Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Real Christianity

Part 11 of A New Hope

Text: 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4




We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing (v. 3). 


Is This All There Is?

Was there ever a time when you said to yourself, “Is this all there is to life?” The Bible’s answer is “No, this is not all there is to life.” Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, there is hope for a better future—a future in which no one will say, “Is this all there is to life?” [1]


Paul's Second Letter to the Thessalonians

Second Thessalonians is a letter that written by the apostle Paul (2 Thess. 1:1) [2] to Christians living in Thessalonica. [3] It was probably written between A.D. 49 and 51 while Paul was in Corinth (Acts 18:1-17), [4] shortly after First Thessalonians was written.[5] Second Thessalonians has the same theme as First Thessalonians: the second coming (1:7, 10; 2:1, 8). [6]

The church in Thessalonica began as a result of Paul’s preaching of the gospel (1 Thess. 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 Thess. 1:9). They possessed a new hope—a hope that would be fulfilled at the second coming of Jesus.


What Is Real Christianity?

What is real Christianity? How are Christians supposed to live? There are lots of people who call themselves Christians but don’t act differently than anyone else.

The Christian life begins when we accept the gospel. When we put our trust in Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes to live within us. And he gives us a new heart—a heart that desires to please God. And God is pleased when we live out real Christianity.

In verse 3, Paul points out two qualities of the Thessalonians that show that they are living out real Christianity. First, they have a growing faith: “your faith is growing abundantly.” Second, they have a growing love: “the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.” Real Christianity is having a growing faith in God and a growing love for others. This is not how we become Christians; this is how we live as Christians. We are to have the kind of faith and love that affects how we live.


A Growing Faith and Love

How did Paul know that the faith of the Thessalonians was growing? Faith in God affects more than just our thoughts (which can’t be observed). It also affects our actions. “By grace [we] have been saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8). Our salvation is “not a result of works” (v. 9). But we have also been saved “for good works” (v. 10). “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14). “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).

Have you ever thought, “It would be a lot easier to live as a Christian if I didn’t have to interact with anyone.” But Christianity is not meant to be lived in isolation. The love that Paul refers to here is a love for other Christians (“for one another”). Notice the phrase “our Father” in verse 2. God is not only my Father; he is our Father (cf. Matt. 6:9, “Our Father in heaven”). In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul mentioned that he gave thanks to God for their “work of faith and labor of love” (1:3). We are to have a faith that works and a love that acts.  


It's the Gospel, Stupid!

It’s important to know that the Thessalonians were facing persecution for being followers of Christ: “Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring” (v. 4). It’s more difficult to have faith and love when we’re going through a difficult time. How did the Thessalonians do it?

During the 1992 U.S. Presidential Election, Bill Clinton faced a difficult challenge. According to Wikipedia, “In March 1991, days after the ground invasion of Iraq, 90% of polled Americans approved of President Bush’s job performance.” So how did Clinton end up defeating Bush? A recession hit the U.S., which led to Americans identifying the economy as their nation’s biggest problem. Clinton’s lead strategist James Carville coined the phrase “It’s the economy, stupid!” to remind Clinton to focus on economic issues. He did, and the rest is history.

I won’t use the word “stupid,” but for us, it’s the gospel. In other words, we must continually focus our minds on the gospel. If we do, it’s more likely that we will have faith in God and love for others. The apostle John writes, “By this we know love, that [Christ] laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16). Our Christianity has to be more than just talk. “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (vv. 17-18).

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[1] In the apostle John’s vision of the new heaven and earth, he is told, “The former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). The “former things” include “crying,” “pain,” and “death.” Then God announces, “Behold, I am making all things new” (v. 5).
[2] Silvanus and Timothy are also mentioned as senders of the letter. They had been coworkers with Paul during his second missionary journey when the Thessalonian church was planted.
[3] Thessalonica was located in Macedonia. When 1 Thessalonians was written, the city had a population of over 100,000 people.
[4] Gordon D. Fee, The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians (NICNT), 5.
[5] The previous letter (“our letter”) mentioned in 2:15 could be First Thessalonians.
[6] The second coming is mentioned in every chapter of 1 Thessalonians (1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:13-18; 5:1-11, 23).
[7] The faith and love of the Thessalonians is praiseworthy (“we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God,” v. 4). But Paul thanks God for their faith and love (“We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right,” v. 3) because it was God who was ultimately responsible for their growing faith and love.