Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Faith in the Furnace

Part 3 of Our God Reigns

Text: Daniel 3:1-30

“If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image you have set up” (vv. 17-18).


One of my favourite October traditions is watching It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. In the Halloween special, Linus desperately wants a visit from the Great Pumpkin. According to Linus, “The Great Pumpkin rises out of his pumpkin patch and flies through the air with his bag of toys for children.”

When all of the children abandon Linus in the pumpkin patch on Halloween night, he tells them, “If the Great Pumpkin comes, I’ll still put in a good word for you.” Then he catches himself. “Good grief! I said ‘if.’ I meant ‘when he comes’! I’m doomed. One little slip like that can cause the Great Pumpkin to pass you by.” Linus believed that the sincerity of his faith could cause the Great Pumpkin to visit him. [1] Like Linus, many Christians think that the quality of their faith can cause God to do what they desire. [2]

In Daniel 3, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego aren’t afraid to say the word “if.” [3] They want God to save them from death in the fiery furnace, but they concede that it’s possible that God might not do for them what they desire. Biblical faith is not confidence in what I think should happen; it’s confidence in God. [4]

No Compromise

King Nebuchadnezzar sets up a golden image [5] and commands that everyone bow down to it. [6] Whoever does not bow down to the image will be thrown into a fiery furnace. When the music plays, everyone bows down, except three young Jews: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s disobedience doesn’t not go unnoticed. They are brought before Nebuchadnezzar who gives them one last chance to obey. He warns them that if they once again refuse to bow down to the image, they will be thrown into the fiery furnace. And then he adds, “Who is the god who will deliver you out of my hand?” (v. 15).

Bowing down to the image would be a violation of the second commandment: “You shall not bow down to [an image]” (Exod. 20:5). When we are faced with the decision of obeying God or obeying man, we must choose to obey God. [7] Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse to back down. To the most powerful man on earth, they reply,
“O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image you have set up” (vv. 17-18). 
They believe that God is “able to deliver [them],” but they also acknowledge that God might not choose to do so (“But if not”). They will obey God even if the outcome is death.

God Is with Us

Nebuchadnezzar, “filled with fury” (v. 19), orders the furnace to be heated seven times hotter than usual. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are bound and thrown into the fire. The king looks into the furnace. He looks again. He stands up and walks closer to the furnace. Maybe his eyes are playing tricks on him. Finally, he asks, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” (v. 24). His counselors answer, “Yes.” “But,” Nebuchadnezzar says, “I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods” (v. 25). The king shouts into the furnace, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here!” (v. 26). The three walk out, unharmed.

Who was the fourth figure in the furnace? It was either a Christophany (i.e., a physical appearance of Jesus before his incarnation ) [8] or an angel. Either way, the fourth figure was a demonstration that God is always with his people. [9]

Sometimes God's People Aren't Delivered

Hebrews 11 is often called “The Hall of Faith.” The chapter mentions Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (and also Daniel): “who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouth of lions, quenched the power of fire” (Heb. 11:33-34).

If we have faith in God, do we always get the outcome we desire? No. Hebrews 11 goes on to say, “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword” (Heb. 11:35-37). When we don’t get the outcome we desire, does that mean our faith is defective? No.

Who Is This God Who Is with Us?

The God who is always with us is a God who is sovereign (i.e., in control of all things). He is “the Most High God” (v. 26). He is a God who is able to deliver people from a fiery furnace, if he so chooses. We can have confidence in God because he is not only a sovereign God; he is also a good God. God’s sovereignty must be paired with his goodness. Unless God is also good, his sovereignty isn’t a comfort to us.

We see both God’s sovereignty and goodness in the cross. Jesus came into this word as Immanuel, which means, “God with us.” Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Jesus was condemned to die. But unlike Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Jesus was not delivered from death. He was crucified because God is sovereign; it was God’s plan that he die. [10] He was crucified because God is good; he died for our sins.

Biblical faith is not confidence in what I think should happen; it’s confidence in God—a God who is both sovereign and good, a God who is always with us.


[1] Linus says to himself, “He’s gotta pick this one. He’s got to. I don’t see how a pumpkin patch could be more sincere than this one.”
[2] For example, “If I pray hard enough, God will heal me.”
[3] See verse 18.
[4] This is a paraphrase of a point made by Bryan Chapell: “Biblical faith is not confidence in particular outcomes; it is confidence in a sovereign God” (The Gospel According to Daniel, Kindle location 918).
[5] In verses 1-18, we’re told nine times that Nebuchadnezzar “set up” the golden image. Nebuchadnezzar probably builds the golden image because of his dream of a great image in Daniel 2: “you are the head of gold” (v. 38).
[6] This account is similar to the story of the Tower of Babel, which was built so that the builders could “make a name for [themselves]” (Gen. 11:4).
[7] See Acts 5:29.
[8] ESV Study Bible, 1592.
[9] Cf. Isaiah 43:2.
[10] “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23).

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

God Does What Man Can't Do

Part 2 of Our God Reigns

Text: Daniel 2:1-49

Daniel answered the king and said, “No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery that the king has asked, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days” (vv. 27-28).

To Whom Do You Give Thanks?

To whom do you give thanks on Thanksgiving Day? When we give thanks to God for our blessings, we are acknowledging that God is sovereign (i.e., in control).

Thanksgiving Day was originally based on the belief that God is sovereign. On January 31, 1957, the Canadian Parliament proclaimed: “A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed…is to be observed on the second Monday in October.” When we give thanks to God for the harvest, we are acknowledging that God is sovereign over the harvest.

The theme of the book of Daniel is the sovereignty of God. In spite of how things might look, God is in control.

A Troubling Dream and an Impossible Demand

One night, King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream—a troubling dream. And he’s desperate to known the meaning of the dream. So he summons some of his wise men and demands that they not only tell him the meaning of his dream but also the content of his dream (v. 5). And if they can’t fulfill his demand, they will be “torn limb from limb” (v. 5). The wise men reply as you and I would: “That’s impossible!” They say, “There is not a man on earth who can meet the king’s demand” (v. 10).

The king is furious and commands that all the wise men of Babylon be executed (v. 12). By this time, Daniel has graduated from the three-year training program in Babylon. He is now one of the wise men. And his is to be killed along with the others. Not wanting to torn limb from limb (obviously!), Daniel asks to speak to the king. He requests that he be given some time. At the end of the appointed time, he will return to the king and interpret the dream (v. 16). Though the king’s demand is an impossible one, Daniel knows that God can do what man can’t do. We have a God who does what man can’t do.

The Revealer of Mysteries

The wise men had told the king, “There is not a man on earth who can meet the king’s demand” (v. 10). But Daniel declares, “There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries” (v. 28). “God in heaven” can do what “man on earth” can’t do.

God has revealed to us what was previously a mystery (i.e., once hidden truth): his plan for the world will be accomplished through Jesus Christ. In Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, a “stone” destroys the great image, which represented the kingdoms of man (including Babylon represented by the head of gold). The stone is Jesus. Compared to the image, the stone seems insignificant. And when Jesus lived on this earth, most people didn’t see him as anyone special. But when Christ returns, the kingdoms of man will be turned to dust and he will reign forever.

Jesus came to earth to do what we couldn’t do: bring us salvation. The wise men of Babylon stated that the gods don’t dwell with flesh (v. 11). But the apostle John writes, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Why did God the Son become a man? To die for our salvation. Or, in other words, to do for us what we couldn’t do. Jesus will return to earth to do what we can’t do: build an eternal and perfect kingdom.

Give Thanks!

When God revealed to Daniel the interpretation of the king’s dream, what was Daniel’s response? Thankfulness: “I give thanks and praise” (v. 23). Our response to God doing for us what we can't do should be thankfulness--a thankfulness not only in word but also in deed.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Life as an Exile

Part 1 of Our God Reigns

Text: Daniel 1

But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank (Dan. 1:8). 

God Is in Control

The book of Daniel was written by Daniel the prophet during the sixth century B.C. The first half of the book (chapters 1-6) contains stories about Daniel. The second half of the book (chapters 7-12) contains visions of Daniel. But the book of Daniel is not about Daniel. It’s about God. The theme of the book is the sovereignty of God. “In spite of present appearances, God is in control.” [1]

The book of Daniel begins during a terrible time for Daniel’s people: “Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it” (1:1). But God was still in control: “And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand” (1:2). People are concerned about the U.S. Presidential Election. It’s Trump versus Clinton--two extremely unpopular candidates. People are worried about the outcome. But God is in control! “He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings” (2:21).


The book of Daniel begins with Daniel and his three friends—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—removed from their homeland of Judah and taken to live in Babylon. They are exiles. They are part of a training program set up by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. The best of the best of the youth of Judah have been chosen for this program (vv. 3-4). They will be trained for three years by the Babylonians, and then at the end of their training, they will serve the king.

This training was to be a reprogramming of the beliefs of the Judean youths. Even their names were changed (v. 7). Nebuchadnezzar expects Daniel and his three friends to conform to the Babylonian culture—a culture that is hostile to the beliefs and convictions of Daniel and his three friends.

In many ways, our culture is hostile to Christian beliefs and convictions. The apostle Peter described his readers as “exiles” (1 Peter 2:11). “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20). Jesus said that his followers are in the world but not of the world (“They are not of the world,” John 17:16). And the apostle Paul wrote that we are not to be “conformed to this world” (Rom. 12:2). The book of Daniel “teaches us that the struggle is not to make the culture Christian, but how a Christian can live in a hostile culture.” [2]

Resolving to Glorify God

Verse 8 says, “But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank.” Why did Daniel resolve to not eat the king’s food and drink the king’s wine? Was it because he would break the OT dietary laws if he ate the king’s food? Maybe, but the dietary laws didn’t forbid the drinking of wine. Was it because the food and wine would have been offered to idols? Maybe, but we’re not told that the vegetables Daniel ate weren’t offered to idols. Perhaps there was another reason. Maybe Daniel resolved not to eat the king’s food and wine to show that he owed his success to God, not the king.

Whatever the reason, Daniel’s decision was rooted in his desire to glorify God. Sometimes resolving to glorify makes our lives more difficult (e.g., Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace; Daniel in the lions’ den—those are uncomfortable places!). We must resolve to put God’s glory ahead of our own comfort. 

God Put Our Good Ahead of His Own Comfort

Let’s stop for a moment to think about this God whom we are called to glorify. He is a God who put our good ahead of his own comfort. Jesus—God in human flesh, the second person of the Trinity—declared, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). God—the sovereign God!—chose to endure the humiliation and suffering of the cross for us. Don’t be ashamed to be known and act as a Christian!

In the TV series The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell states, “You can tell what’s informed the society by…the tallest building in the place.” In a medieval city, the tallest building was the cathedral. In a 17th century city, the tallest building was the political palace. In a modern city, the tallest buildings are the office buildings and the condos.

The focus has shifted from God to self. When our focus is on self, we won’t put God’s glory ahead of our own comfort. But if our focus is on God—and how he put our good ahead of his own comfort—we will resolve to glorify him.


[1] Tremper Longman III, Daniel, 19. 
[2] Ibid., 61. 
[3] Verse 9 states that “God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs.” Again, we see that God is in control.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

God Is Faithful

Part 10 of A New Hope

Text: 1 Thessalonians 5:23-28

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and my your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it (vv. 23-24). 


We appreciate reliability (e.g., a reliable vehicle). It’s frustrating when something or someone is unreliable. (“He said he’d be here.”)

Our hope is based on God’s word (i.e., his promises). How can we be sure that Christ really will return one day? How can we be sure that God won’t let us down? The apostle Paul’s answer: because God is “faithful” (v. 24). He’s reliable. “God is completely trustworthy, not only ‘worthy’ of our ‘trust,’ but absolutely to be relied on to carry out what has been promised.” [1] Our hope would be uncertain if God was not faithful. 

The Faithful God

In the beginning of the book of Exodus, the Israelites are slaves in Egypt. “And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob” (Exod. 2:24). God chose Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, and God revealed to Moses that his name is Yahweh (Exod. 3:14). God said to him, “This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations” (Exod. 3:15).

The name Yahweh reminds us that God keeps his promises. After God had rescued the Israelites, Moses proclaimed to the people, “The LORD you God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations” (Deut. 7:9). God’s name is still Yahweh, and he is still a covenant-keeping God. 

Peace and Holiness

Verse 23 is a prayer. The prayer has two parts: (1) “may the God of peace sanctify you completely”; (2) “may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” [2] This is a prayer about holiness.

Notice that Paul calls God “the God of peace.” Peace (shalom) is wholeness (i.e., the absence of conflict—both inner conflict and conflict with others). God’s desire for us is that we be people of peace. Paul wrote in verse 13, “Be at peace among yourselves.” There’s a connection between peace and holiness. To be holy (i.e., obey God’s commands), we must love others. If there is a lack of peace with others, there is a lack of love. And if there is a lack of love, there is a lack of holiness. Hebrews 12:14 says, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”

Kept Blameless

What does Paul say God will do (“he will surely do it,” v. 24)? God will make sure that we (i.e., those of us who have put our faith in Christ) will stand “blameless” (v. 23) at the final judgment (“at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”).

Escaping condemnation is not the result of our own effort. It depends on the faithfulness of God. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ [i.e., his return]” (Phil. 1:6). However, striving for holiness is expected of every Christian and provides evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence within us. 

Without a Doubt

The other day my bathroom tap wouldn't turn off. The cartridge inside was broken. It was less than two years old. That's frustrating.

Unlike the people and things of this world, God is one hundred percent reliable. With God, there should never be a doubt that he will do what he has promised to do.

[1] Gordon D. Fee, The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians, 231.
[2] This prayer is similar to the one found in 3:13.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Habit of Worship

Part 9 of A New Hope

Text: 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22


All of us have good and bad habits.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18, the apostle Paul tells the Thessalonians that they must develop the habit of worship.

This Is the Will of God

Verse 18 ends with the statement “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” What is the will of God for us? “This” includes not only the exhortation [1] to “give thanks,” but also the exhortations to “rejoice” and “pray.”

Paul not only tells us what we should do, but also how often we should do it. How often are we to rejoice? “Always.” How often are we to pray? “Without ceasing.” How often are we to give thanks? “In all circumstances.” Rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks are to be habits in our lives.

Obviously it’s impossible to always being doing these things. You can’t pray while you’re sleeping! The point is that we are to develop the habit of worship.

Rejoice Always

When is it most difficult to rejoice? When life is difficult. The Thessalonians were facing adversity (“these afflictions,” 3:3). How can we rejoice when life is difficult? Paul writes in Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” We can always rejoice “in the Lord”—in who he is and what he has done, is doing, and will do.

“This is not a sugar-coated call for putting on a happy face in the midst of difficulties.” [2] “We aren’t called to bury our feelings.” [3] Paul never told the Thessalonians not to grieve (see 4:13; cf. Rom. 12:15; 1 Peter 1:6). The author of Psalm 42 admitted to feeling “cast down” (i.e., depressed). He writes, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42:5-6). What can we do if our lives are difficult? “Rejoice in hope” (Rom. 12:12).

Pray Without Ceasing

In order to develop the habit of prayer, we must believe three things. First, we must believe that prayer really works. If God loves us, he would not tell us to do something that would be a waste of time. 

Second, we must believe that when we pray, we are communicating with a loving Father. We know he loves us because he “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32). If an imperfect father “know[s] how to give good gifts to [his] children, how much more will [our] heavenly Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:11).

Third, we must believe that we need God. It’s in the good times that we most neglect prayer. We might think we’re doing fine on our own without God. Prayer demonstrates our dependence on our heavenly Father.

Give Thanks in All Circumstances

Should we give thanks for all circumstances? We should be thankful in all circumstances, knowing that God can do something good in every circumstance (see Rom. 8:28). The ultimate example of this is the cross.

Developing the Habit of Worship

Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” Developing the habit of worship usually doesn’t happen overnight.

How can we develop the habit of worship? We must learn to focus on God and his salvation. What are some things you can do to make sure you think about God and his salvation every day?


[1] To “exhort” means to urge someone to do something.
[2] Gordon D. Fee, The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians, 214-215.
[3] Gary S. Shogren, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 224.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Like a Thief in the Night

Part 8 of A New Hope

Text: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night (v. 2). 

 An Unexpected Thief

One day when I was about ten years old, my grandparents traveled from Vermont to New Brunswick to visit us. They were going to arrive late at night, so my dad decided to leave the garage door open for them. The next day I discovered that my bike was gone. Apparently a thief in the night and walked through the open garage door and stolen my bike.

In order for a thief to be successful at robbing a house, his arrival has to be unexpected. Jesus declared that when he returns to earth, he will come like a thief in the night:
“Stay awake, for you do not now on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matt. 24:42-44; cf. 2 Peter 3:10; Rev. 16:15). 
When Jesus returns, most of the world will not be expecting him. He will come “like a thief in the night” (v. 2).

Could Today Be the Day? 

The apostle Paul writes, “But concerning that day and hour [i.e., the day and hour when Jesus will return] no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (v. 1). Jesus himself said, “Concerning that day or that hour, no one knows” (Mark 13:32). None of us knows when Jesus will return. If someone gives a date for the return of Jesus, ignore that person. He or she doesn’t know when it will happen.

The apostle Peter also writes that the coming of Jesus will be “like a thief in the night” (2 Peter 3:10). He states that “scoffers will come in the last days scoffing.” They will ask, “Where is the promise of his coming?” (2 Peter 3:3-4). The promise was given 2,000 years ago, but Peter goes on to say, “Do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8). So why has Jesus returned yet? Here’s Peter’s answer: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Could Jesus return today? Maybe. It’s possible. No one knows whether Jesus will return today, tomorrow, or a thousand years from now. But we should live each day thinking that today could be the day of the Lord’s return. 

The Day of the Lord

What is “the day of the Lord” (v. 2)? The day of the Lord is “that eschatological event when the Lord comes to judge the inhabitants of the earth and to pour out his wrath because of sin.” [1] “Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming; it is near” (Joel 2:1).

For those not expecting the return of Jesus, the day of the Lord will “come like a thief in the night” (v. 2). It will be an unwelcome surprise. “While people are saying, ‘There is peace and safety,’ [2] then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape” (v. 3).

For the Christian, the day of the Lord is not a day to be feared. “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him” (vv. 9-10). For the Christians, the day of the Lord is a day of salvation, not a day of judgment. Paul ends this section by writing, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (v. 11).

Battling Complacency

Paul writes, “But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober” (vv. 4-6). To “sleep” is to live without expecting the Lord’s return.

One of the Christian’s greatest enemies is complacency. If you examine Paul’s letters, you’ll discover that he never promotes complacent Christianity. He always encourages his readers to keep on progressing, to keep on striving to become more like Jesus.

Paul goes on to day, “But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation” (v. 8). This is an allusion to Isaiah 59:17: “He put on righteousness as a breastplate and a helmet of salvation on his head.” The image is one of Jesus coming as a warrior.

As we wait for the Lord’s return, we are to put on “the breastplate of faith and love and “a helmet the hope of salvation.” Faith, love, and hope are the three great Christian virtues: “remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3)

Our first concern should not be when Jesus will return but how we should live until he returns. If we lived each day as though it could be the day of the Lord’s return, we would overcome our complacency. 


[1] G. L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 232.
[2] Green comments, “With the establishment of the pax Romana under Augustus, peace and safety became the byword in the city as throughout the empire, and so the apocalyptic teaching of the apostles would have sounded decidedly strange” (233).

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Coming of the Lord

Part 7 of A New Hope

Text: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13). 

Love Others...Even If They Hold a Different View on Eschatology  

The return of Jesus is mentioned in every chapter of 1 Thessalonians (1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:13-18; 5:1-11, 23). The promise of the Lord’s return is what gives us hope.

In an article entitled “13 End Times Errors to Avoid,” one of the thirteen is “Making a particular view of eschatology a test of orthodoxy.” (Earlier in this series, I shared one of the other thirteen errors to avoid: “Not preaching the return of Jesus for fear of controversy.”) When one Baptist theologian accused H. A. Ironside and others of being heretics for holding the pretribulational view, Ironside responded with these words:
It passes our comprehension how any man, or set of men, with an atom of genuine love for the Lord and His people, can deliberately brand as heretics fellow-believers whose lives are generally fragrant with Christian graces, who stand unflinchingly for the inspiration of the entire Bible, simply because they hold different views on prophecy. [1]
The command to love others is disobeyed when we make a particular view of eschatology a test of orthodoxy.

My View on the Coming of the Lord 

You might be wondering what my view is on “the coming of the Lord” (v. 15). My view is the posttribulational view (i.e., there is no rapture of the church before the tribulation period).

Would God really allow the church to go through this time of great tribulation? Here’s how Jesus describes what the world will be like before his second coming: “Then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be” (Matt. 24:21). I searched for the word “tribulation” in the NT and it usually refers to the persecution of Christians. There is no biblical support for the idea that Christians are promised to avoid tribulation. Actually, the opposite is found in Scripture. Jesus said to his disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). The Thessalonians were experiencing “afflictions,” and Paul says that they were “destined for this” (4:3; cf. 1:6). [2]

But what about the promise of 1 Thessalonians 1:10: “wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (cf. 2:16). God’s wrath and tribulation are not the same thing. The church will suffer man’s wrath but not God’s wrath (like how the Israelites were afflicted by the Egyptians but were spared from the ten plagues). The apostle Peter wrote, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s suffering, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed [i.e., when Jesus returns]” (1 Peter 4:12-13). 

The Dead in Christ

Paul writes, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep [i.e., dead]” (v. 13). About what were the Thessalonians “uninformed”? We can’t be sure, but it had something to do with those whom Paul describes as “the dead in Christ” (v. 16). Perhaps one or more of the Thessalonian believers had died since Paul’s visit, and the church was concerned that these deceased Christians were not going to be fully experience the Lord’s coming. Paul comforts them by assuring them that “to be alive or dead is of no consequence at all regarding the coming of Christ.” [3]

Paul wants to inform the Thessalonians about the fate of the dead in Christ so “that [they] may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (v. 13). Our hope is the Lord’s return. It’s a hope that’s based on the resurrection of Jesus: “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (v. 14). It’s called “our blessed hope” in Titus 2:13: “Waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” It’s our “one hope” (Eph. 4:4). It should unite us!

When a Christian dies, we don’t need to grieve without hope. Whether we are alive or dead on the day of the Lord’s coming, we will either “rise first” (v. 16) (“we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep,” v. 15) or “caught up” (v. 17). We will all “meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (v. 17)

Encourage One Another

Paul concludes this passage with these words: “Therefore encourage one another with these words” (v. 18). One of the reasons why we gather together as a church is to encourage one another. We are not to be “neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24-25).

We shouldn’t allow our views on the timing of the Lord’s coming to divide us. Instead, we should talk about our hope and encourage one another!


[1] This quote is found in George E. Ladd’s The Blessed Hope (59).
[2] The Greek word translated “afflictions” (thlipsis) is the same word translated “tribulation” in Matthew 24:21.
[3] Gordon D. Fee, The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians, 175.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Our Sanctification

Part 6 of A New Hope

Text: 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

For this is the will of God, your sanctification, that you abstain from sexual immorality (v. 3). 

A Culture Resistant to Holiness 

In 1 Thessalonians 4, the apostle Paul addresses the sin of sexual immorality. Many Christians probably think that living a holy life (i.e., living the way God wants us to live) in our culture is more difficult than it was for Paul in his culture. Not true!

Paul’s world was dominated by the Greek culture. And the attitude of the Greeks toward sex can be summed up in a statement made by Greek statesman and orator Demosthenes: “Mistresses we keep for the sake of pleasure, concubines for the daily care of our persons, but wives to bear us legitimate children and to be faithful guardians of our households.” What was immoral according to God’s word was normal according to the culture.

Living a holy life has never been easy!

Being Different

Paul had received a good report from Timothy concerning the Thessalonians (“just as you are doing,” v. 1), but it appears that some in the church were disregarding Paul’s teaching on sexual ethics (“whoever disregards this,” v. 8). So Paul writes, “This is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality” (v. 3).

Our “sanctification” is our holiness (cf. vv. 4, 7). To be holy, we must live as God commands us to live, which results in us being different [1] from the world. [2] To the nation of Israel, God commanded, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (Lev. 19:2). This command is repeated to us, the church: “As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15-16). [3]

Being holy isn’t limited to abstaining from sexual sin. “Sexual immorality” is specifically mentioned by Paul because that sin was a problem in the church at Thessalonica. The Greek word (porneia) that has been translated “sexual immorality” refers to any sexual act outside of heterosexual marriage.

What Paul Says About Sanctification

In verses 3-8, Paul gives three facts about sanctification.

1. Our sanctification is the will of God. 

“This is the will of God, your sanctification” (v. 3). Paul goes on to say that it’s God will that “each one of you know how to control his own body [4] in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God [i.e., be different]” (v. 4). “God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (v. 7).

2. Our sanctification is a continual process. [5]

Sanctification isn’t a one-time thing. Even though Paul had received a good report about the Thessalonians, Paul didn’t want them to become complacent (“that you do so more and more,” v. 1; cf. v. 10). 

3. Our sanctification requires Spirit-empowered self-control. 

God told the prophet Ezekiel, “I will put my Spirit within you” (Ezek. 37:14). The NT calls the Spirit the Holy Spirit. If we have the Spirit within us, we have the desire to be holy. However, that doesn’t mean that holiness is easy for us; it’s a struggle.

Not Disregarding God's Will

To those who were disregarding Paul’s teaching about sexual ethics, he warns, “Whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God” (v. 8). It’s one thing to struggle to obey God’s commands; it’s another thing to disregard God’s commands. 

Will we refuse to do the will of the God who is the all-powerful creator? Will we refuse to do the will of the God who chose to die for us?


[1] To be “sanctified” means to be “set apart.” 

[2] However, we are not to be different from the world in every way. Paul tells the Thessalonians not to take advantage of the charity of wealthy believers, “so that [they] may walk properly before outsiders” (v. 12). 
[3] In the previous verse, Peter writes, “Do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance” (1 Peter 1:14).
[4] A literal translation of the Greek is “how to possess his own vessel.” The three most popular interpretations of “vessel” (skeuos) are (1) a wife, (2) one’s body, and (3) the male sex organ (cf. 1 Sam. 21:5-6). 

[5] Gene L. Green writes that “sanctification” (hagiasmos) means “the process of sanctification” (The Letters to the Thessalonians, 190).

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Separated but Not Forgotten

Part 4 of A New Hope

Text: 1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:5

We were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart (1 Thess. 2:17).

The Pain of Separation 

John Fawcett (1739-1817) was born into a poor family in Yorkshire, England, and was orphaned at age 12. To survive, he accepted a lengthy apprenticeship to a tailor. Then, while still in his teens, he heard the great George Whitfield preach and became a Christian.

While serving his apprenticeship, Fawcett became active in a Baptist church and was often asked to speak. Then at age 25 (and newly married) he was invited to serve as pastor of a small church. The poor people of that little church were able to pay very little, and a lot of Fawcett’s pay came as potatoes and other produce. Once he and his wife Mary began having children, they found it difficult to survive.

Then Fawcett learned that the pastor of a large Baptist church in London was retiring, and he let the church know that he would be interested in serving them. They called him to be their pastor at a much larger salary, so John and Mary packed their belongings and prepared to move.

But then Mary told John that she didn’t think that she could leave the people whom they had both learned to love—and John told her felt the same way—so the two of them unpacked the wagon and let the London church know that they wouldn’t be coming. Fawcett served that little church for the rest of his life—54 years in all. [1]

Sometimes we don’t or can’t remain where we are, and we leave behind people we love. This is what the apostle Paul often had to do as he traveled from place to place planting churches. To the church in Thessalonica he wrote, “We were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart (1 Thess. 2:17). In other words, Paul had been separated from the Thessalonians, but he had not forgotten them.


Paul and his coworkers had been “torn away” from the Thessalonians (2:17). [2] The Greek word for “torn away” (aporphanisthentes) means “to be orphaned.” [3] “Unlike the modern term, the word ‘orphan’ could refer to the child who had lost his or her parents or the parents who were bereft of their child, with the pain of this loss at the forefront.” [4]

Paul had been “torn away” from the Thessalonians “in person not in heart” (2:17). He wanted to see them again (“we endeavored the more eagerly with great desire to see you face to face,” 2:17). Paul had tried several times (“again and again”) to return to Thessalonica, “but Satan hindered [them]” (2:18).

Paul's Glory and Joy

Paul tells the Thessalonians that they are his “glory and joy” (2:20). Paul was looking forward to the day of the Lord’s return when he would see the Thessalonians again (“our hope,” 2:19). On that day, the Thessalonians would be his “joy” and “crown of boasting” (2:19).

In the Macedonian games, the winning athletes were crowned with a wreath of oak leaves. The “crown” was “a recognition not only of their victory but also of their efforts and labor.” [5] For Paul, seeing the Thessalonians in heaven would show him that his labour had not been in vain (3:5). The “boasting” would not be a boasting about what he himself had done but a boasting about what God had done through him.

Sadness and Joy

This passage reminds us of two truths. First, there is sadness when circumstances cause us to be separated from one another. We can be separated by geography or by death. When a Christian we love dies, we grieve, but we shouldn’t “grieve as others do who have no hope” (4:13).

Second, there will be joy when we meet again at the coming of the Lord Jesus. We long to see Jesus when he returns, but it’s not wrong to desire to see Christians who have died. It will be a day of many joyful reunions. 

Blest Be the Tie That Binds

I began with a story from the life of John Fawcett. Fawcett was also a hymn writer. His most famous hymn might have been inspired by his experience of almost leaving his little church.

Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.

When we asunder part,
It gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart,
And hope to meet again.


[1] Adapted from a hymn story on lectionary.org.
[2] See Acts 17:10.
[3] Paul has already described himself as a “nursing mother” (2:7) and a caring father (2:11) to the Thessalonians.
[4] Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 150.
[5] Ibid., 154.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Good News

Part 3 of A New Hope

Text: 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16

And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers (v. 13). 

Good News!

Usually the media focuses on bad news. But sometimes there is news so good that it can’t be ignored. I’ll give you a date in history and you tell me what was on the covers of newspapers on the following day (answers at bottom).

May 7, 1945?
July 20, 1969?
November 9, 1989?
February 28, 2010?

The Greek word for “gospel” (euangelion) means “good news.” The gospel of Jesus Christ is the best good news. In 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16, Paul thanked God for the Thessalonians’ acceptance of the gospel. [1]

What Is the Gospel?

In this passage, “the word of God” refers specifically to the gospel. What is the gospel? What is the good news? The gospel could be summed up with three words: problem, solution, and response.

  • The problem was sin. Because God is a holy God, he hates our sin. Because he is a just God, he must punish sin. Unless we understand the problem of our sin, we will not be able to appreciate the gospel. (Unless you know how bad WWII was, you don’t really appreciate how good the news was that it had ended.) 
  • The solution was Christ. We needed to saved. Christ our Savior took all of our sin—past, present, and future—and died in our place. He now offers us his perfect righteousness. “For our sake [God] made [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). 
  • The response is faith. The gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who be-lieves” (Rom. 1:16). 

The Gospel in Thessalonica 

The church in Thessalonica began as a result of Paul’s preaching of the gospel (1:4) during his second missionary journey (Acts 17:1-9). The Thessalonians had “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1:9). Through faith in Jesus, they possessed a new hope—a hope that would be fulfilled at the second coming of Jesus.

In this passage, Paul gives four truths about the reception of the gospel.

1. The gospel must be heard. 

The Thessalonians had heard the gospel because Paul preached it to them: “You heard [the word of God] from us” (v. 13). It is essential that people hear the gospel.
Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? (Rom. 10:13-14). 
To make the gospel heard is the task of every Christian. It’s not just the task of a great missionary and preacher like Paul.

2. The gospel must be accepted. 

Paul writes, “You accepted [the word of God] not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God” (v. 13; cf. 1:5). The gospel is not a piece of advice from Dr. Phil. It’s “the word of God”!

3. The gospel works in hearts. 

Paul says that the word of God (i.e., the gospel) “is at work in you believers” (v. 13; cf. Heb. 4:12). The gospel “shouldn’t be just a ticket to heaven but the core of our entire lives.” [2] The gospel had changed the lives of the Thessalonians (1:3). We don’t begin with the gospel and then move on to other things. The good news of Christ’s death and resurrection is for every moment of every day.

4. The gospel will be opposed. 

There was opposition to the gospel in Thessalonica (v. 14). Paul had also experienced opposition to his preaching of the gospel (vv. 15-16). [3] What would have happened if people of the past had stopped sharing the gospel due to the fear of opposition (e.g., persecution)?

The Gospel Has Bad News and Good News

The gospel has both bad news and good news. There’s bad news about our sin. But there’s good news about God’s love.

The gospel says to us, “You are more sinful and flawed than you ever dared believe, but you are more loved and accepted in Jesus than you ever dared hope.” [4]

This is the good news that must be heard, must be accepted, works in us, and will be opposed.

May 7, 1945? Germany surrenders in WWII!
July 20, 1969? First man on the moon!
November 9, 1989? The Berlin wall falls!
February 28, 2010? The Canadian men’s hockey team wins the 2010 Olympic gold medal!


[1] This section is the second thanksgiving of the letter (cf. 1:2-10).
[2] J. D. Greear, Gospel, 22.
[3] We should not interpret Paul’s words in vv. 15-16 as anti-Semetic. Paul had a deep love and concern for his fellow Jews (Rom. 9:1-3).
[4] This statement is often made my Tim Keller: https://twitter.com/timkellernyc/status/395296784568033280.