Jude 1:14; Rev. 19:14+).1
Christ comes in the air (1Th. 4:17). Christ comes to the earth (Zec. 14:4; Acts 1:11).2
Christ claims His bride (1Th. 4:16-17). Christ comes with His bride (Rev. 19:6-14+).3
Removal of believers (1Th. 4:17). Manifestation of Christ (Mal. 4:2).4
Only His own see Him (1Th. 4:13-18). Every eye shall see Him (Rev. 1:7+).5
Tribulation begins (2Th. 1:6-9). Millennial Kingdom begins (Rev. 20:1-7+).6
Saved are delivered from wrath (1Th. 1:10; 1Th. 5:9). Unsaved experience the wrath of God (Rev. 6:12-17+).7
No signs precede rapture (1Th. 5:1-3). Signs precede Second Coming (Luke 21:11,Luke 21:15).8
Focus is Lord and Church (1Th. 4:13-18). Focus is Israel and kingdom (Mat. 24:14).9
World is deceived (2Th. 2:3-12). Satan is bound so he cannot deceive (Rev. 20:1-2+).10
Believers depart the earth (1Th. 4:15-17).11 Unbelievers are taken away from the earth (Mat. 24:37-41).12
Unbelievers remain on earth. Believers remain on earth (Mat. 25:34).13
No mention of establishing Christ’s Kingdom on earth. Christ has come to set up His Kingdom on earth (Mat. 25:31Mat. 25:34).14
Christians taken to the Father’s house (John 14:1-3). Resurrected saints do not see the Father’s house (Rev. 20:4+).15
Imminent—could happen at any moment. Cannot occur for at least 7 years.16
Precedes the career of the man of sin. (2Th. 2:1-3). Terminates the career of the man of sin (Rev. 19:20+).

 

(For more on how Christians will not go through the Tribulation and how our current trials and tribulations are much different from the Tribulation event, see Devotional # 179).

The charts above should give you some good information (and maybe even some extra stuff you didn’t know like how unbelievers won’t be aware when the Rapture happens or that there are no signs that happen prior to the Rapture) but let’s look a little deeper at a couple of things specifically here in verses 15-17.

 

We should acknowledge that time and again in the end times it is Jesus who starts something or gives a command to begin (read Revelation). In verse 16, “The Lord Himself” who descends “with a shout” is giving a “war shout”, which shows He is “a victorious King, giving the word of command to the hosts of heaven” (Source 3). This makes sense when we realize that when the Church is pulled out here at the Rapture it is the immediate beginning of the Tribulation, the 7 years of horrible plagues that God rains down upon the earth. Jesus is signaling battle positions to His angels. After the archangel comes the trumpet blast. We should be aware this isn’t “the judgment trumpets of Revelation 8-11, but is illustrated by the trumpet of Exodus 19:16-19, which called the people out of the camp to meet God. It will be a trumpet of deliverance (cf. Zephaniah 1:16; Zechariah 9:14)” (Source 4).

 

Many say that the word “Rapture” is not in the Bible, as if that somehow makes it untrue. I would point out at words like Trinity, Jonah’s whale and the phrase “personal relationship with Jesus” are also not found in the Bible but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t many places in the Bible that teach the concept without using the exact word we use. So the reason we call it the Rapture is because of the phrase “caught up”. In the original Greek “caught up” is harpazo, which means “to seize” or “to snatch out or away” (Source 5).

 

We see that all of the Christians, those who were dead and those who have just died, all join Jesus “in the clouds”, “in the air.” So Jesus never actually comes down to earth but stays in the sky bringing His Church to Him. It is important for us to recognize that if He did come all the way down to earth at this point then He would be failing at the prophecy in Zechariah 14:4.

v. 18. The last part of verse 17 (“thus we shall always be with the Lord”) and this verse gave the Thessalonians, and give us nowadays, a lot of hope. The fact that all of the difficulties we have gone through on earth are over and we never have to leave our beloved Savior’s side is such a hopeful thought that it makes our current struggles worth it. Now here in verse 18 it says to “comfort one another with these words.” It’s important that we understand that this kind of “comfort” isn’t like Paul saying ‘hang in there through the tough times, the Rapture is soon’ instead he means ‘live holy lives, we have our hope of salvation!’ Do you see the difference? There is nothing wrong with being comforted by the Rapture (most Christians are!) but in the first example the focus is on us and the difficulties we’re going through, and the quick event of the Rapture, but as we’ve said many times it’s not all about us, it’s all about God. So if we “comfort” each other with encouragements to live holy lives as pleasing to God, and are hopeful and appreciative of the eternal salvation He provides, than we aren’t focused on ourselves instead our holy lives are also testimonies to the “ignorant” and “scoffers” (“outside”) who can receive his salvation just like we did!

 

Conclusion. When we recognize the foundation that Paul set in the first half of this chapter (1 Thessalonians 4:1-12, Devotional # 180) about living godly lives suddenly how Paul ends the chapter makes a lot of sense. And this key portion of Scripture on the Rapture reminds us of our personal responsibilities in our lives and in the lives of others. We take great “comfort” in the hope of our salvation and that we “shall always be with the Lord”. As you’ll see in Revelation 19:6-14 we come back to earth as part of Jesus’ army, so He is training us for great things. (Here, in 1 Thessalonians 4 Jesus is coming FOR His Church, in Revelation 19 Jesus is coming WITH His Church.) We have great responsibility and continued hope in Jesus!

 

 

References.

Source 1: http://christianity.about.com/od/endtimestopicalstudy/f/secondcomingof.htm

Source 2: http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/revelation/related-topics/rapture-versus-second-coming.html

Source 3: https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/jfb/1Th/1Th_004.cfm?a=1115001

Source 4: John MacArthur, The John MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1848.

Source 5: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G726&t=KJV

Devotional # 178. 1 Thessalonians 2:10-20

Devotional # 178. 2/22/16. 1 Thessalonians 2:10-20.

Intro. As we’ve walked through the second chapter of Thessalonians we’ve seen the theme of Paul reminding us what God had done directly and indirectly. In vv. 1-3 (Devotional # 176) we saw that although there are difficulties in encouragement it isn’t from “error or uncleanness, nor was it in deceit” but was completely worth it. In vv. 4-9 (Devotional # 177) Paul taught us we have been tested and been approved to grow in patience and affection for Christians and non-believers. In these verses we’ll see again how God has taken care of us through persecution and taught us that the Church should be a joy to other Christians as much as it is to God the Father.

vv. 10-12. Here Paul is restating how he, Timothy and Silas encouraged and exhorted their brothers and sisters in Thessalonica. It was “devoutly and justly and blamelessly.” Last week Paul used the analogy of a mother, this week he uses another parental analogy, this time about a father. He explains that he “exhorted, and comforted, and charged everyone of you, as a father does his own children.” Before, when he used the analogy of a mother it was about being “gentle” and “affectionate” but now he’s talking about “exhorting and comforting and charging“. It’s not that these are so widely different and the point isn’t that these are the exact types of traits that mothers have to follow and separately fathers have to follow; instead it is what is natural to a mother and what is natural to a father. I know from experience that mothers nurture, that doesn’t mean that they don’t discipline but their primary trait is one of nurturing. I also know personally, as a father and as a son who has been fathered, that dads can do a great job of encouraging and charging their children. We talked a bit about “motherly” traits last week in Devotional # 177 , so let’s talk a bit about the fatherly role here. If my kids have done something that they’re a little bit unsure about, say at painting, and I playfully make fun of it even just a little bit it basically destroys them. But if I encourage them about it they’ll get even more excited and tell me more details and even more importantly they’ll want to do it again. In the same way when we are encouraging other believers, when we take on the fatherly role, sometimes we have to give them the hard answer or be blunt with them. The key, as always, is love. And that’s where Paul is saying he came from whether in motherly traits are fatherly traits he loves the Thessalonians and has given them a role model to follow when they disciple others.
Did you notice that he said “every one of you“? He didn’t pick out just one special person but he labored and gave each one the time that was needed. And the reason he has taken the time to love and encourage them is that they “would walk worthy of God” who called them “into His own kingdom and glory” (v. 12). So if we “have been approved by God” and “entrusted with the gospel” (v. 4) then God has called us and we must “walk worthy“. We talked about walking worthy in Ephesians 4:1 (Devotional # 103) and Colossians 1:10 (Devotional # 145). Last week we talked about how we are called to do something very difficult but here we see the end goal: we get to go to “His own kingdom and glory.” We will get to go to heaven and be with Him!

v. 13. Paul starts the section off with saying “for this reason“, for what reason? I believe it’s twofold: starting with the reason of going to heaven (v. 12) but also because when they received the word they welcomed it (v. 13). He says for that reason “we also thank God without ceasing.” Do you think someone can really thank God for something without stopping? The short answer is “yes!” Paul was so thankful that the Thessalonians had accepted Jesus as their Savior and were following after Him, that his mind was always thanking God.  (We’ll cover Paul’s “pray without ceasing” prayer life mentality more when we get to 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Devotional # 183). So Paul thanks God constantly that when the Thessalonians “receive the word of God” they welcomed it for what it really was: “the word of God.” We too can be thankful and confident that this isn’t “the word of men” but truly is the “truth“! One of the proofs of this is that it “effectively works in you who believe.” So it’s not just some dull archaic letters on a page but it is the living breathing word of God and it doesn’t just work sometimes it works “effectively“. But does it work for everyone? Yes, everyone who “believes.” We must understand this “believe” if we are to understand verses 14-16, Paul is essentially talking about Romans 10:9–10 which says, “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness’s and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” So if we have heard the truth and we confess it and we believe in our heart then we are made righteous. Of course this is not our righteousness, which just means “right-ness” before God, only He can give us that.

vv. 14-16. With that in mind, that once you hear the truth you have to believe it, we get a glimpse into what the Thessalonians were dealing with. The persecution from their “own countrymen” was exactly what the church in Judea had also gone through. Read about the church in Judea in Acts 4:1-4, Devotional # 45. So the church in Judea had gone through (and continued to go through) a difficult time and they couldn’t possibly know that they were the fore-runners of how to handle persecution but they were able to look at the persecution Jesus had gone through for encouragement. And now the church in Judea was acting as a model for the Thessalonians. And no doubt thousands of churches who have endured persecution over the last two millennia have looked to Thessalonica as a model of how to get through persecution. God is always faithful to provide for us exactly what we need!

vv. 17-20. Even though Paul and Silas and Timothy have been away from the church in Thessalonica they can rest assured that Paul and the others have been with them in heart. And not just that – Paul and the others really want to see them again and have wanted to see them except Satan keeps spoiling their plans to go to Thessalonica.

There are two things in this next part that are really important for us to recognize: 1. Paul looks at the Thessalonians (and all Christians that he’s had a hand in bringing to the Lord) as a “hope, joy and crown of rejoicing“; 2. Paul is looking forward to the end of all the things that have to happen Revelation in order to be “in the presence of Jesus“.

Regarding the first one, Paul does not have disdain towards other Christians although I’m sure there were some that he was annoyed with sometimes but he views them as brothers and sisters, as children of the Lord. If we can develop the same outlook that God the Father has for others we would be very loving! Paul mentions that they are a “hope” which means that he receives courage and optimism from knowing that they are weathering the battles and following the Lord. He also says they are his “joy” which is pretty obvious that they bring him a happiness that can only come from when children are obedient. Lastly, he mentions the “crown of rejoicing” which is also known as the “Soul Winner’s Crown.” This is a literal crown that Jesus will give the people who have worked  hard loving others to Christ. We need to be more mindful of who we are praying for and “working on” to be saved and also those we’re discipling. What a great thing to be able to present people to Christ some day!! For more on the Six Crowns in the Bible see Devotional #136. He finishes off the chapter with this thought also: that the church is their “glory and joy.” Now I have to ask you, if you’re not attending church on a regular basis and making those relationships with other believers how can you ever hope to say something like this?

The second thing is that Paul is looking forward to when Jesus comes back (“His coming”). Now this could be one of two things: when Jesus comes back at the Rapture (Revelation 4:15) or at His Second Coming (Matthew 24:37; Revelation 19:11-20:6). I agree with MacArthur, who feels that by context, Paul probably means the Rapture (Source 1). This makes sense since we have no reason to think that Paul saw the same things John did (which is now the book of Revelation) and Paul’s words are that his joy and crown of rejoicing will be them “in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ as His coming.” If Paul is looking forward to presenting them when Jesus comes back then it must be the Rapture since that is next on God’s timeline. Since this has not happened yet we too can be looking forward to this time and we also should have a list of people that are our joy, that we are looking forward to presenting to the Lord and ushering into His presence for eternity!

 

References.

Source 1: John MacArthur, The John MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1846.

Devotional # 177. 1 Thessalonians 2:4-9

Devotional # 177. 2/15/16. 1 Thessalonians 2:4-9.

Intro.  Last week when we started 1 Thessalonians chapter 2 we saw the theme of Paul reminding what God had done directly and indirectly. We went through verses 1-3, which showed that Paul had lived out what he had taught the Thessalonians to preach the gospel even when there were difficulties. This week we’ll see that we have been tested and been approved to grow in patience and affection for Christians and non-believers.

v. 4. Paul tells us that those who preach the gospel have two very important things: they have “been approved by God” and then “entrusted with the gospel“. The idea of being “approved” in the original Greek is dokimazo meaning “to test, examine, prove, scrutinize” (Source 1). And to be “entrusted” in Greek is pisteuo meaning “to be persuaded of, to credit, place confidence in” (Source 2). This applies to us now as it did 2000 years ago, so if God has tested you and has been persuaded that you are able to carry the good news of salvation then who are we to question it? The key is that when we speak we’re not trying to make men happy but God. Because it is “God who tests our hearts” (which is a double confirmation with the definition of dokimazo we just read), it is God who we will have to answer to someday. Do we really allow what people think of us to make us bashful and self-conscious? Or do we have the “bold[ness] in our God” (v. 2) that Paul and the others had? If we truly believed that what we were doing mattered and saved souls and that we would answer to God one day we would be less concerned about what a person thinks of us and more concerned with truly preaching the good news.

vv. 5-6. Now Paul says there was no point in time when they used “flattering words” which reminds us of the “exhortation” that didn’t come from “error or uncleanness, nor was it in deceit” (v. 3) that we talked at length about last week. Paul didn’t appeal to people’s pride by “flattering” them and didn’t hide behind “coveting” (“a cloak for covetousness“). Guzik explains, “Paul understood that covetousnessalways has a cloak. It is always concealed by a noble sounding goal. But Paul did not use the flattering wordsthat often are a cloak for covetousness” (Source 3). They also didn’t “seek glory from men” whether that was Christians are non-Christians. He goes on to say that he could’ve had the right to “demand” being taken care of as an apostle, as 1 Corinthians 9:14, Galatians 6:6 (see Devotional # 94) and 1 Timothy 5:17-18 say. But he didn’t do that because he thought the testimony would be more pure to new believers if he didn’t make those demands which he had a right to (1 Corinthians 9: 15, 18).

vv. 7-9. Instead they “were gentle among” the Thessalonians. In what way were Paul and Silas and Timothy “gentle“? We don’t know all the ways but Paul uses the simile of “a nursing mother” who “cherishes her own children.” Most of us, from personal experience, know how a mother loves the child that she is nursing. She is providing sustenance for that child – without her the baby will die. So she is patient and self-sacrificing and caring as the baby is nothing but selfish and also immature. When people first become Christians they are immature – they don’t fully know what the love of God is and so their bad habits and selfish desires often win out. We must be like Paul, like a patient and self-sacrificing and “affectionate” mother regardless of the selfishness and immaturity of other Christians. Next week we’ll see Paul use a “fatherly” analogy, which will give us a fuller picture, coupled with this one.

Once Paul and Silas and Timothy left the Thessalonians they missed them (“longing for you“) yet they were glad that they had received “the gospel of God“. But that wasn’t all that Paul and Timothy and Silas had “imparted” to the Thessalonians they had given their lives…not in terms of death but in terms of life! Paul challenges the brothers and sisters there to remember that they had “labored and toiled…night and day” for the Thessalonians. Paul isn’t prideful but he’s again making the comparison of how they are like a loving mother to the Thessalonians who are “newborns” in the faith. He and Silas and Timothy didn’t want to be “a burden to any of you” when they “preached to you the gospel of God.”

Do we be grudgingly “love” other believers? I’ll be the first to admit that I do. I might not say anything out loud but in my heart sometimes I’m thinking ‘you don’t know the sacrifice I’m making to talk to you about this or to go out of my way and help you.’ It can be very frustrating when someone is telling us their problems and/or asking for advice and we give them solid biblical advice and they shut their mouth only long enough until we stop talking, and they go right along on with their problems as if we haven’t given them the answer. But the more we give things over to God and let God have control the more patience we will have to just keep loving others and encourage them and strengthen them. Believe me this will take so much of your time. This will make you miss out on things that you’ve been looking forward to and cost you dearly. But it’s worth it. We know this because it was lived out by Paul.

 

Conclusion. Again, we see the theme of remembering what God has done indirectly and directly. In reminding the Thessalonians Paul is also reminding us, be affectionate and patient with those who need it and whom you were called by God to minister to. Paul devoted his life to this, toiling “night and day.” What God is asking you to do will cost you greatly, and no, it’s not popular today (remember what we talked about last week in Devotional # 176, how the modern Christian church has done a tremendous disservice by “deceiving” people towards Jesus?) And really self-denial never has been popular but you need to “put away lesser things” (Source 4) and love other non-Christians by “preaching…the gospel of God” and loving other Christians “gently“, “affectionately” and “not being a burden” to any of them.

 

References

Source 1: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G1381&t=KJV

Source 2: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G4100&t=KJV

Source 3: David Guzik, https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/guzik_david/StudyGuide_1Th/1Th_2.cfm?a=1113004

Source 4: My paraphrase to lyrics of the hymn “Rise Up, O Men of God!” by William P. Merrill.

Devotional # 176. 1 Thessalonians 2:1-3

Devotional # 176. 2/13/16. 1 Thessalonians 2:1-3.

Intro. We’ll break up 1 Thessalonians chapter 2 into several parts but the consistent theme throughout the whole chapter is remembering what God has done. Whether that be what God has directly done or what God has done through other Christians.

Just in this chapter Paul uses “you know” four times (v. 1, v. 2, v. 5, v. 11). He also uses phrases like “you remember” (v. 9) and “you are witnesses” (v. 10) to remind them of the things that they’ve seen. Why is he reminding them of these things? Let’s keep reading to find out!

vv. 1-3. Paul shows his care for the Thessalonians by using the term “brethren” (as we’ve often said this is encompassing of both brothers and sisters in the church) and he tells them that they’re already aware that when he and Silas and Timothy came to them it wasn’t a useless trip. Is he trying to remind them of something that they’ve forgotten? Is he trying to fake it because they don’t really remember it that well and he thinks that he can make the trip more “rose colored” in their memories? No, in fact he finishes this little section (vv. 1-3) by telling them there was no error or deceit. And that’s actually the reasoning of why he’s reminding them: because they have come to love the truth, they’ve stopped serving idols (1:9) and have a love for God and their salvation, so they need to be encouraged in what is true. Just like the Thessalonians, we also need to be encouraged. We have grown as Christians deeper than when we first believed. But sometimes we need to be reminded of what it was like when we first believed. This helps us be thankful for both where we were and where we’re going but it also gives us a mindset of sharing Christ with others and knowing that they’ll go through the same battles and we can prepare them for those battles because “we know” and “we remember.”

So Paul’s trip “was not in vain” because it produced these Christians in Thessalonica. And then Paul fills in the story for them, which they apparently already knew, about how he and Silas and Timothy had come from Philippi before going to Thessalonica for the first time. How were they treated in Philippi? They were “spitefully treated” which basically just means that people were mean to them whether verbal abuses or physical abuses. We actually covered the story in Acts 16:19-24, 37 (Devotional # 56). But they continued to be “bold in our God” when they came to Thessalonica. Can you imagine if Paul had just given up after Philippi? Then these Thessalonians wouldn’t have heard about the gospel at that time and they wouldn’t have become friends with Paul and grown as Christians. So much rests on us persevering and continuing on in what God is given us regardless of what outside forces pound against us. But we can’t just do this alone we have to have God’s help. Many times that means that we submit to things that we don’t like. Maybe we don’t see the persecution coming but God is calling us to prepare. He’s calling you to pray on your knees but you’re too busy. He’s calling you to read your Word and tell your family about it but you’d rather complain about work and your coworkers. Paul didn’t give up and I love that he uses the phrase “our God“, it wasn’t just that Paul was special and had a unique relationship with God instead He is “our God” also. There’s enough of God to go around! He truly is “our God“!

And in verse 3 Paul reminds them that when he was encouraging them it didn’t come from “error or uncleanness, nor was it in deceit.” These three things we need to keep in mind when we are encouraging others.

-Are we encouraging other Christians in “error“? This would be when we misquote Scriptures (accidentally or on purpose). The ends don’t justify the means; as William S. Paley reminds us, “White lies always introduce others of a darker complexion” (Source 1). No matter how small it seems and how much you think it will help in the long run, we Bible believing Christians pride ourselves that there is no error in the Bible so don’t make it start having errors now.

-What about “uncleanness“? The Hebrew had been taught by God to avoid anything “unclean.” This applied to everything in their lives, divided into threes. For animals there were “holy” ones that could be sacrificed, there were “clean” that couldn’t be sacrificed but could be eaten and then there were “unclean” that couldn’t be sacrificed or eaten. This was also a representation of people (“holy” priests, “clean” Hebrews and “unclean” Gentiles*) and Paul was showing “his ‘manner of life’ was pure, not sexually wicked” (Source 2). It’s really cool that this got mentioned here in 1 Thessalonians because in my daily devotions this morning I was reading in Genesis chapter 7 which is when Moses is bringing all of the animals on to the Ark before the flood. God tells him to bring both “clean animals” and “unclean” (Genesis 7:8). From the beginning God has made a way of salvation for the Hebrew and Gentile.

-And lastly it wasn’t “in deceit.” Paul didn’t deceive anyone into becoming a Christian. I’ve been studying when Satan deceived Eve in the Garden and it struck me that he doesn’t blatantly lie but uses half-truths and preys on her weakness. In the same way the American church has deceived non-Christians over the last 40 years or so. We’ve been trained to be nice to people and to sometimes talk about Jesus and that He loves them and if the people will just accept Him into their heart then everything will be perfect. When we do mass alter calls or even witnessing and never following up then people think of Jesus as Santa and when their life actually gets harder (because they’re dying to their flesh and suddenly Satan is their enemy) they think they tried Jesus or church but that it didn’t work. We must stop “deceiving” people into a false following of the Lord. Lay the cards out in front of them (over time, after you’ve truly showed them the love of Jesus) and explain to them why their life will become more difficult but why it’s the best and most important decision they’ll ever make.

* http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/clean-unclean.html
 

Conclusion. Paul has reminded his brothers and sisters in Thessalonica of their history with the Lord and with Paul and Silas and Timothy and their other believing brothers and sisters. In the same way we need to be reminded…and to be reminding…other believers of what they were like when they first believed in the Lord and how we have loved them and why these things are important. Go out and love the “clean” and the “unclean” today!

 

References

Source 1: http://izquotes.com/quote/141078

Source 2: John MacArthur, The John MacArthur Study Bible,  p. 1844.

Devotional # 175. 1 Thessalonians 1:6-10

Devotional # 175. 2/4/16. 1 Thessalonians 1:6-10.

Intro. In the last Devotional we talked about a lot of great things but what is probably most important for us to remember in order to apply to this weeks is that when Paul gave the gospel to the Thessalonians it wasn’t “in word only“. It was in power, the Holy Spirit and much assurance (v. 5). This week we will see how the people of Thessalonica latched onto the truth, having been worshipers of idols they responded to the living God. Today’s section of Scripture will challenge us but if we hold to it and allow the Holy Spirit to work through us we will move mountains!

v. 6. Paul says that the Thessalonians became “followers of us and of the Lord“. When he says “followers of us” he means they had seen Paul, Silas and Timothy living out their faith, trusting in the word of the Lord, praying for them and fellowshipping. And in so doing the Thessalonians were also “followers…of the Lord.” It’s the beautiful picture of how we first trust in the Lord. We must “hear it” and how can we hear it unless there are people preaching it (Romans 10:14)? The Thessalonian church came about in just three weeks of Paul being there (Acts 17:2). They trusted in him and what he was saying because it was proved as they started trusting “in the Lord“. The great part is that they weren’t holding Paul, Silas and Timothy up on a pedestal as we often do with Christian pastors and speakers. No, if that’s what your entire faith is based upon you will be disappointed. I’ve actually seen people walk away from the faith because a pastor was adulterous or caught in sheisty business deals. Yes, this is disappointing and should break our hearts but they’re just people who can be corrupted. And so we lean upon the one who cannot be corrupted. We lean upon our Lord and Master Jesus Christ. 

How do I know that the Thessalonians trusted and loved Paul but held Jesus as preeminent and worshipped Him only? Because in the second part of this verse it says, “having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit.” If it had just been Paul’s word that they were receiving it would’ve faltered and there would’ve been no reason for them to cling to it through “much affliction“. WARNING (I have to pause here and say what I’ve said many times): the Christian life is not easy and you will go through many difficulties. In fact we’re going to see a couple chapters from now that we are actually “appointed to [afflictions]” (1 Thess. 3:3). So if someone is telling you that as a Christian your life is going to be all roses they don’t know that God has actually chosen (“appointed“) each of us to go through some really tough stuff for His sake*. Not only did the Thessalonians go through trials but it was very evident that they had the “joy of the Holy Spirit“. This cannot be replicated or faked for any sustainable amount of time. This “joy” in the midst of severe hardships and beatings and persecution (“much affliction“) cannot happen without the Holy Spirit living and working inside of you.

Trials for His Sake: Sometimes Christians make the mistake of thinking that just because they’re going through a difficulty they are enduring persecutions for the Lord. But that’s just not always the case. Sometimes it is because we have sinned and although we have confessed that sin and God has forgiven us for it there are still consequences to it. Sometimes you’ve just made a poor decision, it wasn’t necessarily sinful, but again there are consequences for our stupidity. So the next time that you’re going through something difficult don’t just pat yourself on the back and say, ‘I’m just going through a trial for the Lord’. Instead pray that the Lord would reveal whether it was your stupidity that brought this about or the fact that you’ve truly stood for Him and are being persecuted for your faith in Him. I know when I do this in my life it puts things in perspective: it makes me not want to sin and do stupid things and makes me more cognizant of when I am in line with His will and therefore being persecuted either by sinful people or by Satan who hates that I am loving as Jesus loved and bringing more people to the foot of the cross.

vv. 7-8. We see that when you live with the type of life that the Thessalonians were living you become an example to others. If you become a Christian and continue to be one even when times get tough and not only that but have joy during those times, then people will look at you as a spiritual role model. Paul takes the time to clarify that this is being a role model to other Christians (“all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe“). Does this scare you? Do you not want to be held as an example? Think of it like this: have you ever been encouraged by another Christian? Chances are good that person was scared of being an example but God used them anyway. In his book on leadership called Leading With a Limp, Dan B. Allender talks about how the #1 qualification we should be looking for in a leader is someone who was put in a leading situation, failed at it but has returned hesitantly yet willingly to serve again. Why? Because they have been humbled and they realize power and popularity are really difficult to manage. They also understand they may not be the best choice for a job but they’re simply willing to be of service anyway. You have a choice today: accept what God calls you to do and do it with His help and power or not to do it. If you don’t do it you will have a difficult life because you’re running from the call of God and also you will have to answer to Him in heaven someday about why you told him “no”.

If you say “yes” you will also have a hard life (“many afflictions“) but you will have Him working through you, you will receive his peace, you will be used to bring someone to faith in Jesus which results in them escaping hell and going to heaven, and you will receive crowns (see Devotional #136 for the full list) for being faithful. As for me, I will be faithful to His call.

You see it wasn’t that the people in Thessalonians had become popular it was that “the word of the Lord” had been proclaimed and not just to Macedonia and Achaia “but also in every place.” The gospel had been preached so well by them that Paul didn’t have to hit those areas, not only that but he didn’t have to remind the Thessalonians to do the preaching because they had done such a great job. They actually made his life easier so that he could go on and focus on others. Don’t you see that’s how God uses us? You’re afraid of going out of your comfort zone but really you’re expected to take up some of the slack and by you answering the call of God you make other Christian’s lives easier which in turn makes your life easier to focus.

vv. 9-10. Paul shows how others were talking about how the Thessalonians had such a dramatic change in their life. They had been idol worshipers and they left that and followed after “the living and true God” instead. They waited on Jesus. It’s interesting how Paul puts this; he shows that Jesus is the “living and true God’sSon from heaven.” Not only that but Jesus was raised from the dead by God the Father and it is “Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” This is great because not only is Paul acknowledging who Jesus is and what He has done but is also summarizing the very gospel message that the Thessalonians are now famous for preaching!