If I chose to sleep in, or to watch church online, or listen to a podcast of the sermon, or to catch up on lectures in the Bible College course I’m doing, or to catch up on some other jobs, or was away for the weekend, or to look after visitors, or to go shopping, I wouldn’t have been at church yesterday. But as I didn’t do any of these things, I was able to share this message on the topic of “Why go to church?”.
We will see that going to church on Sunday is a good habit that has many benefits. After all, what’s more important than worshipping God or spending time with God’s people?
Aspects of life
We can picture parts of our lives as a series of widening circles. First there is our individual life, then our family life, followed by our life in the local church and then our life in the rest of our world. We can have relationships in each of these spheres of life, such as a personal relationship with God, relationships with people in our family, in our church, and in the rest of the world. This post addresses the local church and why it’s good for us to go to church.
What is a church?
The first instance of the word “church” in the Bible is when Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Mt. 16:18NIV). As this happened after Peter said that Jesus was the promised Jewish Messiah, it means that the church was built on the fact that Jesus is the Son of God. The New Testament uses the Greek word for “church” (ekklesia) 114 times, primarily of the local church, but this passage refers to the whole church rather than the local church.
God is building a global church of believers, which is only visible as local churches. The local/universal and visible/invisible aspects of the church are shown in the schematic diagrams:
– The visible part of a local church is comprised of believers and unbelievers. It’s all who attend the local church. Although the majority should be believers, this includes some unbelievers as well.
– Christendom is a collection of visible local churches.
– The invisible part of the universal church is comprised of all believers in the world, who will be visible when Jesus Christ returns to reign over the earth. The topic of the universal church is outside the scope of this post.
The Bible says that a “local church” is a gathering of people who believe that Jesus is the Son of God and who worship Jesus Christ; who hear the Scriptures together; and who encourage one another in the Christian faith. It’s not the building they meet in. And it’s not a denomination. So the gathered people are the local church. Gathering together is part of what it means to be a Christian.
The Christian life was never meant to be solitary. Many of the biblical metaphors for a church indicate a plurality, such as: a body (comprised of parts and organs), a flock, (comprised of sheep) a house (comprised of living stones), a household (comprised of family members), and a holy nation (comprised of people). The church is a collective group, not an individual person. In the context of church discipline, Jesus said, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Mt. 18:20). One person can’t be a church! To gather together in the name of Jesus means gathering together to publicly worship Jesus, to serve Jesus, and to help others love Jesus.
The local church is like a spiritual family. The Bible says that God is our Father and other Christians are our brothers and sisters. So the congregation of a local church are spiritual siblings. An extended spiritual family.
Physical children are raised to maturity in a physical family. Likewise, spiritual children of God (believers) should grow to maturity in a spiritual family (the local church). After they are mature they can be mentors in the spiritual family, which is like being a parent.
The beginning and destiny of the church
Before Jesus ascended into heaven, He told the apostles, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Ten days later, on a Sunday, the Holy Spirit came on the believers who were “all together in one place” (Acts 2:1). We will see that it’s good for believers to be all together in one place on Sunday. Jesus had told them to wait in Jerusalem until they received the gift of the Holy Spirit. And they obeyed.
This was the beginning of the church on the day of Pentecost, 50 days after the resurrection. After this, the apostles were evangelists that spread the good news about Jesus beginning in Jerusalem and spreading out across the Roman Empire. When there was a group of believers in a town or city, the apostles established a church that met in someone’s house. There were no church buildings in those days. A local church was a gathering of believers.
When they came together, the first church at Jerusalem was devoted to (Acts 2:42-47):
– the apostles teaching, which we now have as doctrine in the New Testament.
– Fellowship, a partnership which included eating together and sharing their possessions. It says, “all the believers were together” (Acts 2:44). Fellowship is being together.
– The Lord’s Supper, which is remembrance of Christ’s death.
– Collective prayer, when they brought their needs to God.
– Praising God, for their salvation.
– Evangelism, as people were being saved and added to the local church.
The church exists on earth from the day of Pentecost (in about AD 33) until the Rapture when all true believers are resurrected, transformed, and transported to heaven. Then the church will be united with Jesus Christ, like a wife and husband at a wedding and the church returns to rule over the earth with Him and share His glory forever (Rev. 19:6-9; 14). That’s why the church has been referred to as the bride of Christ (who is the bridegroom). So the church has a glorious future.
Let’s follow the good examples of the local church in the Bible and make it a priority to be together as a church at least once a week. Remember that church is a collective activity.
Old Testament gatherings
In Old Testament times the Israelites were God’s people. They celebrated three annual festivals when the people gathered (or assembled or met) together (Ex. 23:14-19; 34:23-24; Dt 16:16; 2 Chr. 8:12-13). These were the festival of Unleaven bread (after the Passover), the festival of Weeks (Harvest, Pentecost), and the festival of Tabernacles (Ingathering, Booths). All the men were to attend these occasions. And their families often accompanied them (1 Sam. 1). Distance may have prevented many from attending all three, but most Jews tried to attend at least one festival each year. For example, “Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When He [Jesus] was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom” (Lk. 2:41-42).
Did Jesus go to church?
The Bible says that Jesus is an example for us to follow (Appendix A). And we have seen that He attended Jewish festivals which were national gatherings required by the law of Moses. And Jesus also usually attended the Jewish synagogue on Saturdays (Lk. 4:16). But He didn’t go to church on Sundays because the church didn’t begin until after He ascended back to heaven in about AD 33.
If Jesus didn’t go to church, then what about Paul?
Did Paul go to church?
After Paul became a Christian, he became an evangelist who established new churches. So Paul revealed the truth about the church and he attended and taught at many local churches.
On Paul’s third missionary journey it seems that he stayed at Troas (which is now in Turkey) for seven days in order to attend the local church on Sunday evening (Acts 20:6-7). Apparently, the public meeting of the local church was very important for Paul and the early Christians. Paul taught them until midnight, Eutychus died when he fell from a third story open window, and they celebrated the Lord’s Supper and shared a meal (Acts 20: 7-12). Why did Paul go to church in Troas? It was:
– To celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
– To build up believers by teaching them what a Christian should know and how they should behave.
– To fellowship with and encourage the believers.
Eutychus was a young man who was asleep while God was at work. He was physically present, but spiritually absent. Are we spiritually awake or spiritually asleep? Are we away when God is at work in the local church? Eutychus shows us that it can be dangerous to miss God’s work in the local church.
Reasons for going to church
God said so
The local church belongs to God. It’s “the church of the living God” (1 Tim. 3:15). Through the Bible, God tells believers not to give up meeting together – “let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:24-25). Christians should never stop meeting together. Particularly as we approach the rapture of believers to be with the Lord. In this case they were reverting to Judaism, which is apostacy. So there is a biblical basis for corporate assembling together as Christians.
It’s significant that the recipients of this letter were under the threat of persecution. Public church attendance could open them up to abuse. The command indicates that the benefits of attendance outweigh any possible threat.
Furthermore, every letter in the New Testament assumes Christians are members of local churches. And because believers are part of the universal church, if it is possible, they should be part of a local church. After all, in the Bible the same Greek word ekklesia is used for both the universal church and the local church, with the meaning being determined by the context. Believers go to church because they are part of God’s invisible church.
Why don’t we obey this command? Are we too busy, or too tired? Would we rather sleep in?
Do we have guests visiting?
So we go to church because God said so.
To praise and worship God
The Bible says that Spirit-filled believers speak “to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit” (Eph. 5:19). And with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit believers should sing to God with gratitude in their hearts (Col. 3:16). If Paul and Silas sang hymns to God in a prison, they would have sung them in the local church as well (Acts 16:25).
The gathering of the church to praise and worship God is a foretaste of our worship in heaven. In eternity, believers will worship with all of God’s people before the Lord.
So we go to church to praise and worship God.
To remember Jesus in the Lord’s Supper
With regard to the Lord’s Supper, Jesus said “do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24-25). Obeying this commandment helps us remember our Savior’s supreme sacrifice for our sins on the cross. It makes us examine ourselves to make sure that we have confessed all of our sins against the Lord and against one another.
The Lord’s Supper also helps us look at the big picture of Gods’ plan of salvation. What God has done in the past and what He will do in the future.
So we go to church to remember Jesus in the Lord’s Supper.
To strengthen our Christian faith
Just as Jesus and Paul taught people what they needed to know and do, teaching from the Bible does the same for us. Church attendance builds us up. Paul said, “Everything must be done so that the church may be built up” (1 Cor. 14:26). At church, Christians help other Christians who struggle with their faith.
The Bible says that church attendance helps us to stir one another up to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24–25). Love is a motive and deeds are actions.
Church attendance also helps prevent backsliding and apostasy. Without regular participation in corporate worship, one tends to drift spiritually. The fellowship and encouragement experienced at the local church help to vaccinate us against backsliding and apostasy.
Church attendance also reduces exposure to false teaching which is prevalent on the internet. We can trust our teachers in church because the elders keep watch over them. And the local church is “the pillar and foundation of the truth” of the gospel (1 Tim. 3:15). But there’s no quality control on the internet!
And church attendance gives us a sense of purpose. It shapes our vision of the future and gives us hope.
So we go to church to strengthen our Christian faith.
To participate and serve
The Bible says, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Pt. 4:10). We are to “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people” (Eph. 6:7). And to “serve one another humbly in love” (Gal. 5:13).
The Bible also teaches that each member of the local church has a different gift, just like a body is comprised of different parts (Rom. 12:4-8). Everyone has a purpose in the local church. In fact, the strengths and weaknesses of the members of the local church are intentional, even complementary. Everyone has something that the others don’t have, and we are stronger together than we are apart – that’s called synergy.
.Just like every part of a body has a function, so every believer has a function in the church (Rom. 12:4-8). If you are not there it’s like missing a part of a body. The body suffers and doesn’t operate as well as it should if you aren’t in attendance. It’s like missing a part of a team.
Church is also like a sports team. Missing church is like missing the weekly game. Sports teams struggle when they don’t know who will be there to play. For example, the English cricket team missed James Anderson (because he was injured) when they played and were beaten by Australia last week.
Christ gave you a gift that the church needs. Are you using it?
So we go to church to participate and serve.
To give and receive encouragement
We have been designed to need other Christians to help us keep going in the faith, and we can be an encouragement to others. Paul told the believers in Rome, “I long to see you so that … you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith” (Rom. 1:11-12).
One of the purposes of gathering together is to “encourage one another” (Heb. 10:24-25). We all need encouragement and going to church can provide that.
So we go to church to give and receive encouragement.
To give and receive prayer
“On their release [from prison], Peter and John went back to their own people [the local church] and reported all that the [Jewish] chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God” (Acts 4:23-24). They prayed that Peter and John would continue to speak God’s word “with great boldness” (Acts 4:29). This is example of prayer in a local church.
The local church also enables us to pray for others and others to pray for us. It helps us to consider others and not just focus on ourselves. So it broadens the content of our prayers and our prayers are multiplied as more people are praying than just us.
So we go to church to give and receive prayer.
To share in Christian fellowship
In the book of Acts, we’re told that those who came to faith in the early days “devoted themselves … to fellowship” (2:42). But we can’t fellowship by ourselves! Instead, we need a Christian community.
As we spend time with one another, we become aware of each other’s needs. This gives us opportunities to help each other. We are to share with believers who are in need (Rom. 12:13).
For example, those in the early church “shared everything they had” so that people’s needs were met (Acts 4:32-35). They donated money to believers in churches where there was poverty (Rom. 15:26; 2 Cor. 8:1-15). Paul encouraged such generosity (2 Cor. 9:6-15). Church is the best place to learn about generosity and to practice generosity.
Everyone is looking for acceptance and a place to belong. Church is a community where we can socialize and support each other. You can make friends, feel a sense of belonging, and build a support network that you can rely on. The church community helps us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15). And to “Carry each other’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2). If you go to church there will be some “who will show genuine concern for your welfare” (Phil. 2:20). Also, we can practice hospitality by inviting people to a meal after church.
If you’re just watching church or preaching on a screen at home, you miss living in close fellowship with real people. You miss the unity and diversity of a church gathering.
So we go to church to share in Christian fellowship.
To become more Christlike
Church attendance helps our sanctification — our progressive growth in being conformed to the image of Jesus (Rom. 8:29). It is for our general “strengthening, encouragement and comfort” (1 Cor. 14:3), but also in beholding Jesus together: “we all . . . are being transformed into His [Christ’s] image with ever-increasing glory” (2 Cor. 3:18). God loves to change our minds and our hearts. Going to church encourages godly living in an ungodly society.
Church attendance also helps us express the fruit of the Spirit (Gal.5:22-23). It’s easier to show love, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, or gentleness to someone if you see them often.
Church attendance also helps us imitate Christ’s humility (Phil.2:3-8). It’s easier to put the welfare of others above yours if you see them often.
So we go to church to become more Christlike.
To show our love for God and His people
Regular church attendance shows that we love God and love His people (the church). If we say we love the Lord, but neglect fellow Christians (who are called the body of Christ), we are a hypocrite – our actions don’t match our words.
It also shows that we have eternal life. John said, “We know that we [believers] have passed from death to life, because we love each other” (1 Jn. 3:13). It’s a declaration and witness to others that you’re a Christian. When they ask, “What did you do on the weekend?”, you can say “I went to church”. And it’s a great example to your spouse and children (Lk. 6:40).
So we go to church to show our love for God and for His people.
To be involved in spreading the gospel
As the gospel is the foundation and the message of the church, by going to church we can support and be involved in spreading the good news about Jesus.
This can range from a local church ministry to the support of overseas missionaries. And it can be with children, youth or adults. Personal witnessing is also important. If someone is a new or immature Christian it’s good to encourage them to attend a church for their spiritual growth and fellowship.
So we go to church to be involved in spreading the gospel.
Look at all the reasons for going to church: God said so, Praise and worship, Remember Jesus in the Lord’s Supper, Strengthen our faith, Participate and serve, Encouragement, Prayer, Fellowship, Become more Christlike, Show our love for God and His people, and the Gospel. These good reasons are better than the bad ones listed in Appendix B.
When Scott Morrison was asked by the media after his incredible election win in May 2019, ‘what are you going to do tomorrow?’, he answered, ‘I will go to church as usual’. So the Prime Minister of Australia went to church on Sunday after a late Saturday night. And he is a busy man. Can we block out Sunday mornings (or whenever our local church meets) in our calendars to go to church? And don’t let Saturday night keep you away from church.
Excuses for not going to church
It’s clear that the Bible teaches that regular church attendance is a normal part of following Jesus. The Bible also gives examples of some who gave an excuse instead of following Jesus (Lk. 9:57-62).
57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to Him [Jesus], “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man [Jesus] has no place to lay His head.”
59 He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” 62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
The excuses used by these three men were:
– Lack of security (one man didn’t want to adopt an itinerant lifestyle).
– Put it off (one man wanted to wait until after their father’s death and burial). This was a delaying tactic.
– Family commitments (one man wanted to go back and say goodbye to his family, which could also be a delaying tactic, or could cause him to change his mind about following Jesus).
They were like a man plowing a crooked furrow with oxen. As they didn’t have GPS in those days, to dig a straight furrow they needed to keep aiming for a distant target. But if they looked in another direction, the plough would turn and deviate from the straight line.
And Jesus told a parable to some Jewish religious leaders about an invitation to a banquet (Lk. 14:16-20):
16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’
19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’
20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’
The excuses used by these three men were:
– Possessions (one man wanted to visit a new field).
– Work (one man wanted to try out five new yoke of oxen).
– Family (one man was married recently).
Similar excuses can be given for not going to church.
Christianity is not a choose-your-own path religion. The people we are to associate with have already been chosen for us. We have a ready-made extended spiritual family in the local church.
Is church just something to do on Sunday morning when there is nothing else going on? If church is optional, we set up our family to backslide and fail in the Christian life.
If you haven’t trusted in Jesus yet, then you don’t have God’s help in your individual life, in your family life, or in your relationships with the rest of the world. What excuses are you using for not looking into following Jesus? Don’t put it off any longer, but talk to someone about it today.
When you become a follower of Jesus, you also can have the extended family of the local church to help you in all these aspects of life.
A survey on why Americans go to church found that the top three answers were: so that they will be closer to God; so their children will follow God; and so they will become more like God. In another survey, sermons; programs for children and teenagers; and community outreach and volunteer opportunities were the top reasons for attending church. And it’s been said that the three highlights of a Christian’s life should be:
– Sharing the Lord’s Supper.
– Listening to the message from God in the Bible.
– Exercising their spiritual gifts in service for Christ.
These are done best in the local church.
Disciples are those who are committed to following Jesus in the Christian faith. Marriage is another commitment. But marriages don’t always last.
In Australia about 36% of marriages end in divorce and in the US it’s about 45%. The average marriage in Australia lasts for about 12 years. Going to church can help us remain faithful to the Lord.
Don’t come occasionally to church. Don’t just come when you feel like it. Make weekly church attendance your first priority and let it be a good habit that becomes a part of who you are.
On Sunday mornings you can either make a bad habit of being lazy and doing things that have nothing to do with God. Or you can make a good habit of waking up and participating in a godly church even when you don’t feel like it.
Of course, church is not just a place to go, rather it is a living body where God wants you to become a part–for your good and for His glory. Christ is committed to the church like a husband is committed to his wife. The church is called the bride of Christ. What’s our commitment to the local church? Is it like being married, or are we just dating?
Attending church with God’s people was top priority for the apostle Paul. It should be likewise for us. If we are often absent from church, what’s getting our attention instead? Is it family, or education, or work, or hobbies, or recreation, or something else? These can be idols when they take us away from being at church.
On Sunday, let’s go to church. Going to church on Sunday is a good habit that has many benefits. After all, what’s more important than worshipping God or spending time with God’s people?
Appendix A: The examples of Jesus and Paul
Instead of being selfish, Paul put the welfare of others first because he didn’t want to hinder their spiritual growth. He said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Paul and Jesus are examples of people who put others first.
Appendix B: Some bad reasons for going to church
Here are some bad reasons for going to church:
Out of duty/obligation
To get my needs met
To feel good; get inspired
To find a boy/girl friend or spouse
For what I can get out of it
To find clients for my business
To be entertained
For my social life
To justify my sin
To get right with the Lord
Because the preacher is popular
So God will bless my finances
So God will bless my health
To maintain family relationships
They have lots of programs
They have a school
The number of people who attend
Because everyone else does
To make God happy
The building and facilities
Written, August 2019
God’s message for Jews in captivity
In World War 2, 22,000 Australian servicemen were taken captive as prisoners of war (POW) by the Japanese. They went through brutal and horrific experiences, including beatings, starvation, transportation on cramped ships, and long jungle marches in south-east Asia. Many worked on the Burma-Thailand railway. 8,000 (36%) of them died in captivity.
In this post on Isaiah 40 we see that Isaiah told the Jews that their descendants would be POWs. These captives would be discouraged and weary. But if they trusted in God and longed for the fulfilment of His promises, He would give them confidence, comfort and strength.
Isaiah prophesied for 60 years from 740BC to 680BC. During this period Judah was threatened by the Assyrians. In 722BC Assyria conquered the northern kingdom (Israel) and they were taken into captivity. So the southern kingdom of Judah feared the Assyrians.
The book of Isaiah was written to the people of Judah in about 700BC. The oldest copy of Isaiah is one of the Dead Sea Scrolls dated about 200BC. Isaiah has two main sections. Chapters 1-39 describe the Assyrian threat, which was God’s judgement for their idolatry. Chapters 40-55 describe how in 100 years time they will be defeated by the Babylonians and taken captive as prisoners for 70 years and then delivered and restored as a nation.
In chapters 36-37, we read that God saves Jerusalem from the Assyrian army. In chapter 39, King Hezekiah recovers from a serious illness and representatives of the king of Babylon come with a gift. Hezekiah shows them all the wealth of his kingdom. Then Isaiah predicts that this wealth and some of the people will be captured and taken to Babylon. This happened about 100 years later.
In Isaiah 41, Isaiah ridicules the Babylonian idols that the captives were tempted to follow and he predicts that God will raise up Cyrus, king of Persia who will allow the captives to return to Judea. This happened 170 years after the prediction was made. So chapter 40 is framed before and after by accounts of the Jewish captivity in Babylon. It is addressed to those in exile. As a promise of deliverance from captivity, it aims to encourage and strengthen them when they are discouraged, tired and weak.
Note that Isaiah 40 has a poetic structure and that prophecies like this can have multiple fulfilments. We will look at what it meant to those in captivity and how it can apply to us today.
God’s promise (v.1-11)
In this section God promises to deliver His people from captivity. Verse 2 mentions the Jews “hard service has been completed” and their “sin has been paid for”. This refers to their slavery in Babylon. They would have been discouraged and weary because the exile lasted for 70 years. But now they had been fully punished for their sins (received double). They needed comfort and encouragement and that is the theme of this chapter (v.1). “Comfort, comfort” means great comfort. The message of deliverance would give them encouragement, comfort and hope.
In verses 3-5 they are told to “prepare the way for the Lord” by building a highway in the desert so “the glory of the Lord will be revealed” in their deliverance from exile in Babylon. This highway is a figure of speech for repentance and dealing with the sinful things in life that needed to be straightened out. The promise is that the Lord is returning to Jerusalem when the Jews return to Judea. Nations will be amazed when this happens and realize that the Jews have a great God. It’s unusual for a conquered nation to be resurrected like that.
Then there is a contrast between the temporary and the permanent (v.6-8). It says people are like grass and flowers. They wither and fall, but God’s word endures forever. When it was written they were afraid of the Assyrians. But the Assyrian threat will pass. When they were in exile they were ruled by the Babylonians. But the Babylonian rule will pass. This is repeated in v.23-24, where he says that rulers of this world are temporary and will soon vanish. For them it meant that the power of Assyria and Babylonia would soon vanish. On the other hand, God’s word is permanent (Mt. 24:35). Also, because humans fail, their only hope comes from the eternal word of God.
Next they hear the good news of deliverance from Babylon (v.9-11). It’s like another exodus. This is a prediction of what was to happen about 170 years later. God “comes with power” in the form of the Persians who conquer the Babylonians (v.10). The reward of those who were faithful to the Lord is that they could return to their homeland. God is a ruler that cares for them like a shepherd cares for his sheep.
“He gathers the lambs in His arms
and carries them close to His heart;
He gently leads those that have young” (v.11)
So even though God’s people are in a bad place in captivity in a foreign land, God promises to care for them and bring them safely back to their homeland. That’s the comfort and encouragement mentioned in v.1. This Hebrew word (Strongs #5162) is used elsewhere in Isaiah to describe their deliverance from exile (Is. 49:13; 51:12; 52:9).
In June 2014 the Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste was sentenced to seven years in prison on charges of aiding the Muslim Brotherhood and spreading false news that defamed Egypt. Two other journalists were also imprisoned. They were framed as terrorists and spies. But all denied the charges against them and said their trial was a sham and that they were simply reporting the news. When they were about to begin a hunger strike, there was great joy in February 2015 when Peter was released after spending 400 days in an Egyptian jail. Deliverance is good news!
The Bible says that the glory of the Lord (v.5) is also revealed at Christ’s first and second advent (Lk. 2:9; Rev. 1:7). John the Baptist applied v.3 (“prepare the way for the Lord”) to himself when he told the people to prepare for the Messiah by repenting of their sins (Mt. 3:1-8; Mk. 1:2-8; Lk. 3:2-17; Jn. 1:23). Are we prepared for Christ’s return? Have we confessed and repented of our sins?
Do we have a sense of the temporary and the permanent? The troubles of this life are temporary, while the promises of heaven are permanent. Do we live as though God’s word endures forever? Peter uses this passage to say that the new spiritual life is eternal (1 Pt. 1:23-25).
Are we in a bad place? If we trust in God, He will care for us and bring us safely to be with Him in heaven.
But how do the captives know that God can do what He promised?
God’s greatness (v.12-26)
Next they are given three examples of God’s greatness. This section has many rhetorical questions to persuade the people to trust in the Lord.
First, He is a great creator (v. 12). He made and controls the oceans, the stars and planets, the earth’s surface including the dust, the mountains and hills. Isaiah uses personification saying that God measures the oceans in the hollow of His hand and measures the universe with the breadth of His hand. And God weighs the mountains and hills.
God made the earth and the stars (v.21-26). This should be obvious to the Jews because they have the account of creation in Genesis. So God rebukes them,
“Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?” (v.21).
He’s saying, are you dull? Don’t you understand? He reminded them of something they already knew.
Who created all the stars (v.26)? It must be someone who existed before the stars. It must be God Himself. Who controls them? He guides the stars in their paths across the sky. He knows each by name and “because of His great power and mighty strength” none of them go missing!
God creates and sustains without outside help (v. 13-14). He is the ultimate cause; no one instructed or taught Him, and no one else can understand what He does (Rom. 11:33-34; 1 Cor. 2:16). He has incredible wisdom.
The second example of God’s greatness is that the other nations are insignificant compared to God (v.15-17). And all the forests of Lebanon aren’t sufficient fuel and all its animals inadequate for a worthy burnt offering to Him.
The third example is that God is greater than any man-made idol (v.18-20). He says they are useless. The rich make them out of gold and silver, while the poor use wood. He uses satire and sarcasm. Saying they are made by craftsmen, who need to make sure they don’t topple over. An idol can’t even stand up by itself! Instead, God is incomparable. There is no one like Him.
In those days people believed that when one nation was conquered by another, the gods of the conqueror were stronger than the gods of the vanquished. Some of the Jews in exile may have thought the gods of Babylon were stronger than their God. So God asks them, “to whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” (v.25). The answer is no-one.
At that time the pagan nations worshipped the sun, moon and stars (Is. 47:13). The Jews also began to worship these as gods (2 Ki. 17:16; 21: 3, 5; Jer. 19:13). But here they are being told that their God is greater than these gods, because He made them!
The Sun is a star, and life on Earth depends on this powerful source of energy. It’s the greatest power in our solar system. Every second, the sun radiates a million times more energy than the entire United States consumes in a year. Quasars are among the brightest and most powerful objects in the universe. They can emit enormous amounts of energy, up to a thousand times the total output of the hundreds of billions of stars in our entire galaxy. But God is even more powerful!
Do we marvel at the wonders of the physical world? Do we believe that God is the ultimate cause? The greatest creator and sustainer?
Do we know what our idols are? What’s our perception of them? What influence do they have? Do they rule our lives?
But the captives think that God has forgotten them while they are in exile in Babylon (v.27). They are discouraged and wonder if God still cares for them. So they complain.
God strengthens the weary (v.27-31)
So God rebukes them once again,
“Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and His understanding no one can fathom.” (v.28).
Once again He’s saying, are you dull? Don’t you understand? This is said to those who don’t trust God. It’s Hebrew poetry where two lines are often grouped together to express one thought.
They needed to know that …
“The LORD is the everlasting God”.
He’s different to the man-made idols you see in Babylon. They are temporary; but He is permanent. He existed before everything else existed. He is a unique God.
“(He’s) the Creator of the ends of the earth”. He created all the earth. He won’t forsake what He has made.
“He will not grow tired or weary”. He’s not like us. He doesn’t get tired and weary. He hadn’t forgotten them. No problems are hidden from God, or too much for Him to handle.
“His understanding no one can fathom”. No one can understand like God (Rom. 11:33). He’s in a totally different realm to us. His ways are right, even though we don’t know or understand them.
Next he promises new strength for those who trusted God. Because of God’s attributes, “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak” (v.29). Those who trust in Him are strengthened when they are weary and empowered when they are weak as was the case for the captives. Because He cares for the stars, He also cares for His people.
“Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.” (v.30-31).
“Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall”. As human beings we all get tired and weary. We run out of energy. We all can stumble and fall. There are times when we can’t go on. Our human resources are used up. We need rest. We need sleep.
“but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength”. The Hebrew word translated “hope”, is translated “wait” or “trust” in other translations. That’s the key word for God’s promises in Isaiah 40. It means an eager and confident expectation. These Jews in Babylon were ready to start the journey when the time came. They were waiting to be released, but they didn’t know exactly when it would be. God gives spiritual strength to those who trust in Him. They are empowered by the Holy Spirit. They are given the strength and power required for the day and the task.
“They will soar on wings like eagles”. It takes lots of energy to fly. In fact we can’t do it without using the power of the wind or an engine. God can help us get through a challenging day or task.
“They will run and not grow weary”.
Running takes less energy than flying, but more energy than walking. God can help us get through a busy day or task.
“They will walk and not be faint”. Walking takes less energy than running. God can help us get through a normal day or task.
What did this mean to the Jewish exiles in Babylon? They would have been tired of living in a foreign country under foreign rulers. But it was a long journey back to their homeland. Ezra took four months to travel the 1,400 km (880 miles) (Ezra 7:8-9). That’s about 12km per day. It’s walking pace. They would have thought, how can the weary and weak travel this far? The weary and weak would have included the elderly, the sick, and the disabled. Was it worth travelling so far from a civilised country where they had learnt a new language and a new way of life to a city in ruins? This would encourage them to look forward to returning to their homeland. And whether they travelled fast or slow, God would empower them on the journey.
We have seen how the Jews were encouraged spiritually when they were tired and weak. What about us? Do we live as though we have an “everlasting God” who always cares for us and doesn’t get tired or weary? And who doesn’t forget.
If we trust in God, He will care for us and help when we are in need. Do we seek His supernatural power and strength when we are weary and weak? Jesus told His followers to “always pray and not give up” (Lk. 18:1).
Paul said that because of the hope of our resurrection to be with the Lord, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16). Although we may be tired and weak and our health may fail, the Holy Spirit renews us inwardly each day.
The writer of Hebrews urges us to fix our eyes on Jesus “so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb. 12:1-3).
Did you know that God encourages us so we can encourage others? “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Cor. 1:3-4)
More good news
I mentioned that prophecies like this can have multiple applications and fulfilments.
What was the impact on the Jews when they first heard it in 700BC? The Biblical principle is the same – if they trusted in God and longed for the fulfilment of His promises, He would give them confidence, comfort and strength. But the application is different. They were still in Jerusalem before the captivity. Their response could be to repent of their idolatrous ways in order to try to prevent the exile. But they could be confident that as God’s people, even if they went into captivity God would bring them back to their homeland.
The idea of deliverance from captivity is used in the New Testament where the Greek word for “good news” or “gospel” is used to describe deliverance from being slaves to sin (Acts 13:32; 1 Cor. 15:1-4). Here good news (v.9) is applied to the salvation that Christ brings to those who trust him.
So although we live in a different era to Isaiah, we are also promised deliverance from suffering. In our case it’s the suffering due to sin and heaven is the promise. As the Jews looked forward to returning to Jerusalem (or Zion) where God was present in the temple, we can look forward to being with the Lord Jesus in heaven. Do we look forward to our deliverance?
Although there is a similarity, there is also a difference. They took the full punishment for their sins in Babylon (v.2), but Jesus took the full punishment for our sins at His crucifixion.
So the principle for us is that if we trust in God and long for the fulfilment of His promises, He will give us confidence, comfort and strength.
Isaiah 40 finishes with,
“those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint”
We have seen from Isaiah’s prophecy that when the Jews were in captivity, God promises deliverance. It’s good news from an everlasting all-powerful God that encourages and strengthens those that are tired, weak and weary. And they look forward eagerly to their deliverance.
Today God also promises His people deliverance from the sufferings of this sinful world when they get to heaven. In the meantime, with God’s spiritual strength, we can face whatever lies ahead of us.
Let’s remember that if we trust in God and long for the fulfilment of His promises, He will give us confidence, comfort and strength.
Written, August 2015
Suffering and Glory
God allows Christians to go through trials, suffering and persecution. How can we cope in such tough times? Paul gives an answer in 2 Thessalonians 1.
Paul visited Thessalonica for a short time and in response to his preaching a church was established. After he left, he wrote them the letter of 1 Thessalonians. Have you ever explained something to someone and find the need to repeat it soon after? Well Paul also had this experience. Paul saw a need to encourage the believers in Thessalonica as they were still being persecuted. Some of them thought the tribulation described in Revelation had already arrived and some had stopped working. As Paul didn’t have telephone or e-mail, he wrote them another letter.
The Source of Strength
“Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Th. 1:1-2NIV).
The introduction is similar to that for the first letter to the Thessalonians. It mentions the writer, the recipients and an opening greeting. Silas and Timothy were with Paul when he wrote this letter from Corinth. It was written to the “ekklessia”. As the Greek word “ekklessia” could mean any gathering of people, Paul described his readers as being believers at the city of Thessalonica. He needed to do this as elsewhere this word was used to describe a group of Jews, a riotous mob and a local governing body (Acts 7:38; 19:32, 39, 41).
The word “in” emphasises the close relationship that believers have with the Father and the Son—this is our primary relationship. The word “from” indicates that this relationship is the source of “grace” and “peace”.
Paul mentioned “grace” and “peace” in the introduction of 12 of his New Testament letters. The fact that they come from God the Father and God the Son implies equality between these members of the Godhead. In this context, “grace” means “to be in favor with”. Paul wanted the Thessalonians to be in favor with God and to have the peace that flows from this. He knew that God “shows favor to the humble and oppressed” (Prov. 3:34; Jas. 4:6). Of course peace is one’s desire in times of suffering and persecution.
In this letter, Paul used the full title “Lord Jesus Christ” on 50% of the occasions when he referred to God the Son. This is a high proportion compared to 29% for 1 Thessalonians, 13% for Acts to Revelation.
“We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing. Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring” (2 Th. 1:3-4).
Paul’s prayers that their faith and love would grow had been answered (1 Th. 3:10, 12). Therefore he kept on thanking God for his spiritual children. Faith is Godward and love is towards one another. Faith keeps us in contact with God and this leads to love for one another. In the first letter faith, love and hope are mentioned together, but here “hope” is left out maybe because they needed correction concerning the second coming of the Lord (1 Th. 1:3; 5:8). Their hope was not clear. So Paul writes to correct the situation
They were doing so well that Paul boasted about their spiritual progress to other churches. Despite tough times of persecution and trial, their faith remained strong. By mentioning this in the letter, Paul is affirming their faith, love and perseverance.
Punishment and Relief
“All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well” (2 Th. 1:5-7a).
Their endurance in the face of persecution was evidence that God was at work among them! They were being persecuted because of their Christian faith, but God knew that they could bear it (1 Cor. 10:13). People who are under pressure give up easily unless something is strengthening them. God provided strength so they could endure their suffering and persecution. In fact, Christians can rejoice in suffering because it produces character and maturity (Rom 5:3-4; Jas. 1:2-4).
Paul points out three things about their suffering. First, it showed they were “worthy of the kingdom of God”. They had been made worthy by faith in Christ and this was evident in their endurance under suffering. The pattern is one of suffering followed by future glory. It is the same one that Jesus followed. The Old Testament prophets predicted; “the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (1 Pet. 1:11), but they didn’t understand that these events would be separated by at least 1,900 years. The Jews expected the Messiah to come in great power and glory, but instead He came in a humble way and suffered greatly. Whereas at His future appearing He will come in great power and glory. This pattern also applies to believers: Paul wrote: “… if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom 8:17-18).
Second, their suffering showed that their persecutors deserved to be judged. Because God is just, He will punish the persecutors—“He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you”. The Greek word translated “trouble” in v.6 means to suffer due to the pressure of circumstances or under antagonism (Vine). We know that God judges unrepentant sinners, both on earth when He “gives them over” to suffer the consequences of their sins (Rom. 1:24,26,28) and at the Great White Throne (Rev. 20:11-15).
Third, their suffering showed that they deserved relief for their undeserved persecution. Because God is just, the punishment will be balanced with relief for the Thessalonians and Paul and his colleagues who were suffering as well. The Greek word translated “relief” means relief from persecution.
When will this all happen?
“This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with His powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might on the day He comes to be glorified in His holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you” (2 Th. 1:7b-10).
It will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven. Christ is now hidden and many people even deny His existence. But when He appears visibly, He will be seen by all, so that no one will be able to deny or avoid Him.
When will the Lord Jesus be “revealed from heaven in blazing fire with His powerful angels”? As this hasn’t happened in the last 1,900 years, it is still future. Obviously, it’s a reference to the second coming. When Jesus ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives, two angels said, “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). The second coming of the Lord is a series of events over a period of time. In fact there are two main comings, the rapture when Christ returns to the air to take all believers, both dead and alive, to be with Him in heaven (1 Th. 4:13-17) and the appearing when He returns to the earth in great power and glory to remove unbelievers for judgement (Rev 19:1-21).
The timing of these events is evident from the sequence of topics in the book of Revelation: firstly the church is on earth (Rev. 2-3); then church in is heaven, which implies that the rapture has occurred between chapters 3 and 4 (Rev. 4-5); then there is tribulation on earth (Rev. 6-18); which is followed by the appearing (Rev. 19:11-21); and then the millennium (Rev. 20:1-10); and finally the new heaven and new earth (Rev. 21-22).
Further evidence that the rapture and the appearing are separate events is shown by their relationship to the tribulation. Christians are said to be “saved from God’s wrath” (Rom. 5:9) and kept from “the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test those who live on the earth” (Rev. 3:10); for “God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Th. 5:9). Of course, God’s “wrath” may refer to the tribulation (Rev. 6:16-17; 14:9-10, 19; 15:1, 7; 16:1, 19) or to His eternal punishment of unbelievers. According to 1 Th. 5:9, the context is the tribulation. This is consistent with the rapture occurring before the tribulation—believers will be in heaven while the tribulation is occurring on the earth. This understanding is known as the pre-tribulation rapture.
On the other hand, the appearing occurs at the end of the tribulation. The tribulation is described in Matthew 24:3-28, and then the appearing in v.29-31. It is a time of awesome power and punishment of Christ’s enemies (Is. 66:15-16; Rev. 1:7).
When Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians 1:7, 10 about when this will happen, he means when it will be visible to all. From the story of the rich man and Lazarus we know that when a believer dies they obtain relief and all their suffering and persecution has ended—they are with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). So, after death, believers enjoy relief in heaven, while unbelievers suffer in hades.
Two classes are marked for punishment. First, “those who do not know God” – these have rejected the knowledge of the true God that is revealed to everyone through creation and conscience (Rom 1:19-20; 2:12-16). Of course, they may never have heard the gospel. But God has revealed Himself clearly to everyone that He is God. He is in charge of the world. Second, those who “do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” – these have heard the gospel of salvation through a relationship with Jesus Christ, but sadly they have rejected it.
These people are punished because God’s justice demands punishment for sin. The punishment is “everlasting destruction”, which means eternal ruin; and being “shut out from the presence of the Lord”, which means without Him forever. They will reap the consequence of their choice to ignore God.
The appearing will be a time of great glory and amazement. The Lord Jesus will be glorified and the spectators (those saved during the tribulation) will be amazed at what God has done in the salvation of believers—“glorified in His holy people”. This will include the Thessalonian believers, because they believed Paul’s testimony to them. Paul also described this elsewhere: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed” (Rom. 8:18-19).
God will reveal to the world what He has been doing with His people through all these years. So, not only is Jesus Christ revealed, but His followers will be revealed as well.
“With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of His calling, and that by His power He may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Th. 1:11-12).
Paul prays that the believers may live lives that are worthy of their calling to participate in the appearing and to reign in the millennial kingdom. He asks for God’s power to enable them to obey every desire to do good and to carry out every deed prompted by faith. Here we see that God prompts such desires and deeds. When God answered this prayer, they were faithful ambassadors for Christ; bringing Him glory through their lives. Because of their relationship with Christ, the Thessalonians will also share in Christ’s glory.
Lessons for us
These are also difficult days and some are going through tough times. Let’s remember how Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to persevere at such times. Our primary relationship is with the Father and the Son; they are the source of grace and peace and endurance. Be encouraged that if you hold out against the pressures and temptations of this life it is evident that God is at work in your life in developing character and maturity.
Like the Thessalonians, we can be so occupied with suffering or persecution that we forget about our hope for the future. Do we have a clear view of what we are waiting for? Present suffering will be replaced by glory in future. Do we have a vision of the rapture and the appearing? There will be great power and glory when the Lord and His followers are revealed for all to see. It will be amazing, much more spectacular than the New Years fireworks show.
We can help believers who are going through tough times of trials, suffering or persecution by reminding them that in future things will be set right and the truth will be evident to all. Be encouraged that God is going to punish the persecutors and those guilty of wicked deeds. There will be retribution. Give them a reality check. Help them see the big picture; the eternal perspective. Remind them that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us”. This helps them to cope.
Written, April 2007
After the apostle Paul rescued a slave girl from demon possession, her owners realized that they could no longer make money from her fortune telling. So, they seized Paul and Silas and accused them before the magistrates (Acts 16:16-24). A crowd joined in this attack and Paul and Silas were stripped, flogged and thrown into the inner prison. This disappointing and painful situation could easily lead to depression and disillusionment. How did Paul and Silas react? Luke records: “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25 NIV). In a seemingly hopeless situation, they sang praises to God. Where did their joy and encouragement come from?
God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are the sources of encouragement for the believer (Acts 9:31; Rom. 15:5; 2 Th. 2:16-17). This kind of encouragement is not something we have, but something we get from God. The Greek words translated “encourage” and “encouragement” in the New Testament are paraklesis and parakaleo. The most common ways to get encouragement are to meditate on certain Scriptures, on the gospel message of salvation through Jesus Christ, on Christ’s return and on our Christian faith shared with other believers.
The Bible is encouraging because it is God’s special message to humanity. Paul wrote, “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). This means that the Scriptures are encouraging, and following them brings hope into our lives.
Paul taught that a local church was to be led by a group of elders (Ti. 1:5-9). One qualification of an elder was that “he must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it” (Ti. 1:9). The “trustworthy message” that was taught by Jesus Christ, Paul and the other apostles has been recorded in the Bible. An elder encourages the congregation by teaching and following the sound doctrines of the Bible, the truths of Scripture.
After urging the believers to “stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter,” Paul wrote, “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” (2 Th. 2:15-17). Also, prophets brought the message from God before the New Testament was available in a written form; and their messages “encouraged” the believers (1 Cor. 14:3,31).
The Gospel Message
The gospel is encouraging because it is the key to forgiveness of sins and eternal life. When the synagogue rulers said to Paul and Barnabas, “If you have a message of encouragement for the people, please speak,” Paul preached the gospel (Acts 13:15). He began with the Old Testament and concluded with, “I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you” (Acts 13:16-41). The gospel of Jesus Christ is always encouraging.
Paul described his mission this way: “My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ” (Col. 2:2). Here we see that encouragement is linked to an understanding that all believers are part of the Church (Col. 1:26-27). Paul also wrote, “We sent Timothy … God’s fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith” (1 Th. 3:2).
Christians “may be greatly encouraged” because they “have fled to take hold of the hope offered to them” in the gospel (Heb. 6:18). In this image they are fleeing to heaven from a world bound for judgment.
The return of Christ to bring all His followers into heaven is encouraging because it means an end of the sorrow, suffering and disappointment of this sinful world. Believers are commanded to encourage each other with the fact that they “will be with the Lord forever” (1 Th. 4:18). The promise of Christ’s return so believers “may live together with Him” is a great encouragement (1 Th. 5:10-11). In view of Christ’s return and the resurrection of the dead, believers should “meet together” to “encourage one another” (Heb. 10:25).
The Christian faith is encouraging because it is the practical demonstration of living according to the Bible, the gospel and Christ’s return. Paul longed to visit the believers in Rome so they could be “mutually encouraged by each other’s faith” (Rom. 1:11-12). The encouragement here is from each other’s faith, not any external circumstances. He also wrote, “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus” (Rom. 15:5). Here, encouragement and unity are associated with following the Lord. Paul was also encouraged when he heard about the faith of the believers at Thessalonica (1 Th. 3:7). Likewise, John had “great joy” when told about believers who continued to “walk in the truth” (3 Jn. 3-4).
Let’s be encouraged by God’s promises in the Scriptures, in the good news of salvation, in Christ’s return and in the faith we share with other believers. These are all linked, with the gospel being the core message conveyed by the Scriptures and Christ’s return being the hope of the gospel. It’s interesting that these facts do not depend on our circumstances, but in fact bring encouragement amidst struggles and suffering.
Also, let’s “encourage one another daily” in the faith so we will not be “hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Heb. 3:13). We are told to use these same means to encourage others (2 Cor. 1:4). Those with the gift of encouragement should exercise their gift amongst believers (Rom. 12:8). It seems as though Barnabas had this gift as his name meant “son of encouragement” and he encouraged the church at Antioch (Acts 4:36; 11:22-23).
When life is difficult, remember Paul and Silas in prison. Don’t follow your feelings or seek encouragement only from circumstances, as you soon will be disappointed. Don’t forsake the Lord when life gets tough. Instead, encourage yourself and others by remembering all that God has done.
Published, April 2008
Dealing with breakdowns in communication
A friend of ours with a nine-month-old daughter said, “Parenting is definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but also the most delightful.” Will she still think it’s delightful 15 years from now? Let’s look at how parents can survive during the often turbulent years of adolescence.
Adolescence is a time of great change as children develop from being physically and emotionally dependent on their parents to being independent and self-sufficient. Instead of being under the control of their parents they’re moving towards freedom of choice and autonomy. It’s a time when their personal values are being developed as they separate from their parents in many ways and form a separate identity.
Luke 2:40-52 is all we are told in the Bible about the life of Jesus Christ between boyhood and maturity. First, He grew physically, mentally and spiritually (v. 40). Then we see Him at 12 years among the teachers in the temple “listening to them and asking them questions” (v. 46). At this stage He still lived at home and was obedient to His parents (v. 51). In the next chapter, we see Jesus beginning His ministry at age 30 (Lk. 3:23). Did you notice the only verse about His adolescence? “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Lk. 2:52).
Adolescence is a time of growth and development towards maturity. The areas of growth mentioned are:
- Mental – The mind should increase in wisdom.
- Physical – The body should increase in stature and strength.
- Spiritual – A strong relationship should be developed with God. Jesus put God first, even above the concerns of His parents (Lk. 2:49,51).
- Social – Strong relationships should be developed with other people. Jesus developed strong relationships with the apostles and was followed by large crowds of people (Lk. 5:15; 8:40; 22:14).
Growth and development in teens can be erratic and unbalanced. Teens may be more advanced in one area than another, and their behavior can fluctuate between childish and mature. Conflict between parents and teens occurs when they misunderstand the stages along the path to maturity. Teens often seek more freedom for themselves, while parents may restrict them, still treating them as younger children. Teens claim their rights, while parents often look for teens to act more responsibly. Teens can be opinionated, rebellious and moody. No wonder adolescence is such a difficult time for teens and their parents!
If the teen years are too smooth and peaceful, the teenager is probably suppressing something. This may lead to prolonged adolescence where the teen remains strongly attached to parents rather than progressing toward adulthood. Some tension and conflict between teens and their parents is normal. Let’s see what we can learn from an example.
After a very difficult period in her family, a mother wrote this message to her teens: “I have come to realize with much sadness that I have failed you as a mother. I have nurtured two children – who now think they are adults – into very selfish beings. Instead of teaching you that we all need to help each other, I’ve smothered you with help and taught you only that ‘Mom will do it!’ Instead of teaching you the true meaning of ‘give and take,’ I’ve taught you only that I’m here to give and you’re here to take.
“You’ve grown up to think that once you reach 18 you’re free to do whatever you like. I’ve failed to help you see how this can impact other people. I’ve failed to show you that along with privileges come responsibilities, especially in relation to the household and family.
“I’ve failed to show you that living together is caring for each other. Instead, I’ve taught you that I will always pick up, clean up and do whatever else is necessary to keep this household running smoothly.
“I thought it was more important to love you and give to you, and have missed the message you were getting. I see now that I failed to teach you to put aside your own needs to care for others. I thought I was showing that by my actions. I was wrong. I have only taught you to take. I have not taught you responsibility towards other people – to look for ways to serve them. Instead of teaching you what Jesus taught by example, to serve others, I have obviously taught you to put yourselves first.
“I do not know how to change this. I am paying the price of raising two selfish children who want their rights, but are unwilling to accept their responsibilities or the consequences of their actions. I love you both with all my heart, but I have failed, so I quit!”
“Get off my back!”
The son replied: “I’m 18, not 2! I’m old enough to be able to live my life without added pressures from parents about school, church, friends and girlfriends. And whether you like it or not you have to let go. I’m old enough to choose my friends, and what I’m going to do with my life. Could you get off my back? I know I’ve disappointed you in your high expectations for me, but could you try accepting the way I am and love me like that?”
Soon after this confrontation, a friend wrote to the mother: “It’s tough being a parent. Most parents try to do their best for their children. Some don’t do well because they don’t know any better. Others do a good job but can’t see it themselves. There is no instruction manual for parenthood. You have to make choices daily to address all sorts of problems. From what I see, you are making right choices.
“I’m no expert, but I’ve learned that all people go through stages as they mature. From birth, we are dependent on our parents; we watch them and copy what they do. In the next stage, we go against almost everything our parents say and do. This is the hard stage, but necessary, because we find out more about who we are. We know what parents are, but until we pull against them we never really know who we are. The next stage can also be hard, but good, because we become independent, learning to stand on our own two feet, even though we may be knocked down by bad choices and lack of experience. But these stages are important; unless we go through them we never reach the stage of interdependence, where we learn to work and live together in harmony.
“Although what’s happening isn’t pleasant, it doesn’t have to be a bad time. In setting boundaries, you are doing your children a great service in helping them become responsible and more considerate of others. Without strong boundaries this lesson is much harder to learn. Not having boundaries often leads to a life of selfishness and unhappiness.
“I learned from my mom that there were a lot of years as her children grew up where she was taken for granted. It’s a time of tears and pain. Be patient, continue to set boundaries and confront them, and your children will one day show their appreciation. Never doubt their love. It’s just hard for them to express when they’re so busy focusing on themselves.”
An Example: Eli And His Sons
Parents of teens should not be weak and indulgent towards them as Eli was. This High Priest of Israel let his sons grow into “wicked men” with “no regard for the Lord” (1 Sam. 2:12 niv). He “failed to restrain them” and didn’t rebuke them until he was very old (1 Sam. 2:22-25; 3:13). He honored his sons more than God (1 Sam. 2:29). He let them do what they liked, and they grew into adult priests who were out of control. Don’t let your teenagers do whatever they like. Instead, confront them with appropriate boundaries, and consequences if they cross those boundaries: “If you do this, then this will happen.”
Christians are not guaranteed success in parenting. Eli was a high priest in Israel, but he didn’t discipline his sons and we read of the sad results. One qualification for leaders in the local church is good management of their own children, resulting in respect and obedience (1 Tim. 3:4,12).
We should treat our adolescent children as God treats us – after all, we are His children (Jn. 1:12-13; Rom. 8:16; 1 Jn. 3:1). God loves and cares for us regardless of our attitudes and behavior. He sets boundaries for us and lets us know the consequences for obedience and disobedience. He lets us make our own decisions and learn how to live for Him through our experiences. We should do likewise as parents, giving our teenagers more responsibility each year so they learn to make decisions and become mature adults. Remember, parents can be likened to birds that are preparing their young to fly – but we can’t do it for them.
Don’t exasperate your teenage children with unreasonable demands, undue harshness or constant nagging (Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:21). Instead, be firm but reasonable, treat them with dignity and respect, and have empathy by trying to see life from their perspective. Identify the important issues and confront them, letting the others go. Begin treating them as young adults, as their childish days are behind them – they are no longer infants (1 Cor. 13:11; Heb. 5:12-14).
The task of training children is ending, and they are now old enough to take more responsibility for themselves. If we teach our pre-teens to choose the right path in life, then they are more likely to remain on it when they are older (Prov. 22:6).
Encourage your teenager’s self-esteem by showing affection, praising positive behavior, and recognizing efforts and achievements. We all need encouragement (Heb. 10:25).
Don’t give up on your adolescent children. Be patient like the Lord, and like the father of the prodigal son (Lk. 15:11-32; 2 Pet. 3:9). You must be prepared to let them go their own way and make choices that you may not like. Most importantly, pray that your teenagers would seek the Lord’s will for them and follow it, make wise decisions and be ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20).
Those of us who are not parents of teenagers should be good examples and mentors for them. Teens need recognition and affirmation. Their parents need encouragement and support.
Published, December 2005 (together with Jean Hawke)