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 aporphaniz┼Ź; 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?

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