PRAY FOR US

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1 Thessalonians 5:25-28

STUDY 14

BRIEF INTRO: As we have previously witnessed, Paul has given these believers many exhortations for their Christian conduct as they move forward in their walk of faith. Commands regarding: 

  1. The relationship between the congregation and its leaders (vv. 12-13).
  2. The relationships within the corporate body (vv. 14-15).
  3. More personal exhortations and applications. (Vv.16-18).
  4. Som that encapsulated both (19-22).

Paul then enters into what looks like a prayer for those folks asking the “God of peace” to fulfill His will in them, enabling them through His Spirit, to pursue holiness in their daily lives as they look forward to the Lord’s return.

“Brethren, pray for us.”

FOCUS ONE: As Paul comes to the close of his letter, He appeals to those He regards as brothers in Christ – family, we can say (They share a common bond, faith, savior, future)! According to the force of the Greek present tense used here, he petitions them to keep praying for them. He knows that they already pray for them (3:6-8). Their answered prayers were, no doubt, a result of Paul’s successful missionary work. So, he asks for that to continue.

The apostle is aware of his insufficiency in contrast to the Father’s all-sufficiency. “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God” (2 Corinthians 3:5). But he doesn’t ask only for himself, but his companions and fellow laborers as well (us). He knows how important it is for the “brethren” to hold up one another in prayer. He acknowledged the inadequacy within himself to accomplish anything worthy of praise, and in humility, attributed any success on their part to a work of Christ within them (1 Corinthians 4:7).

“Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss.”

FOCUS TWO: This was customary in Paul’s day and within that culture and still is in some cultures today. But a question to ask ourselves as we read this appeal is this: why don’t we do this today in our churches, in our western culture?

This “holy kiss” or kiss of greeting was an expression of true Christian love towards one another, NOT romantic (Eros) love. Paul is simply encouraging an outward physical manifestation of true, joy-filled, Christian love towards one another. He qualifies the kiss with the word holy because it is to be “becoming to saints.” Most likely, it was a symbolic greeting that Paul was seeking to adopt that paralleled a kiss that a person would give a close, personal family member.

But, how would such an expression of love towards the brethren look in our culture and day? I would say that it’s expressed in a physical embrace (hug), a handshake, or even a fist or elbow bump (thinking covid now).

“I abjure you by the Lord to have this letter read to all the brethren.”

FOCUS THREE: Paul then charges them by an oath (abjure) to have everybody read his letter, not just the leaders or only the men but also everybody. It seems surprisingly strong for Paul, putting them under oath like this! Were there some problems in the church that he felt necessitated further instruction? The regular usage of Greek here implies that the letter is to be read aloud. 

He may have been concerned with the improper use of his name and authority. We know that he was interested in their continual spiritual progress/complacency. Paul also wanted the whole body to be encouraged and comforted regarding the Lord’s return. Plus, he wanted all to know of the instructions he had given them (5:12-22).

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.”

FOCUS FOUR: With everything written that he sought to express at this time, he concludes his writing with this very familiar benediction (v.28). The grace of God was Paul’s greatest delight AND desire for others. Grace comes through our Lord Jesus Christ, and his passion was for these believers to experience and enjoy it more completely! 

In perhaps, a year or less, Paul again writes this small church, “struggling to survive and to remain faithful to Jesus in the midst of a pagan society.” We will continue our study next week, looking at Paul’s second letter to this church. See you then!

FOR FURTHER THOUGHT:

  1. 1. How do you view other Christians in your church? Are you faithfully upholding them in prayer?
  2. 2. How are you doing at expressing your love towards other believers, your church family?
  3. 3. How has the grace of God impacted your life? Is it your greatest delight and joy?
  4. 4. Do you have a desire for others to experience God’s amazing grace? How are you getting the message out?

LET THE BLOOD OF JESUS

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By: Connie Faust

Blood dripped down from His wounded hands,

outstretched for all to see.

It stained the wood  on which He hung

as it trickled down that tree.

Let the blood from Jesus’ wounds fall on me.

Let His blood wash away each guilty stain,

flowing down into my heart,

giving me a brand new start

as forgiveness covers me like falling rain.

Blood ran down from His wounded feet,

cruelly nailed to the cross.

His blood told of the dying King

Who came to save the lost.

Too precious was the blood that flowed

to soak into the ground,

but I was standing there that day

in sin and sorrow bound,

and as the blood began to fall

in droplets all around,

He drew me to His loving heart,

where sweet salvation I found.

Let the blood from Jesus’ wounds fall on me.

Let His blood wash away each guilty stain,

flowing down into my heart,

giving me a brand new start

as forgiveness covers me like falling rain

THE POWER OF GOD

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Extended reading: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

1 Corinthians 1:18 “for the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 

The idling of car engines stopped, and many people, including myself, left our vehicles to begin the one-mile hike to the cross. In a small town known as Paxinos, Pennsylvania, the Easter service at the cross is a big event. The 24 foot high cross, placed initially and maintained by the Boy Scouts, troop 250, sits high on top of a mountain, and the only access to it is by walking unless you are unable to walk, then a van will transport you to the top. 

Young and old alike come faithfully each year to sit beneath the cross and hear a sermon of power, hope, and love: the message of the cross! As the pastor preaches, we enjoy a fantastic panorama of the surrounding countryside. The view before us reminds us all that the forgiveness purchased by Christ Jesus on the cross is available to anyone who will turn to Him in faith! 

It’s easy to hear these words of Paul and become discouraged. After all, many people are perishing because they think that no one can die and return to life again. But we should be encouraged as we read these verses because God, in His wisdom, was pleased to use what seems foolish to some to save even the most hardened of sinners! 

Listening to the Easter message reminded me of the ongoing work of salvation that God is accomplishing through His Son, who came to seek out and save the lost (Luke 19:10). Let us encourage one another with these words.

Prayer: Blessed Lord Jesus, let our faith be fixed and unaltered, one that never grows weary or disheartened. Help us be pleased with what you are delighted with, always rejoicing in the hope and glory of Christ Jesus! Amen.

PORTRAIT OF A SAVIOR

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Hands once raised in supplication
Pierced with nails of cruelty
Knees that knelt before the Father
Rendered helpless on a tree 

Brow once knit in concentration
Wanting naught but Father’s will
Bleeding from a thorny crown
Bowed to love’s directive still 

Feet that walked on dusty pathways
Leading Him to destiny
Now wounded, torn and crippled
Stained with blood at Calvary 

This, a picture of my Savior
Forsaken and alone was He
Beaten, suffering, crushed and dying,
Jesus hung upon that tree 

Burden of all mankind’s sin
Held Him there in agony
Magnificent, His tender heart
Stilled by love for you and me 

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

Isaiah 53:5, NIV

WRITTEN BY: CONNIE FAUST

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

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

New Year’s resolutions

Welcome to 2021! What a year it was that we just passed through. As we progressed through last year we faced the normal up’s and down’s that we expected to face, and some we didn’t. Add to the normal, the abnormal; Covid 19, mask wearing, social distancing, virtual schooling, businesses closing, and the election mayhem for starters. Sounds like a great time to make a New Year’s resolution, after all, “what didn’t kill us can only make us stronger,” right?

Each year many people, including Christians, make New Year’s resolutions. We recognize that in certain areas of our life we need to do better. So, we commit to start doing or not doing something in the new year that will make us a better person. The idea is that if we get started off on the right foot at the beginning of the year, we will continue on the right path for the rest of the year. Unfortunately, New Year’s resolutions usually fail. One article I read online in People magazine, stated that in their study they found that most Americans are ditching traditional New Year’s resolutions for 2021. Here is one snippet from the article: “The top planned New Year’s resolutions for 2021 aren’t focused on going to the gym or losing weight, but rather saving money for the future (62 percent) and learning a new skill (50 percent) Seven in 10 Americans are tossing out their materialistic New Year’s resolutions for 2021, according to new research.”       

That makes sense to me. People are planning ahead not knowing what the future may hold in these unsettled times. But, should that stop us from resolving to be better people, to be more Christlike? The fatal flaw of resolutions is that they generally seek to modify a particular behavioral pattern without addressing the heart issue behind the behavior. If we would be honest about ourselves, we would quickly attest to the fact that our heart is “more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it” (Jeremiah 17:9)?

But thanks be to our Lord Jesus Christ that our bibles contain these words: “Therefore if any man is in Christ (born again), he is a new creation; the old things passed away; new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). This means that as a “new creation” spiritually speaking, the quality of what we now are as forgiven, justified, redeemed sinners has changed; we have been given a new nature. The old nature no longer controls us. Those value systems we once held, those beliefs, desires, and plans have now been changed within us because the Spirit of God now indwells us (1 Corinthians 6:19; Romans 8:9)!

This change, as John MacArthur notes: “This newness is a continuing condition of fact. The believers new spiritual perception is a constant reality for him, and he now lives for eternity.” This divine, dramatic, and life altering change that has taken place within us changes the way we view the temporary world and its temporal things. It should be true of us that we do not want to focus our time trying only to modify our behavior, rather, we ought to use our time to grow more in Christlikeness. Growing in this way will automatically affect our behavior!

Peter, begins his 2nd epistle, by sharing all the blessings given to believers by God. He writes that all believers have received the same faith as the Apostles, a faith that comes through the righteousness of our God and savior, Jesus Christ. He states that, “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness,” and that “He (God) has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.” 

This means that true Christians are secure in Christ forever and they will grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ because they have received all that is necessary to live reverently and obediently towards their Father in heaven! There is nothing more that we should ask for or expect to receive to help us, we already have everything we need. True believers have, right now, every spiritual resource they need to live godly in Christ Jesus, and that is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit and His Word, which He uses to conform us more into the image of our savior!

Because of those very truth’s Peter say’s in verse 5, “giving all diligence (or make every effort), add to your faith or supplement your faith with virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. As Christians (new creations) you and I cannot be indifferent to the manner in which we live our lives. We have been saved by faith, and in that same faith we walk forward seeking to, in God’s power, put off the old man and put on the new (Ephesians 4:22-24). 

Who would argue that these are not wonderful things to pursue? Who would be bold enough to contradict God Himself in the matter, especially after the clarity of Peter on the topic? Who might try to, still, after reading these words, bring up excuse after excuse in order to continue living in blindness? “For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins” (vs, 9). In other words, a professing Christian, citing MacArthur again, “who is missing the virtues mentioned above is, therefore, unable to discern his true spiritual condition, and thus can have no assurance of his salvation.” This does not mean that he is not saved, but that such a person will live in doubt and fear even though he possess the benefits previously listed. His walk of faith will be weak, his growth in Christ restrained due to his lack of understanding and confidence in his savior.

If you are making any resolutions this year, put personal holiness at the top of your list, you won’t regret it. Below are two books that I think you will find helpful. As an Amazon Associate I receive funds for qualifying purchases, this helps support the ministry, thanks. Happy New Year!

THEOLOGY OF CHRISTMAS (PART TWO)

In part one I laid the foundation of the Christmas story by tracing the will and word of God throughout the Old Testament, specifically the many prophecies foretold about the Messiah, Jesus Christ. THEOLOGY OF CHRISTMAS (PART 1) In this post I will show how those prophecies have been fulfilled and can only be fulfilled in one person: the man Christ Jesus! The true reason Christmas is to be celebrated.

The prophets prophesied throughout hundreds of years that this seed of a woman, heir of the throne of David, would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). They gave the time of His birth and revealed that it would be a supernatural one (Daniel 9:25; Isaiah 7:14). They foretold various events that would happen as a result of His birth: the slaughter of the innocents and Mary and Joseph, with baby Jesus, fleeing to Egypt (Jeremiah 31:15; Hosea 11:1). 

They also revealed that many people would not believe that Jesus was the the Son of God (Isaiah 53:1), that He would be betrayed by a close friend for thirty pieces of silver (Psalm 41:9; Zechariah 11:12), and be hated without reason (Psalm 35:19). There is a mountain of prophecies foretold by the prophets that all speak directly of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel (God is with us), and His first coming to deal with sin and defeat Satan; the death blow that was spoken of back in Genesis 3. We find that all these prophesies, spoken hundreds and hundreds of years before there fulfillment, are fulfilled in Jesus Christ as attested to in the New Testament. Many of these fulfillment’s are manifested in the gospel’s but some are evidenced in the Epistles as well (Hebrews 5:5-6; Romans 5:6,8; 15:3; Ephesians 4:8).

As the New Testament unfolds, after four hundred years of prophetic silence, we find that the last of the Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist, appears on the scene. The angel of the Lord appeared to a man named Zacharias and informs him that, “your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John” (Luke 1:13). He is told that John would act in “the spirit and power of Elijah,” preparing the way for the Messiah (vs.17). This birth in itself was a miracle. The idea of two people who are very old conceiving a child is preposterous, when you leave out the divine intervention of God (Luke 1:11-20; 57-80)! The birth of John is a fulfillment of the prophecy of Micah 3:1, and yet the story gets even better! Six months into Elizabeth’s pregnancy the angel Gabriel was “sent by God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph. . .” (Luke 1:26-27). He tells her that she is richly blessed and that by an act of the Holy Spirt, she will conceive in her womb, a son, and His name shall be Jesus (Luke 1: 31-32). 

This is exactly what happens. The miracle is not the birth itself, birth’s happen everyday. What makes this birth different is that Mary had no relations (intercourse) with a man. The normal act of procreation did not take place in this instance. Mary remained a virgin even though she was pregnant! By a creative act of the Holy Spirit life is created and implanted within her womb (Luke 1:35). The life implanted in Mary’s womb is the very life that God said would come to redeem all things unto Himself (Romans 8:18-25)! This body is the one God specifically prepared for the Messiah (Hebrews 10:5-6: Psalm 40:6-8). It is the body God foreordained to fulfill His will in defeating the devil and his power over death (Genesis 3:15). The Son of God was not by nature “flesh and blood,” But He took upon Himself our nature so that He could provide redemption for mankind (Hebrews 2:14-18).

This is what makes Christmas so special. This is why we have baby Jesus in a manger surrounded by animals and shepherds on our lawns during the Christmas season. This is why Christians celebrate the incarnation of their savior. Believe it or not, the story of Christmas doesn’t end here!

Ultimately, the birth of Christ is about the cross of Christ (John 3:16)! Jesus came to reveal God to man, redeem man, and ultimately rule over the Fathers Kingdom in righteousness and truth (Isaiah 9:6; John 1:29; Revelation 20:11-22:21). Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would die as a “substitute” for sinners (Isaiah 53:5). That is what was on display on the cross of Calvary (Romans 5:6-8). Because of the finished work of Jesus believing sinners are freed from the punishment, the penalty, the power, and one day, the very presence of sin (Romans 3:25; 5:8-9). Through Christ redeemed sinners are declared righteous, are adopted into the family of God, and are given eternal life (Ephesians 3:20; John 10:27-28)!

  But He didn’t only die, He rose again (Mark 16:6-7; 1 Corinthians 15:4)! In resurrecting Jesus, God the Father confirmed that Jesus is His beloved son in whom He was well pleased (Matthew 3:17). His resurrection supplied proof that the Father had accepted His sacrifice, accepted His atoning work on the cross, and is a guarantee that there will be a future resurrection for all those who trust in Him (John 5:26-29; John 14:18-19; Romans 6:8-11)!

The Bible tells us that 40 days after His resurrection He ascended “physically” to be with His Father and will one day return to this earth the same way (Acts 1:9-11; Matthew 24:29-31)! No one knows exactly when He will return except the Father alone (Matthew 24:36), and so we are exhorted to be ready because that day and hour will come at a time when we are least expecting it (Matthew 24:43-44). Unlike His first coming (seeking and saving the lost), His second coming will be one of judgement (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10).

What a joy it is to know that our sins can be forgiven through Jesus. The greatest gift ever given was wrapped up in linen cloths and found lying in a feeding trough. Proclaimed by the angel to be the “Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Have you received this amazing and priceless gift? Do you know Jesus as your savior? Go here GOSPEL to learn more about this most precious of gifts.

THEOLOGY OF THANKSGIVING

Thanksgiving day is just around the corner, and the thought of being with family and friends over the holiday elicits many fond memories of amazing food, laughter, game playing, football, and yes, a stomach in turmoil from overeating. I can remember all the meals that I enjoyed at my grandparents: uncles and aunts, cousins and the like, all gathered in one place to share a smorgasbord of tastebud tantalizing family specialities. As I think back on those days my mind flashes with picture after picture of the scenes, the people, and the happiness I felt at being together with loved ones in a warm home, while the chill in the air, and the trees all along the mountains, with their leaves wrestled away from their spot on the branches, forewarned us that winter was on the way.

I also can remember how my understanding of “thanksgiving” was more related to a day, that particular day on our calendar, rather than thankfulness for gifts received or any number of blessings I was enjoying in my life. “Thank you” was  an expected statement after receiving something and an ignorant sentiment at the kitchen table before we were able to indulge ourselves, at least for me it was.

Now that I am much older, hopefully far wiser, I have come to understand the importance of a thankful heart and the theology behind it. Biblical thanksgiving or thankfulness is not just a mere response to things that we have been given; God’s kindnesses towards us, but it is also our response to what we have learned about Him by receiving those kindnesses in our day to day living. We should be thankful for the gifts and the acts of kindness God chooses to bless us with, but we should also look beyond the gifts to the gift giver and think on what we can learn about Him, because it is there that we will find true thankfulness in our hearts.

Whether God blesses us directly or through others, we can, if we take the time, learn more about His Heart towards us. We can learn more about Him by seeing His attributes on display, His character and nature presented before us in ways we might have missed, if it were not for His benevolent spirit towards us.

This is what we find in the Bible. In any of the prayers that Paul offers in his epistles, specifically those of thankfulness, we find his joy and thankfulness are due to the grace, wisdom, and power of God working in the lives of people for their salvation and spiritual growth (Philippians 1:1-6; Ephesians 1:15-16; Colossians 1:3-5, for example). Another telling illustration of this is found in Luke 17:11-19, in the story about the ten lepers. One of the lepers, a Samaritan, when he realizes that he had been healed from this dreadful disease: “turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him” (v.16). This man fell down at the Lords feet in gratitude. His thankfulness became an act of worship! Yes, he is very happy at becoming clean again, but his greater joy seems to be in what he learned about Jesus through the healing.

Jumping back into the Old Testament, we see thanksgiving as a part of God centered worship, especially in the Psalms. I will share only two examples for the sake of time. Psalm 9 appears to be the first Psalm of thanksgiving. In it David praises God for His attribute of justice, and through this hymn of praise worships Him. In Psalm 30, David, through cycles of lament and praise, expresses his thankfulness toward God for healing him, protecting him, comforting him, hearing and answering him. Meditate on that a bit and you should quickly recognize some of the attributes of God that led David to worship Him though this Psalm.  

God is pleased when we recognize and acknowledge His kindness towards us in the things He provides. But I think He is even more pleased when we worship Him because of what we discovered about Him through His provision. Another writer, Pastor Trevor Bates, writing on the theology of thanksgiving, made this statement: “As we give thanks to God, we not only confess we should have nothing good apart from him (James 1:17; 1 Corinthians 4:7), but we also consider who he is.” Jesus should always be the “centerpiece” of our thanksgiving.

I have benefited from this book in my study on the topic of thanksgiving. For a small book, 82 pages, Pastor Bates has done an amazing job of bringing out the theology behind thanksgiving. By focusing on the Psalms he shows that in them are countless times in which thankfulness is mentioned and explained. You can check it out by clicking the picture above. As an Amazon Associate I earn commission from qualifying purchases, this helps to support this ministry, thank you.

You can also check out my review of this book by going here: https://7waysfromsunday.com/book-reviews/