Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Posts tagged “Paul

Does the New Testament condone slavery?

Roman slave & master

Roman slave & masterElevated status for Christian slaves

Some people use the mention of slavery in the Bible to criticise God and the Bible. Let’s look at what the New Testament (NT) says about slavery. The Greek word “doulos” (Strongs #1401) is usually translated as “slave” or “servant”. Slavery was prevalent in the Roman Empire, but it was not racist, as many races were involved. The slaves were usually prisoners of war or poor people. Slavery rescued captives from death and the poor from starvation at a time when there was no government welfare or charities. In the NT, slaves are told to obey their masters and a runaway slave is told to return to their master; so it appears to condone slavery.

You may think: what’s this topic got to do with us? Slavery is not prevalent today. We will see that the slavery described in the NT was like employment. As we look at what the NT says about slaves and their masters, we can apply these principles to us as an employee working for a client, team leader, supervisor or employer, or if we lead other workers.

Philemon and Onesimus

Philemon was a slave owner in Colossae which is now in Turkey (Philemon 8-21). As the church met in his home, he may have been an elder in the local church. One of his slaves, Onesimus had apparently stolen from him and run away. But Onesimus had met Paul in Rome and become a Christian and was now willing to return to his master and be reconciled. He was willing to resume his obligation to his master.  Paul wrote this letter to ask Philemon to accept Onesimus back into his household, no longer as a slave but as a fellow Christian (v.16). What can we learn from this short letter?

First, Paul does not issue an order to Philemon, although he was confident of his obedience (v.21). Instead he presents reasons for forgiving and accepting his runaway slave and then makes an appeal on behalf of Onesimus. Onesimus had become a believer in Rome – like Philemon he was now Paul’s spiritual son and that changed everything. He had a change of character, from an escaped thief to a Christian who helped Paul. From being “useless” to being “useful” (v.11). This is a word-play because the name Onesimus means “useful”. Paul even suggests that the reason Onesimus ran away was so that he could be converted and then return as a fellow Christian. Then Paul makes his appeal, “welcome him as you would welcome me” (v.17). He wanted Philemon to forgive Onesimus and accept him back into his household so that they could be reconciled. Although Paul did not order Philemon to release Onesimus from slavery he seems to infer it by saying he knows Philemon “will do even more than I ask” (v.21). This was the legal way to liberation from slavery; whereas escaping was illegal.

Equal before God

According to the Bible, whether someone was a slave or a master it made no difference in their standing before God. Both were sinners bound for hell and both could be saved through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:22-23). All sinners are guilty before God and so are condemned to judgement. The Bible says that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13NIV). Everyone includes both slaves and masters and whatever category you can think of. So salvation is equally available to all. It’s not like one’s social standing on earth; no one has any special privileges in this respect.

What about after they become a Christian by trusting in Christ for paying the penalty for their sin? The Bible says, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:26-29). A Christian slave has the same position before God and the same inheritance as a Christian master. Social standing makes no difference in terms of salvation and its blessings. In this way, social distinctions disappear in God’s spiritual family; they are irrelevant. Such differences are replaced by equality and unity. All Christians have equal standing before God (1 Cor. 12:13; Col. 3:11). Our unity in the family of believers transcends all other distinctions, including the social distinction, between slaves and masters. So slaves and masters and workers and team leaders have equal standing before God.

In Paul’s letter to Philemon he said that a Christian slave such as Onesimus was a “dear brother” who should be accepted as though he was the apostle Paul (Phile. 16-17)! What a change of status for a runaway slave! He now shared a common faith with his master. The principle here is “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you” (Rom. 15:7). Because God had accepted Onesimus into His spiritual kingdom and Onesimus was serving God, then Philemon should accept him as a fellow believer. So Christianity elevated slaves to be equal with others in the family of God. By the way, this verse comes after Paul deals with matters of secondary importance in Romans 14 and Paul taught that whether a person was a master or a slave was less important than whether they were a Christian or not.

So our relationships with other believers should cut across the social barriers in our society. If God has accepted someone into His kingdom, we should accept them as fellow believers regardless of their social status. As a church we should accept any believer that seeks to follow God, regardless of their place in society. So a local church can be comprised of people with not only a diversity of nationality and culture, but also a diversity of position in society.

Also Christian slaves and their masters will be rewarded equally by God. “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free” (Eph. 6:7-8). So when they are rewarded at the Judgment Seat of Christ for the good things done for the Lord when they served others, there is no discrimination between slave and master, they are treated the same. There is no favoritism with God.

Christian slaves and workers

Let’s look at what the Bible says to slaves such as Onesimus and apply this to our working life. When a slave became a Christian they were to be content with their situation and not rebel and demand their freedom (1 Cor. 7:21-24). Instead they were to live the Christian life in their situation. But if they had an opportunity to be freed, they should take advantage of it.

“All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare of their slaves” (1 Ti. 6:1-2). Slaves must respect their masters because otherwise they may dishonor Christ’s name and Christianity.

“Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.” (Ti. 2:9-10). Christian slaves were to be loyal and trustworthy because their behavior could either help or hinder the gospel message.

“Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh” (1 Pt. 2:18). Christian slaves are told to respect and obey even hash masters. By enduring suffering, they were following Christ’s example. He suffered unjustly for the wrongs of others. As a worker are we willing to submit to a harsh client or boss? This is difficult in our day when we readily claim our rights, but forbearance is part of the fruit of the Spirit.

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favour when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free” (Eph. 6:5-8). Slaves were to obey and serve their masters as it they were Christ. Do we give our client or boss good value? Do we work cheerfully and willingly? Do we work as though God is our boss? If we do, then we will be rewarded for this when we get to heaven. Once again how we work affects our testimony for Christ.

There are similar instructions in Colossians: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Col. 3:23-24). As Christians, all our work should be for the Lord. Even the most menial tasks are included in “whatever you do”. Do we serve and work as though we have two bosses: one on earth and one in heaven?

So slaves were to be content with their situation and respect their master submitting to their leadership and obeying them. What about us? Are we content with our work situation? Do we respect our team leader, submitting to their leadership and obeying them? Are we loyal and trustworthy?

Christian masters and team leaders

Let’s look at what the Bible says to slave owners such as Philemon and apply this to team leaders.

“Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven” (Col. 4:1). They were to pay a proper wage and not exploit their workers because God was watching. Christian masters and team leaders should treat their workers with justice and fairness. The worker deserves their wages and it is the team leader’s responsibility to ensure they receive what is due to them. The worker may also deserve recognition and acknowledgement for a job done well.

“And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that He who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with Him” (Eph 6:9). They are not to be a bully who uses abusive or threatening language because they have a Master in heaven to whom they are accountable. Just because you may have more status on earth doesn’t mean you get preference in heaven.

As masters had positional power over slaves, so team leaders have positional power over their team. In the previous passages we saw that such power should not be abused. To put it in perspective, team leaders must report to higher powers. If not on earth, then certainly in heaven. Christian masters and team leaders are reminded of their Master in heaven.

If you are a team leader, are you devoted to the welfare of your workers (1 Ti. 6:2)? Do you treat them fairly or do you exploit them? Are you a bully? How we lead and manage others affects our testimony for Christ.

Reconciliation

In his letter to Philemon, Paul wrote, “If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me” (v.18). Paul was willing to pay for whatever Onesimus owed to Philemon. He said “I will pay it back” (v.19). It seems as though Onesimus had stolen things from Philemon before he escaped and went to Rome. Now he was ready to make restitution so they could be reconciled, but Paul was going to make the repayment. Even though Onesimus was guilty of theft and was obliged to make the repayment, Paul said no, I’ll do it. Paul substituted for Onesimus. Because Paul stepped in, Onesimus could be reconciled with Philemon.

In this case, Paul is like Jesus Christ and we are like Onesimus because Jesus substituted for us. We are all guilty of going our own way and rebelling against God, which is called sin. The Bible says that because we have sinned we are eternally separated from God. But Jesus took the initiative and paid the death penalty for us so we can be reconciled with God. Because Jesus stepped into our world, we can be reconciled with God. Have you taken up His offer like Onesimus did with Paul?

Conclusion

So does the NT condone slavery? No, it mentions slavery because slavery was prevalent when it was written. The Bible records practices in society at the time, such as slavery, which it does not necessarily approve. For example, slaves were mentioned in some of Christ’s parables because they were common at that time. However, the NT does say that kidnapping slaves is as sinful as murder because it is stealing (1 Ti. 1:9-10).

The NT regulates slavery so that the slave of a Christian master was treated as well as an employee. There was to be no abuse or exploitation but justice and fairness. When the teachings of the New Testament are followed, the evils of slavery are removed. That’s why some translations use the word “servant” instead of “slave”.

It’s all a matter of priority. According to the NT, the top priority is to live for Christ, which is more important than improving one’s social status. The main purpose of the Bible is to show the way of salvation, not to reform society. Jesus didn’t come to reform society. He came to reform people. When people repent they have a change in attitudes and behaviour. Changes that come from the inside are more effective than those that are imposed externally such as political and social reforms. Likewise the primary task for Christians today is not to change political and social structures, but to further the gospel by offering forgiveness of sin through Jesus Christ. Anyway, we won’t have a perfect society until Jesus comes again to rule in His millennial kingdom.

Lessons for us

How we work affects our testimony for Christ. In our work life is there: respect, submission, obedience, contentment, loyalty, honesty and wholeheartedness? Do we work as though God is our boss? If we lead others at work is there justice and fairness or are we a bully? Do we realise we are accountable to God? Let’s honor God at work.

Finally, do social distinctions hinder our relationships with other Christians or affect the unity of the church? Do we have favorites? Do we ignore others? Let’s honor God at church.

Also see – Does the Bible condone slavery? Part 1 (OT)
Slavery and freedom

Written, April 2013


Final words

Last-Words 2

Last-Words 2Perseverance or backsliding?

The Bible records many of the words spoken and written by people in ancient times. In this article we look at what we can learn from some of the words spoken by six godly men near the end of their lives. The men are: Joseph, Moses and Joshua from the Old Testament and Jesus, Stephen and Paul from the New Testament.

Joseph

Joseph was the 11th son of Jacob. As Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, Joseph was one of the original children of Israel! Jacob’s descendants were God’s special people in the Old Testament times. Joseph was sold as a slave in Egypt and rose to second in command under Pharaoh king of Egypt. God used him to save his family and the Egyptians from a 7-year drought – in this sense he was their savior. During this time his father’s household also moved to Egypt.

Final words. At the age of 110 years, “Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land He promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ And Joseph made the Israelites swear an oath and said, ‘God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place’” (Gen. 50:24-25NIV). As he knew that God had promised the land of Canaan to the Israelites and trusted that God would take them from Egypt to Canaan, he made them promise to take his mummy (embalmed body) with them so it could be buried in Canaan.

Lesson for us. Joseph’s faith is an example for us to follow, “By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones” (Heb. 11:22). “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Heb. 1:1). So up to the end of his life Joseph trusted that God’s promises would be fulfilled. He didn’t backslide from when he trusted God in his youth.

Moses

Moses was an Israelite born in Egypt in the third generation after Joseph. God used him to rescue the Israelites from slavery in Egypt – in this sense He was their savior. In the exodus about 2 million Israelites miraculously crossed the Red Sea and travelled towards Canaan. He took Joseph’s mummy with him (Ex. 13:19).

Final words. Before his death at the age of 120 years Moses transferred leadership of the Israelites to Joshua and told him, “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the LORD swore to their ancestors to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. The LORD Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged “(Dt. 31:7-8). He encouraged Joshua to continue leading the people by reminding him of God’s continual presence. Then he taught them a new song and gave a farewell message in which he assured them of God’s protection and support, “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Dt. 33:27).

Lesson for us. Christians should appreciate God’s continual presence, protection and support via the indwelling Holy Spirit. We should be encouraged by this, whatever our role may be. This also helps us to be contented and avoid the love of money or possessions (Heb. 13:5). Also, are we training the next generation in God’s ways like Moses trained Joshua?

Joshua

As one of the faithful spies, Joshua didn’t die in the desert like the rest of the Israelites who rebelled against God. After the death of Moses he led the Israelites into Canaan.

Final words. In a farewell message before he died at the age of 110 years Joshua said, “Now fear the LORD and serve Him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” (Josh. 24:14-15). He urged them to worship God instead of idols. At this time they buried Joseph’s mummy in Canaan in accordance with his request (Josh. 24:32).   The Israelites followed the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua, but turned to idolatry soon afterwards (Josh. 24:31; Judges 2:7, 10-13).

Lesson for us. Godly people like Joshua can have a great influence on others. They are faithful to the end of life and don’t backslide like the others who died before reaching Canaan and so didn’t enjoy their inheritance on earth.

Jesus

According to Luke’s genealogy, Jesus Christ was in the 52rd generation after Joseph (Lk. 3:23-37). Jesus was unique as He was not only a person like us, but He was also the Son of God who made the universe (Lk. 1:35)! Because He was divine, Jesus lived a perfect life and did no wrong. But He was executed and then came back to life and later returned to heaven. When Jesus died He took all the punishment that we deserve so that we can go to heaven if we trust in Him. In this sense He is a Savior for all humanity.

Final words. At the age of about 33 years, after the three hours of darkness when He was suffering crucifixion, Jesus said “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30). This meant that he had finished what He came to do, which was to suffer and die on our behalf. The way had been provided for sinners like us to be saved from eternal punishment and go to heaven instead. Before His ascension into heaven, Jesus told His followers, “…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8b). They would tell others living across the known world about Jesus.

Lesson for us. First, we need to accept Christ’s gift of salvation, because we can’t do anything else to deserve heaven. Second, once we follow Jesus we need to share the good news about Him to others.

Stephen

Stephen was one of the seven men chosen to serve in the first church at Jerusalem. He was “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit”. Because Stephen preached powerfully about Jesus, the Jews made false accusations about him. In a long speech he listed the failures of the Jewish people, which made the Jews so furious that they stoned him to death.

Final words. “While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’” (Acts 7:59-60). Jesus made similar statements before He died (Lk. 23:34, 46).

Lesson for us. The more we focus on Jesus and what he has done for us, the more we become like Him.

Paul

Paul was a young Jewish leader who persecuted Christians and was associated with the stoning of Stephen. But God changed his life in a spectacular way and he became a follower of Jesus who spread across the Roman Empire the good news of Jesus had done.

Final words. In his last letter Paul wrote, “… The time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:6-8). He continued to trust God even though life had been difficult and the end of his service was near. He had obeyed the doctrines of the Christian faith and passed them on to others such as Timothy. Like the winner of a Greek athletic race was awarded a wreath (1 Cor. 9:25), his faithful service would be rewarded at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

Lesson for us. Godly people like Paul remain faithful to the end of life and don’t backslide like Demas who “loved this world” and deserted Paul (2 Tim. 4:10).

Summary

Until our final day, let’s imitate these godly men by having:

  • The faith of Joseph that God keeps His promises
  • The assurance of Moses that God is always with us as His Holy Spirit, who provides security and contentment.
  • The godly influence of Joshua who didn’t backslide
  • The message of reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ
  • The Christ-like life of Stephen
  • The perseverance of Paul who didn’t backslide

Because of the examples of these final words, “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb. 13:1-3). If we pay careful attention to these examples “we do not drift away” from an active faith in Christ (Heb. 2:1).

Written, December 2012


Big history

Big bang

Made to be inhabited

A letter in a newspaper stated that Genesis chapter 1-11 is pre-history and is probably best described as a ”saga”, which is a story. They said it was a different genre to the rest of Genesis, which I assume was considered to be real history which had been verified by archaeology. Well, what does the evidence show us?

Extra-Biblical account

The history of the universe from the beginning of time according to those who reject the Bible and the God of the Bible is often told as follows:

  • About 15 billion years ago – there was a “big bang” and stars like the sun formed from the exploding gases
  • Then about 4.6 billion years ago – planets like earth formed around the stars
  • 3.5 billion years ago – the first life appeared in deep water when molecules combined to form single-celled organisms
  • 1 billion years ago – multi-cellar organisms evolved
  • 600 million years ago – invertebrate animals and fish evolved
  • 475 million years ago – land plants evolved
  • 360 million years ago – amphibians and then the first land animals evolved
  • 250 million years ago – reptiles ruled
  • 200 million years ago – birds and mammals ruled
  • 90 million years ago – flowering plants evolved
  • 200 thousand years ago – the first humans evolved

Bill Gates is funding a project to present this information online for high school students. Let’s look at what the Bible says about such “big history”.

According to Jesus

When Jesus was discussing divorce and marriage He went back to Genesis and quoted from Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female’. ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife …” (Mk. 10:6-7NIV). These verses refer to the first people Adam and Eve. Here He links the “beginning of creation” with the beginning of the human race.

When Jesus was condemning the Pharisees, he quoted the range of martyrs in the Old Testament, “the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah” (Lk. 11:50-51). Abel was in the first family (Genesis 4) and Zechariah was mentioned in 2 Chronicles 24, the last book in the Jewish Old Testament. Here He links the “beginning of the world” with the first family.

Clearly Jesus believed that early Genesis was real history, not just a story.

We can also learn something about the beginning of everything from Jesus. It is instructive to consider how Jesus demonstrated God’s power. He did many miracles; more than is recorded in the Bible (Jn. 20:30). For example:

  • A storm was calmed straight away (Mk. 4:39)
  • 5,000 men plus women and children were fed from five loaves and two fish (Mk. 6:30-44)
  • People were healed immediately: the blind could see (Mt. 20:34); the crippled could walk (Lk. 13:13) and the dead stood up (Mk. 5:42; Jn. 11:43-44).

So Jesus could change the physical world instantly. He didn’t need time to do it in gradual steps. Likewise, God can create physical things instantly. He doesn’t need time to do it in gradual steps from the simple to the complex.

According to Paul

When looking at why people who have not heard the gospel still face God’s judgment, Paul wrote “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Rom. 1:21). God’s attributes have been evident to people “since the creation of the world”, not just since people have been on the earth. The implication is that people have been here since the creation of the world. This is consistent with what Jesus said about Adam, Eve and Abel.

Paul also believed in Adam and Eve (Rom. 5:12-14; 1 Cor. 15:21-22, 45; 2 Cor. 11:3; 1 Tim. 2:13-14). For example, He contrasted Adam and Jesus in three passages of the New Testament:

  • “If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit” (1 Cor. 15:44-45). From Adam we have physical life in a natural body, but from Jesus we can have eternal life now and a redeemed body at the resurrection.
  • “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin … through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:12-21). So death entered the world because of Adam’s sin, but eternal life is possible through Jesus.
  • “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:21-22). From Adam we have physical death, but from Jesus people can be resurrected from the dead.

So Paul viewed both Adam and Jesus as true historical characters, not as mythical figures. He saw the creation and fall into sin of early Genesis as historical events that had a significant impact on our world, not as “pre-history” stories.

According to historical records

If there has been a crime or a car accident, the police determine what happened from the evidence and by interviewing witnesses. The Biblical writers witnessed what they wrote about, except for situations such as creation when God was the witness.

History is the study of past events. We don’t use operational science because it’s only reliable for present events – we can’t do experiments on the past or the future unless we make assumptions (then the finding relies on the assumptions made). Documentary evidence is the best form of historical record. Let’s look at what the historical records in the Bible meant for its original readers, the Children of Israel.

Creation

When God gave them the ten commandments, He said “in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but He rested on the seventh day” (Ex. 20:11). This was a model for their working week. In this context, the heavens are the stars and galaxies. God took 6 days to create the universe, but could have taken 6 hours, 6 minutes or 6 seconds. After all, God is outside the time of our finite world. He is infinite and all powerful.

God didn’t use a long process to create everything. He commanded and it was done immediately (Ps. 33:6-9; Heb. 11:3). I am not aware of any Scriptures which indicate long ages of time were involved in creation.

This is also supported by the resurrection which is described as “we will all be changed in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Cor. 15:51-52). So our resurrection bodies will be created instantly. This is consistent with the original creation taking a short period of time and Christ’s miracles happening instantly. God doesn’t need lots of time to create something new.

The creation was finished on day 6, which was when Adam and Eve were created. So we know that people have been on earth since then.

A mature universe

On the day they were created, Adam named the animals and Adam and Eve were married (Gen. 2:19-20, 24). They were created as mature adults. The universe and the earth that God created were mature. Its complex interacting systems functioned properly from the beginning. The animals and plants lived in mature and functioning ecosystems. So the creation was mature and fully functional from the beginning. It didn’t need to develop gradually over time from simple to more complex.

This means that at that time the apparent age of things didn’t match the actual age. Scientists calculate the age of the universe by assuming that all the stars and galaxies have expanded to their positions after a big explosion. It is an assumption that is also based on using the red- shift of light and the Hubble law to calculate the expansion rates and the distances of galaxies. However, the Bible says that God placed them in their positions on day 4 of creation by stretching them out (Gen. 1:14-19; Ps. 104:2). So the difference between their apparent age of 15 billion years and the Biblical age of thousands of years represents the miracle that God did on day 4.

Genealogies



When did this happen? Is Genesis 1-11 pre-history? It is followed by Genesis 12-25 which is about Abraham. Do we know much about before this time? Yes we do. In Genesis 5 and 11 we have detailed genealogies from Adam to Abraham (Gen 5:1-32; 11:10-26). These are not just lists of ancestors and descendants. Their ages at the birth of their child in the family tree and their death are also given. Some Biblical genealogies have gaps because their purpose is to show their main ancestors (Ezra 7:1-5; Mt. 1:1-16). But these ones are worded in such a way as to exclude omissions and gaps. They are the most comprehensive genealogies in the Bible. Because they cover 19 generations, we know more about these people than our own ancestors!

Besides this, there are two other genealogies that cover this period in the Bible (1 Chron. 1:1-27; Lk. 3:33-38). There are three genealogies in the Bible covering the period back to Adam that some allege is pre-history! So it’s real history. It seems as though in recent times some people call it pre-history to explain the inconsistency with the recent extra-biblical account.

When you add up that dates given in Scripture you find that Adam lived about 6,000 years ago and the global flood was about 4,500 years ago. That’s a long time, thousands of years, but it’s not millions of years. When compared to the extra-biblical timeline, the historical timeline:

  • Is documented historically instead of being calculated
  • Is shorter (about 6,000 years compared to about 15 billion years)
  • Has people appearing near the beginning (people have been here for 99.9998% of the time); instead of near the end (people have been here for 1.3% of the time). People have been here most of the time. After all, God made the world to be inhabited, “For this is what the LORD says—He who created the heavens, He is God; He who fashioned and made the earth, He founded it; He did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited … I, the LORD, speak the truth; I declare what is right” (Isa. 45:18-19).

Implications

The extra-biblical account is inconsistent with recorded history. As it relies on assumptions of people who were not there when it happened, clearly these assumptions are wrong. What are these incorrect assumptions?

  • They rule out a God of miracles. This means they have to rely on current physical processes and forces to explain the past.
  • Consequently, they believe that the present is the key to the past, but according to the Bible the past is the key to the present – after all history goes forwards, not backwards!
  • They believe that given enough time everything can create itself and organisms always evolve or build up gradually over time from simple to complex. Therefore the biological world has become more complex with time.
  • They believe simple organisms are primitive and developed earlier than more complex organisms.

Does it matter if the extra-biblical explanation of the past history of the world is wrong? Yes, because it destroys the gospel message. It destroys the source of sin and death, removes the need for a Savior, and ruins the possibility of future restoration of the earth when Christ reigns (Acts 3:21). That’s what happens if the first three chapters of Genesis are not historical, but a story that isn’t necessarily true. This means removing creation, the Garden of Eden and the fall into sin as real events in real places.

This explanation moves the source of sin, disease, decay and death from Adam and Eve’s disobedience to making it be a part of our world (which Christians call God’s creation). In this case disease, decay and death have always been a part of our world. They are the normal situation; and not viewed as being abnormal. It takes away the lack of disease and death before the fall. It puts death before sin, not after it. It puts evil before sin, not after it. It means that the created world, which God said was “very good” (Gen. 1:31), was marred by disease and death. It takes away the fact that the original sin affected all of God’s creation (Rom. 8:19-23). It takes away the promise that all creation will be liberated from its “bondage to decay” when Christ returns to rule over it.

Lessons for us

As believers, our thoughts and opinions should be controlled by God, not by the views of those who reject God. This means that our thoughts and opinions should be controlled by the Bible, not by the extra-biblical theories which rule out the possibility of divine intervention in the natural world, such as miracles. The Bible says that God has intervened in our big history and He will intervene again. We ignore that at our peril.

Sin, death and salvation are important aspects of the Bible and Christianity. Let’s be aware of the implications of ideas such as extra-biblical big history which are inconsistent with the Biblical record.

Finally, the Bible is not a science book; but it is a history book. It is the best record of ancient history we have today; a supreme example of ancient history; and a big history book. It contains documentary evidence by eyewitnesses which has been accurately preserved over the years. So we can trust the Bible on big history.

Written, June 2012

Also see – Big history or little history?
              – Using history and science to investigate ancient times


Paul the tent-maker

Paul the tent-maker

A self-supporting missionary

Paul was a Jew who lived in the Roman Empire. His Hebrew name was Saul and his Greek name was Paul. He would have learnt his trade of tent-making as a youth as it was the Jewish custom to provide manual training for their sons (Acts 18:3). As the son of a Pharisee, at the age of 13-15 he was sent to Jerusalem to study the Jewish religion under Gamaliel, an eminent teacher of Jewish law (Acts 22:3; 26:4-5). Until his miraculous conversion, Paul was a fanatical Pharisee who persecuted Christians (Gal. 1:13-14). After all, according to Deuteronomy “anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse” (Dt. 21:23NIV). He would have thought: “How could the Messiah be one who died a criminal’s death and was cursed by God?”

Called and commended

Paul was called and commended to be a pioneer missionary to Gentiles in lands around the Mediterranean Sea (Acts 9:15; Gal 1:15; 2:9). Before his first missionary journey, the Holy Spirit told the church in Antioch, “‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:2-3). During his second missionary journey, Paul was told in a vision; “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9).

His message was “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). Jesus came from Heaven to save us, died for our sins in our place, was raised from death and was seen by many after His resurrection. He now sits at the right hand of God who has given Him all power and authority, including the right to act as judge of all humanity. By trusting in Christ’s work we can be rescued from the coming judgment.

Let’s investigate what enabled Paul to undertake his life’s mission.

Second missionary journey

On his second missionary journey with Silas, Luke and Timothy, Paul was supported by the hospitality of believers. At Philippi, they stayed with Lydia and after a spectacular night in jail the jailer gave them a meal (Acts 16:15, 34). They stayed with Jason at Thessalonica (Acts 7:7), while at Corinth they stayed with Aquila and Priscilla for 1.5 years (Acts 18:2-3, 11). The Bible says, “because he was a tent-maker as they were, he stayed and worked with them”. So, he worked at his trade of tent-making to pay his living expenses. By the way, his main training was to be a Jewish rabbi and tent-making was a manual skill he would have learnt when he was younger.

While in Corinth Paul wrote two letters to the church in Thessalonica. As Christ’s apostles, they were entitled to financial support from the Thessalonians, but they worked day and night to provide for their own needs (1 Th. 2:6; 9). They didn’t want to be a burden to the believers who were poor and persecuted. As he didn’t want to be unduly dependant on others, Paul earned his own living while he was preaching there.

Paul explains this further when he addresses those who had stopped working for a living because they expected the Lord’s return: “you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat’” (2 Th. 3:7-10).

Paul worked night and day at his trade of tent-making, in order to pay people for the food that he was eating.

Third missionary journey

Paul and his companions continued to be supported by the hospitality of believers on his third missionary journey. At Caesarea, they stayed with Philip the evangelist, while they stayed with Mnason at Jerusalem (Acts 21:8-10, 15-16). At Corinth, they may have stayed with Stephanas as his household “devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people” (1 Cor. 16:15). He also told those in Rome to “practice hospitality” (Rom. 12:13).

On this trip, Paul spent three years at Ephesus (Acts 20:31). He may have stayed with Aquila and Priscilla who had moved there from Corinth (Acts 18:18-19; 1 Cor. 16:19). While he was there he wrote a letter to the church at Corinth and when he got to Macedonia, he wrote a second letter.

Paul said that the apostles supported themselves by working hard with their own hands and he urged the Corinthians to imitate him (1 Cor. 4:12, 16). Although he had the right as an apostle to financial support (1 Cor. 9:4-14), he didn’t use this right in Corinth (he says this three times v12, 15, 18). Instead he worked so as not to give his critics any ground for accusing him of preaching for money (1 Cor. 9:14-18). He offered the gospel free of charge so the message would not be hindered. This was an example of self-denial or self-sacrifice for the good of others. He noted that Barnabas also worked to support himself (1 Cor. 9:6). This suggests that Paul and Barnabas supported themselves on the first missionary journey as it was the only one they made together.

This message was repeated twice in his second letter:

  • When Paul was with the Corinthians he didn’t receive any financial assistance from them (2 Cor. 11:7-9). But he did receive support from other churches, including those in Macedonia. He boasted that he preached the gospel free of charge and was not a burden to anyone.
  • Also, He didn’t receive financial support because he didn’t want to be a burden on them and because he wanted them and not their possessions (2 Cor. 12:13-18). When Paul sent Titus to Corinth, Titus lived like Paul in working in an occupation so he would not have to be supported by the Corinthians.

Paul wasn’t like the false teachers who peddled the word of God for profit and tried to turn the ministry into a profitable profession (2 Cor.2:17; 11:20). In Micah’s time there were leaders who judged for a bribe, priests who taught for a price and prophets who told fortunes for money (Mi. 3:11).

Paul also wrote, “We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited” (2 Cor. 6:3). He knew that some people look for an excuse not to listen to the message of salvation. So he was scrupulous and lived beyond reproach. He was characterised by “hard work”, which would have included manual labour such as tent-making.

When farewelling the elders of the church at Ephesus, Paul said, “I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:33-35). So he also did tent-making in Ephesus. He didn’t seek material reward. Instead he worked hard making tents to provide for his needs and the needs of those who served with him. He believed that it is more blessed to give than to receive. This was a great example to the spiritually immature who were tempted to be lazy or greedy.

Prisoner in Rome

The church at Philippi sent Epaphroditus with gifts to take care of Paul when he was imprisoned in Rome (Phil. 2:25). Twice they had sent him financial support when he was a missionary in Thessalonica (Phil. 4:14-19). They supported gospel workers. Paul said their gift was like an offering and sacrifice that pleased God. It was like the Old Testament fellowship (or peace) offering that was an expression of thankfulness (Lev. 7:11-15). God is pleased when we use our material resources to do good and share with those in need (Heb. 13:16). It’s the sacrifice of our possessions.

Paul found that God meets our needs (Phil. 4:19) and he said “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Phil 4:11-12) .

Were there any tent-makers before Paul?

You might ask, what about earlier examples in the Bible? Well in the Old Testament times the Jewish priests and Levities were supported by the tithes and offerings and sacrifices of the other people. The High Priest was the spiritual head of the nation, while the priests and Levities served in the temple. They mediated between God and the people. They inherited these roles which were restricted to the tribe of Levi and the family of Aaron. The priests wore special clothes. As the priests and Levites had no other occupations, it seems that they were not tent-makers. But God put an end to the Jewish priests and Levities when the temple was destroyed in AD70. If there is no temple, there is no Jewish priesthood and this has been the case for the past 1,942 years.

However, Nehemiah was a tent-maker as he was self-supporting and unlike other governors of Judah, he didn’t place a burden on the Jews who returned from captivity (Neh. 5:14-18).

In the New Testament, the Old Testament system was replaced by one where each believer is a priest with direct access to God through Jesus Christ as the High Priest (Heb. 2:17; 5:1-6; 1 Pt. 2:5). Jesus is our mediator today. There is no special building like the temple and no special priests. However, there is provision for financial support as required for apostles (1 Cor. 9:4-14), elders (1 Ti. 5:17-18), teachers (Gal. 6:6) and missionaries (Phil. 4:4-19). But each of these can be tent-makers like Paul.

What about the time of Christ? We know that the original disciples left their occupations to follow Jesus:  To the fishermen he said, “‘Come, follow me and I will send you out to fish for people.’ At once they left their nets and followed Him” (Mt. 4:19-20). However, after the resurrection they went fishing again and Jesus helped them catch 153 fish (Jn. 21:1-13).

When Jesus sent His followers out on mission trips,He told them not to take money, but rely on hospitality for their support (Mt. 10:1-15; Lk. 10:1-7). Their needs were met on a day by day basis. But these instructions were changed at the Last Supper (Lk. 22:35-37). Now He tells them to take money and provisions and be prepared to protect themselves. This was probably because He was about to be crucified and ascend back to heaven and would no longer be with them physically. It is consistent with tent-making by working in order to get the money and so being able to support themselves.

Lessons for us

Paul was an example for us to follow.

Calling. Paul was called to specific missionary work. All believers are all called to share their faith where God has placed them. In this sense they are all called to be missionaries. What else has God called you to do? Like Paul, a true servant of Christ will continue to preach the good news of salvation whether they receive money for it or have to work to finance themselves. Financial reward should not be a motive for serving the Lord.

Paul’s service was supported in three ways: hospitality, giving and employment.

Hospitality. Paul and his companions often stayed in people’s homes. Such hospitality is important because the host’s names are given in Scripture. How do we use our homes? Do we use our resources to support the spread of the gospel? Are we hospitable or selfish? In the Bible, hospitality is associated with the expression of love and spiritual gifts (Rom. 12:13; 1 Pt. 4:9). Also, when we open our homes to one another we are inviting the Lord into our homes (Mt. 25:34-40). Having people over for a meal is a great way to get to know each other better and encourage each other.

Giving. From time to time different churches provided funds to support Paul’s missionary work. Do we live economically in order to be able to give more money to support the gospel? Do we support gospel workers? After all, all we have belongs to the Lord. Are we generous or stingy?

Employment. When necessary, Paul worked as a tentmaker. He didn’t give up his trade when he was evangelising. He practiced self-support. He evangelised fellow workers like Aquila and Priscilla. He was not isolated from the ordinary working world but identified with the common people who had to work for a living. Employment enables non-Christians to see Christians in action. It also provides access to a range of people and our diligence at work and our lifestyle can influence colleagues to follow Jesus Christ. It also opens up opportunities to reach seemingly inaccessible people in new ways with the gospel. Today tent-makers have access to countries where traditional missionaries are denied. Are we using our work to further the gospel? Are we encouraging people to be tent-makers who work to support themselves while they spread the gospel?

Written June 2012


Who invented Christianity?

Divine revelation trumps human ideas

Some people think that religions such as Christianity are comprised of myths that were made up many years ago to explain phenomena which can now be explained by science. Their reasoning goes like this. Until a couple of hundred years ago, most people thought that a god or gods controlled everything. Why did the wind blow? Why was there lightning and thunder? Why did the sun, moon, and stars apparently go around Earth? Why did someone get sick and die? Why did anything happen? Well, obviously, God did it. If a person didn’t know how something worked or why something happened, they could say, “God did it.” This is known as the “god of the gaps”. But as we understand more and more about the universe, the gap where such a god might function grows smaller and smaller. Every time we learn more, these gods have less room to operate. When we learned what caused the sun to apparently move across the sky, there was no need for the Greek god Helios. When we understood what caused lightning, there was no need for the Greek god Zeus, the Roman god Jupiter, or the Norse god Thor. The same argument has been applied to Christianity.

In this article we address this topic by looking at the origin of Christianity. In order to be objective, I will define “Christianity” according to what is written in the Bible, not what is written or practised elsewhere. So we are not looking at Christian practices or traditions.

Was it Paul?

Paul was a pioneer missionary in countries around the Mediterranean Sea. He spread Christianity to the Gentile (non-Jewish) world. He probably spent about 15 years of his life on his main missionary journeys to modern Turkey, to modern Greece, to Rome as a prisoner and possibly to Spain. Most of his letters were written to churches he established on these journeys and there are at least 13 of these in the New Testament, including Romans, which is the most comprehensive description of the Christian faith. His core message was called the gospel:

“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—the gospel He promised beforehand through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding His Son, who as to His earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by His resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord ….

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (Rom. 1:1-4, 16-17NIV).

Here we see that the God of the Bible is the source of this message, which was promised in the Old Testament. Since Adam and Eve disobeyed God, there has been a promise that one day people can be released from the consequences of their sin. It is the good news about God’s Son, Jesus Christ, who was the Savior for sinners. The gospel is God’s power for salvation: the God that raised Jesus from the dead promises to also raise those who trust in the Savior. Also, it is for everyone who believes; Gentiles as well as Jews. There are no national barriers to this salvation. It is obtained by faith alone; by accepting that Jesus took the punishment for our sins when He was crucified. He took our penalty and we receive His righteousness and eternal life.

Paul also said: “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11-12). He emphasises the source of the gospel message: it’s “not of human origin”; he “did not receive it from any man”; he wasn’t taught it; it came “by revelation from Jesus Christ”. Therefore, Christianity was not an invention or a discovery, but it was a direct revelation from God. In fact he mentions the whole godhead as the source of the message, God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit (Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 2:10; Gal. 1:12).

Furthermore, Paul was a servant of Jesus who was sent to preach the gospel and he followed the example of Christ (Acts 26:16-18; Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 11:1). So although Paul preached the good news about Jesus Christ, he didn’t invent it. Instead he taught that the gospel was God’s idea.

Was it Peter?

Peter was a pioneer preacher to the Jews and on the day of Pentecost he preached the first gospel message after Christ ascended back to heaven. At Pentecost he quoted from the Old Testament and showed how Christ’s death and resurrection fulfilled prophecies about the Messiah. Peter witnessed the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He urged people to repent to have their sins forgiven and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Did Peter invent his message? When he spoke he was “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 4:8). As the Jewish religious leaders saw his courage and realized that he was an unschooled, ordinary fishermen, they were astonished and noted that he had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13). So Peter was given the words to speak by the Holy Spirit and he had been taught by Jesus. Although Peter preached the good news about Jesus Christ, he didn’t invent it. Instead the sources of His words were the Old Testament, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. The same applies to the other apostles.

Was it the Old Testament prophets?

Both Paul and Peter referred to the Old Testament prophets when they preached the gospel. As it was foreshowed, the gospel was not a completely new idea. For example, the promised Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, called Immanuel, meaning God with us, and would die 483 years after the command to restore and rebuild Jerusalem (Isa. 7:14; Dan. 9:25-26; Mic. 5:2). Also, the righteous lived by their faith (Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17).

There are also illustrations of the gospel in the Old Testament. The bronze snake that Moses made in the wilderness was used to teach Nicodemus that Christ must be lifted up on a pole (the cross), so that sinners looking to Him by faith might have eternal life (Num. 21:8-9; Jn. 3:14-15). The Jewish sacrifices for forgiveness of sin foreshadowed that Jesus was our sacrifice and High Priest (Heb. 4:14-16; 7:23-28). These illustrations of the gospel in the Old Testament are clearer in hindsight than they would have been for someone living at the time. However, we know that when Jesus was born Simeon and Anna were both prompted by the Holy Spirit to be waiting for the Jewish Messiah (Lk. 2:25-38).

Peter wrote about Old Testament prophecies, “you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own (mind) interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pt. 1:20-21). Their message was divinely inspired, originating from God, not from humanity. This is consistent with Paul who wrote that: “all Scripture was God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16) and “This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words” (1 Cor. 2:13). The writers of the Bible were given their words by the Holy Spirit. They present spiritual truths in spiritual words. Although the Old Testament prophets promised a Messiah, they didn’t know the details of the gospel message. They didn’t invent it, but their information came from the Holy Spirit, who is God.

Was it Jesus Christ?

We have already seen that Paul said that he received the gospel message “by revelation from Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:12). Also, it is the good news about God’s Son, Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:3). So, the Lord Jesus Christ is the core of the gospel, which is the foundation of the Christian faith. In fact, a Christian is a follower of Jesus Christ.

In one sense, Christ is the source of Christianity. But what did He say?

  • He was sent into the world by God the Father (Jn. 17:3, 18, 23, 25).
  • “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work” (Jn. 4:34).
  • “By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but Him who sent me” (Jn 5:30). He always obeyed the Father.
  • “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do” (Jn. 17:4).

So everything He said and did was done in obedience to God the Father. Therefore, God the Father is the source of the gospel message. It was His idea.

Was Jesus Christ merely a man? This is an important question. The answer is no, because He claimed to be divine and this is supported by the evidence. First, His miracles, which included calming storms and consistently healing people instantly. He also gave His apostles the power to do miracles. Human beings don’t have these powers. Second, He resurrected from death and ascended into heaven. Human beings can’t do that. He appeared to more than 500 believers at the same time after the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:6). That’s a lot of witnesses. This is consistent with His claim to be equal with God. So, Christ was the divine God in a human body. He was unique.

Christianity is a revelation

We have seen that the gospel was God’s idea, which was revealed progressively to people over time from the brief promises of the Old Testament prophets, to the preaching of Peter to the Jews and then the preaching of Paul to the Gentiles. Because the gospel message seems foolish to people,  it couldn’t have been man-made (1 Cor. 1:18). Instead, God achieves His purposes in ways that seem foolish. It was a divine invention, not a human invention or discovery. That is why Christianity is unique. All other faiths and religions are products of the human mind. The difference between the true God and false gods, religions, idols and ideas about the purpose of life is emphasised throughout Scripture.

Old Testament

The Children of Israel were told to destroy all the people in Canaan because they were idol worshippers (Deut. 18:9-12; 20:16-18). This was God’s judgment of their sinful ways and to stop the Israelites worshipping their gods (Gen. 15:16). If the Jews worshipped idols, they were told: “The LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and only a few of you will survive among the nations to which the LORD will drive you. There you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell” (Deut. 4:27-28). Unfortunately because the Jews were unfaithful and didn’t destroy all the idol worshippers, they followed idols instead of the true God, and the consequence was that they were overrun by the Assyrians and Babylonians and Jerusalem was plundered and destroyed.

While the Assyrians threatened Jerusalem, “They spoke about the God of Jerusalem as they did about the gods of the other peoples of the world—the work of human hands” (2 Chron. 32:19). When the Jews were told that the Lord was the only true God, they were also told that idols are worthless and “Ignorant are those who carry about idols of wood, who pray to gods that cannot save” (Isa. 44:6, 9; 45:20).

Idols like Zeus, Jupiter and Thor are worthless because they are man-made and they are dead. They are the product of human minds and human technology and have no power to save people from their troubles. What a contrast to the God of the Israelites who was the living Creator: “For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens” (1 Chron. 16:26).

New Testament

The difference between the true God and false gods, religions, idols and ideas about the purpose of life is also emphasised in the New Testament. Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mk. 12:30). It we do this, we should have no time for idolatry.

Unfortunately, most reject God’s revelation in creation and “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles … They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator” (Rom. 1:23, 25). This sums it up. Are we worshiping and trusting a creation or the Creator of all? The creation can be something God has made or a human creation or idea. They are both dead and have no power to save people from their sins. On the other hand, John refers to the Creator as “the only true God” (Jn. 17:3). At Lystra, Paul said, “We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them” (Acts 14:15). He is the living God.

Here we see there are two types of messages or faiths and two destinies. First Christianity, with a divine founder, the true God, the Creator and Redeemer, whose message is the gospel, God’s plan of salvation, which leads to eternal life with God. On the other hand, all other religions and ideas about the purpose of life are products of the human mind, whose message is a different gospel, which only has value in this life and leads to eternal suffering without God.

Of course, the Jewish faith as given in the Old Testament was also God’s idea, but it was superseded when the New Testament was given in the first century AD.

Lessons for us

So are religions such as Christianity comprised of myths that were made up many years ago to explain phenomena which can now be explained by science? This is not true for Christianity because the gospel is God’s idea, not a myth invented by people such as Paul or Peter or the Old Testament prophets. The “god of the gaps” is wrong because science has not replaced God, it has merely discovered more about God’s creation. Also, it doesn’t address our fundamental problem of sin and guilt before a holy God. Furthermore we should see God working everywhere, and not restrict Him to the areas we don’t understand.

We have seen that the Christian gospel is unique; it came from God and God is the main character. It is a revelation, not an invention or a myth. All other religions and ideas about the purpose of life are false; they are idols.

We need to be wary of modern idols of the human mind and human technology, which can occupy much of our time. They don’t help our deepest need and should be challenged like the prophets challenged pagan idolatry in the Old Testament. Above all, Paul says “flee from idolatry” (1 Cor. 10:14). So, let’s not get involved in the false ideas and religions that are merely the product of the human mind. Instead, let’s worship our living Creator God.

Written, June 2011


What’s the purpose of life?

Recently a woman asked this question. Because of an abusive husband, she was frightened of men and never went outside at night. All her hopes and dreams had vanished. She was alone and couldn’t see any possibility of her situation improving. Also, I learnt that an elderly man had completed suicide. He chose death rather than life. He had no reason to live any longer.

The wisest person who ever lived, Solomon, found that a life which is not related to God is meaningless (Eccl. 1:2; 1:14; 12:8). It is like “chasing after the wind.” True fulfillment and lasting satisfaction are illusive. The things we do apart from God are hollow and futile because they can be destroyed and come to nothing. Hopes and dreams for this life can be shattered and wiped away. This was the case for these people.

According to the Bible, there are two main purposes of life: to know God, and to serve Him. Paul, a pioneer of the Christian faith, wrote: “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things … I want to know Christ” (Phil. 3:8,10 NIV). He also wrote: “ For to me, to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21). He gave up Judaism and all his personal achievements when he trusted Christ as Savior. He wanted to know the Lord personally and live for Him. .

The Bible tells us that people are “without hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). They have no lasting hope, no hope beyond death. This is because they don’t know the only true God, who was revealed by Jesus Christ. But if we truly know God, we have a lasting hope that looks beyond death. Paul said, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19). Because Christ was raised from the dead, we can look forward to the resurrection of our bodies, life forever with the Lord and God’s kingdom being established on earth.

People put their time and effort into the things that they think are important. Near the end of his life Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). He was a devoted servant of God who put all his energy into serving Him and doing His will. He had protected the Christian doctrine which had been committed to him, and he faithfully passed it on to others. God wants us to be faithful in His sight; not merely successful in people’s sight.

Paul was motivated by the fact that his service would be reviewed in heaven: “We make it our goal to please Him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:9-10). Fancy being able to please God when we are “away from” the body after death! This is when believers stand before the Lord as He reviews their service. The only thing we can take with us beyond death is our reward for faithfulness to Him.

Can all our hopes, dreams, visions and goals be taken away? If the answer is yes, they are flimsy and not robust. That’s why people give up, get depressed, and think there is no purpose to life. Instead let’s be like Paul and make our most important priority knowing the Lord Jesus Christ and serving Him while we can.

Published, April 2012


A Look at Second Thessalonians. Part 3: Don’t be lazy

Support yourself

There are different attitudes to work. Some work long hours, while others work as little as possible.  Is work a vital part of our lives or just a consequence of the fall into sin?  Today we see how Paul addressed laziness at Thessalonica.

Previously, we have seen that in his second letter to the believers at Thessalonica, Paul encouraged them to persevere in their trials, suffering and persecution although they were so occupied with these that they forgot about their hope for the future. So Paul gave them an eternal perspective with a vision of the appearing when their suffering will be replaced by glory and the Lord and His followers are revealed for all to see. He also reminded them that in future things will be set right and the truth will be evident to all. God is going to punish the persecutors and those guilty of wicked deeds. There will be retribution. This would have helped them to cope. Then he addressed the false teaching that they were in the tribulation—the first part of the day of the Lord (1 Th. 5:1-11). If this was so, then the rapture must have already occurred and they had been left behind. Paul points out that this is false because the antichrist had not been revealed yet. In the tribulation, the antichrist will use miracles to deceive the people as God will send a powerful delusion so that those who deliberately rejected the truth will believe the antichrist’s lies. Instead, Paul told them to “stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you”.

The third problem in Thessalonica was that some had stopped working because they thought the Lord was returning soon. Instead of working they were being lazy and disruptive in the local church. Paul had told them in his first letter to return to work, but evidently his directions had not been obeyed.

Prayer Points (2 Th. 3:1-2NIV)

As for other matters, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith.

Before he addressed the problem, Paul requested prayer; he wrote “pray for us” in the wicked city of Corinth. He had three prayer points:

First, pray “that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly”. The Greek word is “logos” (3056), sometimes translated as “word”, which in this context means the message from the Lord. Paul used the word “logos” twice in 1 Thessalonians: to describe the gospel (1 Th. 1:8) and to describe how the message about the rapture was a direct revelation from Christ—it was “according to the Lord’s word” (1 Th. 4:15). So Paul wanted the message of the gospel to be spread to unbelievers and the truths of the New Testament to be spread to believers. That’s what happened in Thessalonica (1 Th. 1:7).

Second, pray “that the message of the Lord may be honoured”. The Greek word is “doxazo” (1392), sometimes translated as “glorified”. What does this mean? At Pisidian Antioch, the Gentiles honoured the message by believing and obeying it (Acts 13:48-49). It was life-changing. So Paul wanted the message of the gospel to be believed and obeyed by unbelievers—that they would repent and turn to God. He also wanted the truths of the New Testament to be believed and obeyed by believers. Once again, that’s what happened in Thessalonica (1 Th. 1:7).

Third, “pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith”. He wanted to be protected. Because Paul was preaching the gospel in Corinth, the unbelieving Jews opposed him and became abusive and later they accused him before the Roman governor (Acts 18:6, 12-15). These people were hindering the spread of the gospel. As Paul wanted to be able to continue preaching the gospel, they were to pray that this would not be hindered by wicked and evil unbelievers.

The secret of success (2 Th. 3:3-5)

But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one. We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.

He then encouraged them with a promise that the Lord will strengthen them and protect them from Satan. God is faithful, He keeps His promises. This faith is contrasted with the lack of faith in the unbelievers noted in the previous verse. Elsewhere we know that God faithfully promises to not let believers be tempted beyond what they can bear (1 Cor. 10:13) and when they confess their sins, He will faithfully forgive their sins and restore their fellowship with Himself (1 Jn. 1:9).

Paul now balances God’s provision for the Thessalonians with their responsibility to keep doing the things that Paul had commanded. It’s not good enough to relax and think that because God will look after us, then we can be lazy and ignore His commands. Christians need to be active, not passive. It’s doing the things God has commanded and continuing to do these things.

Remember, the Thessalonians were being persecuted. Under these circumstances, Paul urges them to have God’s love and Christ’s perseverance. This is the opposite of being bitter and giving up. Here the “heart” means the unseen part of us such as our mind, will, and emotions.

The Lord endured as an example for us: “… let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus … He endured the cross … consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb 12:1-3). Likewise, they were to “never tire of doing what is good” (v.13). Those who had been obeying Paul’s instructions were encouraged to keep it up. Even though there were those who were lazy, this shouldn’t stop the others doing what is good. This included not giving up on the lazy ones but carrying out Paul’s instructions.

Work for a living (2 Th. 3:6-15)

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good. Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as you would a fellow believer.

Ever since the days of Adam, people must work for a living. Adam had to work and take care of the garden of Eden (Gen. 2:15). After the fall into sin this work became arduous (Gen .3:17-19).

Paul now addresses the third major problem in the church at Thessalonica. It seems as though some of the Thessalonians thought the Lord was returning soon, so they stopped working and relied on others to support them. So they were idle instead of working and this lead to them interfering with other people’s affairs. What is a Paul’s solution to this problem? First, he says these people are out of line with what he had taught them (v.6). Here’s what they were advised to do.

Follow Paul’s example (v.7-9).

Paul, Silas and Timothy had worked hard while they preached in Thessalonica so they would not be a burden to others (1 Th. 2:9). Paul was a tent maker by trade. Although he could have relied on the support of others for food, accommodation and money, he worked night and day to pay his expenses and not be dependent on them. When he was not preaching, teaching and shepherding the new believers, he was probably making and repairing tents. Paul was self supporting; he didn’t seek funds from those to whom he was preaching the gospel. The reason he worked was so he wouldn’t be a burden to those who were poor and persecuted and he didn’t want to hinder the gospel message in any way.

Now he urges those who had stopped working to follow his example (v.7). Although he had the right to financial help, Paul “did not use this right” of support in Corinth so that the gospel would not be hindered (1 Cor. 9:12, 14). Instead, he offered the gospel “free of charge” (1 Cor. 9:18). He then gives another reason for supporting himself: Paul wanted to be a model for them to imitate; an example to be followed.

Command them to get back to work (v.11-12).

Previously, Paul told them how to increase in their love for one another (1 Th. 4:11-12). First they were to “mind your own business”.  Instead, some Thessalonians, probably because of idleness, were taking undue interest on other people’s lives. They were commanded not to be a busybody who interferes in the lives of others in an unnecessary and unhelpful way, because idleness and meddling in the lives of others is not loving. Second, they were to “work with your hands” in order to provide for themselves and their family (1 Tim. 5:8). In the context of caring for widows, “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8).

Two reasons were given in 1 Th. 4:11-12 for working to support themselves: “To win the respect of outsiders”—they were being watched by people who judged Christianity and God’s Word by their behavior; and to “not be dependent on anybody”—not to be a burden to others.

He had also instructed them how to deal with those who disobeyed this command, “warn those who are idle and disruptive” (1 Th. 5:14). Those who had stopped working were disorderly, disobedient and rebellious busybodies who caused disruption in the local church. This behaviour was unacceptable. They were to be warned to get back to work so as to be able to support themselves and their families. We will see they could also be warned by saying that: “we will stop helping you” and “we will no longer socialise with you”.

Now Paul gives further instructions about these people who were minding everybody’s business but their own (v.11-12). When they could no longer find any meaning in their work, they started messing in other people’s business, criticizing, grumbling, gossiping, and trying to control others. Paul commanded and urged them to get back to work to support themselves and their families. How they behaved would have affected their witness for the Lord. How could they urge people to get their spiritual lives in order, if they couldn’t get their physical lives in order?

Don’t help them (v.10)

Now we will look at how Paul advised then to deal with those who refused to obey his instructions. Paul said don’t help them by feeding and supporting them; instead let them experience the consequences of their behavior. This is addressed to those who are “unwilling to work”, not those who cannot work. If an able-bodied Christian refused to work, neither should they eat. This rule was to stop them becoming busybodies that disrupt the local church. Does this conflict with the fact that Christians should be kind and loving? No, it is a tough love that draws a boundary against encouraging laziness. That’s why this article is titled, “Don’t be lazy”.

Keep away from them (v.6, 14-15).

This was followed by further instructions on how to deal with those who refused to obey his instructions. Finally Paul commands them in Christ’s name not to socialise with believers who refused to work and who were disrupting the local church. The Greek words used mean to “withdraw” from or “avoid” and to not keep company with them. It was to be a more distant relationship instead of a close one. This let them know that this behavior was not acceptable. The purpose of this discipline was to awaken their conscience to make them feel ashamed of their behaviour and give them a reason to change it. They can still have some of the benefits of the family, but their part is restricted until they repent and are restored to the close relationship.

Paul warns them not to take it too far, so they feel like an enemy. Don’t make them feel like an unbeliever, as they don’t deserve to be expelled from the church. In the case of expulsion, people are to be treated as an unbeliever; as though they are not in the family (Mt. 18:17). Note that the instruction was addressed to the behaviour of fellow believers, not to the behavior of unbelievers.

Our resources (2 Thess. 3:16-18)

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you. I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you. I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

Paul finishes reminding them of the Lord’s peace, presence and grace. They could have “peace at all times and in every way”, including when they faced the problems created by those who refused to work for a living. They needed this peaceful attitude as they addressed these problems. The Lord of peace was with all of them, including those who were idle and disruptive.

Perhaps because of poor eyesight, Paul dictated his letters to a secretary (Rom. 16:22), but near the end of some he added some words in his own handwriting. This practice was his distinguishing mark. Then as usual he ended the letter with a benediction of grace for the Thessalonians. This is God’s unmerited favor though the saving work of Christ.

Lessons for us

Do we follow Paul’s example and pray that the gospel and the truths of the Bible would spread rapidly and obeyed? Is that our mission as well? Do we pray that preachers and teachers would be protected? Surely this is what all missionaries and those serving the Lord would request.

Do we realise that our success in living for God relies on God’s promises of strength and protection and our obedience to the commands and principles for believers in the church? Do we feel secure? We have God’s love and His protection. Are we consistent? We can learn for Christ’s persistence.

Paul worked hard night and day to support himself while he preaching the gospel. He was an example to be followed. Are we? What sort of a witness is our work? Do we support our families? Work is important because it gives a sense of worth and meaning in our lives. But there were believers at Thessalonica who refused to work and were disruptive busybodies in the local church. Are we idle?

Today we don’t face the problem that people are so ardently looking forward to the Lord’s return that they abandon their daily duties. Instead we are so busy with our business and money-making that we forget that the Lord could return at any moment. Nevertheless, the same principles apply in cases of disobedience. What would Paul say to us? Would it be that we work too much instead of not enough? Are we so busy with our things that there is little time for God’s things?  Are we lazy, busy or too busy supporting our families?

Do we do the things God has commanded, like “Love one another”; “as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal. 6:10); or are disobedient, or are we hypocrites?

Paul wasn’t lazy. Are we lazy or busy for God? Let’s be like Paul by being busy for God and busy supporting our families.

Written, April 2007

See the first articles in this series:
- Model believers (1 Thessalonians 1)
- Encouragement during trials and suffering (2 Thessalonians 1)


A Look at Second Thessalonians. Part 2: Standing firm against false teachings

A measure of maturity

Have you ever googled a Biblical or spiritual topic? You’ll find an amazing the range of ideas and interpretations, because anyone can post their thoughts on the web. There is no quality control!  So, how should we deal with teachings which don’t match Scripture? There are many of these posted on the internet for anyone to read. Today we see how Paul addressed such a situation in Thessalonica.

In our previous article we looked at the first chapter of Paul’s second letter to the believers at Thessalonica. Paul encouraged them to persevere in their trials, suffering and persecution by reminding them that their primary relationship was with the Father and the Son; who are the source of grace, peace and endurance. By holding out against the pressures and temptations of this life it was evident that God was at work in their lives in developing character and maturity. The Thessalonians were so occupied with suffering and persecution that they forgot about their hope for the future. So Paul gave them an eternal perspective with a vision of the appearing when their suffering will be replaced by glory. There will be great power and glory when the Lord and His followers are revealed for all to see. He also reminded them that in future things will be set right and the truth will be evident to all. God is going to punish the persecutors and those guilty of wicked deeds. There will be retribution. This would have helped them to cope.

Not only were the believers in Thessalonica suffering physically, but they were being attacked by a false teaching. A rumour was spreading about the end of the age.

The False Teaching (2 Th. 2:1-2NIV)

Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to Him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come.

Paul now addresses a misunderstanding that had arisen in Thessalonica. Because of the persecution they were enduring, some thought that they were in the tribulation—the first part of the day of the Lord (1 Th. 5:1-11). If this was so, then the rapture must have already occurred and they had been left behind. False teachings such as this are unsettling and alarming—they introduce doubt and uncertainty about the truth and can destroy the unity within a church. Paul now addresses this false teaching. Firstly, he says that it didn’t come from him and secondly, he corrects it.

There was a rumour that the idea that they were in the day of the Lord came from Paul. Some said it was a prophecy—a direct revelation from God, others that Paul had taught it by word of mouth, and others that he had written it in a letter. Paul says that these were only allegations; they were not true. He also refers to the rapture: “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to Him”.  The Greek word before this clause is translated “concerning” in most bibles, but a better translation is “because of” or “by”. It is clear from 1 Thess 4:13 – 5:11, that the rapture and the day of the Lord are different events; in fact they have been divided into separate chapters in this instance. The word “concerning” implies that 2 Thess 2 is about the rapture, but this is not the case. Instead, Paul is saying that because of the rapture they should not think they were in the day of the Lord. By the rapture they will be taken to heaven before the day of the Lord occurs on earth.

The sequence of future events is evident in the book of Revelation. At present the church is on earth. The next event is the rapture when all believers (dead and alive) will be resurrected to heaven. Then while the church is in heaven, there will be a period of tribulation on the earth, which will end with the appearing of the Lord in great power and glory. This will be followed by the 1,000 year reign of the Lord on the earth and then the eternal state of the new heaven and the new earth.

The false teaching said that they were in the tribulation period, which was not the case as the church was still present on earth.

The Antichrist (2 Th. 2:3-5)

Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things?

Paul then helps them not to be deceived again on this topic. He says that two things need to happen before the day of the Lord is present. First, there is a “rebellion”. This Greek word, which is also used in Acts 21:21, means “defection from the truth” or “apostasy”. This seems to indicate a major rejection of faith in God during the tribulation. During a time of great persecution many will turn away from the faith rather than suffer and die (Mt. 24:10-12). Instead of love there will be betrayal, hate, wickedness and false prophets.

Then the “man of lawlessness” will be revealed. He is the antichrist, because he sets himself up as God and no other form of worship will be allowed. He even has an idol of himself in the temple in Jerusalem (Rev. 13:14). This event, which marks the middle of the tribulation period, had been described earlier by Daniel and Christ (Dan. 9:27; Mt. 24:15). Furthermore, the antichrist is a “man doomed to destruction”, because he is destined to be tormented forever in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10). The same description was also given to Judas Iscariot (Jn. 17:12). Paul had previously told them about these things, but they had forgotten them.

The Restrainer (2 Th. 2:6-8)

And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of His coming.

Paul says that the antichrist will not be revealed until that which is holding him back is taken away (v.6). He will certainly be revealed when he displays miraculous power through signs and wonders (v.9).

In v.7 it is evident that the antichrist and the power of evil are being held back by a person or a group of people. The Greek word for the restrainer means to “hold fast or down” and is used as a metaphor. Paul doesn’t say who the restrainer is; some have suggested it the principal of law and order as found in human government or the Holy Spirit or believers as indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit indwelling believers seems to fit best. Jesus said, “When He comes, He will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment” (Jn. 16:8). The Spirit is here because the world rejected Christ and He went back to heaven. The fact that He is here demonstrates the world’s guilt. Also, when he wrote about testing false teachers, John said “every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:3-4). Those who do not acknowledge that Jesus was divine are following the spirit of antichrist. But believers can overcome such false teachers because the Holy Spirit helps them detect error.

Believers are like salt and light in this world: in this sense they hold back the “power of lawlessness” (Mt. 5:13-14). Salt preserves and light removes darkness. Their influence on the world through the indwelling Holy Spirit will be removed at the rapture and the restraint on lawlessness will be gone (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19). We see that the power of lawlessness was already at work in Paul’s time and we know that evil is present in our world today (v.7). But it will be fully revealed during the tribulation. This universal evil will be present on earth until the restrainer is removed—then it will be judged. For example, the great flood didn’t come until Noah’s family were safely in the boat and Sodom was not destroyed until Lot’s family were safely away from the city. So, God will not judge the evil in this world until He has taken His people to safety in heaven.

Although the Holy Spirit is omnipresent, He came to the earth on the day of Pentecost to indwell believers (Jn. 14:16-17). He will leave the earth in this sense when all believers are raptured to heaven. Of course in the tribulation He will still be in the world convicting people of sin in the same way as in Old Testament times.

So in v.8 we see that the antichrist will be revealed during the tribulation and his reign of terror is described in the next section. At the end of this period, the antichrist will be destroyed when the Lord appears in great power and glory (Is. 11:4).

How evil works (2 Th. 2:9-12)

The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.

The antichrist will work like Satan works. He will be able to do miracles and people will be amazed at his signs and wonders. Many will be deceived and believe that that these miracles prove that he is divine (v.10). But this is a lie; Satan and demons can also perform miracles. In that day, God will send a powerful delusion so that those who deliberately rejected the truth will believe the lie that the antichrist is the Messiah (v.11); God on earth. As most people rejected the real Messiah, most people in the tribulation will accept the false Messiah. This shows how much Satan and sin have affected humanity.

Those deceived are described as: “perishing”, “they refused to love the truth”, they “have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness”. Because of their unbelief, they will be condemned by God—their names will not be written in the book of life (v.12; Rev. 20:15). However, we also know that many people will be saved in the tribulation (Rev. 7:9-14).

So how does this evil work?

  • In the unseen spiritual world—that’s how Satan works.
  • It can use counterfeit miracles.
  • Deceptively—things that seem to be good finish up being destructive.
  • In those who have no time for God or the Scriptures.

Thanksgiving (2 Th. 2:13-14)

But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.

After describing the antichrist and his followers, Paul now contrasts them with the Christians at Thessalonica. This change from bad news to good news is indicated by the word “but”. He thanks God for saving them (v.13). This salvation involves the past, the present and the future. In the past, God chose them to be believers in the early church. But the Bible doesn’t teach that God chose others to be destined for hell. Instead His desire is that all would be saved (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9), but many reject this offer of salvation. In the present, the Holy Spirit convicts people of sin and the need to accept the gift of salvation. In the future, Christians will share in the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, because they will be with Him and like Him forever (v.14). That’s a summary of God’s work throughout history and in our world today.

Both God and humanity play roles in this salvation. The three members of the trinity are mentioned in v.13; God chose them, the Lord loved them and the Spirit sanctified them. On the human side, the Thessalonians were called to be believers when God used Paul to preach the gospel to them (v.14). Also, the people needed to believe (v.13) and act on the truth of the gospel.

Paul now concludes his message saying despite the hard times they were going through, they should “stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you” (v.15). This is the key verse of this chapter. In those days doctrine was taught verbally by apostolic and prophetic messages and written in letters. But we now have the teachings of the apostle Paul and the other inspired authors written in the Bible, which should be the foundation and anchor of our faith. So, the defence and remedy against false teachings is to follow and obey the instructions and principles in God’s Word.

Paul urged them not to quit or give in to evil but to draw on the resources that God had given them to handle the pressures of life. Similarly, he told those in Ephesus to—“stand against the devil’s schemes”; “stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand”; and to “stand firm” (Eph. 6:10-18).

Paul’s Prayer (2 Th. 2:15-17)

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

Then he prayed that God would encourage and strengthen them inwardly in order to produce good deeds and good speech outwardly. Their greatest resource was God Himself. By mentioning both the Son and the Father, he is emphasizing their unity. Paul also mentions three things about God: He loved them, He gave them “eternal encouragement”, and He gave them “good hope”. Likewise, because of the gift of His Son for us, our sin has been forgiven and so believers have the eternal encouragement now and the hope of a future with the Lord. So our source of encouragement and hope should be God’s promises in the Bible. Also, note that the Christian life is not just words to know, but deeds to do. All the principles of God’s word need to be put into practice. Otherwise, we are hypocrites if we say the right words but never apply these to ourselves.

Other false teachings

There are many references to false teachings in the New Testament. These often related to mixing Jewish religion or Greek religions with Christianity. Paul faced Jewish legalism, the gospel of good works and those forcing Jewish customs on others. The Gnostics, who believed that matter was evil, had myths that required special knowledge and wisdom to interpret. For example, Hymenaeus and Philetus denied the bodily resurrection and thought there was only a spiritual resurrection (2 Tim. 2:17-18).  Such philosophy (Col. 2:8) is seeking wisdom outside God’s revelation—it puts human reason above God.

Others: opposed the truth (2 Tim. 3:8); taught false doctrines, myths and endless genealogies (1 Tim. 1:3-7); worshipped angels, and promoted harsh rules and treatment of the body (Col. 2:16-23); prohibited marriage and certain foods (1 Tim. 4: 1-3); and promoted controversies and quarrels over words (1 Tim. 6:3-5). These false teachers were conceited (1 Tim. 6:4), selfish (Rom. 16:18), cunning, crafty and deceitful (Eph. 4:14). They were influenced by demons (1 Tim. 4:1). Their teachings brought strife and spread like gangrene and cancer and destroyed peoples faith like these diseases destroy bodily tissue (1 Tim. 6:4; 2 Tim. 2:17-18).

We need maturity in order to distinguish good from evil and to avoid being blown off course by false teachings (Eph. 4:13-14; Heb. 5:14). False teachers could be recognised by their false view of Jesus (1 Jn. 4:1-3), their false gospel (Gal. 1:6-9), and their bad fruit (Mt. 7:15-20). Don’t welcome false teachers or false teachings into your house or the local church (2 Jn. 7-11), instead keep away from them and have nothing to do with them (Rom. 16:17-18; 2 Tim. 2:21; 3:5-9). Finally, false teachers will be judged by God (2 Pet. 2:1-21).

Lessons for us

Paul taught the young believers at Thessalonica about future prophetic events. This gave them an eternal perspective and helped them endure suffering and persecution. Likewise, we should include prophecy when teaching young believers.

But the Thessalonians had forgotten what Paul had told them about the future. This shows the importance of being reminded of the truths of scripture. Just because we have heard or read them in the past, doesn’t mean that we will remember them in the future. We can be reminded by personal Bible study and by listening to teaching from the Bible.

Two of our greatest resources are God and the truths of scripture. Like the Thessalonians we should also “stand firm and hold fast” to the principles of God’s Word. Let’s live by the true teachings, so we won’t be deceived by the false ones. This will lead to maturity and being able to distinguish between what is true and what is false.

When we hear new teachings, don’t ignore them. Instead check with the Bible as we may have forgotten what we have learnt from it. If you are uncertain about a particular teaching consult with someone who is “able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2).

What is “the lie” that Satan is spreading today? You can run your own life. You can do whatever you want to. It’s called humanism; the worship of humanity. It is opposite to the gospel, which says we should hand our life over to the Lord, who will encourage and strengthen us to live with Him.

Written, April 2007

See the next article in this series:
- Don’t be lazy


Looking ahead in the New Year

Are you ready

New Year’s day is celebrated in Sydney, Australia with a magnificent fireworks display. In Old Testament times the Jews celebrated the New Year as well. They had two calendars, a religious one and a civil one, that were six months apart – similar to our financial year and calendar year. The first month of the religious calendar, Nissan, is in the spring (Northern Hemisphere) when Passover is celebrated. However, the Jewish new Year is in Tishri, the seventh month of the religious calendar, in autumn, when the Jewish new Year festival, Rosh Hashanah is observed. “Rosh Hashanah” means “first of the year.”

In Biblical times this day was called the Festival of Trumpets and ram’s horns were blown, no work was done and special sacrifices were offered to the Lord (Lev. 23:23-25; Num. 29:1-6). The trumpets made a joyful noise on the new year and the Jews looked ahead committing the nation to God for the coming year. Most other Jewish festivals looked back to God’s deliverance (Passover, Unleavened Bread, Tabernacles), to God’s provision (Firstfruits, Pentecost), and to atone for their sins (Day of Atonement).

We look ahead

Christians also look back and look ahead. For example, in the Lord’s supper we look back to the crucifixion, but we only do this “until He comes”, then we look ahead. Let’s see at what Paul had to say about this topic.

In Philippians 3:12-15 (TNIV) he wrote “… I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things.”

Just before these verses, in Philippians 3:4-6, Paul listed his impeccable heritage and personal achievements such as, “confidence in the flesh … circumcised … a Hebrew of Hebrews … a Pharisee … persecuting the Church … faultless.” He once thought these things were valuable, but after being saved he considered them worthless compared with the infinite value of knowing Jesus Christ as Lord. Instead of living for these things, he wanted to live as Jesus lived. He was willing to suffer like Jesus and to be a martyr. Then he looked ahead, repeating the phrase “I press on”. And he gave two reasons for pressing on.

Paul pressed on

First, “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (v.12). When did Christ take hold of Paul? When He confronted him on the road to Damascus. On this occasion the Lord said to a man named Ananias, “This man is My chosen instrument to proclaim My name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for My name.” (Acts 9:15-16). Also, Paul was to be an example of what Christ can do in a person’s life. He pressed on to fulfil the purpose for which he was saved. And his was a lifetime mission, that’s why Paul wrote to the Philippians, “I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it” (v.13).

Second, Paul said ” I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (v.14). Like a runner in a race, Paul’s goal was to finish the race of life and receive the crown of righteousness at the Judgement Seat of Christ and to enjoy the blessings of heaven (2 Tim. 4:8). The spiritual race is a lifetime marathon! There is no retirement in the spiritual life!

Besides this he said, “Forgetting what is behind” (v.13), looking ahead and not turning back to the past. It’s hard to walk or run if you are looking back! Paul wanted to advance, not retreat. In fact he was “straining toward what is ahead” (v.13) – looking ahead and moving ahead!

God looks ahead

Are you readyGod also looks ahead. For example, before the tenth plague God instructed the Israelites to ask their Egyptian neighbors for articles of silver and gold and take these on their exodus or departure (Ex. 11:2). What was the purpose of this? Wouldn’t these just add to the weight of their luggage on the long journey? He was looking ahead to the building of the tabernacle, and providing them with the materials they would need in the future, even though they had no idea at the time what they would need (Ex. 25:1-8).

So God is always looking ahead. Whatever you are going through now may just be God preparing you for tomorrow. It may be God giving you the tools that you will use years later. We don’t know what is ahead. But let’s remember that God has prepared us for it, and He causes everything to work together for our good (Rom. 8:28).

In the coming year, let’s be like Paul and “press on” to fulfil the lifetime purpose for which God has called us, and continue to use our abilities and talents for Him. Let’s resolve this new year to press on towards the finish of the race of life, not looking back, but looking ahead and moving ahead with the Lord.

Published, January 2012


Does God heal all our sicknesses? Part 2

Our attitude towards illness and healing

We all experience ill health from time to time! What should be our attitude about it? Does God promise good health? Will He always answer prayers for healing?

Healing In The Early Church
The gift of healing was evident in the early Church (1 Cor. 12:9,28,30), and when crowds gathered around Peter, Stephen, Philip, Paul and Barnabas, the sick were healed. Even when they were touched by Peter’s shadow and Paul’s handkerchief or apron, they were healed (Acts 5:15-16; 19:11-12). Dorcas and Eutychus were brought back from the dead (Acts 9:36-42; 20:9-10). Everybody knew about these healings and were astonished (Acts 4:16; 8:13).

In this context Luke wrote: “The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people” (Acts 5:12 NIV). And Paul asserted that such “signs, wonders and miracles” characterized the apostles (2 Cor. 12:12). They helped to confirm that the gospel message was divine (Acts 14:3; Heb. 2:3-4), and that the apostles were empowered by the Holy Spirit. In particular, the Jews were more likely to believe something associated with a miracle (Jn. 4:48; 1 Cor. 1:22). How else could the apostles prove that Christ had sent them? These miracles confirmed the gospel message.

When God’s People Get Sick
I’ve heard people say that Christians should never suffer illness because Jesus has already suffered for us. They are wrongly using Isaiah 53:5 and 1 Peter 2:24, because these verses tell us that the Lord suffered for our sins, not our sicknesses. Let’s look again at the New Testament epistles to see what they say about healing today.

Paul wrote this to those in Galatia: “As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn” (Gal. 4:13-14). Paul, the man that God used to write much of the New Testament, suffered illness. This shows that godliness did not keep him from getting sick, nor will it keep us from getting sick.

After he saw a vision of heaven, Paul wrote: “To keep me from becoming conceited … there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Cor. 12:7-9). The Lord didn’t heal Paul of his “thorn,” which may have been an eye disease (Gal. 4:15; 6:11). God does not always heal us either.

Paul left Trophimus, a coworker, sick in Miletus (2 Tim. 4:20). And he wrote this about another coworker, Epaphroditus: “He was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow” (Phil. 2:27). Here we see that healing is a mercy, not a promise that we should expect or demand.

In the case of Paul and Epaphroditus, while their spiritual condition was good, their physical condition was not so good. This shows that healing does not depend on the strength of our faith or the lack of it. Paul prayed three times about his “thorn,” and then accepted it. God doesn’t remove all our pain, and He doesn’t fix everything. In fact the Bible promises suffering for believers (Jn. 16:33). We should pray like Christ: “Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Lk. 22:42).

Paul told Timothy to “stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses” (1 Tim. 5:23). Timothy was often ill, maybe because of a weak stomach, so Paul’s advice was to use a little wine. He wasn’t told just to pray about it, but to do something. And wine was a commonly prescribed medical treatment to help heal stomach ailments.

Paul wrote to Gaius: “I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well” (3 Jn. 2). It seems as though Gaius was not well physically. Paul prayed that his physical health would match his spiritual health.

We can see the following four things from these examples: sickness is not necessarily a result of one’s sin; we can’t gauge a person’s spiritual state from his physical state; if a person isn’t healed, it’s not due to a lack of faith; and no promise of physical healing is given to the Church. Although we should pray for healing, there is no guarantee that healing will come. After all, if the Lord doesn’t return to rapture us, we will all eventually die.

Confession Of Sin
James wrote this about sickness and sin: “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray for him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (Jas. 5:14-16).

This passage connects physical sickness, prayer, sin, forgiveness and healing. Was this person sick as a direct result of some sin? The elders were called to pray over him anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. As oil was traditionally used to dedicate people and things to God’s service (Ex. 30:30; 40:9), it may symbolize dedicating the sick person to the Lord’s care. People today can pray for recovery as God promises healing under these circumstances.

In Corinth, the sin of selfishness – “not recognizing the body of the Lord” at their love feasts – brought sickness and sometimes death (1 Cor. 11:30). This example links our physical and our spiritual health. For our health, we need to confess sins – such as selfishness, worry, anger, jealousy, pride and gluttony – and develop selfcontrol in these areas of our life. Selfcontrol is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) and a significant aid to good health.

How God Uses Illness
The Bible gives five examples of how we can actually benefit from illness.

1. It reveals God’s power. After Paul prayed to have his “thorn” removed, the Lord said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” And Paul wrote, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Cor. 12:9). God gives strength to suffer because His power is more evident when we’re weak.

2. It helps us rely more on God. Paul claimed that his troubles “happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (2 Cor. 1:9). Here we see that the allpowerful God will give us the strength to endure through suffering.

3. It gives us a reason to give thanks. According to Paul, “He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us again. On Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many” (2 Cor.1:10-11). The Corinthians prayed for Paul when he was in trouble, and their prayers were answered.

4. It gives us experiences that can help others. Paul said that God “comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Cor. 1:4). People are encouraged when we empathize with their situation. They see that someone understands. How we suffer illnesses can be an example for others.

5. It develops our spiritual character. Paul wrote that “we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Rom. 5:3-4). Enduring sickness can develop perseverance (2 Cor. 1:6), just as exercise develops physical strength. God uses suffering to mold character and help us realize that He’s working in us.

Paul wanted to participate in Christ’s sufferings (Phil. 3:10-11). He wanted to live like Christ did. It takes divine strength to suffer for Christ. God uses illness to draw us closer to Him, to teach us lessons we would learn in no other way and to provide us with new opportunities to help others.

We have no choice about when we will experience the pain of illness and injury, but we have a choice in how we respond. To give up, complain or wallow in selfpity in tough times, stumbles weak believers who are watching us (Heb. 12:12-13). Instead, we should encourage those that are weary (Isa. 50:4) by accepting pain and sickness as being God’s will for us, and live a life of perseverance, patience and endurance (2 Th. 1:4; Heb. 12:7-11; Jas. 1:2-4,12; 5:7-11). The Bible teaches that God uses difficult times for our growth.

Lessons For Us
Although there were many miraculous healings in the early Church, today healing is a mercy, not a promise. Remember, Paul was not healed of his thorn in the flesh. When God does not heal, it’s not because of our lack of faith. Instead, He wants us to persevere in sickness and pain so that His power may be revealed, that we may rely more on Him, that there will be prayer and thanksgiving, that we can use our experience to help others, and that we can develop our Christian character.

God is more concerned about our spiritual health than our physical health (1 Tim. 4:8). This doesn’t mean that we should neglect our physical health, but as our bodies wear out, they should wear out while serving Him. Let’s get our priorities right. God wants us to be spiritually healthy, and looking forward to that time when sickness and suffering are no more.

Published May 2010

See the other article in this series:
Does God heal all our sicknesses? Part 1


Boats and bicycles

How are you travelling?

During a visit to the Netherlands I was amazed at the number of boats and bicycles throughout the country. The boats and bicycles are used for transport and recreation. Many of the boats sail along a network canals. Others are house boats. One company combines the two modes of transport by offering bicycle tours with overnight accommodation on a barge.

The word “nether” means “lower”. The Netherlands as the name suggests is a low-lying country. Almost half of the land is below sea level. Elsewhere, the elevation rarely exceeds 50 meters (or 160 feet). Vaalserberg near the border with Belgium and Germany is the nations highest point at 321 meters (or 1053 feet) above sea level. Yet it is only 25 kilometers (or 16 miles) from canals near the Maas river.

Boats

Boating is a way of life to the Dutch. There are numerous canals, rivers and lakes and some locks between waterways at different heights. The total length of the navigable canals is approximately 7,000 kilometers (or 4,350 miles). Some canals are elevated to carry boats above the freeway. Two wonderful cruising areas are the Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht region and the lake region of Friesland in the north.

In the New Testament we read that Jesus and His disciples travelled in boats, while Paul travelled in ships. The most dramatic voyages in the bible are Jonah’s towards Tarshish and Paul’s to Rome (Jon. 1:1-2:10; Acts 27:1-14). A violent storm arose on both occasions and the ship threatened to break up. The sailors were afraid and they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship (Jon. 1:5; Acts 27:18). Due to miraculous circumstances no lives were lost.

Jonah and Paul were both sent to the headquarters of an empire; Ninevah, the Assyrian capital, and Rome, the Roman capital. Jonah was running away from God by travelling in the opposite direction to God’s command (Jon. 1:2-3). Paul was obeying God (Acts 23:11). This reminds me we are all travelling in the journey of life. Which direction are you going? If you are going in the wrong direction, are you willing to acknowledge this and turn to God like Jonah?

Bicycles

There are approximately 18 million bicycles in the Netherlands, which is more than one per person. Bicycles can go along narrow alleys and other places where other motor vehicles can’t. They can also be taken on trains and ridden in the city and in the countryside. This reminds me of the parable of the great banquet, which is an illustration of the gospel message being spread across the world (Lk. 14:16-24).

After the original invitations to the banquet were rejected, the invitation went to whoever could be found from the “streets and alleys of the town” and the “roads and country lanes” (vv. 21, 23NIV). This includes all kinds of thoroughfares. It is like the pattern of evangelism, which includes people in all kinds of places—“you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). “Jerusalem” was the city they were in at the time and the chief city in Judea. “Judea” was the surrounding region that had a large Jewish population. “Samaria” was an adjacent region that had no dealings with the Jews. “The ends of the earth” at that time was the known world around the Mediterranean Sea. This is the pattern of evangelism that was followed by the early church—firstly Jerusalem (Acts 1:1-7:60), then surrounding and adjacent regions (Acts 8:1-9:31), and then more distant lands (Acts 9:32- 28:31). It shows that evangelism should begin in your neighbourhood and extend across the globe. So, let’s take the gospel whenever and wherever we travel, on bike, boat or some other way!

Written, January 2003


A Look At First Thessalonians. Part 6: Living As A Christian

In this Series on 1 Thessalonians we have seen that Paul visited and preached in Thessalonica and a church was established. Because he couldn’t visit them for some time, he wrote a letter of encouragement. From 4:1 to 5:11 Paul reminded them how to please God – avoid sexual immorality and excel in holiness and brotherly love. Instead of grieving for those who had died, they were to look forward to being reunited with them and to be awake and sober as they looked forward to the Lord’s return. Paul ended his letter with practical guidelines on Christian living. He addressed godly attitudes and behavior in relationships with the elders, other believers and God.

Living With Church Leaders
“Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other.” 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 NIV

These verses address leadership in the local church. The Bible teaches that each church is to be led by a group of qualified elders who share this responsibility. Several characteristics of elders are mentioned here. They are to “work hard” at caring for people. They are to be “over” the congregation, meaning that they are to maintain or rule. In other letters Paul said that they “direct the affairs of the church” and “lead” (1 Tim. 5:17; Rom. 12:8). Both Paul and Peter likened their care to spiritual parents caring for a family (1 Tim. 3:4,5,12; 1 Pet. 5:2-3). Elders are also to “admonish” or gently reprove the congregation. Paul used the same word when he told them to warn anyone who didn’t obey his instructions (2 Th. 3:15). Elders are to remind the church of God’s truths and the dangers of living a self-centered life.

In this passage, the congregation was given two responsibilities with respect to the elders. It was to “respect” them. This Greek word is translated as “acknowledge” (TNIV), “know” (KJV), “recognize” (NKJV), “appreciate” (NASB) and “honor” (NLT). The congregation needs to know the elders if they are going to trust and follow them. They are also to “hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.” This means to value them because of their important work, not because of their personality, spiritual gifts, wealth or anything else.

In this context Paul encouraged Thessalonians to “live in peace with each other.” Harmony should be characteristic of all Christian relationships, as peace is a fruit of the Spirit and we follow the God of peace (1 Th. 5:23; Gal. 5:22). There is a need to value all the elders, as favoring one divides the congregation. Also, elders should serve the whole congregation, not just part of it. Paul wrote elsewhere that we should “make every effort to do what leads to peace” and “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 14:19; 12:18).

Living With Believers
“And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.” 1 Thessalonians 5:14-15

Here Paul shows us how we are to live with three types of people. We are to “warn those who are idle.” Apparently, some Thessalonians had stopped working in order to prepare for the second coming of the Lord (2 Th. 3:10-11). They lived off others, were disorderly and became busybodies disrupting the local church. Paul’s solution was that they get back to work to support themselves and their families. He warned that “anyone who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” Paul said don’t help them by feeding them; instead let them experience the consequences of their behavior (2 Th. 3:10-13). This admonition is followed by two examples of caring.

“Encourage the disheartened.” Those who are disappointed with life are to be encouraged by individuals coming alongside and empathizing with them. Circumstances can cause people to think they don’t belong and have nothing to contribute. But we all have God-given gifts. We need to help such people find their place in the church and encourage them in their work.

“Help the weak” refers to those who may not be sure of their salvation because of their past, or who may doubt God’s power. Paul also taught that we shouldn’t stumble those who are weak in the faith (Rom. 14:1-15; 1 Cor. 8:13). They need our encouragement, friendship and help.

Paul then mentioned three attitudes required when warning, encouraging and helping others: First, “Be patient with everyone.” This means trying again and again even though there may be no response from those you are warning, encouraging and helping. Second, “Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong.” Christians are called to forgive, not retaliate (Mt. 18:21-22; Rom. 12:17). When someone hurts us, we should not get angry and retaliate, but rather seek reconciliation (Mt. 18:15-17). Be patient and continue to show Christian kindness and love. Third, “Always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.” The goal of warning, encouraging and helping others should be to achieve what is best for them in the Lord.

Living Before God In All Circumstances
“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

It is God’s will that believers be characterized by joy, prayer and thanksgiving. Paul began with “Be joyful always” to encourage us not to let things get us down. In Philippians 4:4 he added that our rejoicing should be “in the Lord.” This joy is to be shown in all circumstances including suffering and persecution (Jas. 1:2-4; 1 Pet. 4:13). The Thessalonians were persecuted (1 Th. 1:6; 2:14; 3:3-4). Paul sang while in prison (Acts 16:22-25). How can this be? Their joy was an internal attitude that was not overtaken by external circumstances; it is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), with Christ as its source and subject. He controls our circumstances and through Him we have victory. We develop joy by focusing on God’s promises and spending time with joyful believers. Joy is contagious.

Then Paul urged them to “pray continually” – at regular times and as needed. When trials come we need to pray our way through them. For example, when Peter was in prison, the believers prayed and he was released (Acts 12:1-19). We should “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests … and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (Eph. 6:18).

Paul also told believers to “give thanks in all circumstances.” Believers should be “overflowing with thankfulness” (Col. 2:7) even in the trials and difficulties which mature us. We don’t have to give thanks for everything that happens to us; it says “in” our circumstances, not “for” them. But we shouldn’t complain or grumble. Thanking God is not a feeling, it’s a choice. Daniel prayed three times a day, “giving thanks to his God” even though his life was in danger (Dan. 6:10-12). We can develop an attitude of praising God in all circumstances.

Living Before God As He Guides
“Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22

“Do not put out the Spirit’s fire” is a metaphor for hindering or extinguishing the operation of the Holy Spirit in an individual or the church. This may be caused by sin, disunity or suppression of the Spirit’s gifts. Instead, we are to keep the Spirit’s fire burning by following Paul’s instructions to be joyful, prayerful and thankful, and by following the Spirit when He prompts us to do what is right or stop doing what is wrong.

“Do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything.” The early Church did not have a completed Bible so the gift of prophecy was God’s way of getting His message to His people. Now that the canon of Scripture is set, this takes place as His Word is taught and preached. Instead of despising prophecies, the Thessalonians were to evaluate them. Paul also said that those listening to prophets should discern or “weigh carefully” what they say (1 Cor. 14:29). They were to test them against the apostles’ teachings. Then they could accept what was good and reject what was bad. In Acts, Luke told the Jews in Thessalonica to learn from the Bereans who “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).

Paul’s Prayer
“May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The One who calls you is faithful and He will do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

The Thessalonians couldn’t live like this in their own strength, so Paul prayed for them as only God could make their efforts successful. There are different aspects to sanctification (holiness), and here he addressed progressive sanctification. Paul prayed that their sanctification would extend to their whole being – spirit, soul and body. The spirit is our link to God, the soul is our mind, emotions and will, and the body is the physical part housing the spirit and soul.

It is God who makes us holy, and Paul was confident that He would complete what He began (Phil. 1:6). He is faithful to keep His promises. The end of this progression is the coming of our Lord, at the judgment seat of Christ, when each Christian’s life will be reviewed as he/she stands before Him.

In Conclusion
“Brothers, pray for us. Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:25-28

After he prayed for them, Paul asked the Thessalonians to pray for him. The kiss was a normal greeting of that day, similar to a handshake in western countries. It expressed friendship with fellow believers. Paul wanted “to have this letter read to all” brothers and sisters, a statement not found in any of his other letters (5:27); he thought it was that important. We should read it with this in mind.

Three keys to living together as Christians alluded to here are prayer, fellowship and Bible reading. Paul ended this letter with a benediction of grace for the Thessalonians – God’s unmerited favor through the saving work of Christ.

Lessons For Us
Let’s develop godly attitudes and behaviors in our relationships with church elders, with other believers and with God. Get to know the elders of your church, and value them because of their work. Obey them and encourage them in their work. The same principle applies to ministry leaders within the church. Believers should serve one another through encouragement, practical help, patience, peaceable living, and by treating everyone as equals in Christ. Our attitude toward God should be one of joy, prayer and thanksgiving in all circumstances. We should not stifle the work of the Holy Spirit in an individual or in the church. The standard by which we should test all preaching and teaching is the Word.

May we use the resources God has provided to live for Him until the Rapture when Christ returns to take us to be with Him forever.

Published, June 2009

See the next article in this series:
- Encouragement during trials and suffering (2 Thessalonians 1)

See the first article in this series:
- Model believers (1 Thessalonians 1)


A Look At First Thessalonians. Part 5: The Rapture And The Day Of The Lord

In this Series we have seen that Paul visited Thessalonica and in response to his preaching a church was established. Because he was unable to visit them for some time, he wrote a letter to encourage these new believers. In chapter 4 Paul told them how to live to please God. They were to avoid sexual immorality and excel in holiness and brotherly love. In this part we will look at the Second Coming, a major theme mentioned in each chapter (1 Th. 1:9-10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:17; 5:23). The Thessalonians knew of the Second Coming as part of the gospel message. In fact, some were so sure it would be soon that they gave up their jobs to prepare for it (1 Th. 5:14; 2 Th. 3:6-12). Further teaching was needed on this topic.

Death Is Like Sleep
“We do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 NIV).

The Thessalonians who were expecting the Lord to return any day (1 Th. 1:10) must have been worried about those who had already died. Would they see their loved ones before the final resurrection at the end of time (Jn. 11:24)? Also Paul had probably taught them that Christ was coming back to reign and that Christians would reign with Him (Rev. 20:6). Would those who had already died miss this? Paul wrote this passage to allay their fears.

He used “asleep” three times to describe the state of the believer after death (13,14,15). When someone is “asleep” or resting, we can have contact with them again after they wake. This metaphor teaches us that death is not the end; as waking follows sleep, resurrection follows death. Paul said they were “asleep in Jesus” (4:14), meaning they were in His care. The soul and spirit don’t sleep in death, as they are “at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8).

When a believer dies, there is sorrow but not despair, because there is the hope of heaven and reunion (4:13). The basis of our hope is the resurrection of the Lord (4:14). Paul wrote elsewhere: “Since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:21-22). Because Christ rose, so will all believers who have died. We are assured of this because God will bring them with Jesus (4:14). When will this be? When Jesus returns in power and glory. The dead won’t miss the glory of the coming kingdom.

A Period Of Time
The “coming” of the Lord “down from heaven” (4:15-16) is derived from the word parousia. It means both “arrival” or “coming” and “presence with.” It is the opposite of absence. In the Bible, parousia is associated with: the Rapture, when Christ returns for all true believers (1 Th. 4:15); the Judgment Seat of Christ, when rewards are given to believers for service (1 Th. 2:19; 5:23); and the appearing, when Christ returns to earth in great power and glory (1 Th. 3:13; 2 Th. 2:8). The Second Coming (or “presence”) of the Lord will be a series of events that occurs over a period of time, not all at once.

This sequence of future events can be inferred from The Revelation: the Church on earth (Rev. 2-3); the Rapture, that is Christ’s return to take all believers (dead and alive) home to be with Him; the Church in heaven (Rev. 4-5); the Tribulation on earth (Rev. 6-18); the appearing, that is Christ’s return to earth in great power (Rev. 19); the Millennium, a 1,000 year kingdom (Rev. 20); and the new heaven and new earth, a new eternal universe (Rev. 21-22).

When we think of the Lord’s coming, we should think of a period of time, not an isolated event. For example, Christ’s first coming to earth (“presence”) was over a period of 33 years; that’s how long He was physically present on earth. In fact, one of His names is “Immanuel – which means ‘God with us’” (Mt. 1:23).

The Rapture
“According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17).

The Rapture (4:15) was a new revelation, referred to as a mystery or truth previously unknown (1 Cor. 15:51). Two categories of Christians are mentioned – those living and the dead. The bodies of the dead will not be left behind at the Rapture. The sequence of events is in four steps. First is the Lord’s return, when Jesus will come down from heaven with a loud command, the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God. The command is probably addressed to the dead (Jn. 5:28-29; 11:43). Second is the resurrection of the dead, when the “dead in Christ” will rise first, with God recreating from the remains of dust the bodies of all who have died. Third is the transformation of the living believers who will be “caught up” (rapturo in Latin) together with the dead. Fourth is the reunion, when we will meet the Lord in the air to be with Him forever. Jesus summarized the Rapture this way: “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am” (Jn. 14:3).

The truth of resurrection was not the mystery, since it appeared in the Old Testament; the change of the living believers at the Lord’s return was the mystery. Paul described this sudden change: “We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality” (1 Cor. 15:51-53).

Paul also wrote that “our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body” (Phil. 3:20-21). When He returns, our bodies will be transformed to be like His resurrection body – suited to heaven, not subject to sickness, decay or death, and free from sin and its effects. This is called the “redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23). The Bible doesn’t say whether it will be a secret or a public event. Because it takes place in a flash, some say it won’t be seen by unbelievers. Others say it will be heard. Paul’s answer to their concerns was this: When the Lord returns, your loved ones who have died will not miss His appearing or the Millennium.

The Day Of The Lord
“About times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-4).

The “day of the Lord” is not a 24- hour period. In the New Testament, it refers to God’s future time of judgment of the world (Acts 2:20; 1 Th. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:10). It will be characterized by gloom, darkness and destruction. The sun moon and stars will be darkened (Mt. 24:29; Rev. 6:12). There will be judgments on God’s enemies as described by the seals, trumpets and bowls in the Revelation. The “day of the Lord” is used to describe events in the Tribulation, the appearing and the final destruction of the heavens and earth with fire.

The “day of the Lord” will be a time of judgment of unbelievers; note the words “them” and “they” (5:3). Paul gives three characteristics of that time: it will be unexpected, destructive and inevitable.

First, Jesus said it will be unexpected: “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all. It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed” (Lk. 17:26-30). Life will go on as usual until God removes His people, and then His judgment will come on the earth.

Second, He also said it will be destructive, and described it as follows: “For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now – and never to be equaled again” (Mt. 24:21). The great distress only ends when the Lord comes in great power and glory (Mt. 24:29-31).

Third, it will be inevitable, like the labor preceding birth. Once it starts a woman can’t change her mind, and birth follows soon after. Paul said the world cannot escape God’s terrible judgments.

Salvation Instead Of Suffering
“But you … are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness” (1 Thessalonians 5:4-5).

Paul said that there is a way of escape. The words “you,” “we” and “us” (5:4,5,9,10) tell us that Christians will not go through these judgments. Paul contrasted two groups: Unbelievers are in darkness and night, while believers are in light and day. In Scripture, “light” represents what is good and true, while “darkness” represents what is evil and false (Acts 26:18; 2 Cor. 6:14; 1 Jn. 1:5-7). He said that only those in darkness will experience these judgments. “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him” (1 Th. 5:9-10).

Verses 9-10 tell us that instead of suffering judgment, believers will receive salvation; they will be with Christ where there is no sin. Other verses also show that Christians will not experience the suffering described in the “day of the Lord” or the Tribulation (Rom. 5:9; 1 Th. 1:10; 2 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 3:10). Instead, we will be raptured, that is taken away as Noah was taken away from destruction of the flood and Lot from the destruction of Sodom.

Living In View Of The Second Coming
“Let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet” (1 Thessalonians 5:6-8).

Paul urged believers to live consistently as children of the day and of the light, alert and self-controlled. We should be expecting Christ’s return at any moment, living for Him and not being lazy, careless, distracted, self-indulgent, or living in sinful behavior. We should also be sober, seeking to further the kingdom of God instead of our own entertainment, being self-controlled and not losing control of our behavior.

He then said believers should exercise faith, love and hope like armor that protects us from losing control. Faith involves depending on God. Our love for the Lord and for each other can help us live for God today. And Christ’s return is our hope. The prospect of heaven helps us live for God today.

Paul’s passages on the Rapture and the day of the Lord have similar conclusions: “Encourage one another with these words” (1 Th. 4:18). “Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Th. 5:11).

Lessons For Us
The second coming of the Lord is a series of events over a period of time. The Rapture will be a great reunion of believers both dead and alive. Like the first century Christians, we should expect it to occur at any moment. Are we encouraging each other as we eagerly wait for it?

Published, May 2009

See the next article in this series:
- Living as a Christian


A Look At First Thessalonians. Part 4: Living To Please God

In this Series we have seen that Paul visited Thessalonica and established a church there. These new believers were a good example for all in Greece. Paul was also a good example: he loved them, and was a bold, honest, hard worker who followed up by encouraging and supporting them. He had instructed them how to live to please God; now he tells them to avoid sexual immorality and to love one another. Many today say that it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you don’t hurt anyone. But this philosophy is wrong because it is not consistent with Scripture.

A Way Of Living
“We instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus” (1 Th. 4:1-2 NIV).

Living in order to please God is the theme of 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12. The word translated “live” (4:1) means “walk” in Greek; it is a metaphor for our progress in life. Paul addressed their behavior when he was with them. Their top priority should be to please God. Two things hinder this: “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb. 11:6), and “Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8).

Elsewhere Paul gave two reasons why Christians should live to please God. First, because of what the Lord has done for us: “He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Cor. 5:15); “You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). Believers are under new ownership and should live to please their divine Master, not to satisfy their sinful desires.

Second, because all believers will give an account of what they have done when they get to heaven: “We make it our goal to please Him … For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that everyone may receive what is due them for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:9-10). Here all our works for the Lord will be revealed. While our salvation is by faith, our reward is based on our good works for the Lord. Elsewhere he wrote that we please God by our good works (Col. 1:10).

Although the Thessalonians were pleasing God, Paul urged them to do so more and more (4:1). The Christian life is one of continual progress. Each day there are new challenges and opportunities to please God.

The Greek word translated “instructions” (4:2) means a “command” or “order.” It was used by the Sanhedrin when they commanded the apostles not to preach the gospel (Acts 5:28). These are important instructions for those who claim to follow the Lord. They show us the way to live for Him.

Self-Control And Respect
“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him” (1 Th. 4:3-6).

God’s will was that the Christians in Thessalonica be sanctified. Sanctification means being set apart for God. There are three phases to sanctification – positional, progressive and perfect. Believers are positionally sanctified when they are saved (1 Cor. 1:2; 6:11); they become progressively more godly in character through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit (Heb. 2:11; 1 Pet. 1:15-16); when they get to heaven they will be sanctified perfectly like the Lord (1 Th. 5:23; 1 Jn. 3:2). In this passage Paul addressed progressive sanctification in daily living – a process over time, not a single event.

Paul then gave two examples of sanctification – avoiding sexual immorality and pursuing brotherly love (4:4-10). And he gave them three steps to avoid sexual immorality: control sexual desires (4:4); respect the rights of others (4:6); and listen to God and love one another (4:7-10).

Control Sexual Desires
This passage addresses the sin of sexual immorality in the Christian community. Because sexual immorality was a problem in Corinth, Paul wrote to them: “Since there is so much sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband.” The marriage relationship is the right place for sexual activity. Any other sexual relationship is sinful (1 Cor. 7:2, 11).

Paul also wrote: “Flee from sexual immorality … he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Cor. 6:18-20). We are indwelt with the Spirit and our bodies belong to the Lord.

We live in a world where many don’t know God’s biblical guidelines. Sexual immorality is promoted in movies, television and magazines. But a Christian has a different standard: “Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity … because these are improper for God’s holy people” (Eph. 5:3). This includes our desires and thoughts (Mt. 5:27-28).

Because our natural functions need to be controlled, the Thessalonians were urged to control their sexual desires (4:4) instead of indulging in “passionate lust like the heathen” who don’t trust God. The phrase, “who do not know God” (4:5) refers to those who refuse to recognize Him (Rom. 1:28; 2 Th. 1:8; 2:10,12). Such people considered few activities as immoral. This should be one of the areas where a believer should differ, or be set apart from an unbeliever.

In Romans 1, Paul described what happens when people reject the Creator: “Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator” (Rom. 1:22-25). All kinds of sexual immorality are the outcome of such unbelief – idolatry is mentioned before and after “sexual impurity.” In fact, sexual immorality is an act of the sinful nature and Christians should not be controlled by such desires (Gal. 5:19; Col. 3:5). Those who practice such sins are not Christians (1 Cor. 6:9-10).

Respect Rights Of Others
Our behavior affects others, so there is a need for boundaries if we are to continue to be friends. Paul wrote, “No one should wrong or take advantage of a brother” (1 Th. 4:6a). Sexual sin harms others besides those who engage in it. Outside of marriage, there is no such thing as safe sex. In adultery, the spouse is wronged. Premarital sex wrongs one’s future spouse. Believers should respect others and not harm them by the consequences of sexual sin. “The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you” (1 Th. 4:6b).

The Bible says, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Heb. 13:4). Any sexual relationship outside marriage is sin, which God will judge. This sin will affect one’s character, family life and relationship with God. Sex outside marriage ruins people’s lives. For example, adultery ruins marriages and the devastation of AIDS in Africa is largely caused by the transmission of the HIV virus via sex outside marriage. Those who commit such sins can be restored by turning from sin and accepting God’s forgiveness (1 Cor. 6:11; 2 Cor. 11:2).

Listen To God And Love One Another
“For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you His Holy Spirit. Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more” {1 Th. 4:7-10).

We need boundaries if we are to maintain a good relationship with the Lord. Paul reinforced that this instruction was given by God and confirmed by the Holy Spirit. These are not Paul’s words, but God’s. He wants us to control ourselves and not fall into sin. The Holy Spirit lives within us to help us please God. Believers should follow His instruction about sexual sin.

Paul now changes the topic to love, and mentions two types of love. The first is the affection shared by brothers and sisters in a family – a heart love (phileo). The other is a deliberate decision to act in the interests of another – a love of the mind (agape). The relationships between believers should be driven by both loves. Our care and concern for each other is a Christian obligation, but it should be expressed with affection. It holds us together and attracts others to Christ. Both types of love are also mentioned in Romans 12:9-10.

Jesus commanded us to express “agape” love to each other: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (Jn. 13:34-35). Christians are to love as Christ loved us. His unconditional, sacrificial love was shown by His death on the cross. Such love seeks what’s best for others, does not draw attention to itself, persists despite the cost and seeks to serve rather than be served.

Although the believers in Thessalonica loved one another and all believers in Macedonia, Paul urged them to do so “more and more.” The same phrase was applied to “living to please God” (4:1), where we saw that the Christian life should be one of continual improvement. Here this principle is applied to agape love. Paul had already mentioned this earlier: “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you” (1 Th. 3:12). Each day there are new challenges and opportunities to love one another. But how can we “love one another” daily?

Love In Action
“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody” (1 Th. 4:11-12).

Paul gave these believers three examples of loving one another. First, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.” Some who misunderstood the promise of Christ’s return were restless and panic-stricken. Others retaliated against persecution. He told them not to seek the limelight, live a life of selfish ambition or clamor for recognition, but to lead a peaceful life.

Second, he said, “mind your own business.” Some idle Thessalonians were taking undue interest in other people’s lives (2 Th. 3:11). He told them not to be busybodies who interfere in the lives of others in unnecessary, unhelpful ways. Idleness and meddling in the lives of others is incompatible with love.

Third, he said “work with your hands” to provide for your families (1 Tim. 5:8). Paul, Silas and Timothy had worked hard while they preached in Thessalonica so they wouldn’t be a burden to others (1 Th. 2:9). Because of their belief in the imminent return of Christ, some in Thessalonica stopped working and relied on others for support. But Christians have dual citizenship – in earth and heaven (Rom. 13:1-7; Phil. 3:20) – and should not neglect their practical responsibilities. Two reasons were given by Paul for working: “to win the respect of outsiders” who were watching and judging Christianity and God’s Word by their behavior; to “not be dependent on anybody.” In Ephesians Paul gives a third reason: to “have something to share with those in need” (Eph. 4:28). Living quiet lives, minding our own business and earning a living are all acts of love.

Lessons For Us
Because our mission is to please God, we should avoid sexual immorality as it destroys the beauty of a sanctified and holy life. Sexual purity is the key to holiness. The three steps to achieve it are: controlling sexual desires, respecting the rights of others, and loving one another.

Don’t follow your feelings; instead engage your mind and don’t give in to society’s sexual pressures.

Published, April 2009

See the next article in this series:
- The Rapture and the Day of the Lord


A Look At First Thessalonians. Part 3: Paul’s Joy

In this series we have seen that Paul preached in Thessalonica and a church was established. These people turned from idols to serve the living and true God and to wait for His Son from heaven. They were also a good example for all believers in Greece. Paul loved new believers like a mother caring for her baby, and coached them like a father training his children. He was a hard worker. He knew the opposition the Thessalonians faced because he had faced it as well.

In Part 3 we look at Paul’s joy, which is mentioned three times (1 Th. 2:19,20; 3:9). We will see his priorities in life and his attitude towards new believers.

Paul’s Concern
“But, brothers, when we were torn away from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. For we wanted to come to you – certainly I, Paul, did, again and again – but Satan stopped us. For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when He comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.” (1 Th. 2:17-20 NIV)

Paul explained his failure to return to Thessalonica (2:17-18). Perhaps his critics accused him of being afraid to go back because of the opposition he faced, but Paul said that his separation from them was like being “torn away.” He felt like an orphan – their close relationship was like family.

His concern for the Thessalonians is clearly evident. Although he was forced to leave the city, he still thought about them regularly. In fact, he had an “intense longing” to know how they were doing, and did all he could to visit them again. He tried at least twice, but his plans were blocked by Satan (2:18). But God always overrules Satan’s opposition, and in this case He used Paul’s delay so this letter would be written and believers in all eras could benefit from Paul’s example.

Satan wants to hinder the spread of the gospel and the spiritual growth of believers. When we face hindrances in God’s work, Satan is often behind them. Paul wrote: “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against … the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12). Satan and his demons are the real enemy, not the people or circumstances that they use. Satanic opposition is permitted by God. Remember how Satan got God’s permission before he afflicted Job. It is God’s way of getting our attention. Nothing happens by chance to Christians.

Paul believed that his most important work was helping new believers grow in the Christian faith (2:19-20). As his spiritual children, they were his hope of reward and great rejoicing in heaven. He also said that the believers in Philippi were his “joy and crown” (Phil. 4:1).

The believers at Thessalonica were also Paul’s “glory and joy” on earth (2:20). His investment of time with them resulted in believers who would praise God forever. Such investments are the best we can make because the reward extends into eternity. What a great incentive for this type of work!

Delegation
“So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. We sent Timothy, who is our brother and God’s fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we were destined for them. In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and our efforts might have been useless” (1 Th. 3:1-5).

Paul had heard no news and wanted to find out how they were doing (3:1-2). He sent Timothy, a spiritual brother and co-worker in God’s service (1 Cor. 3:9), to accomplish three tasks: strengthen and encourage them in their faith (3:2); ensure they were not being unsettled by persecution (3:3); and check their progress in the Christian life (3:5). Paul was afraid that they may have been seduced by Satan to escape persecution by giving up their faith. The choice was loyalty to Christ or personal comfort. If they chose personal comfort, the church would wither and die and Paul’s work would have been in vain.

Hardship And Opposition
Paul had already reminded them to expect persecution (3:4). When he revisited Pisidia he said, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). The journey for believers before they share in Christ’s glory involves suffering (2 Tim. 3:12; Jn. 16:33). The Lord warned His disciples that to follow Him meant facing opposition: “If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also” (Jn. 15:20). We know that Christ and the apostles were persecuted (1 Pet. 2:21). Timothy would have told them to expect opposition and to persist through it. He would have also reminded them of the presence of the Holy Spirit, and the fact that God was training them through their hardship.

God uses opposition, persecution, suffering and trials to discipline and train us (Heb. 12:7-11). They can test and prove our faith and weed out those who profess but don’t have true faith (Mk. 4:17; 1 Pet. 1:6-7). As we experience God’s comfort, we can encourage others who are going through difficult times (2 Cor. 1:4). Difficulties also develop character (Rom. 5:3; Jas. 1:3) and make us more zealous in spreading the gospel (Acts 8:3-4).

Timothy’s Report
“But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. Therefore, brothers, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?” (1Th. 3:6-9).

Timothy’s good report from Thessalonica filled Paul with joy. His labor was not in vain. Their faith and love were clearly evident. They had pleasant memories of Paul’s visit and longed to see him again. His response was to write this letter.

They were living according to his teaching and showing this by loving one another (3:6). They had the right attitude towards God, towards others and towards Paul. To the Galatians Paul wrote: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Gal. 5:6). And to the Ephesians he wrote: “Since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints I have not stopped giving thanks” (Eph. 1:15-16).

Although he was suffering “distress and persecution,” Paul was greatly encouraged because of their faith (3:7). He was relieved to know they were doing well (3:8). In fact, words couldn’t express His thankfulness to God (3:9). His attitude was like John who wrote, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 Jn. 4).

Paul’s Prayer
“Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith. Now may our God and Father Himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May He strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all His holy ones” (1 Th. 3:10-13).

When it’s hard to know what to pray for Paul wrote: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with God’s will” (Rom. 8:26-27).

When the Thessalonians were persecuted, Paul prayed most earnestly, frequently and specifically. “Most earnestly” is a compound Greek word meaning “most exceedingly.” He knew what they were going through and prayed night and day. It’s not surprising that they were “standing firm in the Lord” (3:8). He also wrote, “Rejoice always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Th. 5:16-17).

Paul mentioned four things specifically in his prayer. First, he wanted to see them again. Second, he wanted to teach them further truths from God. Third, he wanted God to “clear the way” for him to come to them. God answered this prayer when he returned to Thessalonica (Acts 20:1-3). Fourth, he prayed that their love for others might increase.

In Chapter 1, Paul noted their “labor prompted by love” (1 Th. 1:3); they had made a great start. Their love was to include both believers and unbelievers – and even their enemies. This was the kind of love that Paul modeled. It is a love that is to be practiced continually.

Our expression of love in this life leads to blamelessness in the next. If we love one another and all humanity, we will stand “blameless and holy” when Christ returns to reign on earth. The Greek word used to describe believers in the New Testament means “holy one” or “saint.” Positionally, believers are holy (set apart for God), and practically should be becoming more holy in character by the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 1:2; 1 Pet. 1:15-16).

Lessons For Us
This is a lesson in the importance of follow-up work. It is not enough to lead sinners to the Savior; they must also be discipled towards maturity. Remember that Paul revisited many of the cities where he had preached and established a church. He sought to build up the believers in their faith, especially teaching them the truth of the Church and its importance in God’s program. The aim of such missionaries is to establish self-sustaining churches.

The Lord’s command to His disciples was, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Mt. 28:19-20). Making disciples was Paul’s passion.

Are we like Paul? Do we encourage younger believers? Do we long to know how they are doing? Do we rejoice in their progress? Do we pray for them? Do we train them like Timothy, and then release them to do God’s work?

Are we like the Thessalonians? Do we stand firm in the Lord? Is our faith strong in the midst of suffering and temptation? Do we trust God despite the difficulties of life? Is our love evident and increasing? Are we living godly lives?

This was Paul’s desire for the Thessalonians, and for us.

Published, March 2009

See the next article in this series:
- Living to please God


A Look At First Thessalonians. Part 2: Paul’s Example

In Part 1 we saw that Paul visited Thessalonica for a short time, and in response to his preaching a church was established. People had turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to wait for His Son from heaven. They became a good example for all the believers in Greece.

A Reminder
Previously, Paul reminded the Thessalonians of his conduct while he was with them: “You know how we lived among you for your sake” (1 Th. 1:5). His life matched his message; he lived consistently and was not a hypocrite. Let’s learn more about the example set by Paul, Silas and Timothy.

Paul reminded them how he brought the gospel to them by asking them to check their memory with three phrases: “You know” (2:1,5,11); “You remember” (2:9) and “You are witnesses” (2:10). Paul did this to defend himself against criticisms raised by his opponents after he left Thessalonica. They had accused him of such things as heresy, impure motives, craftiness, flattery and greed – not the kind of person one should imitate. They attacked the messenger in a way that also discredited the message. By defending his character, Paul also defended the gospel. God used this incident to provide a written description of the example that the Thessalonians imitated, and we should imitate as well.

Paul’s Boldness
“You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure. We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you His gospel in spite of strong opposition” (1 Th. 2:1-2 NIV).

Their visit to Thessalonica had been effective, as there had been a radical change in the lives of those who turned to God from pagan idolatry and formed a Christian congregation.

Before Paul came to Thessalonica, he and Silas were in Philippi where they healed a demon-possessed slave girl. When the girl’s owners realized that they could no longer use her to make money by fortune telling, they had Paul and Silas arrested, stripped of their clothes, flogged severely and thrown into prison (Acts 16:37). Paul and Silas suffered in Philippi, but didn’t quit. Instead, they went to Thessalonica where God gave them courage to preach the gospel in the face of opposition. The Jewish leaders caused a riot and Paul and Silas left the city. In spite of this opposition, Paul was eager to preach these truths: that all had sinned and were separated from God; that Jesus was the only way to heaven; and that salvation was a free gift from God accepted by faith alone (Rom. 3:23; 6:23).

Paul practiced what he believed: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Rom. 1:16). Paul wasn’t courageous by nature (1 Cor. 2:3; 2 Cor. 7:5). Where did he get help to face opposition? It was “with the help of our God we dared to tell you His gospel in spite of strong opposition” (2:2).

Paul’s Honesty
“For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed – God is our witness. We were not looking for support from men, not from you or anyone else. As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you” (1 Th. 2:3-6).

Why did Paul persist in preaching the gospel to the Thessalonians despite its unpopularity? Paul says it was not for any of the three reasons given by the opposition. First, Paul was not a false teacher. He didn’t promote his private conviction, but instead preached God’s truth. Second, he didn’t encourage people to indulge in immoral behavior and do whatever they liked. Third, he did not deceive nor delude his hearers with fine words. The Greek word used here describes a lure for catching fish; it was used for any sort of cunning for profit. Paul faced the same accusation of craftiness in Corinth (2 Cor. 12:16).

Then he told why they continued to preach even though it led to trouble: God had entrusted them with the gospel; It was God’s message, not theirs; They were not trying to please people but God; They knew that God’s opinion counted more than that of others. The person who seeks to please God makes decisions based upon the principles found in His Word.

Paul then countered two more reasons given by the opposition – flattery and greed. They never used flattery to influence others or to please people (2:4). They didn’t preach for money, even though they were entitled to support (1 Cor. 9:3-14; 2 Cor. 11:7-11). Personal profit was never Paul’s aim (Acts 20:33). He said that God was his witness as only God can know our motives. And Paul didn’t promise prosperity.

Paul’s Gentle Love
“We were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Th. 2:7-8).

After dealing with the accusations against him, Paul gave more information about their behavior in Thessalonica. Paul’s team behaved like a nursing mother caring for her children. They were gentle, protective and loving. As a mother puts the interests of her baby ahead of her own interests, they put the interests of the Thessalonians ahead of their own. As a mother expends energy day and night for her baby, so they spent time and energy shepherding the Thessalonians. They cared about them individually. What a contrast to the false accusations!

Paul’s Hard Work
“Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you” (1 Th. 2:9).

Paul was a hard worker, a tentmaker by trade. He could have relied on the support of others, but he worked to pay his own expenses and not be dependent on them. When he was not preaching, teaching and shepherding new believers, he was making and repairing tents.

In his second letter to Thessalonica he wrote: “We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day … so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this … in order to make ourselves a model for you to imitate” (2 Th. 3:7-9). He worked so he wouldn’t be a burden to the poor and persecuted, and he didn’t want to hinder the gospel message in any way.

Paul’s Integrity
“You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed” (1 Th. 2:10).

Paul described their conduct in three ways. First, they were “holy” – set apart to God from sin. They had a good relationship with God. Second, they were “righteous” in character and conduct. To the Corinthians he wrote that if drinking wine or eating meat offended anyone, he wouldn’t touch either (1 Cor. 8:13). Also, he told Titus, “In everything set them an example by doing what is good” (Ti. 2:7). Third, they were “blameless” towards God and people. This doesn’t mean they were sinless, but that they had confessed and knew that “God … tests the hearts” (2:4).

Paul set a high standard of integrity. This is the standard of living that we should aim for; not one of wealth, but one of integrity. It is the pattern of life of those who desire to please God.

Paul’s Coaching
“For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into His kingdom and glory” (1 Th. 2:11-12).

Paul not only cared like a mother, but he also coached like a father. In that culture the wife did most of the nurturing and the husband was responsible for the training. Paul’s goal was that they “live lives worthy of God.” This training was one-on-one discipleship: “We dealt with each of you.” A father coaching and training his children would include three elements: “encouraging, comforting and urging.” True discipleship takes time and patience. In order to grow to spiritual maturity, a new Christian needs all of these elements of discipleship. For the trainer to know what a trainee needs, he needs to get to know him personally.

Paul’s Example
What can we learn from Paul? First, he was an apostle. While we don’t have apostles today, as they were the founders of the Christian Church (Eph. 2:20), we do have elders to provide leadership in the local church. Second, Paul was a preacher, particularly to the Gentiles. The mission to spread the gospel is a responsibility for all believers, especially those with the gift of evangelism. Third, Paul was a teacher who wrote a significant portion of the New Testament. Elders, preachers and teachers can learn from Paul who said he was a servant to the Church (Col. 1:24-26). He worked hard to bring people to the Christian faith and to help them grow in it.

Is our lifestyle drawing people to Christ? Let’s follow Paul’s example and live lives worthy of God. His key message was the gospel. His motive was to please God. His manner of living was one of courage, gentleness, hard work and holiness. He showed love to new believers. He was bold, honest, full of integrity, and a toiler. His speech and behavior brought glory to God. The Thessalonians became model believers by imitating Paul’s example. Whether we are elders, preachers, teachers or servants, we can all imitate Paul.

Published, February 2009

See the next article in this series:
- Paul’s joy


A Look At First Thessalonians. Part 1: Model Believers

Paul was a missionary who established churches around the Mediterranean Sea. His second missionary journey took him to Greece, then known as Macedonia and Achaia. Thessalonica, the capital of Macedonia, with a population of over 200,000, was a busy seaport. Christianity came to Thessalonica when Paul preached the gospel and some Jews and Greeks became believers (Acts 17:1-10). When the jealous Jewish leaders rioted in the city, Paul and Silas escaped at night to Berea. Paul later fled to Athens. He sent Timothy to check on the Thessalonian believers (1 Th. 2:17-3:3) while he went to Corinth. Timothy brought news of how they were standing firm despite opposition.

Paul wrote to the Thessalonian church in 50-51 AD to address the issues they faced. Jews claimed that Paul was not a real apostle; pagans persecuted them because they worshiped one God instead of many; sexual immorality was common in Greece; there were misunderstandings about the second coming of Christ; tensions arose between the congregation and the elders; and some stifled the Holy Spirit’s work, treating prophetic teachings with contempt.

Paul encouraged them “to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more” (1 Th. 4:1 NIV). This letter can be divided into six sections: model believers; Paul’s example; Paul’s joy; living to please God; the coming of the Lord; and living as a Christian. In part one we look at model believers.

Introduction
“Paul, Silas and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you” (1 Th. 1:1).

The letter begins by telling us who it was from. Whenever he could, Paul worked with others, and here he mentioned them by name. He also referred to the believers as “the church” in Thessalonica. In the Bible, “church” refers to a group of believers, not a building. Because the Greek word for “church” meant any gathering of people, the believers were referred to as being “in God … and … Christ” to distinguish them from pagans, as the rioters in Ephesus were also referred to as an “assembly” or “church” (Acts 19:32). Years later, the word “church” came to mean a gathering of Christians, instead of a gathering of any kind.

Saying they were “in” God the Father and Christ indicates two relationships. First, the Greek word for “Father” means “a nourisher, protector, upholder.” God’s relationship to a believer is that of father to child. Second, the Greek word translated “Lord” was a title for one with power and supreme authority, such as Caesar, the absolute monarch. It could be translated as “ruler,” “master,” “God” or “owner.” It was also a title of honor and respect, with which servants greeted their master. Christ’s relationship to us is that of master to servant. Christians are those who confess “Jesus as Lord” (Rom. 10:9,13). By placing “God” and “Christ” together, Paul says Christ is part of the godhead.

Paul’s Prayer
“We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Th. 1:2-3).

Paul regularly prayed for these believers. They were his children in the faith. He thanked God for the changes in their lives – their spiritual birth and growth, shown by their “work produced by faith,” their “labor prompted by love,” and their “endurance inspired by hope.” His thanksgiving preceded instruction.

Their “work produced by faith” was their conversion; they “turned to God from idols” (1:9). Faith is exercised when a sinner accepts the Savior and then lives in that faith. Faith is the act of trusting God (Jn. 6:28-29). This work includes the life of faith which follows conversion. Their “labor prompted by love” was their service for God motivated by love for Christ; they served “the living and true God” (1:9). Their “endurance inspired by hope” was their anticipation of Christ’s return. They waited “for His Son from heaven” (1:10; 4:13-18). Although persecuted for their faith, they didn’t give up.

Here we see that the motivation for Christian activity is faith, love and hope. The faith that God gives us results in love for God and the hope of Christ’s return, which in turn produces action such as labor and endurance.

Faith In Action
“For we know, brothers loved by God, that He has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction” (1 Th. 1:4-5).

This letter was written to both men and women. The Greek word for “brothers” means “brothers and sisters” or “the community.” Here, Paul commended all the Christians in Thessalonica and called them model believers. And he reminded them of two things. First, they were loved. God loves all of us, even before faith is evident in our lives (Jn. 3:16; Rom. 5:8). He loves us so much that His Son died for us. Second, they were chosen by God (Jn. 6:44). After they became Christians it was evident from their behavior that they had been chosen by God (Eph. 1:4). The Bible teaches that people have the choice to accept or reject the gift of salvation. They accepted.

The dramatic change in their lives occurred after Paul preached to them the gospel of God and Christ (2:2,8; 3:2). It came “with” four things. First, “with words” he preached about the Old Testament promises of God, who Jesus was and what He had done. Second, “with power” there was conviction of sin, repentance and conversion. The gospel has power to change lives. Third, “with the Holy Spirit” identified the source of that power. Fourth, “with deep conviction” they knew that Paul spoke for God and they gave their lives to Him. They accepted that Paul spoke God’s Word, “which is at work in you who believe” (1 Th. 2:13). His Word changes people as they obey it (2 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 4:12). They heard the message and acted upon it and it changed their lives.

Love In Action
“You know how we lived among you … You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers … The Lord’s message rang out from you … your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Th. 1:5-9).

The Thessalonians imitated Paul and Christ, and were a good example to other believers (1:6-7), even though they were persecuted. Their love was shown in three ways. First, they stopped complaining and started rejoicing. They saw that God was in control and their eternal destiny was secure. Their suffering was short compared to their eternal salvation in Christ. Second, they shared the gospel with their neighbors and friends: “The Lord’s message rang out from you.” The gospel was worth telling because it gave joy and hope. Third, they trusted God to care for them daily; their “faith in God” was well known. Trust in God is needed to spread the gospel effectively. They did this so well that Paul didn’t need to repeat the gospel message.

The Thessalonians had made a great start in their Christian life. First, they repented of selfish living and turned to God from many forms of idols, from carved images to strong desires to possess things (Col. 3:5). Second, they served God out of love, which is a sacrificial concern for others (Jn. 13:34-35). Theirs was “labor prompted by love” (1:3).

Hope In Action
“They tell how you turned to God from idols … to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath” (1 Th. 1:10).

They were also waiting for Christ’s return (Jn. 14:3; 1 Th. 4:13-18; 1 Cor. 15:51-58). God promised to take believers to be with Him. This can happen at death: “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). It can also happen at the rapture. Jesus said, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (Jn. 14:3). The Christian should live expecting the Lord to come at any moment.

Our hope is knowing that what God has begun through Christ’s work on earth, He will complete at His return. The trials of this life are temporary and bring endurance in spite of difficult circumstances. God is in control, and knows what He’s doing.

What does Paul mean when he refers to Jesus’ rescuing us from “the coming wrath”? The same thought is in 1 Th. 5:9, in the context of the “day of the Lord.” This is a coming time when God’s wrath will be poured out on the world (Mt. 24:21) immediately before His return in power and judgment (Mt. 24:27-31). When Christ returns at the rapture to take believers to heaven, He will rescue them from the tribulation that will occur between the rapture and His appearing (Mt. 24:4-28; 1 Th. 5:1-11; 2 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 3:10).

Changed Lives
The Thessalonians imitated Paul and Christ and were good examples for other believers in Greece. They are also good examples for us. But are we a good example for others? Are we a help or a hindrance to those we come in contact with? The gospel produced a radical change in these believers: a new faith – they followed God instead of idols; a new love – they served God; a new hope – they anticipated the second coming of Jesus Christ; a new joy – they knew God was in control; and a new mission – spreading the gospel. God wants us to be like them.

Published, January 2009

See the next article in this series:
- Paul’s example


Target Your Messages

Preachers and teachers

God is in the business of communication, and the Bible is His super-special message to us – given so we can be saved, and tell others about His marvelous gift (2 Cor. 5:19-20; 9:15; 1 Th. 1:8). So Christians should endeavor to be good communicators, especially preachers and teachers.

God has communicated to mankind either directly as He did to Abraham, through a prophet or teacher such as Isaiah or Paul, or through the text of the Bible. Today He speaks to us through the Bible, as it is read or presented by others. We should communicate the messages in God’s Word to others by our words and by our example (Mal. 2:6-7) – to turn people from sin to the Savior.

When communicating, it is important to: research the receivers of the message; catch their interest so they pay attention; tell them what to know – influence their thinking; tell them what to do – influence their behavior. Let’s look at three examples from the New Testament.

Jesus In Samaria
In John 4:4-42 we read about a missionary journey undertaken by Jesus to the country of Samaria. When He arrived at the town of Sychar, being tired from the journey, He sat down beside the well and talked with a Samaritan woman.

Research the receivers. As the Son of God, Jesus knew all about those He spoke to. He knows people’s thoughts (Mt. 9:4; 12:25). On this occasion He knew that the Samaritan woman had been married five times and that she wasn’t married to the man she was living with (Jn. 4:17-18).

Catch their interest. Jesus began the conversation by asking for a drink of water. Although his request was simple, she was amazed because usually Jews would not speak to Samaritans. Then He offered her “living water.” At this stage she didn’t understand that He was referring to eternal life. Next He told her that she had been married five times and that she wasn’t married to the man she was living with. She was astounded at this and assumed He was a prophet.

Tell them what to know. Now that He had her attention, Jesus said that He was the promised Messiah that they were expecting to come (Jn. 4:26). This didn’t need to be explained, as the woman knew that the Old Testament prophets had foretold the coming of the Messiah.

Tell them what to do. The woman now had to decide whether to believe the news she had been given. From her response, it is obvious that she accepted that Jesus was the Messiah. As this was the greatest news that could happen, Jesus didn’t need to tell her what to do next – she was so excited that she told everyone in the town the good news.

Response. Many of the Samaritans believed that Christ was the Savior of the world as a result of her testimony: “Many of the Samaritans … believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I ever did.’” (Jn. 4:39-42 niv). Here we see that the woman passed on the message to others like a chain reaction (2 Tim. 2:2). This shows that the words of our messages can be important in leading others to Christ.

Messages To Jews
This pattern of communication is also evident in various messages given by the apostles to Jews in the book of Acts.

Research the receivers. In this case the apostles were speaking to fellow Jews – they had a common heritage. This means they knew them very well, including their needs and interests.

Catch their interest. On these occasions the apostles usually began by recounting incidents from Jewish history. It may have been prophecies by Joel (Acts 2:17-21), mention of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Acts 3:13) or facts about their ancestors such as King David (Acts 2:29). Stephen recounted the lives of Abraham, Joseph and Moses (Acts 7:2-53).

Tell them what to know. Then they told the people that Jesus was the Christ and the evidence of this was the fact that He was raised from the dead (Acts 2:24, 32, 36; 3:15). When the people were convicted of this, they became upset and asked what they should do (Acts 2:37).

Tell them what to do. They were urged to repent by turning from their sins and turning to follow God and show this by being baptized (Acts 2:38; 3:19).

Response. There were two responses to this preaching. First, many became believers (Acts 2:41; 4:4). Second, the religious leaders were angry and put the speakers in jail (Acts 4:1-3). On some occasions the message was cut short by the opposition, such as when Stephen addressed the Jewish leaders (Acts 7:57-58) and when Paul addressed a crowd in Jerusalem (Acts 22: 22-24).

Paul In Athens
When Paul was in Athens he spoke daily in the public square to all who happened to be there. As a result, he was invited to speak to the Areopagas, the council in Athens that met on Mars hill (Acts 17:16-34).

Research the receivers. Paul was “greatly distressed” that the city of Athens was full of idols. He “walked around” and looked carefully at their objects of worship (Acts 17:16, 23). He was with the people in the market place day by day and debated with their philosophers (Acts 17:17-18). So Paul did his homework and got to know the people of Athens very well.

Catch their interest. When given the opportunity to address the Areopagas, Paul began with their objects of worship, saying he had seen an altar with the inscription “To an unknown God.” He said, “Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you” (Acts 17:23). He also quoted one of their poets (Acts 17:28). As he was speaking to Gentiles and not Jews, they didn’t have a background knowledge of the Old Testament, so he found another subject of common interest.

Tell them what to know. After arousing their interest, Paul told them about the true God, the Creator who made the world and everything in it (Acts 17:24). He began with creation and then emphasized that God is not an idol – He is separate from creation (Acts 17:29).

Tell them what to do. Then Paul told the Athenians to repent by turning away from their idols and turning to God, or face God’s judgment (Acts 17:30-31). God showed that Jesus would be the judge by raising Him from the dead.

Response. When he mentioned the resurrection, some sneered, some believed and some said, “We want to hear more about this later” (Acts 17:32-34).

It is interesting to note that when Paul spoke in a Jewish meeting, he used the approach under the heading “Messages to Jews” (Acts 13:15-45). However, he used the story of creation when he spoke to those who were not familiar with the Old Testament (Acts 14:15-17).

Successful Communication
As an archer strives to hit the bull’s eye, believers should endeavor to target their messages. When this occurs there is an obvious response in the receiver. The things that can help us reach the target in our communication are:

Research the receivers. These are the targets. Know what life is like for them. What are their interests, their dreams, their concerns, their needs? Ask them questions. Listen to the answers and make sure you know them and understand their situation. Empathize with them, as Christ has compassion for people (Mt. 9:36; 14:14; 15:32). If you don’t know the target, you don’t know where to aim, making it difficult to carry out the next point.

Catch their interest. Start on common ground. Use stories, illustrations, metaphors or drama – whatever it takes to get their attention. Jesus did this on two levels. First, He came as a man: “He shared in our humanity” (Heb. 2:14). Second, He used many parables. If the receivers are familiar with the Bible, build on this by asking if they understand it (Acts 8: 30). If they need to be introduced to the Bible, start at the beginning with the creation story and the origin of sin.

Tell them what to know. These are facts and principles that should be planted in their minds so they can understand the Scriptures and God’s purposes (Lk. 24:45). Be careful to take the context into account when interpreting Scripture. Speak the truth in love – your attitude is important (Eph. 4:15). Speak with gentleness and respect (1 Pet. 3:15). Include personal experiences – Peter and John said, “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). Remember, this is not just intellectual knowledge for its own sake, because next we should tell them what to do.

Tell them what to do. God’s Word demands a response – we should “do what it says” (Jas. 1:22). His truths should be practiced in how we think and how we behave. True Christian faith leads to good works (Jas. 2:14-26). Jesus spoke so that people would put His words into practice (Mt. 7:24, 26). Make sure you include something on the application of the topic to people – otherwise it may be just an intellectual exercise and the receiver may think, “It’s got nothing to do with me.” Aim to challenge, convict and touch the conscience, but don’t seek to cause guilt feelings.

Finally, speak clearly – use words and concepts that are familiar to the receiver (1 Cor. 14:9, 11). Paul asked for prayer that he would make his messages as clear as possible (Col. 4:4). Avoid making the message too long and summarize the main points to communicate the most important part of the message (1 Cor. 15:3).

May God help us to cover all these points when communicating with others.

Published: July 2002

See the other article in this series:
- Illustrate your messages


How To Be A WINNER In The BIG RACE

The biggest sporting event in history is being held in Sydney, Australia this month. More than 10,000 of the world’s best athletes from 200 nations will compete in 28 sports in the Olympic Games. The strongest competition in the world will be broadcast to a worldwide viewing audience of 3.5 billion. Every athlete will be striving for medals and fame.

The ancient Greeks celebrated the great national festival known as the Olympics between 800 BC and the 400 AD. This festival was celebrated every four years in the sanctuary of their god Zeus in Olympia. It involved competitions between representatives from the Greek city-states.

Did you know that Paul was thinking of similar games when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:25 that all athletes “go into strict training”? These particular games were celebrated every two years on the Isthmus of Corinth in honor of the Greek gods. The Greeks were passionate about the games and the winners received crowns made of laurel or olive branches. In both the ancient and modern games the athletes practice long hours to improve their endurance, strength, skills and performance.

The Bible compares life to a race, but makes remarkable claims about what is victory. In the game of life we can succeed — but not by our own strength. Let’s look at how we can be winners in life’s race. Our examples are King Solomon, who lived 3,000 years ago, and the apostle Paul, who lived 2,000 years ago. Both competed at the top of their professions.

Solomon’s Race
Solomon was from Israel’s royal family, the son of King David. As king for 40 years he had great wealth and power. You might say he was a winner.

A recent poll voted the boxer Muhammad Ali the greatest sports star of the twentieth century. He carried the torch at the opening ceremony of the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. As heavyweight champion of the world he boasted, “I am the greatest!” That’s also how Solomon felt, but it did not last. His book, Ecclesiastes, shows how he sought success in life through such things as wisdom, pleasure, possessions, wealth and hard work.

  • Wisdom: Solomon was devoted to exploring everything by wisdom, and became known as the wisest man in the world (1 Ki. 4:29-34; Eccl. 1:13,16). He was an expert in botany and zoology. He wrote 3,000 proverbs and 1,000 songs. He was so famous people from other nations came to hear him. The Queen of Sheba visited him and confirmed that his wisdom and wealth were far greater than what she had been told (1 Ki. 10:6-7).
  • Pleasure: Solomon tried to cheer himself with wine, and he acted the fool (Eccl. 2:3). He also indulged in entertainment, and had 1,000 wives who gave him great pleasure. He did whatever made him happy (1 Ki. 11:3; Eccl. 2:8).
  • Possessions: Solomon had great homes, vineyards, gardens and groves filled with all kinds of fruit trees. He built reservoirs to irrigate his flourishing groves. He had many slaves and owned more livestock than any other king in Jerusalem. It is recorded that he had 12,000 horses, 1,400 chariots and 4,000 stalls to keep them (2 Chr. 1:14; 9:25).
  • Wealth: Solomon was the richest man on earth (1 Ki. 10:23) — like Bill Gates is today. His great wealth came from commerce, mining, gifts from visitors, and taxes from countries between the Euphrates River and Egypt (1 Ki. 4:21; 10:25). He collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of kings and provinces (Eccl. 2:4-8).
  • Hard Work: Solomon enjoyed working hard for his success. He undertook many great projects, among them being the palace it took 13 years to build (Eccl. 2:10-11,17-22). He had everything a person could desire, but didn’t find lasting satisfaction in success. He learned that man’s appetite is never satisfied (Eccl. 6:7). As he looked at everything he achieved, it was meaningless and futile, like chasing the wind. There was nothing worthwhile anywhere (Eccl. 2:11). He concluded that unless you “remember your Creator … everything is meaningless” (Eccl. 12:1, 8).

His despair resulted from looking for success in all the wrong places — of trying to find his way in life without God. Leaving God out of life’s race leads to disappointment, because life is more than success. Solomon had everything money could buy and power could seize, but couldn’t find satisfaction. He discovered that a life not centered on God is meaningless.

The Right Race?
Are you following Solomon by leaving God out while striving for such things as education, career, money, power, popularity, pleasure, etc.? Only the top three finishers receive a medal at the Olympic Games. Many athletes will not receive a prize, even though they did their best. Others will be disqualified because they broke the rules of their event.

The marathon race will be run along a well-marked route through the streets of Sydney, Australia to the Olympic Stadium. Athletes must follow this route to qualify for the prize. Jesus saw people as being in two categories: those travelling a wide road that leads to destruction, or a narrow road that leads to eternal life (Mt. 7:13-14). Which road are we running on? Those who ignore God and live like Solomon are running down the route that leads to hell and torment.

During much of his life Solomon was in the wrong race! If we are in the wrong race, then our best is not good enough. Without God, our best efforts, no matter how good, are never good enough to get us to heaven.

We can only enter the race to heaven by accepting God’s offer of forgiveness for our sins through Jesus Christ. The Bible says we can be saved by faith in God, who treats us much better than we deserve. Salvation is God’s gift to us and not anything we have done (Eph. 2:8). We can only be winners through Christ’s victory (1 Cor. 15:57; 1 Jn. 5:4-5).

Paul’s Race
The apostle Paul was privileged to have Hebrew religion, Greek culture and Roman citizenship. He had two names: Saul was his Hebrew name and Paul was his Greek name. The son of a Pharisee, he studied under Gamaliel, an esteemed teacher of Jewish law. He was born a pure-blooded Jew of the tribe of Benjamin. He was a member of the Pharisee sect that demanded the strictest obedience to Jewish law. He obeyed Jewish law so carefully that he was never accused of any fault (Phil. 3:5-6).

His first “race” was religion and he excelled in it. He was a fanatical Pharisee who was convinced that Christians were heretics and that God’s honor demanded their extermination (Gal. 1:13-14). He persecuted and imprisoned Christians and approved of Stephen’s death (Acts 9:1-2; 22:2-5,19-20; 26:4-11; 8:1-3). He travelled around the country capturing Christians. So Saul was racing along the broad road to destruction.

But on the way to Damascus he was miraculously confronted by Jesus and converted from the error of his way. He immediately began to live by faith in his Savior. Now on the narrow road to heaven, he preached Christianity, worked with those he had previously persecuted and was persecuted by his previous colleagues.

Paul used the illustration of a race to describe how he lived: “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14). He was looking forward to the end of the race, and the prize in heaven to all who put their trust in God.

We are urged to imitate Paul by following his example (Phil. 3:17). He said, “Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air” (1 Cor. 9:24-26). He ran hard to win, exercising discipline and self control, with a definite goal and purpose.

Furthermore, he urged us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith … Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb. 12:1-3). As runners we should focus on the goal, throwing aside anything that might hinder us, such as materialism and legalism. The “love of money” causes some to wander from the faith, while unbiblical rules stop some from running a good race (Gal. 5:7; 1 Tim. 6:10-12).

As a Christian, Paul could look forward to victory and finishing the race, even victory over death: “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24). Paul knew his mission. Near the end of his life he wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day — and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7-8). Paul lived by faith.

The Christian’s Race
From Paul’s example we see that Christians are to live by faith and focus on their heavenly destiny. Their goals are: to live like Christ and please God, not others (2 Cor. 5:9; Gal. 1:10; 1 Jn. 2:6); to persevere with passion and be diligent, not lazy (Mt. 25:14-29); to practice humility, not selfish ambition (Mt. 18:4; Phil. 2:3). When asked who is the greatest, Christ said it was whoever is humble like a child. Be a Christ-like servant and don’t have a win-at-all-costs attitude (Mt. 20:25-28).

The Bible says we should: “live” in peace and harmony (Rom. 12:16,18; 1 Cor. 7:15; 2 Cor. 13:11; 1 Th. 5:13; 1 Tim. 2:2; Heb. 12:14; 1 Pet. 3:8); “live” by faith (Rom. 1:17; 2 Cor. 5:7; Gal. 2:20; 3:11; Heb. 10:38); “live” a life of love (Eph. 5:2); and “live” by the Spirit (Gal. 5:16,25).

Sports psychologists coach athletes to be winners because they know how much the mind influences performance and behavior. Christians should have their minds set on what the Spirit desires, as they have “the mind of Christ” (Rom. 8:5; 1 Cor. 2:16). The Holy Spirit is their coach (Jn. 16:13). This is their secret of success: right relationships with God and others. So the key to real success is a relationship, not an achievement.

The Christian’s reward is a prize beyond compare. It is described as “the victor’s crown,” “the crown of life,” “the crown of glory” and “the crown of righteousness” (2 Tim. 2:5; 4:8; Jas. 1:12; 1 Pet. 5:4). Also, since it is kept in heaven, it will never fade away, and never perish or spoil (1 Cor. 9:25; 1 Pet. 1:4; 5:4). As believers are Christ’s servants, their reward is to hear this: “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Mt. 25:21).

Everyone who accepts Jesus into his/her life is a winner. Remember, that the criminal who repented on the cross was told, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” And Lazarus, the beggar, finished up in heaven, while the rich man was tormented in hell (Lk. 16: 22-26; 23:43).

Your Race
Unfortunately many live selfish lives that lead to destruction (Phil. 3:18-19). If you have left God out of your life, your best will never be good enough. No matter what you may achieve, you will not have lasting success or lasting victory. Instead, you will have the emptiness and lack of purpose experienced by Solomon. In this case you need to get in the right race by accepting God’s offer of forgiveness for your sins through Jesus Christ. No great achievement is required, just childlike trust and commitment (Mt. 18:3).

Although you are not competing in the Olympic Games you are running the race of your life. Are you running the good race (Gal. 5:7)? Christians are not only saved by faith, they should also live by faith. This means trust and commitment to God, to the Scriptures and to other Christians. Success depends on your relationship with God.

Where is your commitment and passion in life? Are you chasing after other things like Solomon? Is your attention distracted, or are you developing a new mindset so you will know what God wants you to do in life (Rom. 12:2)? We only have one lifetime, so let’s make it count for God.

Do your best by following Jesus and imitating Paul; don’t be distracted or sidetracked from the race like Solomon.

Published: September 2000


Prayer And Praise In Times Of Trouble

God’s servants depend on God

It has been said that “life was never meant to be easy.” And I believe we can all testify to this. We all face trials, troubles and difficulties from time to time. To help us through them, the Bible contains many examples of how God’s servants responded to their troubles. Let’s consider just two of them, one from the Old Testament and one from the New.

David’s Troubles
In the Old Testament, King Saul was jealous of David’s military victories and his popularity. Jealousy developed into hatred, and Saul pursued David to kill him. During this period before he became king, David lived as a fugitive, seeking refuge in various places and moving around to avoid Saul and his men (1 Sam. 18-30). He feared for his life.

Saul tried to kill him at least three times with a spear, and then he attempted to have him killed in a battle with the Philistines. After these attempts failed, Saul “remained his enemy for the rest of his days” (1 Sam. 18:29 NIV).

Saul then asked his son Jonathan and all his attendants to kill David, and even sent men to his house to kill him, but David escaped. David told Jonathan, “there is only a step between me and death” and Jonathan knew for certain that “his father intended to kill David” (1 Sam. 20:3,33).

David kept moving from place to place, as Saul and 3,000 men searched for him. He fled to Nob and then to Gath; he hid in the cave of Adullam and then in Moab, Judah and in the desert. Finally, he settled among the Philistines in Gath.

David’s Response
David prayed for guidance and God answered and protected him. He consulted with men of God such as Samuel, Ahimelech and the prophet Gad. He “found strength in the Lord” in difficult circumstances (1 Sam. 30:6).

David’s experiences as he fled from Saul are described in Psalms 7, 18, 34, 52, 54, 56, 57, 59 and 142. These are characterized by both earnest prayers for God’s help and songs of praise recognizing God’s goodness. Consider these examples.

After pleading “save and deliver me from all who pursue me,” David said, “I will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High.” In distress he cried for help; when he was rescued he praised God (Ps. 7:1,17;
18:6,49).

David was always ready to praise the Lord, and sought to be delivered from his fears (Ps. 34:1,4). After criticizing a traitor, he said he would praise God forever (Ps. 52:2,9). After seeking God’s mercy, he praised God’s promises (Ps. 56:1,10).

David prayed for protection in times of danger, and was ready to sing hymns of praise for God’s love and loyalty (Ps. 57:1,9-10). He asked to be protected from his enemies, yet he sang of God’s strength and love (Ps. 59:1,16). When he laid all his worries and troubles before the Lord, he looked forward to being able to praise God for His goodness (Ps. 142:2,7).

Paul’s Troubles
As a Jewish leader in the New Testament, Paul persecuted the early Church by punishing its members, trying to get them to give up their faith, putting them in prison and even supporting their execution (Acts 26:9-11).

After his conversion to Christianity, Paul faced all sorts of persecution: expulsion from Pisidian Antioch; ill-treatment and stoning in Iconium; stoning and being left for dead in Lystra; arrest, flogging and imprisonment in Philippi; a riot in Thessalonica; abuse in Corinth; being publicly maligned in Ephesus; plotted against in Greece; and being arrested, flogged, struck in the face, and having more than forty men plot to kill him in Jerusalem (Acts 13-23).

Paul said of his hardships and sufferings, that he had “been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers … from bandits … from my own countrymen … from Gentiles … in the city … in the country … at sea and … from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked” (2 Cor. 11:23-27).

His sufferings in Asia were so horrible and unbearable that death seemed certain (2 Cor. 1:8-9). He also experienced a “thorn in the flesh” that tormented him (2 Cor. 12:7-9).

Paul’s Response
Paul persevered with the mission to which God called him despite his hardships. For example, when he faced opposition from the Jews in Corinth he protested to them and moved on to preach to the Gentiles (Acts 18:6-8). Like David, under God’s guidance he was courageous and was able to escape many threatening situations.

Paul’s response to difficulties is illustrated by his time in jail at Philippi. Having been severely flogged, placed in the inner cell and fastened in stocks, Paul and Silas were “praying and singing hymns to God” in the middle of the night (Acts 16:25). So, like David, prayer and songs of praise characterized his life. This would have included prayers for those who persecuted him (Mt. 5:44; Rom. 12:14).

Our Response
Although we may not face life-threatening situations as often as David and Paul did, we can learn from their experiences. We will all face hardship, trials, troubles and difficulties while serving God in this sinful world. On such occasions it is important to realize our dependence on God and express it through prayer and praise.

In difficult times and at critical moments in life we should bring our needs to God in prayer. Then as we realize God’s power, love and goodness this should lead to praise and thanksgiving. Only those who see the big picture, God at work even in our trying times, can suffer gladly (Rom. 5:3).

Published: June 2000


Responsibilities in a Christian Marriage

“This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one” Genesis 2:24 NLT

As marriage was God’s idea from the beginning (Gen. 2:24), it’s appropriate to see what else He says about it in His Word, the Bible. We’ll look specifically at three aspects of Christian marriage – a new home, sacrificial love and mutual respect. It’s important to be aware of these topics whether you are married or about to be married.

A new home

The Bible says that a marriage occurs when a man leaves his parents and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one. This definition – taught by Moses, Jesus Christ, and the apostle Paul (Gen. 2:24; Mt. 19:5-6; Eph. 5:31) – has applied since the time of Adam and Eve. By inference, the woman also leaves her parents and is joined to her husband, to be united into one. They are no longer two individuals, but one new entity. A husband and wife become linked together and interdependent in a way that requires cooperation and unity.

A wedding is a celebration of a new relationship, a new allegiance, a new identity, a new home and a new family unit. The old relationship with their parents is now superseded by their new marital relationship. They should no longer be physically or emotionally dependent on their parents. Next to God, their top loyalty is to be to their spouse. This means shared goals, shared budgets, shared experiences in life and shared plans for the future. If one rejoices, the other rejoices. If one is hurt, the other is hurt.

Sacrificial Love

First Corinthians 13 is a chapter about how Christians are to love each other in the local church. This kind of love (Greek: agape) is referred to by Paul six times in Ephesians 5:22-33, and is the same love essential to a Christian marriage.

What is agape love like? According to 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, it is patient, kind, truthful, protecting, trusting, hopeful, enduring, and everlasting. It is not jealous, boastful, proud, rude, selfish, irritable, evil-minded, or unjust. Such love is an ongoing commitment and an act of the will, not just a feeling or an emotion. It is a giving love, not a getting love – an unselfish love that is ready to serve. Elsewhere, we learn that it comes from God who demonstrated it when He sent Jesus to be our Savior: “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). Also, this love is an aspect of the fruit of the Holy Spirit that is available to all believers (Gal. 5:22).

How does the Bible describe what agape love is like in a Christian marriage? First, “you husbands must love your wives with the same love Christ showed the Church. He gave up His life for her” (Eph. 5:25). Husbands, do you love your wife enough to die for her? Is it reflected in how you spend money? In how much time you spend with her? In how you talk to her? In your prayers for her? Jesus is the example for a husband’s love for his wife.

Second, “Husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies” (Eph. 5:28). You are to care for your wife and put her needs before yours. It’s like your wife is a part of you. It’s the closest relationship you can have with another person. Husbands, when you show this agape love in your marriage, it provides the emotional security that your wife needs and it creates a happy atmosphere in the home.

Leadership and Respect

In Ephesians 5:22-33 the husband and wife are given complementary roles. The husband is the leader in their relationship, just as Christ is the leader of His Church (Eph. 5:23). He is to love his wife with the same love that Christ showed His Church (Eph. 5:25). As all believers are to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21), “wives will submit to your husbands as you do the lord” (Eph. 5:22). Also “the wife must respect her husband” (Eph. 5:33).

What kind of leadership is this? It’s a cooperative relationship (Jn. 5:17-23; 1 Cor. 11:3), one that consults and listens to the viewpoints and desires of the wife and meets her needs. A benevolent leader acts in the interests of his wife and children, and delegates responsibilities when and where this is appropriate. He is a wise, prayerful and caring leader in physical and spiritual matters. Husbands, it’s your responsibility to show this kind of leadership in your marriage and family. Don’t shirk your responsibility or seek to dominate, dictate or control your wife.

What kind of respect and submission is this? As Christians commit their lives to the Lord, wives are to commit their lives to their husbands. They submit to Christ’s authority through their husbands. Wives, adapt yourselves to your husband; be loyal and respect your husband’s leadership; be a helper and companion like Eve was to Adam (Gen. 2:18,20). Encourage your husband to take responsibility and lead the family. Showing respect and submission in your marriage provides what your husband needs.

Marriage is about commitment – giving ourselves to our spouses. It is about teamwork – husband and wife working together. Marriage is a journey – husband and wife travelling together. May godly leadership and mutual love and respect flourish in our homes as we follow God’s plan for marriage.

Published, March 2011


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