1 Thessalonians

An Exemplary Hope

How do you handle death? Everyone deals with death differently. According to Mental Health America, they provide a list of emotions that one feels when encountering the death of a loved one: denial, disbelief, confusion, shock, sadness, yearning, anger, humiliation, despair and guilt[1]. As one has encountered death often, the list is extensive, but not complete. They also provide a list for those to help others with the grieving process: share the sorrow, don’t offer false comfort, offer practical help, and be patient. Again, they provide a very helpful list, but it is not complete. The one thing that is missing from both lists is hope.

Death and hope are not naturally placed together, but for the Christian they are inseparable. We are called to hope in the face of death and we are called to help others hope as they face death of those they love. Churches are places of hope. We are called to be a hopeful people. Even in the worse moments of life, Christians are called to hope. And the hope of Christians by no means lessens the pain of death. All death is awful. Death is sign of the curse and consequence of human rebellion. Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” Death is a constant reminder of the curse. We will face death, but how will we face death as church?

An exemplary church lives with an exemplary hope. We want to have hope always on our lips for we have been born again to the living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading in heaven (1 Peter 1:3). We will not escape death as a church. And we truly love one another, we will experience deep sadness when we face death as a congregation, but we must face that sadness with hope.

Hopeful Grieving

The Thessalonians were a young church and they believed in the resurrection. Remember back to 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10, “For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” They waiting for their deliverance on the return of Jesus Christ, but there were some people that were concerned about those who died before Jesus returned. Paul writes to give the church hope, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” (1 Thess. 4:13)

Jesus redefined death for his followers. Jairus’ daughter was sick and near death and he asked Jesus to come and heal her. When Jesus and Jairus arrived at the house, they told them that she was dead, but Jesus said, “Do not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping.” (Luke 8:52) And taking her by the hand he called, “Child, arise,” and her spirit returned and she was restored to her parents. Death for Christians was redefined as sleep for those who go to sleep will one day wake up. Paul is teaching these young Christians how they should think about death. Those who die in Christ are not dead, but are asleep.

Paul does not say that Christians shouldn’t grieve, but should grieve entirely different than the world. We look at death through the knowledge of Christ. We have facts. We believe in specific knowledge of the future. 1 Thessalonians 4:14, “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” The facts that Christians believe is that Jesus lived in history and died in history and was raised in history. They did not believe in a spiritual resurrection, but a bodily resurrection. And the fact that Jesus body was raised is a sign that our bodies will be raised as well. This is a central theme in the New Testament.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:5)

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:29)

For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:21-23)

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8-11)

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)

Christians always live in the hope of the resurrection. Do you believe this?

By saying that believers live in the hope of the resurrection, Paul is also saying that those who do not believe in Jesus have no hope in death. There is a resurrection promised for everyone. Jesus says in John 5,

Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. (John 5:25-29)

What will happen when you die? You will experience a resurrection, but what kind of resurrection will you experience? If you were to die today, how confident would you be that you would experience the resurrection of life 50%, 85%, or 100%?

I have done a lot of funerals where the family had certainty that their loved one was a believer in Christ through their word and deed. And I have done others, when the family did not have confidence in their loved one’s faith. The family did not have hope. It is a completely different kind of grief. They are not comforted with truth, but come face to face with the reality of death without God. Atheists comfort themselves about the prospect of death by believing that they cease to exist or that they become part of the earth and the circle life. Although they may look for comfort elsewhere, the reality is that in death they will meet God and answer for their sin alone. And to stand in death alone without Jesus means they will be put in Hell.

Hell is not something that is often mentioned in general yet alone mentioned during death. There is no hope for those who do not have Christ, because they will have to face God themselves. When we try to erase Hell, we darken our understanding of God’s power. Hebrews 10:31, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” God is so glorious and so holy that any sin against His name deserves to be punished severely. Great American Theologian Jonathan Edwards writes,

Rebellion against God’s authority and contempt of his majesty, which every sin contains, is an infinite evil, because it has that infinite aggravation of being against an infinitely excellent and glorious majesty and most absolute authority. A sin against a more excellent being is doubtless great than against a less excellent; and therefore, sins against one infinite in majesty, authority and excellency must be infinite in aggravation, and so deserves not a finite, but an infinite punishment, which can be only by its being infinite in duration.[2]

A crime against an infinite being deserves infinite punishment. So an exemplary church must believe in an exemplary hope, but also must believe in a total lack of hope for those who do not have Christ. This is the Christian message.

And when we understand how horrific the punishment of hell truly is, we only can then understand how glorious the hope we have in Christ. We cannot have one without the other. Beloved, since we believe Jesus died and rose again, even so, with Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. Death may be hard, but we bear it with hope. We must face death as a community with a hopeful grieving.

Hopeful Gazing

When will this glorious hope be finally realized? On the day of our Lord’s return. We keep our hopeful gaze on his coming. We long for our Lord’s return. We, ourselves who have the firstfruits of the Spirit of God, grown inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. Romans 8:24-25, “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” And what do we wait for? Paul declares it to us by a word from the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 4:15-16, “For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. (1 Thessalonians 4:15-16) We wait for the blessed hope the appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Paul mentions the Parousia or The Coming of Jesus Christ four separate times in this letter (1 Thess. 2:19, 3:13, 4:15, 5:23). The coming of Christ was meant as an encouragement for the Thessalonians to stand firm in the face of persecution. And here Paul uses the coming of Christ to comfort his brothers and sisters who have seen dear friends fall asleep in Christ. There is no need to worry about those who have fallen asleep for their resurrection will precede those who are left until the end. Those who are asleep will be the first in the resurrection. The church should be comforted because those who have died will not miss anything. Paul does not explain in this letter where Christians are in the intermediate state between their physical death and the physical resurrection. We must focus on what Paul does say rather than on what he doesn’t.

Paul uses three prepositional phrases describing the Lord coming, “a cry of command, a voice of an archangel and the sound of the trumpet of God.” Scholars debate on the exact nature of how these are connected, but most see them as connected to calling the dead in Christ to their resurrection. Christ descended from heaven issuing a cry of command through the voice of an archangel and the sound of the trumpet of God. Therefore Christ calls the dead via the archangel and the trumpet. The trumpet is a common symbol throughout the Old Testament to inaugurate the Last Day (cf. Ex. 19:16, 19; Is. 27:13; Joel 2:1; Zp. 1:14–16; Zc. 9:14).[3] The trumpet calling the dead to life is also consistent with 1 Corinthians 15,

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. (1 Corinthians 15:51-53)

This promise of an imperishable body is only for those who are dead in Christ. “In Christ” being an abbreviated way of defining believers.

Do not lose the intent of the passage. Paul speaks about the coming of the Lord as an encouragement for the church. It was not written to garner debate and disagreement about the timing of the Last Day, but to encourage the saints to press on even in death because one day God is going to come again. We all may differ slightly on how we view the sequence of the end of history will occur, but there should be no disagreements that we all believe that Jesus Christ will come again and close all of history.

Hopeful Gathering

Paul offers one more encouragement to the Thessalonians. He not only wants them to see that those who have fallen asleep will not miss out on the resurrection, but they will not miss out on the glorious gathering of the saints in heaven. 1 Thessalonians 4:17, “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” Let us first deal with the content of the verse then we can look at the main intent of verse.

The idea of a rapture has come from verse 17. The word “caught up” comes from the Greek word harpazo which is translated rapio in the Lain which is where we get our English word rapture. As we have seen in verse 16, it does not appear that this is a silent event, but a loud visible cosmic declaration of the coming of the King of kings and the Lord of lords, Jesus Christ. The saints will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air or the clouds. Daniel mentions that the Lord will be coming in the clouds and the angel said after Jesus ascended into heaven that they would see him return in the same manner. The term “meet” comes from the technical greeting of a visiting dignitary to a city. The city officials and citizens would meet the dignitary on the road and then be ushered back into the city with great celebration and fanfare. The word is used with a similar meaning elsewhere in the New Testament[4]. Although the passage does not clearly state what happens after the alive and sleeping saints meet the Lord together in the air, it is a logical deduction that they met Jesus in the air to usher him back to the earth. We do not have time to unpack how this passage relates specifically to the millennium and the tribulation, but appears based on this passage alone that Paul is describing the Last Day and consummation of history.

It would be easy to get lost in the details, but we have to continue to focus on the Holy Spirit’s intent through Paul to encourage the church of the Thessalonians. There are two main encouragements from this verse. First, all the saints of history will be reunited as it says, “caught up together with them.” We have not lost those who have fallen asleep. Their sleeping will one day end and w all will be reunited together. How comforting and encouraging is that truth!!! We will see all those we have lost in Christ again. It is hard to quantify how encouraging that is. One of my favorite things to watch is military reunions. I love to watch children run to their dads and wives run to their husbands. The joy and happiness is so overwhelming that in almost every reunion I see, I am moved to tears. Can you even imagine how glorious our reunion will be with the saints who fallen asleep?

The second encouragement from this verse is that we will be with the Lord. The text says we will be caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Our Savior who for our sake, became sin who knew sin. Our King who bore our sins in his body on a tree. Our Messiah who took our shame nailing it to the cross. Our Prince who delivered us from God’s wrath. Our Lord who cast our sin as far as the east is from the west. On that Day we will always be with Jesus and all his saints. Do you long you to see Jesus? It will be glorious to see our love ones, but it will be even more glorious to see the King of Glory.

Jesus is our only hope in life and in death. On November 15, 1982, Atheist and Russian General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev was buried at the age of 72. Then Vice President George H.W. Bush attended the funeral. Five years later when giving a graduation address, Bush recalled that day,

(At the funeral of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev,) things were run in military precession; a coldness and hollowness pervaded the ceremony – marching soldiers, steel helmets, Marxist rhetoric, but no prayers, no comforting hymns, no mention of God. The Soviet leaders took their places on the Kremlin Wall as the Brezhnev family silently escorted the casket around to its final resting place. I happened to be in just the right spot to see Mrs. Brezhnev. She walked up, and took one last look at her husband and there – in the cold, grey center of that totalitarian state – she traced the sign of the cross over her husband’s chest.[5]

There in the citadel of secular, atheistic power, the wife of the man who had run it all, hoped that her husband was wrong. She hoped that there was another life, and that that life was best represented by Jesus who died on the cross.[6] She knew that the only hope in the face of death was Jesus. She knew people in atheistic Russia didn’t want to think of Jesus, but she also knew that the only way to bring hope in death was to share the hope of the cross.

An exemplary church will regularly speak of our exemplary hope as we face death. 1 Thessalonians 4:18, “Therefore encourage one another with these words.” Is there anything that could be more encouraging than sharing real hope?  Let us commit ourselves to the unwavering hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13) Believe and share the gospel of hope.

 

[1] http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/coping-loss-bereavement-and-grief accessed 10.17.2015

[2] Jonathan Edwards, quoted in Jonathan Edwards on Heaven and Hell by Owen Strachan and Douglas Allen Sweeney. Moody Publisher, Chicago 2010

[3] Wanamaker, C. A. (1990). The Epistles to the Thessalonians: a commentary on the Greek text (p. 173). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.

[4] “To meet” the Lord translates a term used only two other times in the New Testament. In the parable of the ten maidens the maidens are called out to “meet” the groom and join the marriage procession (Matt 25:6). Outside Rome some Christian brethren came to “meet” Paul and escort him back into the city (Acts 28:15[4]

[5] http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-903380 accessed 10.18.2015

[6] Gary Thomas, in Christianity Today, October 3, 1994, p. 26.

An Exemplary Love

On June 28, 1919 Harry married Bess. Harry and Bess attended school together from elementary to high school, but Harry claimed he fell in love with her when he was 6 years old in a Sunday School class in Independence, MO. Sadly, Bess spurned his advances throughout school. It wasn’t until a “chance” encounter when Harry returned a dish for his aunt to her neighbor and Bess opened the door that their romance began. Their relationship of love grew for one another and after Harry’s service in the war, they married and would spend 53 years together as husband and wife. During their courtship and marriage, Harry wrote 1,300 letters to his beloved Bess almost every night he spent away from her[1]. Harry loved Bess. And Harry was a very busy man, as he was the 33rd President of the United States of America. Harry Truman wrote to his beloved Bess during times of campaigning, diplomacy and war.

            On June 28, 1948 on their 29th Anniversary, Harry was in Washington and wrote to Bess in Independence, “You still are on the pedestal where I placed you that day in Sunday school 1890. What an old fool I am.[2]” Harry Truman did not need to be told how to love his wife, for it was clear to everyone around him that he loved his Bess. There are 1,300 letters documenting various ways he expressed his love to his wife. His love was undeniable. Could the same be said about our love? Is our love undeniable?

            Love is the distinguishing mark of a Christian. If a person does not love, then they do not know God. The Apostle John writes, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8). Love is the undeniable mark of the Christian faith. Therefore love should be the undeniable mark of the Church. Are we known for our love? Is the love in our congregation undeniable to those inside and outside our congregation?

            The Thessalonians were known for their love. If we want to become an exemplary church then we must have a love that is undeniable to others. In our text, we will see one theological aspect of an undeniable love. Then, we will focus on three specific applications on what that love will look like to those around us.

Powerful Love of Others

            Paul is closing the letter with specific exhortations to the church. He begins the final section of the letter with highlighting the importance of sexual purity. The church must have a different sexual ethic than the world. Remember the church would have been full of young believers since it was only a few months old and those young believers would need to be taught and re-taught on how to live for Christ. After addressing sexual purity, Paul makes a sharp transition to address brotherly love. 1 Thessalonians 4:9, “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia.” The Thessalonians had been taught by God to love one another.

            The first theological truth is that true love is supernatural. It is a gift from God. We cannot love without God powerfully changing our hearts. In John 3, Jesus told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” We were born sinners, born in the flesh with a heart against God. Our natural desires were to serve ourselves. Ephesians 2:1, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins.” Ephesians 2:3 says that we “were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” The fact that the Thessalonians love each other like a family was a demonstration of the power of God, because of the total depravity of the human heart.

            If we understand how sinful our human hearts can be, we will be amazed at the power of God’s regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. R.C. Sproul helps us understand the difference between total depravity and utter depravity. He writes,

The Bible teaches the total depravity of the human race. Total depravity means radical corruption. We must be careful to note the difference between total depravity and "utter" depravity. To be utterly depraved is to be as wicked as one could possibly be. Hitler was extremely depraved, but he could have been worse than he was. I am sinner. Yet I could sin more often and more severely than I actually do. I am not utterly depraved, but I am totally depraved. Total depravity means that I and everyone else are
depraved or corrupt in the totality of our being. There is no part of us that is left untouched by sin. Our minds, our wills, and our bodies are affected by evil. We speak sinful words, do sinful deeds, have impure thoughts. Our very bodies suffer from the ravages of sin.

Perhaps "radical corruption" is a better term to describe our fallen condition than "total depravity." I am using the word "radical" not so much to mean "extreme," but to lean more heavily on its original meaning. "Radical" comes from the Latin word for "root" or "core." Our problem with sin is that it is rooted in the core of our being. It permeates our hearts. It is because sin is at our core and not merely at the exterior of our lives that the Bible says: "There is none righteous, no not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one." Romans 3:10-12[3]

We are sinful to the core which is why we need conversion. We need God to teach us how to love for this is exactly what he did with the Thessalonians.

            If you are not a loving person, it may be because you have never experienced the new birth. Churches may not be full of love, because they may be full of people who have not experienced the power of the Holy Spirit in conversion. Conversion is not a mere modification of behavior, but a radical transformation of the heart. Our passions change. Our desire change. Our very core changes. We no longer are set against God, but are brought into his family. We are changed from enemies to sons and daughters adopted by his grace. We must repent of our sins and trust in Christ. And when we turn from our sins, we are transformed from the inside out.

We even see that in how Paul defines love in saying, “now concerning brotherly love,” he is redefining how we are called to treat one another. We are a family. A family of people who have been born of God whose hearts have been transformed to love another. We are taught by God to love. It is supernatural. One sign of this supernatural love is how we treat all the brothers. The Thessalonians were loving all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Jesus says,

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (Matthew 5:43-47)

Do you love all? One of the marks of an exemplary church is when people love those who are not like them. When the rich love the poor and the young love the old, and the singles love the married, and black loves white. An exemplary church is full of undeniable love for all the brothers.

            So the first theological aspect of love is that it comes from God. We must be born again. Jesus tells Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” If you want to love, you must believe in Jesus Christ who died for sinners. He died and rose again so that for whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life. The first step of love is conversion. We love, because God first loved us.

Peaceful Love of Others

            There is always room to grow in our love for one another. The Thessalonians had an undeniable love, but are told to continue in that love. 1 Thessalonians 4:10-11, “But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs.” Christians are called to aspire to live quietly. This is a very interesting phrasing by Paul because he puts to opposite ideas together. We are to aspire or work eagerly to live quietly and at peace. They seem at odds, but Paul’s focus is that the church would live in such a way to make the gospel attractive. Although we could make an application from verse 11 to the church, I think the primary focus is how the church interacts with the world.

            Christianity had a bad reputation in the first century. The Jews were constantly bringing rumors before the Romans that Christians were stirring up trouble and causing dissension in society. Paul wanted Christians to strive to be at peace and lead a quiet life so they would be able to draw more attention to the gospel. Christians are called to engage in our society and live as good citizens so that we give a good witness to the world. Christians are not primarily called to transform the culture, but to be a different culture. The greatest impact that Christians will have on the world will be through the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. We, therefore, have to be very careful in how we engage with our culture. We are called to promote justice and truth in every area of life, but we do so with wisdom and grace. We must live well before our culture, meaning we must strive to be at peace within our neighbors so that people will listen to our message.

            Who do you think will have a great impact in their workplace for the gospel: the employee who is constantly challenging his boss to change their business practices or the one who faithfully does their job without grumbling? I believe Christians should focus much more on being good and faithful employees than working to transform their work culture because I believe the best way to transform their work environment is by being a faithful employee. Christians do not have a great reputation in our culture. We need to be wise in how we interact with others so that the gospel will be attractive. The main goal of Christians is not social revolution, but to adorn the gospel and draw people to Jesus Christ. It does not mean we should not care about society, but rather societal transformation should not be the main goal.

            The second exhortation Paul gives to the church is to mind their own affairs, or mind your own business. We should be focused on what we are called to do rather than focusing on what we think others should or should not be doing. We do not know exactly the context in which Paul gives this exhortation. It could be a general statement or referring to something specific going on in the community that he knows about from Timothy’s report. Either way, Christians are called to love others by keeping their own affairs in order without meddling into other people’s problems. We should avoid gossip and talking poorly of our brothers and sisters. The best way to enter into the affairs of our brothers and sisters is through prayer. Let us first bring our brother and sister’s needs before the Lord.

            As our culture continues to evolve and drift away from traditional Christian values, it will become even more important that Christians are careful in how we interact with the world around us. We are called to be in the world, but not of the world. How should Paul’s exhortation to aspire to live a quiet life and to mind our own affairs govern our cultural involvement? We should think about the various applications of these twin truths for our jobs, our neighborhoods, and our politics. An exemplary church should be known primarily for their love for Jesus, one another and the lost rather than their love for political or social change.

Productive Love of Others

            Paul gives one more exhortation for the church to “work with their hands, as we instructed you.” There were some of the Thessalonian believers who had a heightened eschatology. They believed that the Lord was going to return very soon so they stopped working and were depending on the welfare of other Christians in the church. They were idle.  We read in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12,

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

Everyone was responsible to work to care for themselves and to contribute to the needs of the church. Those who were not willing to work (not those who can’t find work) needed to be admonished to get busy.

            Greek culture degraded manual labor thinking it was only fitting for slaves. Christians viewed manual labor as an honorable pursuit. Many Christians probably were slaves and were exhorted to work hard for their master and the sake of the gospel (Titus 2:9-10). Many Christians have adopted the Greek culture’s perspective of manual labor, viewing it as a degrading task, but working with ones hands is a noble undertaking. We should not avoid hard work, but rejoice in the gift of work. Colossians 3:23-24, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”

            Love should be expressed in being productive for the sake others. Lazy and idle people are not loving others. Proverbs 18:9, “Whoever is slack in his work, is a brother to him who destroys.” There were some among the Thessalonians who were depending on the labor of others and not contributing to the needs of the community. Love for others is an undeniable mark of a Christian, so one’s willingness to work and serve others is an indication of that love. One’s lack of work is an indication of their lack of love. This is not referring to those who can’t work because of physical disability. It is referring to those who have the ability, but choose to remain idle.

Proper Love of Others

            Paul provides the purpose for these expressions of love. The theological principle is that Christians love because God has taught them to love by the Holy Spirit. Those who are born of God love others. He gives three specific expressions of that love to aspire to live a quiet life, to mind your own affairs and to work with your hands. Then he gives the purpose for those expressions in 1 Thessalonians 4:12, “so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”

            There is a direct link in how the church lives to how it is viewed by society. Paul cared about outsiders. Paul gave his life so that others would come to faith in Christ. He was beaten, stoned, and suffered a lack of food so that non-believers would come to Christ. Christians have a mission. We are called to go and make disciples of all nations. We want the world to come to Christ and one of the best ways for us to make an impact in the world is to be an exemplary church. When the church is full of love,  the world will know what it means to follow Jesus. Jesus said in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The world will know us by our love. It is that simple.

            And yet we have to know what love is. Love is aspiring to live a quiet life and to mind our own affairs and to work with our hands so that outsiders will see their need for the gospel. A church should have a love that is undeniable so that those on the outside of the community will realize what they are lacking and be attracted to the gospel. Jesus Christ has taught us to love. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:16-18)

            Let me close with a story that illustrates this principle from someone’s personal experience. Jason Helopolous writes about how the Lord used the “strange love” of the church to draw him to Christ:

As a freshman college student and self-declared atheist, I attended a campus Christian fellowship to fulfill a promise to a Christian friend. I only had the intention to go once. It was merely duty and upholding my word, nothing more. I went begrudgingly, but I went. My life was never the same.

I walked into a room full of Christians and was struck by what I observed. Here was a diverse group. They were from every walk of life. I remember scanning the room and labeling people in my mind, “There is a jock, over there is a geek, and walking in the door is a boy scout.” But what struck me was that they were together. They weren’t just together in the same room, they were together in every sense of the word. They were actually talking with each other and genuinely seemed happy to be together. There didn’t seem to be division. Even in my atheist mind, I knew what I was seeing: they loved one another.

I had no categories for this, so I kept returning to find out why they had love like this for one another. Over the course of a few months I found the answer, or more accurately stated, the answer found me. One of the best evangelism programs you can start at your church is to pursue loving one another well. At some point they will have to hear the gospel proclaimed from your lips or the pulpit, but that “strange love” will set the table before them. People will know that you are His disciples, because it is a shocking love. It has a gravitational attraction, because it is a love that is foreign to this world. A love that the inquirer, if seeking an answer, will find comes from heaven[4].

Beloved, God has given us a mission to make disciples by baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  God will use the undeniable love of a local church to draw people to Christ. Beloved, let us be a church that lives out a faithful gospel witness in word and deed.  

 

 

[1] http://www.smithsonianmag.com/ist/?next=/history/harry-trumans-adorable-love-list-to-his-wife-bess-15753530/ accessed on 10.10.2015

[2] http://www.archives.gov/calendar/features/2004/02.html accessed 10.10.2015

[3] http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/sproul/depravity.html accessed 10.11.15

[4] http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2014/01/31/simple-evangelism-in-the-church/ accessed on 2.6.14

An Exemplary Comfort

 

            Douglas Maurer was 15 years old was he was diagnosed with Leukemia. The doctors told him that his chances of survival were slim and that he would have to endure three years of chemotherapy. The side effects would be severe. He would go bald and his body would bloat. It was a lot for a 15 year old to take in and the diagnosis sent Douglas into a deep depression. His aunt tried to encourage him by sending flowers to his hospital room. She told the clerk at the flower shop that the flowers were for her nephew who was battling leukemia.

            When the flowers arrived at the hospital there was an additional note from the clerk at the flower shop.  It said, “Douglas—I took your order. I work at Brix florist. I had leukemia when I was 7 years old. I’m 22 years old now. Good luck. My heart goes out to you. Sincerely, Laura Bradley.” Douglas was surrounded by millions of dollars of hospital equipment and the best doctors in the country, but it was the note of a 22-year-old clerk making $160 a week that gave him comfort and the will to carry on in midst of his trials[1].

            What brings you comfort during trials? The Bible promises that we will face trials and persecutions.  “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:13). Acts 14:22 says that Paul and his travel companions went about “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Peter writes, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12) We know that trials are promised to us, but when trials come where will we look for comfort? Will we find comfort in our bank accounts or health? Will we find comfort in our possessions or accomplishments? There may be more than one place to draw comfort, but God’s Word shows us where we can find comfort. I pray that from this text you will find comfort and the will to carry on in the hope of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Comforted by the Faith of God’s People v. 6-7

Acts 17 shares how Paul and his companions came to Thessalonica preaching the gospel, causing an uproar and forcing them to quickly leave the city. Paul had been concerned for the faith of the Thessalonians, fearing that they had walked away from Jesus because of their persecution. When his grief and worry had reached an all-time high, he sent Timothy to find out how they were doing. Timothy came back with a good report. 1 Thessalonians 3:6-7,

But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you, for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith.

Paul and his companions were suffering emotional distress because they were worried about the church. They were worried that the afflictions they were facing had caused them to abandon the faith and they were worried that their afflictions would cause a break in their relationship. Paul is overwhelmed with joy when he learns that the Thessalonians are standing strong in their faith and that their love for them had not changed. 

            Why was Paul so comforted by the faith of others? He was under his own distress and facing his own affliction. Paul had his own pressing concerns, except that the pressing concerns of his life was the faith of others. Paul lived for others. He did not count his life as anything, but was glad to lay it down so that others would have faith in Christ. This concern was not unique to the Thessalonians, but was the pattern of Paul’s entire ministry.

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, Savior; (Titus 1:1-2)

Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith. (2 Corinthians 1:24)

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God…to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, (Romans 1:1, 6)

And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:3-5)

Our hope is that as your faith increases, (2 Corinthians 10:15b)

Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. (Philippians 2:17-18)

Paul lived his life for the faith of others, so it was only natural for him to find comfort in the faith of others during his affliction. His trials were worth it if others had faith. He said, “Even if I am to be a sacrifice for your faith, I am glad and rejoice!!” Think about that!! He was comforted by their faith because he was consumed by it. The faith of the saints was Paul’s driving passion. Is it yours?

            My heart has been comforted by the faith of the saints of Park Baptist Church: the faith of those who believe in Jesus despite their bodies being ravaged by cancer, the faith of those who believe in Jesus despite an absent spouse, the faith of those that leads them to sacrifice time in our gatherings to serve our kids in the nursery or children’s church, the faith of those which leads them to labor for hours in preparing Sunday School lessons, and the faith of those which leads them to give sacrificially. I have been comforted by the faith of those who stand up to unethical practices at work and the faith of those who open their lives to the hurting and those who visit the sick. One of the greatest joys of my life is to see the faith of the people of Park Baptist Church. You exemplify a pure and sincere faith in Jesus Christ. Your faith in Jesus has comforted my soul so many times and in so many ways.

I have been so comforted by your faith, but have you been comforted by the faith of these fellow saints? Have you noticed how much our young people are growing in their knowledge of the Word? Have you noticed how much compassion and tenderness our seniors have for one another? Have you noticed the boldness growing in our ladies? Have you seen the steadfastness of our men? Have you noticed how people have started to gather more frequently? When you see the faith of the saints, are you comforted? One of the reasons we are not comforted by the faith of others is that we are not looking to be comforted by their faith. It may be because we haven’t been trained to look, or that we are too consumed with ourselves.

            Do not miss that Paul and his companions were also comforted because of how their faith in God was expressed in love towards them. They were comforted in how people they loved also loved them. Timothy reported that the church always remembered them kindly and longed to see them. (1 Thess. 3:6) Their comfort was connected with their relational unity with God’s people. Their lives were intertwined. This is what I pray for our church. I pray that our lives would be so interconnected that we would experience comfort and joy when we see the faith of others even if our lives are filled with distress and affliction. And I also pray the opposite would be true. I pray that when we see a lack of faith in our brothers and sisters lives, that our hearts would grieve. Does your heart hurt when you see others walking away from the faith? Or withholding love from the body? Or absent from our gatherings? Would your desire for their faith in Christ be so great that you would have the courage to admonish or rebuke them? Would you love them enough to discipline so their soul could be saved on the last day?

            The Christian life is others-focused. If we do not find comfort in the faith of others, it may say more about our own faith than we would care to admit. Be comforted by the faith of God’s people.

Comforted to Persevere for God’s People v. 8-10

If our eyes are looking and longing for the faith of others, then it will be natural for to find courage to press on in living for the glory of God. 1 Thessalonians 3:8-10,

For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?

I can imagine Paul, Silas and Timothy sitting around a room thinking and reflecting about the Thessalonians faith finding the resolve to continue to press on for the faith of saints.

            Paul and his companions are looking and longing for the faith of others, but it is the faith of the Thessalonians that to pushing them on to persevere. Eunice Smith has been a great encouragement to our church family. She has demonstrated a lifetime of service to the church and a sincere faith in Christ. Over the last several years, her hearing has gotten so bad that she barely could hear what was happening in the service. At 95, she would get in her car and drive to church. She barely heard anything that went on in the service, but that doesn’t mean that she got nothing from the gathering. Her presence and her faith spurred others on to persevere. Her example and presence, and others like her, is a constant source of perseverance for the saints.

            Mrs. Eunice’s faithfulness to Jesus has given the saints of Park faith to press on toward the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Her faith has spurred the saints of Park to continue in the faith. Beloved, your faith does a lot more than you realize. I hear stories upon stories of how you have been encouraged by others in the church. You will never know how much your life and faith in Christ means to others this side of heaven. We only see glimpses. My friend CAM Wagner died a little over a year ago with leukemia. He had a lot of friends and family visit him in his last months. He told one of his friends, “I am so blessed.” His friend gave him a quizzical look thinking that a strange thing for a dying man to say. He said, “Most people never get to see how much others love and care about you. I get to sit in this hospital room and hear how my life has impacted others. I am blessed.”

Friends, you are blessed. Your life matters to the people of God. Your presence and faith in Christ is a source of joy and perseverance for the saints. Do not let your eyes define the impact for your faith. Things are happening through your faith that you may never see, but one day all will be revealed. Until then, stand firm in your faith for the faith of others. Give others the opportunity to say, “For now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord.” And this perseverance is not mere drudgery, but done in joy. Listen, “What thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God.”

I have been accused of being too church-centric in my teaching and preaching. Some have said that I focus too much on church, but the Christian life cannot be lived faithfully outside the fellowship of the church. Our lives are meant to be lived for the faith of others. Hebrews says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25) There is an imperative that Christians should meet together in the faith (i.e. go to church), but notice the why we should go. The text begins, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,” which will be encouraging one another to persevere as the Day of the Lord is drawing near. Do you notice the reason why you are to go to church? You are to encourage others to have faith until the Last Day. Beloved, you have the great privilege to help others safely enter the Sabbath rest of the people of God, to see Jesus face to face, to enter into the eternal joy of the kingdom of God, and to enjoy the pleasures at His right hand for all time. What a privilege!! Why would you forsake it?

The faith of the Thessalonians comforted Paul and his companions to persevere in the faith and to continue to serve the Lord in the midst of much affliction. Be comforted by encouraging others to persevere in the faith.

Comforted by the Beauty of God’s Plan v.11-13

            God’s plan is so beautiful. There is nothing more precious and more glorious that God’s plan to redeem the world through Jesus Christ creating a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. This is a great prayer to offer to the Lord for the church. 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13,

Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

We were filthy, unrighteous sinners. We were mockers and rebels. We were haters of God and children of the Devil. We were…But now in Christ, we have been justified through his blood, sanctified by His Spirit and declared blameless before God, adopted as his children and co-heirs of the world to come. Never stop marveling at the gospel. Never stop beholding the glory of our Savior displayed in his death and resurrection.

            Friend, if you are not in Christ, the Bible says you are in sin. And to be in sin is to one day stand before God alone and pay for that sin. The punishment for sin is death in Hell for eternity. Our sin makes us unholy and therefore unfit for heaven. And yet, God sent his Son, the Righteous One, to suffer for the unrighteous to bring them to God. Jesus died for you. He died to bring you to God. His resurrection is a promise of a future resurrection for all those who turn from their sin and trust in Him. Friend, behold the beauty of the Savior and be comforted in Him. Turn from your sins and trust in Christ. You can be declared holy and blameless before God today in Christ.

            One of the greatest things of this letter is that it continues to lift our eyes to the Day of the Lord. Christians live for two days: today and that Day. 1 Thessalonians is a great help to lift our gaze to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. I want you to notice how Paul connects our life together now with our holiness on the last day. See how verse 12 and 13 are linked together,

May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

There is a connection with the love we have for the saints and our state on the last day. The Lord wants a supernatural love for one another. A supernatural love has to come from Him. The Lord increases our love for one another. The Lord creates love in our hearts for our brothers and sisters. It is not natural. It is a work of God. And that love is a sign that God is working in us to establish our hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father. Do you see how our love for each other and for all is a sign that God has saved us?

If you do not love the church, what confidence should you have before God on the last day? The message of Christianity has not changed since the beginning. 1 John 3:11-14,

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother's righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. (1 John 3:11-14)

Love is the mark of a Christian. Therefore love should be the mark of a Christian community.

            The love we have for one another is not only for us, but for those watching on the outside. Francis Schaeffer writes,

One cannot explain the explosive dynamite, the dunamis, of the early church apart from the fact that they practiced two things simultaneously: orthodoxy of doctrine and orthodoxy of community in the midst of the visible church, a community which the world could see. By the grace of God, therefore, the church must be known simultaneously for its purity of doctrine and the reality of its community. Our churches have so often been only preaching points with very little emphasis on community, but exhibition of the love of God in practice is beautiful and must be there.[2]

As Christians behold the beauty of God’s plan, we will become a beautiful people which will display God’s beauty to the world. Love and doctrine must always be linked. Love without doctrine and doctrine without love are false representations of church. We must be full of grace and truth.

            One night at an evangelistic meeting in Chicago, Booth Tucker preached on the sympathy and comfort of Christ. Someone came up to him after the meeting and said, “If your wife had just died, like mine has, and your babies were crying for their mother, who would never come back, you wouldn’t be saying what you’re saying.” The man was not comforted with Christ and did not believe Christ was sufficient for his trials and distress. In our trials, will the comfort of Christ be sufficient?

Sadly, Tucker’s wife was killed in a train wreck a few days later. Her body was brought to the same building where he gave his last sermon. After the service, a grieving Tucker looked down at his wife and then turned to those in attendance and said,

The other day a man told me I wouldn’t speak of the sympathy of Jesus if my wife had just died. If that man is here, I want to tell him that Christ is sufficient. My heart is broken, but it has a song put there by Jesus. I want that man to know that Jesus Christ speaks comfort to me today.[3]

Our greatest comfort should always rest on the comfort given to us by Jesus Christ. He is enough. Our greatest distress has already been conquered in the cross. Jesus overcame the grave and promised us a glorious resurrection.

            We are going to face distress and anguish in our souls, but God has provided comfort in Christ. He has comforted us in the gospel and through his church. Therefore let us press on in our faith in Christ, our love for the saints so that God will establish our hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father on the last Day. 

           

           

 

[1]https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1982&dat=19870706&id=H5BRAAAAIBAJ&sjid=pjMNAAAAIBAJ&pg=2685,604423&hl=en accessed 9.24.15

[2] http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/brothers-build-a-gospel-culture accessed 9.27.15

[3] https://bible.org/illustration/christ-sufficient accessed 9.27.2015

An Exemplary Reception (1 Thessalonians 2:13-16)

              How do you view the Bible? What place does the Bible hold in your life? It may be easy rattle off how important the Bible is, but what do your actual day to day activities reveal about your view of the Bible? Stop and really think about that question. A recent study commissioned by the American Bible Society reveals some interesting facts regarding how our society views the Bible[1]. The percentage of people who are skeptical of the Bible has doubled in the last three years. And of those who are skeptical of the Bible, 2/3 of them are under the age of 48. Of the Millennials, ages 18-29, surveyed nearly 40 % say they have never read the Bible. And even though skepticism of the Scriptures is on the rise, almost 80% still hold a favorable view of the Bible with almost 90% of homes owning a Bible. The average household owns more than 4 Bibles, but only 37% of Americans read the Bible more than once a week.

            An interesting fact revealed in the survey that 62% of people surveyed want to read the Bible more, but admit that busyness with job, family, and activities continue to squeeze out their Bible reading. People are also finding communion with God outside of the Bible. Only 56% of those surveyed say that reading the Bible draws them closer to God. And only 30% of Millennials believe the Bible has too little influence in society. If you were surveyed and were honest, what would your answers reveal about your view of the Bible?

            One of the most important marks of an exemplary church is how people receive the Bible. And I am not only considering what a church says they believe about the Bible, but what they actually believe about the Bible. There are many churches that would attest to a high view of Scripture, but in analyzing their practices the Bible may actually play a small part of their congregational life. As a pastor, I am constantly praying that the Word of God is more cherished and more loved by our congregation. All Christians should cherish and delight in God’s Word. If we are going to grow as an exemplary church, then we must grow in our knowledge and love of God’s Word.

            The Thessalonians were praised because of how they received the Word. 1 Thessalonians 2:13, “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the Word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as what it really is, the Word of God, which is at work in you believers.” The Thessalonians were defined in how they received the Word of God. Beloved, we will be defined in how we receive the Word so I pray that we will receive the Word as what it really is, the Word of God.

Receive the Word as the Word of God

            It would be beneficial for us to establish what we mean by the Word of God. There may be those who say they believe the Word of God, but may not believe the Word like the Thessalonians believed and like we are called to believe the Word.

We are to receive the Word of God as True

In developing our doctrine of Scripture, we begin with 2 Timothy 3:16-17,All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” There is much that can be cleaned from this verse, but I only want to establish that Scripture comes from God. If Scripture comes from God then it must be true.  Romans 3:4b, “Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.” Paul begins his letter Titus affirming the truthfulness of God’s Word by connecting it to God’s Character. “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior; (Titus 1:1-3). If God is true then God’s Word is true and therefore it is trustworthy.

We are to receive the Word of God as Perfect

            Psalm 19:7-9, “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether.” We can trust the Bible because it is true and it is perfect. The first article of the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 begins this way, “The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter.” We cannot waver on the perfection of the Bible. This does not mean that every translation is perfect.

The Bible was written in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. Our English Bibles are mere translations. The Autograph, or the Original Manuscript, does not exist, but that does not mean we cannot trust the Bibles we hold in our hands. We can and we should. We should believe that even when we encounter things that are difficult and/or apparent contradictions that after all the facts are on the table the Bible will be perfect. J.I. Packer notes, ““One cannot doubt the Bible far-reaching loss, both of fullness of truth and of fullness of life. If therefore we have at heart spiritual renewal for society, for churches and for our own lives, we shall make much of the entire trustworthiness—that is, the inerrancy—of Holy Scripture as the inspired and liberating Word of God.[2]

We are to receive the Word of God as Authoritative

            We receive the Word of God as true and perfect and therefore we receive the Word as the supreme authority in our lives. The Bible is the final standard on which all opinions and behavior should be tried. Different churches place the final authority in different places. The Catholic Church places Scripture and Church Tradition at the same level. Liberal Protestant churches place Scripture and Human Reason at the same level. Conservative and Historic Christian churches place Scripture above all other authorities. Much of the division in the church is the result of how each church or denomination handles the Word of God. Conservative churches may disagree on interpretations, but we are all working off the same standard.

            God speaks, we listen. God speaks, we obey. Sadly, many churches claim that Bible is the main authority in their church life, but their practical decisions are governed by pragmatic concerns. The question we should be constantly asking is, “What does the Bible say?” I know many bible-believing Baptist Churches that place tradition over Scripture. Remember the Bible is God’s Word. To ask, “What does the Bible say?” is to ask, “What does our Lord and Savior say?”

            Pastors have been commissioned by God to declare His Word to His people. Titus 2:15, “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” Beloved, do you delight in God’s authority? The fall of humanity began with four little words, “Did God actually say…?” Rejecting God’s authoritative Word will bring nothing but pain and destruction in your life and the lives of those you love.

We are to receive the Word of God as Sufficient

            We all may want to say that the Bible is sufficient, but there have probably been times when we wanted a little more revelation from God. Listen to how Pastor Kevin DeYoung helps us diagnose our view of sufficiency,

Have you ever wondered if the Bible is really able to help you with your deepest problems? Have you struggled to know what to do with your life, and wished you had some special word from the Lord? Have you ever thought to yourself that the biblical teaching on sexuality needs updating? Have you ever wished for a more direct, more personal revelation than what you get from slowly reading through the Bible? Have you ever secretly wanted to add something to the word of God—you know, just to make things safer? Have you ever wanted to take something away to make the Bible more palatable? Have you ever assumed that the Bible doesn’t say anything about how to worship God or how to order his church? Have you ever felt like the Bible just wasn’t enough for living a faithful life in today’s world? If you can answer yes to any of these questions—and we all will at times—then you are struggling with the sufficiency of Scripture.

The Bible is sufficient as it is for all of life. Even the verse I quoted above, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” The Bible is relevant and contains all that we need for life and godliness.

            There is a growing movement of people desiring to hear a special revelation from God.  Many Christians put more stock in movies like Heaven is for Real and 90 minutes in Heaven than the book of Revelation. If you want a special word from God, read your Bible. I mean that with all seriousness. God’s word is sufficient for all. Do not look for a “special” word from God, but rather look to the “special” Word from God.

We are to receive the Word of God as Good

            A regular argument put forth in our culture is that the Bible is outdated. The common refrain repeated again and again is, “We are modern people and need to adopt modern views on life and sexuality.” It may sound sophisticated, but it is masking an attack on the goodness of God’s Word and the goodness of the God who gave the Word. People have denied sin and believe that God is withholding something good from them in telling them no. The argument is not new, for the same tactic was used in the Garden of Eden when, “the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ (Genesis 3:4-5) Satan wanted Eve to believe that God was withholding something good from her, attacking the goodness of God’s Word. We are so easily tempted to doubt God’s goodness.

            The God’s Word is not withholding anything from us, but protecting us for God knows what is best for us. Listen to the voices of those who speak against God’s Word and notice the undercurrent of pride. They doubt the goodness of the Word, because they believe they know better way. We must hold fast to the goodness of God’s Word.

We are to receive the Word of God as Active

            The Word of God is powerful. It is powerful to save and it is powerful to sanctify. At the end of 1 Thessalonians 2:13 Paul adds a profound encouragement, “which is at work in you believers.” For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12) God’s Word changes us. God is actively working on us through His Word by His Spirit.

            Do you ever feel stagnate in your Christian walk? Or maybe you have felt discouraged with particular sin struggle? Beloved, know that God’s Word is actively working in your life. There is a real, profound affect that happens to us when we read and meditate on the Word of God. We cannot comprehend the immediate and long term benefits that come from the Word. Psalm 1:1-3, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” The delight and meditation on God’s Word leads to prosperity and fruitful labor.

            We do not fully understand or appreciate the importance of the Word of God for if we did we would make every effort to hear, read and meditate on it. The number one stated reason people don’t read the Bible is busyness.[3] The unstated reason is that we do not believe in its power in our lives. When you commit to a new activity how often do you ask the question, “How will this affect my or our family’s Bible intake?” God’s Word is life-changing and powerful. It actively changes us. It takes our eyes off of ourselves and fixes them on God’s glory. What in your life hinders you from reading the Word?

We are to receive the Word as Christ-Exalting

            Undergirding our entire doctrine of Scripture is the motivation to exalt the living Christ. We live to make much of Jesus Christ. We proclaim Him. We desire to grow up into full maturity to be like Christ. When we receive and obey the Word, we make much of Jesus who has given us His Word. Jesus said,

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:7-11)

When we receive the Word of God, we receive Jesus. To deny the Word is to deny the Savior.

            We must receive the Word of God as what it really is: the Word of God. For if we do not receive the Word as the very living words of Almighty God we will not be ready for the trials that may be coming.

Receive the Word as Worthy of Trials

            Persecution comes in many ways. It may come with a raise of an eyebrow from your college professor, whispers from colleagues, denial of promotion at work, outright scorn and ridicule by a family member, jail time, or even death. Are you ready to receive the Word as worthy enough to hold on to regardless of what comes? The Thessalonians were. 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16,

For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last!

The Thessalonians faced physical persecution from their own countrymen. Those who were once their friends and family became their persecutors. And in the face of persecution, they remained steadfast because they had received the Word of God as the Word of God which was worthy of trials.

            If the Bible is God’s Word then we must stand on it. And the best way we stand is to trust and obey God’s Word. We make reading God’s Word primary in our lives. We make the hearing of God’s Word primary in our lives. We make obeying God’s Word primary in our lives. An exemplary church delights in the Word and will stand in the face of persecution. Jesus shows us how of the word is sown on the soils of different hearts,

And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.

Beloved, persecution and tribulation will come more and more to Christians in America. The question is, “Will you endure?” The only way you will endure is if you count the Word of God as worthy of the trials they bring.

Receive the Word as a Witness of War

            We are in a war. We battle with the spiritual forces of darkness every day. And the battle is from without and within. First, it is clear from the text that there is a battle from outside the faith for those who oppose the message of the gospel. People want to silence Christians because the message of the gospel is the power of God for salvation. There is an active opposition to the gospel by real people, but our battle is not against them. Ephesians 6:10-12,

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

When people oppose the gospel, they are under the influence of the evil one captured to do his will. Satan is a deceiver. He opposes all mankind by hindering people from hearing the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He may do it through national laws and company policies, but his aim is to hide the gospel remedy for the cancer of sin.

            The gospel of Jesus Christ is the only hope for our world. We all have sin and need a Savior. Jesus Christ lived and died to destroy the works of the devil. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us to reverse the curse of sin and give us hope for eternal life. Faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is man’s only hope before God. Therefore to oppose the gospel is to oppose all mankind for it is our only hope. Do you know this hope? Do you believe in this hope with all your heart?

            Those who oppose the gospel will one day bow. The text seems to imply that the Jews were facing some real life trouble. We do not know exactly what their trouble was, but Paul knew their trouble came from their opposition to the truth. The Word is a witness to the war of this world.

There are those who work for the gospel and those who work against the gospel. The challenge is that there are things in our own heart that wage war against our soul. Peter writes, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” (1 Peter 2:11) One of the passions of the flesh that wage war against our soul is the desire for the acceptance of the world. The battle rages every time you have the opportunity to share the gospel. How many times have we had the opportunity to share our faith only to let fear of judgment or awkwardness allow the opportunity to pass? Do not let the love of the world and the acceptance of those who stand opposed to God hinder you from sharing the gospel that others may be saved. Let us speak not to please man but to please God who tests our hearts.

            Last year a missionary captured a video of Chinese believers receiving the Bible for the first time. As they were handed the Bible, they brought the bibles to their faces and wept. One of the Chinese believers said, “Thanks be to God, we need this book so much. When I see this book, I think of the brothers and sisters who have helped us and brought this to us with their blood and spirit. This is what our church needs so much right now.” Beloved, this book is what our church needs so much right now. Will we receive this Word as it really is, the Word of God?

 

[1] https://www.barna.org/barna-update/culture/664-the-state-of-the-bible-6-trends-for-2014#.VfQm3vlViko accessed 9.12.2015 All following statistics will be taken from this survey.

[2]  I. Packer, Truth and Power: The Place of Scripture in the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw, 1996), 55.

[3] https://www.barna.org/barna-update/culture/664-the-state-of-the-bible-6-trends-for-2014#.VfQm3vlViko