Friday, August 29, 2014

Not like the rest - 1st Thessalonians 4:13-18

"But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words." (1st Thessalonians 4:13-18)
For many people today, the idea of a resurrection to live is common place, even if they don't believe in such a resurrected life. However, in the Greek/Roman world that Paul lived in, such was not the case. Very little of their religion and mythology dealt with the idea of an after life and, if it did, it was usually in the form of a reincarnation, either to a better life for the good or a worse life for the evil. Yet for many, death was still the final exit; the door to a non-existence. For many, death became fearful; fearful for the nothingness that awaited them or fear for the possible reversal of fortunes that awaited them in reincarnation. This fear held men and women in slavery; either to appease the gods for long life or for a better existence in another life. Their future, or non-future, depended on the gods and they were held in slavery to them to do their bidding.

However, Jesus came to free us from such fear and slavery, "Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives." (Hebrews 2:14-15) and to announce to us the resurrection from the dead, "but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." (2nd Timothy 1:10) For the people of Paul's day, this was ground breaking truth and a welcome relief from their fear of death.

One day, death will be abolished. "For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death." (1 Corinthians 15:25-26) In the end, life will be eternal and death will be no more. "and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away." (Revelation 21:4) However, presently, death is still a reality and often the greatest pain of death is the pain of our loss. It is for the loss of those we love that we grieve. However, Paul wanted the Thessalonians to know that, even though we grieve over the loss of our loved ones, we need not grieve like others, for in our grieving we have hope. We are not like the unbelieving world, being unaware of the resurrection, but we believe that life is eternal and that one day we shall be reunited with those we have lost. I have had two friends who both lost spouses very early in life and for both of them their greatest comfort was knowing that one day they would be reunited with them in the resurrection; one day they would see them again and in that day death would no longer be able to separate them. Yes we grieve, but we grieve in hope. What tremendous comfort we can find in this truth.

David Robison

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Live quiet lives - 1st Thessalonians 4:11-12

"make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need." (1st Thessalonians 4:11-12)
Mathetes describes the early believers in this manor:
"For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity... and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life... They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed.... They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives... they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred." (Mathetes to Diognetus Chapter 5)
In such a way, Christianity is a truly remarkable religion. It is not so much a religion of form as it is one of life. It can be practiced by anyone and anywhere. It is accessible to the lowliest and to the greatest among us. It is a universal religion of inclusion that does not require external conformance to belong. It is a religion, not of practices, but of reverence and worship for the God-Man Jesus Christ.

However, much has changed through the intervening centuries. Some believers have tried to live separated from the world, even announcing their identities with a common dress or language, but this was not how it was intended. Christians were to be a part of everyday life; living quiet lives of holiness, temperance, and piety; people living well-ordered lives in peace, joy, and righteousness which are the hallmark of His kingdom.

One thing I have noticed is the rise of "ministry schools" and classes and seminars to teach you how to minister in the Holy Spirit. While these are good, and many have been helped by such schools, I wonder if we are really teaching people how to live in life? They may know well how to prophesy or to pray for someone, but have we taught them how to live a "quiet life" and to "work with their hands" that they might "meet pressing needs, so that they will not be unfruitful."? (Titus 3:14) I have seen some come out of such schools excited for ministry which they expect others to fund for them. In our excitement for the supernatural, have we missed the truly remarkable power of the Gospel that enables everyday people to live extraordinary lives in every day life?

David Robison

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Love one another - 1st Thessalonians 4:9-11

"Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more." (1st Thessalonians 4:9-11)
Jesus said, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35) Love for one another is both our commission and our goal. Nothing can be more central to our participation in the physical presence of Christ on this earth that to love and be loved by others. As we come to love God, and to be loved by Him, our natural response aught to be to love others. As a church, the believers in Thessolanica exemplified both this command and this truth. They sincerely loved one another and their love for each other, and for all the brethren, was renowned through out region.

However, as the church has evolved over the past two thousand years, especially here in America, we have let service replace love and organization replace relationships. The "church" has often become a self-sustaining organization that, to some degree, no longer need its congregants to continue, except for their financial support. The congregants are needed only to fill the slot of the audience for the Sunday performance and to be the recipients of the services provided by the "church." So much happens outsides the purview of the individual members; the planning of the Sunday "service", the organizing of teams, the development of programs; many such activities which are center around the few or the professional and are are meant to serve the masses but not necessarily to relate to them. While many such noble works are considered and motivated out of love, they often operate without love for "one another," meaning there may be a genuine sense of love in the one giving but not a love for one another that flows from relationships.

Some churches even seem to have created an environment which appears to keep the spectator in a perpetual state of need; instilling in them a need for a weekly service to lessen, but never cure, some perceived need inside of them; the need for a sacrament for forgiveness, the need to be assured of salvation, the need for someone to teach them to know God; always receiving but never coming to perfection. What if people came to understand the sacrifice of Christ that was given once and for all? What if people came to understand that they are forever saved and are already being made new? What if people came to understand that they are complete in Christ and no longer need a teacher to come to know God? Might we them become a church that is no longer based on need but rather one that is now free to love and serve one another out of the love of God that overflows in our lives? I believe that such a church would revolutionize the world they live in.

We judge churches by many varying standards including, orthodoxy, lively worship, and the availability of services to meet pressing needs, but the one standard that Jesus is looking for is love! How would we fare if we judged ourselves and our relationships from this vantage point? Would we find that we have fulfilled Jesus' command to present ourselves as his disciples by loving one another even as He has loved us? Or would we be like the church at Laodicea who had a reputation of being rich and wealthy and in need of nothing but was really "wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked"? (Revelation 3:17) Let us dispense with the world's view of success and adopt Jesus standard of measure; that we might strive to be a church that loves.

David Robison

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sanctification not immorality - 1st Thessalonians 4:1-8

"Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you." (1st Thessalonians 4:1-8)
Paul begins chapter four with the word "finally" even though he has a full two chapters yet to go! I don't know when it started, but, in my experience, this has become a practice many preachers have adopted: saying "finally" while there is a lot more to come! Thank's Paul! OK, glad to get that off my chest.

Seriously, however, 1st Thessalonians is not a letter with many commands or instructions but rather a very personal letter to a church Paul had had to leave too soon. When the Judizers heard that Paul was there, they came and caused a ruckus.  "The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea," (Acts 17:10) Due to his hasty departure, there were still a few things he wanted to remind them about. Of primary concern in this letter was their call to purity, holiness, and sanctification. Paul was especially concerned that they would learn to live free from sexual immorality and learn to rule over their flesh with its impure passions and desires. The Greek and Roman world in Paul's day was quite licentious and could rival any modern society in their impurity and sensuality. People lived in a society where almost anything went and they were inundated with the message of sex day and night as they walked about in the course of their lives. The early Christians needed to train themselves for purity and holiness; learning to control their lust and deny their flesh, that they might live a life pleasing to God. This call to sanctification was inseparable from their call to salvation; you could not have one without accepting the responsibility of the other. Paul goes on to say that he who rejects this call to sanctification is not rejecting men, but God! It was not Paul calling them to purity, but the Holy Spirit!

We too live in a society that has many wrong perspectives on sex and sexuality. The Greek word for "sexual immorality" comes from the root word "porne" from which we get our word for "porn". We too have grown up being taught the world's idea of sex, and it is vastly different from God's view. We too need to train our souls to rule over our flesh and to discipline it for holiness. We too need to learn to live according to a new pattern of life, a pattern that is godlike and that is pleasing to God.

Finally, Paul gives us the contrary view to illicit sex when he says to not defraud each other in this matter. Everyone is someone's brother or sister, husband or wife, father or mother. The problem with the world's view of sex is that it reduces the other person to a mere object meant to serve us is our pleasures. We no longer see them as someone's mother, sister, or wife. If we would open our eyes and see them as people and treat them as we would treat our sisters, mothers, and wives the we would thing differently of lusting after them. We would instinctively honor them for the value they possess as creations of God and fellow human beings made in His image. They would become people, not objects.

David Robison

Thursday, August 21, 2014

His holy ones - 1st Thessalonians 3:11-13

"Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord direct our way to you; and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you; so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints." (1st Thessalonians 3:11-13)
Of first note in this sentence is the term "saint". This is the same Greek word often translated as "holy" as in the Holy Spirit. We could just as easily say that we are His "holy ones" and He is His "Saintly Spirit". It is also important to note that when Paul refers to the "saints of God" he is referring to all believers, not just special people who have been so designated by the church ecclesia. Paul consistently, when using the term saints, refers to the entire body of believers as does Jude and the writer of Hebrews in their usage of the same term. Peter uses this same word in "holy priesthood" (1st Peter 2:5) and "holy nation" (1st Peter 2:9) in describing the catholic collection of believers. We are all saints before God; saints through of our redemption and sanctification by Jesus Christ.

Secondly, Paul prays that God would "cause you to increase and abound." He does not pray that God would increase them, but rather that He would cause them to increase. Character and the fruit of the Spirit are not something that God grants through prayer as a completed gift in to our lives, rather, they are developed, or grown, in us throughout our lives as we learn to walk with and trust in Jesus. Character and fruit come when we learn to express our faith through actions of love. For example, God says we should love our wives. We believe this and look for ways to express God's love to our wives and, as such, over time, we become more loving. God says that the tongue holds the power of life and death. We believe this so we learn to practice the wisdom of God in all our speech and conduct and, as such, over time, we develop a manor of speech that brings life, not death, to people. Similarly, God uses situations and circumstances as opportunities for us to grow in our faith and trust in God. When my wife and I were first married we had little money, yet we saw regularly how God miraculously provided for our needs, even our rent each month. This season of our life taught us how to trust God with our finances, a lesson that has yield great dividends over the nearly thirty years of our marriage. Let us always remember: some things God gives and some things He causes.

Finally, the reason Paul prayed that God would cause them to increase and abound was that they would progress towards holiness and that they might be able to stand blameless before Him at His return. The key to their development in holiness was their increase in love; love for God, love for one another, and love for all people. Love is not a feeling, it is not an emotion, love is a decision that leads to an action. Consider one of the most familiar verses in all the scriptures. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:16) God loved us, not just with a feeling, but with a choice (to redeem us) that lead to an action (sending His Son to die in our place). Singular, When Paul describes love, he describes it as: "Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." (1 Corinthians 13:4-7) These are all actions. Paul prayed, not that they would increase in loving feelings towards one another, but that they would act more loving towards one another. It is the increase in our actions, representing faith working through love, that is the key to growing in holiness.

David Robison

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Now we live - 1st Thessalonians 3:6-10

"But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you, for this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith; for now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord. For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account, as we night and day keep praying most earnestly that we may see your face, and may complete what is lacking in your faith?" (1st Thessalonians 3:6-10)
As any parent will attest, there are times when, even in the business and trials of the day, your mind is still distracted by the concerns you carry for your children. This was Paul. He continued to face opposition in every city he preached, but there was still that lingering care and concern for the Thessalonians. It was only when Timothy returned and reported that they had remained strong in their faith, the love for one another, and their love for Paul and those who had brought them the Gospel, that Paul's mind was put at ease and he was able to once again face the challenges of the day with a renewed joy in his heart.

The evidence and hallmark of a true and genuine conversion in the Lord is faith and love; faith in God and love for one another. It is from these two virtues that the rest of the Kingdom of God flows. Paul says that, "in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love." (Galatians 5:6) In fact, faith working through love is one of the simplest and most practical definitions of "righteousness." We further see this when Paul later writes to the Thessalonians about "the breastplate of faith and love." (1 Thessalonians 5:8) and to the Ephesians of "the breastplate of righteousness." (Ephesians 6:14) Righteousness is nothing more than faith expressing itself through love! Paul saw the evidence of their salvation because he saw the evidence of their righteousness, that being their faith and love.

Having established righteousness in our hearts and adopted a lifestyle of living our faith through our love, what more remains of the Christian walk? Paul here speaks of "standing firm" yet other places he speaks of running the race (1st Corinthians 9:24) and fighting the good fight (1st Timothy 6:12). The truth is that often, standing still, takes contest and it takes fight. Contest with the world and fight against our flesh; a battle to remain rather than to flee; an inward decision to continue in faith and love rather than revert to our former ways of unrighteousness. Life, true life, is realized when we fight to remain. The world claims to have life yet they walk in darkness and are dead even as they live. Life is only found in God and only experienced when we remain in Him. To live life, we must seek to remain.

In seeking to remain, we must never grow stagnate in our faith. We must always be yielding our live unto God; to allow His word to go deeper into our lives to continually break up the residual fallow ground in our hearts and minds and to continually teach us how we ought to live in love. Paul understood that, while life can come in an instant, faith deepens over time. Maturity in faith takes time, endurance, and openness to the Holy Spirit. It may seem strange, but the height of immaturity is thinking we have arrived; true maturity understands that we are all works in progress and that work won't be done until He returns to complete his work in our lives. "For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:6)

David Robison

Monday, August 18, 2014

Enduring Affliction - 1st Thessalonians 3:1-5

"Therefore when we could endure it no longer, we thought it best to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God's fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith, so that no one would be disturbed by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this. For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass, as you know. For this reason, when I could endure it no longer, I also sent to find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter might have tempted you, and our labor would be in vain." (1st Thessalonians 3:1-5)
Affliction was never far from the early Christian church. While from time to time they did experience seasons of peace, such peace was merely a prelude to more persecution. Many early Christians would find their faith crowned in martyrdom. Of particular concern to Paul was the young faith of the Thessalonians in the face of such persecution and murder. How would they fare? Would they stand? Would they remain victorious? Would Paul's labors, and that of his team, bear fruit or would all their labors be for not? To find out, they sent back Timothy.

Not all who receive Christ do so in a manor that bears fruit. Jesus told us the parable of the Sower and the Seed and how some seed bore no fruit while some bore thirty, sixty, and even a hundredfold. Speaking of persecution and affliction, Jesus said, "The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away." (Matthew 13:20-21) The Greek word here for "falls away" is the same from which we get our word "to scandalize" or to offend. Falling away begins with an offense and leads to apostasy. Many people are like those who sought after Jesus because He feed them with the five loves and the two fish, but when things got tough, they realized this is not what they had signed up for. "Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, 'This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?'... As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore." (John 6:60, 66) There are many people who want the good things of the Kingdom, but they're not ready for the rest that comes along with that, including trials, suffering, and possibly even persecution. They love the Kingdom when it benefits them, but they have no heart for any difficulties their faith may bring along the way. The root of the Kingdom of God goes only as deep as it might yield within them shallow joy.

To endure in the Kingdom, we must let its truth sink deep into our lives. We must abandon our entire life, body and soul, to the living God in faith and trust in His Word. After many of His disciples had left, Jesus asked the others if they were leaving too. Peter responded for the rest of them saying, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God." (John 6:68-69) Their whole life was committed to Christ. They had no plan "B". If this thing that Jesus was preaching was not real, they had no where else to go; no other hope, no other life, no other reason. The Gospel had found root in them and they were "all in." It is this kind of life that bears fruit, and fruit that remains. It is this kind of life that endures difficulty and trials victoriously. It is this kind of life that overcomes all that is in the world. It is this kind of life that can truly be called "eternal" even while lived here upon the Earth.

David Robison

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Wars, Battles, and Skirmishes - 1st Thessalonians 2:17-20

"But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short while — in person, not in spirit — were all the more eager with great desire to see your face. For we wanted to come to you — I, Paul, more than once — and yet Satan hindered us. For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy." (1st Thessalonians 2:17-20)
Sometimes we think of Paul as that "Great Apostle" who preached to the multitudes, worked mighty miracles, and as was feared by devils. "And the evil spirit answered and said to them, 'I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?'" (Acts 19:15) So we may find it surprising that this mighty warrior of light would be hindered by the devil in anything he purposed, yet here Paul confesses that, more than once, Satan hindered them from returning to Thessalonica and to the brethren they loved so much. However, we must remember that in any great war there are many battles and in each battle there may be many skirmishes. We may loose a skirmish, yet still remain to win the battle.

It reminds me of when civil war broke out in the nation of Israel and Israel brought war to the tribe of Benjamin. Israel asked the Lord if they should go up in battle and the Lord answered "Judah shall go up first." (Judges 20:18) yet Israel was defeated before Benjamin. A second time they inquired of the Lord and He said, "Go up against him." (Judges 20:23) yet again they were defeated. Finally a third time they inquired of the Lord and He said, "Go up, for tomorrow I will deliver them into your hand." (Judges 20:28) and a great victory was won over their brothers.

We have been promised that, at the end of days, we will stand victorious with Jesus at His returning. However, this does not mean that in our daily lives we will not have ups and downs; small victories and minor setbacks. However, it does mean that if we endure to the end, victory is certain. Like all great armies we must have a longer view of life than just today. Battles will come and go, but we must keep our focus on the war; to win in the end is better than any minor victory in the present and will wipe away all memories of our defeats along the way. "And He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away." (Revelation 21:4)

Similarly, we must learn to prefer the nature of eternal glory to that of the fleeting glory offered by temporal life. Some people live for glory and honor, yet with the receiving of such, their reward is over. Some men live to be praise by men, but that praise is short lived and seldom outlives those men who once praised them. Temporal rewards are just that, temporal. Jesus put it this way, "When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full... Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full." (Matthew 6:5, 16)

Paul lived for glory and for a crown, but they were not temporal rewards but eternal. They were rewards that he would one day receive from God, not from men. Paul preached the Gospel, not for what he could receive from it, but for what God would receive. He preached for the increase of the Kingdom rather than the increase of himself, knowing that in the end, it would be from God and His Kingdom that he would receive his reward. And what would be his reward? To stand beside Jesus and behold with Him those in whom he had a part in bringing the Gospel. His reward and joy would be to see the eternal fruit of his works. This is the same joy that John looked forward to. "He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. So this joy of mine has been made full." (John 3:29) To stand beside his savior and to hear His voice and to behold His love for His bride, for whom Paul had labored, would be joy, glory, and reward enough for him.

David Robison

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Hostile to all men - 1st Thessalonians 2:13-16

"For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe. For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost." (1st Thessalonians 2:13-16)
There can be a big difference between hearing what someone says and hearing a message; between believing in the words of a message and believing the in the character of the message. What the Thessalonians understood was that the words Paul spoke to them were not just another philosophical or religious idea, but the very words of God. Their faith was not in the words themselves but in their author and in their power and energy to change them and to work in them to make them new. It was more than becoming a convert to an idea, it was becoming believers in a force and a power of renewal. They believed not just the words but the power that was behind the words, and they accepted the words gratefully as being sent from a loving heavenly Father.

I have know people who say they believe the Bible, but it is a belief that is disconnected from its power and its reality. They acknowledge its truth but never associate with it in a way that allows it to change their life. Their hope is in a salvation of mental conformity rather than faith in something that is living and active and able to save them even now if they would but yield to its power and energy. They "believe" but they are not changed. Our faith needs to go beyond mere belief in the words. We must also believe in who spoke them and their waiting power to change and save us. To believe in God and His Word is to believe in change.

Paul reminds, and commends, them of their suffering and persecution for the name of Christ. In their day there were those who were "not pleasing to God" and who were "hostile to all men." The Greek word meas to literally be "opposite", and in this sense to be "contrary, hostile, and antagonistic." Their violent service was not pleasing to God and was in opposition to all men because they sought to over though that which offered love, peace, freedom, and life, the very things all men hope for and wish for. In their days it was militant Jews and Romans who sought to rid the world of this new religion or peace.

Today there are others who violently oppress those who believe in love, peace, reconciliation, and life. They have become militant in their hatred and oppose all who disagree with them and who fail to submit to their reign and ideology (if it can be called that for there is little "ideal" in their ideology). They cleanse the areas they rule of all Jews and Christians and persecute and torture those who remain; even beheading and sawing in two children who believe. They have become consumed by their evil and are some of the purest disciples of their master, the devil. There are those in this world who hate life and who have become the enemies of all men; of all men who love life and desire peace and happiness. To such we must not yield, nor must we leave our way of peace and love, but we must continue in our hope and faith in the message, its author, and its power.

David Robison

Friday, August 15, 2014

Both father and mother - 1st Thessalonians 2:7-12

"But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us. For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory." (1st Thessalonians 2:7-12)
It is interesting that Paul characterizes his ministry among the Thessalonians as being both a mother and a father. On the one had he was loving, caring, nurturing, and protecting as a mother, while at the same time he was exhorting, encouraging, and imploring them into the things of God like a father. Paul was not a one dimensional man, he could be both a father and a mother; both caring and exhorting at the same time. Some saw this as weakness. "Now I, Paul, myself urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ — I who am meek when face to face with you, but bold toward you when absent! ... For they say, 'His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible.'" (2 Corinthians 10:1, 10) Paul's gentleness and meekness was not weakness, for he knew how to be strong and bold when needed, but it was just another side of God's love.

Just as Paul was mother and father, so is our Heavenly Father. It is written that, "God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them." (Genesis 1:27) God created mankind both male and female and He created them in His own image. Therefore, we understand that God is both male and female, both father and mother, both loving and imploring. God is not one dimensional and neither are we, or least we should not be. As we grow in Christ so aught we to grow in expressing the whole of God's love, both father and mother.

We also understand how Paul was different from the other charlatans of his day. Paul was not out to sell something, he was not maneuvering to gain something from the Thessalonians, he was not after power, status, control, or even a following. Paul was delivering a message to the Thessalonians, a message from God and a message he received directly from God, and in the process he was willing to expend all he had and even to impart his very life to them if needed. Paul and his fellow workers worked with their own hands that the Gospel might remain with the Thessalonians without charge and with no conditional attachments. Paul was not afraid of the cost of his labors and understood that they were his to bear for the sake of others.

I have, on occasion, seen those who are willing to serve God as long as they can do it without cost. They are willing to serve as long as other pay the cost, fund their service, and underwrite their ministry. Theirs is a ministry of convenience, but the work of the Kingdom is not always convenient. We must come to the place where we are willing to serve even if it costs us, even if it is inconvenient, for this is not only the example of the Apostle but also the example of our Lord.

David Robison

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Exhortation to comfort - 1st Thessalonians 2:3-6

"For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts. For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed — God is witness —  nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority." (1st Thessalonians 2:3-6)
It is interesting how Paul stylizes his ministry and word to the Thessalonians. Here is it translated as "exhortation" but more often in the New Testament it is translated as "comfort" as in Paul's second letter to the Corinthian church when he said, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ." (2 Corinthians 1:3-5) This exhortation is an exhortation to rest and comfort. It is a calling out, or calling forth, of one that they may be comforted and might find rest. It is as the exhortation of Jesus when He said, "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30) There are many modes of preaching and each has its own place and time, but a preaching that is always harsh, judgmental, and confrontational can weary the hearer and belie the very heart of God who calls His people to comfort. It is very easy to stand up and point out what is wrong, but sometimes people just need comfort and to know there is a place they can run to to find rest. Sometimes we must take up the words of our Lord when He cried out saying, "'Comfort, O comfort My people,' says your God. 'Speak kindly to Jerusalem; and call out to her, that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity has been removed, that she has received of the Lord's hand double for all her sins.'" (Isaiah 40:1-2) Most people know what they are doing wrong, and they know what others are doing wrong, but they need to know there is a place they can go to to find forgiveness and peace.

Paul's message was one to call the people away from their old life. It was an exhortation to leave their useless idols and religions, to leave their futile way of living, and to come to a new place where they might receive forgiveness and refreshing from the Lord. It was a call to leave death for life, slavery for sonship, and weariness for rest. However, Paul makes it know that he did not do so out of any impure motive or deceptive scheme. Paul was not trying to draw them into some new kind of error or to draw them away into immorality. Paul was not out to trick them for his own benefit and glory. Paul was on a mission from God. Paul was not sent by men or by the agency of men, but it was God Himself who had approved Paul and found him trustworthy and had committed to him the Gospel he was preaching. Paul's credentials did not come from a seminary nor an ecclesiastical order, God had approved him and God had sent him. When we know that we are approved and commissioned by God, then we have no need for the flattery of men. It matters little what others think of us or if they accept or reject us. When we have the praise of God, the praise of men seems pail in comparison. When God is our author, then we are truly free; free to do and be all He wants us to be; free from the fear of men and their expectations. Paul's message came with no strings attached because he did not need them. He had all he needed in his heavenly Father.

David Robison

Monday, August 11, 2014

On purpose - 1st Thessalonians 2:1-2

"For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain, but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition." (1st Thessalonians 2:1-2)
The Word used here for "coming to" means "an entrance" or "to enter", the word for "vain" means "empty", and the word for "opposition" means "a place of assembly" possibly "for a contest". Thus we can read Paul's introduction as this: "When we chose to come to you it was not without purpose or reason, but even though we had been mistreated in other cities, we were still determined to enter into the arena that is your city to speak light and do battle with the forces of darkness." Paul lived a life of purpose. Purpose is a powerful thing; it motivates us, it give us strength to get up when we are knocked down, and it gives direction and momentum for our life.

Paul's ultimate purpose was to love and serve God, but that purpose was further refined and developed over time. There were many significant events in Paul's life that lead to shaping and refining his purpose. First was his conversion. After Paul had met Jesus on the road to Damascus, he was struck blind. God spoke to Ananias to go and lay hands on Paul and heal him saying, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's sake." (Acts 9:15-16) With this revelation Paul understood his calling to bring the Gospel to the gentiles. Later, in Antioch, as he and others were worshiping and fasting, God spoke to them saying, "Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." (Acts 13:2) It was due to this revelation that Paul started out on his missionary journeys. Still later, in a night vision, Paul had a dream, "A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, 'Come over to Macedonia and help us.' When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them." (Acts 16:9-10) It was a response to this vision that they had come to Thessalonica. With each revelation from God, Paul's understanding of his purpose was refined and sharpened and he became increasingly aware of his propose in life.

What are the keys to finding the purpose for our lives? First, we must grow in relationship with Jesus Christ. As we grow to know Him we will also come to understand ourselves and the reason and purpose for which God has created us. Our purpose does not come from the world, it comes from God. He who created us gets to decide our purpose and it is only but coming to know Him that we can understand why He created us and for what He has called us.

Secondly, we must walk in obedience towards God. Purpose is progressive and grows as we grow in Christ. Often times God reveals our purpose in bits and pieces, showing us what we need to know today while keeping the rest veiled in secrecy. Solomon reminds us that, "The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps." (Proverbs 16:9) Notice that God's direction is on our steps; He guides us one step at a time. As we are obedient to God's present revelation for our lives, He will in turn stand ready to reveal to us what we must know for the next stages of our lives. The key is progress and obedience; obeying one step at a time.

Finally, we must remain in fellowship with Christ's body. Not all of God's revelation comes directly from His Spirit, sometimes He uses His body to communicate His will and desires for our lives. Notice that it was only when Paul was in communion with his brother's and sisters in Antioch that God spoke to them regarding himself and Barnabas. Also, remember what Paul wrote to Timothy, "Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery." (1 Timothy 4:14) Timothy's revelation of his purpose came through a word of prophesy and the agreement and acknowledgment of the elders where he was. God often speaks through men and women and, if we discount the grace of God that is within them, we will often miss what God is trying to show us and His revelation for us.

David Robison

Saturday, August 09, 2014

An echo of God - 1st Thessalonians 1:6-10

"You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything. For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come." (1 Thessalonians 1:6-10)
Paul has praise for the Thessalonians response to the word of God. He says they became imitators, literally "mimics", of both Paul himself and of the Lord. Here I believe that he is referring to the Lord in human flesh, as He lived among us during His time on this Earth. The Thessalonians not only believe the Gospel in their minds but also produced it in their behavior towards God and towards one another. They became imitators of Paul in his faith and mimicked our Lord in His behavior.

Paul did  not come preaching some new philosophy or some new speculation of thought to be believed, rather, as his disciple Clement of Rome said, he "taught righteousness to the whole world." (Clement to the Corinthians, Chapter 5) Paul's message was not one that could simply be heard and believed, rather it required a response; it required a whole response from the whole person; body, soul, mind, and heart. In this way the new converts at Thessalonica became mimics of Paul and our Lord in thought and action; loving God and loving each other. In doing so, they became the pattern for other believers in their response to the gospel as well. They became the "die that was cast", the model and the mold, for others who would imitate them in their own belief and obedience.

Paul says that, from them, the word of God has "sounded forth". This Greek word means to "echo forth." God send His word into their hearts and that word echoed forth from them in the changed lives and patterns of behaviors that those around them, even the unbelievers, could see and understand, and in seeing their new outward expressions, they too came to understand the word that had so drastically changed them.

So what was the echo of the Word of God that others saw and that was reported everywhere? First, they received and welcomed with open arms those who came to bring them the words of life. Paul and his fellow workers became precious to them and their love for them was evident to all. Secondly, there was a palpable change in their lives in that they turned from the things those around them worshiped to worship the one true God. They were no longer following the patterns of this world but following the true and living God. Finally, they demonstrated patience and hope in this life knowing that one day Jesus would return to take them home to live forever with Him. This world was not their home and thus they were not bound by its trials and tribulations. Though they suffered, they suffered in hope knowing whose they were and where their real security lay. Though things did not always go their way, they had patience knowing that someone was always watching over them and would turn all things together for good in their lives. Even in triumph and success, they understood that the this world was temporary and preferred the praise of God to the praise of men. This is the true patter of conversion, the true result of one who has been touched by the Word of Truth. May it also be our response.

David Robison

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Faith, Hope, and Love - 1st Thessalonians 1:1-5

"Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.  We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father, knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you; for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake." (1 Thessalonians 1:1-5)
The first letter to the Thessalonian church is believed to be the earliest letter of Paul that has survived to our day. Paul had previously visited Thessalonica with the Gospel and, amidst some opposition, saw a church of God become established there. Later, concerned for their state, he sent Timothy to check up on them and to see how they had fared. Heartened by Timothy's report, he writes to them telling them he hopes to visit them soon but, in case he delays, gives them some instruction pertaining to their new life in Christ. Paul commends them for the faith, hope, and love.

He commends them for their work of faith. This Greek word implies an actual act. Faith should compel us to a response and to a pursuit of good works. Good words are not enough as John reminds us to not, "love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth." (1 John 3:18) Similarly, James tells us that, "faith without works is dead." (James 2:26) Faith that does not move us to action is dead faith. Put another way, to hold the faith of God in our hearts without producing in our lives the good works of that faith is a form of self deception; believing we have something which we do not in truth possess. The Thessalonians were not like this, their faith produced the good works in them and these works were evident to all who knew them.

Paul further commends them for their labor of love. This Greek word implies a straining at labors, even to the point of pains. Sometimes Christian charity is not convenient and the needs of others can often conflict with our own self-interests, but Christ is our model of labor who set aside His own interests that He might bring salvation to all. "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." (Philippians 2:5-8) The price of our freedom was not cheap but Jesus paid the ultimate pain in His labor to set us free, even the pain of a Roman crucifiction and separation from the Father as He hung on the cross. What made Him able to endure the pain was His love for us; His life was a labor of love. In the same way the Thessalonians labored in charity and good works towards others out of the love of Christ which embodied them.

Finally, Paul commends them for their steadfastness of hope. This Greek word implies patience and a cheerful waiting for what has been promised and hoped for. God is not a vending machine where we put in our money and get out what we want. Sometimes the promises of God take time. The writer of Hebrews says that, in order to receive the promises of God, faith is not always enough, sometimes we need patience too. "[Be] imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises." (Hebrews 6:12) What God has promised He will do, but He will do it in His time not ours. Like the Thessalonians we too need patience to endure long enough to see the promises of God come to light.

Faith, Hope, and Love: the three eternal pillars of our Christian life!

David Robison

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Partners - Philemon 17-25

"If then you regard me a partner, accept him as you would me. But if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge that to my account; I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand, I will repay it (not to mention to you that you owe to me even your own self as well). Yes, brother, let me benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, since I know that you will do even more than what I say. At the same time also prepare me a lodging, for I hope that through your prayers I will be given to you. Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow workers. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit." (Philemon 17-25)
The Christian life is not a life that is to be lived in isolation, but one that is to be shared together as we live our lives out in community. We should see each other, not as being separate from us, but as being partners with us; sharing inf a common life, a common grace, a common purpose, and a common hope. See how Paul refers to Philemon as his partner as well as making mention of his fellow prisoners and fellow workers. They were all partners together in this new life they had found in Jesus. This sense of being partners is more than a mere mental note or a tactical arrangement, such as a roster on a baseball team or an employee list at some company. The term for "regard" means to hold; to hold one in our heart and esteem as being partners with us; members with us in our life and walk with Christ. Paul put it this way, "so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another." (Romans 12:5) Not only are we members of the body, but we are also members one with another. There can be no association with the Body without an association with each other.

Paul found benefit in his partnership with Philemon, but what was that benefit? It was knowing that he was not alone in the Body and that he did not have to carry every burden of the Body. He could trust on the goodness of his fellow members to do their part, thus freeing him to do his part. Specifically, he could trust Onesimus, to Philemon without worry or care, knowing that Philemon would do what was right. It is a great temptation for those who care to what to manage and control everything to ensure that people are properly treated and cared for. However, the Body is too big and life is too short. We must focus on what God has called us to do and trust others will do the same. We must trust in our partnerships in Christ; to release to them what they alone can do that we may attend to what we alone can do. Trusting others may be hard, but there is refreshing that comes to our souls when we realize that we don't have to do everything; when we realize that we are not alone.

David Robison

Monday, August 04, 2014

Onesimus - Philemon 10-16

"I appeal to you for my child Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my imprisonment, who formerly was useless to you, but now is useful both to you and to me. I have sent him back to you in person, that is, sending my very heart, whom I wished to keep with me, so that on your behalf he might minister to me in my imprisonment for the gospel; but without your consent I did not want to do anything, so that your goodness would not be, in effect, by compulsion but of your own free will. For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord." (Philemon 10-16)
We don't know much about Onesimus other than his name means "Useful" which helps us to understand Paul's reference to Onesimus being previously useless to Philemon but now useful to himself. We also run across another Onesimus later at Ephesus, whom Ignatius speaks well of when he writes, "I received, therefore, your whole multitude in the name of God, through Onesimus, a man of inexpressible love, and your bishop in the flesh, whom I pray you by Jesus Christ to love, and that you would all seek to be like him." (Ignatius, Letter to the Ephesians, Chapter 1) While there is no direct evidence that this is the same Onesimus from Paul's letter, if he did return to Paul and became part of his team, he could have traveled to Ephesus with Timothy who was there when Paul penned his two letters to him. Also, Onesimus could easily still have been alive when Ignatius met him and reported his commendations of him. The only other thing we know about Onesimus is that he was a slave, and a runaway slave at that.

We know a bit more about Philemon. We know he as a believer and dear to Paul. We also know that he hosted the church in his house. He was a man of great faith and love, and that he cared deeply for his brothers and sisters in Christ. He was also a slave owner. It can be hard for us today to imagine a believer owning slaves, yet it was not too long ago, in our own culture, when such things happened and, in the Roman era, slavery was pervasive and common place. In the Roman Empire there were more slaves than freemen, some owning in excess of 20,000 salves each. Some bought their slaves, some inherited them, and some had none, but no one was without exposure to slavery and its effects in their daily lives.

The gospel does not call for the immediate end of slavery nor for the summary release of all slaves, even by believers. That is not to say that the gospel condones slavery or is indifferent to its suffering. Years later it would be those whose minds were transformed by the evangelical word who would fight hard for the abolition of slavery. However, slavery existed and believers were forced to live by faith in a slave society; the gospel compelling them to treat all people as equals, whether slaves or free, and to love one another, whether slaves or free. It was through the gospel that all men were made equal, all being salves of sin, and all being offered freedom through Christ.

It is hard for us to imagine what we would do if we were in Paul's shoes (or sandals) and it may even be tempting to judge Philemon for his possession of slaves, but to do so would be to miss the whole point of this letter. What is of keen interest in this letter to us is the need for our commitment to doing what's right and to upholding a reputation as one who always does what is right. Paul was committed to doing what was right, even if it was contrary to his desires, whats, and wishes. He wished to keep Onesimus with him but his wants had to take second place to what was right and proper. Similarly, he knew he could trust sending Onesimus back to Philemon because Philemon was a good man and one also committed to what was right. Paul had confidence that Philemon would do the right thing. Oh, that the same might be said about us as well.

David Robison

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Love or authority - Philemon 8-9

"Therefore, though I have enough confidence in Christ to order you to do what is proper, yet for love's sake I rather appeal to you — since I am such a person as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus." (Philemon 8-9)
Authority is not the enemy. There are times when authority is needed and necessary to the occasion at hand. Even Paul understood that his authority was given to him for the benefit of the body. "For even if I boast somewhat further about our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be put to shame." (2 Corinthians 10:8) And when heresies were arising in the church at Crete, he commanded Titus to use his authority in full strength to restore order and faith to that young church. "These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you." (Titus 2:15) However, in some cases, it is important for authority to give place to persuasion. Authority speaks as one over another, giving commands to be followed, while persuasion speaks as an equal; to encourage the other towards a just response or choice.

Sometimes, persuasion is better and can accomplish more that commanding. Consider what Paul spoke about marital relations. "The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does." (1 Corinthians 7:4) While every word of this is true, it may not be the best tack to take. Demanding your rights and commanding what you want may not be the best way to get what you desire. In some cases, persuasion may work better than command!

Many times Paul choose to relate to people as their brother rather than their apostle. To the Corinthian church, he wrote his letter urging them to return to unity and piety lest he should later have to come in authority. "For this reason I am writing these things while absent, so that when present I need not use severity, in accordance with the authority which the Lord gave me for building up and not for tearing down." (2 Corinthian 13:10) To the Thessalonicans, he reminded them that, even though he had authority as an apostle, yet when he was with them his general demeanor was one of love and gentleness. "Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children." (1 Thessalonians 2:6-7) The same is true in this letter to his friend Philemon. Though he could have command him to do what is right, out of love he chose to rather appeal to him and to his free response towards what is fitting.

We live in a large Navy community and I have known some men who have had trouble transitioning from work to family life. They are very comfortable commanding a ship of five thousand sailors and attempt that same leadership style at home; leading the home as if they were commanding a ship. Needless to say, most of the time that does not work very well. While they command well, they forget love and, especially in a home, love of often of greater need then commands. While extremes of work life and home life may not be as great for us, the same can still be true. We too may need to learn when to stop commanding and start loving; to give persuasion a chance before we resort to authority. If so, we too might find that love goes a lot further than authority.

David Robison