Tuesday, April 26, 2016

How God Shows His Love – 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5



For we know, brethren beloved by God, that he has chosen you; for our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. (RSV)

Bible Versions

When I sit down to comment on verses like these, the first thing I do is check out different version. This gives me the opportunity to see the differences or commonality between the versions. When I write, I usually rotate between quoting different versions to make sure the publishers don’t come back and demand a royalty because I’ve quoted a whole chapter or too many verses. Sometimes I skip using a version in the rotation because it is not clear or even has a different meaning than other versions. 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5 is no exception. My usual versions (ESV, NIV®, NASU, NKJV, NLT, RSV, KJV, and NASB) had two versions with significant difference in only one phrase and that is regarding who loves the brethren. 

Brethren Beloved by God

When I read the NKJV “knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God” (vs. 4) (the KJV is similar), the clear indication is that Paul says he has a deep love for the people in Thessalonica. All the other versions are very specific that it is God who has this deep love for the people. The difference cannot be attributed to using a different compilation of the Greek text. Both the Textus Receptus and the Nestle are identical in this verse.
At this point, you may wonder what the big deal is. It is big because the whole concept of how the Gospel came to the Thessalonians is at stake. If this is only Paul’s love for them, they are missing a huge reason why they were chosen, the Word came to them, the power of the Holy Spirit came, they were convicted, and the God sent good men to them. This all came because God loves them.

I will plant her for myself in the land; I will show my love to the one I called “Not my loved one.” I will say to those called “Not my people,” “You are my people”; and they will say, “You are my God.” (Hos 2:23 NIV®)

There is no consistency between Bible translations for this verse in Hosea. Some say God will show his mercy, compassion, or pity rather than love. However, Paul quoted it in Romans 9:25 as beloved so I chose the version that says God shows his love; the principle carries forward in 1 Thessalonians 13. The Thessalonians were Gentiles and before Jesus came, they were considered to be forsaken by God. They were not loved, not God’s people, not belonging to God. But when Paul and his companions came to Thessalonica, they discovered that God loved them and they had the opportunity to join in God’s family. When they received the Gospel, they became part of “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Peter 2:9 ESV). Think about that for a while. Before our salvation, we were dead (Eph 2:1), we were enemies of God (Rom 5:10), without hope (Eph 2:12), and the worst part was we didn’t even know it. But God loved us and brought the right person, sermon, verses, book, tract, circumstances into our lives so that we were regenerated by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5) so that we believed and confessed Jesus as our Lord (Rom 10:9). That’s what it means to be beloved by God.

Chosen

For though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls. (Rom 9:11 NASU)
What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened. (Rom 11:7 NASU)

I’ve written on God choosing us several times, as it has come up in almost every book of the Bible I’ve discussed on this blog. It is amazing how many times the subject appears in Scripture. Most often, it is simply sated as Paul did in 1 Thessalonians 1:4, as if it were common knowledge or assumed. Other times, he makes it the subject of his discourse. Such is the case in Romans 9 and 11. 

However, when looking up how often this Greek word is used in the New Testament, I found that Peter warned us to make sure we were called and chosen by God (2 Peter 1:10) by our works. This is a bit puzzling. How could someone be called and chosen but not have it certain? 

But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. (Matt 22:11 NKJV)

In Jesus’ parable, this man was called to the wedding for the king’s son. He wasn’t one of the initial invitees but was a second choice. If the first guests who did not respond represent Israel, then this man would represent Gentiles. He got into the banquet but later, he was tossed out because he wasn’t dressed properly. What is the message for us? Is it possible to be called, accept the invitation but still not chosen? Other verses in the Bible reveal God chooses and He also keeps those He has chosen (John 10:27-30, Eph 1:4, 13-14). Perhaps what Jesus was teaching in this parable is that the invitation is universal (John 3:16), and some who decide they want a free meal show up without any desire to be obedient to the Lord. It would be those who say they are “spiritual” or want to honor God, but they don’t want to have anything to do with Jesus (John 5:23). They join a church and enjoy the blessings of the community tasting the good things that the Holy Spirit does through His people (Heb 6:4-5). Some may even accomplish wonderful things in the name of Jesus but never get to know Jesus. Some organizations that call themselves churches are filled with these people. Unfortunately, they will hear Jesus say, “I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God's laws” (Matt 7:23 NLT). 

This still leaves the question whether people will accept the invitation if they are not chosen. I would have to say that based on the rest of Scripture, they will not accept the invitation. They heard the message of life, the Gospel, but never responded with sorrow for their sins and true repentance. They believed but did not trust Jesus for their salvation (James 2:19). How could that be unless they were not chosen? “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So it depends not upon man's will or exertion, but upon God's mercy” (Rom 9:14-16 RSV).

Why did Peter warn us to make our election certain? If we are chosen, should it be automatic that we will be in the banquet properly dressed? No, we may be just like the man who was not properly dressed or people in churches thinking they are Christians when they have made no profession of Jesus’ lordship over them. They have not really accepted the invitation. We may have a lot of knowledge about Jesus but demonstrate that we don’t know Him by our actions. We all need to stop and assess our calling and election lest we discover we haven’t really accepted the invitation. 

Gospel in Word and Power

So shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. (Isa 55:11 NASB)

We need to look at the Gospel when we think about invitations and election. God clearly states the power of His Word. What God decrees to happen will happen. There can be no doubt about this. If we are obedient to tell others about Jesus’ death for our sins and His burial and His resurrection on the third day (all according to His Word), and that He appeared to the Apostles and 500 other people (1 Cor 15:3-6), then we can be assured that this message will not be in vain. We will proclaim it to everyone because we don’t know whom God has chosen. When those He has chosen hear it, they will believe and respond appropriately so that they will be saved. We don’t know if they will respond immediately or if they must hear it several times – maybe even hundreds of times. God’s promise is that His Word will not be thwarted. The people in Thessalonica who were chosen, accepted the Gospel and were saved. Those who were not chosen formed a mob and set the city in an uproar (Acts 17:1-5). The same Gospel with the same power was heard by many in the city but only a few responded positively. Their positive response only results when God’s choice is accomplished, otherwise everyone would respond negatively.

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. (Matt 10:34-35 ESV)

Some preach a gospel of peace between all people. This is not the Gospel that Jesus brought. He brought a Gospel of peace with God. For those who are called, we have Christ’s peace ruling in our hearts when His Word dwells in us (Col 3:15-16). Unfortunately, those who oppose the Gospel often do it violently or expel those who accept it. This does not negate the power of the Gospel because the power is for those who are chosen.

Conviction and the Holy Spirit

When he [Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment. (John 16:8 NIV)

What happens when people of the world, non-Christians, are convicted of sin by the Holy Spirit? In my experience, one of two things happens. The best response is that they become sorry for sin, not for being caught. It is because the Holy Spirit has revealed that sin is an offence to God no matter how heinous or slight. That sorrow is demonstrated in repentance. Salvation has come to that person. The Holy Spirit does this in a number of different ways. One person may experience guilt and recognize his need for salvation because he has not believed in Jesus, the worst sin. Another one may look at her life and realize that it isn’t righteous compared to God’s righteousness instead of comparing to others around her. Then there is the one who suddenly understands that he will be judged for his sins and go to hell. God meets each person where he or she is and the Holy Spirit convicts and saves (Titus 3:5).

You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved. (Matt 10:22 NASU)

Then there are those who feel the conviction and turn on the ones God has sent with the message through His Word. The sad part of this is that these people are often the ones that are closest to us, our family members. These are the ones that we want to be saved more than any others, yet they often reject or scorn us along with Jesus. This isn’t a new problem for it has existed since Cain killed Able (Gen 4:3-8). 

The Lord warned people in the time of Isaiah that those who respected and honored the Word of God would be hated by their brothers (Isa 66:5). The brothers most likely refers to the nation of Israel, not just a person’s relatives. We can see that the hatred that comes with conviction extends well beyond family lines. 

I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. (John 17:14 NKJV)

Jesus gave us the Word from the Father and this brings about hatred from the whole world. When we accept the Word and we are saved, we are no longer part of the world system. We have become citizens of the heavenly realm (Eph 2:19). Conviction by the Holy Spirit causes those who have rejected His Word to hate those who are different from them. Just as we see hatred between races and nations, people who are different, so the world has a natural (sinful) hatred of Christians because we are different. If we are not different, then there is no conviction and we have lost our saltiness, our witness is gone because there is no distinction between the way the world acts and the way we act. 

What Kind of Men Are We?

You know that from the day I set foot in the province of Asia until now I have done the Lord's work humbly and with many tears. (Acts 20:18-19 NLT)

Paul was always able to point to his own life while spreading the Gospel as an example to other. He wasn’t perfect (Acts 15:39) but the point being that he didn’t give people reason to ignore the Gospel because of his personality, greed, or sinful lifestyle. When they rebelled against the Gospel, it was for the reasons mentioned above not because of his lack of integrity. This ability to be humble and work with people, even to the point of crying over their sinful condition or lack of growth in Christ is not easy. It is based on a desire to be a servant. Paul said, “For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake” (2 Cor 4:5 RSV). He said he didn’t preach himself, but his life as a servant of Jesus spoke just as loud as his testimony about Jesus. If they didn’t match up, then there would be no witness for Jesus but reason for the world to ignore the message.

We need to look closely at the way we conduct our lives around those we are trying to influence for the Gospel. It starts in our families. Are we being the godly spouse that the Word says we need to be? How about being a parent that doesn’t “exasperate” (Eph 6:4 NIV®) his or her children? What about work or neighbors, does even the way we keep up our yard demonstrate our care for others? As our circle of influence expands to those in other countries, how we behave has a significant impact on whether or not a person will be open to the Gospel.

Our poor behavior does not negate the power of the Gospel or the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Our good behavior does not overrule God’s election either. But we are part of the equation and the ones that spread the Gospel. So lets do it the way we should. 

Practical

I don’t normally do this in my blog, but I did ask how we treat those in other countries. Those who have so much less than we have. I have started a fundraiser to get schoolbooks for poor kids in a Christian School in Pakistan. If you want to help demonstrated God’s love to these kids, please donate. I’ve been to the school; the story is on the fundraiser page (https://www.youcaring.com/proverbs-three-nine-foundation-557847) and on Proverbs Three Nine Foundation’s blog (http://proverbsthreenine.org/blog/urgent-need-schoolbooks-for-poor-kids-in-pakistan). Donations can be sent through the fundraiser or at Proverbs Three Nine Foundation’s contact page (http://proverbsthreenine.org/contact.html). Please help and show God’s love to these kids.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Bible Authors, Church Names, Grace, Peace, and Prayer – 1 Thessalonians 1:1-3



Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. (ESV)

Three Writers

In most of Paul’s letters, he addresses his audience along with others who are ministering with him. Timothy is mentioned more often than any other person. I don’t usually stop at this point to look them up but I did here because he mentions two and not just one. Through the whole letter, Paul uses the first person plural. What is the implication of this? This letter is a consensus of the three and carries the weight of three. That may have been very important for the church in Thessalonica. When they received it, they didn’t recognize it as Scripture, but a letter from their spiritual fathers, the ones who brought the gospel to them (1 Thess 1:5). Now, we know it carried the full force of the Word of God through the Holy Spirit, but they did not realize it. So it may have been very important for them to see that all three were in agreement with this letter of reminders and instructions. 

A note about Silvanus, it is believed that Silas is a shortened version of Silvanus. Therefore, it is believed that this Silvanus is the same person who accompanied Paul on his second missionary journey.[1] He would have been well known to the Thessalonians, as would Paul’s protégé, Timothy; both were with him when Paul first came to Thessalonica (Acts 17:4, 14). 

Church Names

To the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven. (Heb 12:23 NASU)

The names that we give our churches are sometimes quite long and some are odd. I’ve seen some really long ones that even try to get their full confession of faith in the name of the church. Others want their denominational name in the title. “The Holy Resurrection Armenian Apostolic Church” reveals quite a bit about the church from its name. I looked up “Church of the Firstborn” on the internet to see how many congregations named their group from Hebrews 12:23. Quite a few have. Some prefaced it with, “General Assembly of the” exactly as the NASU translates it. Naming a church from the Bible does not assure anyone that it is Biblical. “Church of the Firstborn” was a sect of the Mormon Church that existed until 1969.
Naming churches in the New Testament was not an issue. Paul usually referred to the churches simply by their location. Some tried doing this in modern times but with larger cities, they had to start adding first, second, etc. to the names. Where is this going? Let’s just say that in trying to come up with a suitable name for a church, some congregations emphasize the name and miss the importance of the source of the church.

And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3 NIV)

Any congregation that ignores or minimizes the source of our fellowship being in God the Father and in Jesus Christ is missing the mark. Some churches may emphasize one or the other. Some focus on the Holy Spirit. Yet, Paul specified the church being in God the Father and Jesus Christ both in 1 Thessalonians 1:1 and 2 Thessalonians 1:1. More often, he simply referred to the church as the church of God. That would include all members of the Trinity. The emphasis then, should not be on the name of our church, but on who we worship. If our church is not in God, then we are nothing more than a social organization, a club.

Grace and Peace

May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure. (1 Peter 1:2 NASU)

Grace and Peace are reoccurring greetings in most of the New Testament letters. It is often stated as coming from or is in God the Father and Jesus Christ. Without God’s grace, we would not be able to have peace. Peter’s greeting (1 Peter 1:2) implies that each of us may not have God’s grace and peace in the same amount. He wants us to all have them in the fullest measure. I wonder why we may not already have His grace or peace in the fullest measure. 

In one sense, we already have them. From God’s perspective, we have all of His grace and peace. Since God is unlimited, His grace is unlimited. It is by His grace we are saved (Eph 2:8-9). We can’t be any more saved because Jesus describes it as an either-or state. We cross over from death to life when we are saved (John 5:24) so we are either saved or we are not. We have received His saving grace or we have not. From that viewpoint, we don’t need any more grace. In the same way, we have God’s peace or we don’t. We are His enemies or we are not. We don’t need any more of God’s peace because once we were His enemies but now we have peace with him (Rom 5:1, 10-11). God looks at us with all His grace and all His peace because He has saved us through the blood of Jesus.

The other sense is when we look back at God or look at the circumstances of our life. We may have all of God’s grace but we don’t appropriate or use all of it. In Titus 2:12 we find that grace is teaching us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, so we can live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age. This is an ongoing process, not a onetime event. As we learn from God’s grace, we attain more and more peace in our lives. When we ignore God’s grace, we can’t have peace in our lives. Even worse, we imagine that God is still out to get us. We don’t even experience God’s peace in our souls. When we have grace and peace multiplied in our lives, we come closer to that perfect state of grace and peace that God has toward us.

Prayer

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world. (Rom 1:8 NKJV)

As is Paul’s custom when he prays for people, he gives thanks to God when he prays for the churches. He gives thanks for several things and one of the first is faith. He thanked God for the faith of the Romans (1:8), Ephesians (1:15), Colossians (1:4), and Philemon (5). I wonder how often we stop and thank God for the faith of our friends and relatives. It stopped me short to realize that I don’t do that. When we do give thanks to God for someone’s faith, we acknowledge that it is a gift from God and that brings glory to our Lord.
Thinking about how our faith is spoken about in the world is another matter. Does our faith move us to labors of love (1 Thess 1:3) or does our faith drive us toward judgmentalism or other negative traits that cause those without faith in Jesus to abhor us? While we acknowledge that there will always be some who will rail against us just because we are Christians (John 15:18), our love of each other and our enemies should result in open doors to share the reason for the hope that we have (1 Peter 3:15-17). This is reason to give thanks to God for our faith and that of others.

Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. (Rom 12:12 NLT)


We can also thank God for love and steadfast hope. When I think about persecuted Christians in other parts of the world, it is a constant reminder that without hope, they would not be able to continue. As I pray for them, I realize that their patience in trouble is also a gift from God. Their hope is a gift. When we remember those in any kind of trouble, whether it is persecution, health, relationships, or finances, we can be thankful to God for giving them continued hope. This provides a different perspective on my prayers for other. I need to get out my prayer list and revamp how I pray for others. How about you?



[1] Merrill F. Unger, The New Unger's Bible Dictionary, Updated ed., s.v. “Silas,” ed. R. K. Harrison (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2006), Biblesoft.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Lone Ranger Christians, Competition, and Grace – Titus 3:12-15



When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there. Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; see that they lack nothing. And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful. All who are with me send greetings to you. Greet those who love us in the faith. Grace be with you all. (ESV)

Lone Ranger Christians

Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. (Eph 6:21 NIV)

Surely, you have heard the term, “Lone Ranger Christians.” These are people who claim to be Christians but don’t need any other Christians in their lives. They don’t attend worship services with others but they may listen to Christian radio or preachers on TV or the radio. They don’t belong to any church and generally do not participate in any outreach programs of any kind because they would have to do it with other Christians. Like the legendary Lone Ranger, they live in the wilderness and have a pagan sidekick. They wear a mask so they won’t be recognized. Unlike the Lone Ranger, they don’t do much good, or if they do, it doesn’t bring glory to Jesus because no one knows they are Christians. They have to be urged to devote themselves to do good, even for cases of urgent need.

Look at the contrast between the Lone Ranger and Paul’s life. In Titus, he mentions four other Christian workers with whom he interacts and ministers. Tychicus is an interesting example because he appears four other times in Scripture. He ministered along with Paul in Greece and Asia (Acts 20:4-5). Paul sent him to Ephesus (Eph 6:21) and Colossi (Col 4:7) with the express purpose of helping them know how he was doing. This is very contrary to the Lone Ranger approach who would not want any personal struggles or victories to be made public. Paul didn’t keep his use of Tychicus a secret from anyone but told Timothy how he was being used (2 Tim 4:12). 

In most of Paul’s letters, he has words of greeting, advice, or praise for his coworkers in Christ. It is impressive and should be a reminder to us, that we are part of the Body of Christ. We need each other personally as well as for effective ministry. Wherever we are in our walk with the Lord, we also need to have other people in our lives. Ephesians 4:11 lists several functions that different people perform in the Church. We can’t do all of them and even Paul depended on other to help.

Competition and Rivalry

Now I say this, that each of you says, "I am of Paul," or "I am of Apollos," or "I am of Cephas," or "I am of Christ." Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Cor 1:12-13 NKJV)

Paul could have looked at Apollos as a threat because those in Corinth were rejecting Paul’s leadership in favor of Apollos. Apollos appeared to have a mind of his own when it came to where he would go and minister even when Paul strongly urged him (1 Cor 16:12). Yet, there is not one hint that Paul had any concerns about Apollos superseding him or causing harm to his ministry. Rather, Paul encourages Titus to help Apollos and speed him on his way. 

It's true that some are preaching out of jealousy and rivalry. But others preach about Christ with pure motives … Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice. (Phil 1:15, 18 NLT)

Paul actually had competition in his ministry, but not from Apollos. He didn’t name them when he wrote to the Philippians but he did contrast their attitude toward him and his attitude toward them. This sense of competition comes from jealousy and rivalry. What are the roots of these two attitudes? Jealousy occurs when we want the same recognition as others. We aren’t happy with the position God has given us and we want people to notice us, applaud us, and do it more than for others. The problem is that we are entirely self-focused instead of God-focused. Paul had the right answer for them. This wasn’t about Paul; it was about Jesus being preached. Therefore, Paul could even rejoice when a person’s motives were not pure. Jesus warned us that when we do things “for Him” but our motivation is getting rewards from others, we actually lose any rewards God would have given us (Matt 6:1). How much better it is when we have the right motives. 

Rivalry is similar to jealousy. Perhaps it could be described as a sense of competition without the need to be acknowledged by others. Rather, it is the desire to best the other person for personal reasons. This is an internal need to be better than others. The world would call it a self-esteem issue. I would call it selfish ambition or seeking my sufficiency or identity in my accomplishments instead of in Christ. It happens when I see someone doing better than I am. I want to do better than them; I want to be better than them. This is also judgmental; I view them as deficient, not as good as I am. In a warped, sinful way, it makes me feel better about myself. It puts them down so that I can build myself up. It sounds worse and worse as I think about it. It is the polar opposite of Paul’s admonition to the Philippians, “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves” (Phil 2:3 RSV). 

Oh Lord, forgive me for this kind rivalry and competition concerning Your work! Spare me from it and help me to rejoice when others ministers faithfully rather than being judgmental and picking them apart.

Grace to All

Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love undying. (Eph 6:24 RSV)

Paul ends his letter to Titus with a short benediction, a prayer for God’s grace to be on all those with Titus. He ends most of his letters with a similar benediction. At the end of Ephesians, he isn’t asking for grace on everyone, but those who love Jesus. Looking back in Titus, Paul is extending this to those who love him and his fellow workers “in the faith” (Titus 3:15). I heard the story about an unbeliever who said he couldn’t make sense of the Bible. A Christian responded by explaining that the Bible is composed of letters from God to His children. The reason the unbeliever could not understand is that he was not one of God’s children. The same applies to God’s grace to live godly lives in this generation (Titus 2:11-12). It applies only to those who have faith in God through Jesus Christ. 

And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:11-13 NASB)

It can’t get any simpler. If you want God’s grace in your life, you need to have Jesus. If you have Jesus, you can be sure of your salvation and that means His grace as well. If you do not have Jesus, you don’t have eternal life and no grace, no way to live a godly life. Do you have Jesus? I pray that you do and that you are not a Lone Ranger Christian or have jealous toward other believer’s work in the Lord. Rather, I pray that we will all be rejoicing together and encouraging each other in our ministries.