2 Thessalonians 1

Read 2 Thessalonians 1.

In yesterday’s reading we read about the end of humanity as we know it. We learned there in 1 Thessalonians 5 that most of the human race will be caught utterly unprepared when the “day of the Lord” comes in judgment. Here in 2 Thessalonians 1, Paul continued that theme.

The passage began with Paul’s usual greeting to the church (vv. 1-4) and a transitional statement saying that all the ways in which the faith of the Thessalonians was growing (vv. 3-4) was evidence that they would be included in God’s kingdom (v. 5).

At the end of verse 5 Paul noted that it is this kingdom, the kingdom of God, “for which you are suffering.” That phrase both indicates the circumstances the Thessalonians were facing and prepares us for the next few verses which tell us what God will do about it.

According to verse 6, “He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well.” Although all of us were once enemies of God and opponents to his kingdom, God in grace saved from the penalty that we deserved for our sins. That salvation made us “worthy of the kingdom of God” (v. 5b) but also put us on the other side of the rest of humanity which is still at war with God and resisting Christ’s kingdom. That is why believers are persecuted–both back then in Thessalonica and around the world today.

Here, though, God promised that suffering would not be the fate of believers forever. Instead, God will execute justice someday in the future. That justice will give relief to his children who are suffering but deliver judgment to those who reject him and oppose him. And when will this judgment happen? Verse 7 says it 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.” In other words, the “day of the Lord” which we read about yesterday in 1 Thessalonians 5 will begin when Christ returns as described here in 2 Thessalonians 1:7b-10.

Christians debate about the timing of these events and this is not the place to address that debate. What we should take away from 2 Thessalonians 1 is the promise that God’s judgment is coming when Jesus returns. On that day there will be justice–eternal punishment for those who are not in Christ (v. 9) but salvation for those of us who are in Christ. Our salvation is not based on our goodness but based on the fact that Christ died in our place, taking God’s punishment for sin for us.

But what do we do while we wait for that day of the Lord? Verses 11-12 tell us. Paul prayed for these believers that “God may make you worthy of his calling.” This prayer was for God to form real righteousness in these believers to match the status of righteousness that he declared them to be in Christ. That “real righteousness” was described in verse 11b as God bringing “to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith.”

Like all believers, the Thessalonians wanted to grow in grace. They wanted to serve God and become like him. Paul prayed for them that, until Jesus comes, they would be growing in God’s grace to become godly men and women. The result of that growth was described in verse 12: “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.”

What Paul described in this passage is what God is doing and wants to do in the lives of every believer. It is why I teach God’s word, shepherd his people, and write these devotionals. May God continue to change us and grow us until Christ returns to finally save us.

BTW: this is how we should pray for each other, too. Not that we would have health, happiness, and prosperity but that God would keep working in us to make us “worthy of his calling.”

1 Thessalonians 5

Read 1 Thessalonians 5.

What is God’s will for your life?

That is an important question for every believer to consider. It is always helpful to remember that God’s will has two aspects to it:

  • God’s decreed will. This is what happens. Everything that happens does so because God caused it to happen or allowed it to happen. If someone lives to be 110 years old or dies in an accident at age 10, that was the will of God for that person.
  • God’s desired will. This is what God wants to happen morally speaking. Every command of God expresses his desired will. “Do not kill” is God’s desired will.

It was not God’s desired will for anyone to sin or for any of us to die. Death is the consequence of sin and God commanded humanity not to sin. In God’s decreed will, however, people sin and people die everyday.

To put it another way–God’s desired will is, “Do not kill.” But God’s decreed will included many acts of murder. Those acts of murder were all displeasing to God. They were all outside of his moral will. He is not to blame for any one of them because they were all committed willfully by people. Yet, the Bible teaches that they all happened under his sovereign lordship.

Too many Christians get preoccupied with what God’s decreed will is; not enough of us are concerned about what God’s desired will is.

To repeat that more specifically: Too many Christians wonder who God wants them to marry, what vocation God wants them to have, whether they should buy that Ford Focus in red or in blue. Not enough of us think about what moral commands God wants us to obey.

Here at the end of 1 Thessalonians, Paul commanded the believers, “…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

What is God’s will for your life? Among other things, it is God’s will for you to be thankful. And, notice, we are commanded to give thanks “in all circumstances.” Whether your marriage is happy or not, whether your career is going well or not, whether the red Ford Focus you bought is reliable or a lemon, God wants you to be thankful.

In this fallen world of our, there is always plenty to complain about. If you have a great marriage, it still isn’t a perfect marriage. It is easy to become angry and resentful about your spouse’s weaknesses, limitations, or irritating habits. It is easy to forget that other people you know lost a spouse to illness much sooner than expected. Or, if you’re the person who lost your spouse way too soon, it is easy to forget that your spouse was good and loving to you during the time that you had together.

Every circumstance in life could be better than it is. Most circumstances in life could be worse than they are.

But God’s command–God’s will–for us is not to be thankful because, “It could be worse.” God’s will for us is to be thankful “in Christ Jesus” (v. 18b). Regardless of what hurts you, frustrates you, angers you, or makes you complain about your life, Christ Jesus came to redeem you from it. He’s promised you a better life in eternity and rewards for following him obediently in this life, regardless of the circumstances you live in. He also promises to use whatever circumstances you live in to refine your faith in him and make you stronger as a believer.

So, are you thankful for your life, as it is right now? Are you rejoicing always (v. 16), giving thanks in all circumstances (v. 18a)? If not, let this simple verse refocus your mind.

What is the will of God for you? It is to be thankful to him. What can you thank him for today?

1 Thessalonians 4

Read 1 Thessalonians 4.

Death is always an unpleasant topic. It is unpleasant to think about your own death and it is sad and difficult when others we know and love die. Because I am a pastor, I have attended more funerals than the average person. Funerals for godly believers can be worshipful and even uplifting in some ways, but they are never joyful. God did not create us to die, so the irreparable separation that death brings is always difficult, even when your loved one is in heaven.

Here in 1 Thessalonians 4 Paul offers words of comfort to the Thessalonians and to us about the dead. Paul’s reason for writing these words was to give them hope even in their grief: “…so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (v. 13).

Yes, even Christians grieve but our grief is not the grief of complete loss. Christ gives us hope even in the most tragic and unexpected death of a believer because of His resurrection from the dead: “For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (v. 14). That verse reminds us that, although Christ did not immediately end death with his resurrection, he did break its power over humanity.

The phrase “God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (v. 14) reminds us that the spirits of those who die continue to exist. Christ will “bring” them with him when he returns because they are with him now.

In verses 15-17, Paul described how the process of the resurrection will happen. There will be believers “who are still alive, who are left” on earth when Jesus returns, but their gathering to Christ will not precede the resurrection of those who are dead in Christ. Instead, “the dead in Christ will rise first” (v. 16). Christ will bring their spirits with him to earth and after his trumpet and loud command, their living spirits will be reunited with their dead bodies in resurrection.

Once that resurrection has occurred, those in Christ who are still alive will be “caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (v. 17). The result of this rapture is “so we will be with the Lord forever.”

That is the endgame of discipleship, the harvest of new life in Jesus Christ. After living by faith on this earth, we will be rewarded with an eternity with Jesus.

Christians have debated when this event will occur in relationship to other events prophesied in scripture. The point of this passage is not to lay out a prophetic timeline of all that the Lord has promised to do in the future. It is, instead, to “encourage one another with these words.”

Death is always unpleasant, always sad, always accompanied with grief; yet in Christ we have the hope of a perfect resurrection followed by eternity with Jesus.

Here is something to hold on to in faith despite whatever fears you have about death or whatever trials and struggles you face today. If you die before Jesus returns, you’ll be with him and return with him when he comes. If you live until his return, you will be gathered in the air with him and all those who have died in him. Hold this hope in your hearts and live today like eternity is the only thing that matters. It is!

1 Thessalonians 3

Read 1 Thessalonians 3.

When someone asks me to pray for someone I don’t know, I usually ask if the person I’m praying for is a Christian.

It is disturbing to me how often the answer I get back is, “I don’t know.” But I’ll leave that for another day.

Often, the answer I get back is something like this: “Oh, I’m not sure. I mean, he says he is, but… I’m not sure.” In that answer, the person asking me to pray is telling me that they don’t see much, if any, fruit of Christianity in the life of the person they’ve asked me to pray for.

A similar situation happens when someone dies and I don’t know the person but I’m asked to do the funeral–which I’m happy to do, by the way. I always ask if the person who died knew the Lord.

Sometimes the answer is, “Yes. He told me he got saved when he was little.” But when I talk with family and friends, there is often no more mention of faith in Christ. The people who knew that person best never remarked on his love for Christ, or his service in the church, or anything that comes naturally to a follower of Christ.

A person becomes a Christian by faith alone. But, that faith is the first evidence of a new birth and, like a newborn baby, new Christians show signs of life. New Christians grow. New Christians eventually show signs of Christian maturity. If there are no signs of spiritual life in a person, that person is unsaved.

If that person showed signs of life for a while, but then they went away never to return, that person is not a Christian.

That’s what Paul was worried about here in 1 Thessalonians 3. Earlier in the book, Paul wrote about how powerfully the gospel had saved and changed the Thessalonians (1:4-5, 8-10, 2:13-14). But, after the initial signs of spiritual life, Paul worried about how they were doing spiritually in his absence. So he sent Timothy (3:2) “to find out about your faith” (v. 5). And what was Paul’s concern? Verse 5 continues by saying, “I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labors might have been in vain.” The word “vain” means empty. In other words, Paul was afraid that their faith might not have been genuine. He worried that the church might have fallen apart because everyone walked away from Christ.

With the arrival of Timothy came “…good news about your faith and love” (v. 6). So, Paul wrote, “…now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord” (v. 8).

We say, “Once saved, always saved” and that’s true. You can’t lose your salvation, praise God.

But the Bible says that there are many people who seem to receive Christ but they don’t continue to follow him. They lack “perseverance” which is the theological word we use to describe how every Christian continues in the faith. The Bible talks about this kind of “believer” and tells us that such a person is not a Christian.

You don’t follow Christ to get saved; you follow Christ because you’ve been saved. If you’re not following Christ, then either you were not saved or God’s discipline will come into your life.

We should look differently at and think differently about those people around us who say they are saved but live disobediently to Christ. We should warn them and urge them to consider whether they really know Christ or not. We should pray for them to genuinely come to Christ.

We should also not get complacent about our own faith in Christ. There should be evidence of your walk with Christ somewhere. How much is there? How good is the quality of that evidence?

1 Thessalonians 2

Read 1 Thessalonians 2.

Unlike his relationship with some of the other churches he started, Paul had a great relationship with the church at Thessalonica.

In yesterday’s reading, Paul described how the Thessalonians received the gospel from him and how they began spreading that gospel in their region.

Today’s reading in 1 Thessalonians 2 described his first contact with the Thessalonians in more personal terms. Verses 1-7 stated how Paul and his companions came to Thessalonica after suffering persecution in Philippi (vv. 1-2a). Despite “strong opposition” (v. 2b) they spoke the gospel plainly and clearly to the Thessalonians without trying to enhance it for human acceptance with “error or impure motives” (v. 3a), tricks (v. 3b), people-pleasing (v. 4b), flattery (v. 5a), or a hypocritical face to cover up greed (v. 5b).

And yet, he said, “our visit was not without results” (v. 1). In other words, some in Thessalonica received the gospel “as it actually is, the word of God” (v. 13). God’s word was, from that time forward, “at work in you who believe” (v. 14b). What a rebuke to many “ministries” today. Instead of giving the uncorrupted, unadorned gospel, many churches have turned to entertainment and gimmicks in order to get results.

A few years ago, I read about a church whose band performed the song “Highway to Hell” on Easter Sunday. That may have gotten the attention and approval of some in their audience, but it did not bring glory to God. Just the opposite; God’s heart must have been grieved by such an ungodly act.

Living for God and giving his gospel requires us to guard the message from corruption and to deliver the message in a way that is “worthy of God” (v. 12). Since we believe that salvation is his gift of life delivered to those who hear and believe his word, we should do nothing more than faithfully, clearly, and consistently deliver the message. God will bless his word; there will be “results” (v.1)—as God sees fit to deliver them.

1 Thessalonians 1

Today let’s read 1 Thessalonians 1.

We paused our reading in Acts at Acts 18 yesterday because it seems clear that Paul wrote this first letter to the Thessalonians while he was in Corinth during the time period covered by Acts 18 (see Acts 18:11). So we’re going to read that letter and 2 Thessalonians for the next few days before we return to Acts.

This passage overflows with thanksgiving for the Thessalonian believers because the evidence of their faith in God was so abundantly clear to Paul. Because he was thankful for them, Paul prayed for these believers.

And what was it that Paul prayed about when he prayed for them? Verse 3 says it was “…your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” In other words, it was their walk with God that he prayed for. He thanked God for how their faith showed itself in real life ways and he prayed that God would continue to nurture and strengthen that faith.

I think that one reason why we find it hard to pray for other Christians is that we are not in tune with their spiritual lives. We pray for health and happiness when we do pray, but do we thank God for ways in which we see each other growing and ask God to keep that growth going?

As your devotional time comes to a close this morning, take some time to think of another believer, maybe someone you brought to Christ or whose faith you’ve contributed to as a discipler, teacher, or friend. Take a few minutes to think about what evidences of growth you’ve seen in that person’s life and what areas he or she may be challenged in now. Then pray–thanking God for what he’s done in his / her life and asking Him to keep doing that work.

Acts 18

Read Acts 18.

In this chapter Paul met a couple, Aquila and Priscilla, who would become his friends and ministry associates. Verse 3 tells us that, in addition to having Christ in common, they also made a living by making tents just as Paul did when he needed money. That work allowed Paul to travel and give the gospel anywhere without asking anyone for money. However, earning a living that way meant spending less time preaching the gospel.

In verse 5, Luke dropped this into the story: “When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching….” Why would he do this? Why would he work part time with Priscilla and Aquila until Silas and Timothy showed up and then stop making tents and start preaching the gospel exclusively?

The answer is found in Philippians 4:15-16 which says, “Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need.” Second Corinthians 11:9 conveys the same information. So here in Acts 18:5 Luke alludes to the financial support the Philippian church sent by saying that “Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching….” Their financial contributions made it possible for Paul and his team to concentrate on giving the gospel instead of splitting time between giving the gospel and earning a living.

Because of this passage, missionaries who provide for themselves by doing secular work on the mission field are called “tentmakers.” There are some good reasons to do tentmaking, but in most cases the gospel advances better when God’s servants can give it our full attention. That happens when God’s people give faithfully and generously to his work.

So, let me close this meditation by saying thank you to everyone who tithes to Calvary! Your faithful giving allows me to make a living for my family and funds our other staff members and expenses. The same is true for the missionaries our church supports. Their work is funded by our giving.

If you are not giving–or giving very little–please understand how important financial support is to our church and to our missionaries and re-prioritize your finances to support God’s work.

Note: Tomorrow we take a break from Acts and turn to reading the 1 & 2 Thessalonians.