Monday, August 3, 2020

Thessalonians Words ~ Day 29: Work

Day 29: Work

I have to confess that I've been looking forward to getting into this passage. Over the years I have heard verse 10 used repeatedly, out of context I believe, as an excuse for why Christ followers or churches should not help the poor and needy. I studied this passage after the first time someone in my church quoted it to me because I have a strong passion for serving those in need, and feel just as strongly that it is a call by God for the Church and for his people. I look forward to digging deeper into this passage with all of you.

6 "In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”
11 We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 12 Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. 13 And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.
14 Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed. 15 Yet do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as you would a fellow believer." 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15
So, first we need to discover what brought Paul to this teaching about work. This is not his first mention of this topic in these letters. In 1 TH 2:6b-9 we learn that Paul and his disciples worked to support themselves while they were in Thessalonica. Twice in these letters he states that they "worked day and night" (1 TH 2:9 & 2 TH 3:8),  "laboring and toiling" (2 TH 3:8), not wanting to be a financial burden on the Thessalonians (1 TH 2:9, 2 TH 3:8. Also see 2 Corinthians 11:9, 12:13-16). Although it seems in their day that being financially supported by the churches they visited (1 Corinthians 9:3-14) was acceptable, and even expected, Paul chose instead to lay aside his privilege and set aside his rights for the sake of preaching the gospel. In Acts 18:34, stating to the Ephesians, "You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions". Paul went from town to town preaching, but at the same time making tents (Acts 18:3) in order to support himself and his disciples. Paul lived among the Thessalonians showing them the example of working to support himself and encouraging hard work in them as well (1 TH 4:11-12, 5:12).
So when Paul comes to this point in his second letter why is he speaking about those who are idle and why does he say, "The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat"? Well it appears it was connected to the other theme we have seen in these letters: The Second Coming of Christ. While not stated implicitly in these letters, many commentators believe, based on the placement of this topic in this letter, that some of the Thessalonians, believing that Jesus would return soon had determined that working was a waste of time, and they should just prepare for His coming. Instead they were living off others in the church, and their idleness was leaving them too much time to the point that they became "busybodies" (2 TH 3:11), bothering others as they tried to work. There are two things we also need to note here: Paul is talking about fellow Christ followers in these passages. He is explicit, calling them brothers in 2 TH 3:6, some translations saying "believers". And the second thing to note is they are not unable to work, but rather unwilling (2 TH 3:10). They felt they had more spiritual things to do than work to earn a living.
Paul has some pretty tough words on how to deal with those who are idle. He is pretty kind about in in the first letter simply telling them to "warn those who are idle" (1 TH 5:14). But apparently by his second letter the problem must have gotten out of hand because his instructions take on a much tougher tone. He now tells the Thessalonians to "keep away from every brother who is idle" (3:6). He urges the idle to "settle down and earn the bread they eat" (3:12), and goes on to urge the church to "not associate" with those who do not change their behavior in hopes that they will "feel ashamed" (3:14). With his final exhortation  to "not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother" (3:15).
For Paul this whole issue was one of love and unity. Those who were not working were acting in unloving ways toward their brothers and sisters who were supporting them, and placing unnecessary burdens on them. For Paul, he sacrificed the rights he had as an apostle to be supported by the church financially, because to him this was both loving and an expression of the gospel of Christ. The idle in the church may have even been taking resources away for the helpless and needy in the community. Paul had a heart for and taught often about helping and providing for those in need. See some examples in Acts 11:27-30; Romans 15:26; 2 Corinthians 8:1-5; Galatians 2:10.

This is why context is so important to understanding meaning in Bible Study. When we pull out one single verse and use it to define our theology and practice, we actually can put ourselves in the position of disobeying God's Word. We are called to serve the poor and needy around us. We should do so with wisdom and stewardship and with love. Poverty in our nation is systemic and often not as simple to overcome as simply getting a job. As God's people we can also strive to be a part of the solution, seeking justice to change systems that do not actually help people get out of them. Most importantly, we can remember Jesus' own words in the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew's gospel:
"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me."

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me."
Matthew 25:35-36, 40, 45.

Paul's theology is one of hard work, holy living, serving and loving others - those in God's family and everyone else.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Thessalonians Words ~ Day 28: Hearts

Day 28: Hearts

"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." 2 Thessalonians 3:3-5

In the previous verses of this passage Paul had asked the Thessalonians to pray for his ministry of preaching the message of the Lord, that is would be fruitful, and that he and his disciples would be protected from those without faith who are intent on evil actions toward them. He now shifts his focus back to the Thessalonians and their obedience to the message of the Lord.

Paul now goes into showing the Thessalonians the "both/and" of sanctification - the on-going process  of becoming holy, of living out the salvation we have received from God.  I call it "both/and" because, as Paul will point out to us in this passage, becoming holy is a process that requires both the sovereign work of God and the human responsibility of obedience, will, and action.  Paul points to God's sovereignty in verse 3 saying, "The Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one." God is at work both in us and around us to enable us by His power to become the holy people He desires. Paul then points out in verse 4 that he is confident that "they are doing and will continue to do the things we command". It is our responsibility to live out the commands of Scripture that show us to be God's holy people. We exercise free-will and must choose obedience and action.

There is another passage from Paul in his letter to the Philippians that shows us this same "both/and" principle:
"Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose." Philippians 2:12-13

The 'therefore' at the beginning of the passage refers back to Philippians 2:5-11, where Paul has told us to have the same attitude as Christ and then went on to describe Christ's attitude of servant-hood, humility and obedience. As a result of Christ's example then we are to imitate Him and obey. How? By continuing to "work out" our salvation with reverence. We have received salvation from God as a free gift of His grace through faith in His Son Jesus Christ. So we don't have to work for that initial salvation. But our complete salvation is an on-going process of growing in holiness that is lived out by us in humility, obedience and reverence as we obey God's commands for holy living. Yet even in our obedience and action we are not left on our own to strive in our own power, "for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.". God is at work in us, enabling us to have the will for obedience and to respond with action. So, Paul then, can say in verse 4 above, that it is "in the Lord" that he has confidence that they will obey.

Paul's confidence in the faithfulness of God and the obedient response he has witnessed in the Thessalonians, and his faith that they will continue in obedience leads him into a brief and spontaneous prayer in verse 5. "May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ." Let's walk through this verse to grasp its full meaning.

"May the Lord direct": The Greek word used here was a military term used of removing obstacles or clearing away the obstacles to make a direct route. It brings to mind Proverbs 3:5-6:
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart

    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight."

What is it Paul is praying for the Lord to direct? Their hearts. The heart in biblical terms is not simply our emotions, as we often consider it today. It encompasses the emotions, the intellect, the feelings, and the will. It speaks of our whole inner being. Leon Morris says, "The prayer is that Christ will open up the way for the whole of the inner life...". So when we read verses about trusting the Lord with all your heart or loving the Lord with all your heart, remember that it is a call to do so with your whole being, with all that you are. 

What is Paul praying that God will direct their hearts toward? "God's love and Christ's perseverance". Again we must think in terms of "both/and". Paul's prayer is that God's love and Christ's perseverance, or endurance, would be produced in us. AND that God's love and Christ's perseverance would inspire us to love and persevere as well. 

The Lord will remove obstacles creating a straight path for His work in our hearts that we may know know His love and Christ's perseverance, that these would be produced in us so that we can then live them out. Ironically, for the Thessalonians and for us, the obstacles God does not often remove are trials and suffering. Instead those trials and suffering help us depend even more on God's loving faithfulness, motivated by Christ's example of obedience and perseverance, and inspired by the hope of the glory that is to come when He returns. 

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Thessalonians Words ~ Day 27: Encourage

Day 27: Encourage

Although the theme of Paul's letters to the Thessalonians is often seen as teachings about the Second Coming of Christ, it appears that the underlying theme of encouragement may actually be the greater theme. Paul, throughout both letters, expresses his concern for how these young Christ followers are holding up under the pressure of severe trials and suffering. He sends Timothy to find out about them and to "strengthen and encourage" them in their faith (1 TH 3:2). Even in his teachings about the Second Coming of Christ or about how to live in the midst of suffering, Paul's words have less of a doctrinal sound and more of one of encouragement. He encourages them often in these letters to live holy lives with the hope of eternal glory as their motivation and encouragement. He urges them to use his letters to encourage them (1 TH 4:18) and implores them to make encouraging and building up each other a central part of their life together (1 TH 5:11).

Perhaps, though, one of the best ways I see Paul encouraging them is in His prayers for them:

"May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones." 1 TH 3:12-13

"May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it." 1 TH 5:23-24

"May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word." 2 TH 2:16-17

It was obvious that Paul had a deep affection for the Thessalonian believers, referring to himself in parental terms in his letters. He saw his role with them as gentle, encouraging and comforting. His prayers reflect his love and devotion to them, and his feelings of responsibility for nurturing, teaching and leading them. In his prayers we find it is God who will strengthen hearts, He will sanctify us and move in us to live out His goodness, and He is faithful in all that He promises to do. Repeatedly Paul's prayers are reminders to take encouragement that God is just and loving and His people will be found holy and blameless when Jesus comes again.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Thessalonians Words ~ Day 26: Glory

 Day 26: Glory

Throughout this passage we have looked at over the past few days, 2 Thessalonians 1:3-12, the word glory/glorified has appeared a number of times. The Bible tells us throughout, that the ultimate glory belongs to God. It is the call of His Holy people to bring Him glory through His Son Jesus Christ. And, by His grace, we share in His glory.

In our daily lives God's people are called to live holy lives that are expressed by attitudes and deeds prompted by their faith in God and revealing a goodness that reflects Christ. Those in the world see the lives that have been changed as a result of Christ's redemptive work and power in them, and this results in exalting God, giving Him glory. 

We have been created to bring glory to God.

"Among the gods there is none like you, Lord;

    no deeds can compare with yours.
All the nations you have made
    will come and worship before you, Lord;
    they will bring glory to your name.
For you are great and do marvelous deeds;
    you alone are God." Psalm 86:8-10

We are called to live holy lives as His holy people, that by our holy living Jesus will be revealed  in us and through us, bringing glory to God. Everything we do is to bring God glory.

"...whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." 1 Corinthians 10:31

"Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen." 1 Peter 4:10-11

On the day of the Lord, when He returns "from heaven in blazing fire with His powerful angels" (2 TH 1:7), all people, those who know God and those who don't, will see the greatness of His glory. On that day God will make all things right, bringing retribution and relief to those who have faced trouble in His name (2  Th 1:5-7), and He will be fully glorified in His holy people (2 TH 1:10). And we will glorified in Him. In the next chapter Paul will reiterate this and say that God called us through the gospel so that we "might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 TH 2:14).

"So when Jesus is revealed in His glory, He will be glorified in His people. We will not only see, but share, His glory...We will be radically and permanently changed, being transformed into His likeness. And in our transformation His glory will be seen in us, for we will glow forever with the glory of Christ, as indeed He glowed with the glory of His Father (John 14:13)." ~John Stott

"Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!

    How unsearchable his judgments,
    and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
    Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
    that God should repay them?”
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
    To him be the glory forever! Amen."
Romans 11:33-36

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Thessalonians Words ~ Day 25: Power

Day 25: Power

"With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith." 2 Thessalonians 1:11

Today let's look at what the Bible says about the power of God.

Scripture tells us that the cross, the Gospel, the kingdom, and Christ, Himself, are all the power of God:
"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." 1 Corinthians 1:18

"Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." 1 Corinthians 1:24

"For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power." 1 Corinthians 4:20

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes." Romans 1:16

Jesus Christ was declared with power to be the Son of God :
[Jesus] "who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord."
The same power which raised Christ from the dead, will raise us to Him as well:
"By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also." 1 Corinthians 6:4

"For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him." 2 Corinthians 13:4

"That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms." Ephesians 1:19-20

And that same power is at work in us:
"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us." Ephesians 3:20

"I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being." Ephesians 3:16

"I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power." Ephesians 3:7

"To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me." Colossians 1:29

The power of God holds all things together; it provides, it strengthens and it shields.
"The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word."  Hebrews 1:3

"His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness." 2 Peter 1:3

"...being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience." Colossians 1:11

"For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline." 2 Timothy 1:7

"..who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time." 1 Peter 1:5

Finally our faith rests in God's power and reveals God's power:
"So that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power."  1 Corinthians 2:5

"But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us." 2 Corinthians 4:7

Today read the Scriptures above. Dig deeper in the ones that stand out to you. Connect with all that the power of God is and ponder His wonderful and powerful ways. Rejoice that, we who are in Christ, have His power at work in us and through us, revealing the power and glory of the Lord!

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Thessalonians Words ~ Day 24: Worthy

Day 24: Worthy

"All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering."

Counted worthy. This term is Paul's high call to the people of God, that they would be counted worthy of His kingdom. In connection with the above verse, as we saw in yesterday's post, the suffering the Thessalonians face and are persevering through is evidence that God's judgment in calling them is right. Paul uses this word 'worthy' in a similar manner in two other places in his writings to the Thessalonians, as well as in some of his other epistles.

"...encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory." 1 Thessalonians 2:12

"...we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling." 2 Thessalonians 1:11

"I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received." Ephesians 4:1

"...conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ." Philippians 1:27

" that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way." Colossians 1:10

To understand Paul's call to God's people, we must understand the use of this word in the context of the day and the culture in which Paul lived. In our day the word 'worthy' is used most often of something deserving, of something that has adequate value or merit. In Paul's day, however, this word was used in the market and in banking for bringing up the other beam of the scales. When one thing had the same weight as another it was worthy. It has the same value, weighs as much as, balances the scales.

Paul's use of the word 'worthy' was very intentional on his part. When he says that God's people are to live lives or conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel or the kingdom or of God's calling, he is actually calling them to live up to something they already are. To be worthy in Paul's doctrine is to live out what you already are in Christ. It is a positional statement. 

A number of years ago my church went through the book of Ephesians. When we got to 4:1 and saw this positional language we attached this statement to it: Be who you are. It became a saying around our church to remind us that we are to live up to and become what we already are in Christ. In Christ we are holy, loved, God's children, a royal priesthood, redeemed, forgiven, complete, adopted as sons, accepted, and the list goes on and on. Whether we feel it or not, these things are true of us because of who we are in Christ.

So Paul is actually saying live lives that are worthy - that balance the scales - of who you say you are and how you live. Live a life worthy of the kingdom - live in a manner that reflects who you are in Christ. May your talk and your walk match each other. These "worthy" statements and callings are expressions of who we already are and expectations to become who we already are in practice, attitude and lifestyle.

John stated it this way in one of his letters: 
"Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did." 1 John 2:6

In the letter to the Colossians, Paul links living a life worthy of the Lord with pleasing God. The passage in 2 Thessalonians  1 ends with Paul's prayer that God-worthy living will result in the Lord's name being glorified in His followers and they in Him. Jesus Christ is, after all, the One, the worthy Lamb of God:  Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” Revelation 5:12

Today we look at how to respond to what we have discovered in observation and interpretation with Scripture memorization and meditation. Look for this document on the Bible Study Techniques page.