Meditations from 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17

I love Scripture. If you know me you probably (…hopefully) know that about me. I love to read about stories past and experience how it still affects us today. In reading Scripture I pray that God would give me wisdom in discerning what I’m reading. There are different denominations and traditions that interpret Scripture differently, so why wouldn’t I ask for wisdom in interpreting the Word correctly? I pray for wisdom and clarity in understanding what I am reading and I ask that the Lord would speak to me through what I’m reading.

I’m making my way through the New Testament-having finished 1 and 2 Corinthians in addition to 1 Thessalonians in the recent weeks-and am reading 2 Thessalonians now. Specifically concerning the passage I am reading, I’m comforted by God’s providence over us. Paul starts out the passage in saying, “But we should always give thanks to God for you,” (v. 13) which encourages me to thank God for my friends and my local church and past churches. Every good and perfect gift is a gift from above, correct? This includes spiritual friends that help me stay disciplined as a believer in areas of reading Scripture, prayer, staying pure, and loving others. There is so much to be thankful for and we may never “out-thank” God for what he has given.

We give thanks “because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth” (v. 13). What a beautiful process. God, having chosen us for salvation, also sanctifies us by the Spirit. A study bible I have tells me Paul’s main point was to remind the Thessalonians there was no reason to be agitated or troubled, thinking they had missed the rapture and that they were in the Day of the Lord’s judgment. What does this verse say to us? Am I worried about my finances, my work, my family, my nation, my government? I don’t have to be, knowing how the Lord is clearly for me, by way of sanctifying me by the Spirit and my personal faith in the truth. God called us through his Gospel “that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 14). God chooses us through sanctification and faith so we may gain the glory of the Son of God, Son of Man, the Messiah. With this in mind, Paul tells us to “stand firm and hold on to the traditions which you were taught” (v. 15). I can stand firm knowing what God has already done for me and what he will do through me.

Paul summarizes what this favor is. It is “eternal comfort and good hope by grace,” given by the one “who has loved us” (v. 16). Are you anxious? Are you worried? My prayer for you reading this is you rest in this eternal comfort and good hope. Paul asks that the Lord would “comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word” (v. 17). Rest in his comfort. Dwell in his Word. Be encouraged by his peace. Because in the end, we win, right? Thank you for reading.

Religion

I should have written this post some time ago. I think it’s important to say things you need to get off your chest, regardless of whether anyone is listening or not. That’s not to say I don’t tell my friends when I have thoughts or ideas, but you get the point. I’ve got a question for you: When you hear somebody say the word “sex,” what is your immediate reaction? Positive or negative? For me it’s negative because most times I hear the term used it’s in a secular setting and usually used for a secular reason. However, the word “sex” in itself isn’t bad at all. It’s a good term-God created it himself-but when it’s used in a negative way it has a different meaning.

Many times I hear of people who talk about spirituality and religiosity as if they’re mutually exclusive. I don’t believe that. I know of people who act purely religious with little spirituality, and I know of others who claim they’re spiritual and not religious. I’m sure you know of people like this too. There are a lot of us on this planet.

When Jesus ministers to the Pharisees in the Gospels, he often chastises them for being too religious. They disrespect his father’s house by making it a marketplace and scold Jesus for associating with people low on the social class totem pole as well as for healing on the Sabbath. Every time Jesus is angered with them for appearing to look good on the outside yet not having pure motives on the inside, they deserve it. Their motives are wrong and the religion they are practicing is flawed.

With this being said, is it possible that the reason the American church lacks at discipleship is because we create a culture that in an attempt to make sure we aren’t Pharisaic, we’ve swung the anti-religion pendulum so far that we don’t want to be associated with the word? We don’t read our bibles. We don’t want to evangelize. We don’t recognize the rules put in place by the government. We go over and above to make sure people know we aren’t religious. I can’t say how many times I’ve heard the phrase “It’s not about religion, it’s about a relationship.” This phrase taken out of context can ruin a mindset and I want to make sure that’s not happening here: I realize a relationship with Jesus is the most important part of any Christian’s walk. Central. Essential. However, a relationship does not stand alone. It must come with its boundaries and its rules or it wont last.

I believe that the word “religion” has that same effect of the word “sex”-no, not that they are the same word obviously, but when they are used, people can have the same reaction. When heard in a conversation, many times I hear it being used negatively. But religion in itself isn’t bad-when it’s used wrong like the way the Pharisees used it, then it’s faulty religion. Merriam-Webster defines religion as “an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or group of gods.” Christians celebrate Christmas. We also celebrate Easter, worship on the Sabbath, have rules that we follow, and in this we are worshiping God. I want to put a disclaimer out there that if you’ve been hurt by faulty religion, I’m sorry. I apologize on behalf of whoever hurt you and didn’t speak the truth in love, unfairly judged you, betrayed you, or whatever else. Faulty religion, a religion where the actions on the outside don’t line up with the heart on the inside, has no place in today’s Christianity.

With this, I hope I don’t sound like a Pharisee. My prayer (and I have prayed for you before you read this) is that my perspective can help you in your own walk and/or understanding of Christianity. A real and genuine relationship with Christ will naturally lead to a completely new and radical way of thinking, which way of thinking goes against the natural way of the world. Jesus says to gain life you must lose it. “Hey, you know the ones that you would consider an enemy?” he asks us. “Go ahead and love them. You’re being persecuted? I want you to pray for that person.”

So with that I ask myself. Am I a spiritual person? Absolutely. I ask the Holy Spirit for help all the time, so that I may walk not according to my fleshly desires. I make sure I have spontaneity in my walk so that my relationship with Christ isn’t a constant routine of follow rules and reading the Bible. Am I a religious person? Absolutely. I’m guided by certain convictions and rules that I deem necessary to follow. I recognize the ways I can give God the glory he deserves.

Religion isn’t the problem. It’s faulty religion-one that places value in the wrong things with the wrong motives. I apologize if I seem a little scatterbrained. I should have written this post some time ago.

Selflessness

We all have problems with selfishness. I’m selfish. You’re probably selfish. We are constantly thinking of our own needs and acting upon them. It’s the epidemic of living in a postmodern 21st century Western culture that emphasizes the needs of the consumer. It’s engrained in our culture to do what pleases us.

Yet as Christians, we’re called to do the opposite. Look at what Paul says in Colossians 3:1-3 (NASB): “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on the things that are on the earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ.” It’s hard to practice though. Our desire will constantly be to put our needs first. I constantly finding situations where I want pleasure for myself rather than giving it to others. Why help somebody else if it has little direct effect on my day? I continually have to remind myself who I am. Like Paul says, we have died and our life is hidden with Christ. Christ lives in me, moves in my life, and is seen in my life each day.

I encourage you to find circumstances throughout the day to help others when you may have no benefit for yourself. Do something more than hold a door open or give somebody a ride. Intentionally go out of your way to find out what somebody needs done and help them. I’m not saying to totally neglect yourself to devote yourself to others in the sense that if you don’t eat, you will starve, if you don’t have time to yourself, you may go insane, and if you never study, you will flunk out of school. Essentials are essentials. Start out with something small. I am by no means perfect and am striving daily to live more selfless. Remember-if you are a believer in Christ, you’ve died to yourself and your sinful desires as is. Live in such a way that people see Christ serving others through your hands and feet.

Hope

I find a constant contrast between two sides in life. Northerners and southerners. Type A and Type B personalities. Democrats and Republicans. The list goes on and on.

Reading 1 Corinthians 15, Paul uses this same language when writing about the resurrection of the dead. The connection between the two will come later on but first I want to examine the text. He writes this in 15:16-19: “For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

In the general context of this passage that lasts from verses 12-34, Paul is discussing the connection of the resurrection of Christ and the future resurrection of believers on the final day. Paul starts with the future and backtracks; if the dead aren’t raised, then Christ isn’t raised. If Christ isn’t raised, then we are still stuck in our sins with futile faith. Our faith in Christ leads to a death and a resurrection in the same way Christ died and was resurrected (c.f. Gal 2:20). This is not to say we will we experience our death and resurrection in the same way as Christ’s, however, in the same way Christ submitted to the will of the Father, we obediently follow Christ and receive a death to ourselves and a future resurrection.

Verse 19 is what gets me: “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” If the hope we have in Christ is only on this finite planet Earth, we are wasting our time. The persecuted worldwide church is dying in vain, martyrdom isn’t necessary, and disciples don’t need to be made in unreached areas because we don’t have a future perfect state to look forward to. What a sad life this would be. There wouldn’t be glory in suffering (Rom 8:18) but shame. The beauty in this verse is seeing where we would be if we didn’t have what Christ promised-eternal life. The two sides: if we only have hope in Christ in this world, we are to be pitied. BUT-if we do have hope in Christ in this world and the next, the situation changes.

The antithesis of verse 19 is the concept that we do have hope in Christ beyond this world. My prayer priority is this: that my hope in Christ wouldn’t be him bringing me a better situation on Earth but that he would have a banquet prepared for me in Heaven. I am not saying to stop asking Christ for needs here on earth; I routinely pray for personal things that are important to me here on Earth. I have hope in Christ not because of what is to happen to me in this world; I believe I’ve already died. Restating Paul, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people to be the most pitied.” I have learned and am still learning to have hope in Christ for what he is preparing in the next life. I’m praying you would find this kind of hope.

Becoming All Things

I love diversity. I love being able to talk to my elderly neighbor who lives next to me, to Tyler, the 5th grade kid I go to lunch with on Fridays, to my middle-aged parents, and to my friends that are the same age as me and are going through the same things I’m going through. I enjoy talking about the weather, about US history, about baseball, about geography. I love talking to whites, blacks, Hispanics, orientals, islanders. I love talking to people from the South and occasionally I even like talking with friends from the North (alright, joking). Life is so beautiful, the fact that there are people out there whom I have similarities and differences with and who I can learn from and in turn teach. Some people I have everything in common with, while others I have nothing in common with, and that’s OK with me.

Paul in Scripture dealt with similarities and differences too. He was a Jew, who studied in Jerusalem and ended up becoming a Pharisee. Before his conversion in Acts 9, his name was Saul, a persecutor of Christians. He killed Christians and even was involved in the murder of Stephen, the first recorded martyr of the early church as noted in Acts 7. After his conversion on the road to Damascus, he becomes a key figure, even writing two-thirds of the entire New Testament through his missionary journeys. Visiting different churches like Ephesus, Philippi, Galatia, and Colosse, with different problems within the church such as the roles of grace, suffering, the body (as in congregation) of Christ, while traveling or writing to different companions like Peter, James, Timothy, Silvanus, and more.

Paul tackles the topic of diversity, when in 1 Corinthians 9:20-23, he writes, “To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker in it.”

Paul’s mission is the gospel. Even though he has suffered for the gospel and is currently suffering for the gospel, he notes how he does all things “for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.” Paul has the right to say he is currently a partaker in the gospel, but bears with the Corinthians in saying he wants to be a fellow partaker of it alongside them. To the Jews, Paul became Jewish. To those under the law, he became under the law while not himself being under the law (I take this as meaning Paul spent time and invested his life with those under the law without him abandoning his Christian beliefs). Being made uniquely in the image of God, we have things in common with others that make it easier to speak to them and to relate to them. This is a true statement, but Paul takes it a step further in being to those that are both under the law and without the law. He becomes something he is not to two different groups of people-Paul is neither under the law nor without the law. Think of Paul had to adapt his ways in order to “by all means save some” (v. 22).

Think of how you can become something different to someone in order to share the gospel with them. We all have those people we just click with more because we have things in common with them, and those who it’s a struggle to get through a conversation with. Become something you aren’t-without compromising your Christian beliefs-to somebody in order to share the gospel with them.

Psalm 139:17-18 “How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand. When I awake, I am still with You.”

Structure vs. Faith

Everyone knows about faith. It’s defined by Merriam-Webster as this: “strong belief or trust in someone or something.” We all have some sort of faith. Based off our knowledge, we make choices. If I wake up tomorrow and choose to have cereal instead of bacon and eggs (which won’t happen), it’s because I believe cereal would be a better choice for my taste buds than bacon and eggs. Stretch this out into our daily lives and we are constantly making decisions because we trust one thing over another for whatever reason.

The Bible says we are justified by faith. It’s so important-Ephesians 2:8 tells us, “For grace you have been saved through faith.”. Grace, God having mercy on a sinful mankind by sacrificing his son, is half the equation of salvation, and the other half is faith. God gives grace and asks us for faith. He doesn’t only ask us for faith, but asks we live by faith; Habakkuk 2:4-“…the righteous shall live by his faith.”

I’ve never thought much about faith. I live by faith. I love Jesus, don’t make a lot of mistakes, read my bible, and uphold his commands. It wasn’t till, reading “Crazy Love” by Francis Chan, when the question was posed to me: What in my life requires faith? I was dumbfounded. I searched my brain for an answer but couldn’t get one. I wake up and know what my schedule is for the day. I drive a car wherever I want to go. I have education provided for. Just about everything that happens to me during the day seems like it is going to an easy, simple plan. I am not living by faith. Christ means much to me, and I spend time with him, but my life is structured. At the slightest thought of worry about my future-my job, my wife, my house-any thought of “faith” in my body is zapped. Worry leads to doubt, which opposes faith.

As I have been considering this question, What in my life requires faith, I’ve had to ask myself where my trust in God is. It’s not enough for me to love Christ-I’ve been asked to follow a path that hasn’t been traveled and trust God will provide. I’m not saying all structure is bad-certainly we have to have a plan for our future. But to me, faith is not knowing what lies ahead yet trusting that God does. I have had to reassess what aspects of my life I need to have faith in God-where I can say that I don’t know what is going to happen but I place my faith in a higher power. God is requiring me to trust he knows best.

3/7

3/7. It may just be a fraction to you. 42%. Maybe you didn’t do too well in math in high school. What if I told you these weren’t just mere numbers, but these numbers signify the amount of people on Earth today that have never heard the Gospel? It just got real. What means a lot to you? What’s important to you? The 42% of people that will go to bed tonight having never heard the name of Jesus is important to me. It’s an important percentage. As a matter of fact, it’s rather alarming.

Have we failed? Has the church not done its part? Jesus gave us the Great Commission 2,000 years ago and it’s not the remembering of his words that’s important, but it’s the finishing of his command. For the past couple months, this topic has been on my mind. Knowing that the body Christ is made up of its different members (1 Corinthians 12:12), we have to consider our brothers and sisters in different countries that are persevering in the faith. But what about those in other countries that aren’t persevering because they haven’t heard? The passage of Scripture that comes to mind is Romans 10:14-15: “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” If we do not go, they will not hear. It is as simple as that. If the Gospel is not preached to the Loma people in Cote d’Ivoire, the Jogi’s in Pakistan, and the Wolio’s in Indonesia, they will live and die without ever hearing the name of Jesus. This breaks me inside.

I’m not calling everyone to read this to become a full time missionary. Jesus has called everyone of us to be “missionaries” in that we’re each called to make disciples of all nations. I know and understand the feeling of “What can I as one person do?” But would you pray? Would you pray for the 3 billion people living and breathing each day who are unreached with the Gospel? Would you pray that the Lord would send missionaries and to soften the hearts of the Yagnob people in Taijikistan, the Shihuh people in Oman, and the Bawean people of Indonesia to accept Jesus as their Savior? Do some research, find a ministry overseas to give your tithe to, fundraise to go on a mission trip with your local church. There is progress to be made that each believer can help in part.