2 Thessalonians 1

God’s Call.

2 Thessalonians 1

So we keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of his call. May he give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do. – 2 Thessalonians 1:11 NLT

A few months had passed since Paul had sent his first letter to the Thessalonians. Evidently, he had received word back that caused him to write them again, addressing additional concerns and confusion caused by his first letter. It seems that there was a problem with the Thessalonian believers having become so engrossed with the coming of Christ, that they had lost their focus. Some were saying that, due to the increase in persecution they were experiencing, the second coming of Jesus was just around the corner. This entire letter was written by Paul to clear up confusion and to encourage them how to balance their longing for the return of Christ with their need to live faithful, diligent lives in the meantime.

Paul starts out his letter with words of encouragement. He commends them for their flourishing faith and endurance in the face of growing persecution. It was not easy for these new believers to live out their new-found faith in Christ in the midst of a hostile, pagan culture. But he reminds them that God is just and right. He is fully aware of what they are going through and has a purpose behind it and a just outcome in store for them. Rather than view their trials as unjust and unfair, Paul encourages them to see them as part of God’s righteous judgment. He uses them to separate believers from unbelievers. Trials and tribulations have a way of exposing the weaknesses and flaws in our faith, so that God, through His grace, can purify and refine us. They reveal our false idols and expose the self-righteous props on which we have built our lives. Paul wrote, “God will use this persecution to show his justice and to make you worthy of his Kingdom, for which you are suffering” (2 Thessalonians 1:5 NLT). Rather than see God’s justice and judgment as relegated to some future event tied to Christ’s second coming, Paul wanted them to understand that God was at work at that moment, refining, separating, and preparing a people for Himself. And at the right time, God was going to deal justly with those who were doing the persecuting. But for the Thessalonians, the focus needed to be on living for Christ in the here and now, not waiting idly for Christ to come in the by and by. Yes, there is a time when Christ will return and “provide rest for you who are being persecuted” (2 Thessalonians 1:7 NLT). At that time He will come “bringing judgment on those who don’t know God and on those who refuse to obey the Good News of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:8 NLT). There is a time coming when God will separate the faithful from the unfaithful, the saved from the lost. But the greatest separator will be the way each has lived his or her life on this earth. The evidence of God’s work and transformative power in their lives will be what sets them apart. So Paul’s prayer is that God will enable them to live lives worthy of their calling. He asked God to give them the power they would need to live the life of faith in the midst of persecution. It is only God’s grace that makes it all possible. So when Christ does eventually return and the saved are separated from the lost, God will receive glory and honor because the faith of the believers will be clear proof that they are His children, transformed by His grace and according to His power.

Father, sometimes this world does not make sense. There are days when the troubles and trials seem too great and appear to be purposeless and unfair. But You are just, righteous and always right. You know what You are doing. You have a plan in all that is going on around me and in me. You are refining and purifying me. You are exposing my weaknesses and removing my dependence on all those things I falsely rely on instead of You. You are making me worthy of Your Kingdom. Help me to see that truth every day of my life and view the difficulties of this life as instruments in Your hands to transform me and prepare me for eternal life. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

God’s Will – Part 2.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NLT

Earlier in his letter, Paul had told the Thessalonian believers that it was God’s will for them to be holy. then he gave them a practical example of what that kind of life looked like. They were to avoid sexual sin at all costs. They were to control their own lustful passions and live holy lives, not impure lives. They were to love and honor one another. They were to live their lives in such a way that they honored and pleased God. And now, at the close of his letter, Paul gives them another practical application of what a holy life looks like – a life that reflects God’s will for all believers. It is a life marked by joy. Not a giddy, unstable happiness based on changing circumstances, but a deep joy that is founded on the knowledge that we have a right relationship with God, our sins forgiven, our eternity secure and a God who loves us so much that there is nothing we can do that would ever cause Him to fall out of love for us. He is constantly out for our best interests and our circumstances, whether good or bad, are not an indicator of God’s love for us. His love is expressed in our spiritual transformation, that was made possible by His Son’s death on the cross. And that transformation is ALWAYS taking place within us, because of the indwelling presence of His Spirit. Which should bring us joy.

We are to pray without ceasing. In other words, prayer should be a constant part of our lives because God is a constant part of our lives. Prayer is not just petition, or asking God for things. It is also expressions of thanksgiving and praise. Prayer is the intimate communication between the Father and His child. And He wants to hear from us as much as we want to hear from Him. Prayer includes spending time listening to God, which is difficult, because we can’t hear His voice audibly or out loud. He speaks to us through His Word and His Spirit. God is always speaking to us, but the problem is that we seldom take time to listen. So we are to pray or communicate with Him constantly, unceasingly.

And we are to live lives that are marked by thankfulness – not just for the good things that happen in our lives – but even for the trials and difficulties. Why? Because as believers, we should know that God is at work in our lives at ALL times, using even the difficulties of life to transform us into the likeness of His Son. And we can live our lives with the assurance that He ALWAYS loves us – at all times – even when our circumstances seem to shout otherwise. And we can be thankful for that love and express our gratitude back to Him. None of this comes naturally. It isn’t a normal reaction for most of us, because it runs contrary to our sinful nature. We are wired to complain, not express thanks. We are prone toward dissatisfaction and discontentment, not gratefulness. Prayer is the ultimate expression of dependence on God, and we tend to be far too independent to have to rely on God. And since joy is a fruit of the Spirit, and not a byproduct of our human nature, it must be produced by the Spirit in our life. We can’t manufacture it or even fake it well. As we live in tune with and in obedience to the Spirit, He produces within us a joy that goes far beyond mere happiness. It is not based on circumstances, but on the certainty of God love for us.

God’s will for us is that we live holy live. But holy lives are practical lives. And ultimately, Paul tells us, God must make us holy. That is his prayer for the Thessalonian believers and, by extension, his prayer for us. “Now may the God of peace make you holy in every Way and make your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ returns again. God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 NLT). It is not only God’s will that we be holy. It is His mission. And one day He will complete that mission. There is a day coming when our holiness will be complete. Sin will be eradicated. Our transformation into the likeness of Christ will be finalized. We will be holy and blameless, because God is faithful and true.

Father, our holiness is of great importance to You, so it should be of great importance to us. Not that we should try to make ourselves holy, but that we should see it as our highest priority. We should view the circumstances of life as Your laboratory in which You are refining and perfecting us. You are always at work within and around us. Your ultimate goal is not our temporary happiness, but our eternal holiness. Give us that divine perspective. Help us to see our lives from Your viewpoint and with Your ultimate goal for us in mind. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Be Ready.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

But let us who live in the light be clearheaded, protected by the armor of faith and love, and wearing as our helmet the confidence of our salvation. – 1 Thessalonians 5:8 NLT

We don’t know when Jesus will return, but we are to live in a constant state of readiness, as if it could happen at any time. Paul reminds his readers that the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. But if they are always ready for His return, they won’t be surprised. They were to be ready. They were to be on their guard, alert and clearheaded. As far as Paul was concerned, there was no question as to whether or not the Lord was going to return. It was a matter of when. And since no one knows the date or time of His return, the best plan is to live as if it could be today.

The Thessalonians were concerned about what was going to happen to those who had died prior to Christ’s return. Paul assures them that there is nothing to worry about. “Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever” (1 Thessalonians 5:10 NLT). But those who remained alive needed to live with a constant mindset of preparedness. They needed to live in the light, not the darkness. As Paul had stated earlier, “God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives” (1 Thessalonians 3:7 NLT). The Thessalonians, like all believers in every age, were to live lives that pleased the Lord. They were to be holy, living distinctively different lives, set apart from the rest of the world. Their lives were to be characterized by love. They were to live in obedience to the Holy Spirit, not giving in to the desires of their own sinful flesh. While the rest of the world lived in ignorance and darkness, they were children of the light, having had their sins exposed and their salvation assured by placing their faith in Christ as their Savior. That faith was to act as a kind of armor, protecting them from the attacks of the enemy and allowing them to survive in hostile territory until the Lord returned. Their confidence in their own salvation would be like a helmet, protecting their minds from doubt and fear, and preventing them from giving in to the lies of the enemy. Their knowledge of and confidence in their salvation would protect them, providing assurance of their future, whether they were to die or live to see the day of the Lord’s return. Death was not to be feared. And difficulties in this life were not to be a cause for doubt or disappointment. Christ died so that we might have eternal life. In his letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul writes, “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death not life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow – not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below – indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39 NLT). The ultimate expression of God’s love for us is the death of His Son in our place. And His death took place so that we might have eternal life, lived in perfect relationship with God the Father forever. It’s assured. It’s guaranteed. So we are to live as if it could happen any day.

Father, help me continue to learn to live in a state of readiness. Show me how to live in this life, but with my eyes on eternity. Don’t let me fear death or become distracted by the cares of this life. Whether I die or live until Your Son returns, I will enjoy the same unbelievable future. My eternity is secured. My future is settled. I want to be alert and clearheaded, prepared and ready at all times. And I want to help others do the same. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Words of Encouragement.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. – 1 Thessalonians 4:17 NLT

The Thessalonian believers to whom Paul was writing this letter were wrestling with something. It’s important to keep in mind that, not only were these people new to faith in Christ, but the Christian faith was still in its infancy. The Gospel was being spread around the known world, but it was still a relatively new teaching. And apart from the apostles, there were not a lot of seasoned teachers, pastors, elders or other spiritual leaders. There was no New Testament yet. There was no established or written doctrine to speak of. These new believers had only what Paul and Silas had been able to share with them on their first visit there. And most of what they knew revolved around the basic message of the Gospel – that Jesus had died on the cross as their sin substitute, and had risen from the dead in order to provide them with forgiveness of sin and the assurance of eternal life. Through belief in the saving work of Jesus, these people had been made right with God and given the hope of a restored relationship with God the Father.

But that’s where the confusion came in. Having accepted Jesus as their Savior, they had assumed that they were now part of God’s Kingdom and would enjoy eternal life. And yet, along with suffering and persecution, they had watched as some of their fellow believers had unexpectedly died. Of course, these events triggered questions in their minds. Why had they died? Where had they gone? What would happen to them when Jesus returned? This was all new territory for these new believers and Paul had received word about their confusion and distress. So he wrote them to let them know what to expect. He gave them assurances regarding their deceased brothers and sisters, and comfort about the return of Christ. These people had been grieving. They were sad and confused. They were wondering what their own fate would be, because each of them had fully expected to be around when Jesus came back. Paul had even alluded to it earlier in his letter. “May he, as a result, make your hearts strong, blameless, and holy as you stand before God our Father when our Lord Jesus comes again with all his holy people” (1 Thessalonians 3:13 NLT). So it was no wonder they had questions about the state of those who had died since accepting Christ as their Savior.

So Paul tells them, “we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13 NLT). Paul assures them that Jesus is going to come back, and when He does, He will bring with Him all those believers who have died prior to that point in time. Paul clearly states, “when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died” (1 Thessalonians 4:14 NLT). This event is what we call the Rapture. It is not the Second Coming of Christ, but the return of Christ for the Church, His bride. In this event, Jesus does not return to the earth, but He comes in the clouds, accompanied by angels and those believers who have died. “Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:17 NLT). The words, “caught up” literally mean to be snatched up and are where we get the word Rapture. All believers who are alive at this point in time will be suddenly removed from the earth to meet Jesus in the air. Another important part of this event is that the bodies of those believers who have died will be raised, renewed and reunited with their souls, which have been with Christ in heaven. Then we will all return to heaven, where we will spend eternity with Him.

Paul says, “So encourage each other with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18 NLT). Why? Because this is our hope. This is our future. Death is not the end. One of the reasons this passage is frequently used in funerals is because it provides us with hope regarding those who have died. If they were in Christ, their souls have gone on to be with Christ. They are no longer with us physically, but they are far from gone and forgotten. And one day, they will return with the Lord to come get us who remain on the earth. That day is coming, We don’t know when. We don’t know exactly how it will all work, but it is going to happen. We can count on it. We can rest in it. We can encourage one another about it. One of two things is going to happen to every single believer. Either we will die and go to be with the Lord, or we will live to see the Lord’s return. So there is no reason for us to grieve like those who have no hope. We know how the story ends, and it ends well.

Father, thank You for the assurance of Your Son’s return for the Church. Thank You for the assurance of our place with You at death. We have nothing to fear and everything to hope for. Don’t let us lose sight of that reality. Our future is secure and settled. Death has been conquered and the eternal security of our souls has been guaranteed by Christ. May we constantly encourage one another with these words. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

God’s Will For You.

1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin. – 1 Thessalonians 4:3 NLT

Have you ever wanted to know God’s will for your life? Have you ever wondered whether what you were about to do was something God would want you to do or not? The sad truth is that some of us just prefer to not even bother worrying about what God’s will might be, preferring to do our own will instead. But the topic of God’s will is a huge one among most believers. We constantly wonder about what God would have us do. Should we date that individual, buy that house, accept that job offer. put our kids in that school, or attend that church? We inherently know that living outside of God’s will is not a safe place for us to be. So we wonder and worry about whether we are in God’s will. We search the Scriptures, hoping to discover what He might have us do in any given situation. But in most cases, we find it hard to discover God’s opinion on things like what dress to buy for the prom or even what person to marry. Our problem is that we tend to deal in specifics. I’m not implying that God doesn’t care about the specific decisions we make, but I believe God is concerned about something far more general – something that would aid us in our daily decision-making and insure that we are well within His will at all times.

Here in chapter four of Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, he gives us a glimpse into God’s will, and as you will see, it is quite broad when it comes to God’s expectations. Paul simply says, “God’s will is for you to be holy” (1 Thessalonians 4:3 NLT). As far as Paul is concerned, God’s primary concern and desire for His people is their holiness, which really refers to their lives being set apart for His glory. In verse one, Paul puts it another way: “we urge you in the name of the Lord Jesus to live in a way that please God” (1 Thessalonians 4:1 NLT). To be holy is to live your life in such a way that it pleases God, not you. It is to live according to His expectations, not your own inclinations. And Paul gives the Thessalonians a very real example of what he is talking about by telling them to stay away from all sexual sin. Don’t allow yourself to be controlled by your own lustful passions. It is never God’s will for a man to cheat on his wife or a woman to engage in sexual fantasies by reading sexually explicit romance novels. It is never within God’s will for two young people to live together outside of marriage. It is never God’s will for a young man to fill his mind and corrupt his soul with pornography. Paul makes it quite clear. “God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives” (1 Thessalonians 4:76 NLT). God has expectations and standards. While we are no longer required to live by the Law in order to gain acceptance with and access to God, we are still obligated to live lives that are in keeping with God’s holy standards. He has even given us His Holy Spirit to empower us to do so. Before accepting Christ as our Savior, we were totally incapable of living holy lives, but now it’s not only possible, but expected. Our lives are to be set apart, different and distinct from those of people who do not know Christ. We have a special capacity to live in such a way that God is not only pleased, but glorified, because it is all due to His power within us.

God’s will is for us to be holy because it is an indication of His work in us. When we refuse to give in to our own lustful desires and abstain from sexual sin, it is a clear indication of His Spirit’s work in us. Holiness is the byproduct of His presence and power in our lives. In his letter to the believers in Ephesus, Paul wrote, “throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God – truly righteous and holy” (Ephesians 4:22-24 NLT). Then he gave them specific examples: Stop lying and start telling the truth. Instead of letting anger control you, forgive. If you used to make a habit of stealing, work hard instead. Replace your foul language with words of encouragement. “And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live” (Ephesians 4:30 NLT).

So does God care about what kind of car you drive or what particular neighborhood you live in? Most certainly. But His real concern is what motivations are driving our desires for that car or a home in that neighborhood. Are we driven by selfish and prideful passions? Are we attempting to impress others or build up our low self esteem? There is a simple question we can ask ourselves whenever we face a decision of any kind and want to know what God’s will concerning that decision might be. Will it help our hinder my pursuit of holiness? To put it another way, will that car, dress, job, relationship, home, or whatever else it might be, make my pursuit of holiness easier or harder? If God’s will is our holiness, shouldn’t that be our will too? But sometimes we make it much more about our happiness. We buy things to make us happy. We decide to do those things that fulfill our own selfish, self-centered desires. And in many cases, those things are not wrong in and of themselves. But if we’re not careful, we can lose sight of the real objective, which is to live in a way that pleases God. His will is our holiness. And that should be our will as well.

Father, You have made us Your own. You have purchased us with the blood of Your own Son and You expect us to live up to our calling as Your sons and daughters. Your will for us is holiness. You have placed Your Spirit within us in order to make it possible for us to live differently and distinctively in this world. There are all kinds of decisions we make every day. Help us to make them with holiness as the objective. Don’t let us compromise and make it just about our happiness. Show us how to live our lives in such a way that they please You, not us. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:13

Standing Firm.

1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:13

So we have been greatly encouraged in the midst of our troubles, and suffering, dear brothers and sisters, because you have remained strong in your faith. It gives us new life to know that you are standing firm in the Lord. – 1 Thessalonians 3:7-8 NLT

You can sense the love that Paul had for the Thessalonian believers. He longed to be with them. He had tried on numerous occasions to visit them, but had been prevented. We don’t know what kinds of circumstances kept Paul from making the trip, but he believed Satan had played a role. He understood the reality and significance of spiritual warfare. He knew that the enemy was always trying to destroy the fruit of Paul’s efforts and the work of the Spirit taking place around the world. The various letters of Paul reflect that kinds of spiritual conflicts that had risen up in the churches that had sprung up since Pentecost. Legalism, syncretism, factions, false teachers, errant doctrine, and a host of other issues had made their way into these local fellowships, causing all kinds of problems. As one of the few qualified leaders available to minister to these fledgling fellowships, Paul had a strong sense of responsibility for their well-being. He knew they were under attack, just as he and Silas were. He knew their faith was being tested and wanted to encourage them to remain strong and stand firm. Unable to make the trip to see them in person, Paul and Silas sent Timothy to visit the Thessalonians in order to assess their condition. His report when he returned was positive and encouraging. Paul and Silas had sent Timothy to encourage and strengthen the young believers in Thessalonica, but what he found ended up being a source of encouragement to Paul and Silas. In spite of their difficult circumstances and the troubles surrounding them, the Thessalonians were strong in their faith. The Spirit was at work in their lives.

When he had been with them, Paul had warned them of the difficulties to come. He had not left them wide-eyed and innocent, unaware of the difficulties that accompany a life committed to Christ. “Even while we were with you, we warned you that troubles would soon come – and they did, as you well know” (1 Thessalonians 3:4 NLT). Rather than leave these young converts with an impression that the Good News meant a life devoid of bad circumstances, Paul and Silas had told them the truth. “We are destined for such troubles” (1 Thessalonians 3:3 NLT). They come with the territory. When we come to faith in Christ, we become enemies of this world. We become targets for Satan to destroy. Our very existence stands opposed to him and his plans for this world. We should not be surprised by trials or struggles. We should not be shocked by difficulties. We are immersed in a spiritual battle, surrounded by the enemy, and under constant attack. But we have the Holy Spirit to strengthen and empower us. We have the body of Christ. We have the unfailing promises of God to trust in and the unquestionable assurance of our salvation to stand on. We can and will endure to the end. And our faith in the midst of difficulty should be a source of encouragement to us. When we see one another standing firm in the face of difficulty, we should rejoice. When we see another believer struggling with trials, we should come alongside them, strengthening and encouraging them. Then when we see them come out the other side stronger and firmer in their faith, we will be strengthened as well. Paul was encouraged by the faith of the Thessalonians. He was strengthened by the news of their steadfast commitment to the cause of Christ. And he prayed that their love and faith would continue to increase. “And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows” (1 Thessalonians 3:11 NLT).

Father, may my life be an example to all those who know me. May they be strengthened and encouraged by the way I handle and face the inevitable adversity of life. Trials are inevitable. They are part of life on this planet. But give me the faith to remain strong. Give me love for others so that I will stand by them as they struggle and rejoice with them when they come out the other side stronger in their faith. Keep us going and growing, Lord. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

1 Thessalonians 2:1-16

Committed to the Cause.

1 Thessalonians 2:1-16

We pleaded with you, encouraged you, and urged you to love your lives is a way that God would consider worthy. For he called you to share in his Kingdom and glory. – 1 Thessalonians 2:12 NLT

Prior to visiting Thessalonica, Paul and Silas had been imprisoned in Philippi for preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ. They had had an encounter with a demon-possessed girl who had been used as a fortune teller by her “handlers.” Paul had cast out the demon, and as a result, she lost her ability to tell fortunes and her bosses lost their source of revenue. Paul and Silas were dragged before the authorities and accused of “teaching customs that are illegal for us Romans to practice” (Acts 16:21 NLT). The city officials had them severely beaten with rods and thrown into prison. Yet we read in the book of Acts that “around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening” (Acts 16:25 NLT). Suddenly massive earthquake struck the region and the doors of all the prison cells flew open. But rather than escape, Paul and Silas shared the gospel message with the jailer, who came to faith in Christ that night. Upon their release the next day, Paul and Silas left Philippi and headed to Thessalonica, where they shared the gospel for the first time with the readers of this letter.

Paul reminds the Thessalonian believers of the circumstances surrounding his first visit to their city. He and Silas had still been suffering the effects of their beating and imprisonment in Philippa, but yet they faithfully shared the Good News with them, even in the face of opposition. They didn’t do it out of greed, false flattery, personal gain or any other impure or improper motive. They did it because God had entrusted the Good News to them. Paul reminded them, “We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too” (1 Thessalonians 2:8 NLT). They diligently and faithfully shared the gospel among the Thessalonians, pleading, encouraging and urging them to believe. And the recipients of Paul’s letter had received their message as the very word of God. As a result, they too suffered persecution at the hands of their fellow countrymen.

Paul understood. He knew the cost of commitment to Christ. He had first-hand experience of just how high the price was for following Christ. But he encouraged these new believers to live their lives in such a way that they honored God. After all, He had allowed them to share in His Kingdom. Remaining faithful to Him even in the midst of persecution and difficulty was the least they could do in return. Persecution was not unique to the Thessalonians. Even back in Judea, Jews who had come to faith in Christ, had undergone intense persecution from their own people. This was a common place occurrence in those days. It was to be expected. It came with the territory. But Paul’s life illustrated the faithful endurance to which he was calling the Thessalonian believers. He was committed to the cause. He was motivated out of love for Christ. He worked hard, setting aside his own personal agenda and needs for the sake of the gospel. Their conversion was a direct result of Paul’s commitment. He didn’t let persecution or difficulty dissuade or distract him. He didn’t whine and complain. He simply shared, faithfully, passionately, honestly, obediently and lovingly.

Father, what an example Paul was and still is. He didn’t just mouth the words, he lived them. He didn’t just preach about commitment, he modeled it. How easy it is for us to find excuses and rationalize away our faithlessness. We use the slightest difficulty as a justification for spiritual laziness. When things heat up even slightly, we drop out. But Paul reminds us of the kind of commitment to the cause we should have. Help us to live like he did, to face opposition with the boldness he did, to endure difficulties with the kind of faith he did, and to remain committed to the cause of Christ as he did. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

1 Thessalonians 1

Faith Under Fire.

1 Thessalonians 1

And now the word of the Lord is ringing out from you to people everywhere, even beyond Macedonia and Achaia, for wherever we go we find people telling us about your faith in God. We don’t need to tell them about it. – 1 Thessalonians 1:8 NLT

Paul is writing to the new believers in Thessalonica. It had been a year since he and Silas has been there, preaching the Good News and helping lead these pagan Gentiles to salvation in Jesus Christ. His letter, probably written from Corinth, was meant to offer them words of encouragement, exhortation and clarification. As was the case with all of Paul’s letters, he was having to write them because he couldn’t physically be with them. These people had not had it easy since their acceptance of the gospel message. Their conversions had not come without cost, in the form of persecution and, to a certain degree, confusion. Thessalonica was a wealthy and influential city in the region of Macedonia. The book of Acts tells us that those who accepted the message of salvation through Jesus Christ included some Jews, God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women. These individuals found their faith in Christ immediately challenged because of the hostility of their own community to the Gospel message. During their missionary excursion to Thessalonica, Paul and Silas had been forced to flee for their lives when the crowds turned ugly, accusing them of treason against Caesar because they professed allegiance to another king – Jesus.

Like all new believers, these people were struggling with a certain degree of confusion. There was much they did not know. Their knowledge of Jesus and their understanding of His ultimate return were limited. While they had received the anointing of the Holy Spirit and knew first-hand that the message Paul had preached to them was true, they were limited in their understanding of what the Spirit-led life was to look like. Yet Paul was able to commend them for the faithful work, loving deeds and enduring hope. In fact, they had become an example of faith to all the believers in Greece. Word of their faith in the face of persecution and difficulty had gotten out. News of their acceptance of Christ and rejection of worthless idols had spread, influencing others to follow their example. Their commitment to Christ had not been without cost. But it had not been without real change either. These people had been radically transformed by the message of salvation through faith in Christ alone.

Paul commended them. “So you received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit in spite of the severe suffering it brought you. In this way, you imitated both us and the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 1:6 NLT). Salvation had brought suffering. Faith had put them under fire. Accepting Christ had led to rejection and ridicule. But they had remained faithful. A year later, Paul had received news that they were still holding firm in their faith, and this letter was his attempt to encourage and exhort them to remain faithful and strong. How easy it is for us to lose hope when our faith gets challenged or our walk with Christ becomes difficult. Accepting Christ requires nothing on our part, but walking with Him daily demands a great deal from us. We have to trust Him when things don’t make sense. We have to believe in His love when the circumstances we find ourselves going through seem anything but loving. We have to rest in His promises, even when they seem unlikely or uncertain. The life of faith is anything but easy. But it is worth it.

Father, salvation cost me nothing. But the life of faith costs me daily. I have to die to self. I have to endure the animosity and alienation of this world. I have to give up my will for Yours. I have to sacrifice my desires and place the needs of others ahead of my own. I have to wait when I would rather act. I have to trust You when I would rather trust my own judgment. But any cost to me is well worth it. The gain is so much greater than any pain I might have to endure. The benefits far outweigh the costs. Thank You for that reminder today. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Galatians 6

The Law of Christ.

Galatians 6

Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. – Galatians 6:2 NLT

Our freedom from the law does not give us license to live according to our own standard. It is not freedom to live and do as we wish. Paul uses this last section of his letter to let his readers know that their behavior to change. They were to live differently than they had before. But it was not simply behavior modification brought about by mere human effort. It was to be the result of the Spirit’s presence and work in them. Rather than living selfishly and self-absorbed, they were to love sacrificially and selflessly. They were to care about the sins of one another, not in order to point fingers and make themselves feel better about their own righteousness, but in order to restore that brother or sister. Paul told them they were to “share each other’s burdens.” When they did, they would be obeying a different law altogether, the law of Christ. His is a law of love, of selfless sacrifice, that requires us to put others ahead of ourselves, rather than compete with them in order to get ahead. John Piper describes the law of Christ this way: “But when Christ summons us to obey his law of love, he offers us himself to slay the dragon of our pride, change our hearts, empower us by his Spirit, and fulfill his law.” The old law could not change our heart, it could merely alter our behavior, but never perfectly or completely. The law of Christ is driven by love and is focused on changing our heart and modifying our behavior from the inside out.

Paul tells us, “If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important” (Galatians 6:5 NLT). This had been a theme of Jesus when He walked this earth during the three and a half years of His ministry. He was constantly teaching His disciples that life in His Kingdom was about placing the needs of others ahead of your own. It was about service, not being served. It was putting others first and ourselves last. It was about life within a community, not self-centered individuality. “Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone – especially to those in the family of faith” (Galatians 6:10 NLT). Doing good to others. Loving others. That is the nature of life within the body of Christ. It is about caring and community. It is about the fruit of the Spirit being produced in our lives for the benefit of others, not ourselves. We are being transformed by Christ in order that we might be agents of transformation in the lives of one another. We are to love others as He has loved us – selflessly and sacrificially. We are to be instruments of change in the Redeemer’s hands. As He works in us, He will use us to love the lost and lift up our brothers and sisters in Christ. But the antithesis of the law of Christ is the lure of pride. We are constantly battling our own selfish desire to make it all about ourselves. But Jesus gave us the greatest commandment when He said, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40 NLT). Love God. Love others. And God has given us His Spirit to make it possible. So we have no reason to brag or be boastful. It is His love in us flowing through us and influencing those around us.

Father, I want to fulfill the law of Christ. I want to love as He loved. I want my life to be marked by selflessness, not selfishness. I want to lift the burdens of others, but sometimes I can become too consumed with my own cares and concerns. Help me to learn to take the focus off of me and place it where it belongs on others. Help me to understand that your fruit, produced by Your Spirit in my life, is not for me but for others. Give me a growing desire to give my life away. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Galatians 5:16-26

The Fruit of the Spirit.

Galatians 5:16-26

But the Holy Spirit products this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! – Galatians 5:22 NLT

Not only are we free to love others, but we are free to live under the power and influence of the Holy Spirit. But if we’re not careful, we are also free to live according to the desires of our own sinful flesh – our sin nature. It’s a choice. I can choose to let the Holy Spirit guide and direct my life, or I can give in to the constant cravings of my sin nature. It’s not only a choice, it’s a daily battle. “These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions” (Galatians 5:17b NLT). The Holy Spirit directs us one way, while our sin nature prompts us to take an opposite and radically dangerous path. Allowing ourselves to get enslaved to the law only feeds our sin nature. Paul pointed this out in Romans 7. “…it was the law that showed me my sin. I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, ‘You must not covet.’ But sin used this command to arouse all kinds of covetous desires within me!” (Romans 7:7-8 NLT). The law tells me what I should not do, and then my sin nature desires to do just that. It’s like telling a young child not to touch a hot stove, and that becomes the one thing they want to try and do. Their sin nature creates a desire for the very thing they have been denied. Like Eve in the Garden, we can’t seem to stay away from the one thing God has told us is off limits. When you attempt to live according to laws, decrees, rules and standards, your sin nature will always resist, tempting you to break those rules or justify your ignoring of them. When you try to do what God wants in your own strength, you will fail. But when you live empowered and guided by the Spirit of God, you will have all the strength you need and the motivation to do what needs to be done.

Following the desires of our sin nature produces obvious outcomes. Paul gives us a comprehensive list. Sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these” (Galatians 5:19-21 NLT). Notice the diverse nature of his list. He includes sexual immorality alongside jealousy. Drunkenness makes the list right there by envy. All of these things, from the dramatic to the seeming inconsequential, all have one thing in common – they are focused on self. They are self-centered and driven by selfish desires. This list contains destructive behaviors that are anything but conducive to community and selfless servanthood. Trying to live your life according to some set of standards or rules will feed your sin nature and produce an unhealthy and destructive list of outcomes. You’ll end up comparing yourself with others. You’ll compete and attempt to outdo others in rule-keeping. You’ll attempt to justify your own insufficiencies and expose those of others. All this will lead to division, dissension, quarreling, jealousy, anger, and more.

It’s interesting that when we try to produce the fruit of the Spirit on our own, we end up with results that look nothing like what we were aiming for. Rather than love that is focused on others, we end up loving ourselves. In place of joy, we find ourselves with discontentment and dissatisfaction. Instead of producing patience, we become irritable, judgmental and angry. Kindness gets replaced with pettiness and an overwhelming need to find fault in others so that we can feel better about ourselves. Goodness gets trumped by selfishness. Faithfulness comes out as unreliability and self-seeking. Gentleness becomes harshness. And self-control goes out the window, as love of self takes over our lives, turning out attention inwardly rather than outwardly.

Only the Spirit of God can produce the fruit God is looking for in our lives. These things are not self-produced. We are incapable of manufacturing any of them on our own. If we try, we only end up with cheap imitations that are like those knock-off perfumes you can buy at the local drug store. They may cost less, but they stink in comparison to the real thing. Paul encourages us to live by the Spirit, according to His power, not our own. Rather than having to live enslaved to the desires of our old sin nature, we are now free to live in the Spirit’s power, allowing Him to produce in and through us what we could never have done on our own. He produces in us supernaturally what we could never have produced naturally. Like our salvation, it is the work of God, not man. This is no longer about trying to live up to some kind of standards, rules or laws. It is not about trying to behave in such a way that we somehow make God happy and satisfied with us. It is not about comparing ourselves with others and measuring our righteousness based on that of others. This is learning to recognize that our righteousness is the work of God, from beginning to end. It is the fruit of His Spirit, not our flesh. It is made possible by the work of Christ, not anything we do or don’t do. So Paul encourages us, “Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives” (Galatians 5:25 NLT). Let’s live in His power. Let’s operate according to His agenda. Let’s seek His will, not our own. Let’s watch Him produce His fruit in us, rather than try to produce it on our own. “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death” (Romans 8:1-2 NLT). We are free to live in the power of the Spirit and to bear the fruit of the Spirit – for the good of others, not ourselves.

Father, I want to live increasingly in the power of Your Spirit. I want to say no to my sin nature and yes to Your Spirit’s leading. I desire to see His fruit produced in and through me. My attempts at fruitfulness always fall short and never produce what You’re looking for. My sin nature tends to make everything about ME. But I want to live for You. Continue to patiently show me how to live in Your power, according to Your will, and expressing Your love for others through my life. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org