Friday, 30 April 2021

Thought for the Day 30/04/21 - Hope in Dark Places

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Sometimes, you meet a person who's been having a really tough time of things and ... there's nothing you can say.

The wise person, at this point, of course, puts a sock in it!

The Book of Job shows us a man who has had a set of super bad times, but his friends are NOT wise people.

There are four of them all told. 

Three of them come at him in waves with all sorts of pious-sounding explanations for his troubles (as if that's what would help him most), all of which seem to boil down to saying in one way or another that it's all Job's fault!

The 'three musketeers' mount three charges at Job, each taking a pop at him and getting answered by him in turn, 

After Job's final defence of himself there's a bit of an interlude and then (when Job is properly down) the fourth friend pops up out of nowhere to deliver FIVE CHAPTERS of similar jabs at Job!

The Lord Himself finally comes along for the sort of face to face time with long-suffering Job which was actually the thing the poor chap had needed all along.

It's that encounter with God, not the arguments and rationalisations of his friends that transforms Job's situation entirely.

That may well be the main point of Job, but there's another really big and serious point to notice when Job is still up to his neck in troubles, hindered not helped by his rationalising friends and when a shaft of light suddenly flashes out from the light source his God had earlier planted in his soul, long before these calamities happened.

And as it does so, Job affirms his faith in God's future for him, beyond his woes.


"I know that my redeemer lives,

and that in the end he will stand on the earth.

And after my skin has been destroyed,

yet in my flesh I will see God;

I myself will see him

with my own eyes – I, and not another.

How my heart yearns within me!"

                                     Job 19:25



The Point

Job has got nothing like a fully formed New Testament faith in the crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus.

Dating the Book of Job has been a difficult matter for a long time, but what we DO know is that Job dates from well before the concepts of Christ's victory over death and the bodily resurrection were revealed to the early church.

And yet ... here's Job in chapter 19 of this book in full flow in defence of himself against the accusations his friends bring to 'comfort' him finding this shaft of light bursting out from inside himself.

Job finds strength, comfort and perseverance from the future orientation of the life of  faith.

If Job had been in the mental habit of living 'in the moment' rather than 'for God's future' ... Job would arguably never have made it through his trials and troubles to the encounter with God that transformed the future of his earthly existence.

The Takeaway

When you see it like that, living for the future plan and purpose of God, aspiring to and living for that, shows up as being crucial to living faithfully through this earthly Vale of Tears.

So ... do you ever think of Heaven very much?

Do you massage the thought of coming Glory deep into your consciousness?

Job didn't have much to go on, but what he did have he made the most of!

Life can be tough.

Muddling through sometimes isn't an adequate option.

Let's fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the Cross, scorning its shame, and is now seated at the right hand of the 
Majesty in Heaven ... 

Let's give time to considering Him, Who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that we will not grow weary and lose heart.

That's what Hebrews 12:1-3 encourages us to do.

And you can see the benefit that such a spiritual discipline might bring from this verse we've taken as our Verse for the Day, that casts such a bright a beam across the Book of Job.

Thursday, 29 April 2021

Thought for the Day 29/04/21 - Combatting killer relationships

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A Forbes article from May 3rd. 2018 summarised the effects a bad relationship can have on a person decribing how, beyond the mental health implications, the effects of being in a bad relationship can impact your health, particularly physically.

The physical (let alone mental) health risks amount to:

  • higher risk of developing heart problems (such as a fatal heart attack) than those in healthy relationships.

  • high blood sugar levels (particularly in women), 

  • high blood pressure

  • high rates of obesity, and

  • Adrenal issues caused by living in flight-or-fight mode all the time, leading to fatigue, a weakened immune system and even organ damage.

This much is clear: bad relationships take a pretty high toll on a person!

This all makes conciliators look like pretty important people, and indicates the wisdom of what James 3:18 says about peacemakers who sow in peace raising a harvest of righteousness!

Making peace, though, requires reconciliation

The Apostle Paul, writing to the troubled church in Corinth around 55 AD, certainly seemed pretty made up about his ministry as a conciliator ... and he goes to some trouble to defend this role when turbulent people in that church wanted to allege worse things about him.


"All this is from God, 

who reconciled us to himself through Christ 

and gave us the ministry of reconciliation"

                                      2 Corinthians 5:18



All of what?

The 'all this' in our verse refers to those elements of the 'Gospel package' that Paul has been highlighting in the surrounding passage. 

It is ALL (in all its much needed and glorious sufficiency) committed to the people of God to communicate, to persuade others of in order to bring people to the faith that arises when God steps into the process to make people into new people  ... reconciled first to Him and then to others as they're made part of His  new creation in Christ.

But what is this 'reconciliation' of which we speak?

What is this 'reconciliation'?

The Greek word used in the original text is καταλλαγή (katallage) and it's a word taken from financial accounting which means adjustment of a difference, reconciliation and therefore restoration to favour. 

In the New Testament it gets used to describe what's involved in the restoration of the favour of God to sinners that repent and put their trust in the sin-adjusting death of Christ.


What is Paul's part in this?

Paul's part in this reconciliation thing is to (2 Corinthians 5:19) communicate to people the way God has reconcilied humanity to Himself through the Gospel and to seek to persuade people (2 Corinthains 5:11) to embrace God through the Gospel of Christ.

He sums it up:

"Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making his plea through us. We plead with you on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God!” says Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:20

Paul knows full well that something in human nature leads people to fall out - some of course are better at it than others, but the principle is pretty universal - and the problem in effecting reconciliation is not at its roots a matter of getting social justice, equity or reparations but is much more an issue of changing the roots of the heart.

It's all about communicating the Gospel which Paul sums up very succinctly: 

"God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, 

so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." 

                                     2 Corinthians 5:21


Paul doesn't try to deal with the issue of reconciliation aside of God making people a new creation in Christ to make reconciliation possible.

For Paul, THAT is the key to the job.

So if that is Paul's part in the ministry of reconciliation, what do you think should be ours?


What is ours?

None of us is a grade-'A' Apostle.

None of us has the experience or understanding of God and His Word that led Paul to these conclusions here, either.

But Paul says that he finds himself compelled by this reconciling Gospel for a reason that also is true of every Christian believer.

Paul says he feels compelled by this reconciling Gospel because He knows what it is to stand in awe-filled 'fear' of God ... and if we understand the greatness of God compared to our puny-ness, then we will be in the same boat as him with all this reconciling by the communication of the reconciling Gospel stuff too.

The Point

God has committed to Paul and to all His people what he calls here: 'the ministry of reconcilliation', and the means to pursue that ministry is persuading people of the Gospel, which is what will give rise to their being made a reconciled (and reconciling) new creation in Christ.


The Takeaway

If we are believers we reckon on humans being sinners and just one of the draw-backs of being a sinner living amongst other sinners is that people will see things differently and are going to fall out from time to time.

Reconciliation is going to be needed in this world because human nature is simply the way it is.

But we need reconciliation because of what has gone wrong in our hearts, and that is only thoroughly changed by the message of the Gospel giving a new heart and making a new creation to the one who turns to trust in it.

So the priority for socially motivated reconcilers in Christ is to persuade people of the Gospel of God, and of the need to turn from sin and trust Christ as our Saviour.

As 2 Corinthians 5:18 (our verse) makes plain, human beings on their own can patch things up, but ultimately reconciliation of the heart is part of God's new creation and stems from hearing and really believing the Good News from God.


Wednesday, 28 April 2021

Thought for the Day 28/04/21 - Ransom

 AUDIO


Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has famously been held in Iran for about five years having been convicted of what appear to be insubstantial spying charges.

This week she has appeared again in an Iranian court on fresh charges and had her captivity officially extended for another year.

There seems to be something really odd about her case and we would probably struggle to get to the bottom of it.

We don't know how many other British citizens are detained in Iran because the UK Government refuses to say, but in an August 2020 Panorama programme Daragh MacIntyre met the families of some of those who have been detained and asked whether the payment of a historic debt could set them free.

One very hot potato

This is a very hot political issue in UK news at the moment. Yesterday (27/04/21) Labour’s Tulip Siddiq, who is Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s MP, told the Commons that she has “seen no evidence” the Boris Johnson is actively trying to secure her constituent’s release.

She continued: “At the heart of this tragic case is the prime minister’s dismal failure to release my constituent and to stand up for her, and his devastating blunder in 2017 when he was foreign secretary - when he exposed his complete ignorance of this tragic case and put more harm in Nazanin’s way,” she said.

“The prime minister did not even arrange for UK officials to attend Nazanin’s recent court hearing, which might have ensured she got a free and fair trial. He still hasn’t got his government to pay the £400 million debt that we as a country owe Iran."

We MPs might be many things but we’re not naive. We cannot deny the fact that Nazanin was handed a fresh new sentence a week after the IMF’s debt court hearing was delayed.”

Mr Cleverly told Ms Siddiq during the urgent question: “Her anger and frustration is misdirected because Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and the other British dual nationals held in arbitrary detention are being held by Iran. It is on them.”

Her husband told the Press Association news agency that Mrs. Zaghari-Ratcliffe was watching proceedings in Parliament from captivity on the internet and "What she noticed was that Dominic Raab hadn’t come to answer for the Government, a junior minister had been sent."

Can't pay: won't pay

'Can't pay' and 'won't pay' are, of course, different concepts ... although hostage takers over history have gone to some pretty gruesome lengths to change the minds of the 'won't pay's with a demonstration of the possible consequences of stubborn refusal.

Which brings us to the WONDER of our Verse for Today:


"... the Son of Man did not come to be served, 

but to serve, 

and to give his life as a ransom for many.’"

                                                  Matthew 20:28




Ready, willing and STUMPING UP to pay before we ask

The Greek word for ransom (λύτρονlutron) is found here in Matthew 20 and in Mark 10:45 and it refers to the payment of a price in order to purchase the freedom of a slave. 

It's not a word that crops up often at all in the New Testament, but the New Testament's use of it breathes a bit of fresh air into the dire situation of hostage humanity in the Old Testament ... as viewed  (for example) through the lens of Psalm 49:

"No one can redeem the life of another

    or give to God a ransom for them –
the ransom for a life is costly,
    no payment is ever enough –
so that they should live on for ever
    and not see decay."

                              Psalm 49:7-9


Jared C. Wilson writing for The Gospel Coalition in 2019 explained:

"The condition of man since the fall is one of bondage to sin and corruption from death. Having disobeyed God, we have revolted from our insidest selves to his good order and holy decrees. Therefore, we are slaves to death and children of wrath.

The psalmists then effectively tell us that no man can rescue himself. We can’t even rescue each other. Why? Because no sinner can muster the moral currency required to pay the ransom for this rescue."

The idea of Jesus as the “ransom” is that he paid the price with his own life by standing in our place as a substitute, enduring the judgment that we deserved for sin.

Psalm 49:15 goes on to say: 

"But God will ransom my soul from the realm of the dead;

    he will surely take me to himself" 
... and it's Jesus that the Psalmist is talking about.
But that raises the inevitable question:


WHO is the ransom there being paid to?


There's another 'ransom text' in the New Testament that really helps us with this:

"For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, 

the man Christ Jesus, 

who gave himself as a ransom for all people."

                                                     1 Timothy 2:5-6


This 1 Timothy passage  portrays the Lord Jesus as the Mediator, the go-between seeking peace, not between mankind and the devil nor between God and the devil.

He is the go-between for mankind with God.

So the ransom is paid 

  • by the incarnate God, Jesus,

  • paying the ransom price for sin-imprisoned humanity by 

  • giving His own laid-down life in payment to God

  • Whose absolute righteousness must require the just penalty for sin. 

And that's exactly the way Psalm 49:7 has already prophetically described things.


The Point

So the gorgeous irony of the gospel is that Christ-followers are effectively saved from the Holy God by the same ransoming God. 

And now that ransom has been paid as the penalty of imprisoning sin was paid on the Cross, Christ's followers are transferred from the imprisonment of sin and death into the glorious liberty of the children of God (Romans 8:20-21).

Jesus Christ, as to His human nature, COULD pay the ransom price of sin for humanity because He was sinless and had no sin of His own to pay the penalty for.

Jesus Christ WOULD pay, because He is God and God is by nature unfathomable love.

The Takeaway

If the UK Government offered to pay the debt owed and free Mrs. Zaghary-Ratcliffe, can you imagine that under any circumstances at all she would say: 

'You no what? Nah. Thanks a lot. I'll give it a miss'?!

  • Let's be sure today by a quick check on our hearts that we're ransomed because we've turned from sin to put our trust in the can pay and will pay Saviour from sin, Jesus Christ. 

  • And once that's been cleared up, isn't it time for a song?

'Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,

Who like me His praise should sing?'`



Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Thought for the day 27/04/21 - Pushy parents

 AUDIO

Every teacher's nightmare ... well, maybe ONE of every teacher's nightmares, especially on Parents' Evening: pushy parents.

And it's all very well to tut, tut and roll your eyes, but when it's YOUR children ... well, if you're even aware of being motivated for your children to get on, you are probaby fully convinced that this ambition or aspiration you hold for them is perfectly justified and warranted in YOUR child's case!

Most parents DO have ambition for what their children will do or achieve.

But our idea of what constitutes 'greatness' or 'achievement' or even 'personal worth' can be quite wide of the mark.

In our Verse for the Day the Lord is readjusting the expectations and the values of an ambitious mother, and usefully challenging our ideas of what greatness and achievement really do look like, whether we are parents or not.


"Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles Lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  

Not so with you. 

Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,

Matthew 20:25‭-‬26




Most people we hear from about greatness are really only looking at it from the outside. They have next to NO idea about it compared to the Lord Himself, and in this passage of Scripture He seems to be seeking to make adjustments to most people's idea of it.


What's going on here?


Let's quickly review what has been going on.

Jesus has just been describing the details of His coming crucifixion ... but nobody was really getting the picture.

The mother of two bright young disciples James and John (referred to at first as 'the sons of Zebedee') responds to Jesus's prediction of His death by asking for the best seats in Heaven for her sons.

It's like: 'he's going soon ... QUICK get your pitch in!'

It looks as if the boys didn't quite have the cheek to ask themselves so their mother speaks up, but Jesus sees right through that and makes His reply in the plural ... that is, to the brothers and not to the mother.

The boys are busted!

"‘You don’t know what you are asking,’ Jesus said to them. ‘Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?’

‘We can,’ they answered.

Jesus said to them, ‘You will indeed drink from my cup, 

but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. 

These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.’

                                                                                                  Matthew 20:22-23


Team talk called

Ambition, as ever, proved divisive, and the ten remaining disciples were fuming when they heard about this, so the Lord called them together for a team session on true greatness:


"‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, 

and their high officials exercise authority over them. 

Not so with you. 

Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant ..."

                                                                                              Matthew 20:25-26


But the Son of Man Jesus refers to is the One Who is pictured in Daniel 7:14 (and with Whom the Lord identifies in our Verse for the Day is the One Who:

"was given authority, glory and sovereign power; 

all nations and peoples of every language worshipped him. 

His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, 

and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed."


... and it is of HIM that Jesus here says:

"whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 

and whoever wants to be first must be your slave 

– just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, 

and to give his life as a ransom for many.’"


The Point

In the Kingdom of God, authority and leadership are not there for YOU. They there for the people you lead, and it is as you serve that you fulfil the calling you've been given.

The satisfaction of faithfully serving and the reward of serving the Lord faithfully is what's in it for you.

We've seen too many church leadership scandals in recent days where this hasn't been appreciated and people have benefitted themselves from their church office.

These scandals arise from a failure to recognise that actual followers of Jesus (the Son of Man) embrace the service He aspired to for US, which means NOT seeking the sort of greatness that serves yourself.


The Takeaway

Let's do an audit of what we're looking for and living for in this life ... and pause to ask what that says about where we'll sit in the next one.

The next thing Jesus says on this occasion is crucial to all of this ... more on that tomorrow.



Monday, 26 April 2021

Thought for the Day 26/04/21 - Listen to your heart?

 AUDIO

The world we live in is pretty much addicted to following your heart ... 'do what you FEEL', it says ... 'just live in your moment'.

It causes a fair bit of life-lurching for a lot of people to be making life up as they go along like that - doing what they feel from moment to moment.

Nonetheless, in some ways following your heart has done us some good ... it depends where following your heart is going to lead you really, doesn't it?!

When your heart gives you longings for love, for community, for home ... that's great!

There is no doubt a sense that our Maker has embedded within us a desire for things that are great and part of the big old design-plan for human beings.

But 'follow your heart' is bad counsel and bad advice for people whose hearts are broken, and  whose hearts have been damaged by sin.

The problem is made worse because there's a real sense in which we are strangers to our own hearts: we aren't good at understanding our motives, nor discerning where our longings are actually leading us. Our hearts hold potential for deceit ... even for deceiving ourselves!

And those longings of broken down hearts, although we may not find it easy to admit this, often point us into self-destructive places.

That's the point of our Verse for the Day

Jeremiah, the seventh century B.C. prophet of Jerusalem and of Exile had spent time studying people and listening to God, living through times that demonstrated the effects of bad choices. 

As a result he'd got a very firm grip on this issue, and he wrote about this in our verse for the day. (It's totally short and to the point!)


"The heart is deceitful above all things 

    and beyond cure.

            Who can understand it?"


                             Jeremiah 17:9



Pretty straight stuff!

Now let's wind that out and get to grips with what Jeremiah's actually saying in this context because sound bites like this verse can be badly misunderstood.

Here's what God was saying through Jeremiah to those people addicted to following their hearts in his day:


There's a guaranteed recipe for a SAD life

Firstly, trusting in humanity makes for a sad life

"‘Cursed is the one who trusts in man,

who draws strength from mere flesh

    and whose heart turns away from the Lord.

That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
    they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
    in a salt land where no one lives."

                                                      Jeremiah 17:5-6

There's a guaranteed recipe for a GLAD life

 
Secondly, there is a FAR better way!

"‘But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him.

They will be like a tree planted by the water

    that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
    its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
    and never fails to bear fruit.’"

                                           Jeremiah 17:7-8

To some extent that's an observable phenomenon across cultures and over long passages of time.

And so Jeremiah is amazed at the choices his people have made by following their hearts into trouble ... and THAT is when he bursts out in near desperation in the words of our verse for the Day:

"The heart is deceitful above all things 

    and beyond cure.

            Who can understand it?"


                             Jeremiah 17:9


The Point

The prophet's observation of his people making bad choices as they followed their hearts rather than their God has led to a dramatic situation of being conquered and carried off like slaves.

Heart-following has led into sadness, trouble and grief, and it's clear to Jeremiah that's an observable, repeatable phenomenon.

The converse is equally true, that following God not your broken  heart leads to blessing and to life, so that means it is almost inexplicably daft to just live your life following your heart.

As Jeremiah says: who can understand the human heart in the folly of the choices it makes?!


The Takeaway

Your heart might make a very good poet, but it makes a very poor compass ... or counsellor ... for life. And that's why God's given us His Word and His Spirit.

His Word is useful for teaching us, rebuking us, correcting us and training us in righteousness so that the one who follows Him may be throughly equipped for every good work. Check that out in 2 Timothy 3 verse 16.

His Spirit, promised beforehand to the disciples of Jesus was sent to lead us into all of the truth ... (John 16:13) ... and following Him is very different from following our own broken heart.

Following your heart commits your journey to a terrible guide, but committing your life to follow the Lord as your Guide swaps your broken heart for a new and reliable one with a healthy set of longings from God.

As the Psalmist writes in Psalm 37:4

"Trust in the Lord and do good;

dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.

Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart."

See ... THAT's when you can follow your heart ... when God has given it a new set of healthy  and wholesome desires!

But if those are not the desires you are following, you are still stuck in the incredible folly of following a very dodgy compass, of following a sin-broken heart.

And as the people of Jeremiah's Jerusalem illustrate, that is never going to end very well.



Saturday, 24 April 2021

1 Thessalonians 5:23-28 - Love & Kisses - Priorities for People under Pressure

AUDIO 


I.            Introduction

Paul has had the opportunity to write a genuinely encouraged and encouraging letter to Thessalonica.

Having left that very young church in that politically and economically important city, a city tied to showing gratitude to Rome for the status it had so recently received as the capital of the second district of Rome’s new acquisition … Macedonia Paul has good news from Timothy of their spiritual condition.

The city of Thessalonica had a recent history of determinedly tugging its forelock to Rome for Rome’s patronage  and it had been rewarded for that in such a positive way that it wasn’t going to risk all that now … the Christians would be put under pressure in order to kow-tow to Rome.

But against what you'd think were strong odds, the church in Thessalonica had THRIVED.

Now, at the end of this very positive letter, the Apostolic team – following contemporary tradition – set out a few short, staccato wish prayers and exhortations to the Thessalonian church.

Here then are the priorities they are setting for the church to thrive as a people under pressure.

The wish list is in fact a prayer list … as the optative formulas indicate in the original, and there are two of them to start off the apostles’ list of priorities.

 

 


II.     It’s a priority under pressure for God to be at work in your life, vv. 23-24

"May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.

May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."

The team’s priority for people under pressure is that they should be in the process of being formed by God.

So may God (first) be at work in you sanctifying you.

Gupta: “The Divine will is set upon guiding believers towards completeness and maturity in holiness.”

A.       Sanctifying you

"May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.”

1.           Sanctification is what pressurised people need

You wouldn’t have thought that necessarily, would you?

You might have thought: encouragement, courage, fortitude? Better at running away?

Well, those ARE needed, but the first thing is to be very close to God Who is the source of all these other things you’ll need, and the Apostles know very well that the first issue with facing persecution is that it tries to alienate a person from their God.

It tempts you to soft peddle faith and faithfulness to soften the pressure of that persecution … drawing you away from the Lord.

According to the apostles the first concern of the Pressurised believers should be to stay close to God and that meant Paul & co needed to pray for their sanctification because sin is what separates from God.

a.              God's work (and ours)

When Paul writes about believers’ sanctification there tends to be a past tense, a present tense and a future tense about it.

Believers are those who HAVE been sanctified, ARE being sanctified as now we by the Spirit put to death the desires of our sinful nature (Romans 8:13) and a future tense in that we shall only be ‘made perfect’ when Christ comes and believers receive that holiness ‘without which no-one  shall see the Lord’ of which Hebrews 12:14 speaks.

Here in this passage there is purposeful movement towards the return of Christ, at which point the believer will be made completely holy … but the prayer that is made here is about God working on that process until that future day comes.

b.              Through and through - consistency!

The difficulty for us all is that we are aware of and working on specific areas of our faults and failings and that we can have blind spots that we are not aware of.

Similarly, we have areas of sin in our lives that we know about but that we are soft on.

Shogren points out that sanctification here involves both the inner (hidden) and outward person.

This overturns the idea that Plato had that God is only interested in the inner spiritual life and not the physical realities of our human existence.

It also overturns the idea that a person’s spirit can be wholly sanctified in this life.

Through and through.

But look … He is faithful and He also will do this work in us, through us and with us, because that is what will secure our destiny … more on that in a moment.

Just before that please notice in these verses that this sanctifying work the Lord does in His people is attributed specifically to ‘the God of Peace’.

2.       The work of the God Who is peace

"May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.”

Why on earth would the apostolic team be praying for ‘the God of peace’ to sanctify them through and through?

Well, grammatically, we’d probably be correct to take this as a descriptive genitive to show that peace comes from God,  meaning: ‘the God Who gives peace’.

But still, why is THAT title for God (Who does … obviously … give peace) used here?

Well, if you think about the way things were in Paradise in the Garden of Eden and then look at what happened in the world after sin entered the situation ... well, strife, discord and violence look pretty much to have been born in Eden on that fateful day when humanity fell into sin.

And we’ve seen the evidence during this set of lockdowns we’ve been going through that unrestrained human nature is pretty much as described in Titus 3:3At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.

Peace and holiness go together … more obviously viewing things from the other end of the proposition … sin is the partner of discord and strife, you see?

Sin divides, breaks up and breaks down, and what God has done with the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus is to act decisively through the Gospel to bring peace with Himself and start working to re-unite the whole of Creation under Christ’s headship.       

Dealing with sin is the work supremely of the God Who gives peace.

In our struggles with sin, I think that bigger picture is worth thinking about.

And because of how this whole issue of sanctification fits into the bigger picture of salvation when Christ returns, the first prayer for sanctification leads into the second prayer for their security in salvation.

B.       Securing you

"May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."

The eschatological reality is that sanctification is security.

 

III.    Assurance in Faith, v. 24

" The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it."

It often seems to us like our faith will not be enough.

It sometimes seems to us, too ... especially under pressure ... that we cannot keep on going, can't keep it up.

Paul reassures these pressurised people in Thessalonica that this doesn't depend on their strength.

He Who called you is the one Who will sort it.

There are two anchors for the hope that Paul gives them ...

A.       The Calling One is the Faithful One

Firstly, we need to remember, that these Thessalonians famously had a clear experience of God at the start of their Christian lives.

They KNEW that they'd been called by God.

1 Thessalonians 1:4-5 "For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction."

B.       He has picked up the responsibility for the job

Simply because the One Who called you is faithful, it follows that He is going to DO it.

He will do it.

He is ὃς καὶ ποιήσει … the On Who WILL do it … future tense … it’s looking forward to the return of Christ in Heavenly Glory to take to Himself and finally and ultimately save the people of God.

And then again the focus shifts, as it has been shifting all along, from prayer for them to have assurance, and now ... this close to the end of the letter ... the apostolic team requests three things not FOR now but FROM the new believers at Thessalonica.

First Paul and the team ask for prayer for themselves.

IV.     Fellowship in prayer, v. 25

"Brothers and sisters, pray for us. "

The team’s prayed for them, now the team demonstrates a bit of ‘body of Christ’ thinking and says we need your prayers too.

Paul & co are demonstrating graphically to new believers that their life, faith and ministry depend just as much on God's grace for their life as ministry as the apostles do for theirs.

Now it is a theological fact that they need God’s grace just as much and it is the Biblical teaching that just as leaders pray for those they lead, so those who are lead really need to pray for their leaders.

If you raise your head above the parapet in Christian leadershipor a useful Christian initiative, that head will got shot at ... as your families' will too.

But raising the matter now with this new and persecuted church speaks of humility and it speaks of vulnerability.

I came across this great quote from Lesslie Newbiggin this morning:

"The Church is not an organisation of spiritual giants. It is broken men and women who can lead others to the Cross."

Fundamentally, the ground is level at the foot of the Cross, and so Paul asks these young believers for their prayers.

The team hangs by the thread of God's mercy and intervention as much as the lives of the Thessalonians are dependent on the Lord too.

V.      Fellowship in Love, v. 26

Here’s the second request that their brotherly love should be made tangible.

"Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss."

Wow!

Let me stop you there!

I’m not sure that I’m up for this!

This group in Thessalonica is a mixed Jewish and Gentile church ... and if we’re bothered about this kissing lark, can you IMAGINE the implications of what Paul's saying to a mixed Jewish/ Gentile group of new believers at Thessalonica?

Interestingly, and I don’t know quite WHAT to make of this if anything, the references to the holy kiss always arise in Paul’s letters either to or from Corinth (Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12).

I don’t know why that should be.

Certainly there is no reference to this sort of kissing thing going on in asny religious community outside the early Christian church, and definitely kissing in Judaism was reserved for family members.

Let’s look into what’s going on here.

Ernest Best explains the significance of a kiss in Paul’s world:

“The kiss was given on the lips (normally only in sex), on the cheeks, brow and shoulders (among kinsfolk), on the hands and feet (in honouring a superior).

Two safe assumptions we can make about what Paul is talking about might be that firstly the apostolic team is not referring to a kiss on the lips.

Secondly, the pervasiveness of this ‘holy kiss’ amongst believers and the fact that here it is mentioned without further explanation (which is unnecessary because they knew exactly what this was talking about) show that this was a common thing to happen in the church from its early days.

Given the cultural background described for us by Ernest Best, it seems likely that the early church tapped into the way family members kissed to greet each other to express the family love, the brotherly love that spoke eloquently of all God’s adopted children … His church … being brother and sister to one another … members together of the family of God.

But it gets problematic in church!

John Bunyan commented on attempts to resurrect the practice in the seventeenth century that it was noticeable that the holy kiss seemed often to be given to ‘the most comely maidens’ … indicating clearly how the custom could be open to abuse!

Late in the second century we find Athenagoras trying to deal with the problems that can arise from this practice and around the same time Clement of Alexandria wanted the emphasis to be shifted from the literal kiss to the inner feeling of love then by the time of Augustine in the fourth century not only was the kiss same-sex, the sexes were segregated in church!

Now, of course, it makes sense in our culture – particularly in COVID times – NOT to go reviving the holy kiss tradition.

But showing fellowship and love for one another on a regular basis as brothers and sisters in Christ … how DO we show that to one another?

Answers on a postcard please!

The point is that warm family relations need to be shown in the church and the apostolic team is looking for that.

Fellowship in prayer, fellowship in love, and now ...

VI.    Fellowship in the Word, v. 27

"I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters."

 Grk “I adjure you by the Lord,” “I put you under oath before the Lord.”

That word ‘adjure is a weird one and this is the only time the Greek word used here crops up in the New Testament.

It’s not easy to put in modern English, but it is saying: ‘I hereby make you responsible before God, as if you yourself have taken an oath’ to do this thing.

What thing?

Get this letter read out so that everybody gets to hear it.

No-one is to be left out.

Firstly, it’s not just for the leaders to keep it to themselves … the Scriptures are for everyone.

Secondly it is to be read aloud to everyone, you don’t just give them a book!

 Non-literacy is no bar to Christian life!

And as everyone, not just the elders, is responsible for the health and growth of themselves and the church then everyone must be encouraged and helped to access God’s Word.

VII.   Living in the blessing of Grace, v. 28

"The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you."

This looks like a really nice book-end to the opening prayer for grace in 1 Thessalonians 1:2

The key thing for these folks in their pressurised and exposed situation is for the Lord Jesus – He Who gives us God’s grace - to pour out His favour and goodness on these people.

But a prayer for grace that is made in the presence of the subject of that prayer makes this sound very much like a blessing.

All I'm going to say about that is that this is a great thing to do for one another!

Conclusion

Paul and the team write to a young, pressurised and persecuted church that has not had the greatest start in life and they highlight these outstasnding clear priorities for them:

Guard the reality of God at work in your life and for that the team prays that God would sanctify them and secure them by His grace.

Next the team addresses the issue of their assurance of salvation … for the sake of their perseverance under pressure, highlighting that the One Who HAD called them is faithful and that He would see to it.

And the team then highlights the priorities for the young church to maintain their fellowship in prayer, in love and in the Word – working together as the body of Christ.

We have been looking at this letter to this church under pressure during the course of the COVID lockdown that has put us all under pressure across the course of the last year or so.

My suggestion to you is that the priorities applied to the Thessalonians are the priorities also for us.

We need prayer for ourselves that we would know the daily reality of God at work in our lives, sanctifying and securing us.

We need assurance in our faith, born of the clear knowledge that He has called us and that He Who has called us is faithful … so that He will carry us forward to His eternal glory.

And ourselves we need to pick up daily and practice our fellowship in prayer, in the Word and in love.

May He help us forward, whatever lies in front of us … to His Glory.



1 John 2:7-11 - Light and Love in a toxic environment

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