Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Evangelism ... Is It Up to Us?

Part 15 of A New Hope

Text: 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5




Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you (v. 1). 


Is It Really Necessary? 

Some people argue that making their bed is an unnecessary task. (“I’m going to mess it up again tonight anyway.”) An argument in favour of making your bed: Studies suggest that those who regularly make their bed are happier and more productive. An argument in favour of leaving your bed unmade: Leaving a bed unmade allows dust mites to die off. So do you want to be happier and more productive or not sleep with dust mites?

Earlier in the apostle Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, he wrote, “God chose you … to be saved” (2:13). Now he writes, “Pray for us, that the word of the Lord [i.e., the gospel] may speed ahead and be honored” (v. 1). If God has already chosen who will be saved, is it really necessary for us to evangelize (i.e., share the gospel with others)?


Go, Gospel!

In verse 1, Paul asks the Thessalonians to pray for his ministry (“Finally, brothers, pray for us”)—specifically, that the gospel (“the word of the Lord”) would (1) “speed ahead” (i.e., be unhindered) and (2) “be honored” (i.e., be accepted). In this prayer request, Paul uses the imagery of a runner in the ancient games. (The runner would “speed ahead,” and, if he won the race, he would “be honored.”)

Sometimes the gospel is accepted (“as happened among you,” v. 1b; see Acts 17:1-4), but other times it isn’t (“and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith,” v. 2; see Acts 17:5-9). So Paul wants the Thessalonians to pray for more occasions of acceptance of the gospel and fewer occasions of hostility to the gospel.


Incompatible Doctrines?

The Bible presents two doctrines that appear to be incompatible: divine sovereignty and human responsibility.

  • “[God] chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). • “For 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). 
  • “As many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). The people were “appointed to eternal life” (divine sovereignty), but they also “believed” (human responsibility). 
  • Jesus declared, “No one can come to me unless the Father who send me draws him” (John 6:44). But earlier he said, “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). 

How should we handle the apparent incompatibility between divine sovereignty and human responsibility? J. I. Packer, in his book Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God, offers the following counsel:
Accept it for what it is, and learn to live with it. Refuse to regard the apparent inconsistency as real; put does the semblance of contradiction to the deficiency of your own understanding; think of the two principles as, not rival alternatives, but, in some way that at present you do not grasp, complementary to each other. Be careful, therefore, not to set them at loggerheads, nor to make deductions from either that would cut across the other… (p. 21).
Paul obviously didn’t believe that divine sovereignty and human responsibility are incompatible. If he did, he wouldn’t have traveled from city to city to preach the gospel and he wouldn’t have asked for prayer that people would accept the gospel. The great preacher Charles Spurgeon was once asked if it’s possible to reconcile divine sovereignty and human responsibility. He replied, “You don’t reconcile friends.”


Avoiding Extreme Views

When it comes to evangelism, we must avoid two extreme views. First, we must not think, “I have to do nothing.” This view puts all the emphasis on divine sovereignty and waters down human responsibility. Second, we must not think, “I have to do everything.” This view puts all the emphasis on human responsibility and waters down divine sovereignty.

From Paul’s preaching and prayer request, we can find two principles for evangelism.

1. We must evangelize, believing that any person can be saved (i.e., the gospel invitation is open to all). 

The invitation to salvation is genuine: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:12). And evangelism is necessary: “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 never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching [i.e., sharing the gospel]” (Rom. 10:13).

2. We must pray for people to be saved, believing that God is sovereign. 

The person who prays for someone to be saved reveals that he or she believes in the sovereignty of God. Can prayer change the mind of God? No, but God can choose to use our prayers to accomplish his sovereign plan.


Is It Up to Us?

So is evangelism up to us? It is and it isn’t. We are commanded by God to share the gospel, but only God can save people.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Standing Firm in Unstable Times

Part 14 of A New Hope

Text: 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17




So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter (v. 15). 


Standing Firm 

When my family and I are in Fredericton, NB (my hometown), one of the places we sometimes go is Wilmot Park. At the park there's a balance beam--one that moves up and down depending on where you step. That balance beam—with its ups and downs—could be a good analogy for life—with its ups and downs. If you’re going to remain on the balance beam, you need to stand firm.

The Christians in Thessalonica also lived in unstable times. They were facing persecution, some of them had been deceived by false teaching (vv. 1-3). [1] So the apostle Paul exhorts them to “stand firm” (v. 15). There’s always the temptation to give up (“jump off”) during unstable times. How can we stand firm during unstable times?


Avoiding End Times Errors

When it comes to biblical prophecy, there are many errors we need to avoid. [2] As we’ve gone through First and Second Thessalonians, I’ve addressed a few of these errors: (1) avoiding the topic of biblical prophecy for fear of controversy; (2) making a particular view of biblical prophecy a test of orthodoxy; (3) not being Christ-centered. [3]

Here’s another end times error to avoid: disconnecting what the Bible says about the future with how we are to live in the present. Our focus needs to be less on identifying “signs of the end” and more on standing firm until the end. 


Thanks God!

One of the ways we can gain inner strength during unstable times is by remembering the blessings we have from God. Paul thanks God for two things that he had done for the Thessalonian believers (“But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord [i.e., Jesus], because…,” v. 13). We also should thank God that he has done these two things for us: “God chose you” (v. 12), and “[God] called you” (v. 14).

First, God has chosen us to be saved. “God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through the sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (v. 13; cf. 1 Thess. 1:4). [4] God “chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). God loved us before the world began (“beloved by the Lord,” v. 13). [5]

Second, God has called us to share Christ’s glory. “[God] called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 14). Two weeks ago, I--as a New England Patriots fan--shared in the team's glorious Super Bowl victory. That victory was uncertain (especially when they were losing 28-3 in the second half). But if we believe that God is faithful to his word, then we also believe that in the end, Jesus will win. Every believer will experience that glorious victory.


Different Destinies

There’s a contrast between the destiny of those who believe the lies of “the lawless one” (vv. 9-12) and the destiny of those who believe the truth of the gospel. (Notice the word “But” in verse 13.) They will be “condemned” (v. 12), while we will be saved.

Why did God choose us to be saved and not them? Is that fair? We can’t fully understand how divine election works. What we do see in Scripture is that people are responsible for believing the truth. Those who will not be saved are those who “refused to love the truth” (v. 10). Those who will be saved are those believed in the truth (“belief in the truth,” v. 13).


Hold On!

Paul writes, “So then, brothers [and sisters], stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter” (v. 15). What Paul taught them (i.e., the gospel) gives us “eternal comfort and good hope” (v. 16). Having comfort and hope helps us to live as we should (“establish them in every good work and word,” v. 17).

Thinking again about that balance beam, it would be easier to stand firm on it if you had something to hold onto. To stand firm, we must hold onto the truth. We must continually recall the gospel of God’s grace (“through grace,” v. 16).

____________________

[1] They had been deceived about “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 1). They had been “shaken in mind” and “alarmed” (v. 2).
[2] https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/13-end-times-errors-to-avoid
[3] In the previous sermon (“In the End, Jesus Wins!”), I said that it’s said when we give more attention to a doomed Antichrist than to the victorious Christ.
[4] Some manuscripts have “chose you from the beginning.”
[5] The Father chooses, the Son (i.e., “the Lord”) loves, and the Spirit sanctifies.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

What Is Love?

A Valentine's Day Sermon

Text: 1 John 4:7-21




In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (v. 10). 


Defining "Love"

[When I preached this sermon, I looked up the word “love” with the Oxford Dictionary app on my phone and read a few of the definitions.] 

The word “love” has many different meanings. How does the Bible define “love”?


God's Love Revealed 

The apostle John writes that “love is from God” (v. 7). If we want to know what love is, we should examine how God has revealed to us his love. Verses 10 begins with the words “In this is love.” In other words, “This is real love” (NLT). John also states that “God is love” (v. 8). That’s who he is. The death of Jesus was a public demonstration of God’s love for us: “The love of God was made manifest among us” (v. 9). How was God’s love “made manifest among us”? By the cross. God loves us so much that he sent his only Son to die for us. John emphasizes the depth of God’s love by stating that “God sent his only Son into the world” (v. 9) and that God “sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (v. 10).

God’s “only Son” was sent into the world “so that we might live through him” (v. 9). [1] The Greek word for “only” is monogenes. It’s found nine times in the NT. The word is used to described the widow of Nain’s “only son” (Luke 7:12; cf. 8:42; 9:38; Heb. 11:17). Colin Kruse writes, “In each of these cases the expression is used to add poignancy to a story by highlighting that it was the person’s ‘one and only’ child who was in dire need, threatened, or had died.” [2] The word is found four times in the Gospel of John to describe Jesus, including 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (cf. John 1:14, 18; 3:18). 

The Greek word for “propitiation” is hilasmos. In the NT, it’s found only twice—both times in 1 John (2:2; 4:10). In paganism, a propitiation was a sacrifice that appeased the wrath of a god. Christian propitiation is different. God is the one who provided the propitiation: his only Son. And God did not force his Son to die for us. Jesus willingly died: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16.)


Moved by God's Love

God showed us he loves us by sending his Son to die in order to save us. Love is the giving of oneself to help others. Love is sacrificial. It gives. It helps. John writes, “Beloved, let us love one another” (v. 7). Love is not an option for a follower of Jesus. Loving others is something we know Christians should do. How can we more consistently show love to others?

We must always remember God’s love for us. John writes, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (v. 11). He also states, “We love because he first loved us” (v. 19). God’s amazing love moves us to love others. 

Love is the right motivation to obey God’s command to love others. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Fear is the wrong motivation to obey. “Whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (v. 18). “Perfection in love here involves a love for God which is based upon our sense of God’s love for us, and this love relationship is what removes our fear as we face the day of judgement.” [3] “There is no fear in love, but [God’s] perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment” (v. 18).


God Is Love and We Are to Be Like Him

Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Sometimes when people at a charity event are asked, “Why are you here today?”, they’ll often answer, “Because it makes me feel good to help others.” Our default setting is self-centeredness. We’re naturally more concerned with how other people can help us than how we can help other people. But when we act in love, we feel better. Why? Because we have been made in God’s image, and God is love. When we act like God (i.e., when we reflect his image), we feel good—because this is how we have been made to live.


Preach to Yourself About God's Love

Did you know that every Christian should be a preacher? If you’re a Christian, you should preach daily to at least one person: yourself. We must daily preach to ourselves the gospel. When it’s difficult to give of ourselves to others, we need to remind ourselves that God loved us so much that he gave his only Son to die for us.

____________________

[1] We must keep in mind that Jesus is not the Father’s Son in the same way that Connor is my son. God is triune. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are eternal. The Father didn’t somehow bring the Son into existence. We must not think that it was easier for the Father to give up his Son than it would be for us to give up our son.
[2] Colin Kruse, The Letters of John, 158-59.
[3] Ibid., 168-69.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

In the End, Jesus Wins!

Part 13 of A New Hope

Text: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12




And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming (v. 8). 


Who Will Win?

[This sermon was preached on the morning of Super Bowl Sunday.] Tonight is Super Bowl LI. The New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons will battle for football supremacy. Who will win? According to a report by Public Policy Polling, 52% of football fans think the Patriots will win, but only 27% want them to win.

Biblical prophecy is often difficult to interpret. But there’s one thing that’s absolutely clear: in the end, Jesus wins!


The Day of the Lord

For some reason, the Thessalonians had come to believe that the day of the Lord had already arrived (v. 2). The day of the Lord will take place when Jesus returns to earth (“the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him” v. 1; cf. 1 Thess. 4:13-18).

In verse 3, Paul writes that two events must occur before the day of the Lord: (1) “the rebellion” and (2) the revelation of “the man of lawlessness.” The man of lawlessness is presented in Scripture as the Antichrist (“you have heard that antichrist is coming,” 1 John 2:18) and the “beast” of Revelation 13. The Antichrist is a future world leader who will put himself in the position of God (“proclaiming himself to be God, v. 4; cf. Dan. 11:36-37).

Paul writes, “Let no one deceive you” (v. 3). The Thessalonians had been deceived. We must not believe everything we hear! We must make sure that we don’t believe any teaching that’s contrary to Scripture.


Huh?

For centuries, people have tried to identify the Antichrist. In the 1980s, some people thought that Mikhail Gorbachev was the Antichrist. The birth mark on his forehead was thought by some to be the mark of the beast (cf. Rev. 13:16-17). Other people thought that President Ronald Reagan was the Antichrist. Reagan’s full name was Ronald Wilson Reagan—six letters in each name…666 (cf. Rev. 13:18). Those two examples illustrate how wrong our speculations about biblical prophecy can be.

In this passage, there are several interpretive challenges. What does Paul means when he writes that the man of lawlessness “takes his seat in the temple of God” (v. 4)? [1] What is the identity of “he who now restrains” (v. 7)? Sometimes we need to have the humility of Augustine, who wrote, “I frankly confess I do not know what [Paul] means.” [2]

What we do know is that the Antichrist will be no match for Jesus: “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming” (v. 8). The lawless one is called “the son of destruction” (v.3), which means that he is “doomed to destruction” (NIV).


Now Is the Time to Believe the Truth

The day of the Lord will be a day of judgment (“the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night,” 1 Thess. 5:2). Those who will face judgment will be those who “refused to love the truth” (v. 10). [3] “Our fate then will be determined by how we respond to the truth of the gospel now.” [4]

Is it fair for God to send people “a strong delusion” (v. 11)? Yes, God is simply giving them what they want. They hate the truth and love breaking God’s law (“had pleasure in unrighteousness,” v. 12). They want to believe a delusion (like a person wants to believe an ugly rumour about someone they don’t like). People are responsible for their own fate.


It's All About Jesus

When it comes to biblical prophecy, we can commit several errors. When we went through 1 Thessalonians, I shared two errors we need to avoid: (1) not talking about biblical prophecy due to the fear of controversy; (2) making a particular interpretation of biblical prophecy a test of orthodoxy. Today I want to address a third error we must avoid: not making Jesus the focus of our study of biblical prophecy.

Does anyone remember the backmasking controversy of the 1970s and 80s? Backmasking is a recording technique in which a sound or message is recorded backward onto a track. There were allegations from Christian groups that backmasking was being used for Satanic purposes by rock musicians. For example, it was claimed that when you play Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” backward, you can hear the message “Here’s to my sweet Satan.” After the backmasking controversy erupted, many musicians deliberately used backmasking on their songs to poke fun at it. The Christian rock group Petra used backmasking on their song “Judas’ Kiss.” When you play the song backward, you can hear the words “What’re ya lookin’ for the Devil for, when ya oughta be lookin’ for the Lord?” I think that’s a great message for those who study biblical prophecy.

It’s sad that when we give more attention to a doomed Antichrist than to the victorious Christ. We must not lose sight of what biblical prophecy is all about: in the end, Jesus wins! 

What we believe about the future should influence how we live in the present. We should live with hope in our hearts. How would living that way affect your daily life?


Victory! 

I never get tired of watching the final minute of Super Bowl XLIX—the Patriots versus the Seattle Seahawks. With only seconds remaining in the game, the Patriots are ahead by 4 points, but the Seahawks are on the Patriots’ 1-yard line. A Seattle touchdown and victory seem to be a foregone conclusion. The ball is hiked to the Seahawks’ quarterback. He throws the ball toward one of his receivers for the winning touchdown. Seattle wins, right? Wrong. Amazingly, the pass is intercepted by Patriots’ defender Malcolm Butler, sealing a Patriots’ Super Bowl win! As I like to say, the Butler did it! I love watching that game because I know that in the end, the Patriots win.

In the end, Jesus wins!

____________________

[1] There appears to be a connection between what Paul writes here and “the abomination of desolation” that Jesus mentioned (Matt. 24:15; cf. Dan. 11:31).
[2] Saint Augustine, The City of God, 667.
[3] “The truth to which the author refers is not some abstract concept but rather the gospel itself…” (G. L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians, 323).
[4] Michael W. Holmes, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 243.