I want to focus on the word “trust,” as we begin because even if you’re not a pilot or a skydiver, trust is something that every one of us has to exercise every day. We exercise it by getting into our cars to drive to work each morning. We exercised it by sitting down in our chairs at the kitchen table this morning, trusting they would hold us up. Trust is at the core of what it means to please God and to follow Jesus. The Bible says we are to: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart” (Proverbs 3:5).
Have you ever thought about what it means to trust in God? The words “trust,” “faith,” and “believe in” are all synonyms. When the Bible says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31), it’s another way of saying, “Trust in the Lord.”
Trust is an integral part of a living, ongoing relationship. Trust means knowing someone well enough that you can count on that person and then acting in accordance with that trust. Believing, having faith, trusting are the fundamentals of life with God. Trust, however, does not come naturally for most of us.
Today we’re going to look at a time in Paul’s life and ministry where his faith in God was tested beyond its normal limits and how “faith” was worked out and matured through his temporary afflictions.
By way of reminder, Paul is writing this Epistle (letter) to a group of people in Philippi, a group of people he had not seen for about five years. Paul founded this church in Philippi about ten years earlier (50 AD). Their love for him and participation with him in the gospel fostered a profoundly loving relationship between them.
Paul is writing with much joy and love in his heart for these people. And in his salutation, what we meditated on the last time we were together, we found Paul, with this frame of mind and heart, expressing his love and joy for them. He wants them to be encouraged that God is a completer!
And now, Paul begins to explain his prison circumstances to these beloved people, not to cause worry or fear, but to give them greater encouragement to persevere in the faith, or as he says in verse 27, so they may “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel.”
12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, 13 so that my [a]imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the [b]praetorian guard and to everyone else, 14 and that most of the brothers and sisters, [c]trusting in the Lord because of my [d]imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.
1. God is sovereign over our afflictions
To understand this rightly, we must first understand what it means to be sovereign.
This is part of what it means to be God. For God to be sovereign means: “There are no limits to His rule. He is sovereign over the whole world, and everything that happens in it. He is never helpless, never frustrated, never at a loss. And in Christ, God’s awesome, sovereign providence is the place we as Believers should feel most reverent, most secure, most free.”
This is undoubtedly on Paul’s mind as he writes this letter. The thread that entwines this whole letter together is Christ and His Gospel. In chapter one alone, Paul mentions Christ and His gospel or some aspect to either nine times! And in these first verses, we are looking at we see this evident even in Paul’s prison sentence.
Paul is in prison because of the “cause of Christ,” as he puts it. He is not there because of violence, thievery, embezzlement, murder, or any crime that would warrant such a penalty. He is there because he is obedient to Jesus Christ.
“That which should distinguish the suffering of believers from unbelievers is the confidence that our suffering is under the control of an all-powerful and all-loving God. Our suffering has meaning and purpose in God’s eternal plan, and He brings or allows to come into our lives only that which is for His glory and our good.”
― Jerry Bridges, Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts
But, take notice of what he tells his readers about his situation, he says it: “turned out for the greater progress of the gospel.” He wrote that not only the reality of him serving jail time was well known (quickly passed through the grapevine) throughout the whole governor’s palace but also the reason he was in prison!
Now that is not so unusual in our day. Cell phones, the internet, Facebook, Pinterest, and the like make for gossip and essential news to travel extremely fast, but that is a fascinating point in his day.
And what was the result? Notice verse 14 again, many people came to faith in Christ DUE TO his being in prison! And not only that, they had “Far more courage” to speak the word of God without fear! Not what we anticipate would happen if we were to be thrown in jail.
Do you trust in the sovereignty of God over ALL your circumstances, even the scary, fear-filled ones? Have you considered that He can use your “God appointed” afflictions to work out for the “greater progress of the gospel” in the lives of those around you?
Dear unbelieving friend, I want you to see that no matter where you are, no matter how bad you have been, no matter what your circumstances, God sends His people to those places to reveal Christ to you! He has, and still does, give his children gospel ministry in even the darkest and most hopeless places. So, grab hold of Him as many people around Paul did.
15 Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even [a]from envy and strife, but some also [b]from goodwill; 16 the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; 17 the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition [c]rather than from pure motives, thinking that they are causing me distress in my [d]imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in this I rejoice.
God is sovereign over the gospel
Now, even though the gospel was progressing amidst Paul’s hardship, strife was ever-present.
Take notice of the two motives Paul mentions for the gospel going forward.
A. Envy and strife
“He rejoices that Christ is proclaimed. But some of the proclaimers are sinning as they proclaim, trying to afflict Paul by making him feel jealous that they are free while he is in prison. What is more astonishing is that this sinful behavior is just the opposite of the way the gospel itself would incline a person to act. So, they are hypocrites. They preach the gospel and then contradict in their very motives the gospel they are preaching.”
The one response that of envy and strife is a hypocritical approach to sharing the gospel. Paul says these people were doing it “out of selfish ambition,” not out of love for Christ and appreciation of the salvation He graciously bestowed upon them.
Their goal was to cause him distress, believe it or not, upon the grief he was already facing being imprisoned and limited in his freedoms. But the others, those of goodwill, shared Christ out of love. Love for Paul, love for their savior!
Brothers and sisters, we should be cautious to keep our motives in check in regards to our serving Christ and sharing His gospel. Are your motivations pure for telling others the gospel message, or are they hypocritical?
Are you sharing the gospel because you genuinely want to be obedient to Christ? Because you love Him and those other sinners He came to redeem, or are you sharing the gospel, participating in an evangelism ministry, because you are worried about what other Christians might think about you if you didn’t?
The only pure motivation for sharing the gospel is a love for Jesus Christ and what He willingly and joyfully accomplished for you and me at the cross.
Now don’t miss this fantastic fact that Paul tells his readers in verse 18:
“No matter what, in pretense (for show) or in truth, the gospel went forward, Christ was proclaimed!”
How can that be? How can the gospel be effective in such a place under such circumstances? The short but accurate answer–God is sovereign over His gospel!
19 for I know that this will turn out for my [a]deliverance through your [b]prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 20 according to my eager expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.
21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 [c]But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know [d]which to choose. 23 But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; 24 yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sakes. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy [e]in the faith, 26 so that your pride in Christ Jesus may be abundant because of me by my coming to you again.
God is sovereign over our lives
God’s providence concerning his being in prison and the gospel being proclaimed there, “for show or in truth.” In verses 19-21, Paul is expressing his faith in the providence of God. Notice he says that it is his “earnest expectation and hope,” That even in those circumstances, Christ, as always, would be exalted in his body whether by life or by death.”
How can a faithful minister of the gospel, in prison, have such confidence? How can he trust (that word we talked about when I started this post) that God would use him and be exalted by using him even if it means his demise? Well, that has to do with rightly understanding the “providence” of God.
What is the providence of God? Here is the answer of the Heidelberg Catechism (Question 27): It is:
“The almighty and everywhere present power of God, whereby, as it were, by his hand, he still upholds heaven and earth, with all creatures, and so governs them that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea, all things come not by chance, but by his fatherly hand.”
And why is that important for us to grasp? Why was that critical for Paul to believe? What good will it do? Here is the answer to question 28.
“That we may be (patient) in adversity, (thankful)l in prosperity, and for what is future have (good confidence) in our faithful God and Father that no creature shall separate us from his love, since all creatures are so in his hand that without his will they cannot so much as move.”
What joy, dear Christian, how God is sovereign over our afflictions, sovereign over His gospel, and here in these verses (22-26) Paul reveals how He is in control of our lives.
a. Hard pressed from both directions/competing desires
b. Be with Christ (death) or remain on here (life, ministry)
c. Remaining will be “fruitful labor,” (22)
d. Remaining is more necessary for the Philippians (24)
e. To be with Christ is “very much better.” (23)
f. Paul’s love for these people is evident in these verses.
Well, Verse 22 is a clear follow-up to verse 21. Paul is picking up on his first clause (to live is Christ), Paul is assessing what its outcome will mean for him in the body (literally “flesh”), namely, fruitful labor. An opportunity to bear more fruit through ministry. But, it would be a physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually costly process–and the prospect of leaving the battlefront and going home was appealing indeed.
But rather than follow that up with a similar sentence (“if it means death”), he jumps ahead to reflect on what he might do (if he, in fact had a real choice in the matter.) “I simply cannot say,” “I don’t know which to choose.” he says; indeed, I am torn between the two, since it means Christ in either case.” (Gordon Fee, amended)
Paul says that he is “hard pressed,” the Greek word used there is “sun-echo” means to be hemmed in on both sides and was used of a traveler in a narrow passage or gorge, with a wall of rock on either side, hemmed in, unable to turn aside and able only to go straight.
And so, Paul expands upon the options of life or death. One commentator puts it this way: “If he continues his sojourn on earth–“But if I live on in the flesh”–then he sees it as an opportunity to bear more fruit through ministry. Again we see Paul’s strict single-mindedness (the mind of Christ)–he saw himself as an instrument for the unleashing of God’s glory as long as time permitted (cf Acts 9:15). However, this unleashing would be a costly process–and the prospect of leaving the battlefront and going home was appealing indeed. So appealing that he adds, “yet what I shall choose, I cannot tell (lit.–I do not know).”
Paul’s point seems to be that he had not yet decided which to choose because the Lord had not yet made it known to him which to choose. Because he was not sure of the Lord’s will in the matter, he was not sure of his own.
Have you ever felt that way, Christian? Do you think that way right now? Have you come to a place where you have lost your zeal, your faith is waning, the conflicts all around you are seemingly impossible, and you want to -if-you-haven’t-yet, cried out, “Lord, take me home, I am more than ready.”
I want to encourage you with this quote:
“If God has done what you think he should do, trust him. If God doesn’t do what you think he should do, trust him. If you pray and believe God for a miracle and he does it, trust him. If your worst nightmare comes true, believe he is sovereign. Believe he is good.”
― Craig Groeschel, The Christian Atheist: Believing in God but Living As If He Doesn’t Exist
Don’t give up; trust Him and wait for His will to be revealed to you.
Welcome to our new study in the book of Philippians. Once again, we will be diving into a pastoral epistle penned by the Apostle Paul to a group of people he and Timothy met up with and ministered to after Paul received his “Macedonian vision” (Acts 16:8-10). In response to this vision, Paul and Timothy crossed the Aegean and traveled to Philippi (Acts 16:11-12). It was *“through the apostle’s ministry in that city, the gateway to Europe became the birthplace of European Christianity!”
I am excited to study this epistle with you because there is so much in it that will encourage and edify us and chasten and convict us. All of which is important for us to meditate on if we are to have the mind of Christ (2:5).
Soooooo, let’s begin!
I want to begin by asking you, the reader, a few questions: Have you ever been s-o-o-o loved by someone that they never seemed to have anything wrong to say about you? Someone who at the very thought of you was thanking God that they know you? Praying for you with unending joy? Greatly longing after you with the love of Christ? Have you ever had anyone, with such affection, encourage you with their incredible confidence and faith that God will work – and is working in your life, in intentional ways and will not fail?
That is just the kind of person we find in Philippians 1 this morning. Paul is writing this epistle (letter) to a group of people in Philippi, a group of people he had not seen for about five years. Paul had founded this church in Philippi about ten years earlier (50 AD), and their love for him and participation with him in the gospel fostered a deep loving relationship between them.
Remember (or if necessary, go back and read), in Acts 16, Lydia was converted, and her whole household and then the jailer and his family received salvation, and from that little group, this church was born! Take notice of what Paul says in 1:5; “for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now.” We see a man who is always praying “with joy” for these believers who never stopped their fellowship with him personally or in-regards-to the gospel from the first day onward. They shared his interests, made his suffering their own, twice they sent money to him in Thessalonica and once at Corinth, and NOW again at Rome (4:18).
At this writing, Paul is under house arrest in Rome (Acts 28:30- 31), and that is what he is referring to in verses 12-26. Keep in mind that this is not the Mamertine dungeon where he finally was put to death; Paul was eventually freed again for a short time, at least that is what we can conclude by studying the pastoral epistles.
We see in this writing that Paul had hope of being released (and being able to visit with them again (1:23-27; 2:23-24). So, by doing the math, we can conclude that ten years ago, he planted this church, five years later visited it on his 3rd missionary journey, now he is under house arrest in Rome penning this letter of love, filled with joy these believers.
Paul is writing with much joy and love in his heart for these people. And it is in this salutation that we find Paul, with this frame of mind and spirit, not only expressing his love and joy but also revealing what he prays about on their behalf.
He wants them to be encouraged that God is a completer. Look at verse six with me; this will be our main focus in this post. He wants them to love each other, AND others even more; to grow in knowledge and proper discernment of that knowledge, and that they would walk in a “manner worth of the gospel,” as Paul says elsewhere, so they would have nothing to be ashamed about on the “day of Christ.”
Dear reader, Pauls’ writing is full of love, joy, concern, and direction for these believers, but what fuels that love and respect? What fosters such joy and leadership for their lives? What is the “marrow” that breeds life and strength and encouragement in this letter to the Philippians? IT IS CHRIST AND HIS GOSPEL!
Paul writes of Christ 37 times in just 35 verses in this epistle. The Gospel 9 times in 8 verses. This whole chapter, a part of which we are focused on today, speaks of the fellowship, furtherance, and the faith of the gospel of Jesus Christ! Christ is at the very heart of all Paul is writing about— all he wants them to think about — and the One he wants them to appear before with nothing to be ashamed of.
Well, what is at the heart of such a victorious life? How can they/we grow in these ways? And how can we walk in such a way that is sincere (pure) and without offense (blameless) till the day of Christ, when he returns?
Please direct your focus with me back to verse 6 (read again)
Take notice that Paul “asserts” his complete and total confidence or trust in one amazing fact—–God is a completer!
a. How can he be so confident? He is stating, no holds
bard, that he is absolutely sure about this. Well, turn back in your bibles to Galatians 3 because it is there in that epistle we find Paul exposing “the error of the Judiazers and their impure motives. Paul does not want these believers to embrace a false gospel, a gospel of Christ plus human works for salvation, leading to legalism (Read Galatians 3:1-3).
b. These Galatians were deceived into thinking that what God had begun in their lives (spiritual) would be completed in the flesh (human achievement).
They thought and were being taught that the Christian life that the Spirit began would be brought to successful completion by their human achievement and religious accomplishments.
Paul’s rhetorical question denies that possibility! God begins and finishes this work through His Spirit. He told the Romans that “those who are in the flesh cannot please God (8:8). He told them in 8:15-16 that they “had not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons…” You see, at their salvation they had become adopted children, heirs of God and fellow heirs of Christ.” Romans 8:29-30 tells us that God very clearly begins, continues, and finishes the salvific work He providentially began in a person’s heart and life!
But Paul’s ideas of salvation are only that, opinions if it would not be for this one crucial fact: Turn to Galatians 1:11-12. The Gospel He has taught neither in its nature nor origin is by human reason or wisdom, but by, notice verse 12, by “the revelation of Jesus Christ.” That is why He is “confident” of that very thing. That is why these Philippians and you and I today can trust what Paul is saying to us through this letter.
Paul says (back to Philippians 1) that God has begun something, which he states is a “good work” in them.
A work that is not only agreeable but is excellent and honorable! Christ “gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous for good works (Titus 2:14). Paul told the Corinthians this: “if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation, old things have passed away, behold all things become new (2 Corinthians 5:17).
You who are reading this post, has this work begun in you? Do you understand yourself to be a sinner in a hopeless situation without Christ? Christ who gave Himself for you? Through His death and resurrection, you can be redeemed (bought back) from the bondage of your sin and be made pure, clean, and acceptable to Him through the “finished” work of Jesus Christ!
Yes, it is true, friends! The sins of lying, stealing, fornication, addiction, greed, murder, blasphemy, pornography, and much, much, more can and will be forgiven you ——-if you but “look unto Him and live.”
This is the “good” work He had begun in myself and many reading with you today when we humbled ourselves before Him and turned to Christ for the forgiveness- we-so-desperately-needed. Would you now acknowledge your sin and guilt and turn to Christ for the forgiveness He promises you in His Word?
Dear Christian, do you rejoice at the “new creation” God has made of you? Do you find unending joy in the amazing work of salvation that God has done in you!
It is said that the central theme of this letter is joy:
Joy in suffering
Joy in sacrificial giving
Joy in knowing Christ and experiencing His resurrection power
We see this portrayed throughout this letter. Joy in unity and the adequacy of Christ. Are you joyful, brothers and sisters? Or are you perhaps deceived, as the Galatians were, in thinking that the work God begun in you will be completed by your own achievements and successes!
*A. Boyd Luther, Jr. Commentary on the Philippians
How many soldiers did it take to hold our Savior down as the nails were driven into His trembling flesh? Did they hold fast His precious head to place the thorny crown, Viciously assuring it would keep the bleeding fresh?
“How many?” asked the teacher, as she faced her little brood. Each child tried to answer, as earnestly they stood. “Four soldiers!” called Meg. “Ten!” said Jon, mocking her with a shove. Jimmy rose and cried, “You’re wrong! He did it out of love!”
From lips of a child the answer, in startling truth, rings still: Out of love for all mankind, He did His Father’s will. “You’re wrong!” the answer echoes loud — He willingly obeyed; If He had fought and struggled, the debt would not be paid.
How many soldiers did it take to hold the Savior still? He did it all for you on that dark and lonely hill! He did it out of love for you, to save you from your sin. He’s offering forgiveness; Will you turn and follow Him?
BRIEF RECAP: In our previous study, we looked at some of Paul’s exhortations to the Thessalonians regarding those men who were spiritual leaders in the church. In verses 12-13, he instructed them to “recognize those who labor among you,” and to “esteem them highly, in love, for their works sake.” He then made the plea for there to be peace within their local congregation. We will focus on verses 14-15, where the Apostle expresses how these folks are to treat each other within their fellowship.
14 “We urge you, brothers and sisters, admonish the [a]unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek what is good for one another and for all people.”
FOCUS ONE: Paul’s list of appeals found in these two verses are:
Admonish (warn) the unruly (undisciplined).
Encourage the fainthearted.
Help the weak.
Be patient with all.
Do not repay evil for evil.
(But) always seek what is good for one another.
This is a list of continuing responsibilities that each one of us has toward one another. If your church has a church covenant, you will probably notice that these items are expressed, in some form, within it.
So, let’s spend some time on each one, fleshing them out a bit, so we can become better equipped to love and serve one another as is fitting those who claim the name of Christ.
Admonish (warn) the unruly (undisciplined).
I think that we can all agree that such people need mature, loving accountability. It appears that some of the people in this newly formed church were neglecting their daily duties. They quit work and were not providing for their families. Most likely because of their misunderstanding or misapplication of things that Paul had taught them regarding the Lord’s return when he was with them (1:9-10; 2:19; 3:13; 5:1-3). This problem even had to be addressed in the Apostle’s second letter (2 Thessalonians 3:7-12).
You may remember that earlier in this letter Paul encouraged them to lead a quiet life, attend to their own business, work with their own hands, and behave appropriately to those outside the church. It appears that some people were not listening to those commands and needed to be admonished.
His next appeal is to encourage the fainthearted. These are people within the local church body that tend to become discouraged and depressed more quickly than most others. Such Christians need someone to come alongside them and share encouraging words; to say and do things to encourage them and cheer them up. The idea seems to be one of attempting to stimulate such people into pressing on in the “good fight of faith,” in other words, encouraging them to persevere!
“help the weak, be patient with everyone.”
FOCUS TWO: Helping the weak is next on his list. Some within the church did not lean on or press into the Lord as much as they should’ve for their spiritual needs. Of course, it should go without saying, but I will say it anyway, we are all weak and need the support and strength that comes from other believers-but some Christians need it more than most. So Paul calls for a “supportive ministry” to help these people.
Paul’s concern is regarding moral and spiritual weakness, not physical weakness. In their case, it might have been issues related to a shrinking back from the persecution they were enduring (3:3-5). Or, it could have related to their giving into various temptations to immorality around them (4:3-8). Another possibility would be their weakness in exercising Christian liberty in doubtful areas; this happened in other churches (Romans 14:1-15). Quite possibly, it was not simply one over another, perhaps all of these things were happening. So, Paul urges those who are strong in the faith, actually, in these words, he expresses that such people within the congregation are responsible for supporting those among them who are weak.
Moving on, we find patience next on his list. “Be patient with all.” This statement actually could be viewed as a summation of the previous three. Dealing with unruly people, the fainthearted and weak among them, would not be easy. Sin is active in all of us and requires our utmost attention in combating it within ourselves. But now he tells them that they have to help others in their combat! And some people say that the Christian life is easy. Really?
It takes a particular disposition to deal with other people who may not like OR apply our help and counsel. You and I can easily fall into a spirit of anger and bitterness. The danger for those receiving patient love and counseling involves their lack of desire to receive and apply such help. Intentionally or unintentionally, a person may be leading those who seek to help into a spirit of resentment or bitterness. But this should not be the case among believers. We all need patient treatment from each other as we “grow up unto all things in Christ.”
15″ See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek what is good for one another and for all people.”
FOCUS THREE: When we are angered or disrespected, our natural inclination is to retaliate or inflict injury, in some way, on the one who hurt us. Paul understood this natural, fleshly tendency within human nature, even among Christians, so he exhorts these people who are immature in the faith, but growing, to “not repay evil for evil” (v. 15). In other words, do not retaliate or seek revenge on someone who wronged you.
The desire will most likely be strong, but we must resist it. In those times when we feel like “getting even,” we must remember that our Lord spoke against it in Matthew 5:38-42, and so did the Apostle, in more detail, in Romans 12:17-21!
“(BUT) always seek after that which is good. . .” After dealing with what is harmful or just so much against our nature, Paul gives them and us an alternative, a better way to expel our energy! The Apostle told the Philippian church to “not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). We must remember that the offender’s welfare, or person in need, should be our prime objective. We should think of Jesus on the cross, not only for our encouragement but also for an example to follow. His selfless, sacrificial love for sinners, you and I included, is a fantastic example of self-denial that we need to be reminded of and strengthened with. This is true if we are going to be able to walk with such integrity and compassion among our brothers and sisters in Christ and those in the world around us.
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT:
1. Does your church have a church covenant? If so, read through it and see how well it lines up with these scriptures and others you find during your personal study time.
2. How are you doing regarding caring for others within your local church? Do you receive instruction well? What might have to change in your heart?
3. How do you handle being wronged by someone? Do you harbor resentment or bitterness towards others? What other scriptures can you find that can help you in this area?
In the following 11 verses, Paul gives many appeals to the Thessalonians regarding their conduct moving forward. Some of these are concerning their leaders, some direct their behavior as a congregation, and a few are aimed at their own individual Christian life but are relatable to the church body as a whole. Our focus in this study will be only on verses 12-13.
“But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another.”
FOCUS ONE: We must remember that Paul is writing these instructions to a very young church (Acts 16-17). It seems that Paul would have appointed its Elders shortly after its formation and his sudden, unexpected need to leave them. Persecution began quickly, so Paul and Silas went to Berea. These Elders would be men who lived lives that were above reproach (1 Timothy 3:1-7). Men who would be keeping watch over their souls, giving an account of their service to the Lord one day (Hebrews 13:17). Men who were not to lord it over anyone but who would humbly recognize and acknowledge that it is by the Holy Spirt that they have been made “overseers” to the church of God in Thessalonica.
These men worked hard at caring for the people, and their labor was added to their usual 9-5 workday. So, their efforts were indeed a “labor of love” towards their brothers and sisters in Christ!
In verse 12, Paul requests this church body to “appreciate,” or some other translations may use the words “know” or “recognize,” those men who labor among them as Elders. Paul does not mean that they should be able to point them out at a church service or when walking down a street, although they certainly should be able to do that. Paul is speaking in more of a personal, relational aspect. They should personally know their leaders by interacting with them; through co-laboring among them. He wants them to take notice of their labor among them and to recognize their efforts for the sake of Christ and His body. To acknowledge God’s calling and gifting for this work and the sacrifices they are making daily on their behalf.
FOCUS TWO: He mentions three ways in which these Elders minister to them:
They diligently labor among you.
They have charge over you.
They give you instructions.
To labor means that they give a continuous effort at unending care for the body. Having charge over or “overseeing,” implies that these men lead them in a God-honoring direction. Their instruction would come through preaching, teaching, counseling, and exercising discipline through the proper use of the word of God.
And, it is as essential for us today as it was for them to recognize how Paul qualifies their leadership; “in the Lord.” Their salvation and ministry among them are all a result of the grace of God in their lives. That is why leaders are not to act superior to those they serve (1 Peter 5:3).
FOCUS THREE: And so, because of all the above mentioned, Paul requests that the church body “esteem them very highly in love.” He wants them to respect these men, NOT because of their talents or personality, But because of their faithful ministry to them in obedience to Christ Jesus their Lord!
So, just as Paul clarified the character of their service (in the Lord), He now does the same regarding how the body is to esteem these men (in love.) There may be no personal reason for the respect of a brother or sister. There may be no “perceived” personal benefit from their labor; even so, Paul is saying, respect or appreciate them anyway because of the nature of their calling and its benefits to others!
Lastly, in verse 13, Paul writes, “live in peace with one another.” This may appear to be off-topic, but I assure you Paul had a purpose for writing these words. When spiritual leaders live and serve in these ways and the congregation submits to their leadership, in love, and with respect, peace is the result!
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT:
1. How well do you know the spiritual leaders within your church? In what ways do you show your support for them?
2. According to 1 peter 5:1-3, what is the primary function of a pastor or Elder in the local church?
3. How has your understanding regarding the relationship between Elders and the congregation been informed or changed as a result of these scriptures? How? If so, how will it affect your relationship with your Elders moving forward?
A brief recap: The church at Thessalonica was maturing, they were growing in “the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18), and Paul was aware of it. Spiritual growth is progressive and should never be stifled or assumed to have come to completion in our lives as long as we breathe on this side of heaven. Paul’s desire was for these folks to continue growing in their love for and obedience to Christ.
In our previous study, I talked about Paul’s encouragement and exhortations for these believers to “excel still more” in what they already were practicing, brotherly love. Paul knew something that we need reminded of: there is always room for improvement!
In the following two verses, Paul gives more instructions on how they ought to conduct themselves, but this time concerning those outside the church. Remember, in our last study I pointed out that two themes emerge (Love of the brethren and their behavior among those outside the church), and two groups are now mentioned (insiders and outsiders). Paul here begins addressing our second theme and its relation to those outside the church.
11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we instructed you, 12 so that you will [a]behave properly toward outsiders and [b]not be in any need.
FOCUS ONE: What ambitions do you have for your life? What goals are you seeking to accomplish? Do they include any of these Paul mentions in verse 11?
Live a quiet life.
Mind (attend) your own business.
Work with your hands.
Before we move on in our study, we need to understand what Paul means by these three things. Paul is not saying that believers should take a vow of silence and not verbally communicate with others. He implies that believers should actively pursue living a less frantic life, not a less involved one. Not a silenced life but one undistracted from their walk with God. (1) “A person who is constantly on the move is frequently a bother to other people as well as somewhat distracted from his/her own walk with God.”
By minding your own business, Paul is expressing the obvious. Proverbs 25:17 says: “Let your foot rarely be in your neighbors house lest he become weary of you and hate you.” This instruction is connected to the latter in that a meddlesome spirit often accompanies a hectic life! We are to be active in keeping our affairs in order, not meddling in others.
The third instruction to work with your hands implies that idleness was becoming a problem among the Thessalonians. They lived in a Greek culture that degraded manual labor, while Christianity “viewed it as an honorable pursuit.” Since most of the Thessalonians earned their living with their hands, Paul encourages them to continue to do so and avoid the snare of idleness.
FOCUS TWO: What appears at first to be a change of topic, from loving others to behavior, actually isn’t! Paul seeks to help these believers understand that everyday habits of living manifest love or the lack of it towards others. Such behavior towards those on the inside manifests love for one another in how we esteem each other more highly than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). Paul also knows that such behavior does win the respect of non-Christians (outsiders). People appreciate those who do not take advantage of them.
To sum this up, Paul seems to be advocating for personal responsibility in the Christian life. Personal maturity is powerful evidence of a maturing love for others. Those on the inside as well as those on the outside!
From the subject of love to what seems quite different and unrelated-how we live in our communities, we find that they are not as diverse as we thought. Perhaps nothing disrupts peace and unity within a church more than its member’s unwillingness to participate in and shoulder their part within the local community. How does it impact a local body of believers when some of its members make no effort at their own support while taking advantage of other member’s generosity? It appears that Paul gave these exhortations because some of these folks may have been misapplying the truth’s taught by Paul when he was with them concerning the Lord’s return. But Paul makes it clear that our Lord’s return is never an excuse to evade our current responsibilities.
Paul wants their love for others to mature, and so he pens these goals for them because he knows that they are worthy objectives that will help them mature in this area of their Christian walk. These goals are worthy objectives for us today as well.
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT:
If you were to evaluate your life outside the walls of your local church, would your testimony be helpful or hurtful to non-Christians in your community?
In light of Paul’s divinely inspired words, how might your current ambitions need to be adjusted for you to grow in gospel love for others?
What other biblical goals might you add to this study that will help you mature in your walk of faith?
Brief Recap: The Thessalonian believers lived in a heartless pagan society that was engrossed in sexual immorality. They lived within a culture that made no provision for the poor, the sick, or the aged. A Christian would stand out from others because they “abstained” from all the forms of sexual immorality that were being practiced and encouraged. They had a shared unity among their members where brotherly kindness was openly practiced, so unlike the culture around them.
Now, as Christians, their conduct would be radically different than the culture in which they lived. They were to be light amid darkness; live lives of purity in contrast to impurity; to practice selflessness rather than selfishness. When the gospel first arrived in Thessalonica, people’s hearts had been regenerated by the Holy Spirit. As a result, two characteristics attracted the most attention from their neighbors: personal purity and love for one another!
So, it makes sense that Paul’s first exhortations to them would be along the lines of avoiding sexual immorality by practicing self-control, and to “excel still more” in their expression of love toward one another. The latter is what we will focus on in this study.
9 “Now as to the love of the brothers and sisters, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; 10 for indeed you practice it toward all the brothers and sisters who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers and sisters, to excel even more . . .”
FOCUS ONE: In this study and including our next one, we see two themes and two groups emerge in Paul’s thinking:
The themes of love for the brethren and their testimony among unbelievers become Paul’s focus. The groups involved are the church (insiders) and unbelievers (outsiders). You can see this in verse 12.
This study will only be concerned with the first group, the “insiders,” those redeemed and a part of the church in Thessalonica. Verse nine is interesting in that Paul, using the word “now,” directs those who will be reading this letter to his next topic, that of love for one another. But directly after that, he says, “you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another. . .” That’s interesting, isn’t it? Why mention it then? How did God teach them to love one another?
Jeremiah 31:31-33 is where we need to begin to answer those questions.
31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers on the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. 33 “For this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord: “I will put My law within them and write it on their heart; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”
Because this covenant will be new, it stands in contrast to the old covenant, which was the Mosaic covenant under which our Bible records Israel’s failure to keep it. This new covenant will have a (1)”spiritual, divine dynamic by which those who know Him would participate in the blessings of salvation.” This new covenant, which Jesus Christ announced in Luke 22:20, is represented by the “cup which is poured out for you,” signifying the manner of His death; death on a cross where His blood would be shed for the remission of sins!
When writing his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul spoke of this very thing (2 Corinthians 3:1-3). Paul, there is stating that their changed lives are proof that Christ had transformed them from within. In contrast to the false teachers that accused Paul of not having the proper documentation to prove himself a legitimate teacher, Paul’s commendation was “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (v.3). Sound familiar? It should! Jeremiah was speaking about an “internal” change within people that would be accomplished in their hearts as contrasted to the law written on tablets of stone that could only ever be “our tutor to lead us to Christ” (Galatians 3:24).
Add the above to the very words of Christ as he answered one of the scribes in regards to what commandment is the first or foremost of all in Mark 12:28-31, and you should be able to understand how God taught these believers to love: to love Him supremely and others sacrificially.
10 “for indeed you practice it toward all the brothers and sisters who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers and sisters, to excel even more. . .”
FOCUS TWO: This is the second of three times (4:1; 5:11) where Paul acknowledges that they are practicing the very things that he is referring to. He is not urging them to “begin” a particular behavior but to continue it or “excel still more” in the conduct they are already practicing. Paul has learned how well they are doing in exhibiting love for one another in their local region. Still, he seeks to encourage them to go further, to “think outside the box” and practice Christian love, gospel love, with others outside their small group, outside their community.
They were already encouraging one another, giving preference to one another, serving one another, rejoicing and weeping with one another, practicing forgiveness and tolerating one another for the sake of biblical unity, praying, and showing compassion for one another.
Paul does not want these believers to be narrow-minded in their expression of love for each other or other believers elsewhere. And, as we will notice in our following study, their expression of gospel love has purposes that extend to those outside the community of faith as well (v.12).
Paul wrote elsewhere that “love does no wrong to a neighbor. . .” (Romans 13:10); that a part of the fruit of the Spirit, the first on the list, is love (Galatians 5:22). Jesus taught that we are to love our enemies (Luke 6:35). Jesus tied our obedience to His word as an expression of our love for Him (John 14:23)!
The church of Christ has no boundaries, so neither should its love for others. Since God has shown His love for us, while we were yet still sinners as Romans 5:8 teaches, we are to love one another manifesting this same love to others: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). Gospel love, then, is not mere sentiment or particular feelings that we think we should experience but is an act of obedience to the will and word of God-at times without and sentiment or emotion (Matthew 5:44-48; Luke 6:27-36;1 and 2 John).
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT:
When people are regenerated (born again) by the Holy Spirit, they become new creations in Christ Jesus, “old things have passed away, behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). How has your life been changed since you have received Jesus Christ and His forgiveness?
Our culture, much like the Thessalonians culture, is overcome with sexual immorality of all types. Paul taught in the previous verses that a Christ follower must practice self control and remain sexually pure. What struggles are you facing in this area of your life? What are you doing to “resist” or “abstain” from sexual sin? Consider Philippians 2:12-13 and James 1:13-16.
What does Jesus tell His disciple to do in Matthew 26:41? How can this help you overcome temptation in your life?
In what ways can you “excel still more” in your obedience to Christ?
In what areas of your life or with what people are you struggling to show “gospel love?” Re-read the verses on love in this study and prayerfully meditate on God’s will for you.
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;”
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.”
“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:
What other verses in the New Testament can you find that express the deity of Jesus Christ?
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