Friday, January 29, 2010

Following Christ Brings Opposition and Persecution

1Thessalonians 2:13 For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.

Paul’s team continued to thank God that the Thessalonians accepted the gospel message as the Word of God. The gospel message may have been delivered by man, but it was recognized as the truth of God being revealed through human messengers. One of the proofs of the validity of the message was the fact that it was producing obvious results in the lives of the believers.

I think this is a truth that is often underemphasized. Many people believe that walking forward in a church and praying a prayer with the pastor is proof that you are born again. That is not the case. I always encouraged my small groups of new believers to examine themselves for evidence that the Holy Spirit was producing change in their lives. The book of James was written to clarify the fact that faith without works is dead.

James 2:19-20 “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead.”

James 2:26 “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”

1Thessalonians 2:14 For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews:

Paul often addresses the believers as “brethren.” I believe this is a reminder that we are all part of the same family, and we are all equal at the foot of the cross.

Evidently, the Thessalonian believers faced opposition and persecution for choosing to identify with Jesus. In the book of Acts Paul reveals that the troubles they encountered were a result of the instigation of Jewish people in their city.

Acts 17:5 “But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people.”

In this regard they followed/imitated the communities of believers in Judaea who suffered greatly from the Jews in that region that rejected Jesus as the Son of God.

1Thessalonians 2:15-16 Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men: Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.

This is a statement clarifying that it was the Jews who rejected Jesus as Lord and were responsible for the death of Jesus, just as they had been responsible for the death of faithful prophets of God in the past. Though the Jews were responsible for having Christ crucified, it was to redeem all men from sin that He had to come to earth as a man and submit to that death. The Jews were the instruments in the hand of God for accomplishing that purpose. It was my sin, just as surely as the actions of those Jews, that is to blame for His death.

These same Jews were the ones persecuting those who were choosing Christ as Lord at this time. Their motives were selfish and their hearts hard. They were not pleasing God and were positioning themselves as the enemy of all men by trying to prevent the gospel message from reaching the Gentiles.

This brings to mind the government leaders and politicians of our day. They are more concerned with accomplishing their own agendas than they are about allowing people the ability to make informed choices on their own about what is right for them. They act as if the people aren’t capable of making wise decisions and that the government should assume all responsibility for making these choices for them. For example…

• You can’t possibly allow the teaching of creation along with evolution; people might logically deduce that the fact of a Creator makes more sense.

• Activist judges have decided to allow same sex marriages even though the majority of Americans believe marriage should be defined as the union of a man and a woman.

• Pork barrel spending is viewed as an acceptable form of bribery in order to get legislation passed that has nothing to do with otherwise good pieces of legislation. It doesn’t matter that these projects are being paid for by many more people who won’t benefit from them than those who will.

Of course, I believe that we the people have to take the blame for allowing them to act so independently. We have been duped into believing that only the rich and powerful can have an impact. We have been fooled into thinking that the individual is powerless---and he is, until and unless he chooses to join forces with those of like thinking. The percentage of people who vote in elections proves our apathy. Enough for that rabbit trail.

“to fill up their sins alway” – It seems that these Christ-rejecters are continually doing something to add to their sins against God and His Son.

“uttermost” = the point aimed at as the limit, the conclusion, result (immediate, ultimate, or prophetic)

“for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost” – In context, Paul is again referencing the wrath of God spoken of in chapter one, verse 10. They definitely fit into the categories of those upon whom God’s wrath will come—His enemies/adversaries, children of disobedience. It would seem that Paul’s reference to the uttermost would be referencing His ultimate wrath, which has been prophesied and is yet future. The direct reference is to those Jews who represent all Jews who have positioned themselves as enemies of God and whose ultimate future will be an eternal existence in the lake of fire.

Revelation 20:15 “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”

One of the reasons for the 70th week of Daniel yet to come, which we commonly call the tribulation, is to bring forth a believing remnant that will recognize their Messiah. In order to bring this about, they will first experience “great tribulation,” a refining fire of judgment, such as never before in their history.

Matthew 24:21 “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.”

I think an excerpt from my study of Daniel would be helpful here.

Daniel 9:24 “Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy.”

This timeframe has been decreed regarding the Jews and Jerusalem. The purpose of this timeframe:

“to finish the transgression” – After studying the Hebrew, it seems to mean to bring an end to their rebellion to authority. Since this is God’s decree, it would stand to reason that He is referencing their rebellion and disobedience to Him.

“to make an end of sins” – This is referencing the fact that all Israel will be saved and living under the new covenant referenced in Jeremiah 31:33-34.

But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

Once the earthly kingdom of Messiah is established, every Jewish person will follow the Lord in obedience. Every Jewish child born during that time will be saved and recognize God as LORD. This is the truth Paul was teaching in Romans.

Romans 11:26 “And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:”

Zechariah tells us that one-third of the Jewish people will emerge through this refining fire to enter Messiah’s Kingdom.

Zechariah 13:9 “And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The LORD is my God.”

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Example, Encourage, Exhort

1Thessalonians 2:9 For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.

Again, Paul urges the Thessalonians to remember. Throughout scripture that seems to be an important process in the life of one who trusts in God.

Deuteronomy 32:7 “Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will shew thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee.”

Joshua 1:13 “Remember the word which Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, saying, The LORD your God hath given you rest, and hath given you this land.”

1Chronicles 16:12 “Remember his marvellous works that he hath done, his wonders, and the judgments of his mouth….”

Isaiah 46:9 “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me….”

Malachhi 4:4 “Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments.”

Luke 17:32 “Remember Lot’s wife.”

John 15:20 “…Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.”

Revelation 2:5 “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.”

Paul reminds them that he and his companions had worked hard (to the point of weariness) night and day in order to pay their own way and not cause them hardship by depending on them for their upkeep. The fact that they worked so hard did not keep them from preaching the gospel.

We are so spoiled in this day and age that excuses flow from us readily as to why we can’t possibly give time to serve the Lord or even spend quality time in His Word (our job, family commitments, etc). Although I have been quite involved in church ministry for most of my life, I have been guilty of doing the same. In fact, I allowed the demands of church activities to affect my personal time of fellowship with the Lord. The truth is that when we get so busy serving the Lord that we have no time to spend with Him in His Word and in prayer, we are too busy. Priorities need to be reassessed and changes need to be made. Investing in our relationship with the Lord should have the priority in our life. When we honor that, He will provide for everything else we need.

Matthew 6:33 “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

I know I’m going off track a bit, but these thoughts brought to mind the Lord’s words in His letter to the church at Ephesus in which He addresses this very issue.

Revelation 2:2-4 “I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.”

It seems that the people were doing many commendable things. The problem seems to be with the attitude of heart with which they are serving. They are even serving for the right reason (for my name’s sake), but it seems they are serving out of duty rather than love. This just emphasizes the importance of staying connected to the Lord through prayer and His word so that we are sensitive to the leading, teaching and conviction of the Spirit.

1Thessalonians 2:10 Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe:

Paul continues to remind the Thessalonians how Paul and his companions had behaved among the body of believers:
• Holily – in accordance with the character of the Lord, with moral integrity and purity, righteously
• Justly – in conformance to the law, honestly
• Unblameably – faultlessly, irreproachable, morally
Again, he appeals to God as witness to the truth of his claim.

David Guzik’s comments on this section of scripture reminded me of an old saying that applies here: “People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

1Thessalonians 2:11-12 As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children, That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.

Paul is reminding the Thessalonians that he is not telling them anything they don’t already know. They dealt with the body of believers as fathers would their children, individually and as a group.

“exhorted” = invite, implore, beseech, comfort, pray
“comforted” = encourage, console
“charged” = testify, give evidence, witness

Paul used these different words to describe their efforts to get the Thessalonian believers to walk “worthy of God.” The Greek for walk references how one “deports himself” among other things; it’s a reference to how one lives. The question becomes how to “walk worthy of God.” Paul answers this question in his letter to the Colossians.

Colossians 1:10 “That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God…”

Being fruitful is evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in your life.

Galatians 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance….”

Ephesians 5:9 “(For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;)”

How do we grow in the knowledge of God? Solomon addresses this question in the book of Proverbs.

Proverbs 2:1-5 “My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding; Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; Then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God.”

We grow in the knowledge of God by:

• Accepting the Word of God as truth.
• Esteeming (from the Hebrew for hide) the commandments of God enough to obey them.
• Making good use of the spiritual knowledge you possess for discernment and judgment.
• Using skillful reasoning that results in acting discreetly and wisely.
• Praying with earnest desire to acquire such knowledge.
• Understanding the fear of the Lord.

“who hath called you unto His kingdom and glory” – Not only has God invited us through the provision of His Son to live with Him in His kingdom, but also to share His glory. This is a reminder that although the kingdom is within us at the present time, it has not yet been established in its full glory. That is yet to come, and it will last for eternity.

Luke 17:20-21 “And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”

Isaiah 9:6-7 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.

Daniel 7:13-14 “I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.”

Revelation 20:6 “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.”

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Share the Truth in Love

1Thessalonians 2:1-2 For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto you, that it was not in vain: But even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention.

Paul and his companions are reminding the Thessalonians that they are all brothers in the body of Christ, born again in the Spirit as sons of God.

Before they had come to Thessalonica, Paul and Silas had first gone to Philippi. They were beaten and thrown into prison because they had cast out a demon from a slave who was quite profitable to her masters through fortune telling; so her masters took them to court and accused them of teaching people to do things that were against the law. (You can read the whole story in Acts 16.) Their awful experience in Philippi didn’t deter them from boldly declaring the gospel of God in the power of His Spirit in Thessalonica. They were not received enthusiastically to say the least. They were met with opposition, but persevered in their mission with great effort and determination. Evidently, their perseverance paid off; “it was not in vain;” many eventually responded to the gospel message. (Paul’s visit to Thessalonica is related in Acts 17.)

1Thessalonians 2:3-4 For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile: But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts.

It would seem that Paul’s message to the Thessalonians was being undermined by his enemies; they were planting seeds of doubt in the minds of the Thessalonian believers as to Paul’s motives. Paul is assuring this body of believers that their encouragement for them to accept the gospel was not made with deceit (fraud, delusion), uncleanness (impure, immoral) or guile (trickery, bait) for their own personal purposes. They were sharing the gospel because God had entrusted them with the privilege of doing so. The message they were sharing was not one to please men; they were speaking a message that would please God and honor Him. They recognized that only God knows the intents of our hearts. (The Greek for the word trieth references “test, approve, discern, examine.”

As I was reading back over this verse, I noticed that the Greek for the word allowed in verse 4 is the same word used for trieth. This would indicate that the privilege given to Paul and his companions of being commissioned to share the gospel with the Gentiles was a result of their being examined and approved by God as worthy of this responsibility.

1Thessalonians 2:5-6 For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness: Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ.

These two verses seem to be an exclamation point to the previous two. The NLT states it quite clearly: “Never once did we try to win you with flattery, as you very well know. And God is our witness that we were not just pretending to be your friends so you would give us money! As for praise, we have never asked for it from you or anyone else. As apostles of Christ we certainly had a right to make some demands of you….”

It would seem that using the cover of “in the name of the Lord” as a means to personal profit became a problem very early in the existence of the “church.” To emphasize the truth and purity of their mission, they appeal to God as their witness. Paul reminded them that they did not depend on the provision of the people for their support while they were there, neither did they act in any way as if they had superior status and should be treated accordingly. The fact that they were apostles of Christ should have afforded them some special privilege and provision, but they did not even request it.

1Thessalonians 2:7-8 But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.

Instead, Paul and his companions served among the Thessalonians with a heart comparable to that of a loving nursing mom for her children. They were willing to take the greatest of care in sharing God’s message with them and invest so much of themselves in the process because they loved them. The Greek for the phrase “affectionately desirous” indicates that they yearned for them to become part of the body of Christ.

What a convicting scripture. As I examine my own life and my efforts to share the gospel with the lost, I cannot honestly describe my desire to win them with that same passion. I speak that to my shame and pray God will give me a true burden and desire to do more. Although I feel my main ministry is to be directed to the body of Christ, I know there is much more I could be doing to reach the lost—especially in the area of prayer.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Hole in My Heart

These past several months I was privileged to be grandma to a beautiful foster child that was taken in by my daughter’s family. God allowed that child to be taken away from us yesterday. The hurt is great, but God is faithful. I’m sharing with you what He shared with me as the healing process begins. My prayer is that maybe there is one of you that God has brought to my blog that will also find comfort and encouragement. He allows the hard times so that we may be able to comfort others through the comfort that we receive.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.

There’s a hole in my heart exactly the size of a precious baby boy.
God shared him with us for a little while to teach us about His joy.

We hoped we would get to keep him, but that wasn’t part of God’s plan.
And now He wants us to trust Him as we yield to the laws of the land.

Lord, I just didn’t know it would hurt so much to give him back to You.
But I’m trying to stay on Your promises and let You carry me through.

I know your love is working for good though we can’t understand now.
Increase our faith, Lord, give us Your strength until You share with us how.

I thank you for tears to express my grief and that help me better to see
The extent of Your love as You gave Your Son to die for me on the tree.

I know you will heal this hole in my heart if I yield to You as clay,
But I need Your strength with each step that I take to make it through the day.

I pray, dear Lord, that others will see Your peace reflected in me.
May they see joy because of the hope I claim as I rest in Thee.

The Promise to be Delivered from God’s Wrath

1Thessalonians 1:9 For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God;

As Paul, Silas and Timothy encountered those who had heard the gospel message from the Thessalonians, they were told of the impact that their teaching had on the Thessalonians. The Thessalonian believers boldly proclaimed how they no longer served idols; they now served the “living and true God.”

Although idols were images meant to represent “gods,” it was obvious that these idols were as dead and impotent as the gods they represented. The God that Paul was declaring, however, is alive and embodies truth. He is powerful and able to provide for, protect, and strengthen those that place their faith in Him. There are a few wonderful passages in particular that elaborate on this truth.

Isaiah 44:6-8 “Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God. And who, as I, shall call, and shall declare it, and set it in order for me, since I appointed the ancient people? and the things that are coming, and shall come, let them shew unto them. Fear ye not, neither be afraid: have not I told thee from that time, and have declared it? ye are even my witnesses. Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any.”

Isaiah 44:13-20 “The carpenter stretcheth out his rule; he marketh it out with a line; he fitteth it with planes, and he marketh it out with the compass, and maketh it after the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man; that it may remain in the house. He heweth him down cedars, and taketh the cypress and the oak, which he strengtheneth for himself among the trees of the forest: he planteth an ash, and the rain doth nourish it. Then shall it be for a man to burn: for he will take thereof, and warm himself; yea, he kindleth it, and baketh bread; yea, he maketh a god, and worshippeth it; he maketh it a graven image, and falleth down thereto. He burneth part thereof in the fire; with part thereof he eateth flesh; he roasteth roast, and is satisfied: yea, he warmeth himself, and saith, Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire: And the residue thereof he maketh a god, even his graven image: he falleth down unto it, and worshippeth it, and prayeth unto it, and saith, Deliver me; for thou art my god. They have not known nor understood: for he hath shut their eyes, that they cannot see; and their hearts, that they cannot understand. And none considereth in his heart, neither is there knowledge nor understanding to say, I have burned part of it in the fire; yea, also I have baked bread upon the coals thereof; I have roasted flesh, and eaten it: and shall I make the residue thereof an abomination? shall I fall down to the stock of a tree? He feedeth on ashes: a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?”

Psalm 115:2-8 “Wherefore should the heathen say, Where is now their God? But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased. Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not: They have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not: They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat. They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them.”

I think it is important to note that the idols most prevalent today are not actual statutes of wood, stone, gold or silver. The idols most prominent today are money, possessions, fame, earth/nature, and man. An idol is anything that has the focus of our passion and devotion other than Almighty God.

1Thessalonians 1:10 And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.

Not only did the Thessalonians serve a true and living God, they were waiting for His Son, specifically identified as Jesus. It is God the Father who raised Jesus from the dead. This was a public declaration of His acceptance of the sacrifice Jesus made of Himself to atone for the sins of mankind. Paul is also emphasizing the fact that the Son is now in heaven, the term used to reference the place of God’s presence.

I believe the last phrase of this verse is directly connected to the hope being referenced in verse 3. By accepting Jesus Christ through faith, the believer can now consider himself delivered (past tense, a done deal) from the wrath to come. The question now becomes, “What wrath to come?” In his letter to the Colossians, Paul clarifies that it will come on the children of disobedience.

Colossians 3:6 “For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience….”

John the Baptist used this phrase in reference to the Lord separating the wheat from the chaff and purging the floor to determine who would enter the kingdom of heaven, the Messiah’s kingdom (Matthew 3:1-12 and Luke 3:1-9). When I was doing my study on the book of Revelation, one of the side studies I did was on the references to God’s wrath in scripture. I am not going to list all the verses here, but I will share some of my observations from that study.
• It is directed toward the wicked, the disobedient, the ungodly, the unrighteous, and the adversaries/enemies of God.
• It’s a time of God’s righteous judgment.
• It is heavily connected to the judgments of God described in the book of Revelation associated with the 70th week of Jacob that we commonly call “the tribulation.”
• It’s a time that will cause men to tremble with fear.
• It is a time of God’s vengeance.
• It is a time that some will escape.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Importance of Our Testimony

1Thessalonians 1:5 For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.

“our gospel” - Paul, Silas and Timothy treasured the gospel as a personal possession. The wording also places the emphasis on the message, not the messengers.

They did not just talk about the gospel; they boldly and confidently declared the gospel through the empowerment of the Holy Ghost. We all know the difference in listening to one who is inspired and passionate about their message and one who is not. These men taught with the inspiration and power of the Holy Spirit. There is no greater source of inspiration or power. The way they conducted themselves was in accordance with the truth they taught. This is also a statement regarding their special concern for their testimony before the people. Their big concern was that they not do anything that would cause the believers in Thessalonica to stumble.

I can’t help but wonder how many of us “Christians” today have that same type of concern regarding our own testimony. We have been so conditioned by our culture to focus on self. We should strive to emulate Paul’s example of conscientiousness regarding how our lives reflect the truth that we claim to possess.

1Thessalonians 1:6 And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost:

It is a blessed person indeed who can boldly declare that his testimony is like that of the Lord Jesus. Paul and his companions were so confident in their life practices that they could encourage people to imitate (from the Greek for follow) them because they were imitating Christ.

“having received the word in much affliction” – The Greek for affliction is a reference to “pressure, anguish, persecution, trouble.” It would seem that the believers in Thessalonica soon began to experience persecution because of their decision to follow Jesus. This was an area in which the disciples felt like they identified with the example set by the Savior—though certainly not to the same extent. This defining of a particular area of imitation is a truth with which I can more readily identify. I could single out a few areas of my life that I would encourage people to imitate.

“with joy…” – Even though the believers suffered persecution for their stand for Christ, they responded with the “joy of the Holy Ghost.” To be able to joy in such circumstances is possible only through the supernatural provision of the Holy Spirit. Our nature is not to respond to difficult circumstances with joy. Only because of faith in the truth of the Word of God and the empowerment of the Spirit can a believer overcome responding to such circumstances in the flesh.

In my study of Colossians, my understanding of the “joy” of a Christian was broadened. After looking at Webster, I learned that joy is synonymous with the hope of the Christian; it’s an expectation of good to come. We often mistakenly equate joy with happiness. I think that happiness is a result of our life experiences while our joy is a result of knowing what we possess in Jesus Christ in spite of what our life experience may be.

1Thessalonians 1:7-8 So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia. For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing.

The testimony of the believers at Thessalonica was such that it had impact on believers in the whole region beyond their city. The emphasis of their testimony was the strength of their faith in God. Evidently, there was a strong possibility that anyone who passed through Thessalonica would hear the gospel message because of the enthusiasm of this body of believers. Paul and his companions were finding out in their travels that the message being proclaimed by the Thessalonians was proving so effective and broad in its outreach that Paul and his companions could often only affirm the truth of that message.

Again, I can’t help but make application to the body of believers today. Are we as passionate about the truth we possess as the Thessalonians? Are we eager to share the good news of the gospel with everyone that comes our way?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Closer Look at Paul’s Letters to the Thessalonians

I identify myself with the company of believers that are expecting the soon return of Jesus Christ to take His family to the home He has prepared for them in His Father’s house.

John 14:1-3 “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”

Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians, in my opinion, provide the strongest argument for that belief. I have generally limited the postings on this blog to a summary type format of the studies I have made in scripture. Having presented a summary of all my studies in the Bible to date concerning the return of Jesus and the establishment of His earthly kingdom, I thought it would be beneficial to take a more in depth look at these letters in light of the signs of the times. I want to be able to stand before the Lord knowing that I did everything I felt I could to spread the good news.

I also think these letters include many truths about which every believer needs to be reminded as he/she tries to glorify God by how they live today in light of the culture that surrounds them.

In this series of blogs I will utilize my verse-by-verse studies through these two letters, incorporating changes and/or revisions as I feel the Holy Spirit is leading. I pray this study will stimulate your own thinking and that you will open your heart to hear the teaching of the Spirit without regard to what you already think you know. Let Him teach you afresh; I too will be trying to reexamine this study with fresh eyes and open heart. As always, I appreciate your feedback and questions.

1Thessalonians 1:1 Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

In this salutation we learn that this letter to the Thessalonians was a joint missive from Paul, Silvanus (whom we know more readily as Silas), and Timothy. In three places in this letter (2:18; 3:5; 5:27) Paul identifies himself in such a way as to logically conclude that he was the primary author.

Paul identifies the church as positioned in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. This is another statement of the unity of Father and Son. Using the phrase “God the Father” is a term that marks distinction between the Father and His Son within that unity. The phrase “Lord Jesus Christ” is a direct reference to Jesus as the Messiah (Christ = Christos = Messiah) and as the One to whom we, as believers, are to submit as Lord/Master.

Paul begins every letter he writes with a blessing of grace and peace to the recipients. (Hebrews would be the only exception if he is the author of that epistle.) Grace is a reference to “the divine influence upon the heart” and peace is a reference to “quietness, rest, set at one again.” Grace and peace go hand in hand; it has often been well said that you can’t experience peace without first experiencing God’s grace. They are both the result of recognition of God’s provision for our sin through His Son Jesus and submitting to Him as Lord in our lives.

1Thessalonians 1:2-4 We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father; Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.

Paul, Silas and Timothy were evidently prayer partners on a regular basis while they traveled together. They recognized the importance that Jesus had placed on prayer and knew, as did James, that “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16). Logic concludes that unity in prayer will only strengthen the effectiveness of that prayer. As they prayed, they were faithful to remember those to whom they had ministered. Concerning the Thessalonian church, their memories were of a people that caused them to give thanks to God. They remembered that the believers:

• Worked in faith without ceasing. – Working in faith is a reference to working according to moral conviction, according to what you are persuaded is true. The Thessalonians were known for working “without ceasing” according to their faith in the Lord; they were consistent in applying the truth to their way of life.

• Labored in love. – The Greek for the word labour is a reference to effort expended to the point of pain and weariness. The motive for their labor was their love for the Lord Jesus Christ, their Savior.

• Labored in patience of hope in the Lord Jesus Christ. – The Thessalonians worked so consistently and so hard because of their expectations that were rooted in the Lord Jesus Christ. As this letter continues, we will learn that a large part of this expectation was regarding His coming again to take them home with Him before the tribulation yet to come on planet earth. As I continued to meditate on the phrase “in the sight of God and our Father,” I looked up the Greek for sight and it referenced “in front of, before, in presence of.” This would seem to directly relate to their hope in Jesus of being taken to the Father’s house for protection. We know that Jesus taught that He was leaving to prepare a place for believers “in the Father’s house” and would come and take the believers to be with Him there. When that happened, they would be in the sight/presence of God the Father.

John 14:1-3 “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”

Paul and his ministry partners were confident that these believers were true believers because their actions gave proof of their profession.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Prayer and Faith

I was talking with my sister recently regarding the signs of the times in which we live and our desire for the Lord to come to take us home soon. We both, however, admit that we are concerned about lost loved ones. Maybe some of you struggle with this same issue. I was able to remind her of a verse that has given me great comfort in recent years as I look forward to His coming.

John 6:37 “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.”

I believe God means what He says in scripture. Everyone that is foreknown by God to be part of His family will become part of His family. No one is going to miss out on salvation because of my prayers for His soon return. I have to accept the fact that I cannot choose salvation for those I love; they must choose for themselves. I do pray for their hearts to be softened and for them to recognize their need to repent and accept Jesus as Savior. I know I am praying in God’s will since this desire reflects His desire.

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.”

His word assures us that asking according to His will is a guarantee of answered prayer.

1 John 5:14-15 “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.”

I can’t help but question as to the parameters of that promise as it applies to someone else’s individual freedom of choice. My heart wants to grab on to that promise at face value, but I can’t help but struggle with doubt as to whether that is right from time to time.

Jesus declared that faith in prayer is the key.

Matthew 21:21-22 “Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.”

This truth was exampled in His ministry.

Matthew 9:27-29 “And when Jesus departed thence, two blind men followed him, crying, and saying, Thou Son of David, have mercy on us. And when he was come into the house, the blind men came to him: and Jesus saith unto them, Believe ye that I am able to do this? They said unto him, Yea, Lord. Then touched he their eyes, saying, According to your faith be it unto you.”

Matthew 9:20-22 “And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment: For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole. But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour.”

Matthew 15:22-28 “And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.”

My prayer for this new year is to grow in faith and in the knowledge of my Lord Jesus Christ. I want to be a powerful prayer warrior and to bring glory to my God and Savior as I wait for His soon return.

James 5:16 “….The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”

Isaiah 43:7 “…every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him.”

Friday, January 8, 2010

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Trust in the Almighty

The sunrise is over the Sea of Galilee in Israel and the fall colors are from Tennessee.