Thursday, September 18, 2014

Working and eating - 2nd Thessalonians 3:6-13

"Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example. For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread. But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good." (2nd Thessalonians 3:6-13)
Work is part of the redemptive plan of God. From the very beginning man was created to tend the Garden of Eden, but when they sinned, they were turned out. As part of God's redemptive plan for them, and the whole human race, He gave them work. "Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field;  By the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground,
Because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return." (Genesis 3:17-19) The ground was cursed, not because God despised work or the benefits of work, but rather to force man to work for what he needs. Previously the ground produced its harvest by itself, but now it would require the work of human hands. Though this command to work was the result of the fall of man, it wasn't punitive but rather redemptive, as all God's works are. Paul further speaks of the redemptive nature of work when exhorting those who who steal. "He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good." (Ephesians 4:28) Their work working together with their repentance to produce redemption in their lives.

However, some found work beneath them, and this was a common sentiment among the elite and wealthy of the Greek and Roman world, yet Paul's command to them was to work with their own hands, providing for their needs themselves rather than relying on other to do it for them. Even Paul, in his own ministry, although he had the right to earn his living from his ministry, worked with his own hands to provide for his needs and the needs of his team that he might not be a burden and that he might be an example of how we all ought to work and lead a quiet life.

It seems to me, at least in the circles I travel, that among many young believers there is a great desire for ministry and a little desire for work. They want to do ministry full time, fully supported by the church, without having to lower themselves to the level of having to work for a living. However, it seems to me that most people God called in the scriptures were successful people in their own right; people who succeeded in their own work and profession. God doesn't often call people who are sitting on the sidelines waiting to be called. Worse than that, they learn to be idle, undisciplined, and meddlers in other people's business. God's call for them is to work, provide for their needs, grow in spiritual graces, and serve the Lord where ever He should call them. One day, they too might see a burning bush and hear God's call, and depart to the work the Lord is calling them to, but until then, work!

David Robison

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Pray for us - 2nd Thessalonians 3:1-5

"Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you; and that we will be rescued from perverse and evil men; for not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. We have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will continue to do what we command. May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ." (2nd Thessalonians 3:1-5)
Paul began his letter by telling the Thessalonians that he always prayed and gave thanks for them, for their love for one another and their perseverance in the faith. Now he asks them to pray for him and for those traveling with him, not that they might themselves be blessed, but rather that their work might prosper and that they might have success in their endeavors in the Lord. There is a time in a person's life where you mature and grow to the point where you have no specific wants but rather have come to a place of contentment in your life. Your life may not be perfect and you may still experience ups and downs, but on the whole, you are content with the life you have been given.

Paul was such a man. "Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:11-13) Paul was not asking for prayer for his life, for he was content in life, but he was asking for the grace and power of God to accompany their work so that the Kingdom of God might advance and fill the whole world with its glory. In their work, Paul and his company faced many obstacles and even persecution by those who opposed the truth. Our work in God is not always without contest and opposition, but our success does not lie in ourselves, rather in the one who strengthens and sustains us; our hope is in the one through whom we "can do all things."

Paul, in turn, also reminds the Thessalonians that the same God who strengthens and protects him in his work will also strengthen and protect them in their work. You don't have to be an apostle to do the work of God. Everyone has a purpose and a job to do in the Kingdom. Everyone has work that God has set before them that they too might participate in the economy of the Kingdom. "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." (Ephesians 2:10) Paul reminds them of the work they have been called to, what he often refers to as "good works", and expresses his confidence in their steadfast participation with him in the work. Just as Paul was working, he was confident that they were too.

In doing so, they were progressing, not only in their work, but in their relationship with Christ. Their works were a direct result of their drawing closer to God and their hearts growing ever more in the love of God. The more the loved God the more they demonstrated it in their good works; their love producing in them steadfast continuance in doing good. What more could a spiritual father ask for his children?

David Robison

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Calling and patience - 2nd Thessalonians 2:13-17

"But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word." (2nd Thessalonians 2:13-17)
God has chosen us for salvation, and not only us, but the whole world. He has called and invited all people to salvation, for this is the very reason for which He came and died. "So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men." (Romans 5:18) However, though all are called, not all are chosen for salvation. Jesus Himself said, "For many are called, but few are chosen." (Matthew 22:14) The truth is that. while we are all called, we are called to a process of salvation, not a state of salvation. We are not saved merely because of our calling but rather because of the process of salvation that is at work in our lives. Many there are who want salvation, yet many there are who refuse the work of salvation in their lives. It is like the rich young ruler who came to Jesus seeking salvation yet left disappointed. "But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property. And Jesus said to His disciples, 'Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.'" (Matthew 19:22-23)

Paul teaches us that the work of salvation involves two things: sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. Sanctification means to be cleansed and set aside as sacred. It is the process by which the Holy Spirit washes away the residue of the world and purifies us for our bridegroom Jesus. Those who are sacred have separated themselves from the world and dedicated themselves to God and His Kingdom. However, this process of sanctification is something that we must yield to and partner with God in. There is the part that God does, "that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word," (Ephesians 5:26) yet there is also the part we must do, "Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work." (2 Timothy 2:21) This participation with God requires not only our obedience but also our faith in the truth. We yield to sanctification because we believe the truth that we have been told, "But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life." (Romans 6:22) We believe that the outcome of our sanctification is eternal life and it is because of this faith that we willingly and joyfully submit to God and to His working in our life; we submit because we believe in the reward.

In yielding to sanctification, we require one more thing: patience. The early church, often troubled by persecution and martyrdom, eagerly looked for the immediate return of Christ to deliver them from their troubles. The Thessalonian church had been troubled in their anticipation by those who said the second coming had already happened. Paul reminds them to quiet their hearts and to strengthen themselves with patience knowing their acceptance by God and that His return would come in an undeniable way not to be missed. Instead of anxiously waiting, he calls them to remain steadfast and to continue in the instructions he had previously given them. It is easy to be disturbed when you are always waiting and hoping for something yet to come, but peace is often found in being diligent in what you already know to do. Instead of looking to the future, Paul calls us to be daily engaged in good works and gracious words. Those who employ themselves in such pursuits will not quickly find themselves troubled by circumstances and fear.

David Robison

Monday, September 15, 2014

Worthy judgment - 2nd Thessalonians 2:8-12

"Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness." (2nd Thessalonians 2:8-12)
The disciples asked Jesus if many or few would be saved. Jesus answered them, "Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able... In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out. And they will come from east and west and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God." (Luke 13:24, 28-29) Later on, He again speaks of those would would be saved and those who would be lost, "For many are called, but few are chosen." (Matthew 22:14) In that day there will be a separation of the people; those who are marked for salvation and eternity in heaven with the Father, and those marked for eternal banishment to hell, far away from the Father's prescience.

Such judgment, the abandonment to eternal darkness and the fires of punishment, can be hard for us to fathom and may even seem to us to be contrary to the loving nature of God. However, such judgment is the righteous reward for those who obstinately oppose God and reject His love and His truth. God has provided a way for all to be reconciled back to Him and to once again be reunited with His love and to enjoy the eternal felicities of heaven in the presence of our Savior, yet for those who reject His truth and His sacrifice for them, only eternal darkness and judgement await them.

For the present, God has allowed both the wicked and the just, the believing and the unbelievers, to live and grow side by side undisturbed, but this won't always be the case. Jesus told us this parable. "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, 'Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?' And he said to them, 'An enemy has done this!' The slaves said to him, 'Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?' But he said, 'No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.'" (Matthew 13:24-30) Jesus told us that the wheat are the children of the Kingdom, the tares are the children of perdition, and the reapers are the angles sent at the end of the age to gather all people to their rewards. 

Paul, in writing to the Thessalonians is expressing this same truth, telling us that, at the end of the age, God will send the "lawless one" to separate the wheat from the tares, those who believe and those who refuse, that the rewards of each might be made evident and that the righteousness of His rewards and punishments may be made clear and seen by all. In that day none will question God;s justice, for the rightness of His judgments will appear as the difference of heart between the saved and the lost are revealed. For those who have refused the truth that they might be saved will sink further and further into deception and delusion, carried away by the deluding influence of wickedness and pleasures offered by the lawless one. Being offered life, they rather chose licentiousness. Their judgment is just. "You are righteous, O Lord, the One who is and who was and who is to be, because You have judged these things. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. for it is their just due." (Revelation 16:5-6 NKJV)

David Robison

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Has the end already happened? 2nd Thessalonians 2:1-7

"Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things? And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way." (2nd Thessalonians 2:1-7)
The peace of the church in Thessalonika had been disturbed by those who taught that the resurrection had already occurred, that Jesus had already returned, and that the millennial reign had already started. For some, these rumors had shaken their faith and left them wondering what to do. Paul wrote to reassure them that such had not happened and to quiet their spirits by reminding them of what he had previously taught them.

Teachings regarding the end of the age are common to many religions and cultures around the world, however, Jesus and His apostles made it clear that such events would not happen without our notice. Jesus taught us that, "just like the lightning, when it flashes out of one part of the sky, shines to the other part of the sky, so will the Son of Man be in His day." (Luke 17:24) The coming of the Son of Man will be an event not to be missed. It will not be some secret returning for His chosen but rather a returning that will be noticed by all who live at that time. "Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him." (Revelation 1:7) To this end, Jesus warned us to not be shaken by false claims or to run after false christs. "Behold, I have told you in advance. So if they say to you, 'Behold, He is in the wilderness,' do not go out, or, 'Behold, He is in the inner rooms,' do not believe them. For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be." (Matthew 24:25-27) When Jesus comes again, everyone will know and see it.

As to the timing of His return, Paul tells us a couple of important indicators that must happen first. First, there will be a great apostasy, a falling away from faith and devotion to God. It is unclear if Paul was speaking specifically of the church or of nations and the world in general. Certainly, in our age, we are seeing an apostasy among many formerly Christian nations. It began in Europe, a continent steep in Christian history and tradition, and has spread to America and many other western nations. Previously, many would at least acknowledge God even if they themselves were not believers, but now there is a tidal wave of cultural revolution that is seeking to secularize every aspect of our lives. Even in Paul's day, most unbelievers were still religious and believed in gods, but today unbelief in even the existence of a god is spreading through out more and more of our society and culture. Truly we are living in a time of great apostasy.

Secondly, Paul tells us that, before that great day and the coming of our savior from heaven, the man of sin must first be revealed. Paul's description of the man of sin reminds me of the Roman emperor Titus who destroyed Jerusalem, set it on fire, and stood in the very temple of God; displaying himself as superior to the Jews and the God they worshiped. While he might not have called himself a god, he displayed himself as superior to the one true God who was worshiped by the Jews. To be God is to be supreme and to be above all others who claim themselves to be gods. Today we see the rise of personal cults and those who portray themselves as gods. We see this among some of the religious elites who draw followers after themselves. We also see this in charismatic world leaders who try and elevate themselves above the others; as the one truly wise and worthy ruler of the people. However, more than this, will be the character of this false christ. This man of sin will oppose all that is holy and righteous and true; leading people astray into unrighteousness and falsehood. Jesus said, "for the tree is known by its fruit." (Matthew 12:33) In that day, many will try to deceive us by their power and their signs and wonders, but it is by their fruit that we will know them. Those who come bearing the fruit of the Spirit are of the Spirit and those who come bearing the fruit of sin are of the devil.

David Robison

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The source of our Goal - 2nd Thessalonians 1:11-12

"To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ." (2nd Thessalonians 1:11-12)
Sometimes the industry we put forward in our lives is determined and limited by the goals we have for ourselves. For example, if our goal is to drink and party every weekend then we will only work as hard as needed to afford the beer for our next party. However, if our goal is to become financially independent in retirement then we might find ourselves working harder and longer that we might save up to enjoy our retired years. The same is true for our religious life. If our goal is escape the fires of hell and simply make it into heaven, then "holy obligation" may be sufficient for us, but is this all there is for our christian life? To merely escape death? 

Paul points us towards the ultimate goal for every believer, and that is that we might bring glory and honor to the name of Jesus. The Christian life is not always easy and sometimes it requires discipline and moderation to live a holy and pious life. If our goal is simply to escape guilt and to secure acceptance before God then the difficulties and straights of a Christian life can leave us resentful and envious for the life we left behind. These were the same feelings the Israelites felt when, after leaving Egypt, they faced trouble and difficulties. "Then they said to Moses, 'Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, "Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians"? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.'" (Exodus 14:11-12) Small goals lead to small lives, but when we purpose our lives to bring glory and honor to our Lord, then we have something to really live for. Such a goal can motivate us and sustain us through the hard and difficult times of life.

While Paul mentions many things in his prayer for the Thessalonians, in the end, he is really asking for only one thing from the Father and that is "grace". Paul understood that the answer for all we need in our life is grace. Everything we need to face every circumstance of life comes to us from the grace of God. Grace is God's favor towards us. It does not depend on us or our worthiness but rather flows freely from God and His unmerited love towards us. To have the grace of God is to have everything we need, or as Paul put it, "If God is for us, who is against us?" (Romans 8:31) Grace saves us, grace teaches us, and grace will lead us home.

To this end, Paul prays for three specific things. First that we might be counted worth of our calling. "For many are called, but few are chosen." (Matthew 22:14) In this parable that Jesus told, the one who was called but not chosen was the one who was not properly dressed for the wedding feast. Later Jesus reveals that "the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints." (Revelation 19:8) Paul prays that the grace of God would strengthen us towards righteousness. Secondly, Paul prays that God would "fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness." (2 Thessalonians 1:11 NKJV) Jesus told us that "it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." (Luke 12:32 NKJV) Paul prays that God's grace would bring to us the fullness of God's kingdom in our lives. Finally, Paul prays for the work of faith with power. Faith is what we offer to God and power is what His grace offers in return. When God adds power to our faith it produces change in our lives. Peter said that we are currently "obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls." (1 Peter 1:9) Our faith and His grace is producing salvation in every area of our life.

David Robison

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Righteousness judgment - 2nd Thessalonians 1:1-10

"Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater; therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure. This is a plain indication of God's righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering. For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed — for our testimony to you was believed." (2nd Thessalonians 1:1-10)
The early church was not universally loved but suffered persecution from many groups, including the Jews, the Greeks, and the Romans. As they rejoiced in their knowledge of God and in His presence in their lives, they were also afflicted by those they lived among. It has been said that the expected end for most believers was not old age but martyrdom, yet even in their daily lives suffered persecution and tribulations in many ways.

Paul writes to the Thessalonians to cheer them in their struggle and to remind them of the judgment of God to come at the end of the age. In the end, Christ will return to judge the living and the dead; to sentence those who did not believe nor obeyed God to eternal torment and separation from the glory of God. Paul reminds the Thessalonians of the justness, or rightness, of God's coming judgment; the very tribulation they were experiencing testifying of God's righteousness judgment to come. That in that day they should receive comfort for their tribulation, and their opponents the penalty of the persecution they inflicted on the just. The believers suffered for the Kingdom's sake and from the Kingdom would reap rest, while the unbelievers waged war against the Kingdom and from the Kingdom would one day reap their just rewards: eternal punishment and separation from all that is good. Looking at what the righteous has suffered from the wicked down through out the ages, who can deny the righteousness of the judgment that awaits them at the end of the age!

Finally, it is instructive to note how the Thessalonians succeeded in not only enduring such persecution and tribulation but also growing through it to the glory of God. They grew through tribulation because they grew in faith and love; faith towards God and love towards one another. When we face difficult times,we often retreat, hide, or run away, but these are the very times we ought to draw close; close to God and close to each other. These are the times we need to remind ourselves, not only of the words of God, but also of their truth and reality in our lives. The promises of God are not only true when times are easy but even more so in times of difficulty. Similarly, times of our distress are the very times we need each other all the more. We need to love those who are suffering and to be loved in our sufferings. We need those who will encourage us, strengthen us, and at times tell us what we need to hear even more than what we want to hear. These relationships will serve to strengthen us in our times of need. When we let suffering strengthen our faith and love then we show ourselves worthy of the judgement to come; worthy of being judged fitting for the Kingdom of God.

David Robison

Friday, September 05, 2014

Life at large - 1st Thessalonians 5:14-28

"We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people. Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass. Brethren, pray for us. Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss. 27 I adjure you by the Lord to have this letter read to all the brethren. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you." (1st Thessalonians 5:14-28)
The people we interact with everyday are at various stages in their walk with the Lord. Some have yet to come to know Him, some are just infants, others are learning how to overcome sins in their life by His grace, and some are pressing on towards the mark of maturity. With that being said, then we must not presume that the needs of people are all the same but rather dependent on where they are presently in their journey of faith. Some need to hear about the love of God, some need admonishing, some need comforting, and some just need help. When we look at people we must look at them through the eyes of wisdom that we might know how we can best aid them in their walk of faith. Otherwise we might end up admonishing the oppressed and encouraging the unruly. People are different and we must treat them differently. Fortunately, no matter what state someone is in, God has exactly what they need and, in many cases, he wants to use us to minister it one to another.

In regards to our walk with the Lord we should be fully engaged. Paul uses terms like "always", "without ceasing", and "in everything". There is no live, real life, apart form Christ and we should live our days in the reality of this truth; being fully persuaded and involved in our relationship with Him. Christianity is not something we do once a week while we attend a church "service". Christianity is our very life and should consume all we do. Our lives should not be segmented: our religious life, our family life, and our professional life. Rather all aspects of our lives should be integrated under the Lordship of God. That being said, we should never cease from pursuing our relationship with Him and our abiding in His presence.

We must also allow for the invasion of God in our lives and in our churches. God does not want to be a silent spectator, watching our religious performances, but He wants to be an active part of all we do. When we gather together in His name we should expect the moving of the Spirit and we should expect and believe for prophesy and other manifestations of the Spirit. We should not offend God by trying to constrain or restrain His Spirit; asking Him to simply watch and listen but in no way to attempt to interfere with our plans. If we make it our aim to hold fast to what is good, then we know we will retain God for He alone is truly good. However, let us be sure we are judging with the mind of the Spirit and not with our carnal preferences or judgments.

Finally, let the sum of our faith and hope rest solely in God, for He alone is able to bring it all to pass.

David Robison

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Love those who lead - 1st Thessalonians 5:12-13

"But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another." (1st Thessalonians 5:12-13)
Darby gives a slightly different translation of this passage which I believe is more consistent with the literal Greek text. "But we beg you, brethren, to know those who labour among you, and take the lead among you in [the] Lord, and admonish you, and to regard them exceedingly in love on account of their work. Be in peace among yourselves." (1st Thessalonians 5:12-13 Darby)

What is interesting is that Paul writes directly to the church and not to these men. Paul did not recognize some hierarchical, top-down, control structure within the church. When Paul had something to say to the church he said it to the church. While leadership was present, they did not form a kind of filter between Paul and the church proper. They were there to serve the church, not to represent it or to lord themselves over it.

Jesus' teaching forever changed how we perceive (or should perceive) leadership. "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called 'Benefactors'. But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant." (Luke 22:25-26) Jesus moved leadership from the top to the bottom, the head to the tail, and from the prince among men to the servant of all. Those who are called leaders are to be servants to the church; laboring for the church and admonishing, with gentleness rather than harshness, all to live a godly life. Leaders should see themselves as the servants of the church; sent to serve them, not to be served by them. For even Jesus "did not come to be served, but to serve." (Mark 10:45)

To the degree to which they serve, and serve well, we ought to esteem them and to love them well in return. Those who serve well are worthy to be loved, not just for who they are, but also for their work they do. Paul repeatedly calls their calling a labor and a work. "It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do." (1 Timothy 3:1) Leadership, when done right, is a work and we ought not to forget the sacrifice and toil that our leaders expend for our sake. They labor out of love for us and we ought in return to love them for their work and sacrifice. They work for us that we might be free to experience the blessings and protections of christian fellowship as the church of Jesus Christ.

Finally, Paul exhorts us to live in unity and harmony with each other. The write of Hebrews describes the perils of strife and division, especially between the church and their leaders. "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you." (Hebrews 13:17) Sometimes we forget that God has assigned them a job within the body of Christ. We need to be as serving towards them in their role and function as they are towards us in our role and function. While we are needed in the Body of Christ, so are they. However, they are not another class of people, there should be no class warfare within the church, rather they are just like us and have been given a calling and a function within the church, just one that differs from ours. As we would like people to honor and respect who we are in Christ, so let us do also to them and let us learn to live together in unity and harmony to the glory of the Lord.

David Robison

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Be prepared - 1st Thessalonians 5:7-11

"For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night. But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him. Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing." (1st Thessalonians 5:7-11)
How does one prepare for the end of all things? Some prepare by denying or ignoring its reality, others by fatefully accepting its inevitability, "Instead, there is gaiety and gladness, killing of cattle and slaughtering of sheep, eating of meat and drinking of wine: 'Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we may die.'" (Isaiah 22:13) However, God wants us to approach the end of all time with our eyes wide open and a heart that has been prepared and made ready for that day. So how does one prepare for that day? Here are some thoughts.

Jesus gave us this command regarding the end of the age, "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming." (Matthew 25:13 NKJV) The opposite of sleeping is not being awake but rather being awake and watching. Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonians, speaks of us either being awake or asleep. The Greek word used here for "awake" is the same word Jesus used for "watching". It is not enough for us to wake from our slumber, but we must also become vigilant and watch for His coming.

Watching is almost always associated with prayer. When Jesus returned to check on the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, He found them sleeping and said, "So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour?" (Matthew 26:40) Jesus' watch was consumed in prayer. Similarly, Jesus commanded us to, "Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." (Matthew 26:41 NKJV) Watching is what we do during and after we pray; it is an active listening to the Holy Spirit so that we might receive His wisdom, guidance, warnings, and instruction. God wants to communicate with us, to show us what is approaching, so that we might not be caught off guard and prepared for whatever comes our way. However, this takes watching on our part; listening to God and watching for His revelation.

We also prepare for His coming by preparing our lives. John writes to instruct us that we might not be ashamed of ourselves at His coming. "Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming. If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him." (1 John 2:28-29) Paul tells us to put on the breastplate of faith and love, which he also calls "the breastplate of righteousness." (Ephesians 6:14) God has delivered us us from the wrath to come and has called us to eternal life. Now is the time for us to "walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called" (Ephesians 4:1) and to learn to live lives of holiness and righteousness that in that day we might stand before Him without "spot or wrinkle or any such thing." (Ephesians 5:27)

lastly, we must garrison our hearts with hope, and not just our hearts, but also to encourage one another in the hope of our calling. Life is not always easy, but we have been promised that "the one who endures to the end, he will be saved." (Matthew 24:13) We all need encouragement from time to time and we must learn to encourage ourselves and others in the hope that is ours in Christ. We may not know what tomorrow may bring, but we do know the end of all things, that one day Jesus will return to take us all away to live with Him for ever; to inherit a "new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells." (2 Peter 3:13) These are great promises indeed and ones that can sustain and strengthen us in our daily walks as we watch for His coming again.

David Robison