Friday, December 20, 2013

Advent Archive: Romans 3:9-20

“There is none righteous, no, not one:” is a sentiment that is not felt by everyone in our modern, secular, humanistic culture. This unpopular view of mankind is seen by many as abrasive and unloving. But the fact of the matter is, there truly is no more loving view point. You see, this is a key ingredient of the gospel. Namely, man is desperate and without any hope. He must fully rely on the saving work of another, because there is nothing that he can do about his lost position. This lack of righteousness leaves us in an eternally dangerous position under the wrath and judgment of Holy God.
“But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law.”-Gal. 4 “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” – Rom. 5 You see, the work of Jesus is completely of no effect if we don’t need His help. If we are all “pretty good,” then we would never need Jesus to die for us. But the prophet Isaiah corrects us our self-righteous misconception by indicating that even many of the good things that we accomplish are “as filthy rags.” We are not inherently good enough, and the majority of the best things that we can possibly come up with are like dirty old puss-filled rags. That is a pretty desperate situation. Of course we need Jesus.

Food for Thought: Read Romans 3:9-20. Pick one of the phrases that describe man’s depravity and explain it in your own words.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Advent Archive: Romans 3:1-8

In chapter 2, Paul spent a lot of time explaining to Roman believers that man is in a serious predicament when it comes to his being judged by the one true and holy God. Chapter 2 goes on to explain that God is righteous and therefore judges righteously, and that the Law condemns man… Every man will be judged according to his works whether he is a Jew or a Gentile (2:6, 11). Chapter 3 takes that thought even further by telling us that not one man is righteous and that ALL have fallen short of the holiness we need.
In chapter 3, Paul seems to know that he is going to receive some opposition for what he is saying so he answers a few “supposed” questions from the audience. In verse 1 he asks, “If there is no difference between the Jew and the Gentile, then what advantage did the Jew have as one of God’s chosen people?” Paul then answers this question in verse 2 by saying that the Jews had the advantage of having God’s Word. What an advantage it is to have the Word of God that we might know Him and what He has revealed about Himself! In verses 3 through 8, Paul again asks and answers several questions concerning God’s faithfulness in relation to our sinning.
Verse 3 addresses the promises God made to the nation of Israel and asks, “If some Jews are not faithful to God and don’t believe Him, what happens when God judges them? Is God not being faithful to His promise if He judges Jews to whom He has promised He would be faithful?” In verse 4, Paul resounds with “God forbid!”
In this, Paul brings to light a massive truth: In a question of who is true, God or man, God will ALWAYS be true.
In other words, God will always be just and fair and right in His judgments because He’s God! If He were not just and fair and right in His judgments, He would cease to be God.
Verse 5 asks another interesting question: Does God receive glory from our sin? Our initial response would be “No way, our sin is against Him.” But Paul goes on to tell us that God will judge our sin and it is always righteous for God to judge sin. Therefore, God is glorified even in His righteousness judgment of sin.
So here’s the question of verse 8: If God gets glory out of our serving Him, and He will get glory out of judging our sin, should we just sin so that He will get glory? No. Here’s the summary of the passage. Do you remember verse 2 when Paul mentioned the “oracles of God,” meaning the Scriptures? Paul was bringing our attention to the fact that what God says He will do, He will be faithful to do… always. When God promises a blessing, He will bless. When God promises judgment, He will judge. God always keeps His Word. So what happens when someone takes the Word of God and twists it to get away with sin? That person will be judged and his “damnation (condemnation) is just (right).”
Be thankful for your God who is always true and just!

Food for Thought: Read Romans 3:1-8. What do we find about the character and nature of God from these eight verses?

Alan Obrien
Assistant Pastor |
Alan and his wife, Amy, have been serving the church family of Landmark Baptist Church since 2008. They have a daughter, Allison.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Advent Archive: Romans 2:17-29

There are two views that you can bring to obeying God’s law: “letter of the law” thinking, and “spirit of the law” thinking.
“Letter of the Law” thinking
When you follow the letter of the law, you wake up every morning and in fear operate under the exact phrasing of the law. You see a law like “Thou shalt not steal,” and all day, every day live with this weight of fear that “I will not steal.” When you go to the store, the temptation to pocket the candy bar at the check-out aisle is easily thwarted with this self-aware “I will not steal!” You go to Foot Locker and see the latest pair of Jordan’s in the window. As you walk by the window, the temptation to grab and run rises in your wicked heart, but the powerful “letter of the law” thinking pulls out the abstinence pistol and shoots that temptation in the head. As you walk out of the store, the victory is yours. Like Rocky at the top of the stairs in Philly you raise your arms and jog in circles of victory because today, you nailed the law. You are a letter of the law master. You have followed all four words of the law and you don’t have a “hot” candy bar or pair of sneakers. When you get home, it is just in time for lunch. Mom sets out the sandwiches and snack cakes for you and your little brother. As you sit down, you notice that his sandwich has more jelly on it….so, you trade…without him knowing. You didn’t necessarily steal…you traded. You are still earning God’s favor because you followed the exact wording of His law: Thou shalt not steal. Whew! Good thing it wasn’t worded: Thou shalt not trade.
“Spirit of the Law” thinking
This one is simple. A person who lives a spirit of the law lifestyle sees in every law of God conjoining attributes of God. The call of “Thou shalt not steal,” does not end at “I will not steal,” but instead sees God’s Providence as the defining call of the law. It says “God has given me the things that I have need of, and I will trust Him to provide all that I need. I do not need to take for myself out of greed or any selfish desires, but rather trust Him only for all things.” This new view will make stealing unnecessary. Why would I take the candy bar or the sneakers? Why would I even “trade” what I have for something else? You see, the spirit of the law lifestyle takes the focus off of “Look what I can do in my own power,” and turns it to where it should be “Look at Who God is and what He has done, I will trust Him for all things.”
It is for this reason that in Romans 2:29, Paul says that we should be living “in the spirit, and not in the letter.” He finishes the verse with the view that living in the spirit of the law is what pleases God. Now, which one defines how you obey God?

Food for Thought: What are the two ways of thinking in Romans 2:17-29? Explain them in your own words. Which does God desire of us?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Advent Archive: Romans 2:11-16

I once watched an episode of "what would you do?" that tested how people would react if someone were obviously stealing something. The show placed a locked bike in a park and had three different people try to steal it at different times. It then showed the reactions of others in the park when they saw each particular thief trying to lift the bike.
I could not believe the results of the test. The first fake thief was a thug-looking African-American teenage boy. When park-goers saw him cutting the lock on the bike, they yelled at him and called the cops. The second thief was a skater-looking Caucasian boy. This time, passers-by stared for awhile and asked him what he was doing, but walked away after the boy lied a bit. A few reported the suspicious behavior, but most just walked by. The last thief was a pretty, blonde lady, and this time, not only did they not report the theft, they helped her cut the lock! In one case she told a man she was stealing it, and he helped her do it.
There really should be no difference in the situations, right? They all were committing the same crime; they all were stealing the same bike. The only change was in race and gender. Paul talks about something very similar in this section of chapter 2 when he says that God is no respecter of persons. Jews, Gentiles, and Christians are all the same in His eyes. We all commit the same crimes and violate the same laws. Even if the Gentiles weren't breaking the Jewish law, God says they knew what was right and wrong because of their conscience.
This thought should spur our thinking toward two things. One, in following God's example, we are commanded to not respect others based on their outward appearance only, but rather on their inward character. The quiet nerd may make a better friend than the pretty, popular one. Secondly, when you stand before God, you will not be judged by how many rules you followed, but by your heart attitude while you served. (It's not only about obeying the authorities in our lives, but also about having the right heart while you do.) Thanks to Paul for keeping us in check on these two important thoughts!

Food for Thought: What two things can we learn from the passage, “God is no respecter of persons?” Would you say that your attitude has been right towards others?

- Amber Allen
My Wife and Best Friend

Monday, December 16, 2013

Advent Archive: Romans 2:1-10

In Matthew 6, Jesus says,
“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”
When He said these words, He had just finished a message about how the birds and the lilies never have to worry about food and clothes because God takes care of it for them. The springboard-point He then makes is that we don’t have to live our lives for clothes and food and temporal, non-lasting things, a Providential God will provide the things for us that we need. Rather, we should live for eternal things, things that build the kingdom of God. The old hymn
“Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” tells how that when we finally turn our gaze toward the things of Jesus the things of this world “grow strangely dim.” I agree with the old preacher, Leonard Ravenhill, in his assessment of this song that if we truly turn our eyes on the Holy and Righteous God, the things of this earth will not just grow strangely dim, but will ultimately “look strangely grim.”
Paul segues this thought in Romans 2:6-7, when he says
“God will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life:”
Often we can get side-tracked and think that the end of the Christian experience is “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” Yes, believe and you will be saved. But God’s design for your life doesn’t end that day, otherwise He would have just taken you to heaven. He has left you here, but not so that you can be biblical dead weight. He left you here so that, as Paul said, you can live “by patient continuance in well-doing…” Now, live that way. It is a call to godly living, not a life of blatant indifference. Live for Him.

Food for Thought: According to Christ and to Paul what should we be seeking? According to Romans 2:6-7, how can we live a life that seeks this?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Advent Archive: Romans 1:24-32

In Romans 1:24-32, Paul lists a myriad of things that are in direct opposition to the design of God for human living. I find it very revealing of His nature that in the middle of a list including “fornication, murder, and deceit” Paul lists, “disobedient to parents.” What an indictment against our common way of thinking. Now you have to see this how God sees it. In God’s eyes there are those who obey Him and those who don’t. There is no middle ground. No doubt, if I were to mention murderous henchmen like Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin, anyone would admit that these men are desperately evil, and possibly even devilish men. But if I talk about your not obeying your Dad or Mom, “well, that is just not even the same thing,” is the natural retort. But in God’s eyes there is no gradient of sin. There is no “Top Ten Sins” in God’s eyes. All sin is a distrusting of His nature and character and shows a lack of faith and an utter rebellion to His perfect design. The disgust that you would have for the actions of Hitler and Stalin’s butchering of innocent people should be the same disgust that you have for any rebellion in your own life against the God-given authority and direction in your life. Maybe it is time to repent of this wickedness before the merciful, forgiving, Gospel-originating God.

Food for Thought: When is the last time that you disobeyed your parents? Why? What does God think about disobeying parents? What should you do about it now?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Advent Archive: Romans 1:18-23

In Romans 1:18-23, Paul has a two-fold perspective that he wants to introduce. He starts this perspective with “God reveals his wrath to all of those who are ungodly and unrighteous, who have the truth but live in unrighteousness.” He then moves into v.19 and 20 with “God has shown Himself to them, so that they will worship Him for His greatness and power. But they don’t.” He goes on to say in verse 21-23 rather, “Instead of worshipping God, they find transient, fleeting things to worship. As a matter of fact, they get rocks and carve little idols out of them and then worship the idols that they made with their own hands.”
Do you see the two-fold perspective? They know to worship God because He unmistakably reveals Himself to them, but they don’t. Instead they worship everything and anything but Him. They find little things in their lives to worship instead of God. When they should be “WOW!-ed” by the magnificent all-powerful, star-making, ocean-pouring, mountain-forming God, they instead sit and oogle over, and worship self-made little rocks in their own hands. The two-fold perspective is this: 1) they have the truth, 2) but they don’t act on it.
What an indictment against those Paul was talking about here in Romans 1:18-23. However, we are lying to ourselves if we try to say that we don’t do the exact same thing that these ungodly and unrighteous people did. When we should be searching after God and worshipping Him, we find anything else to worship instead. When His Spirit calls us to prayer or to meditate in scripture, we find any other thing to occupy our time. When we could worship the great God of the universe who made everything by just talking, instead we devote our time and energy to Facebook and X-box. Oh, that God would save us from the indictment of Paul and the pointless worship of menial things.

Food for Thought: What are the two steps to disobeying God like these people did in Romans 1:18-23? In what ways have you disobeyed God like this?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Advent Archive: Romans 1:1-17

These first few verses of the letter to the Roman believers display for us the passion Paul had in wanting to preach in Rome. He loved the believers in Rome even though he had never met them! All he wanted was to meet them and to teach them the depths and the riches of Christ.
But stop and think with me. Paul had been imprisoned in Philippi, chased out of Thessalonica, smuggled out of Berea, laughed at in Athens, regarded as a fool in Corinth, and stoned in Galatia, and yet somehow he remained eager to preach in Rome?! Ok, before we go any further, what was Rome? Rome was the headquarters of both contemporary political power and pagan religion. With the reception that Paul had in the previous cities, why would Paul want to go to Rome and go through all of this and how did he remain so bold even during all of this ridicule, criticism, and physical persecution? The Answer: the Gospel! Though Satan was trying to shut the mouth of Paul in every place he went, nothing was holding this man back from living the Gospel-centered life! But how did he do it?
We have to ask the question: “What’s so unique about the Gospel?” The thesis or the blueprints for this whole letter of Romans is found in verses 16 and 17. When we think of all that Paul went through for the sake of the Gospel, Paul said he wasn’t ashamed of the Gospel, because “it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes.” That word, power, is the word we use in English today for dynamite! If you know anything about dynamite, you know we’re not talking about a tiny spark of static electricity when you put on a sweater. No, we’re talking about a huge, explosive power! As Paul learned the Gospel and saw the power that it had in his own life, he knew that this Gospel had power to change the lives of others also. The Gospel carries with it the omnipotence of God because it’s God’s message and God’s work! That’s what makes it effective. Only God’s power is able to overcome man’s sinful nature and give him new life. Paul witnessed first-hand what happened as the Gospel had transformed his own life. He knew the wicked, religious, hateful murderer that he was and watched as the gospel transformed him into the loving, self-sacrificing man into which God changed him.
My prayer as I write this is that you and I both would agree with Paul in verse 15 that we are eager to present the Gospel to those around us. Don’t let basketball or volleyball or iPads or iPhones get in the way. Yes, you may have talent, and yes, Siri may have all the right answers… but no sport and no device can release lives from the power of sin unto salvation. No, only the Gospel does that! So let’s base our lives on the Gospel!

Food for Thought: What was the thrust of Paul’s life? Where does the gospel get its power from that makes it so powerful?

 Alan Obrien
Assistant Pastor |
Alan and his wife, Amy, have been serving the church family of Landmark Baptist Church since 2008. They have a daughter, Allison.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

1Thessalonians 5:16-28

“Why are tattoos wrong?” He was fifteen, and I was twenty-three. With the sage wisdom of a college graduate, I responded with the simple easy go-to verse, “well, the bible says, ‘abstain from all appearance of evil,’ and I’m not sure that going into a tattoo parlor would be you abstaining from the appearance of evil.”
I really should have just said “I don’t know,” and admitted to the poor kid that my theology was more shallow than a dried-up bird bath. Instead, however, I found that it was easier to just peddle this out-of-context verse to highschoolers than to delve deep into the harder questions and offer life-changing, conscience-liberating truth. Do you know how hard it is for a twenty-something year-old guy to swallow a humble pill when a pimple-faced kid asks a seemingly pointless question? So I gave him the hip-shot answer. Truth be told, it wasn’t original to me. I was just borrowing the same answer that I had received when I had questioned anything that disagreed with the current corporate religious standards. Body-piercing, tattoos, haircut, clothing types, music genres, places to attend, literally everything could be answered with this go-to, one-verse theology: Abstain from all appearance of evil.
But is that what this verse is about? When God inspired Paul to write this verse, was He directing Paul to pen the apex verse for holiness in the Christian life? If we read this verse in context, we will find that perhaps its most frequent use is merely an out-of-context misuse at best. Complete thoughts come from context. Context comes from paragraphs and not just stand alone verses.
So, then, what is Paul speaking of? Paul has been admonishing the church at Thessalonica on a number of issues in their church. He has been filling in the theological gaps that were left upon his hurried departure in the face of persecution. In verses 20-23 Paul is continuing his teaching and is addressing the responsibility of the Thessalonians in regards to their receiving of the Word of God. When it comes to teaching, they are to “despise not prophesyings.” When it comes to the truth they are, like the Bereans, called to search the scriptures to “prove (or test) all things;” and only “hold fast [to] that which is good.” Ultimately though, in context, they are called to “abstain from all appearance of evil.” This is where the meaning typically is derailed. “Appearance” is a word that has come to mean “to seem, or that which looks like” in modern English. When the King James translators translated this word, the meaning for “appearance” held the meaning of “visible state, or form of.” It literally meant that Christians were to “abstain from (avoid) all appearance (the forms) of evil.”
In context, Paul was admonishing the believers in Thessalonica to avoid all the forms of evil (wrong) teaching. It had nothing to do with them avoiding worldly practices. There is plenty of other “in-context” verses that deal with avoiding evil practices in the Christian life, but this isn’t one of them. Perhaps, the challenge of today is that we would become better students of the word of God. That instead of using trite Christian quips (snippet, out-of-context verses), we can study God’s word so that we might more fully equip God’s people.

Food For Thought: How is the misuse of 1 Thessalonians 5:22 perhaps not just a misuse but even a disobedience to the teaching in this passage?

Monday, December 9, 2013

1 Thessalonians 5:12-15

If “actions” speak louder than “words,” “reactions” must be a full-out scream. Another day brings another personal resolution, a “next time that happens, I will certainly react like _____.” The next time comes, and the cyclical response that we hate so much becomes the uncontrollable reaction we commit, whether it is emotional, verbal, or even physical.
As Paul closes his epistle to the Thessalonians, he advises them on their “reacting.” In verses 13 through 15, he gives several instances of how we should handle the frustrating personalities with which we regularly interact.
First, Paul addresses our reactions to those who are unruly. Instead of angrily condescending, he admonishes the believers to warn. Just because someone is apathetic, rebellious, or even contentious does not entitle other Christians to enter the seat of Judgment, that seat is reserved for God alone. Lovingly, our reaction should be one that admonishes them, or warns them of the certain devastation that lies ahead on their road of recklessness.
Second, Paul tells us how to interact with those whom he calls “feebleminded.” These are the Christians who do not want to learn anything new. What they have heard is good enough, and it does not need to be corrected even if it is corrected by Scripture. Change is terrifying. Their theology is like a blanket, and no matter how moth-holes have been eaten in it over the years, it is still their favorite blanket and while they shiver they’ll assure you that it keeps them warm. Paul says, “comfort them.” You don’t have to take their blanket, just graciously, lovingly, draw up next to them and press in the truth.
Third, Paul encourages us to react with “support” for the “weak.” This is no doubt a reference to 1 Corinthians 8, and Romans 15, where Paul speaks of those who are “weak in faith.” The distinction between liberty and sin is very difficult for them to see. They do not have enough faith yet to trust that Christ has given them liberty in many non-moral areas. Their conscience, having been misinformed at some previous point leads them to think that things that are dangerous for them are intrinsically sinful. Paul encourages believers to respond in a way that is “supporting.” It is not the job of a “strong” Christian to fix every “weak” Christian. Rather, the reaction that the strong should have should be one of a loving understanding. It is the work of the Spirit to help the weak, it is the job of the strong to react in love.
Finally, Paul admonishes us to remember that God is the ultimate keeper of justice. There is not a wrong that He will not address. There is not an evil that He will ignore. There is not a revenge that we must take. In Deuteronomy 32:35, God claims, “to me belongeth vengeance, and recompense.” It is not our duty to return an eye for an eye. As Christians it is rather our duty to “overcome evil with good.” God will take care of His own. Our reaction should be one that demonstrates our faith in His Sovereign power.

Food For Thought: Read Romans 12:17-21. According to this passage, who should Christians respond to with vitriol and animosity?

Friday, December 6, 2013

1 Thessalonians 5:3-11

“And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved (“reproved” has an old English meaning of “exposed or revealed”).” As Jesus addressed Nicodemus about the necessity of saving faith, He taught a spiritual truth that both the Apostle John and the Apostle Paul would utilize in their teaching to the future church.
This truth is incredibly simple, yet overwhelmingly profound. In Jesus’ analogy, there are those who are in the light and those who are in the dark. Jesus explained the difference between the two in John 8:12, when he said, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” Those who are true followers of Jesus are those who are in the light, but those who do not follow Jesus, are those who are kept in darkness.
This darkness is a two-fold darkness. In his analysis on 1 Thessalonians 5, John Macarthur teaches of this two-fold darkness with the following two categories,

“…one is mental darkness, the other is moral darkness. The darkness of ignorance, on the one hand, the darkness of sin on the other. The darkness of unbelief on the one hand, the darkness of rebellion on the other. One is the darkness of not knowing, the other is the darkness of not doing...not knowing what is true, not doing what is right. The heart of an unregenerate, unsaved person is dark. That which generates his conduct is dark and so his conduct reflects the darkness.
 As Paul continues his letter to the Thessalonians in chapter 5, he addresses them based upon their nature as children of light. No longer are they to pursue the sinful lifestyle of darkness, but rather, knowing of the return of Jesus, they should be living lives that would exemplify their new nature. They are not in the dark regarding the return of Jesus, nor are they in the dark regarding the desires of God. Through the teaching of God’s word and the work of the Holy Spirit, they have been drawn into truth and should live in such a way that would reflect that. 

Food for Thought: If you claim to be a believer, your life should indicate it. What are a few of the things that Paul mentions in vss. 4-11 that would indicate that you are no longer in darkness?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

1 Thessalonians 5:1-2

The stillness of night settled across the house, and the glow of the midnight moon shone through the bedroom curtains creating barely distinguishable silhouettes of nightstands and dressers. Through the closed window, a muffled dog “bark” could be heard, the type of bark that dogs make when they are trying to convince others that they are seeing something. The incessant barking roused the wife, who nudged her husband and spoke the gentle request, “Hey can you make the dog stop barking?” before rolling back over and putting the pillow over her head. The hushed “bark” finally ceased and the two resumed their prior postures, drifting slowly back into the lull of the dark night.
“CRASH!!!” The sudden sound of shattering glass echoed off the walls and the wooden floors, as both husband and wife jolted upright in the bed.
Ignoring his alert posture, the wife leaned over and grabbed her husband’s arm, whispering loudly, “Did you hear that?”
For the next few seconds both of them sat like statues, upright, quietly listening for any further noises. Soon the rattle of the handle on the back door could be heard, then, the familiar squeaking of its hinges as the door opened. Footsteps could be heard as heavy shoes crunched the broken fragments of glass inside the house.
The burglar had come. Unexpected. Unannounced. Uninhibited. The thief was there. Neither spouse had ordered “thief service.” This was not something that was on the calendar. This was something that was unpredictable.
When we begin 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul uses this analogy to describe the way in which Christ will return. It will not be with RSVP cards months before. It will not be announced via Super-bowl commercial or mass-emailing. His return will be sudden, unpredictable, and unforeseen. We know He is coming; we just don’t know when it will be. But we can be assured, it will be surprising.
This theology of the unpredictability of Christ’s return should help us be able to discerningly filter claims by certain religious charlatans that herald a “special word from the Lord” about when Christ will return. Generation after generation has dealt with these deceivers (often many of them even self-deceivers) who declare that they have special knowledge of when Christ is coming. It usually comes in the form of a specific date, or in a general timeframe, or even in a non-specific “I think it’s going to be soon.” While many of these are well-meaning, they are also unscriptural. God does not need to give specific revelation for something that He has already declared as unknowable. Knowing what God has said here in 1 Thessalonians 5 through the apostle Paul, we should guard our hearts and lovingly encourage those who may be deceived by the false-teaching of end-times predictions.

Food For Thought: Read Mark 13:32. Does this verse say there are things that God knows that mankind will never know? Why then do you think that people try so hard to predict the end times?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

While in Thessalonica, Paul taught the new converts of Christ’s return. It was an exciting proposition to all of those who were there. The Jesus Who had died for their sins, and now offered them victory over those sins by the power of His Spirit would one day return and take His followers to heaven. They were thrilled with this hope of His return. But days and weeks turned to months, and now Jesus still had not returned yet. Longingly, they watched the sky, constantly wondering when the clouds would open and reveal the returning Savior.
But Paul hadn’t gotten to finish teaching them. His lessons had been cut short by persecution, and now they had come into a bit of a concern. After Paul had left, there were some in the church of Thessalonica who had passed away.
This was incredibly disconcerting to the believers there, for at least two reasons.
1) They loved the ones who had died, and would miss them; 2) they feared that since these loved ones were no longer alive, they would not get to be part of the special day of Christ’s return. In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul issues some comforting words. While there is some theological truth in these verses, they were primarily intended to offer comfort (v.18) and understanding to the Thessalonians about their loved ones who had passed away.
Paul brings two key points about those who had passed away.
First, they were asleep (Paul used the Greek word “koimao,” literally meaning “to slumber, to sleep”, this same Greek root word is where we get our word “cemetery” – an old English synonym for the word “dormitory” – “a place where many sleep”). This is a vitally important truth that Jesus himself taught regarding the death of Lazarus in John 11:11, “he sleepeth.” The glorious truth about sleeping is that it indicates that this current separation is not the end. Those who died were merely sleeping. This was not a cause for sorrow, but for rejoicing. The believers could be comforted with this truth, that believers who have passed away are simply asleep, not lost forever.
Second, Paul said that these loved ones who had passed on would certainly be a part of that great day of Christ’s return. The great gathering that would take place would not exclude those who had gone to sleep. They would not miss out on the glorious day. They would be there and would be able to enjoy the great gathering as well.
While this was written nearly two thousand years ago, the same truths apply to us today. The same comfort that this would have brought to the concerned and heartbroken Thessalonians should come to our hearts today. Our believing loved ones are not dead, they are sleeping. The day of reunion is coming and they will be a part of it. This hope of what God has promised in His word regarding our loved ones who have passed away should bring great comfort.

Food For Thought: What does Paul say in verse 13 and 18 regarding this truth? Do you think that he was delivering this truth in a harsh, demanding way or in a caring, gentle, loving way?

Monday, December 2, 2013

1 Thessalonians 4:7-12

“I want you to live raucous lives filled with debauchery and all types of heinous activities!” Imagine that these were the parting words of Jesus. Imagine that the Ten Commandments read in a completely different way: “Thou shalt murder! Thou shalt commit adultery! Thou shalt make thousands of idols to worship! Thou shalt bear false witness! Thou shalt steal! Thou shalt covet everything that everyone else has!” Imagine that in the Old Testament God never sent fiery serpents or disease on those who did wickedly; rather imagine with me that God sent fiery serpents on those who only did what was morally right. Imagine that Jesus came to earth and lived the filthiest life ever. Imagine that He was not the sinless Savior, but a disgusting man who did all the evil things that Hollywood so aptly portrays freely on the big screen.
This is a horrible exercise in imagination! It is borderline blasphemous. Why? Because God is in His very nature holy, perfect, just and pure; and He would never do any of these wicked things. And to accuse Jesus of debauchery is in itself one of the vilest things that any man could ever do. God’s Spirit is pure and perfect; it is exactly as His name indicates a truly “Holy" Spirit.
Sadly, something as perplexing as defaming God happens all of the time, but many Christians narrowly bat an eye. When we put our faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ, we receive the Holy Spirit of God inside of us. (Eph 1:13) Somehow, however, many people live as if this just isn’t the case. They respond to the call for holy living as something that is impossible and not worth attempting. They categorically hide behind expressions like “well, doesn’t everybody sin?” continuing on in their own vile living and wicked lifestyle.
As Paul writes his letter to the Thessalonian believers, he reminds them of the holy nature of God: “God didn’t call us to impurity, but to holiness.” It would be preposterous to say that we would live lives of unbridled, unconvicted sin and have the “holy” Spirit of God dwelling inside of us, as if God would be silent in the face of our sinfulness. I would argue rather that if there is quietness in sin, it is not because the Spirit doesn’t care, but rather because the Spirit is not there. It comes down to the simple truth that God has called us to holiness and Scripture compels us to live godly lives in obedience to His holy desires.

Food For Thought: Read 1 Peter 1:15-16, 22. What does Peter say we should do in light of God’s holiness? In verse 22, who does Peter say will help us in our obedience to God?