Saturday, October 31, 2009

Saturday Morning Commentary

I've been busier than usual this week. So this is a scaled down version of Saturday Morning Commentary. Still, I hope you find the following few and select op-ed pieces from the past two weeks interesting and enlightening.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Overwhelmed and Underpaid

According to this CNN Money report, the fifteen most stressful jobs include a pastor and a music minister. Music minister ranks #5. Pastor is #10. Someone needs to explain that one to me!

JAWS!


There is a reason why I like to be only ankle deep in the ocean. There is a reason why deep sea fishing has never appealed to me. Can you guess what that reason is?

This 10 ft great white was nearly bitten in half by, according to estimates drawn from the bite marks, a
20 ft great white shark! The above chew toy was found near one of Australia's most popular beaches. Click here to read the article.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Learning to Pray

This week our serial exposition of 1 Thessalonians has landed on 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13; a text in which we learn to pray. “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples” that is what the Twelve asked Jesus in Luke 11:1. They wanted to learn how to pray. I think that was an interesting question because, as young Jewish men, they had undoubtedly heard and offered many, many prayers. Prayer was not new to them. By no means was it a new concept, but everything about Jesus was new and unique when compared to the routine religion that had dominated their culture. The disciples knew that prayer was important to Jesus. They had seen Him “in the morning, rising up a great while before day…depart[ing] into a solitary place” to pray (Mark 1:35). No doubt, His prayers were totally unlike the ones which they heard in the synagogues or from the Pharisees and rabbis. Prayer was not a new concept to them, but as young and growing Christians they wanted to learn how to pray like Jesus prayed: “Lord, teach us to pray.”

We know how the Lord answered His disciples. He said,
“When you pray say, ‘Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.”(Luke 11:1-4; cf. Matthew 6:9-13)
I do not believe that the Lord intended for His disciples, or us, to routinely recite those words. The mindless, incessant recantation of words, whether it be the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer of Jabez, or anything else is not what Jesus was instructing us to do. Instead, what we have here and so many other places in the Bible, is a pattern for proper prayer, and that pattern is to pray for God to be glorified and for His will to be done; those two go together and come first; not just in order but in our desire. Then we are to pray for personal needs: food, forgiveness, deliverance.

In Matthew’s gospel he records that Jesus said, “When ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think they shall be heard for their much speaking” (Matthew 6:7). Therefore, thoughtless, mechanical repetition of the same words in our prayers, whether those words come from the Bible or your own tradition, is not pleasing to God. The many prayers that are recorded in scripture are there to instruct us in how to pray. We learn to pray, first of all, by praying, but also by modeling our prayers after Godly examples. Those Godly examples are first and foremost found in the Scriptures, but also in “faithful men [and women] who are able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).

Christ taught His disciples how to pray, and they in turn taught the next generation how to pray. Epaphras was discipled by Paul, and that is obvious when we compare Colossians 4:12 with 1 Thessalonians 3:10. Epaphras’ prayer for the Colossians sounds a lot like Paul’s prayers for the Thessalonians.

In our text Paul provided the Thessalonians, and is now providing us with a pattern for proper prayer. For that reason, do not look at this text as just some prayer to recite, but as a pattern to follow.

Paul’s Pattern in Prayer – 1 Thessalonians 3:11a

It is important that our prayers are directed to the right Person. That may seem as obvious as the rather prominent nose on my face (Be thankful, dear reader, that my nose is hidden to you!), but this issue has many people around the world confused. Practitioners of non-Christian religions pray often pray to their ancestors or to various spirits. Obviously, we reject that as false and even demonic. But there are many who are considered “Christian”; speaking about the Catholic Church, that pray to “saints” or to Mary the mother of Christ.

In 2006, not long after I moved to central Indiana, the "Blessed Mother" Theodore Guerin, a 19th century nun in the Terre Haute area, was canonized as a Catholic “saint”. Many Catholics now pray to St. Theodore Guerin, asking her to intercede with God on their behalf.

Please hear me, we do not pray to past loved ones or to great men or women of the faith who have gone to be with the Lord or to angels. Our prayers are to be directed to God. That is what we see from Paul’s pattern: “Now God Himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 11a).

Paul’s pattern not only teaches us that prayer to be offered to God alone, but it also affirms the deity of Jesus Christ. The close linking of the Father and the Son acknowledges the fact that Jesus Christ is God; the second Person of the Trinity. The use of the singular pronoun – “Himself” – and the singular verb – “direct” – with the plural subject – “God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ” – emphasizes the unmistakable unity of the Father and the Son in the Godhead. The Lord Jesus is here united with His Father in terms of His deity, but separated from the Father in terms of His person. Jesus Christ was God incarnate. Jesus was, is, and always will be God!

It is also worthy to note that 1 Thessalonians was one of the earliest NT letters, and it provides us with valuable evidence that the early Christians accepted and taught the deity of Jesus Christ. This directly contradicts the fallacious statements of author Dan Brown in his immensely popular book The Da Vinci Code. Two of the main characters in that book asserted that Jesus never claimed to be God and neither did His disciples or the early churches. In fact, the book says, the doctrine of Christ’s deity was a political maneuver made by 4th century Roman Emperor Constantine. One character in the book states,
“Until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet…a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal”
Not so!

Jesus claimed to be God. His disciples believed Him to be God. The Bible declares that He is God, and when we pray we pray to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The Biblical pattern of prayer is to the Father, through the Son, and in the Spirit. Here are a few passages that clarify that:
  • John 16:23-24
  • Acts 7:59
  • Romans 8:26-27
Paul’s Purpose in Prayer – 1 Thessalonians 3:11b – 13

Paul’s pattern was to pray to the Father, through the Son, and in the Spirit. His purpose for prayer, specifically in our text passage was three-fold: perfecting faith; prospering love; purifying hope.

Perfecting Faith – v. 11b

Paul prayed for God to “direct his way” because the way had been blocked. The word “direct” expresses the idea of removing obstacles in order to make a straight, smooth path. Up to this point, Satan had blocked Paul from returning. Paul knew, and we must understand, that God is greater than Satan, and the power of the Lord could overcome Satan and allow him to return. While Paul’s desire was to return; he only wanted to do so by the will of the Lord. Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.” That last phrase could also read: “and he will make straight your paths.” (Psalm 37:1-5).

Paul’s ultimate concern was that the Thessalonians’ faith would grow. His prayer for the Lord to direct his steps is tied to what he said in v. 10b, “[to] perfect that which is lacking in your faith”. The word translated "perfect" means “to adjust, equip, supply”. No one’s faith ever reaches sinless perfection; there is always need for improvement and room for growth in your faith. Faith is like a muscle; it gets stronger with use.

Paul didn’t want to lead a pep rally. He didn’t want to return for their famous Thessalonian lamb chops. He wanted to feed them the Scriptures so that they could mature by it. The only way in which a person is able to know and serve Christ is through the precepts, principles, and promises of Scripture. God’s will for your life and for mine is revealed in His Word. It is not a secret. It is not lost. Instead, God will make His will clear to us by means of His word.

If your knowledge of God’s word is increasing, and you are living what you’re learning; it’s not just an academic exercise, then your confidence in God will be greater; your trust in His sovereignty will be stronger; your obedience to Him will be consistent, and you’ll be able to count it all joy when you are meet with various kinds of trials, because you’ll know that the testing of your faith produces patience/steadfastness (James 1:2-3).

Paul wasn’t able to return to Thessalonica until his third missionary journey (Acts 20:1-3). But Timothy was sent, and an inspired letter was penned and delivered, not only for the edification of the Thessalonians but for all believers!

Paul’s prayer begins with a request that God strengthen and mature their faith, providing them with the solid foundation needed for obedient and powerful Christian living.

Prospering Love – v. 12

Paul prayed that the Thessalonians’ growing faith be accompanied by a prospering love. We have already learned that this church did love: 1 Thessalonians 1:3 and 1 Thessalonians 3:6. That is good and as it should be. Paul desires that their love will continue, increase, and abound. In all three instances the love spoken of is agapē; the purest and noblest type of love; not a love dependant upon or fueled by emotions, or simply responding to kindness with kindness. This is the ultimate, sacrificial form of love.

We can never have too much of that kind of love. We can have too much love of...
  • Money
  • Power
  • Education
  • Pleasure
  • Ease
We can never have too much agapē love. This kind of love is a direct fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), and is more an action of the will than an emotion. We should note that Paul asked first that this love would “increase and abound…one toward another”; that is within the church. And second of all “toward all men”; we are to have an ever increasing and abounding love for this lost world, and even for those who would persecute us. As Christ said in Matthew 5:44, “I say unto you, Love {agapaō} your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”

We know that the Thessalonians, like Paul, had endured afflictions and more were coming! Paul prayed for them to love with an increasing, super-abounding love; first for each other, but also towards their enemies. “Win them by love” was Paul’s advice, because to respond bitterly to persecution is self-defeating and destructive of character.

Of course, Paul was again their example. Never from Paul came the axiom “Do as I say. Not as I do.” The Thessalonians were to love just as Paul had loved them. He loved them enough to endure affliction so that he might share the gospel with them, and he loved them enough to endure afflictions that he might establish them in their faith. He loved the Philippian jailer enough to rescue him from suicide, and then to lead him to Christ.

Purifying Hope – v. 13

This third request for the Thessalonians, and it is true for us, is that they would lead holy lives, and the imminent return of Jesus Christ is the motivating factor for leading a holy life. If we believers are genuinely looking for Christ’s return then we will lead lives of obedience to God’s word, reflecting His glory and proclaiming His gospel.

Here is a blessed truth: Christ is coming again! But until He comes believers are to establish their hearts in His word and to lead unblameable lives in this world; knowing that we will soon be in His presence. The promise of Christ’s return to Rapture and reward believers is the essence of a believer’s purifying hope.
A pure and clean heart will not feel shame at Christ’s return, but disobedient, backslidden believers will be ashamed; like a disobedient child who does not want to be caught by his parents.

Therefore, as the apostle John says in 1 John 3:2-3, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.”

Churches are called to be faithful, and to be faithful unto the end. In order to be faithful we must have…
  • A perfecting faith
  • A prospering love
  • A purifying hope

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Strategy of the Adversary

In the preface of his book The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis wrote:
There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.
I agree with Clive Staples Lewis, and I believe that Satan is effective at tricking us into following one of two patterns.

1) To underestimate him – so that he can lure us into a hidden snare.
2) To overestimate him – so that we may be so intimidated by him that we are paralyzed by his threatening power.

As we have seen from Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 14:13-14) Satan…
  • Desires to Be like God
  • Desires to Sit on God’s Throne
  • Desires to Be Worshipped as God
That is what Satan wants for himself (goals he knows he’ll never attain), but what does Satan want from mankind? He desires for humanity to reject God’s authority just as he did. This is his desire because he wants us to share his fate. Satan hates God, and he delights in the destruction and degradation of man because man is the only being created in God’s image.
  • He wants our souls to be separated from God.
  • He wants to prevent the believer's practice from matching his profession.
  • He wants to divide the family and corrupt the society.
That has been his desire from the beginning. He tempted Eve in the Garden, and he fanned the flames of jealousy in Cain’s heart (Genesis 3:1-5; 4:6-7; 1 John 3:10-12); a jealousy which culminated in the first human blood being spilt on the earth. The family is God’s design not only for procreation but for the propagation of the faith from one generation to the next, and the family is beleaguered by dysfunction, disobedience, abuse, immorality, materialism, and addictions. Satan would utterly destroy the family if he could. Of course, any society or organization will only be as strong as the families of which they are constituted. Kill them or corrupt them, Satan’s design is to wreck havoc on God’s creation.

We have been warned by the apostle Peter:
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. (1 Peter 5:8-9)
The story of Job’s (Job 1-2) life certainly verifies the veracity of Peter’s warning.
We know from Hebrews 4:15 that Christ was “in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” This doesn’t mean that He was tempted to visit illicit Internet sites or falsify His income tax report. It does mean that he was tempted in the core areas of life just as we are. What 1 John 2:16 calls the “lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.”

The strategy of the adversary may be clearly observed by examining his temptation of Christ in the Judean wilderness. Before I list the three-pronged attack, please notice that Satan will furiously attack during times of stress, hunger, and fatigue. That is what he did to Jesus, and he will do the same to us.

#1 – Turn Away from the Will of God

Matthew 4:3-4 – And when the tempter came to him, he said, "If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God."

Turning stones into bread was no problem for Christ. In a matter of months He would feed a massive crowd with five loaves and two fish. He would do that twice during his ministry. Christ met the needs of other people. What would be wrong with meeting his needs?

Nothing; except for this: it was not Christ’s time to eat. To have done this would have been acting independently of God. That would have interfered with the divine timetable. Christ was to endure 40 days and nights of fasting and then the temptation of the Devil. Jesus lived by a set of priorities, and His top priority was doing the will of the Father (John 4:34).

As always, the enemy tempted one to meet a legitimate need in an illegitimate way. The temptation’s essence was that the needs of the body are more important than the needs of the soul; that physical needs should take priority over spiritual needs.

We may guard against Satan by doing what Jesus did, using the Word of God! “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” We would do well to cultivate a Job-like appetite (Job 23:12). Even through hunger pangs that I cannot imagine Christ saw through the temptation. The bread that satisfies the soul is more important than the bread that satisfies the body.

#2 – Turn Away from the Word of God

Matthew 4:5-7 – Satan is no easily defeated. He immediately pressed the Lord in another area, and this time he quoted scripture. After taking the Lord to the pinnacle of the Temple he tempts the Lord to throw Himself down, and quotes Psalm 91:11-12 as evidence that Jesus will be supernaturally protected from harm. Again, this was not something which Jesus was powerless to do. Christ calmed storms with a word. He walked on water. He could have leapt from the Temple and floated to the ground, but that was not the Father’s will. Jesus was not a circus performer who did miracles on demand!

In his use of scripture, the enemy used one scripture passage against another, instead of putting passages beside one another so that they might be rightly understood. His error was not in omitting a line from the Psalm, but in misinterpreting the lines he actually quoted. His desire is to get us to sin even while pointing to a Bible verse. Don’t be fooled. Satan is able and more than willing to say right things. He can mouth sound doctrine, but his intentions are always evil. Satan deliberately misused God’s Word to tempt Christ to ignore God’s Word. Jesus knew that it was important to not only know what scripture says but also what it means. He resisted the temptation of using one verse of scripture to nullify another.

#3 – Turn Away from the Cross of Christ

Matthew 4:8-11 – A person can be measured by how much he will pay or give up to gain power. Satan offered Christ a shortcut to the kingdom – instant power. He offered a crown without the cross – painless power. This was an offer to wear the crown with no need to bear the cross. Satan, as Lucifer, once worshipped Christ in heaven. Now he attempts to have Christ worship him on earth, but Christ would not turn aside from the Father’s will. He went to the cross.

Satan can no longer tempt Christ to avoid the cross, but he does tempt us to be ashamed of it, to belittle it, to lack confidence in it, to minimize it, or just plain forget it. Satan desires for you to believe that a crown is possible without a cross; that salvation is attainable without the Substitute.

We must be obedient to God’s will by rightly dividing the word of truth and glorying in nothing but the cross.

Friday, October 23, 2009

A 'Straight Up' Word on Preaching

James MacDonald posts on the worst comment that he has ever received at his blog. What's the comment?

It’s a shame that giving speeches (i.e. preaching) has to be the poorest method ever devised for declaring the gospel of the kingdom to a dying world.

MacDonald commented about the comment:

This guy is sorely in need of a biblical education. Sadly he is not alone in his sentiments. Many people today believe that preaching is humanly ‘devised,’ ineffective, and passé.

Agreed. But what's even better is the list of five reasons why Biblical preaching is NOT "the poorest method ever devised for declaring the gospel of the kingdom to a dying world."

Click
here and read it for yourself.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Learning to Stand

“I can’t stand it anymore!” Has that comment ever crossed your lips? It certainly has mine, and as we will discover in this post, this exclamation was heard coming from the Apostle Paul as well. We have been studying the book of 1 Thessalonians, and today we have reached the third chapter. The first word of the third chapter is “Wherefore”; that is an important word because it connects today’s passage with last week’s text – 1 Thessalonians 2:7-20. In that passage Paul expressed his genuine affection for the church at Thessalonica. His earnest desire was to be reunited with that church, and his eternal delight, his glory and joy, was the thought of being in the presence of Jesus with them for eternity.

“Wherefore”…in light of that love for this church we read 1 Thessalonians 3:1-5. The suspense was unbearable for Paul; twice he said “When we could no longer forbear” (vv. 1 & 5) or in 21st century parlance, “I couldn’t stand it anymore!” He had planted this church. He had invested everything; his own soul, into this church. He had been hindered from making a return visit, and he earnestly desired to see them. His anxiety was compounded by the utter silence that emanated from Thessalonica.

Why was Paul so concerned?

Paul’s Motive – 1 Thessalonians 3:1 and 5a

For starters, he was greatly concerned because he loved them! The fact that Paul dispatched Timothy to the church was solid evidence of his affection. This was a sacrificial expression on Paul’s part, because Timothy was his son in the faith; his protégé, companion, and colleague. Paul was willing to be left alone in Athens, so that he could encourage the Thessalonians and minister to them through Timothy. Love always gives itself away for its object. Strong affection always leads to sacrifice.

Focus on that last word in v. 1 for just a moment – “alone”. Alone isn’t easy, is it? I mean, “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever see”. No one wants to be alone. We were not created to be alone. Paul didn’t send Timothy to Thessalonica (and he probably sent Silas elsewhere in Macedonia) just so he could have some “personal time”. This was a difficult juncture in Paul’s ministry. If you remember, Paul and his colleagues had been forced out of Philippi to Thessalonica; then out of Thessalonica to Berea. The Thessalonican thugs followed the team to Berea, and once again Paul was forced to leave, this time alone. He traveled to Athens, a city wholly given to religious superstition and idolatry. He preached the gospel in Athens, and for the first time in his European missionary effort, the gospel was more rejected than received.

He was reunited with his buddies in Athens, but earnestly desiring to know of the Thessalonians, he thought it best “to be left at Athens alone”. The verb translated “to be left” literally means “abandoned” or “forsaken”. Silas and Timothy had not abandoned or forsaken Paul, but he was willing to be abandoned for the Thessalonians’ sake. You can be sure that Paul enjoyed communion with the Friend “that sticketh closer than a brother” (Proverbs 12:24), but you can also be sure that he longed for his brethren.

All pastors should have this sacrificial affection for their congregations, and this passion must be rooted in a desire to see the congregation established in their faith. This isn’t difficult to understand; he loved these people. His love for them was not based in a desire to socialize with them. We often equate love for the brethren with a willingness and desire to share fried chicken. Of course, there is nothing wrong, and there is much right, with brethren sharing a meal and being sociable.

That was not Paul’s concern; however, he desired to develop the spiritual maturity of the Thessalonians. He wanted them to be “established and comforted in their faith” (v. 2). Paul was deeply concerned for their spiritual condition and growth. This was always the overriding concern of the apostle Paul. As he wrote to the Corinthian church in 2 Corinthians 12:15. Paul exhausted himself in people, and in the Corinthian context his love was not reciprocated. Later on it will be clear that was not the case with the Thessalonians.

Timothy’s Mission – 1 Thessalonians 3:2-4 and 5b

Paul’s concern prompted Timothy’s mission, and that mission was to strengthen and encourage these young Christians in their faith.

It is very important that every Christian be firmly established in their faith - that they form healthy patterns of Christian living which will produce growth and strength and stability. It really is the simple things like faithful church attendance, daily prayer and Bible reading, taking advantage of fellowship opportunities where you make Christian friends and establish accountability, getting involved in a ministry where you give of yourself, your time, your talent, your money - these things will firmly establish you and help you to not fall away from serving God. People who don't learn these things quickly fall through the cracks.

This is what we call discipleship, or you could call it “follow-up” to evangelism. Personally, I believe that evangelism is much more than merely proclaiming the gospel, it is also following up with those who upon hearing the gospel make a profession of faith; we follow-up with those people, establishing them and comforting them in and with the scriptures. This is the only Biblical model of evangelistic effort. No where in scripture do you see evangelists blowing into town, proclaiming the word, God saving souls, and then the evangelists leaving town and the new Christians to fend for themselves.

Each pastor has the responsibility to establish and comfort his flock in the faith, but that responsibility does not rest solely on the pastor; it is shared by the entire body. Of course, personal contact is essential to firmly establish and comfort believers; especially new believers. This is how children are raised. It takes time spent together. It would be absurd to bring an infant home from the hospital and say,
“O.K. Make yourself at home; mi casa su casa! This is your room. There's the fridge; just help yourself. Talk to your parents often; spend time with the family; stay out of trouble.”
But, too often, that's the way baby or immature Christians are “nurtured”.

In Acts 14:21-22 we get a brief case study in discipleship. “Confirming” and “exhorting” are the same words translated “establish” and “comfort” in 1 Thessalonians 3:2. In Acts 15:36 Paul says to Barnabas, “Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do.”

How may a Christian be established in their faith? That word “establish” (stērizō) means to support or buttress something and the only way to be established in your faith is by learning and living God’s revealed word. Sound Biblical doctrine is the solid foundation upon which the Christian life must be built. No faith can be strong without knowledge and understanding of the truth.

In his second letter to this congregation Paul wrote, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions [note: that means teachings] which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle” (2 Thessalonians 2:15). The Bible is able to establish us because it is the inspired word of God. We do not simply hold an ancient book of myths and religious superstitions; this is not an irrelevant book full of outdated principles. This is the very word of God! As such, it “is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness”, and as my former pastor repeatedly told me:
"doctrine tells us what is right; reproof tells us what is not right; correction tells us how to get right; and instruction tells us how to stay right!"
NT commentator Warren Wiersbe writes,
A working knowledge of the Bible is essential for spiritual growth and stability. God’s Word is food to nourish us (Matthew 4:4), light to guide us (Psalm 119:105), and a weapon to defend us (Ephesians 6:17). “Thus saith the Lord” is our sure foundation. One reason God established local churches is that believers might grow in the Word, and, in turn, help others to grow (2 Timothy 2:2; Ephesians 4:11-16).
And what about this word “comfort”? That word (parakaleō) carries the idea of coming alongside someone in order to motivate him. That is the verb form of this form, which is how the word was used in Acts 14:22 which said that Paul and Barnabas went about “Confirming the souls the disciples, and exhorting them to continue”. In that passage the word was translated “exhorting” instead of “comfort”. In our study of this letter we have already become acquainted with this word in its noun form; 1 Thessalonians 2:3: “Our exhortation”. And the noun form of this word is one of the NT designations of the Holy Spirit. In John 14:16 Jesus said, “I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter [paraklētos], that he may abide with you forever”. The word means to be an intercessor, an advocate.

My point with all this is that Timothy’s assignment to comfort the Thessalonians did not include singing them a soothing song as he massaged the kinks from their shoulders! He wasn’t sent up there to kiss their boo-boos and to tell them that “everything would get better”. When we think of the word comfort we think of a gentle soothing, and rightfully so because that is the way in which the term is now used. But the idea here is that Timothy was encouraging and strengthening them; mobilizing them for action.

Motivated by a sacrificial love for this church, Paul assigned Timothy the mission of strengthening and encouraging the Thessalonian church so that they would not “be moved by…afflictions…tribulations or the tempter”. He was to prepare them for their service, and to stabilize them for the trials that they were already experiencing and for the ones that were on the horizon. The unexpected blow is always the most painful. But if you’ve prepared yourself and are stabilized; then the wallop doesn’t hurt so bad. That is why Jesus said, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Or in the words of the country and western: “I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden. Along with the sunshine, there’s gotta be a little rain sometimes.”

Finally, let’s just notice some general yet practical instructions that we can glean from this passage.
  • Sensible Decision Making – 1 Thessalonians 3:1, "We thought it good” – seems to be a practical reminder that God has given us the ability to think and reason, and as Christians who are led by the Spirit through the revelation of the Word, we ought to be making Godly, Biblically informed decisions.
  • Fact of Persecution – 1 Thessalonians 3:3 – 4; James 1:12
  • The Reality of Satan – 1 Thessalonians 3:5
  • The necessity to belong to a local church.
  • The necessity of pastoral care.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Win Them with Love

Kevin DeYoung has authored and/or co-authored two books that I've already read - Why We're Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Sould Be and Just Do Something, and one I'm just about to begin Why We Love the Church. He is an interesting, intelligent, clever, and Biblical author. That's not to say that I'd agree with him on every point, but on the main things and the plain things we agree. He is also a blogger, and his post today - Reaching the Next Generation: Win Them with Love - is not some syrupy sentimental nonsense. It's a common sense, Biblically sound admonition. He writes:
Jesus said it best: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Jesus did not say “They will know you are my disciples by how attune you are to new trends in youth culture.” Or “They will know you are my disciples by the hip atmosphere you create.” Give up on relevance, and try love. If they see love in you, love for each other, love for the world, and love for them, they will listen. No matter who the “they” are.
Click on the link above, read the post, and ask God to help you reach the next generation (and any generation!) with love.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Reality of the Adversary

All of us are familiar with the caricature of Satan: red suit, horns, long, pointy tail, bad goatee, sinister grin, and a trident in one hand. This cartoonish image originated in the Middle Ages, but you should not think that Christians from centuries ago honestly believed that Satan looked so idiotic. They portrayed him as a clown on purpose. The medievals wanted to depict him as the buffoon of all time; as the ultimate loser of the ages for his rebellion against the King of Glory. The purpose of the caricature was to strike at Satan’s pride. In fact, it was the Reformer Martin Luther who suggested that when the devil persists we should “jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.” I’m not crazy about that advice. I believe that the medievals paid too much attention to the adversary, but the opposite extreme exists in our current cultural climate.

The devil is real. Satan is not the bogey-man. He is not an old wives’ tale. He is not the product of Hollywood horror films. He is more than just a Halloween costume. He is not the relic of an ancient and superstitious era of human history. Even so, it is not uncommon for people today, even professing Christians, to scoff at the idea of an actual adversary. Author Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology mentions German scholar Rudolf Bultman.
[Bultman] emphatically denied the existence of a supernatural world of angels and demons. He agreed that these were ancient ‘myths’ and that the New Testament message had to be demythologized by removing mythological elements so that the gospel could be received by modern, scientific people.
Christian author and teacher R.C. Sproul recounts a classroom discussion on Satan:
"I once asked a college class of about thirty students, ‘How many of you believe in God?’ The majority of the students raised their hand. Then I asked, ‘How many of you believe in the devil?’ Only a couple raised their hand.

One student blurted out, ‘How can any intelligent person believe in the devil in this day and age? The devil belongs to superstition along with ghosts, goblins, and things that go bump in the night’

Sproul replied, ‘There is a far more credible source for believing in Satan than for believing in goblins. You may not be persuaded of the trustworthiness of the Bible, but it is surely a more credible source than Mother Goose…If you believe that God is an invisible, personal being who has the capacity to influence people for good, why do you find it hard or incredible to imagine that there is an invisible, personal being who has the capacity to influence people for evil?'"
No one could convince the Demoniac that Satan was a mythological element of the gospel. The devil seemed real enough to him (Mark 5:1-20). These stories of denying the reality of the adversary remind me of the boxer who was being pulverized by his opponent. Between rounds his trainer weakly attempted to encourage the man when he said, “Great job out there champ. He ain’t laid a finger on you yet!”

The boxer looked at the man through swollen, bloody eyes and said, “Well then, keep your eyes on the referee, because somebody in there is killin’ me!”

The adversary is real. That’s why we call it spiritual warfare instead of spiritual shadow-boxing! The scriptures do not mythologize the devil and his demonic host and neither should we.

The Old Testament prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel (Isaiah 14:1-23 and Ezekiel 28:11-19 respectively) tell the story of a being who is more than simply a human king. Both prophets pronounce woes on two proud kings of their day; Isaiah the king of Babylon and Ezekiel the King of Tyre. From the given descriptions it is obvious that the prophets were not only referring to the kings of Babylon and Tyre but to the evil force which stood behind them.

Scripture teaches that Satan was once Lucifer, which means “light bearer” . Lucifer was created perfect; a covering cherub of the Most High. He reflected God’s glory. He was God’s worship leader, but he desired for himself a share of God’s glory. Isaiah distills Lucifer’s lust for glory with five “I will” statements in Isaiah 14:13-14:
  • “I will ascend into heaven”
  • “I will exalt my throne above the stars of God”
  • “I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation”
  • “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds”
  • “I will be like the most High.”
Because of his pride he lost his exalted position. He is the light–bearer no more. He became and is now Satan the adversary and the slanderer . The devil is real, and he is not your friend. He is a liar and murderer (John 8:44), the very opposite of Jesus who is truth and life (John 14:6). He is the ultimate con man; masquerading as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). There is no denying the reality of the adversary, but not only is he real; he also has a plan.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Saturday Morning Commentary

Here are some opinions on President Obama being awarded the Nobel Peace prize:

In his column - How Politics Destroyed a Great TV Show - Jonah Goldberg displays range as an excellent TV as well as political critic. Another good Goldberg column is Reading Between the Lines of Obama's Poetry.

Here are some selections from the usual suspects.

I was recently treated to a live Karl Rove experience. Rove debated Howard Dean right here in Greencastle, IN at DePauw University. While I didn't attend the debate live, I watched it live online. Rove mopped the auditorium floor with Dean's weak arguments. One of the issues they debated was...wait for it, you'll be surprised...HEALTHCARE! Read Rove's recent WSJ column - Obama Hasn't Closed the Health-Care Sale - for a slice of sanity on this topic.

I end with some wise words from Charles Haddon Spurgeon on the dangers of living for and the love of man's praise.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Our Glory and Joy

Can't we all just get along?" Those famously ridiculous words were uttered by Mr. Rodney King, America's (in)famous social prophet. It would be nice if we could all get along, but history has proven that mankind has never fully grasped the idea of playing well with others. Our world and our country are rife with conflict and strife.

Conflict knows few, if any, limits. Workplace studies indicate that 90% of the people who fail in their life's vocation do so because they cannot get along properly with their co-workers. That data, along with my own personal experience and observation suggests that job failure is most often connected to poor relationships and an unwillingness to cooperate instead of inability or poor performance. Now, not only is this true in the corporate world, but it also holds true in church world. The most academically well prepared pastor can be a liability in the church in he does not seek to sacrificially love and serve his people.

No one could have been more academically prepared than the apostle Paul. He was a man who had been fastidiously trained in the Old Testament as a Pharisee, and after his conversion to Christ he had received special revelation from the Lord (Galatians 1:11-12). Even though Paul had received these wonderful visions and revelations from Christ, he never gloried in them or in himself (2 Corinthians 12:1-10). Instead, Paul was the model minister. He sacrificially served and loved the people of God. In our current passage of study from 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20, Paul's love for this local church is almost palpable.

Paul's critics had been casting doubts concerning his actions and his absence. In the first sixteen verses of chapter two Paul reminded the church that his actions were pure and simple. He'd imparted the gospel to them, and he had loved and led them like a mother and father would love and lead their own children. Indeed, Paul was their spiritual mother and father. In verse seventeen Paul begins his rebuttal of the accusations concerning his absence. Paul makes clear that, as he stated in 1 Thessalonians 2:8, not only was he committed to the Word of God; he was likewise committed to the people of God.

The first two words of this text draw the preceding passage into focus; contrasting the hostility of the Jews and Greeks with the love and concern of Paul, Silas, and Timothy. Paul and his colleagues had a heartfelt love and concern for the Thessalonians. Their affection was genuine; not contrived, and Paul's earnest desire was to be reunited with his beloved congregation.

Paul's Earnest Desire - 1 Thessalonians 2:17-18

"But we, brethren"...that word is used eighteen times in this brief letter. The word does not strictly refer to a male, but could be stated "brothers and sisters". The idea is closeness, the familial relationship that existed between Paul, his colleagues, and the church.

And Paul felt as though the Thessalonians had been orphaned. The verb "being taken" is translated from the Greek word aporphanizō; the English "orphan" is rooted in the Greek word, and it describes a wrenching away; being torn away from." The word was used in relation to a parent who had lost a child, or a child who had been orphaned. This is an emotionally packed word. Paul felt as thought he had been ripped away from his children. Essentially, that is what had happened, and his usage of this word continues his illustration of being their spiritual parent. It defines his earnest desire to be with them.

No parent wants to have his children torn away. The tearing away is always painful, even if it's under normal circumstances such as a child going to college, getting married, or moving to a different part of the country. Even under the best of conditions parting is rarely pleasant, and the conditions surrounding Paul's parting with the Thessalonians was everything but enjoyable.

He had been forced to leave; it was not his choice. He wanted to stay and further establish them in the Word of God. Nevertheless, he was compelled to depart. While he was gone in person, the enemies of the Gospel could not remove him in spirit. He could not physically be present with the church, but they were continually on his heart and in his thoughts and prayers. Remember, he has already twice mentioned that he and his companions constantly prayed for them (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3; 2:13).

Now, this verse, as with all scripture, must be interpreted in context. Therefore, let no one cite this passage and then say, "While I can't be physically present at church, fear not, I'll be there in spirit." That may sound pious, but it's actually pathetic! Of course, there are times when someone must legitimately be absent from the assembly; however, we must not confuse the following excuses "being tired because I was out late last night" or "I was at the ball game" or "at the track" or "doing my homework" or "hosting out-of-town guests" with Paul's being torn away from the church at Thessalonica. They are not the same. They are not even close.

The last phrase of 1 Thessalonians 2:17 is also packed with emotional intensity, "[We] endeavored more abundantly to see your face with great desire." The phrase "great desire" expresses any kind of dominant passion or compelling, controlling desire. We will see this word again in 1 Thessalonians 4:5; there it is used in a negative sense and is translated "concupiscence", and most often is translated as "lust(s)". Paul wants them to understand that he has an intense longing to be with them. He is not shrugging his shoulders saying, "Yeah, it's be nice to see you all some time if I get the chance." Not at all! It's as though the apostle was short of breath with eagerness and anticipation as he expressed his desire to see the Thessalonians.

Our Lord used the same word twice in one sentence. On the night before His passion, as He observed the last Passover meal with His disciples and as He instituted the Lord's Supper He said to them, "With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer: for I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God" (Luke 22:15-16).

Notice that in verse 18 Paul switches from the plural "we" to the emphatic singular "I Paul". Paul isn't Captain Redundant! The Thessalonians knew he was the letter's author, but he is driving home the fact that he loves them and that he earnestly desires to be in their presence.

But what was the source of Paul's craving? The source is the very blood of the Lord Jesus Christ because all of us, before our salvation, were in the same dreadful predicament, but have been redeemed by the same precious blood. All who have trusted Christ as their Lord and Savior; we are all of us adopted children who have been saved from the same damning destination.

The ground is level at the foot of the cross. None are more deserving of God's grace than others; instead, we are all equally undeserving, but He equally offers salvation to all! The love that should exist between believers in general and church members in specific is not superficial love. That kind of love is based on shared hobbies, favorite sports teams, favorite church music, worship style, etc. The love that should exist, and the love that Paul here exemplifies is a substantial love that is rooted in the precious blood of the Lamb. And now those of us who were once without hope and without God in the world, we are now brought near through the blood of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:12-13; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15). Of course, this is what Jesus said would identify us as His followers; "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another," (John 13:35; 1 John 3:14; 4:20).

All of the things that bring disunity and strife in all other human relationships and/or gatherings are to have no place or basis among God's people, especially in the local church. Differences in education, vocation, political affiliation, ethnic and racial designation, financial situation, etc; all those things are neutralized at the cross!

Naught have I gotten but what I received,
Grace has bestowed it since I have believed;
Boasting excluded, pride I abase -
I'm only a sinner saved by grace!
This is my story,
To God be the glory -
I'm only a sinner saved by grace!
Paul's earnest desire was to be reunited with this beloved church, but he was "hindered" by Satan. "Hindered" is a military term referring to breaking up the road or putting up obstacles to slow or stop enemy troop movement. Satan is the great adversary of Christ and the redeemed. He opposes the Gospel, and does whatever he can to hinder its proclamation. Scripture does not say how Satan hindered Paul; therefore it is not important for us to know. We just need to know that our enemy is active rather than passive.

Does this suggest that Satan is stronger than God? If Satan can have Paul thrust out of the city that kept from returning; doesn't that prove that he is more powerful than God?

Not at all!

God retains supreme authority in even the activities of the evil one. That truth is perfectly illustrated by the lives of Job, Joseph, and especially Jesus (Job 1:12; 2:6; Genesis 45:5, 7-`0; 50:19-21; Isaiah 53:10; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Satan was successful in frustrating Paul's plans because that was in accord with God's ultimate plan. God overrules all evil for good, and even in Paul and his colleagues being run out of town and hindered from returning; God was ruling and overruling for the believers' good and His glory! (Romans 8:28)

Having described his earnest desire to see them again, and then explaining what prevented him, Paul transitions to his eternal delight and the stimulating truth of Christ's Second Coming.

Paul's Eternal Delight - 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20

Just as an athlete anticipates his medal or trophy, his "crown of rejoicing", Paul looks forward to seeing the Thessalonians in eternity. He is simply declaring that his joy in this world and his glory in the next are tied up with the salvation of the Thessalonians; what Christ, through Paul, has performed in them. Paul's reward, that about which he would rejoice, was first of all to be in Christ's presence, and second to be in the Lord's presence with those whom he had ministered and led to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

The imminent return of Christ should be a powerful motivation for ministry, and Paul not only lived but also taught others to live with the understanding that Christ is coming soon. It will be too late to change our earthly lifestyle once we appear before the Lord upon His throne. Let us diligently work while it is day; for the "night cometh, when no man can work" (John 9:4).

Paul said to the Corinthian church,
What is my reward then? [Verily] that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel. For though I be free from all [men], yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.
What people glory and rejoice in reveals their character and spiritual condition. Paul loved people. He lived for people. He spent his life winning people to Christ and building them up in the faith. His glory and joy was to see people saved and established in the things of God.

What is your glory and joy?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

We Are at War


Spiritual warfare is an important topic for Christians to consider because we are at war. We are engaged in actual warfare and with an actual adversary (Ephesians 6:12; 2 Corinthians 10:4). The name of the believer's opponent is Satan, and I want to issue a call to arms against our foe. Over 300 years ago Puritan pastor Thomas Brooks wrote to his congregation about the enemy. Here is a portion of what he wrote:
Christ, the Scripture, your own hearts, and Satan’s devices are the four prime things that should be first and most studied and searched. If any cast off the study of these, they cannot be safe here, nor happy hereafter. It is my work as a Christian, but much more as I am a Watchman, to do my best to discover the fullness of Christ, the emptiness of the creature, and the snares of the great deceiver.
Like Thomas Brooks I am also a “Watchman,” and my prayer is that we will see from sacred Scripture the “fullness of Christ, the emptiness of the creature, and the snares of the deceiver.”

Obviously, we cannot discuss spiritual warfare without speaking about the enemy, his minions, and their destructive goals and power. We do have real enemies who lust for our destruction. At the same time, however, we must be careful to not give place to the devil (Ephesians 4:27). I have no desire to promote an unhealthy fascination with demonic activity. People are always drawn to the strange and the supernatural; to the power and mystery that lies beyond their own comprehension.

We must be careful not to seek answers, clues, or information about the supernatural apart from God’s Word. We must also be sure and not mix Biblical truth about him with legends and superstitions. Scripture alone must inform our minds about that which is spiritual for it is the only trustworthy source. All that the Lord desires for us to know and understand about the supernatural is revealed in scripture; any other source of information should be avoided. We do not learn about the devil from Dante’s Inferno or Milton’s Paradise Lost. Neither the occult nor popular culture is adequate to inform us about the origins, designs, and ultimate destination of our enemy. The Bible is the only true and accurate guide of truth, including truth in regards to Satan.
“If we take the Bible seriously, we must take the demonic world seriously. There can be no Biblical theology without a corresponding demonology.”
So says RC Sproul, and I wholeheartedly agree. If the Bible is to be taken seriously we must take seriously what it teaches concerning the satanic realm. Scripture clearly demonstrates that Satan is real, as are demons. They are powerful. They are bent on the destruction and perversion of God’s glory. But praise God that’s not the whole story. Satan and his demons are real, powerful, and destructive, but they are also defeated! They contend with the Lord of Glory, but they are fighting the long defeat.

This is the first in a brief Sunday series of posts that will explore several Biblical texts that deal with the topic, but let us close this post by reading Paul’s words to the Corinthian church, found in 2 Corinthians 2:11: “Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.” In the Bible we have all of the knowledge needed in order to overcome Satan’s schemes. The Bible is God’s intelligence report on the enemy, and this data is 100% accurate! Ignorance of the enemy will never be a valid excuse for the believe because God has provided us with perfect intel on the adversary.

In his book Unmasking Satan Richard Mayhue writes of WWII General George Patton who conducted a successful counterattack against the German forces under the command of General Erwin Rommel. Patton is reported to have shouted in the thick of the battle, “I read your book, Rommel! I read your book!” And that he had. In Rommel’s book Infantry Attacks, he had carefully detailed his military strategy. Patton, having read it and knowing what to expect, planned his moves accordingly. We who read Satan’s plans in God’s Book can be prepared for spiritual warfare like Patton.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Gospel: Received & Rejected

The consuming desire of Paul’s life was to proclaim the saving message of the gospel to everyone everywhere. His pursuit of that calling had brought him to Thessalonica; the capital city of Rome’s Macedonian province. Paul and his companions had been “entrusted” with the gospel message (1 Thessalonians 2:4), and they had “spoken” (1 Thessalonians 2:2), “shared” (1 Thessalonians 2:8), and “proclaimed” (1 Thessalonians 2:9) the gospel to the Thessalonians. In Thessalonica, just like in Philippi, Berea, Athens, Corinth, Indianapolis, Aurora, Greencastle, and all cities and towns throughout the world and throughout time, there were those who received the gospel and there were those who rejected the gospel. Paul refers to both groups of people in our text passage of 2 Thessalonians 2:13-16.

Paul was constantly thanking God for the Thessalonians. Why? Because they had received the gospel for what it truly is, the very word of God and not of man. The word was at work in their lives, and they were bearing fruit to that fact. If you have ever led someone to trust Christ and then witnessed them “grow in grace, and in knowledge of our Lord and Savior” (2 Peter 3:18) then you understand Paul’s heart of thanksgiving.

From the first verse of the text we can see the process that Paul, Silas, and Timothy followed in their evangelistic ministry, and it is the process that all pastors and churches should imitate.

The Process – 1 Thessalonians 2:13

Notice that Paul said they “received the word of God…which ye heard of us…which effectually worketh in you.” It’s a study in prepositions, but it also displays the process: The Word of God (not man) from us to you. This is the process that Paul and his colleagues followed, and it must be the process to which we adhere. We are to be heralds (v. 9 – “preached” - kēryssō - “proclaim as a public crier; publish) of the gospel. We have been entrusted with it, not to hide it away, not to “keep it secret, keep it safe,” as Gandalf demanded of Frodo. Instead, it has been entrusted to us for the purpose of sharing and proclaiming it to others. From us must be preached the word of God so that it may do its work in you. That was the process in Paul’s day, and it is the process we are to imitate today.

It is important that we understand the message is not “from us” in the sense of being our own philosophy, our own word. It is the word of God that is to come from us. Now, none of us are apostles, and none of us have ever or will ever receive any new revelation or new message from God. There is no need for one because the Bible is the message that is powerful, sufficient, and complete. The “holy scriptures are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus…given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, [and] for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:15-16; c.f. 2 Peter 1:20-21). From us the word of God must be preached so that it may be properly received and applied.

Paul’s dedication to this process was anchored in his conviction that the message he was proclaiming was the truth, the word of God. Our churches cannot do without this same conviction. The NT commentator Leon Morris writes,
“The Church cannot do without this conviction. To preach interesting little moral essays can never prove and adequate substitute for the word which comes from God.”
This process is fabulously helped when the congregation prays for her pastor(s) to faithfully, accurately, and clearly herald this gospel, and when they anticipate the effectual working of that word in their lives. John MacArthur lists the following as ways in which the scriptures work on behalf of believers:
  • It saves them – 1 Peter 1:23; 2 Timothy 3:15; James 1:18
  • It sanctifies them – John 17:17
  • It matures them – 1 Peter 2:2
  • It frees them – John 8:31-32
  • It perfects them – 2 Timothy 3:16-17
  • It counsels them – Psalm 119:24
  • It edifies them – Acts 20:32
  • It ensures their spiritual success – Joshua 1:8-9; Psalm 1:2-3
  • It gives them hope – Psalm 119:147; Acts 20:32

Hearing God’s word is important. Jesus said in Matthew 13:9, “Who hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Jesus repeated that statement seven times in Revelation 2-3). In other words, take heed that you hear. In Mark 4:24 Jesus said, “Take heed what you hear”, and in Luke 8:18 Jesus said, “Take heed therefore how ye hear.” You must not be a careless hearer, one who has “itching ears” (2 Timothy 4:3) or “dull hearing” (Hebrews 5:11) or a forgetful hearer (James 1:22-24).

God’s word must be central in our lives and in our churches. The gospel must be proclaimed in our prayers, songs, and preaching/teaching. There is no room and/or need for entertainment when the church is gathered!

How hungry are you for God’s word? Consider these examples:

  • Job desired the word more than FOOD – Job 23:12
  • David desired the word more than SLEEP – Psalm 119:148
  • David desired the word more than MONEY – Psalm 119:72

God’s word is precious because, in the words of my old pastor D.W. Sparks,

“it converts the sinner, convicts the sinful, challenges the saved, and comforts the suffering.”
The Product – 1 Thessalonians 2:14

The word of God from us in you is the process, and the product is seen in the transforming power of the gospel in the lives of the converted. The Thessalonians were progressing spiritually because they believed the message of the cross and that belief powerfully affected their daily lives. The word must be received and applied, just as James 1:22 says.

The product of the process was seen in two ways.

Imitators

First, the Thessalonians had become “followers”, not only of Paul’s example, but also of the true churches which were persecuted for the Lord’s sake; specifically the churches in Judea according to Paul. Of course, by this time the Judean churches would be the most senior and mature of all the churches that had been planted. Those Judean churches were a bold and unflinching witness for Christ who sacrificially loved and served one another.

The word used for “followers” means “imitators” (mimētēs - English – “mimic”; 1 Thessalonians 1:6). And this young church was imitating the truthful example of their sister churches who were older and more mature in the faith. You can never lead souls heavenward unless you’re climbing yourself. One of the best ways to learn anything is to follow the example of someone who is further along than you; imitate their example. Of course, you must be careful who you imitate; not any old example will do!

Pause for a moment and suppose that a delegation from some sister church were to visit your church for a while. You must ask yourself, “What would we give them to imitate? What would they find as the distinctive hallmarks of our church?” It would be awful to discover that that from us they learned how to be divisive, critical, disillusioned, complacent, and unloving. Conversely, it would be fantastic to know that from us they learned to be united, rejoicing, and expectant, progressing, giving, trusting, and evangelizing!

One characteristic in which the Thessalonians were imitating the Judean churches is also the second byproduct of the process.

Sufferers

They were faithfully enduring suffering; just as the Judean churches were suffering. We are not acquainted with this aspect of Christianity, but our text should serve as a reminder to us that in past generations, and in contexts different from our own, the impact of the gospel in a life has introduced people to extreme suffering. As Christians we should be thankful for God’s sovereign blessing in that Christianity has not been persecuted in this land. That may not always be the case, but we must be reminded that receiving God’s word and serving His Son is not a walk in the park. It’s a war; not against “flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12).

The Persecution – 1 Thessalonians 2:15

The Thessalonians suffered from their own countrymen, just as the Judean churches suffered from the Jews. This young and dynamic church also felt the sting of Jewish persecution (Acts 17:5-10). In 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 Paul makes some very graphic statements in regards to what the Jews had done. In v. 15 Paul, who was himself a patriotic Jew, lists five things the Jews had done.

1.“They killed the Lord Jesus”

In today’s environment this would definitely be considered an anti-Semitic statement. Case in point is Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ. Many claimed that movie blamed the Jews for the crucifixion. The fact of the matter is that those Jewish leaders (Annas, Caiaphas, etc.) were responsible. When Pilate said, “I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see you to it”. The Jews answered him, “His blood be on us, and on our children” (Matthew 27:24-25).

Peter preached on Pentecost and plainly stated that the Jews had murdered Jesus: “Him…ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (Acts 2:23; 5:30). Obviously, the Jews are not solely to blame. We are all culpable for the Christ’s crucifixion. Our sin nailed Him to the tree. He was “made to be sin for us…that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21 – cf. Romans 5:8-9; 8:3; Isaiah 53).

While the blame is not only on those Jews, and it is not all Jews of all times that are directly responsible for Christ’s death; however, the contemporaries of Paul bore a unique responsibility for manipulating an embattled Roman politician and pressing for the Christ to be crucified. They called for the death of the One who died to save them. Only they rejected Him.

2.“They killed their own prophets”

The Jews rejected the Messiah, just as they rejected the prophets who foretold of the Messiah. Stephen declared to the Sanhedrin, right before they stoned him, “Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which showed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers,” Acts 7:52. (cf. 2 Chronicles 24:20-22; Matthew 23:29-35; Hebrews 11:37).

3.“They persecuted us”

The word for “have persecuted” is ekdiōkō; meaning “to expel; drive out”. That happened to Paul and his colleagues wherever they traveled (Acts 17:10, 15).

4.“They please not God”

Everyone who rejects Jesus displeases God and they bring judgment and damnation on themselves (John 3:18). God is not pleased with a Judaism that rejects Christ. He is not pleased with Gentile unbelief either. The Jews thought they were pleasing God by hindering the gospel. They were wrong!

Nothing is more displeasing to God the Father than the rejection of God the Son. It was the Father who said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him” (Matthew 17:5).

5.“They are contrary to all men”

Their hostility (“contrary” - enantios - ”opposite; antagonistic; hostile”) was more religiously than racially motivated. They resented, even hated, any religion but their own, especially the gospel of Christ, whom they rejected as a counterfeit messiah (Matthew 12:24; Acts 4:18; 5:28, 40). Their antagonism was evident by the fact that they forbade Paul and his team to “speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved.” They did not want the gospel themselves, and they did not want the Gentiles to have it either.

The Jews’ persecution of the church and the missionaries led to Paul’s divinely inspired pronouncement of judgment.

The Pronouncement – 1 Thessalonians 2:16

Since they not only rejected but also intentionally opposed the gospel, Paul declared…

“They fill up their sins alway”

“They heap up their sins to the limit” is another way of phrasing it. God patiently waits as sinners rebel against Him, and He watches as their measure of sin and judgment fills up. When the time is up, God’s patience will end and judgment will fall.

I think that three passages must be considered when we discuss God’s patience and impending judgment.

  • John 3:17 – “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”
  • 1 Timothy 2:3-4, “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”
  • 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”

As Christians we must beware of a forming a spirit of sanctimonious superiority, exclusiveness, and bitter dislike” for the sinners around us. Instead, we must diligently pray for those who reject the gospel in hopes that they will repent and receive it before it’s eternally too late.

You can be sure that Paul took no pleasure in making this pronouncement of impending judgment.

“For the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost”

Paul was not gleeful in announcing the doom of those who rejected Christ, specifically his own people the Jews. He dearly loved his “kinsmen according to the flesh” and he intensely desired their salvation (Romans 3:1-4; 9:1 – 11:36). This coming wrath was felt when Titus destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 A.D. And then again in 135 A.D. when Julius Severus crushed yet another rebellion and Emperor Hadrian expelled all Jews from the Promised Land and renamed it “Palestine” in honor of the Jews hereditary enemies the Philistines. No Jewish state would again exist in the Promised Land until 1948. This wrath is also in reference to the “time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7) the time of Tribulation (Matthew 24:15-22). But the primary expression of God’s wrath points to the punishment of all people, Jew and Gentile, who reject God’s Son.

Today, as in Paul’s day, the choose between God’s blessing and His cursing remain; the blessing or cursing is bound up in whether or not you will receive or reject the gospel. Those who receive the Word, as did the Thessalonians, believing and obeying God’s Word; their lives will be preserved in eternal glory with the Lord. But those who reject the Word will ultimately suffer God’s wrath to the full. Beloved, “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Saturday Morning Commentary

William Safire died of cancer on September 27, 2009. He was one of my favorite pundits and a brilliant writer. Former speechwritwer for Richard Nixon, along with Patrick Buchanan (see pic at end of this post). He coined the phrases: “nattering nabobs of negativism” and “hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history” in a speech he wrote for Nixon's VP - Spiro Agnew. I love those phrases. He was also my ENglish language guru; not that it has done me much good. I regularly read his "on Language" column. I enjoyed and learned from every one. Robert McFadden of the 'Old Gray (and slightly insane) Lady' wrote what I thought was an excellent obituary, and you may click here to read it. What follows are some scintillating Safire selections:

Click here to read what Aaron Britt learned while workinf for Mr. Safire, and go here if you're interested in an archive of Safire's stuff.




If you're interested in reading something other than William Safire this weekend, try these selcetions.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Model Minister part 2

“But what is he really like?” That is a question we sometimes ask. It’s not that we don’t know the person, but just that we don’t really know him. How can you get to really know someone? You can spend time with them, or, if that option is unavailable, you can read their mail. I am not encouraging you to commit a federal crime, but I do want to illustrate for you that when we read the NT we are reading someone else’s mail. It’s ok; the letters were intended for us too!

On Thursday's we've been studying the NT book of 1 Thessalonians and this small letter provides us with an intimate view of the apostle Paul. It reveals his love for the church at Thessalonica. From the tone of this chapter it appears that some people had entered into the Thessalonian church after Paul’s departure and were attacking his integrity and sincerity. They were maligning the man, his motives, his message, and his methods. Paul reminded the church six times in eleven verses (1 Thessalonians 2:1-2, 5, 9-11) that they were eye witnesses to his integrity, sensitivity, and sincerity. Regardless of what his enemies and critics were saying, they knew what the apostle Paul was really like. He was a model minister; the prototypical leader.

The first six verses of chapter two, which we considered last Thursday, gave us the x-ray view of the model minister, the inside look. And the inside of a model minister will be characterized by tenacity, integrity, authority, accountability, and humility. Today we will be 1 Thessalonians 2:7-12, and they form the photograph of a model minister; his outside image. Effective spiritual leadership is a combination of character and activity. Verses 1-6 displayed the character and verses 7-12 the activity. Paul illustrated that activity with the vivid and rich metaphors of a mother and a father. With these metaphors Paul is illustrating the intimacy and primary care that a pastor is to have with his church. A pastor is not to view his congregation with the indifference and independence of a day-care worker. I am not saying that day-care workers are careless caregivers, but they are basically hired guns. The children are not theirs, and that makes a difference. Instead, as pastor is to love, protect, nurture, and develop his congregation like a mother and father would love, protect, nurture, and develop their children.

Lead Like a Loving Mother

Nurturing Gentleness – 1 Thessalonians 2:7

When Paul says that he and his team were gentle among the Thessalonians like “a nurse cherisheth her children” he is not referencing a medical professional. “Her children” is the key. Paul and his companions were gentle with the church like a nursing mother is with her child. Let’s focus our attention on two words in that verse: “gentle” and “cherisheth”.

The term “gentle” means to be kind, respectful, compassionate, tolerant of imperfections, and patient. “Cherisheth” literally means to warm with body heat. What a graphic picture that is; a mother tenderly holding her little one in her arms and warming that little one with her own body heat. That type of gentleness is unequaled.

Now this is not the most common image that one has of the apostle Paul. Here we have a strong, dedicated, driven, zealous, natural-born leader. Such individuals are not often described as gentle. When I imagine Paul the first image that pops into my head is not that of a nursing mother! But that is how Paul cared for these babes in Christ. Far from exploiting them for his own gain and pleasure, Paul was concerned only for their well-being. He was no surrogate mother. He was not a hired hand. He cared for the Thessalonians' spiritual needs like a nursing mother cares for her child. He was not insensitive and indifferent; instead he was gentle and nurturing.

Sacrificial Love – 1 Thessalonians 2:8

What is the mother’s motive for the gentle care that she provides for her child? Obviously it is her sacrificial love, her affection for the baby, and so we have Paul progressing from gentleness to affection. “being affectionately desirous” is just one word in the Greek text (homeiromai) and it means to passionately long and yearn for someone. A mother has a natural, God-given love for her children. A spiritual leader, a pastor, is to have the same type of affection for the people to whom God has called him to lead.

The love that a mother has for her children is affectionate and sacrificial. Mothers don’t care for their children just out of a sense of duty, but because they dearly love them and are willing even to sacrifice for them. Paul says that the Thessalonians were “dear” unto him (v. 8b). The Greek word is agapētos meaning dearly and well beloved. A mother’s love is sacrificial. She will go hungry so that her child may eat. She will go without so that her child may have what he needs. A mother sacrifices her time for her child. A mother will even sacrifice her life for her child.

When Dianna and I lived in the D.C. area during the early ‘90s we were introduced to the big-city threat of car-jackings. While you were sitting in traffic someone would run up to your door, throw it open, kick you out, and then take off in your car. One case is still vivid in my memory; a woman was dragged to her death as she clung to the car door handle while the would-be car-jacker tried to flee. Why? Did she sacrifice herself for her car? No. Her baby was in the back-seat, and she would not let go of that car without getting her baby. She sacrificed herself for the baby because the man did not get away. The baby was rescued. The mother was laid to rest.

Paul reminded this church that he imparted unto them not only the gospel but also his own life (“our own souls”). This is truth and love; the two essential elements of any pastoral ministry. Every pastor has a two-fold commitment; first of all to the word of God and also to the people of God, and this balance is essential. How do you know that your pastor loves you? If he labors in the word of God to feed you God’s word and then models God’s word. Then you can be sure that he loves you.
Paul “imparted” that means to give and to share; he shared the gospel with them, and his own soul, his very life and being. There was nothing superficial or partial about Paul, Silas, and Timothy’s service to the Thessalonians. He risked his life, as the scars on his back clearly indicated, to share with them the life changing, life saving truth of the gospel, and then to pour himself into their spiritual growth and development.

Unselfish Labor – 1 Thessalonians 2:9

No one could accuse Paul of laziness. The Thessalonians were eye witnesses of his unselfish labor; of his hard work ethic. Paul not only labored in the word for this church, but he also worked in his trade as a tent-maker so as not to be a financial burden on them, even though he had every right as an apostle to be cared for by them (1 Thessalonians 2:6). Paul and his companions weren’t takers they were givers!
The words “labour” and “travail” sum up Paul’s unselfish labor towards the Thessalonians. The first word emphasizes the difficulty of the deed itself, and the second word emphasizes the toil and the struggle and the effort in the doing of the deed. That's the mother's picture. Does a mother expect remuneration for her work? No mother nurtures, loves, and labors for compensation. There's no price on a mother’s love; it’s not for sale. It’s freely given.
A model minister leads like a loving mother, and he also leads like a concerned father.

Lead Like a Concerned Father

Like a good father, a good leader will lead first off by example.

By Example – 1 Thessalonians 2:10

By and large, a young man will walk the way his father walks. For the most part a young man will talk the way his father talks. Therefore, the father is to set the standard of integrity in the home, and the pastor and spiritual leaders are to set that standard in the church. Paul pointed out to this church that they were witnesses and God also, that he and his colleagues had operated in a holy, just, and blameless manner. What a tremendously challenging trilogy that is. They were holy in terms of their relationship with God. They were just in terms of their dealings with men, and they were blameless in terms of their reputations before a watching world. In all respects Paul, Silas, and Timothy by their example set the standard for the Thessalonians to follow. Therefore, as Paul walked in a manner worthy of God, he set the example for the Thessalonians so to walk.

By Instruction – 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12

Fathers are not only examples, but they are instructors as well. That instruction is to be both verbal and visual; a father instructs his children with his words and with his conduct. Children in the home and members in the congregation need to hear the instructions and see them demonstrated in order to learn.

Paul said, “We exhorted…every one of you”. The idea expressed by that word is to encourage, literally it means “to come alongside” in order to aid, counsel, and instruct. The Thessalonians were also “comforted” by the missionary trio. This is a crucial aspect of any father’s instruction to his children, or that of a pastor to his flock because instruction is not always a lecture or a sermon, it is also an arm around the shoulder; it’s a shoulder to cry on, it’s the confident understanding that burdens won’t have to be carried alone.

I never will forget the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. Those games were not so remarkable to me because of the basketball “Dream Team” that crushed the opposition. What I’ll never forget is a semifinals heat in the men’s 400m. A British runner named Derek Redmond was clearly set to qualify for the final heat when he suddenly pulled up as if he’d been shot. In fact, his right hamstring had popped, and this one moment, for which he had worked so hard for so long, the opportunity to represent his country and win a medal had suddenly vanished. He was determined, however, to finish the race, and so while enduring overwhelming pain, both physical pain and the pain of disappointment, Derek Redmond began hopping the remaining 175m to the finish line. Suddenly, through the crowd and out of the stands came an older man, who ran up to Derek Redmond. The man was Jim Redmond; Derek's father. He put his arm around his son and the son just sobbed. “I'm here, son,” Jim said softly, hugging his boy. “We'll finish together.” Together, arm in arm, father and son, finished the race.

That's a comforting father. Paul was that for the Thessalonians, and a pastor is to be that for his congregation.

“We exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you.” Each member of the Thessalonian church had been urged and implored by Paul to walk worthy of the God who had saved them. The Greek word translated charged means to boldly witness and testify, and it is related to the word “martyr” because so many faithful witnesses died for their boldness. A wise father must encourage and comfort his children, but at times they must be sternly rebuked or warned. The purpose of leadership, in the home and in the church is summarized in v. 12, “That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.”

Therefore Paul expresses his and his colleague’s pastoral care in terms of a mother and a father’s care for their children. It is a wonderful standard to set; a Biblical model to follow, but a hard thing to do; both in the home and in the church. Truth is hard if it is not softened by love, and love is soft if it is not hardened by truth. The balance that both bring is essential.

Hear the final observation of this text. There are multiple references to the gospel in these twelve verses. Paul was bold to speak the gospel (1 Thessalonians 2:2). He speaks of being entrusted with the gospel (1 Thessalonians 2:4). He had shared the gospel (1 Thessalonians 2:8), and he had preached (heralded) the gospel (1 Thessalonians 2:9). My driving desire is for people to hear and believe the gospel. As Christians our task is to “impart” the gospel. If you are not a Christian your need is to believe the gospel.