LIGHTS IN THE WORLD

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Phil. 2:12-18

NOT SO BRIEF A RECAP:

Paul has written this letter to a group of believers in Philippi whom he loves dearly. There is a fond affection from them, for him, as well. These believers participated in gospel work with Paul from day one (1:5). He says they are “partakers of grace’ with him (1:7). He calls them “brethren,” a term of endearment (1:12). “My beloved” another such term (2:12). He mentions there “proud confidence” in him (1:25). One cannot miss what he says about these folks in (4:1). He uses the terms “dearly beloved” twice, “brethren,” “longed for,” “my joy and crown (to Paul they were both a reward and a blessing).

From the first day, he says in 1:5, reflecting on his second missionary tour and first act on European soil, which we read about in (Acts 16: 12-40), they shared his interests, made his suffering their own, twice sent him money at Thessalonica (4:16), once at Corinth (2 Cor. 11:9) and now again at Rome (4:18). We read of their love for him (1:9), and that love was reciprocated in full measure (1:7,8).

We also took notice that “There was a pronounced lack of any doctrinal exhortation in this epistle because there was no doctrinal deviation. These folks had not gone astray in terms of theology. So, they didn’t need to be corrected. No immorality in the congregation is confronted in the epistle. So, what we saw, generally speaking, was that this is a quality group of people. They were a devoted, consistent, doctrinally true church.

But, despite all of that, there was hanging over that church a troubling cloud, and that cloud was dripping drops of disunity, discord, and conflict, within their fellowship, and Paul is greatly grieved over that.

This is what is burdening Paul; unity and the lack of it in this otherwise GOOD church. Let me remind you that Paul frames the letter with that issue in mind. For example, in the first chapter, he speaks of it, verse 27, when he says, “I want you to stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” In chapter 4, the last chapter, he speaks of it in verses 1 and 2 when he says, “stand firm in the Lord, my beloved. And I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord.”

So, in chapter 1, we see an urging toward one mind and one heart. In chapter 4, another urging toward one mind and one heart, And then in the middle is this second chapter, and the opening verses also deal with the issue of unity in the church. This is a plea for unity.

The following verses that we will be looking at follow the flow of the theme of unity begun in 1:27. The plea, based on the results of salvation in their own lives (2:1), the various elements involved in it, and the excellent example of Jesus for our atonement (Vv 5-11).

1. Obedience

2. Reverence

3. Self-less-ness

4. Sacrifice

5. Put sinners above Himself

6. Exaltation

We should take notice that these verses (12-18) begin with “so then,” or “wherefore.” In other words, Paul is saying, because of all that was just said, do this or conduct yourself in a particular manner. After verse 5, which is in the imperative or a command, Paul spoke in the indicative, relating facts or truths. But the facts or truths are to have repercussions in the Christian life. And that is what he is expressing in verses 12-16.

So, let’s jump in! 

12 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to [a]desire and to work for His good pleasure.

FOCUS ONE:

Working out our salvation 

Paul begins by mentioning their obedience in spiritual things, not just when he was present but even MORE SO in his absence. In 1:5, he says their obedient,

faithful participation in the gospel from the very beginning. In 4:15, he mentions their obedience and faithfulness in supporting his ministry from day one while no other churches did!

This is a very commendable thing, obedience, isn’t it? As parents, we appreciate and praise God for such obedience in our children, don’t we? What a joy it is to our hearts to know that our children do what they are supposed to, EVEN when we are not there to oversee them. It is good they obey when we are there, but so much more pleasing when they follow our wishes when we are not. Amen.

So, with that strong accolade mentioned, Paul now exhorts them to “work out their own salvation with fear and trembling (vs. 12).”

Let me be clear. Paul does not mean that they have to work for salvation – Eph. 2:8-9. These people were already saved – Phil. 1:1. We see in verses 12 and 13 that there are two parts to this appeal, and we need to hold them in proper balance, or we can easily be deceived in our thinking on what sanctification is and how God uses it in our lives as Christians. In verse 12, we hear about our part, and then in verse 13, we read about God’s part.

So, this word, work in v. 12, means to bring to full completion, and along with the following verse, it also means that God gives us the energy to do His will. (We do not and cannot do it alone!) Paul is evident on that!

Our-part

Paul says, “Work out your own salvation in fear and trembling.” Many Christians are busy trying to “work” out everyone else’s salvation. It’s that ole speck and log issue Jesus told the people about on the Mount back in Matthew 7:1-5. Christian, we cannot work out anybody else’s salvation—–BUT we must, according to the inspired word of God—work out OUR SALVATION!

At first glance, this doesn’t sound quite right. Let’s look at what Paul is saying a little more closely:

“…First, let’s take the phrase “your own salvation.” What a great possession! The only reason salvation is mine is because it was His first! He planned it! He purposed it! He pursued it! He paid it! And He pressed it upon my heart! Salvation became mine, and it became yours when we placed our faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. This salvation, when received, one writer says: “buries the past, changes the present and insures the future! What a great salvation we have in Jesus!”

Friends, we don’t work “for” our salvation, or “toward” it, or even “at” it, but we are to work “out” our salvation. Remember, Paul is writing to the Christian community, and he uses the plural pronoun for “you,” meaning he is addressing the entire church. This means that we are to live out what we know to be true.

Since we are saved, we must behave as believers, as “citizens of Heaven (3:20).”

The word “work” means to “work fully to the point of finishing the job.” The Romans used it for “working a mine” ultimately, getting out every piece of valuable stone. Likewise, we are to mine the depths of our rich redemption that was granted us by His grace.

God deposited a wealth of blessings into our lives; Paul mentioned some in verse 1(in his appeal), now we must go down deep to experience and enjoy what we’ve been given.

Charles Spurgeon explains it this way: “To will and to do, He gives the whole ability. It is by the grace of God which inclines the will to that which is good: and then enables us to perform it, and to act according to our principles. ‘You have wrought all our works in us,’ Isa. 26:12. Of His good pleasure, as there is no strength in us, so there is no merit in us. As we cannot act without God’s grace, so we cannot claim it, nor pretend to deserve it. God’s good will to us is the cause of His good work IN us…”

Application?

You and I cannot do righteous works without the aid of the Righteous one.

We have no strength, no will for holiness without God’s grace.

What you and I accomplish along these lines is solely in accordance with the kind intention of His will working within us.

We are to live out daily in our lives what we know to be true as God has revealed to us in His Holy Word, and He graciously provides the desire, will, and results!

FOCUS TWO:

Added to this warning is a qualifier, “with fear and trembling.”

The phrase “fear and trembling” helps us see that we must never take our faith lightly. One commentator says of this: “Fear” describes fright or terror and reverential awe. We must have such a reverence and respect for God that we will be afraid to sin, coupled with a strong desire to please Him.” That’s what Exodus 20:20 states: “The fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”

Friend, If you find yourself sinning all the time and not being bothered by it, it could be because you have lost your fear of God. The word “trembling” means “to quake with fear.” Isaiah 66:2 tells us that God wants us to have this kind of attitude when we approach Him: “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.” Psalm 2:11 brings both fear and trembling together: “Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling.”

We can revere God and rejoice in Him, “Believers should have a serious dread of sin and a yearning for what is right before God.”

After all, think about it for a moment. The Philippian believers, just like believers today, do not know, and cannot possibly know, all the sacrifices required of them in doing God’s will.

God’s will for the Philippians involved conflict (1:30), For Jesus, death (2:8), For Paul, imprisonment and possible martyrdom (2:17), for Timothy, costly sacrificial service (v. 20), and Epaphroditus, physical illness, near unto death (v.27).

When we contemplate our lostness, our deep depravity, and our inability to save ourselves, we can’t help but tremble at the thought of getting what we deserve.” We must get serious about our salvation, and as God’s redeemed, we must live responsibly and obediently for Christ.

So, Christian, are you living for and serving the Lord each day in fear and trembling? Or, have you noticed that those elements to your daily walk of faith have diminished or disappeared altogether?

PERFECT JUSTICE

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Week 1                      

 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12

Intro: Several months have gone by since Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. In that letter, he comforted them, encouraged them, and expressed his thankfulness and prayerfulness for them. He gave them some instructions for moving forward in their walk of faith amid much opposition and persecution (1:6,18;3:5). 

Now Paul, most likely within a year or less, is writing them again. The letter gives evidence that He had recently received some news about the current conditions within the church. Some of the information was good: their faith in Christ and love for one another was growing. But some of the news was “not so good.” False teaching and perhaps a misapplication of Paul’s Instructions had entered the church. This false teaching regarding “the day of the Lord” was confusing, and some people were even quitting their jobs in expectation of the Lord’s return. 

So Paul writes them another epistle (letter). In it, we will observe his commendation of their progress-correcting the doctrinal error that is causing them problems-and some more exhortations for their future growth and progress in their walk of faith.

I hope that you have been paying attention to what Paul has written so far. The truth contained in the first letter and this one hold many vital lessons for us today. For example, in what we have witnessed so far: (insights of Bob Deffenbaugh)

  1. There is a lot Paul spoke of that teaches us what loving leadership looks like-he was tough but tender. (We are usually one or the other).
  2. His letter teaches us a good bit about missions. Not just Paul’s theology to learn and propagate elsewhere, but his means and methods in doing so. 
  3. Meditating on these two epistles will teach us and encourage us with the power of the gospel! Its power in saving sinners and its influence amid opposition and persecution.
  4. And one other thing, I think it will help us to grow in our understanding of what it means and what it looks like to “persevere “when we are facing persecution because of our faith in Jesus Christ and His gospel!

So, with that said, let’s begin our look into chapter one together. (Read chapter one).

FOCUS ONE: In verses 1-4, we observe Paul’s greeting and commendation for them in their spiritual growth. Paul begins this second epistle much as he had in the first one (1 Thessalonians 1:1). He reminds his readers that they have graciously received God’s grace and peace. Paul begins and ends both of these letters with those very words revealing to me that he desires for them to experience these two things in greater measure in their daily lives.

Grace is “God’s riches at Christ’s expense,” as some put it. It is God’s unearned favor which He freely bestows on all who look unto Him in repentant faith (Gospel). God gives you and Me the opposite of what we deserve: blessing instead of judgment, forgiveness instead of condemnation. Peace is the “cessation” or ending of hostility against us, which results from Christ’s completed work of atonement at the cross. Christians now have peace with God because of His substitutionary sacrifice for their sins!

Paul knew by experience that Christians could be at peace even amid persecution, which was his desire for them.

Paul then takes some time to mention the good things that he has been hearing about them. Their faith is growing, but not just in inches; it is, Paul says, “greatly enlarged” (v. 3). And so too is their love toward one another! Paul is saying that their faith is continuously growing, each and every day, so much so that from several months ago until the writing of this latest letter, it is still enlarging! This is not abnormal but what everyday faith should look like in the lives of Christ-followers. Faith is not a “static” thing. Since it is “faith” in a person, the Lord Jesus, as our relationship with Him grows, so too does our faith in Him whom we love!

And so it should be true of our love as well. As we learn more about His love for us and experience it on a day-to-day basis, our manifestation of love to others should be manifested to those around us in more profound and more significant ways.

No wonder Paul is proud of them (v. 4). No wonder he is thankful for them (v.3). But take notice that now, several months later, with more fruit of their faith blossoming, he is speaking proudly of them among the other “churches of God.” This is different than what we have read in his first letter to them (1 Thessalonians1: 7-9). There “he had no need to say anything.” Others were telling Paul and his associates about their “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 1:3). . .

But Paul will say something now. Their growth is taking place amid significant opposition to the gospel and subsequent persecution that stems from it. If they were a positive example months ago, as new believers or babes in Christ, how much more so now after living out their faith consistently, boldly, and with great perseverance through months of persecution?

Paul and his friends, Silas and Timothy, have much to rejoice in. Their labor was “not in vain” (1 Thessalonians 3:5), and God has been powerfully working in their hearts and lives through His Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 1:5)!

5 “[This is] [a]a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you indeed are suffering. [b]For after all it is only right [c]for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted, along with us, [d]when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with [e]His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God, and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These people will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, 10 when He comes to be glorified among His [f]saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed—because our testimony to you was believed.”

FOCUS TWO: As Paul continues, he shares truths with them that should encourage them in their struggles and strengthen them in their hope of a future rest (relief) from persecution. Paul mentions two classes of people: the afflicted and those who afflict them. Two different outcomes for each: relief to the afflicted and retribution on those who are doing the afflicting. He states when the rest and retribution will ultimately happen and the fate of those who “do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (v. 8).

Let’s begin with those who are being afflicted. The Thessalonian’s trials were numerous and the persecution relentless, yet they stood firm and proved to be rock solid in their faith in Christ Jesus! By way of using their current circumstances as an illustration, Paul illustrated the righteous judgment of God in that, Their God, our God, is a JUST God! When God would judge the Thessalonian believers (2 Corinthians 5:9-11), they would be declared worthy of His Kingdom. NOT because they endured these trials, no one merits heaven by suffering (Ephesians 2:8-9), but because their endurance or perseverance in these trials demonstrated their worthiness or fitness for the eternal kingdom. 

“A Christian is made worthy by God’s grace, which he receives as a free gift by faith in Jesus Christ. His trials simply expose what is there already.” (1) That character is God-given; it is the grace of God that makes it possible for a Christian to “withstand the fires of human experience.” (1) So, the purpose of their afflictions was to bring glory to God by manifesting His grace in the way they endured their current trials.

God will ultimately give His promised rest to His children, which includes relief from the tensions and trials that stem from unjust persecution. The Thessalonians, the Apostles, and Christians who have experienced such injustices can look forward to this rest that will come at the revelation of Jesus Christ!

FOCUS THREE: The next group of people mentioned is those that are causing the persecution. It consists of those who do not know God and those who are not obedient to the gospel (v.8). Paul, expanding on his illustration of God being righteous, now transitions into explaining how God will deal with the ungodly at His coming. We need an SOS (2)before we continue. What is Paul saying when he says that God is “just?” He is saying that God is perfectly righteous in all His ways regarding His treatment of His creation, especially those He created. He shows no partiality (Acts 10:34) and perfectly gives out His rewards or His punishments. Justice and righteousness, which always work hand in hand, are the foundation of God’s throne (Psalm 89:14). Simply stated: God will give everyone what they deserve, nothing more, nothing less! And that is based on His righteous, immutable (unchanging) character.

Now, back to our text. In these words, we find great encouragement as-well-as a cause for some distress. You and I, along with the Thessalonians, can be confident that nothing escapes our God’s watchful eyes (Genesis 16:13)! He knows all things (1 John 3:20; Psalm 147:5) and will make everything right. While some people may escape justice in this life, they will not evade it in the next. Paul states that when the Lord returns, when “He is revealed from heaven,” He will at that time “deal out retribution” (v. 8). So, in one sense, this should be encouraging for us as Christians, but in another way, this is grievous to our souls because we read that these people will suffer the fate of “eternal destruction” (v.9). Rest, eternal life with God is perfect justice for those who trust in Christ; eternal destruction is perfect justice for those who reject Jesus Christ.

11 “To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will consider you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you, and you in Him, in accordance with the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Because of what Paul has just written, he mentions how he, Silvanus, and Timothy pray for them. They pray that these believers would continue to live lives that are worthy of their Lord. That they would continue to remain steadfast in their faith as they faced ongoing persecution. But, what was the ultimate goal of his prayers? The glory of God! That God would be glorified in them during their trying circumstances and conclusively at His coming (v.10).

For further thought:

  1. 1. Should Christians expect to be persecuted for their faith? Look up these verses and meditate on what they teach us about persecution: 2 Timothy 3:12; Matthew 5:10; John 15:18.
  2. 2. Perseverance amid persecution is one main reason Paul is thankful for these Christians. What do these other verses teach us about this topic? James 1:12; Romans 5:3-5; 2 Timothy 4:18).
  3. 3. How can you pray for other believers and yourself based on what you have learned in this study?
  4. Paul’s primary goal in this prayer and his own life was that God would be glorified. Is that your primary purpose, or does something have to change?