PAUL’S PRAYER FOR THE THESSALONIANS

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1 Thessalonians 3:11-13

Study 5

Brief Recap:

At the end of our last study we found Paul excited at the return of his friend and co-worker Timothy from Thessalonica. Timothy had a good report to share with Paul and he was comforted with the news of their faith, love, and desire to see him again. Paul’s earnest desire is to be able to return to them again and “complete what is lacking in your faith” (vs. 10). He has such a burden for the spiritual progress of these people that it just frustrates him that they had to prematurely depart their company (Acts 17:5-10). 

11 “Now may our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you;”

Focus one: As Paul continues his letter (vs 11), he uses the word “now” to transition into explaining the petitions that he just mentioned in verse 10: “that we may see your face, and may complete what is lacking in your faith.” In verses 12 and 13 he will elaborate on them, but first, let’s take another look at how he begins what seems to be a prayer, in which he expresses his concerns for these believers.

Take notice to how Paul addresses the prayer to “God our father” and “Jesus our Lord” equally! It is very clear in these words that Paul ascribes full deity to Jesus and therefore sees Him equal with God the father in power and ability to answer his prayer! In other words, “Two persons viewed as one (John 10:30) possess power to open the way to Thessalonica once again (cr. John 14:7,9; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3).” Another thing to take special notice of in this verse is the personal pronoun “our” that Paul uses. By utilizing it here Paul is expressing the sense of belonging to something or someone or being in someway associated with someone. He is not only Paul’s God, He is their God and our God as well Christian!

Paul petitions God to “direct our way to you” (vs. 11). He is asking God to open the way back to them by removing all the obstacles that have hindered them so far. Some of these obstacles may be the pledge Jason had to make (Acts 17:9), The Jews that followed him and caused him much trouble (Acts 17:13), and Satan working against them (1 Thessalonians 2:18). Paul is asking God to “clear the way” of all these hindrances and allow him a direct path back to this young church.

 “and may the Lord cause you to increase and overflow in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you;”

FOCUS TWO:

In my studies on these verses I had found a question in one article that should cause us to pause for a moment and seriously contemplate our own ideas, conceptions, or misconceptions of the purpose and power of prayer. “What if your church began to seriously, soberly, and consistently pray (enabled by the Spirit of grace) for love to increase and abound for each of the members of your congregation? I mean really prayed with sincerity and expectancy of an answer?” What might the consequences be? Certainly only good ones! Supernatural ones! Would such a church become a powerful instrument in the hands of God in the midst of a “crooked and perverse generation (Philippians 2:15)?”

Who wouldn’t want such a congregation? There is no question as to the love that already abounds within this young church (1:2; 3:6; 4:9-10). But Paul desires that this love already growing and flourishing within their church would “increase and overflow” not just within the confines of their congregation, but outside of it as well. The idea is that their love for others would keep growing because they have not yet been glorified, or to say it another way, they have not yet gone home to be with their savior! That means that there is still room for growth in this area!

This type of love is not superficial or self serving, rather it is unconditional, sacrificial love. The word Paul uses here for love is “agape” and it means the “highest kind of love,” a benevolent love that seeks to do what is best for the one loved, not what the one loved deems is best (John 3:16; 1 John 4:9-10). This is not a love based on “attractiveness, emotions, or sentimentality,” rather on the willing submission of our hearts to the leading and working of the Holy Spirit within us as He seeks to produce such an abundance of His fruit in our lives (Galatians 5:22-25)! And Paul does not hesitate in holding him and his co-laborers up as examples of such a love.

This love should first express itself in their relations with one another but then should overflow and be expressed in other areas and with other people that our not believers, such as their enemies! (1)“For these persecuted Thessalonians this meant also loving their enemies, as Christ commanded (Matthew 5:44). To show love to their persecutors was the true safeguard against the natural tendency to retaliate when mistreated by outsiders. Such a love is not natural to man, it can be known and practiced only as it is received as a gift from the Lord and made to increase and abound by Him.”

FOCUS THREE:

“so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the [a]coming of our Lord Jesus with all His [b]saints.”

These verses reveal Paul’s goal in his prayer: their progress in personal sanctification. Since this process is not completed until believers stand in the presence of their savior, they would need strengthening by the Holy Spirit to “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12) and persevere in godliness knowing that “he who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). Paul knows that this is a daily battle that the Christian must fight, but he is not alone (Philippians 2:12-13)!

It is important for us to notice that Paul does not pray for them to be “sinless,” he prays for them to be “blameless” before God. To be sinless in this life is impossible but to be “free of any reasonable charge from their fellowman” is not. Let’s take an (2)SOS and determine what Paul is saying by the word he chose to use here. Several Greek words are used in the New Testament to express this idea, and as I wrote in a previous blog on the importance of the usage of words (Word’s matter), I will take sometime to explain the difference and application here.

(3) “Amomos” means faultless, without blemish, free from imperfections. It refers especially to character. “Amemptos” is strictly unblamed, one with whom no fault is found. This of course refers to the verdict of others upon one. “Anenkletos” designates one against whom there is no accusation, implying not acquittal of a charge, but that no charge has been made. And lastly, “Anepilemptos” has the idea of “irreprehensible,” designating one who affords nothing upon which an adversary might seize, in order to make a charge against him. Let’s go back to our verse now.

It is the word anemptos that Paul chose to use in our text because he was speaking in regards to what others might be able to say against them if their was a lack of love and submission to the Lord in their daily lives. But how could they or even us today be blameless in God’s sight at His coming? Keep in mind that Paul is not speaking of “positional” blamelessness because that is solely achieved through the saving grace of God Himself in Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:22)! He is however talking about experiential (practical) blamelessness. 

In speaking about the Lord’s coming Peter asks the question “since all these things will be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be” (2 Peter 3:11)? He then answers the question, “in holy conduct and godliness. . . Be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless”(2 peter 3:11,14).

So, here the blamelessness that Paul is referring to is not positional but practical. It involves living a life that is above reproach and in line with God’s will revealed to us in His word, so that no reasonable charges from our contemporaries would stick to us and reveal any guilt. It also relates to our consciences, in that they would be clear and free of any known guilt when the Lord returns. It is exciting to know that we can cultivate such a character in our lives that manifests the reality of what has taken place in our hearts. This is a work of the Holy Spirit within us. A work He does with us not despite us!

FOR FURTHER THOUGHT:

  1. What other verses in the New Testament can you find that express the deity of Jesus Christ?
  2. What our the character traits of love expressed in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8?
  3. What do these scriptures teach in regards to the Holy Spirits ministry among us (John 14:26; Romans 8:26-27; Ephesians 4:30; Romans 8:16)?
  4. In what areas of your life may you need to confess a lack of conformity to the will and word of God and by faith seek His Spirits help in producing fruit that leads to “hearts that our unblamable in holiness” at His coming?
  • 1 and 2 Thessalonians: BMH Book, 1996
  • Step out Study
  • Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, Zondervan, 1991

Paul’s love and concern for the Thessalonians

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1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:10

STUDY 4

17 “But we, brothers and sisters, having been orphaned from you by absence for a [w]short while—in [x]person, not in [y]spirit—were all the more eager with great desire to see your face. 18 [z]For we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, [aa]more than once—and Satan hindered us. 19 For who is our hope, or joy or crown of pride, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His [ab]coming? Or is it not indeed you? 20 For you are our glory and joy.”

Brief intro: In our last study we took notice to Paul’s second note of thankfulness for these believers (1:2; 3:13). Paul was thankful for their reception of the Word of God, receiving it as such, and enduring the sufferings that they were going through as a consequence for following Christ. We also took note of Paul’s charges against his own countrymen who sought to undermine the spread of the gospel (2:15).

In this study we will again witness Paul’s love for these believers and the frustration he dealt with in not being able to see them face to face and minister to them. 

FOCUS ONE: Paul, moving on from his charges against those who seek to stifle gospel growth, now begins to express his frustration at not being able to see them face to face again. These verses (17-20) reveal Paul’s heart for this young persecuted church. He loves them. He has such a yearning to be with them again physically; to minister to them, encourage them, and strengthen them in their faith. Perhaps there are rumors circulating around that Paul has no intentions of ever coming back, but Paul with these emotional words, lay’s such rumors to rest. 

For Paul and his companions, being forced out of Thessalonica and having to leave these people behind, was equivalent to the feeling parents would have at losing their children. It was heart wrenching for him. His only comfort was in the hope that this separation would be short-lived and that he would soon be able to be with them again. 

Take notice to Paul’s switch in the plural usage of “we” up to this point, to the singular “I.” Paul desires to set himself apart from his co-laborers here and stress how he personally made every effort to to go back to them but was “thwarted” or prevented from doing so. It is of importance to notice who Paul says prevented them from going back to Thessalonica, “Satan Thwarted us” (vs.18).

It is time for a brief *SOS study. In Acts 16:6-10 Paul’s plans are frustrated as well, but there he credits the Holy Spirit for “forbidding” them to speak the word in Asia. He saw this as God’s leading of them in their missionary efforts. Now, back to our text. Here in 3:18 Paul see’s no other explanation of the opposition facing them but Satan himself. Exactly what it was that hindered them we can only speculate, he doesn’t mention anything here, so it is probably best not to surmise what it could have been.

In verses 19 and 20 Paul seems to break out in untethered joy as he thinks upon their friendship and brotherhood under the banner of Christ! These folks are the cause of his joy and confidence as he thinks upon the Lord’s coming again. To him, these believers (1)“will be a kind of victory prize. They will be his ‘crowning glory’ on that day and the source of unspeakable joy.”

3 “Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it best to be left behind, alone at Athens, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you for the benefit of your faith, so that no one would be [a]disturbed by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we have been destined for this. For even when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; [b]and so it happened, [c]as you know. For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I also sent to [d]find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter might have tempted you, and our labor would be for nothing.”

FOCUS TWO: Paul “cannot endure it any longer,” and so he sends Timothy to them. The constant thought of these beloved people just seems to be a pressing burden to his soul. Remember, Paul and his companions were forced to leave Thessalonica much sooner then they would have preferred, and as a result they were not able to teach them as much as they would have liked and felt necessary (Acts 17). So, after being forced out of Thessalonica they traveled to Berea, founded a church, and then under pressure again, Paul leaves and travels to Athens and from there he sends Timothy to them.

Timothy is a “brother” in Christ, and a “fellow worker’ in the proclamation of the gospel. He is a man that Paul loves and values and so trusts with the mission of traveling back to Thessalonica with the goal of strengthening and encouraging these young believers. He has great confidence that Timothy will complete that mission. This church was going through a time of suffering and facing various trials in their day to day walk of faith. Paul is concerned for their welfare and that they would stand firm and not “be deceived” by the afflictions they face. 

Paul knew that they would go through such times (3:4). He wrote Timothy some years later: “yes, all that live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). It would be very naïve to think the world would accept those who follow Christ (John 15:18). And so, this is why Paul just had to know if their faith was genuine, if it was holding up.

6 “But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you, for this reason, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith; for now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord. For what thanks can we give to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice because of you before our God, 10 as we keep praying most earnestly night and day that we may see your faces, and may complete what is lacking in your faith?”

FOCUS THREE:  Timothy returns! What a joy Paul feels as his good friend and faithful co-laborer returns safely from his journey. Not only that, he brings good news with him (vss. 6-10)!  Paul’s questions are finally answered, his concerns alleviated. It seems that Paul wrote this letter rather quickly as his heart was elevated with emotions of thankfulness and praise! Their faith remained steadfast. Their love toward and kind affection for Paul remained. And imagine the joy in Paul’s heart to hear that they longed to see him again just as he did them! Paul is elated, “for now we really live, if (since) you stand firm in the faith.” 

Paul then expresses for a third time (vs. 9) his thankfulness for them. It sounds as if Paul, believe it or not, was temporarily at a loss for words in how to express his thankfulness to God. (1) “This is a rhetorical question expressing the thought that no act of thanksgiving can equal the joy Paul experiences as he thinks of the Thessalonians.” 

But even so, Paul reflects back to his desire to be with them again and minister to their needs. He knows that they are young in the faith and he desires to “complete what is lacking in your faith” (vs, 10). By that Paul means that even though they have started out well (1:3,7; 2:13,14;3:6), there is always room to grow (2 Peter 1:5-15).

FOR FURTHER THOUGHT:

  1. Have you ever experienced frustration? Look up these verses in your bible and write down how they counsel us in regards to frustration: Romans 8:28; Proverbs 3:5-6; Ecclesiastes 7:9.
  2. Looking back at these verses, what statements of Paul’s help describe the “burden” he carried for these believers?
  3. Do you have a burden for the lost?  Your family, neighbors, co-workers, etc.? If not, what needs to change in your heart and life?
  4. What does it mean to be a “fellow worker” in the gospel? Who are you co-laboring with in the cause of Christ? 
  5. What pattern for prayer do you see in verse 10 that may help you in your daily prayer life?
  • David Ewert, Study on 1 and 2 Thessalonians
  • *Step Outside Study

The Gospel

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Go and spread the gospel

Over the hills and thru the vale;

It’s truth for hurting souls

Not a children’s fairytale.

O, be gentle in your speaking

But bold along the way;

For we’re not guaranteed tomorrow

And many souls are lost each day.

Speak it’s truth unto your loved ones,

Don’t burn bridges as you go;

Humbly live out the gospel for them

So it’s affects within you show.

Prepare to be rejected

That’s just par for the course;

They rejected Christ as well

O, dear Christian stay the course.

Enlist a mighty army

Going forward into war;

With the gospel as their banner

And God going on before.

Let us pray for those who listened

That His truth He does impart;

So all by grace forgiven

Will receive a blood washed heart.

Larry G. Stump Jr.

THE WORD OF GOD

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1 THESSALONIANS 2:13-16

STUDY 3

13 “For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of mere men, but as what it really is, the word of God, which also is at work in you who believe.14 For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews, 15 who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and [r]drove us out. [s]They are not pleasing to God, [t]but hostile to all people, 16 hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved; with the result that they always [u]reach the limit of their sins. But wrath has come upon them [v]fully.”

BRIEF INTRO:

In our last study we discussed the integrity of Paul and his co-laborers as they ministered among the Thessalonians. We discussed the opposition they faced and the suffering they endured in order to bring the gospel to them. This week we will meditate on the manner in which these people received the gospel, and Paul’s charges against those who seek to stop the spread of the gospel.

FOCUS ONE: It should not go unnoticed that Paul again expresses thankfulness for this young church, as he does in 1:2 and 3:9 as well. I mention it because I believe it helps us to understand the “tone” of the Apostle Paul in this letter to the Thessalonians. This letter is not written to correct some deviant theology or to rebuke ungodly living (1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians). The church in Thessalonica was young in faith and did not have the pleasure of any extended amount of teaching from Paul (Acts 17); and yet they were relatively sound in what they did know, and it appears, growing in and living out their faith with much joy and zeal. 

Paul’s tone is one of affection and thankfulness. As he reflects back in history and remembers his work among them as well as Timothy’s service to them, he is elated at their spiritual growth and their perseverance through suffering as a result of their new found faith in Christ. These people have already proven to be faithful servants of Christ and for that Paul is deeply thankful. And so, with that in mind, Paul writes them these words from Corinth.

Paul expresses his thankfulness for several things:

  • Their reception of the word of God
  • Receiving it as His word, not men’s 
  • Their enduring sufferings for following Christ

I think it is time for an “SOS” (Step Outside Study). By that I mean that we need to step outside of this letter and travel back to Thessalonica at the time Paul was their sharing the gospel and ministering to them. For that we need to go to the book of Acts where Pauls missionary travels are recorded.

Acts 17 records their reception of the Word. Paul, as was his custom, went to the synagogue first when he came to a new town, that is if they had one in place. Thessalonica had an active synagogue, and so he went to it and for “three sabbaths reasoned with them from the scriptures” (vs. 2). Some were persuaded, including a great number of Greeks and leading women (vs. 4). Instantly they were engrossed in persecution and Paul and Silas were sent away to a place called Berea (17:5-10)

Now, back to our letter. Back in 1:5 Paul mentions that the gospel (the good news of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ) came to them in “power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” These people “heard”  the spoken word of God, in this case, the gospel. That is the message that burned within Paul, and why he went though all the hardships he did on his various missionary journeys. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ “ (Romans 10:17). The Thessalonians received Paul’s message not as a message of a man or from men, but for what it truly was, “the word of God” to them. God, in His amazing grace, did a mighty work of salvation in their hearts. Counting the cost, forsaking much of what they knew, they sacrificed it all for the gospel Paul preached (1:5-6)!

FOCUS TWO: As Paul continues to reflect back to when he was with them proclaiming the gospel, he makes mention of the suffering they endured, and are still still enduring at the time of his writing, for embracing the gospel he preached. In their suffering, Paul says, they have become “imitators” of the churches in Judea (vs. 14). This is the second time that Paul mentions that they are imitators. In 1:6 we find the first expression of this term; I spoke to that in our first study (The Gospel arrives). In chapter one Paul says that they are imitating the Apostles and the Lord Himself! But here, he says that they are imitating the churches in Judea.  

How are they imitating all these people? Is there a common link? There is: in their suffering they were following in the same footsteps of those who have come before them. What happened to Jesus for proclaiming “the kingdom of God is at hand?” For proclaiming “come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28-30)? What happened to the disciples after Christ was crucified, buried, and rose again? Persecution happened (Acts 4; 5:17-42; 7:54-8:3)

(1)“Paul tenderly reminds these brothers and sisters that they were not the first to be afflicted. God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus” were the first and through their patient endurance “had become an example of what Jesus predicted about the suffering entailed in discipleship” (Matthew 10:22; 2 Timothy 3:12). The churches in Judea were persecuted by their own “fellow- countrymen,” and so too were the Thessalonians. Ironically, Paul himself, previously known as Saul, was the one persecuting the regions of Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1-4). Praise God his persecution of those churches was short lived, as the Lord saved Paul’s soul along the Damascus road (Acts 9).

FOCUS THREE: Paul’s charges against his own countrymen (vs 15):

  • They killed the Lord Jesus
  • They killed the prophets
  • They drove out the Apostles
  • They are not pleasing to God
  • They are hostile to all men

The Romans, in fact, carried out the gruesome task of beating, scourging, and nailing Christ to the cross, Paul knows that, but he also knows that it was the religious leaders of the day that sought to get rid of Jesus and formed the plot for his demise (John 11:53; Acts 2:36).

Paul’s claim of their killing the prophets is not baseless. Steven, in his defense, boldly makes the same claim (Acts 7:51-52). And Jesus Himself stated this historical truth about the Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23:29-36)

These same people “drove out” Paul and Silas from Thessalonica because they did not want them to speak to the people and proclaim the gospel of salvation unto them (Acts 17: 5-10). 

Paul here also asserts that the Jews are not pleasing to God in their behavior. Rather than living lives that are in subjection to God’s will, they are hostile to him. And as a natural repercussion they are hostile to all men, not only others, but their own people as well. This hostility grieves Paul and causes much pain within his heart (Romans 9:1-5). Paul’s purpose here is not to slander them, He would be willing to take their place in judgement if only they would turn to Christ! Paul is pointing out that by their actions, i.e., opposing God’s servants, and rejecting their message, they are “filling up the measure of their sins,” in other words, one sin is being piled onto another sin until the “measure” or full amount God will allow reaches its fullest. 

With that measure of sin filled up, God’s wrath, Paul says, “has come upon them.” What does Paul mean by God’s wrath? Wrath in the Bible has various forms or meanings. Consequential wrath is what we find in “sowing and reaping.” A person living in a lifestyle that is sinful will suffer consequences reflective of their sinful choices. Those consequences are viewed by some to be a resulting wrath or judgement reflective of the consequences of their choices.  

Cataclysmic wrath (Hurricanes, earthquakes, severe famine, floods, etc) is evidenced in the Bible in Genesis with the worldwide flood in Noah’s day and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

John MacArthur points to Romans 1 as another type of wrath: the wrath of abandonment. A point in time when God turns away from a group, society, or individual (Romans 1:14,28).

And then there is eternal wrath. This is the ultimate form of wrath from God. As horrific as the others may be, this wrath is far worse because it is eternal and unrelenting. This punishment sees unbelieving mankind cast away from God forever and placed in hell because of their rebellion against Him (Matthew 25:41-46). 

Or is he referring to eschatological wrath? The judgements of God that will take place on those who are living during the Tribulation period? While some commentators hold various views as to which of these are possible answers, it seems most likely that Paul was referring to either eschatological wrath or eternal wrath. These seem the most likely if we are keeping in mind other things Paul has said in this epistle, in which those contexts are always dealing with Christ’s second coming and believers being delivered from “the wrath to come” (1:10; 5:9-10).

My personal opinion is that this context is speaking in regards to eternal wrath. (2)“God’s promised eternal wrath for unbelievers is so certain that it is spoken of as having come already as does the Apostle John (cf. John 3:18,36).” 

Paul may appear to have no hope for his jewish brethren, but that is certainly not the case. Many Jews have already come to faith in Christ and others will in the future. And according to Paul in Romans 11:25-29, Israel is going through a “partial hardening” until the “fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” God, Paul is saying, is not through dealing graciously with His people the Jews!

Conclusion: Just as Paul sought to encourage and comfort these believers that were going through much suffering as a result of their faith in Christ, so too, we should be encouraged and comforted. Let’s not be overwhelmed with the thought that we may suffer for the cause of Christ, even by our own families, neighbors, or countrymen. The Bible tells us this will be so. Let us, in light of Paul’s words to these believers, move ahead in faithful obedience to our Lord knowing that we will soon rejoice in the fruit of our labors at His coming!

FOR FURTHER THOUGHT:

  • How can we express thankfulness for other believers?
  • How is a person saved? What is the gospel message and what does it perform in us (vs. 13)?
  • Is our suffering always a result of following Christ? Why or why not?
  • Can we expect some level of persecution in our life if we follow Jesus Christ? Does the thought of persecution for following Christ cause you shrink back? Why or why not?
  • Do you find it hard to share the gospel when you think people will reject you? If so, what scriptures strengthen you and encourage you to be a witness anyway?

  • Robert L. Thomas, Expositors Bible Commentary, Vol 11
  • John MacArthur Study Bible, pg. 1845

RUNNING WELL

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Long reading: Galatians 5:1-8.

Devotional verse: 5: 7

“You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?”

Martin was a friend of mine who struggled in the faith. Early on in his life he was a false convert, but thanks to the long-suffering of God he was finally redeemed and by God’s grace was growing in the knowledge of God’s will revealed in His holy word.

But as time went on it appeared that Martin was struggling once again. This time it was because of some false teaching he was listening to. This teaching was drawing him away from “grace alone” for salvation, toward a “works plus” grace salvation model. Martin began well, but eventually became seriously hindered in his Christian walk for several years to come, because he listened to someone’s distorted teaching about God’s word rather than trusting in God’s revealed word. 

Paul’s words echo forth with resounding clarity! Those who were now struggling in their faith started well. They were growing in their faith and living in light of the gospel, but then some false teacher with some pseudo gospel came along. They perhaps, hesitantly at first listened with skepticism, but then somewhere along the way they were deceived into believing a lie. Now there assurance of salvation was lost as they became “subject again to a yoke of slavery” (vs.1).

Paul told the Ephesians that “we are saved by grace through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works so none one should boast” (2:8-9). As we have so much available to us today within media, whatever and however that is manifested, let us with caution listen to others who propose to speak for our Lord and exercise discernment (1 John 4:1), and let us with confidence apply the word of God in full assurance and faith (Hebrews 10:22).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us in our ignorance to learn your word. We ask for your Spirit to teach us all things that pertain to life and godliness. Grant us an uncanny mindset that is able to discern truth from error and to reject the false and cling to that which is good. Amen.

THE GOSPEL OF GOD Devotional

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Long reading: 1 Thessalonians 2:1-13

Quoted verse: 1 Thessalonians 2:13

“And for this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God’s message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (NASB).

The Open Air Campaigners have an evangelistic ministry that has at its core the burden of preaching the gospel to lost people anywhere and mobilizing the body of Christ to do the same. I had the pleasure of learning from these men, many years ago, the skills that were needed to do well in open air evangelism. Using a sketch-board, painting a gospel message, rope tricks and other illustrations; as well as spiritual discipline, faithful study of God’s word, earnest prayer, teamwork, and compassion for the lost. But there is one thing that I learned from them that has affected my gospel witness more than anything else, and that is this: God working through His word performs His will in those who hear and believe!

You and I cannot save anyone. Our flattering speeches, or supposed superiority with words; our perceived wisdom or persuasive rhetoric, never did and never will save anyone. God uses people to proclaim His word, this is true, but He uses weak people led by His Spirit, so that when He opens up minds and hearts to His truth’s, it will always be a demonstration of the working of His Holy Spirit and power (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)!

This truth should be encouraging and reassuring to God’s people. Just as the word of the Lord sounded forth from these believers in every place they went (1 Thessalonians 1:8), so too it should from us. You and I can faithfully share the gospel of God with others (vs 9), confident that He will do what He will in those peoples lives that have heard the truth from us. This means that you and I can share the gospel and then go home and sleep in peace. If people are to come to faith in Christ, such faith cannot rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God!

                                                                                                                                    Larry Stump Jr.  

Daily prayer: Help us O God, to trust in your Spirit and power in the salvation of the lost. Grant to us thy peace which surpasses all understanding as we pray and seek to win souls for Christ. Amen.

“Keep preaching, you’re getting through.”

Many years ago I had a ministry at an assisted living center in our county. It was the kind of place where elderly people resided who could do things for themselves and didn’t need constant care. There was also a section that housed people with dementia and alzheimer’s disease. I was asked by the activities director to hold a church service or bible study with anyone in the home that wanted to participate. I accepted the offer, excitedly, and began a ministry that went on for many years.

However, after about three years I found myself becoming dissatisfied with the ministry. I began feeling like I was on the “road to nowhere,” feeling like nobody was really listening, nobody was comprehending the truth’s we were sharing with them. I was tempted to just ”go through the motions,” after all, did it r-e-a-l-l-y matter? I even entertained the thought of not doing the service anymore, yep, quitting. Years ago when I began the service, I was optimistic, prayerful and confident that the Holy Spirit could reach people with gospel truth, even these people with faltering and failing mental faculties. But now my confidence was waning and self doubt had crept in.

Among the group that attended these service were two sisters, Mary and Jane (names changed for privacy). Mary was faithful at visiting her sister and caring for her, and she was also faithful at bringing her to the service every other week. Jane was in an advanced stage of alzheimer’s and usually sat in her chair with a dazed look on her face. Many of the people shared the same look because many were dealing with the same problem. One Sunday at our service something unexpected happened; something that reinvigorated my passion to serve these people, flooded my heart with joy, and led me out of self pity and doubt! I was then able to serve these people for a few more years.

On this day after the service, as I always did, I would try to talk with as many of the people as I could. I think I talked with Mary and Jane almost every service and always found Jane to be quiet, with a sweet, kind smile on her face. She didn’t talk, but every now and again she would say a word or two. But today she did have something to say! Mary called me over, she said, “Larry, can you come here, Jane has something she want’s to say to you?” I replied, “sure,” and went over to speak with them. When I got over to them Mary said, “go ahead Jane, tell Larry what you want to tell him.” I looked at her excited that she wanted to tell me something, but honestly, I wasn’t expecting much. Jane looked at me with that beautiful smile on her face and said, “ keep preaching Larry, you’re getting through.”

What? Of all the things she could have said, she said this! She said it with clarity, with conviction, I was taken back by it. How did she know I was discouraged? How did she know I was thinking about quitting? She didn’t, obviously, but the Lord did and He chose to use this woman to get my focus off myself and back on what truly matters; His truth, His gospel going forth, and His Spirit ministering as He will among those people.

Have you ever felt like quitting? Have you ever undertaken something for the Lord that you felt He was calling you to do, equipped you to do, and opened the doors for you to do? Can you remember the excitement and enthusiasm you had as you thought through the dynamics of that ministry, as you planned, prepared, and began that work of faith? Do you still have that excitement, enthusiasm and energy in your ministry today? Are you thinking about quitting?

There are many reasons that I can think of for giving up on something, anything, ministry included, but I will focus on just three. First, It may be that we are just to immature or ignorant in our understanding of what true Christ-like ministry entails. Often times we begin with the idea, and rightly so, that we are going to be serving others. We don’t expect much in return and are ok with that, because we believe that what we are doing is for the spiritual benefit of others and God will provide and be glorified in and through us. But somehow, in the process of time, subtly our mindset begins to change, and now we have begun to assume things. We assume numbers matter, that more people should step it up and help out our ministry, that this work should be further along than it is, etc., etc.

Second, the enemy of humility and selfless, sacrificial service rears his ugly head, pride. Is it any wonder the Bible teaches that “pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before stumbling” (Proverbs 16:18)? Pride was one of the factors that led to the destruction of the Tower of Babel and the people being scattered (Genesis 11:1-9). Avoiding the opportunity for pride and its ugly consequences in the ministry of the church, appears to be the main reason for not choosing a “new convert,” or a man who is immature in his faith to be an elder (1 Timothy 3:6).

Third, perhaps we are to isolated ministry wise. My ministry at the assisted living center was just that, isolated. I was not under any oversight by a local church. It was my ministry. I organized it, I chose who would speak and do special music and I set the goals. I am not saying the ministry itself was invalid or that my goals and theology were skewed, but simply that I needed, we need, accountability and counsel from others who our Lord has graciously placed before us, so that we keep focused on the purpose God has for us in our ministries, and so we are not overcome with false presumptions and unrealistic goals.

Ministry is a calling. It is not a hobby or part time job. Every Christian should be able to share the gospel with others, but in no way does that mean every Christian should be in full time ministry. Ministry is not something we just “decide” to do one day, but it is something, as one preacher put it: “something you become aware of rather than what you do. It is thrust upon you, in the realm of the spirit, by the Spirt. . . . God is dealing with you.”  

Ministry is about others. Our work in ministry, perhaps the bigger part of it, is about our lives following the supreme example of God’s love, His sacrificial love in sending His Son for us (1 John 4:9-11). We are to follow His example of selfless humility and regard others as more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3-12; 1 Peter 4:10-11). And we are to do this while we are working out our on salvation with fear and trembling, “because it is God who is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).

The Bible never promised us that serving Him would be easy. Peter and John were arrested for it (Acts 4:1-3), even flogged (Acts 5:40). Paul faced the contradictions of others for the things he said, among a host of other things (Acts 13:45; 2 Corinthians 11:25), and some who heard the truth continued in disbelief (Acts 14:2). Paul wrote the inspired words of 2 Timothy 3 instructing Timothy and us of how difficult the last days will be (also 4:1-5). But, despite all the negatives there are many positives! And we need to be reminded that Our Lord expects us, commands us to persevere even when the negatives outweigh the positives (1 Corinthians 15:58; Galatians 6:9-10).

One preacher put it this way:

“What I want to say to you is, don’t give up. Don’t write off the possibility that your current experience could very well be the fire God has allowed you to walk through to shape you into the mighty servant He desires you to be. I’m convinced that God is just as concerned about your growth as He is the growth of the (ministry) you’re a part of.”

Keep on preaching, you’re getting through!

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