Monthly Archives: May 2015

2 Thessalonians 3:16-18

“None of your business.”

 

This is a common phrase in a culture that values autonomy over depth. What I do with my life is my business, not yours. If I read the Bible—fine. If I don’t—fine. What I read when I DO read—my business, not yours. How often I go to church: my business, not yours. Except that this attitude is explicitly un-Christian. What we’ve just seen in both of Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians is that he takes a keen interest in HOW they’re growing in Christ, and they willingly ALLOW Paul to do so. In order for Paul to grow as a servant-leader and for the Thessalonians to grow as Christians, everyone has to do their jobs. Paul has to disciple them, and they have to submit to being discipled. In the end, everyone is better off for it. It’s evidence number 2516 that no one can be a Christian by himself.

 

16Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all. 17I Paul write this greeting with my own hand, which is how I write in every epistle. 18The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

 

This ridiculously small closing salutation seems unimportant at first, but a closer examination reveals not only the heart of Paul toward those he’s discipling but also some important historical evidence. He claims in verse 17 that he signs a greeting in his own hand. No such greeting exists in the book of Hebrews; this is one of the strongest evidences against a Pauline authorship of Hebrews. There are many more.

 

Paul speaks in what is called an “optative” voice in verses 16 and 18: he “wishes” or “prays” something upon his audience. What he is praying for is that they might have peace at all times and in every way, and that Christ’s grace would be with them all. Since Christ’s grace doesn’t just “leave” us, he is speaking to something pertinent to their behavior: they should be living in peace and grace.

 

This is a fitting closing for these two discipleship letters: he has instructed them in sound doctrine about “last things,” he has warned them of the dangers of shaky doctrine, undisciplined lifestyle and a lack of community. He has commanded them to imitate him as he imitates Christ, and he has been specific in the many ways that they can grow in Him on a day-to-day basis by simply following Paul’s example. Now he gives them the final reminder: their whole existences should be ensconced in peace and the grace of Jesus Christ.

 

Imagine how much different your life might be if someone like Paul took a real interest in your spiritual development. Imagine if you got an email from him every week or every day, reminding you of little things you can avoid and embrace that will enhance your daily walk with Christ. Imagine if Paul came to your house for coffee or if you went to his. Imagine if that he texted you on and off throughout the week and encouraged you. Imagine if he held you accountable for your promises and actions, for your successes and failures. Within 6 months, your spiritual life would be so profoundly changed that you would be unrecognizable.

 

This doesn’t have to be imaginary: there are Pauls in your church. Just as you need discipling, there are people whose spiritual growth hinges on whether or not they’re on the Pauline end of this equation. That’s why Christ invented the Church: His community is perfectly matched with each other to lead one another into a life of love and grace and peace and service. If you’re not involved in church—regularly—you’re missing out on the Thessalonian experience. If you are involved in church regularly, you might be missing out on some of the great pleasures of life found in discipline others. Rather than sit in pews, sing a few songs, and meditate on a message, let’s change our church life in 2015 to reflect this discipleship paradigm.

 

I would have been divorced in 2001 if it hadn’t been for a friend who came to me directly and reminded me that I was wrong to separate and divorce my wife. He saw my marriage as the whole community’s business, and he took it upon himself to disciple me. It worked: only a real friend who take such a step, and only a real disciple would submit to it. I’m still married and he’s still my friend. We are part of the community that Christ started. Reading the Bible is critical; hearing the word is important. But being involved in the discipleship paradigm is the only way you grow to the potential that God designed for you.

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2 Thessalonians 3:6-15

I must admit that I did not grow up in a culture that valued late sleeping. My father rose early for work, and we rose, as well. My grandfather showed me the great pleasure of rising very early and watching the sun rise. Even in my musician days, I could never sleep past 6 or 7 (much to the chagrin of my fellow musicians), even if I had played until 2 in the morning. There was a general consensus in our culture growing up that the only people who slept late were people who were up to no good. Productive, decent people go up early in the morning. As I grew up, I realized that (generally speaking) there seemed to be two types of people: those who rise early in the morning, and those who work for those who rise early in the morning. Leading productive, disciplined lives is a tradition that goes back at least to the Puritans who first settled the eastern shores of this country and felt that idleness was the devil’s workshop. But the Puritans had to get this idea from somewhere, didn’t they?

 

6Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to keep away from all brothers who live an undisciplined life and not according to the tradition you have received from us. 7For you know how you ought to imitate us, that we were not undisciplined among you, 8nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with hardship and labor we worked night and day to not be a burden to any of you: 9not because we have no right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as an example for you, so that you might imitate us. 10For even when we were with you, we commanded you that if a man is not willing to work he should not eat. 11We hear that there are some who walk among you who are undisciplined, not working but being busybodies: 12Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ, to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread. 13And you, brothers, do not tire of doing what is good. 14If anyone does not obey our word through this letter, take note of him and do not associate with him, in order that he might be ashamed. 15Yet do not consider him an enemy, but warn him as a brother.

 

Paul’s warning is against a specific type of brother—a fellow Christian—who is leading an undisciplined life. He warns the decently productive Thessalonians to avoid him in order to create enough shame in him that he changes his behavior (3.14). So what he’s guilty of doesn’t rise to the level of soteriological crisis or heresy: it is simply living an undisciplined life. Paul’s phrasing is especially interesting here: I have chosen to translate this “live an undisciplined life,” but ἀτακτως can be more bluntly translated as “lazy” or “unruly.” Moreover, Paul employs his favorite word—a variation of περιπατεω—“to walk.” He has been teaching on the significance of walking in the sanctification of the Lord; now he turns his attention to the one who walks according to a lack of personal discipline.

 

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this teaching is in the Bible. If we are to live after the Spirit—as opposed to the flesh, as is our natural wont—we must develop some personal discipline. In every church culture I’ve ever seen, there are those Christians who understand this and a much larger group of Christians who don’t. There are plenty who are convinced that some vague inner belief that Christ is the Son of God is all that is necessary for them: no further sanctification is warranted. A lack of discipline permeates their entire spiritual existence: from their church attendance to their tithing, from their care for others to their own personal devotional time. A lack of discipline reflects an essential lack of faith: such people don’t really believe that God Almighty cares about the day-to-day issues that are affected by a life of personal discipline. These people have forgotten that Christ’s imperative was to go make disciples, and that the same root word in “disciple” is “discipline.”

 

Yes, there has been plenty of ink spilled about the “working-eating” aspect of this passage. The general principle in view here is that if a person is not willing to work, he shouldn’t eat. The “not willing” is inherent in the Greek θελει. We must be careful not to become harsh and judgmental to someone because they’re unemployed; this is rather a biblical argument against able-bodied people who drain the community’s resources. The inherent selfishness of this act is diametrically opposed to Christian teaching. But we should also note Paul’s balancing phrase in verse 15: we are not to treat such people as enemies but as brothers. The idea is to correct their thinking.

 

How disciplined is your spiritual life—or “walk,” as Paul likes to put it? Do you have regular devotional time, or is it erratic? Do you attend church regularly? This is the community that Christ Himself started, and He has told you not to forsake them. Every social teaching that Paul has in the New Testament hinges on your being actively involved in a church setting. You simply can’t obey Scripture in your life while laying out of church. And today’s readings show that Christ wants you to have the joys of a disciplined, productive spiritual walk. Are you involved in some church ministry? Are you discipling someone else? Are you allowing yourself to be discipled? Do you enjoy a regular diet of prayer and the Word? These are critical elements of a disciplined walk before the Lord—and His community is designed to help you get there.

 

We can sleep when we’re dead. In this tiny window of time that we’re given here on earth, shouldn’t we be living the disciplined, productive lives that Paul teaches?

2 Thessalonians 3:1-5

Back in Basic Training, I was required to polish the small amount of brass on my uniform a lot. In a ritual that seemed to take place approximately 2,364 times a day, I applied friction and a clean cloth to the brass and continued this process until it was no longer cloudy. It shone like it was intended. This same process is in view where our sanctification is concerned. There are many Christians who are content to be the brass that grows dull. But God’s will is that we shine; in order for this to happen, He polishes us with the friction of life and learning—and He does so using the community that He founded: the Church. If we are to grow according to God’s will, we are to be involved in a discipleship relationship of some sort. Someone should be speaking truth into our lives daily; someone should be the spiritual friend to whom we hold ourselves accountable. Someone should be literally showing us how it’s done—because ultimately, we are designed to show someone else further down the road how it’s done one day, too. This discipleship process is what Christ commanded us to do in Matthew 28, and it’s what Paul’s concerned with in today’s readings.

 

1Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the Word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you, 2and that we will be rescued from wicked and immoral men; for not all believe. 3And the Lord is faithful, Who will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. 4For we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will continue to do what we command. 5May the Lord direct your hearts in the love of God and the steadfastness of Christ.

 

Paul asks the Thessalonians to pray for his ministry and his safety, and it is telling that he associates the ones who do not believe with threats to his safety (3.2). That sounds foreign to us, but it need not: those who do not believe do not have the tolerance for us that they claim, and we will one day be reminded that we ultimately depend on God Almighty for our protection. When Paul reiterates the truth of God’s faithfulness, it is a fact that we must learn to stand on: “the Lord is faithful, Who will protect you from the evil one” (3.3).

 

But like the first letter, Paul returns to his principal purpose in writing to the Thessalonians: discipleship. He expresses a confidence in them that they are “doing and will continue do to” what he has commanded them (3.4). This, too, is foreign to the American Christian—the imperative nature of the mentor-mentee relationship. For the Thessalonians to grow, Paul had to be the leader. He had to say “imitate me as I am imitating Christ” (). He had to tell them some things that they should do, and warn about some things they shouldn’t do. This wasn’t a soteriological command, mind you: no one’s salvation was necessarily at stake as a consequence of the commands of which he’s speaking. This is all about the sanctification that they were called to live (2.13). If we are to grow daily in the Lord, we need to be discipled. We need someone speaking truth in our lives. We need someone to who we may hold ourselves accountable. We mentors need to show others how this is done, and we mentees need to watch, learn and live…and then become mentors who teach others. If this process isn’t replicating itself in your walk with Christ, you have a large chunk of God’s will missing.

 

This is why Paul says to them, in the optical mode, “may the Lord direct your hearts in the love of God and the steadfastness of Christ” (3.5). The ideal—the goal—to which they are working is that the love of God will be the “home base” of their hearts. It is that their walk with Christ would be steadfast, not “up-and-down.” This is the sort of thing that doesn’t happen quickly at the altar—but slowly, over time. It requires patience. Being saved is good: being sanctified is what’s in view here, and it’s the destiny of all God’s children who are walking according to His will.

 

None of us can shine without friction. None of us can shine alone, either. God’s will for your life isn’t always some mystical, metaphysical urge or feeling you have that’s private. God’s will for your life is spelled out in Scripture: you are to grow in spiritual maturity, which means that you are to be involved in a discipleship relationship. The emulation of someone’s example leads to the steadfastness of Christ, which is always God’s will for those He wants to shine.

2 Thessalonians 2: 13-17

I once saw a television show in which a character placed items and pictures in a box that he had once loved and cherished, but now had outgrown. This was called a Fad Box—it contained pictures of him wearing that Members Only jacket from the 1980’s, or that Cabbage Patch Kid doll. The Fad Box is a sad place. It’s even sadder when the people of God decide to put Him in the Fad Box.

 

13But we ought to always give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth; 14it was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold on to the tradition you were taught, whether by word or letter from us. 16Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, Who has loved us and given us eternal encouragement and good hope by grace, 17encourage and strengthen you in your hearts in every good work and word.

 

If you’re Calvinist, this passage doesn’t bother you too much: after all, Paul seems to be telling the Thessalonians that they were selected beforehand for salvation. But if you occupy the classical Arminian position the way that I do, your mind immediately wanders to 1 Ti 2.4 and 2 Pe 3.9, which explicitly state that God’s desire is for everyone to be saved. But the solution here is simpler than it looks: we Christians who believe in the free moral choice of all men (the classical Arminian position) also believe that God has predestined us: but we believe that He predestined a GROUP of people—that is, those who chose to believe His Word—while the Calvinists believe that He predestined actual individuals. There is room for both positions in this passage today, but I am emphasizing this latter view that God chose people from the beginning for salvation—and that the Thessalonians that chose to believe God were among this group.

 

But what should be one of the most troubling passages of Scripture of all time for many of my fellow evangelicals shows up next: “therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold on to the tradition you were taught, whether by word or letter from us” (2.15). If there’s one thing that marked the evangelical movement from its inception, it’s the wholesale rejection of anything that smacks of tradition or creedalism. To this day, we prefer the modern to the ancient—an attitude that works to our detriment, both spiritually and intellectually. Take a look at our church architecture and tell me that our nondescript building boxes aren’t a direct reaction to the ornate cathedrals of Europe. We’re happy to throw out our hymnals and have Power Point, happy to sing existentialist pop songs in the place of corporate worship anthems. But there is a place for tradition in the spiritual life, and it shouldn’t be so quickly rejected. Over the course of the last two millennia, we can point to teachings, pastors, councils, and doctrines that have withstood the test of time and consensus. They are elements of the Church that have been believed by ALL Christians in ALL times. Why should we reject them?

 

The three major creeds (Nicean, Constantinoplan, and Chalcedon) were doctrinal delineations designed to hold back a tide of heresy. The Apostle’s Creed was designed to preach the gospel and disciple a population that couldn’t read and needed to still have their names in the Book of Life. Those who can still recite the Apostle’s Creed aren’t in the dark about triunity or the person and work of the Holy Spirit—it’s all right there, after all. The practice of taking the Lord’s Supper each service that you meet is a solemn and instructive tradition. And what of catechism? It’s just a fancy term for making sure that your young people know their doctrine so that they can be adult contributors in the Church. These are all traditions that we have turned our noses up at, and it’s not just a shame—it’s dangerous. Now our young people are perpetually coddled in evangelicalism (well, at least until they get to college, at which time they fall away due to no doctrinal grounding). Our adult members are encouraged to continue in a state of spiritual infancy in which the pastor does all the work of the church. Our rejection of tradition has resulted in an unhealthy church.

 

Only the Bible is the Word of God. But to look past what our fathers learned and knew and decide that it’s irrelevant is simply arrogance. Just as Paul encourages the Thessalonians to do, we should stand firm in those traditions. We should hold fast to them. This faith of our fathers came to us the hard way in many cases—at the cost of someone’s life. In our pell-mell search for cultural relevance and hipness, are we really ready to throw it all away just to start new ones that took less thought and learning and time investment?

 

When we make God trendy, we put him in our Fad Box. Sooner or later, we outgrow Him, and He sits there, waiting for His time with us. Seek out the old ways today, brother and sister. Find out how strong and beautiful and God-given they are. And be richer for the effort.

2 Thessalonians 2:1-12

The antichrist. The man of destruction. The beast. The man of Satan.

 

These are all infamous terms for the most infamous of men: the leader who will one day emerge from the global hotbed of apostasy and anti-Christian hostility and set himself up to be God. It’s going to happen, and the consequences of its happening are dire for the population of earth. It is incredibly important to learn how to share the gospel—the KERYGMA, or the word—with the lost around us. If they don’t choose the truth over the delusion that is far more popular, they are doomed to live under the reign of this man—and ultimately suffer judgment with him.

 

1And now we ask you, brothers, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, 2that you not be quickly shaken in your mind or be alarmed, either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come: 3let no one deceive you in this way, since it will not come until the apostasy [rebellion] comes first and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, claiming himself to be God. 5Do you not remember that while I was with you I was telling you these things? 6And now you know what holds him back now, so that in his time he will be revealed. 7For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work: only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. 8Then that lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will kill [do away with] by the breath of His mouth and will destroy by the appearance of His coming—9the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, 10and with all the deception of evil for those who perish, because they did not accept the love of the truth so as to be saved. 11And because of this God will send upon them a deluding influence, so that they will believe what is false, 12in order that they might all be condemned who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in evil.

 

Paul deals directly with the fears of the Thessalonians pertinent to the Lord’s coming. His very first sentence in these readings gives away his pre-tribulational leanings: the phrase “our gathering to Him” (2.1) is a reference to the Rapture. He doesn’t want his audience to be alarmed regarding the things that he’s about to describe. If Paul had taught a post-tribulational Rapture, they would not have been alarmed or shaken. Next, he introduces the two signs that must be present before the Day of the Lord happens: the “apostasy” (rebellion) and the man of sin. The “apostasy” (2.3) could be a general period of spiritual rebellion in which Man globally rejects the gospel of Christ and all Christianity, or it could refer to a specific, smaller epoch in which the man of sin leads Man into spiritual rebellion. He is referred to in 2.3 as the “man of lawlessless” and the “man of destruction.” This is the epitome of all that is satanic: lawlessness and destruction. He represents these, and to these two attributes we must add one more: he is one who “opposes and exalts” (2.4). This, singularly put, is the “apostasy.” This man opposes the truth and exalts himself as God. Until the elections of 2008 and 2012, I always sort of thought of this attribute as laughable: who, after all, would worship a world leader? It doesn’t seem so far-fetched now.

 

He sets himself up in the temple, which has caused Dead Seas of ink to be spilled regarding whether or not the temple will be rebuilt before this moment. This passage would seem to lend credence to the teaching that the temple will be rebuilt at some point before the Day of the Lord. There are, in Pauline writings, 7 temples that make appearance: 2 of them are past (the original and the one the Herod rebuilt that was destroyed in A.D. 70), 3 of them are present (your human body [1 Co. 6], the local church [1 Co. 3.3], and the universal church [Eph 2]), 2 are future—these are the tribulational temple and the final millennial temple. In order for the man of destruction to set himself up in the temple, it would seem to need to exist.

 

We learn that Paul had taught these things before to the Thessalonians—probably orally (2.5). They wanted some clarification, but he had actually shared this information before. Such is the nature of teaching—repetition is key.

 

Next, we move to the topic of the “restrainer.” Who or what is this restrainer? Something is holding back this man of destruction from doing his thing right now. Some have argued that the restrainer is human government, but this does not seem to fit the passage. Verse 6 states that “you know what holds him back now.” This is captured in one word that is of neuter gender (κατεχον), and is a general reference to the time of revealing. But in verse 7, we’ll see the gender change when Paul speaks specifically about “he who now holds back.” This word is now masculine (κατεχων)—and the Holy Spirit is always spoken of using masculine pronouns in the New Testament. Ergo, it seems likely that the One Who restrains is the Holy Spirit—His influence will be removed from the antichrist. Some teach that the Holy Spirit will be completely removed from the earth during this time, but that cannot be deduced from this passage: only the influence of the Holy Spirit on this man appears to be in view.

 

Moreover, we’re told something very interesting about the man of destruction in verse 9: he is “the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan.” The phrase “the activity” is translated from ενεργειαν, from which we take our English word “energy.” This word is always used with supernatural workings in the New Testament. Paul is telling us here that this man of destruction is a pawn on Satan’s chessboard. Satan is the one who is pulling this man’s strings. He doesn’t reveal himself; the verb is in the passive voice, indicating that he “will be revealed” by another. However, his story doesn’t end well: on the Day of the Lord, Christ will return and put him to death. The juxtaposition of this man’s power and the ease with which Christ defeats him (“by the breath of His mouth,” 2.8) tells us all we need to know about this final story. Christ will destroy him (καταργνσει), which also carries the meaning of “render inoperative.” Revelation 20 tells us, however, that the antichrist and Satan will be cast into the lake of fire, so “destroy” is a good reading.

 

The last two verses are the most disturbing: the people under the sway of the antichrist did not accept the love of the truth when it was offered to them, so they are deceived. As a consequence of this, they continue to believe what is false. The “deluding influence” sent by God is reminiscent of that which He sent to blind Pharaoh in Exodus. Then, too, it was a consequence of a decision that Pharaoh made first. The delusion is made complete, and the judgment is deserved. That decision is in everyone’s hands now: to believe the truth or to take pleasure in evil.

 

Some valuable lessons come to the fore when discussing eschatology like this. Paul’s doctrine led to some panic, and he had to clarify it. Eschatology can do that, so it’s important that we know it well enough to be comforted by it, not panicked. It is important to know the signs of the times; therefore, ignoring eschatology so that we can part of the “Pan School” (it’ll all pan out, Mike) is also not a great option. Satan is at work already, and he is a master of deception, but both the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit have far more power than he. Of equal importance is a lesson that sometimes gets lost on Pentecostals: miracles by themselves do not prove truth. The man of destruction, after all, will perform signs and wonders. Miracles can be reflectors of truth, but do not prove truth. That is done through careful reading and study of the Word.

 

The most important application of all is found in those last two frightening verses. All of these people were not created for destruction. They were created for eternal life and pleasure in Christ Jesus. But they are actively choosing the pleasure of evil over and against the love of the truth. While it’s true that we can only lead the horse to water—but we can’t make him drink—these eternal stakes are far too high to not try to at least remind the horse that he’s thirsty. In this age of the delusional apostasy, we have to study the Word carefully, study our culture carefully, and articulate the gospel in an effective way. We have a chance to persuade others to miss this terrible chapter; if we shake the dust off our feet too quickly, they will be overwhelmed with this delusion. We have the truth: it is our responsibility to share it. Have you shared the gospel with someone lost today? Have you engaged in the conversation of the truth?

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 Thessalonians 1:1-12

When I was a young man, I played football, like everyone else in Texas. I wasn’t very good, but I played. During childhood, the Boys’ Club football teams were sponsored by local businesses. Typically, football season would open with some practices that were grueling and hot and difficult. After a few weeks of practice, we might have a scrimmage or two. But the first big day of the season was always when we got our uniforms: that was truly exciting. Now we weren’t just unruly kids out there playing in the park; we were a football team. We would wear those jerseys everywhere; everyone could tell which team we were on. As Paul begins his discourse on the Day of the Lord with the Thessalonians, he reminds them of Whose jersey they’re wearing in the great cosmic football game of eschatology.

 

1Paul and Silvanus and Timothy to the church at Thessalonica in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: 2grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you for one another increases more; 4therefore, we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecution and afflictions which you endure. 5This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God so that you will be considered ready for the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering. 6After all, it is just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels 8in flaming fire, giving punishment to those who do not know God and who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9We know that they will suffer as punishment eternal destruction, away from the face of our Lord and from the glory of His power, 10when He comes to receive glory from His saints on that day, and to be marveled at by all those who have believed—for our testimony to you was believed. 11For this reason we pray always for you, so that our God will make you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power, 12so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

This letter was probably written within 18 months of the first letter. The makeup of the Thessalonian church hasn’t changed much; what has happened, apparently, is that there has been some communication between the church and Paul regarding the some confusion about the Day of the Lord. It is apparent from some of his phrasings in this letter that one of his big purposes here was to clarify some misunderstandings about eschatology (last things). There are some interesting contrasts in this book. In 1 Thessalonians the emphasis is on the coming of the Lord in the air for His saints; in this one, it is on the coming of the Lord with the saints to earth. In 1 Thessalonians the coming of Christ stands out; and in 2 Thessalonians the coming of the anti-Christ stands out. In the first letter, Paul speaks of the Day of Christ; in 2 Thessalonians, it’s the Day of the Lord. Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians contains much about comfort, while 2 Thessalonians contains much about correction.

 

 

This is one of those passages of Scripture that many would prefer to overlook. It conflicts with their concocted version of a vaguely Communist Hippie Christ who is all smiles and love and tolerance. It is a picture of the judgment of God, which will justly be applied to a world that has stubbornly refused to acknowledge Him. For God to not eventually bring His judgment would make Him less than just. After all, how many times over the last two thousand years have His ministers and followers been massacred for His Word? How many times have Christians been chased out of the public square? How many times has the world seemingly gotten the last word when something bad happens and they can taunt us, “where was your God?” God has allowed this to go on for long enough; there is coming a time when His judgment will be applied. To not do so would be against His perfect sense of justice.

 

Paul tells us in Romans that the wages of sin is death. It is interesting that he uses this language here again: God will “repay with affliction those who afflict you” (1.6). The anti-God crowd has earned their wages. There is coming a payday, and their paycheck is eternal destruction away from the face of the Lord (1.9). This really couldn’t be any clearer (in case there are any Rob Bell fans out there). Note how Paul also takes care to remind the Thessalonians that they won’t be around for this. While the rest of the world is receiving judgment, His saints are giving Him glory and marveling at Him (1.10).

 

Remember that Paul is writing this letter to provide some clarification of eschatological doctrinal points, and to provide comfort. The Thessalonians have evidently endured some affliction, and Paul is reminding them that this sort of thing helps make them worthy of the kingdom. The entire thematic thrust of their lives is for the name of Jesus Christ to be glorified in them (1.12); that way, when He returns to inflict His righteous judgment, their faith in Him will be proven correct and THEY will be glorified in Him. In what ways is the thematic thrust of my life the glory of Jesus Christ today? Am I filled with worry? Stress? Do I forget what I’ve read in the Bible by 10 this morning? Is He “something extra” in my life, or is He the main point of my life? This is a question worth asking ourselves all day today.

 

Only Christ can make us “worthy of the kingdom.” But if He is to be glorified in me, this is going to require my seeing to it. If the God-haters around me see that He is the major theme of my life, they will have received ample warning of the judgment to come, and they’ll know pretty clearly Whose side I’m on.

 

So whose jersey are you wearing today?

 

 

1 Thessalonians 5: 12-28

The battery on a car doesn’t run the car. The car actually generates its own electricity through the alternator. The battery’s lone job is to provide the electricity to crank the engine; once the engine cranks, the internal combustion begins and the engine powers itself with the alternator. If the alternator is broken, the battery will power the engine for a short time until it finally dies. This process is similar to what Paul was accomplishing in his first letter to the Thessalonians. The engine had cranked, and was running. He had led some folks to the Lord, and had stayed long enough to lead some into a deeper walk. His letter was designed to be an “alternator” of sorts—keeping the engine of the Thessalonian church running. Since he wasn’t going to be there to hold their hands, he needed for the Thessalonian engine to keep running. He needed for them to disciple one another and grow spiritually. If the church remained a group of infants, the “alternator” would have died, followed shortly by the engine of the church itself. This notion of teaching the Thessalonians to imitate him as he had imitated Christ is the essence of discipleship, and it’s what Paul is preoccupied with in this closing section of his first letter.

 

12Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and instruct you, 13and regard them with the greatest respect in love because of their work. Live at peace with one another. 14And we encourage you, brothers, to admonish the lazy [or unruly, undisciplined], encourage the discouraged, help the weak, be patient to all. 15See that no one repays evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people. 16Rejoice always, 17pray constantly,18give thanks in all things; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. 19Do no extinguish the Spirit, 20Do not despise prophecy, 21but test all things; hold fast to that which is good, 22abstain from every kind of evil. 23Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your spirit and soul and body be kept without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24Faithful is He Who calls you, Who will also do it. 25Brothers, pray for us. 26Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. 27I abjure you by the Lord to have this letter read aloud to the brothers. 28The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

 

Paul closes his letter to the Thessalonians with some solid practical teaching designed, once again, to disciple them. He is teaching them the discipline of the day-to-day walk. His first imperative is interesting: “respect those who work hard among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and instruct you, and regard them with the greatest respect in love because of their work” (5.12-13). He’s speaking, of course, about pastors and bishops and elders. These are people who have given up any semblance of a normal existence and dedicated their lives to the spiritual care and feeding of others. It’s hard work, and we should hold them in high regard. Those who don’t serve in this capacity typically get to have regular paychecks, save a decent amount of money, have a retirement account, plan for the future, etc. How would you like to never know where the next check is coming from—or when? How would you like to live each day and month like the Israelites, literally being provided for each day by God with absolutely no thought of the next day? How would you like to also have a family to support but also the call of God to answer? These are some of the pressures that the modern minister faces, and thanks to the degradation of our culture we can now also add the contempt of the populace to that already formidable list. Paul is simply reminding the Thessalonians of something that we could stand to remember as well: God has called folks to do important spiritual work among us; hold them in high regard and respect them because of this work.

 

Next, Paul has a staccato four-imperative verse. The brothers are told to: (1) admonish the lazy. Several translations render this “unruly” or “undisciplined.” I think it says a lot about how far we’ve fallen as a culture that we see leisure as our ultimate end, and lack of personal discipline punctuates the lives of Christians everywhere. Paul knew of these dangers, and knew he couldn’t be there to stop it. He is encouraging the strong brothers among the Thessalonians to continue the discipleship process: after all, the root idea behind “disciple” is “discipline.” (2) encourage the discouraged. All of us get “down.” Different forms of depression are so common now that many people within our own congregations are heavily medicated. A lasting state of discouragement is from the enemy, and should be battled. Our job is encourage those who are discouraged. (3) help the weak. There is no Darwinianism among the Christian church—or at least there shouldn’t be. Instead of letting the weak fend for themselves, a healthy church should make it a priority to help the weak among them. (4) be patient to all. This can be very challenging to do—especially the “all” part—but is critical to our witness. Being patient and letting life unfold in God’s timing: these are key to being a mature disciple of Christ.

 

Paul tells the Thessalonians to be in a state of permanent rejoicing and constant prayer. The word I’ve translated “constantly” is ἀδιαλειπτως, which is typically used in the sense of a continuous, hacking cough. So just like that cough that just never seems to stop, so should your prayer life be. Constant. Steady. Never-ending. Paul also tells them to be in a state of permanent thanksgiving. The more thankful you are, the more you realize how much you have to be thankful for. He tells them to not despise the prophetic ministry, but in the same breath he also tells them to test all things. Just because someone shows up at church and claims to speak the word of the Lord doesn’t mean it’s true: their words must be tested against THE Word. It is for this reason that every Christian should develop solid hermeneutical skills, and every minister should have thorough Bible training—everyone believes that what they think and feel is from God, but not everyone is right. Being able to tell the difference is a maturity thing.

 

Paul’s overall emphasis in this section is on the day-to-day walk of the Thessalonians in his absence. The engine of their sanctification has been started; now it needs to keep running. In order for this to happen, they need to be willing to admonish, encourage, and help one another. They need to exist in a constant state of prayer, thanksgiving, and rejoicing. They need to develop and make use of the spiritual gifts, and they need solid understanding of the Word in order to be mature. The goal of Paul’s ministry wasn’t to have “632 decisions for Christ”….it was to have a group of people who have become mature. It was to have a church full of grownup Christians, not baby Christians. This engine only runs on the fuel of discipleship.

 

Nobody ever thinks of himself as spiritually immature. We all think of ourselves as being “further along” than someone else. But the evidence of spiritual immaturity is everywhere: inconsistent or nonexistent church attendance is a sign of it, for example: how can you do these things Paul is saying when you avoid the assembly of the brothers? Believing every squirrely doctrine that comes down the pike and seems exciting is also an evidence of spiritual infancy. Resisting training in the Word, not developing a steady diet of the Word in your own life—these are evidences that you haven’t grown enough to handle meat yet. If the church tolerates a constant state of immaturity, the engine will just die. It will have to be jump-started, overhauled or sometimes even junked.

 

Are you discipling others today? Allowing yourself to be discipled? It’s the only way our engine continues to run.