Saturday, September 9, 2017

170910 Paul’s Prayer for the Thessalonians

2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Prayer was extremely important to the apostle Paul. He understood prayer to be essential to any kind of effective ministry. He was especially concerned for the Thessalonians because there was such extreme opposition to their ministry in the community. They had believed the gospel when Paul presented it and had stood their ground when they were attacked. We learn something about the way God acts in Paul’s prayer life.
Please take notice that Paul does not urge people to be strong in themselves. His prayer to God for them was that God would make them worthy of his calling. When we come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ we become a part of the family of God. As such we are to uphold the family honor, so to speak. I can remember during the years of my childhood hearing my mother say, a number of times, “You are a member of this family and you must act like it.” In her mind it was absolutely essential that we hold up family honor in the way we acted. We have a similar responsibility as members of the family of God. We need to act like we are Christians. Now I’m not talking about working to earn your salvation I’m talking about working because you have salvation.
To that end…
Paul prayed for those he had witnessed to. A similar theme is found in Colossians 1:9.  And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,
Wherever Paul traveled he received reports on the churches that he had established. Paul’s letter to the Colossians was written about 10 years after the Thessalonian letters. It’s interesting that he used similar words in both cases. Having heard of their faith and love he made it a matter of disciplined importance that he pray for them. After all, the people in each of these churches are his spiritual children. He had led them to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It was Paul who had taught them how to organize the ministry for effective service. It was Paul who taught them to go into the surrounding countryside and bear witness to Christ. It was Paul who understood what they knew and what their limits were.
He did not pray that they would have knowledge and wisdom and understanding. He prayed that they would have the knowledge of God’s will. He prayed that they would have all spiritual wisdom. He prayed that they would have God’s kind of understanding.
He wrote to the Ephesians and…
He prayed that God would make them worthy. Writing about the same time as the Colossian letter we find these words Ephesians 4:1-3. I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Here, Paul is asking that they live a life that measured up to the high calling of God. His desire was that they would be humble and gentle, patient and loving. Not according to their own strength but according to God’s strength! There is a great need in the church today to recognize the responsibility to live our lives in such a way that God is honored. We cannot do that in our own strength.
When a person comes to faith in Christ, becomes a believer, the first response is often, “This is easy.” As time goes by the Christian life becomes more and more difficult. I won’t go through all the stages they are different for every person.
Finally we come to a place where we cry out to God something like this. “Father in heaven you have called me to an impossible task.” That is exactly where God wants us to be! Unable to live the Christian life in and of our own strength. God is not limited to our strength and ability. If he were so limited the church would have collapsed centuries ago. Throughout the word of God we see that God’s work is not done by human wisdom and strength. In the words of God to Zechariah, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” (Zechariah 4:6)
We shall never be good enough in our ability. We need God to make us worthy of his calling. We need God to do his work in our life. We will never be worthy in our own strength.
To that end…
He prayed that God would fulfill their needs. Let’s look at Titus 3:14. And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.
In writing to Titus Paul addresses much of the same issues that we have seen in the Thessalonian letters. We are to learn how to devote ourselves to good works. I believe that includes having a positive purpose in our good works. To the Thessalonians he asks that God will fulfill every intention of good work. To Titus he asks that they learn to devote themselves to good works. You see our needs are not entirely self-centered. Our needs are to equip us to the point of having resources sufficient to help others. Our resolve for good works should grow out of our relationship to the living Lord Jesus Christ.
It is God’s desire that we develop resources adequate to meet the needs of others in such a way that they come to faith in Christ. In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians he asks that God let his grace abound for them so they will have sufficient resources to do the good work he’s called them to. He supplies us with seed for sowing that will supply the needs of many (2 Corinthians 9:8). As Paul continued his prayer…
He prayed that God would strengthen their faith. Luke tells us that this was a continuing goal for the new churches. Let’s read Acts 16:5. So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.
Paul and Silas had set out on Paul’s second missionary journey. Only a short period of time had passed since Paul had been preaching the gospel in these regions. Today, when we establish a new church we are able to be in contact with them in real time. Paul could only write a letter and hope it arrived. He could send a messenger and wait patiently for a reply. Or, to be certain, he would have to travel to each city and speak to the people face to face. During this time he had not written any letters to the churches. Soon he would see it as necessary to write letters since he could not quickly travel to see them. In order to strengthen their faith he could pray for them, he could travel to them, or he could write letters. Soon his letters would become his primary means of travel. We a grateful that he wrote those letters because they make up a large part of the New Testament.
One of the reasons he was making this trip was to tell the churches about the conference they had at Jerusalem. It was important that the Gentile believers throughout the Roman Empire understand that they were equal to the Jews. It was not necessary for them to become a Jew first and then a Christian.
One consequence of that message was a strengthening of their faith. The Gentiles would rejoice in the fact that there was equality in the church. Beyond the strengthening of their faith…
He prayed that they would reflect God’s power. Again we look at Ephesians for a continued example. Let’s read Ephesians 3:7. Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power.
Paul’s ministry was not based on his education, ability to speak, or his rank in the church. It was God’s grace that allowed him to reflect the power of God. Remember, it was not Paul’s strength but God’s. Every work of faith is by the power of God. There is no other explanation for the fantastic spread of the gospel around the world that continues even today except that God chooses it to happen. So…
He prayed that Jesus’ name would be glorified in them. Let’s look at Jesus’ prayer. John 17:10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.
A great need in the church today is for Christ be glorified! In this prayer Jesus speaks of all of those who are his. They are his because they are God’s. There’s always been, throughout history, a group of believers that God could point to. Remember the prophet Elijah! He had won a great victory over the pagan worshipers of Baal. He had prayed and ended three and half years of drought. And then he was told that the Queen was going to take his life. With those words he traveled into the wilderness apparently to escape the threat. He went a day’s journey into the wilderness and asked God to take his life. He didn’t need to go on this journey for that end to be met! Jezebel would have ended his life gladly. Instead of God ending his life he had an angel feed him and send him on his way to Horeb the mount of God.
There, he went into a cave and soon God spoke to him. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” To which he answered, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts.… I only am left and they seek my life,” (1 kings 19:9-10). God then takes him through a series of encounters each of which he might’ve thought of as the voice of God. There was a strong wind, but God wasn’t in the wind. There was an earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake. There was a fire but God wasn’t in the fire. Then there was a low whisper and Elijah knew God was in that whisper. He went outside the cave where God spoke to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” These were familiar words. Again Elijah explained that he was the only one left and would soon be dead at the hands of the Queen. God did not dignify Elijah’s words with an answer. He simply gave him instructions as to what he next wanted him to do and then told him, “I will leave 7000 in Israel, all the knees that had not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” Elijah was not alone and no matter how we feel we are not either.
Our prayer should be that Christ be glorified in us. And…
He prayed that they would be glorified in Christ. Let’s read Romans 8:16-17. The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
John Piper coined a phrase, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” This is the very reason that God called us to salvation. In everything God needs to get the glory because he deserves it. We are not to think of ourselves as better than we are. We are to rejoice in the Lord because he gives us all that we need to live a godly life. We need to pray for ourselves, and for each other, that we would be glorified with Christ.
Not only did Paul have a comprehensive prayer life he also called on his friends to pray for him. In closing his first letter he asked the people there to pray for him (1 Thessalonians 5:25). Specifically, he asked for prayer that the word of God would spread rapidly and be glorified in them (2 Thessalonians 3:1). One of the weaknesses of the modern church is a failure to invest adequately in prayer. Prayer should be a major part of the foundation of our ministry. We should so focus on prayer that people would be drawn to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Is he your Lord? Then you should talk to him regularly! If he is not your Lord you should ask him to receive you today!
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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.