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). 


Reliability

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




Habits 

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.