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.

Acts 17

Today’s reading is Acts 17.

Yesterday we read about Paul’s venture into Greece. While he was there, Paul found people who were ready to receive the gospel and others who were ready to persecute him and his team. As he always did, Paul started presenting the gospel to the Jewish people in every city, then expanded his witness out to the Gentiles (v. 2, 4, 10, 12, 17). Paul went to Athens (vv. 15-34) but not because he was planning to preach the gospel there. Instead, he was waiting there for his teammates Silas and Timothy who were supposed to get there ASAP (v. 15).

While in Athens, Paul did speak to the Jewish people who lived there (v. 17) but he also found a secular audience for his message in the marketplace (v. 17b) and on the hill called Areopagus (v. 19). This passage gives us a glimpse into how Paul presented Christ to Gentile non-believers. Notice that he did not seek common ground with these men; rather, he used their altar “to an unknown God” (v. 23) as a starting point for his message, but quickly moved to direct confrontation by saying they were “ignorant of the very thing you worship” (v. 23b). He told them that the true God, the Creator God, did not reside in manmade structures (v. 24) or need food from human hands (v. 25a). Furthermore, he chided them for thinking that manmade statues had any significance for knowing and worshipping God (v. 29), then he moved to preaching repentance, judgment, and the resurrection of Christ from the dead (vv. 30-31).

Of all the controversial things Paul said, the resurrection of the dead was the one that seemed to create the strongest negative reaction among his listeners (v. 32). This is not at all the only place where people objected to his teaching that Christ rose from the dead. Yet Paul never shied away from teaching that God was invisible, not an idol, or that Christ rose from the dead bodily.

Instead, he went straight to the truths of the Christian faith that would be most controversial. This approach is quite a bit different than the way that many of us talk about God. When we talk about God, we may be tempted to avoid the supernatural and just stick to talking about Jesus and what he can do for you. But the reason that Paul didn’t retreat from the controversial aspects of the gospel is that he knew that believing the gospel required God’s supernatural gift of faith, not a group of secular arguments.

The point for us to emulate here is not to minimize the difficult points of the gospel like the resurrection but to feature them in our presentation of the gospel. When we do that, we are relying on God’s power to save people, not our ability to argue people into assenting that Jesus is the Christ.

Acts 16

Read Acts 16.

When I was in sixth grade, a new kid came to my church. He was my age so he was in my Sunday School class as well as in my AWANA group. I went to a Christian school and he went to public schools so we only saw each other on Sunday. But we grew to be close friends.

We did a lot of fun stuff together, especially once we got to high school But we also both started growing in our faith and determined in high school to train for the ministry. During our junior year of high school, he transferred to the Christian school I attended. We graduated from high school together, went to the same college and graduated from that together. Then we both went to the same seminary.

We serve in different ministries now but I will never forget what a help and encouragement he was to me at a very formative time in my life. We’ve had a lot of fun together over the years but we’ve also done a lot of ministry together.

Do you have a friend like that, someone who has helped you serve the Lord? Here in Acts 16, Paul found a friend like that–Timothy (v. 1). Timothy was younger than Paul so it was more of a mentor-relationship than a peer-to-peer friendship. But at the end of his life, Paul wanted Timothy with him (2 Tim 4:9-13). That’s a great friendship.

Do you have a friend like that? Have you served with someone and, in the course of serving, became close to that person personally?

Is there someone in our church who could become a “Timothy” type for you? Is there a younger person that you could recruit to your ministry and grow in Christ with? If so, reach out to him or her and start that relationship after this COVID-19 thing is over.

If there isn’t someone like that, ask the Lord to open your eyes or to bring you someone who will serve with you and grow with you as well.

Galatians 6

Read Galatians 6.

Here in Galatians 6, Paul begins to describe what “walking in the Spirit” (5:16) looks like. One who walks in the Spirit will:

  • do what he or she can to gently restore a sinning brother (vv. 1-2).
  • live in humility (vv. 3-4)
  • will support his or her teacher financially (v. 6).

Verses 7-10 explain why we should do these things. Paul cites the law of the farm, reminding us that if we sow corn, we’ll reap corn. If we sow soy beans, we’ll reap soy beans. Similarly, in our spiritual life, we will reap what we sow.

We have the help and power of the Spirit of God. He leads us away from a sinful life and develops in us the fruit of the Spirit (5:16-26). But these results are not automatic. As believers we have the power and leadership of the spirit to become holy but those things are activated in our lives by obedience to Christ and his word.

When we disobey God’s word, we are sowing sinful seeds in our life and, if they are not uprooted, they will produce what sin produces—pain, death, destruction (v. 8a). When we obey God’s word we are sowing spiritual seeds in our life and those seeds will produce what the Spirit produces—eternal life (v. 8).

But growth takes patience. Sowing sinful seeds give us the immediate satisfaction that sin offers, the dopamine hit of pleasure that the sin nature craves. But we usually fail to realize that a destructive plant is being nurtured as well. One act of sin can be destructive, but usually is simply pleasurable. When we repeat this disobedience, we are sowing a crop of evil that will eventually emerge from the ground, grow to maturity, and destroy us. That is the unseen growth that sin brings in our life that we usually ignore because we love the initial burst of pleasure that sin provides.

Likewise, growth in the Spirit takes time. One day’s Bible reading, one season of deep worship and intercessory prayer, one day of serving the Lord in our church, one week’s tithe—none of these things produces an immediate tree of holiness. But, when we repeat these activities because we love God and are following the desires of the Spirit and obeying God’s word, over time these yield holiness in our lives.

As you read the scriptures thoughtfully each day in this Bible reading-program, you are sowing the seeds of God’s word in your life. Keep going, keep reading, keep thinking about these truths and how they apply to your life. Growth takes time and fruit doesn’t show up immediately, but the promise of God’s word is that the Spirit works in us and through as we follow him in obedience.

Maybe as you’ve thought about this, the Spirit has convicted you of some sinful practice you’ve been cultivating in your life. Repent and remove it now before it starts bearing fruit in your life. Maybe He has convicted you that you’re neglecting some area of the Christian life. The time has come to start sowing seeds of righteousness in that area.

Do it! Remember: “…at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (v. 9b).