Archive for the ‘1 Thessalonians’ Category

“No one accidently grows in godliness,” says Matt Chandler. “You have to work for it. Yes, salvation is entirely of God. But your sanctification? The process of becoming more like Jesus? That’s a you and God thing.” Not an exact quote, but this is essentially what I heard Chandler say in a sermon this past week.

Remember the fight for balance that Paul brings up in chapter four of this book? Yeah, it gets a little more pronounced in this closing chapter. I say that because after warning his readers of the quickness and surprise with which Christ will return, Paul then says, “But since we belong to the day, let us be sober,  having put on the breastplate of  faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.For God has not destined us for  wrath, but  to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.” I think Paul states his case for predestination pretty clearly when he says that the Christians in Thessalonica were destined to be saved, rather than to fall beneath the wrath of God. So there is that side of the coin. Salvation? Yep- belongs to God. He saves those whom He wills to save.

But Paul isn’t finished. He then begins to write like a madman, like someone who realizes that they have about two inches of paper left, so it’s time to be short and concise. So in rapid-fire succession, Paul gives his readers commands for them to actively obey, such as:

1. Encourage each other.

2. Build each other up.

3. Respect the elder(s) of your church.

4. Live in peace with one another.

5. Admonish the idle.

6. Build the faith of others.

7. Help the weak.

8. Be patient towards all.

9. Forget  about revenge.

10. Do good to those who wrong you.

11. Rejoice always.

12. Pray unceasingly.

13. Be thankful in everything.

14. Don’t quench the Spirit.

15. Test and retain good prophecies.

16. Abstain from every form of evil.

I don’t know about you, but there’s enough on that list to keep me striving for the rest of my life! So I’ll repeat myself here- though sovereign over all things, God has also given us insight into His will for us, and He’s given us His Spirit to make obedience possible. So don’t wait for some supernatural nudge from God to propel you to greater sanctification- get busy on it!

I often think that the complexity of God’s Word is evidence of its divine authorship. I also think that it takes far more effort to live in a tension-filled balance, rather than to simply allow one’s theological pendulum to freely swing too far to the left or right. This is not to say that every page of Scripture seems to contradict the page next to it, because the vast majority of God’s is fairly straightforward and clear. But…there are some mysteries. For me, the biggest one, and the one that is most prevalent throughout my blog, is the dynamic between God’s sovereignty over all things, and human responsibility in all things. I wish there were an easy answer for this one, but in anticipation to objections over this very issue in Romans nine, Paul responds by simply asking, “Who are you, man, to argue against your maker?” Good point, Paul, but not the most helpful answer.

If I’m honest with myself and you, I would have to say that my pendulum, left of its own accord, swings more to God’s sovereignty than it does my own responsibility and will. But I think it’s easy to do when we see Paul saying things like “it is God who works in you both to will and to do His good pleasure.” Or to put it this way, “God is the one giving you the desire to do things for Him, and God is the one working in you to accomplish it.” Therefore, the natural conclusion is that if I don’t want to do good and godly things, and therefore I don’t desire and do such things, it’s ok because God must not have wanted me to because He never put the desire in me in the first place! I mean, right? Right??

Wrong. Totally wrong. This idea, while perhaps a logical conclusion derived from Paul’s statement there in Philippians 2:13, is wrong for this simple reason- God has given us His word, expects us to obey His precepts, gives us the power through His Spirit to do so, and maintains that we are indeed responsible for our obedience/disobedience. Otherwise, we truly are organic automatons, puppets controlled purely by God.

But that’s not what we see in chapter four of Paul’s first letter to the Christians in Thessalonica. Instead, Paul’s exhortation for them, and for us, looks like this: “Hey guys, you’re getting the hang of this Christ-following thing. Keep it up. Do it more. Continue to fight for sexual purity- that’s God’s will for you. I see the love you have for each other. Now love more.”

At the end of the day, it’s really this simple: Yes, God is sovereign. Over everything. But He’s also given us insight into His will for us, and He’s given us His Spirit to make obedience possible. Now the ball’s in your court. Will you push on, strive for holiness, devote your entire being to God in a worshipful response to His grace in your life? Or will you sit there like a bump on a log accomplishing nothing until God makes you do something?

So there I was, just minding my own business and making my way into this chapter of Paul’s letter to the believers in Thessalonica, and I see this phrase come up in conjunction with Paul’s reference to Timothy: “God’s coworker.”

C0worker. As in, “Hey, we work together.” Together. Us. With God.

Am I the only one slightly mind-fried by this?

To think that the God who formed us, saved us, sent His beloved Son for us, is not only in the process of saving people, but He’s using us to get it done. That’s crazy!

Crazier still is this- in this tension-filled reality where we can rebel against a sovereign God (to an extent), I truly believe that God allows us to miss opportunities in our service to Him and His kingdom. Now, that’s not to say that people are going to Hell because we disobeyed God. I don’t think that’s the case. God will save His elect. The question is, will you play a role in it? Jesus told us, “the harvest is plentiful. Don’t worry about that. It’s growing. It’s ripe for the picking. Now who’s going to work for me?”

Coworkers.

Craziness.

Before Jesus ascended back into Heaven, He told His followers here on earth to “proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” Now if that were all that Jesus commanded of us, it wouldn’t be unthinkably hard to achieve. Indeed, we can see throughout the New Testament evidence that that news of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus was proclaimed throughout the known world. Today we have the technology and resources to distribute mass literature or write in the sky with airplanes- we don’t even have to be verbal in our communication of the Gospel anymore.

But that wasn’t all that Jesus said, and that’s not what we see Paul engaged in. See, Jesus also said “Go and make disciples of all the nations. Baptize them, and teach them to do everything I taught you.” In other words, be Christ-followers producing producing Christ-followers. Don’t just make converts to Christianity- make disciples.

And there is where we find Paul in 1 Thessalonians 2. For ease of reading, let me bullet-point some thoughts from this chapter.

1. Paul preached the Gospel in Thessalonica even though he was being persecuted for it.

2. Paul pressed on in his endeavors out of a motivation to please God, not man.

3. Paul didn’t come with flattery, or a desire to personally profit from the gospel ministry.

4. Paul didn’t just share the gospel- he shared his life.

5. Paul worked day and night in secular work so as to minister to the Thessalonians free of charge.

6. Like a father, Paul “raised” these new believers in Christ, teaching them how to live.

7. Paul witnessed their transformation and development as Christ-followers.

Now I know that not all of us are called to walk in the same shoes as Paul. But at the same time, we’re all called to be disciple-makers, and if Paul is the model to follow, what this means is that we ought not be content to merely toss the gospel out there in hopes that the Holy Spirit will do His thing and save people. Instead, we need to be willing and ready to invest our lives into others. Yes, this means evangelism, but it also means teaching them, training them, doing life together with them, so that as we make disciples, and our disciples make disciples, and then they make disciples…the Kingdom grows exponentially larger with true followers of Jesus, which is really what we’re here for.

Discipleship wasn’t intended to be something we supplement our lives with- it was meant to be our lives.

It wasn’t my intention this morning to find a springboard in I Thessalonians one from which I could launch myself into the ever-controversial doctrines of grace, but at the same time it’s the focal point of this chapter. I mean, how else do we take it when Paul says “we know,  brothersloved by God,  that he has chosen you”? God is clearly the active component in Paul’s declaration. He didn’t say, “we know, brothers, that you have chosen God…” No, God chose them. Paul echos this in his second letter to them as well, as 2 Thess. 2:13 reads, “But  we ought always to give thanks to God for you,  brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you  as the firstfruitsto be saved,  through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.”

And then Paul gives his reasoning behind his certainty that God has chosen to save the believers in Thessalonica. He knows this because they responded to the Gospel message of salvation, to the news that Christ on the Cross bore the sins of whomever would trust in Him alone as their means of salvation. When the gospel went out, it proved powerful among the Thessalonians. Furthermore, their lifestyles changed radically. Though persecuted for their faith, they began to become increasingly Christ-like in their words, thoughts, and deeds. In fact, news of their change had gone out into the world around them, that they had turned from their idols and were now serving and awaiting the return of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.

I have to sit here and wonder what Paul would think if he heard about the church in America. I wonder what he’d say if he heard that the majority of professing Christians in this country do not believe that Satan is real? Or even more shocking, that almost 40% of American Christians believe that Jesus was a sinner? Worse yet, almost 60% of self-proclaimed Christians in this country do not believe that the Holy Spirit even exists. Don’t take my word on this- read Barna’s article.

I don’t think that Paul would say to the “church” in America, “I’m ever thankful that God chose you.” I think he’d say, “You guys need to find a new name for yourselves.”

What would he say about you?