2 Thessalonians 2

Read 2 Thessalonians 2.

Paul continued, in this chapter, his teaching on end time events. We saw that right off the bat in verse 1: “Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him….” Paul described the rise of the Antichrist, called here the “man of lawlessness” (vv. 2-8a) and the deception he will bring on the earth (vv. 9-12). But, in the middle of this description, we are told in verse 8, “the Lord Jesus will overthrow [him] with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming.”

So, as bad as the end times will be, Jesus will win. The passage ends, then, with a reminder that they have been saved by God’s grace (vv. 13-14). Therefore, Paul encouraged them (and us) to persevere in the faith: “So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.”

Knowing and clinging to the truth of God’s word is the key to perseverance. When you start to doubt the truth of God’s word or entertain novel interpretations of it, that’s will weaken your faith and your walk with God.

The promise of God, however, is that those who believe and follow Jesus to the end will be saved. As verse 14b says, “that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Did you notice that phrase? It’s easy to miss but it is so important. God saved us so that we will share in the glory of Jesus Christ.

That “glory” describes his holy character that is being formed in us and and that will be completed in eternity. But it also describes the eternal kingdom God has promised to all of us who love Jesus and follow him. the Bible tells us again and again that we will rule and reign with Christ (2 Tim 2:12, Rev 20:4, 22:5). I cited 2 Timothy 2:12 in that last sentence, but let me quote it for you because it is so on point: “…if we endure, we will also reign with him.”

That’s God’s promise to you and me. No matter how bleak things become on earth, continue to follow Jesus and you will be rewarded with his kingdom.

So don’t be deceived by the fake promises of sin or the tantalizing “secrets” of false doctrine. Don’t let discouragement keep you from following Jesus. Instead, “…stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you” (v. 15).

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 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?

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 5

Read Galatians 5.

Paul continued passionately, here in Galatians 5, to argue that the Galatians must not try to mix faith in Christ with obedience to the Law of Moses (vv. 3-6).

Verses 7-10 are a slight parenthesis in Paul’s argument. Paul stopped teaching about our freedom in Christ (vv. 1, 13) and began to wonder in print about who was responsible for the false teaching that had invaded their church (v. 7). In verse 9 he wrote, “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” In other words, if the church tolerates just a little false doctrine, false doctrine will eventually pervade the entire church. Like cancer cells, false doctrine consumes the body of Christ slowly, but steadily.

Also like cancer, false doctrine is often unseen and undetected for a long time, sometimes until it is too late. Paul wrote this letter like a spiritual surgeon, seeking to cut out the spreading cells of false doctrine before it metastasized and killed the whole body.

False doctrine has existed in every age of humanity and, in our digital world, we have access to more of it than ever. Have you been sampling false teaching through TV broadcasts, books, podcasts, or online videos? Remember that it only takes “a little yeast” (v. 9) to leaven the entire loaf. We must be on guard, then. We must test everything against the teaching of scripture and reject everything that conflicts with God’s word.

Galatians 3

Read Galatians 3.

When God called Abraham in Genesis 3 and made what we call the “Abrahamic Covenant” with him, God promised Abraham, “…all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3).

How exactly God intended to fulfill this worldwide covenant promise is not spelled out in Genesis 12. In fact, the Old Testament doesn’t explain it in great detail, though it does give some light on the subject.

Paul quoted Genesis 12:3 here in Galatians 3:8. According to Paul, Genesis 12:3 “announced the gospel in advance” as we read to Galatians 3:8.

But how did God include us Gentiles? Did he do so by making us obedient to the law of Moses? No! Again, according to Galatians 3:8, the promise God made to Abraham was “that God would justify the Gentiles by faith” because Abraham was a man of faith (vv. 6, 9) not a man of the law.

The question Galatians 3 answers is, how can Gentiles be legitimate descendants of Abraham and, thus, partake in God’s promises to Abraham?

Jewish people, of course, physically descended from Abraham, so they are legitimate heirs to the covenant promises of Genesis 12. But how do we Gentiles become heirs?

The answer is through Messiah–Jesus. He descended from Abraham physically. Paul makes a big point about this in verses 16. Genesis 12 promised these blessings to Abraham’s seed (singular) not “seeds.” Paul says that means one person was intended–Jesus. He wrote (again in verse 16), “Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds,’ meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed,’ meaning one person, who is Christ.” It is our connection to Christ–by faith–that makes us eligible for the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant (vv. 26-29), not our obedience to the law (vv. 10-14).

This has implications for what the law means to us as Christians. We no longer need to obey the law–or should obey the law–because Christ unlocked us from the law’s obligations and penalties (vv. 23-25). God’s law reveals to us so much about the character of God and our accountability to him, but it cannot save us or make us holy (vv. 21-22).

Stay away, then, from anyone or any group that says you need Christ PLUS obedience to the law of God or obedience to any other kind of religious ceremony or activity to be saved or sanctified. In Christ we have everything we need–salvation (vv. 8, 11-12) and the Holy Spirit of God (vv. 2-5).

Acts 12

Read Acts 12 today.

Persecution by the religious leadership in Jerusalem started back in Acts 7 with the stoning of Stephen. It continued in Acts 8 through Saul, but God saved him in Acts 9.

Here in Acts 12 we were told that Herod, a Jewish political leader, joined in the persecution of the church. Herod began this persecution in a brutal way with the execution of James (vv. 1-2). There are a few guys in the New Testament named James; another one of them is actually mentioned in verse 17. The James that Herod killed in verse 2 was “the brother of John,” which identifies him as one of the Twelve apostles and the son of Zebedee (see Matt 4:21 & 10:2).

The religious leaders of Israel were happy that Herod had joined them in persecuting the church (v. 3a), so he arrested Simon Peter and intended to try him publicly (v. 4). Because it was Passover season, Herod waited for Peter’s trial and execution and that time of waiting bought the church some time to pray for him.

Verse 5 told us, “the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” And God answered their prayers in a miraculous way by sending an angel to rescue Simon Peter (vv. 7-11).

Yet, when Peter showed up to the prayer meeting, people had a hard time believing that he had really been freed (vv. 12-17). When I was taught this passage as a child in Sunday school, the teacher suggested that the church didn’t really believe that God would answer their prayers, that why they were so startled to see Peter.

I’m not sure that’s right; in fact, I’m pretty sure it is wrong.

The fact that the church was “earnestly praying for Peter” (v. 5) suggests that God’s people were doing the right thing–prayer–from sincere hearts. They wanted God to free Peter and believed that God would, if it was his will.

That last part, “…if it was his will…” is important. Verse 2 didn’t tell us that anyone was praying for James to be freed but it is hard to believe that they weren’t praying for that. Yet God did not will to rescue James from death as he did for Peter.

I think the church was startled when Peter was released because of how God rescued him, not that God rescued him. I think the church was expecting a more providential release, meaning that God would change Herod’s heart and Peter would be acquitted at his trial (v. 4d) or just outright released.

Instead of that, though, God performed a miracle to release Peter. It was so startling–and unexpected–that even Peter himself was unprepared for it (vv. 6-11).

The lesson here, then, is not that we should have more faith when we pray. That’s always true; as fallen people, our faith could always be stronger and purer.

The lesson instead is that we shouldn’t set our hopes on the method by which God answers prayer. Part of praying in faith is submitting our prayers to God’s will–both for the outcome and for the way in which God makes that outcome happen.

Have you ever been surprised by how God answered your prayers? Maybe he made your faith stronger through a trial in your life. Maybe he helped you get rid of a sin in your life by causing that sin to be exposed instead of making your desire for it go away suddenly.

What have you been praying for? Is it possible that God is answering–but you just don’t see it yet because you’re looking for a different answer?