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.


Orphaned 

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.


Answers:
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.