Wednesday, April 30, 2014

2 Thessalonians 1:5-7

What is grace? Grace is the extending of God’s goodness to mankind. This goodness comes to us in two divergent ways- common grace and saving grace.
Common grace is best described as God’s indiscriminate goodness extended to all mankind regardless of their sin. We see Jesus speak of this goodness in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:45, “he [God] maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” Jesus clearly teaches that God sends good things to all people regardless of what they have done.
Here we must stop to remember that an omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), all-wise God has purposes for everything that He does. His common grace to all of mankind is not meaningless. Instead, it is sent to accomplish a multitude of purposes. The greatest of these purposes is explained by Paul in Romans 2:4, “despistest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing not that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” Paul explained that God’s purpose in extending far-reaching goodness to all men is to draw all men to the God who is the source of all good things. Common grace is God’s loving way of gently wooing rebellious sinners.
Saving grace is defined as God extending His goodness through the work of his Holy Spirit in the hearts of the non-believing to draw them into a saving faith in the work of Jesus. This is a very particular type of grace, a special grace that only comes to those God has chosen to be His children. Paul explains this very specific, personal, saving grace in 2 Timothy 1:9, “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.” Here Paul explains that to some God extends a very particular, salvific (saving) grace. This grace ensures those who believe that God has not only saved them from hell, but has also saved them to receive his goodness and blessings in heaven forever.
At times, things don’t seem to go well for us. We see the troubles of life coming down on us. It seems that God’s common grace is not upon us, and that perhaps He has forgotten us. In 2 Thessalonians 1:5-7 Paul tells his Thessalonian friends that God still loves them. While the persecution may seem overwhelming, they can rest assured that the God who extended His saving grace has promised His eternal goodness and blessing to them. Those that persecuted them would be punished by this good God. Even though some of the persecutors seemed prosperous now, their wasting of the common grace that God was extending to them was only guaranteeing their punishment by God. The believers had nothing to be cast down about. God was still good, and Paul didn’t want them to lose sight of God’s goodness through the thick haze of their pain.

Food For Thought: Where are some areas of God’s common grace in your life? What is saving grace?

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

2 Thessalonians 1:1-4

What does a real church look like? A genuinely healthy church is a group of people that in spite of their problems, struggles, and shortcomings are all striving towards the same things – truth, faith, and love. Love is the glue that binds believers together. Love compels those with differences to draw together in unity and to find common ground. Love compels those who are offended to offer forgiveness, and for those who find themselves as offensive to cease their offending. Love compels those who have been blessed to steward what God has given them in generosity towards those who have not received the same amount of blessing. In short, without love, no church can exist.
But a church based upon love alone does a lot but accomplishes little. Faith gives love direction. Being kind for kindness’s sake or being diverse for diversity’s sake is simply an exercise in exhaustion. There must be something more than solitary love. Faith in God is that direction. Whereas love alone says, “I should do everything in my power to make this world a better place,” love with faith says, “This is my Father’s world, and I will do all I can to bring others to that reality by making this world a better place.”
And while faith complements love very well, both are still inadequate to make a healthy church. Faith and love serve as bonding, direction-giving agents in a group of people, but the real structure comes from understanding and thriving in the truth. Individually, love, faith and truth are potentially harmful. Love alone is pointless. Faith alone is immature and shallow. Truth alone is cold and useless. But when you combine all three in a body of believers, you have a cohesive, growing, healthy vibrant church.
When Paul left the believers in Thessalonica this was their testimony. Paul admits in verse 4 that as he traveled to other churches, he would brag about the Thessalonians. He would tell how that in the face of fierce persecution their faith was growing “exceedingly” and their love was “abounding” one toward another. These were certainly terrific times! The church was doing well. But Paul had a reason to write to them. In the church, the truth about the return of Christ had been polluted. It had been undermined, and while their love and faith were great, there were some fundamental doctrines that needed to be addressed.
Paul had a great desire that Thessalonica know the truth. It was not good enough that they were merely getting along. There would be some rough days ahead in the church if the problems were not addressed.
We too would do well to care about the truth. We should certainly be striving to love one another. We should be learning to lean more fully in faith on the gracious God who has saved us. But our Christian experience should not end there. We should be constantly pursuing growth in the truth. We should study God’s truth and seek to under-gird our weaknesses. As a church, we should engage one another in healthy, loving, truth-filled conversation so that we might know more deeply and more fully the doctrines and truth of our great God.

Food for Thought: In Matthew 15:9 Jesus tells how that some people teach the “commandments of men as doctrine.” How would studying God’s truth help liberate us from falling into the trap of those in this category Jesus is describing?

Monday, April 28, 2014

Introduction to the Second Epistle of Paul to the Thessalonians

Problems bring division. Division brings fighting. Fighting brings debilitation. When it comes to God’s church, this debilitation means that people are no longer engaging others in the truths of the true gospel of Jesus. Therefore, problems in the church cannot go unchecked. When they are recognized, they must be addressed. As we begin our study in Paul’s Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, we must realize that this was Paul’s understanding, and we would do well to understand that we too must see problems, division, and infighting as Satan’s work against the spreading of the gospel.
Under threat of persecution, Paul had labored in Thessalonica to teach the truth of the gospel to all those who would believe. The unrest during Paul’s tenure in Thessalonica never subsided, rather, the feelings of the Jewish leaders in the community continued to be inflamed to the point that they finally hired brutes to raid the house where Paul was staying. Having been tipped off the day before, Paul and Silas escaped unscathed and journeyed quickly by night to the capital of Macedonia, Berea.
While Paul went unharmed, the same could not be said of the young converts he left behind at Thessalonica. The large anti-Christian, Jewish contingent harassed the remaining believers and Acts 17 tells us that they even accused these new believers of maliciously subverting the Roman Empire. There is one word for what these young Christians were experiencing: Persecution.
The words of Jesus in John 15:19 were ringing true, “ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” The believers were experiencing hatred and persecution at every turn. Their belongings had been confiscated by the Romans. Their homes had been ransacked by the caustic Jewish crowds, and now, they would be afflicted for years to come as they sought simply to worship God and to share the gospel.
Having been unable to complete the spiritual instruction that he thought was necessary for healthy growth of the believers, shortly after his departure from Thessalonica Paul was led of the Spirit to write an epistle of encouragement to those he left behind. We now have this letter in the canon of Scripture and refer to as “First Thessalonians.” A few years passed and the believers grew in the faith even in the face of persecution.
However, a few problems arose in the church, and with problems came division. When word came to Paul, he knew that as a spiritual father, he had to address these problems. Persecution was too harsh, and the gospel was too important for the church at Thessalonica to be sidelined by those who would seek to disrupt the work of the church.
Like Paul, we must recognize problems in the church. When people depart from the authority of the Scriptures, or regard the word of men (living or dead) as laudable as the word of God, or when the proclamation of the gospel ceases to be the defining point of true Christianity, problems have come into the church. These problems must be resolved. If allowed to metastasize they will ultimately corrupt the whole church and will leave the saints debilitated.

Food For Thought: Historically, persecution has had a positive effect on Christianity. Do you think that the church has thrived in persecution because being persecuted has helped people focus on the “main thing” and set aside some of the less important things? Explain your answer.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Romans 16:21-27

“Now to him that is of power to establish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith: to god only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. “ Paul says here in the closing comments, “glory to God through Jesus Christ.” How? Verse 26 gives us a hint: through the “obedience of faith.” If you truly believe, it will evidence itself in your obedience to His calling. In obeying God through faith, we then will be giving Him glory…through Jesus Christ. But how through Jesus? At the point of faith, Galatians 2 and Ephesians 2 say that we are “in Christ.” Old things are passed away, behold all things become new. The Spirit now dwelling in you produces fruit through your life. You are called to strive and press toward the mark, but that is only going to happen if you do it with the power of the Spirit in you. You are able to operate in the power of Christ and serve the Father, having victory finally over sin, as He defeated it. Now that you live in Him, you can give glory to God with your lifestyle. Your obedience to God through your faith in Christ will ultimately end in giving glory to God. This is the “obedience of faith that glorifies God.”

Food for Thought: Read Romans 16:21-27. If you truly believe in Christ, what will be the evidence in your life? What term does paul use here?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Romans 16:17-20

If I asked you if it was ok to break fellowship with someone, what would you say? I can imagine part of you would say, "well, no. We should be kind and love all men." and part of you might think, "yes, if they believe differently."
In this part of Romans, Paul says it is ok to break fellowship (and you should) with a very specific type of person. Is it the scary, tattooed, intimidating biker-looking people? Nope. Is it really angry, violent people? Nope. It's not criminals or even non-believers. Paul says "mark" them and avoid those that are really good speakers and eloquent preachers who spread false doctrine which adds to the gospel. He says it will divide the church and drive weaker brethren away, thus avoid it at all cost.
What would this false doctrine contain? Adding works to salvation; you must be baptized, you must speak in tongues to be saved, etc. Paul says the result of adding to doctrine is that people will be divided--despising and judging one another and refusing communion with brothers. He clearly encourages believers to divide from them before they divide you.
So for us the application is to be on guard for those who add or subtract from the gospel. It may be a preacher, a website, or even a college, but if it is preaching a different salvation, mark it and avoid it right away.

Food for Thought: Read Romans 16:17-20. Should we separate from someone else? What biblical reason does Paul give for this view?

Amber AllenMy Wife and Best FriendAmber and I have been working together in youth ministry since 2008. We have two beautiful children - Graham and Cecelia.