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

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