Tuesday, June 28, 2016

A Life Pleasing to God

Part 2 of A New Hope

Text: 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12




For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts (vv. 2:3-4).


Don't Miss the Forest for the Trees

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). This is the reason why I’ve called this series on 1 Thessalonians “A New Hope.”

Many Christians have strong views on eschatology (i.e., the doctrine of future events). Our church's statement of faith says, “We believe in the personal, bodily and glorious return of the Lord Jesus Christ.” That statement allows for a variety of views on the return of Jesus (e.g., when it will happen in relation to other future events).

When it comes to the return of Jesus, we must not miss the forest for the trees. It’s about Jesus returning for his people; it’s not about arguing over who has the best timeline of future events. The great preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said, “The great doctrine of the second advent has in a sense fallen into disrepute because of…this tendency on the part of some to be more interested in the how and the when of the second coming rather than in the fact of the second coming.” [1]

Instead of dividing us, the hope of Jesus’ return should unite us. It’s our “one hope” (Eph. 4:4).


Believers Who Needed Hope

First Thessalonians is a letter written by the apostle Paul (1:1) around A.D. 49 or 50 to Christians living 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).

When Paul wrote this letter, the Thessalonians were experiencing persecution. [2] Paul mentions that he also knows what it’s like to face persecution. Before arriving in Thessalonica, he had “suffered” and had been “shamefully treated” in Philippi (Acts 16:19-39). Then in Thessalonica, he encountered “conflict” (v. 2).

When we face adversity, we need hope. In 1:3, Paul says that the Thessalonians have “steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” The NIV says, “endurance inspired by hope.” Our hope in Jesus is what us endurance during times of adversity.


Sometimes We Shouldn't Avoid Controversy

I read an article this week entitled “13 End Times Errors to Avoid.” Number two on the list was “not preaching the return of Jesus for fear of controversy.” [3] If a preacher gives in to that fear, he is more concerned with pleasing people than pleasing God.

Though the return of Jesus is a doctrine that often causes controversy, it is too important to avoid. 

The return of Jesus is our hope! How can we avoid it? It’s sort of like a high school not talking about graduation.


Please God

There aren’t many people who don’t really care about what other people think about them. (Why do you do the things you do?) Sometimes we can do please both God and people at the same time. Sometimes we can’t.

Paul writes that whenever he preaches the gospel, he “[speaks], not to please man, but to please God” (v. 4). Paul wasn’t saying that he tried to displease people. “I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved” (1 Cor. 10:33; cf. 9:19-23).

But sometimes it was necessary for Paul to displease some people in order to please God. “Am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10).

Are there areas of our lives in which we’re guilty of people pleasing? How would our lives be different if we thought more about pleasing God?

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[1] Source unknown.
[2] Some of the Thessalonian believers might have been thinking or even complaining, “Why did Paul leave us so quickly?” Paul addresses this question in chapters 2 and 3.
[3] https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/13-end-times-errors-to-avoid

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Endurance of Hope

Part 1 of A New Hope

Text: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10




Remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 1:3). 


A Source of Hope

First Thessalonians was written to people who were facing adversity (specifically persecution). We all need a source of hope, especially during times of adversity.


Paul's First Letter to the Thessalonians

First Thessalonians is a letter written by the apostle Paul (1:1) [1] to Christians living in Thessalonica. [2] It was probably written around A.D. 49 or 50, possibly while Paul was in Corinth (Acts 18:1-17). [3]

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). They possessed a new hope—a hope that would be fulfilled at the second coming of Jesus. The second coming is mentioned in every chapter of 1 Thessalonians (1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:13-18; 5:1-11, 23).


Faith, Love, Hope 

The Thessalonians possessed “the trinity of classic Christian virtues”[4]: faith, love, and hope. [5] Paul writes, “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioned you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:2-3; cf. 5:8).[6] Faith, love, and hope “are not some invisible qualities that bear no relationship to the real world. They are vibrant realities that express themselves visibly.” [7]

When Paul uses the word “hope,” he’s talking about something that’s an “absolute certainty,” [8] not something that’s based on wishful thinking. Our hope is “in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3). It will be fulfilled when Jesus returns. This hope gives us “steadfastness” (i.e., endurance). When we face adversity, there’s the temptation to give up.

Our hope in Jesus gives us endurance during times of adversity. 

Like the Thessalonians, we “wait for [God’s] Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivered us from the wrath to come” (1:10). “Wrath” refers to God’s anger over humanity’s sin. Jesus not only a Saviour; he’s also a Judge. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36). But God’s love is seen in what he did to remove his wrath from us: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

The Thessalonians were confused about some details concerning the second coming (4:13-18; 5:1-11), but their hope was solid. Today, Christians don't all share the same views on the second coming (e.g., its timing), but we all believe Jesus is returning. Let's not make this into a divisive doctrine. We have one hope.


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[1] Silvanus and Timothy are also mentions as senders of the letter. They had been coworkers with Paul during his second missionary journey when the Thessalonian church was planted.
[2] Thessalonica was located in Macedonia. When 1 Thessalonians was written, the city had a population of over 100,000 people.
[3] Gordon D. Fee, The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians (NICNT), 5.
[4] Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians (PNTC), 89.
[5] These three virtues are found together elsewhere in the NT (Rom. 5:1-5; 1 Cor. 13:13; Gal. 5:5-6; Col. 1:4-5; 1 Peter 1:21-22; Heb. 10:22-24).
[6] The NIV reads, “We remember…your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
[7] Gary S. Shogren, 1 & 2 Thessalonians (ZECNT), 59.
[8] Fee, 26.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

God Keeps His Promises

Part 5 of Turning the Tables

Text: Esther 8:1-17; 9:1-2, 20-22




On the very day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain the mastery over them, the reverse occurred (Esth. 9:1). 


But You Promised! 

We’ve all experienced the disappointment of someone breaking a promise they had made to us. Thankfully, God doesn’t break his promises.

In the book of Esther, Haman plots to destroy the Jews. But God had promised their patriarch Abraham that his descendants would not be destroyed. The book of Esther tells us how God kept that promise. [1]


People Break Their Promises, But God Doesn't  

Why do people break their promises? Sometimes people don’t intend to keep their promises. (They’re dishonest.) Sometimes people make promises they can’t keep. (“But, Dad, you promised!”) Sometimes people forget about their promises. (“I’ll come over sometime and help you with that.”) 

But God is different. When God makes a promise, he’ll keep it.

The God who doesn’t lie, doesn’t fail, and doesn’t forget will keep his promises. 

Many years before the story of Esther took place, God promised an elderly man named Abraham that he and his barren wife Sarah would have a son—an outrageous promise! God also promised that Abraham’s descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky (Gen. 15:5) and that God would bless them and that they would be a blessing to the nations (Gen. 12:2-3). God wasn’t lying not lie when he gave Abraham those promises. And he wouldn’t fail or forget to keep those promises. Abraham was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Rom. 4:21; cf. Gen. 15:6).


The Tables Were Turned

In the book of Esther, God kept his promises to Abraham’s descendants through his providence. God plays chess while his enemies play checkers.

God turned the tables for Esther and her people. “On the very day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain the mastery over them, the reverse occurred” (Esth. 9:1). “Their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration” (Esth. 9:22, NIV).

What if the Jews had been destroyed by Haman? If the Jews had been destroyed, Jesus would not have been born. And if Jesus had not been born, there would be no salvation. [2]

Jesus came into this world to turn the tables for us. Through faith in him, we can go from being condemned to being saved. Jesus declared, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).


Too Good to Be True?

Do you ever doubt the promises of God? (“Are these promises too good to be true?”)

There’s one more reason why God will keep the promises he has made to us: he loves us—with a love that seems too good to be true. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). If God has already given us his Son, he’ll also give us all the things he has promised us.


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[1] Karen Jobes writes, “The major theological point of Esther is that throughout history God fulfills his covenant promises through his providence” (Esther, 38).
[2] When God promised to bless the nations through the descendants of Abraham, he was thinking of Abraham’s ultimate descendant: Jesus (Gal. 3:16).