Saturday, September 2, 2017

170903 Reason for Rejoicing

2 Thessalonians 1:3-4 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.
As Paul begins the second letter to the Thessalonians he pauses to assure them that they are his pride and joy. In his teaching and writing up to this point he has been emphasizing Christ’s soon return. Now it appears that some have taken Paul’s teaching and twisted it. Some of the religions that they might have known of before they believed in Christ emphasized a coming judgment. Now there were people among them who apparently claimed that they might have missed the coming of Christ. Paul’s dear friends were being very disturbed about this matter. So the assurances in these verses are very important at this time.
The Apostle saw the persecution the Christians in Thessalonica were experiencing. He then assures them that this is a sign that they are considered worthy of the kingdom of God. You will recall that when Paul was born again on the road to Damascus he was told what to expect himself. While Jesus was persuading Ananias to go to Paul and lay hands on him he said “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:16). Paul understood that suffering is a normal part of the Christian life. He knew that the Lord disciplines those he loves. So if you’ve come to Christ expecting to find a soft spot forget about it! We should ask the same question Isaac Watts did.
“Must I be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease, while others fought to win the prize, and sailed through bloody seas?”
We will find the same answer Dr. Watts did. “Sure I must fight if I would reign;
Increase my courage, Lord. I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain, supported by Thy Word.” The Christian life is not easy but it is extremely rewarding.
For these things…
Paul often gave thanks. Let’s look ahead to 1 Thessalonians 2:13. And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.
In his first letter he had expressed these words of Thanksgiving. When he first arrived in Thessalonica his preaching was very simple. “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ” (Acts 17:3) was the basic message. As a consequence of his preaching some of the Jews there joined Paul and Silas as did a great number of devout Gentiles. The consequence of his reaching so many people led the rabbis to be very jealous. They stirred up a mob and attacked the new Christians. These believers had accepted the word of God that Paul shared with them. He was grateful to God for the work the gospel was doing in their lives.
He prayed for them with Thanksgiving and…
Specifically, he prayed for a growing faith. Later he would write to the Romans the following words found in Romans 10:17. So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
New Testament faith is not something that is based on ignorance. It is certainly not what the modern world seems to think. There seems to be a belief that faith is a blind leap in the dark. In fact New Testament faith is based on knowledge and understanding of the facts. When people are given real information about Jesus they’re able to put their confidence in him. The more we know about him and about the God that sent him to the earth the more our trust grows. Faith is not weakened by learning the facts. Faith is made strong by hearing the word of God.
Since the words of Scripture are God’s very own words they are completely reliable.
Faith in Christ grows out of our knowledge of reliable testimony. We are placing our faith in the actual words of God found in the Bible.
After commenting on their faith…
Paul emphasized their increasing love. Let’s look at the words of the apostle in 1 Timothy 1:5. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
This has always been one of my favorite passages of Scripture. Love is one of those words that the modern age has confused. Today, love is usually considered to be some kind of “fuzzy feeling”. Real love is self-giving for the benefit of others. It is demonstrated most clearly in the Father sending his Son to become sin for us and die on the cross.
John tells us that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). The Son recognized the Father’s love was given to him before the foundation of the world (John 17:24). For our example we are able to see how love operates. The Father has love for the Son, the Son has love for the Father, and both have love for the Holy Spirit. Heaven was a world filled with love and joy before the creation of the universe. We should rejoice in the love of God as we grow in our ability to love our God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as well as our love for one another.
The Spirit guided Paul to teach his people — and us — to apply a pure heart, maintain a good conscience and a growing faith increasing our ability to love one another as he has loved us (John 13:34-35).
As Paul observed his people…
He boasted about them. Let’s look at 1 Thessalonians 1:8-9. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.
The Thessalonians responded to biblical teaching in a way that caused Paul to be proud of them. Not a human pride but instead a spiritual pride that he could tell others to imitate.
Luke tells us about their response in chapter 17 of the book of Acts. Paul came into their city and went immediately to the synagogue. That was his normal approach to presenting the gospel in a new territory. He presented the biblical truth that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. He taught them that Jesus is the Christ. Not only did many of the Jews turn to Jesus at the preaching of Paul but many Greeks believed as well.
A part of Paul’s pride in the Thessalonians was that they did not sit home and worship Christ. Instead they spread out across the region of Macedonia and Greece sharing the faith. Persecution could not prevent them. Persecution simply spurred them on to get the gospel in every home for many miles around.
Today the world we live in is in desperate need of the kind of witnessing they produced. Paul was also encouraged by…
Their stability. Let’s read 1 Thessalonians 3:6-7. But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you— for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith.
Paul picked up Timothy in a little city named Lystra. He had a Greek father and the Jewish mother named Eunice. His mother and grandmother had introduced him to faith in God. Paul was able to teach him about Jesus and take him into his band of brothers carrying the gospel across the Roman world.
Now Timothy became a messenger to Paul. As Paul had traveled away from Thessalonica Timothy remained there to strengthen the church. Paul went to the city of Athens where he spent some time alone. He asked for Timothy and Silas to come to him and bring him news of the Thessalonian church. The news was all good! Timothy confirmed that they were a people full of faith and love.
Not only that, they had as great a desire to see Paul as he did to see them! These words were very encouraging to Paul. These dear friends of his stood on…
Faith in the face of persecution. Let’s look at the story in Acts 17:2-4. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.
Today’s Christians, in America at least, are not yet suffering real persecution. We think that we are being persecuted when the local zoning board will not change its rules to allow us meet in a residential district. Or when we don’t get a discount at the local hardware store.
The people of Thessalonica and across the Roman Empire learned quickly what persecution really was. When they were trying to establish their church there were riots in opposition to it. Their leaders were dragged out into the street and beaten! Very soon the Roman government would get involved and they would find themselves facing lions in the Coliseum.
Today Christians in North Africa are being rounded up and executed by the so-called Islamic state. In North Korea Christians are prevented from worshiping openly and are often imprisoned without charges being brought against them. Christians who have escaped the Islamic State in Iraq are being sent back by western countries, including the USA, to face genocide. In China hundreds of crosses have been removed from churches with the intent of de-Christianizing the skyline.
A study by the Center for Studies on New Religions showed that nearly 90,000 Christians were killed for their faith in 2016 and that as many as 600 million were prevented from practicing their faith through intimidation, forced conversions, bodily harm or even death.
Believers are fleeing Africa’s oldest Christian homeland, Ethiopia, only to arrive in South Africa where believers are being burned alive!
Our response needs to be to keep our eyes on Jesus and make his name known around the world. The persecuted church has always been a growing church. We need to grow in our faith and expand our love.
As Paul observed the development of the church in Thessalonica he was able to rejoice over them because of their faith and their love. He had been boasting of them to other churches telling of their faith and their life in the face of persecution. He reminded them that God will repay their persecutors. I’m sure he remembered God’s promise that vengeance belong to the Lord. When we suffer persecution God will protect us and destroy our enemies. Our responsibility is to speak the truth in love. When we do these things our enemies are defeated. The important thing is that we have surrendered our lives to the Lord Jesus Christ. Have you believed on the Lord Jesus Christ? Today can be your day of salvation.

All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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