Don’t Grow Weary

11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

13 As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. 14 If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. 15 Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.

16 Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.

17 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write. 18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. 2 Thessalonians 3:11-17 ESV

Because of his authorship of the book of Romans, Paul is sometimes pigeon-holed for his theological acumen, but as this letter clearly shows, he could be highly practical as well. In these closing verses of 2 Thessalonians, he addresses what, to some, may appear to be a rather pedestrian problem: Laziness or idleness within the church. Paul had received news that there were those in the congregation in Thessalonica who were living undisciplined lives. This small contingent of individuals were refusing to work and expecting the rest of the church body to provide them with food. At first glance, it may seem that Paul is guilty of making a mountain out of a molehill. He is giving far too much attention to something that is essentially a non-issue.

But Paul saw the danger lying beneath the surface. He knew that, while the actions of these individuals may appear somewhat innocent and innocuous, they were actually quite dangerous. In the letter that bears his name, Jude warned of false teachers who had infiltrated the church and whose presence and teaching were posing a threat to the well-being of the fellowship. His description of them provides some insight into how Paul viewed those who were “walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us” (2 Thessalonians 3:6 ESV).

…they are like dangerous reefs that can shipwreck you. They are like shameless shepherds who care only for themselves. They are like clouds blowing over the land without giving any rain. They are like trees in autumn that are doubly dead, for they bear no fruit and have been pulled up by the roots. They are like wild waves of the sea, churning up the foam of their shameful deeds. They are like wandering stars, doomed forever to blackest darkness.  – Jude 1:12-13 NLT

Those within the body of Christ who chose to live undisciplined lives, whether through the teaching of false doctrine or by refusing to work, were doing irreparable harm through their self-centered actions. They cared only for themselves. They appeared to be active members of the congregation, but there was no benefit to their presence. They were like clouds that promised much-needed rain but never delivered. They were like fruit trees that failed to provide any harvest because they were dead. Like the waves of the sea, their presence within the body of Christ produced nothing of value, simply stirring up the foam of their shameful deeds. And like “wandering stars” or planets that move across the night sky, they proved to be unreliable sources for navigation. In other words, they provided nothing of value for the faith community.

And it wasn’t just that they refused to work. It was that their idleness would lead to a lifestyle of undisciplined behavior that would become like cancer in the body of Christ. Paul describes how their idle lives, characterized by a refusal to work, left them with too much time on their hands, which they used to meddle in other people’s business. Rather than being busy about work, they became busybodies, stirring up contention and strife among the fellowship.

Paul was a firm believer in the concept of the body of Christ and was adamant that each and every member of the body should be a contributor to its corporate well-being. Because of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, everyone had something to give back to the body of Christ. And it didn’t matter how bad your pre-conversion state may have been. He wrote to the church in Ephesus, encouraging its members to put aside their past and live new lives of usefulness and godliness.

If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. – Ephesians 4:28 NLT

There was no reason for any member of the body of Christ to be fruitless or to fail to be a contributor to the corporate needs of the community. That’s why Paul warned the Ephesians: “do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live” (Ephesians 4:30 NLT). Someone who willingly chose to live an undisciplined or idle life grieved the Spirit of God because it evidenced their refusal to live in keeping with His will. Rather than using the gifts given to them by the Spirit of God for the benefit of the body of Christ, they were living self-centered lives with no regard for anyone else.

And, for the first time in his letter, Paul addresses these individuals directly, commanding and encouraging them “to do their work quietly and to earn their own living” (2 Thessalonians 3:12 ESV). They knew who they were and they knew what they needed to do. No more freeloading. No more living off the generosity of others. They were to get busy and do their part, contributing to the needs of the body of Christ and displaying the transforming nature of the gospel through the way they lived their lives.

To the rest of the congregation, Paul provides a simple, yet profound piece of pastoral counsel: “do not grow weary in doing good” (2 Thessalonians 3:13 ESV). He knew that living the Christian life was not easy and there would be times when the Thessalonian believers would be tempted to throw in the towel. Not only were they having to deal with persecution from without, but they were also having to battle the presence of false teachers and lazy fellow parishioners. But Paul called them to a life of perseverance. He wanted them to keep their eye on the objective, what he elsewhere referred to as “the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14 ESV). This life would be filled with difficult people and trying day, but the end of the race would come with a reward that would make all the effort they expended more than worth it.

In the meantime, they were to distance themselves from the disobedient and undisciplined among them. Paul makes it clear that they were not to treat these people as enemies but they were to “admonish them as a brother” (2 Thessalonians 3:15 ESV). James encouraged the same kind of brotherly love toward those who had wandered from the faith.

…if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back from wandering will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins. – James 5:19-20 NLT

Restoration and reconciliation were to be the ultimate objectives. Maintaining unity within the body of Christ had to be of the highest priority. Calling out the unruly and undisciplined was non-optional. It wouldn’t fun but it had to be done or, like yeast, the sin of the few would spread throughout the body, destroying its vitality and diminishing its influence in the world.

And with that thought in mind, Paul closes his letter with a prayer for the presence and peace of God to be evident among the Thessalonian Christians.

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you his peace at all times and in every situation. The Lord be with you all. – 2 Thessalonians 3:16 NLT

As Paul had told the believers in Philippi, God’s peace, “exceeds anything we can understand.” Not only that, “His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7 NLT). Even in the midst of turmoil, trials, and difficulties of all sorts, God’s peace would always be available and viable. They could count on it.

And the Thessalonians could count on the fact that this letter was actually from Paul because he had personally signed it. While there may have been those who claimed to have letters from Paul that contained false teaching, this one was legitimate. He had included his own signature as proof.

Paul closes out his letter with his favorite benediction: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all” (2 Thessalonians 3:18 ESV). He wanted them to remember that the grace of God – His unmerited, undeserved favor – was the key to their salvation, sanctification, and ultimate glorification. Grace was the God-given power to live the lives they had been called to live. They had been saved by grace. They could experience the peace of God because of His grace. And they would be preserved and protected according to abundant, never-ending grace.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson


Perseverance in the Face of Persecution

1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

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. – 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4 ESV

Most scholars believe that Paul wrote this second letter to the Thessalonian church while he was in Corinth. As indicated by Acts 18:5, it was while in Corinth that Paul was joined by Silvanus (Silas) and Timothy, the two he mentions in the opening lines of his letter. All three men shared a common concern for the believers in Thessalonica and had probably discussed among themselves the most recent reports they had received regarding the spiritual state of the church there.

Paul, an avid evangelist, was also a consummate shepherd. He was never content to simply share the gospel and then walk away. Even though his ministry required him to travel from place to place, rarely allowing him to spend any extended periods of time with the new churches he helped to plant, he remained in constant communication with them. He maintained a network of individuals who acted as his “boots on the ground,” providing him with first-hand knowledge and timely reports about the state of the various congregations he had helped to start.

Evidently, Paul had received news regarding the Thessalonian church that prompted him to write this second letter to them. While he commends them for their growing faith and ever-increasing love for one another, Paul’s real purpose in writing seems to be driven by their confusion over the doctrine concerning Christ’s return. He will spend a good portion of his letter dealing with that issue. Paul knew that false or faulty doctrine could wreak havoc on the local church. Even right doctrine, wrongly interpreted or misunderstood can do irreparable damage to a local congregation.

The churches Paul had helped to start were all comprised of relatively new believers. Their spiritual immaturity made them especially susceptible to false teaching and could lead them to draw faulty conclusions about spiritual matters. They lacked a sophisticated understanding of doctrine. In fact, there was little in the way of well-documented and clearly articulated doctrine available to them. One of the reasons Paul Paul spent so much time putting his thoughts in writing and disseminating them in the form of letters was to provide clear teaching and instruction on key doctrinal issues, such as the Second Coming of Christ and the sanctification of the believer.

Under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, Paul addressed a wide variety of doctrinal topics, helping to establish a comprehensive dogma for the church. His letters, while typically written to local congregations, were commonly circulated among other nearby churches. Eventually, Paul’s letters became part of a growing collection of writings that were later canonized as the New Testament Scriptures. These divinely inspired texts provide the church with an official system of principles or tenets concerning the Christian faith.

But, before Paul launches into the main thesis of his letter, he greets the believers in Thessalonica, reminding them that they belong to “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 1:1 ESV). They are children of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ. They are part of the family of God and comprise the body of Christ. This seems to be Paul’s way of reminding them that they have been set apart by God for His use. To be in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ speaks of both ownership and relationship. There is an intimacy and accountability involved. As Paul had told the believers in Corinth: “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV).

And it is from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ that the Thessalonian believers can expect to receive grace and peace. Grace or charis in the Greek refers to God’s unmerited favor. It is something He gives that is undeserved and unearned. It finds its greatest expression in the gift of Jesus Christ as the payment for mankind’s sin. But God’s grace is continuous and ever-present, constantly flowing into the life of the believer providing divine enablement through the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

And it is through their relationship with God the Father and Jesus the Son that the Thessalonians can expect to receive peace or eirēnē – which refers as much to a tranquil state of the soul as it does to a lack of interpersonal conflict. It is because of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, serving as the payment for the sins of mankind, that believers are justified or made right with God. And this status with God results in peace or a cessation of all fear or worry of condemnation (Romans 8:1). And, as Paul wrote to the believers in Philippi, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7 ESV).

As Paul considered his brothers and sisters in Thessalonica, he was prompted to express his gratitude to God because of their faith was growing, not stagnating. Their love for one another was increasing, not diminishing. For Paul, this was all evidence of the work of God. He who had begun a good work in them was obviously completing it (Philippians 1:6). And news of their perseverance and steadfastness of faith, even amid persecution and affliction, had led Paul to brag about them to other congregations. They had become teaching tools for Paul, providing him with tangible proof of what it means “to live in a way that pleases God” (1 Thessalonians 4:1 NLT).

The truth is, most of the churches Paul helped to start were suffering persecution in some form or fashion. It came with the territory. Following Christ was not normal or, in most cases, acceptable behavior. It came with a price. Paul refers to persecutions and afflictions. The first word refers to the hostile actions taken against the believers in Thessalonica. These could take the form of actual verbal and physical assaults or social ostracization. New believers could lose their jobs or social standings, but it was not uncommon for some to lose their lives. Affliction seems to refer to the results of this kind of persecution. The Greek word communicates the idea of being pressed down on or burdened by a heavy weight. The constant persecution taking place around them and to them was having an impact on them. The pressure was beginning to take a toll on them. But Paul commended them for their steadfastness. The Outline of Biblical Usage refers to this kind of persevering patience as “the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings.”

They may have been young in their faith and lacking in adequate doctrinal instruction, but they were persevering under extremely difficult conditions. Their commitment to Christ had cost them. Their walk of faith was anything but easy. But they were dedicated and determined to stay the course and, as Paul put it, run the race to win.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

1 Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 64. All abbreviations of ancient literature in this essay are those used in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3d ed. (OCD).

Surviving and Thriving

17 But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, 18 because we wanted to come to you — I, Paul, again and again — but Satan hindered us. 19 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20 For you are our glory and joy. 

1 Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know. For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain. – 1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:5 ESV

Paul’s great love for the believers in Thessalonica can be seen in his words expressing his deep desire to see them again. Ever since he and Silas had been forced to leave the city under the cover of darkness due to threats against them, he had been longing to return. And while Paul had been ministering in other cities, he doesn’t give busyness as his excuse. He blames Satan. He provides no clarification or explanation, but seems to be indicating that spiritual warfare was involved. Paul was well acquainted with the reality of Satan and had first-hand experience with the invisible battle taking place in “the heavenly places.” He told the believers in Ephesus:

…we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12 NLT

There were a lot of places Paul wanted to go, but he wasn’t always able to squeeze them into his plans. He told the Romans:

I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to visit you, but I was prevented until now. – Romans 1:16 NLT

But in this case, Paul doesn’t blame his absence on Satan. He simply states that he had been busy sharing the gospel in places where it had not yet been heard.

I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written,

“Those who have never been told of him will see,
and those who have never heard will understand.”

This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you. –Romans 15:20-22 ESV

But, for whatever reason, Paul felt that his delay in returning to Thessalonica was a blatant case of spiritual warfare. The enemy didn’t want him to go back and had set up obstacles in his path. Again, while Paul provides no specifics, he does shed light on his outlook regarding the invisible war taking place around him. The intensity of his love for the Thessalonian believers was offset by Satan’s intense hatred for them. Paul knew that they were under attack as well, and longed to return in order that he might encourage and strengthen them in their faith. He describes them as “our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 2:19 ESV). They were his whole reason for existence, and their spiritual well-being was his greatest concern. Paul wanted each and every believer to remain firm in their faith all the way to the end. Their spiritual survival and success would one day bring Paul great joy and provide him with reason for “boasting before our Lord Jesus.” Their presence in heaven will give him great pride. Paul isn’t taking credit for their salvation or saying that he will deserve honor from God for all his efforts on their behalf. He’s simply indicating that nothing means more to him than accomplishing the work given to him by God – the spreading of the gospel and the spiritual development of the church.

Paul’s apparent delay didn’t prevent him from sending Timothy in his place. He had his young disciple return to Thessalonica with instructions “to establish and exhort” them in their faith. The two Greek words Paul used provide us with insight into Timothy’s responsibilities. The first is stērizō and it means “to strengthen or make stable.” The second word is parakaleō and it means “to comfort or encourage.” This is one of the functions of the Holy Spirit Himself, whom Jesus referred to as the paraklētos or comforter. Paul wanted Timothy to build up the church in Thessalonica by establishing them in their faith and comforting them as they encountered persecution.

Paul knew that trials could easily shake the church, leaving them discouraged and disillusioned in their faith. They were going to need to proper instruction and ongoing emotional support. So, he sent Timothy to provide the church with everything from sound doctrinal instruction to much-needed encouragement to stay the course. Paul wanted them to know that affliction was to be expected. He reminds them that “we are destined for this” (1 Thessalonians 3:3 ESV). When he had been with them, he had told them that trials were coming. And they had arrived just as he had predicted.

Paul had not been caught off guard by the presence of trials among the believers in Thessalonica. But he was concerned that they would allow those trials to negatively impact their walk with Christ. He knew that “the tempter” was going to do everything in his power to deceive, distract, and defeat them. Satan was going to use the presence of difficulties to cause doubts about the goodness of God and the efficacy of the Christian faith. He would be whispering in their ears, “What kind of God lets these kinds of things happen to those He claims to love?”

Paul’s greatest fear was that any believer would allow the difficulties of life to draw he or she away from God. Faith requires perseverence in the face of the inevitable trials of life. Walking with Christ will have its ups and downs. Living in a fallen world will bring its fair share of difficulties, and Paul worried about the Thessalonians taking their eyes off the prize and focusing on the temporal nature of their trials. And he knew that every believer faced the very real threat of having their faith weakened by the presence of unexpected and unwanted trials. Which is why he reminded the Roman believers not allow present suffering to distract them from the promise of future glory.

And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.

Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. – Romans 8:17-18 NLT

Seeing the lost come to faith was a passion for Paul. But he was unwilling to stop there. He knew that the post-conversion life of the believer was a difficult one. Coming to faith was just the beginning. Growing in faith and confidence in the promises or God took time. Standing firm in storms of life was not easy. The spiritual battle was real and enemy’s efforts to destroy the believer’s faith would be intense and unrelenting. So, Paul sent Timothy to strengthen and encourage them in their faith. The Christian life requires endurance. The walk of faith demands steadfastness in the face of difficulty, and unwavering determination to stand against the inevitable attacks of the enemy.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Help In Time of Need.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. – Hebrews 4:14-16 ESV

The life of faith is not an easy one. Following Christ requires commitment and a determination to keep on believing and trusting even in the midst of the constant and deadly barrage of the enemy. Paul encourages us, “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16 ESV). Peter warns us, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8 ESV). Later on in this letter, the author will tell us,

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. – Hebrews 12:1-3 NLT

The Christian life requires endurance and perseverance. It demands that we keep our eyes focused on Jesus, not just for our salvation, but for our ongoing sanctification. He is the “champion who initiates and perfects our faith.” We are to look at His example, how He endured the cross and how He was “tempted in every way, just as we are” (Hebrews 4:15 NLT). Jesus suffered and died because of sin; not His, but ours. He sacrificed His life so we wouldn’t have to give up ours. Which is the author of Hebrews goes on to say, “After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin” (Hebrews 4:4 NLT). We will never have to die for our sins, because Jesus took our place. But we will have to struggle with the presence and reality of indwelling sin. While we live on this earth we will have to “strive to enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:11 ESV) – the rest that comes with trusting in the finished work of Christ, that includes not only our salvation, but our sanctification and ultimate glorification. We will have to constantly “hold firmly to the faith we profess” (Hebrews 4:14 NLT). Our hope is in Christ, or as Paul puts it in his letter to the Romans, “from faith for faith” (Romans 1:17 ESV). Literally, our faith must remain in Christ, from the beginning to the end. Paul told the Philippian Christians, “I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6 NLT). We have to hold firmly to that fact, even in the face of difficulty and disappointments.

And when we find ourselves in need, we are to turn to Jesus, our great high priest. He represents us before God and He fully understands what we are going through because He has been in our shoes. He is able to sympathize with our weaknesses. He was tempted just as we are. He knows what it is like to be under attack and to feel overwhelmed. And He also knows what it is like to not sin, to not give in to feelings of doubt and despair. He never failed to trust God. He never once failed to obey God. Paul tells us that “being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8 ESV). So when we find ourselves in a difficult spot, we can confidently turn to Him as our divine high priest. And we can find the grace and mercy we need to help us in our time of need. When we are struggling, we don’t find a high priest who shakes His finger in our face and condemns our weakness. No, we find a sympathetic and empathetic high priest who reminds us that our sins have been paid for and any need for us to try to atone for our own sins has been done away with. The author will expand on this them in chapter nine.

But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! – Hebrews 9:11-14 NLT

Jesus played a dual role. He acted as the high priest, bringing the atoning sacrifice for man’s sins before God the Father. But He also played the part of the sacrificial lamb. He gave His life because it was the only sacrifice that would be acceptable to the Father. He was the unblemished, sinless Son of God, offering His own life as a substitute or stand-in for sinful humanity. And as those who have trusted in His substitutionary death on the cross, we can still come before the throne of grace and find mercy, hope, strength, comfort, assurance, and a constant reminder of God’s everlasting, never failing love for us. We will face trials and tribulations in this life. We will encounter difficulties and experience times of doubt and despair. But we have an understanding high priest who knows our weaknesses and has provided the cure for what ails us. As the author put it earlier in his letter:

Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested. – Hebrews 2:17-18 NLT

We have help in time of need. We have a God who understands our weakness and has made compensation for it. We have not been left on our own. We don’t have to face the trials of this earth in our own human effort. We can stand firm and hold on to our original confession because our high priest is there to help us.

Isaiah 39-40, Revelation 3

Behold Your God!

Isaiah 39-40, Revelation 3

Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. Isaiah 40:10 ESV

Judgment was coming. While God had spared Judah defeat at the hands of the Assyrians, that did not mean that they had dodged the inevitable punishment of God for theirs sins. They were enjoying an undeserved reprieve, but their sinful state still demanded that a just and holy God deal with them judiciously and rightly. What God wanted from His people was repentance. He desired for them to return to Him in faithfulness and dependence, placing their full trust in Him as their God. He wanted them to reflect their unique position as His chosen people and live their lives in accordance with His commands. But they continued to stubbornly and persistently reject His will for their lives. Even Hezekiah, after having been given an additional 15 years of life by God, makes a cardinal error of giving visiting envoys from the land of Babylon a world-wind tour of his kingdom, showing them all his royal treasures and the extend of his military arsenal. In Hezekiah’s mind, he was simply wooing a possible ally in his ongoing fight against the Assyrians. He was trying to impress them with his wealth and power. But in reality, Hezekiah was guilty of placing his hope and trust in something other than God. He saw the eventual rescue of his nation coming from somewhere else other than God. And even when the prophet Isaiah told him that “the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left” (Isaiah 39:6 ESV), Hezekiah mistakenly took it as good news. He somehow thought that this all meant an alliance with Babylon would bring peace and security to the land of Judah. 

What does this passage reveal about God?

Chapter 39 ends with God’s pronouncement of coming judgment on Judah at the hands of the Babylonians. As almost always seemed to be the case, the people of God never quite fully understood the significance or seriousness of what was about to happen to them. They always seemed to have another trick up their sleeve or another plan that they thought could forestall the inevitable judgment of God. Hezekiah just couldn’t bring himself to believe that God would actually destroy His own people. After all, they were the descendants of Abraham, the chosen people of God. They were the apple of His eye and Jerusalem contained the temple in which God’s presence dwelt. But what Hezekiah failed to understand was the holiness of God. He could not and would not tolerate sin among His people. He could not turn a blind eye to their ongoing rebellion and overlook their persistently unrepentant hearts. Judgment was not only inevitable, but unavoidable. As a righteous and holy judge, God had to pass sentence on the sins of the people. To ignore their sins would have made Him unjust. To fail to condemn and pass judgment on their sins would have been an unrighteous act. But God reveals something incredibly powerful in chapter 40. In His divine wisdom and omniscience, God provides Isaiah with a glimpse into the future. It is as if a huge gap exists between the end of chapter 39 and the opening verses of chapter 40. The judgment of God would come. The city of Jerusalem would fall. The temple of God would be destroyed. The people of Judah would end up in exile in Babylon for 70 years. But then something incredible was going to happen. Just when everything was bleak and hopeless, the shout would be heard: “Behold your God!” Just when the people of God had grown accustomed to their exile and resigned to the idea that they would never again see their homeland, the news would be announced, “Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young” (Isaiah 40:10-11 ESV). God was going to act. God was going to do something incomparable and inconceivable. He was going to redeem His people once again from captivity and restore them to the land.

What does this passage reveal about man?

The people of Judah did not understand their God. They did not appreciate His power and sovereignty. They took for granted His presence and treated lightly His righteous demands on their lives. God revealed His intimate understanding of them when He rhetorically asked, “Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel,
‘My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God’?” (Isaiah 40:27 ESV). Prior to the exile, when they were living in the land of Judah, they acted as if God was oblivious to or indifferent about their behavior. He either didn’t care or couldn’t see what they were doing. Once they found themselves living in exile, they took the defeatist attitude that God didn’t care or was just blind to their predicament. He refused to see anything good that they might be doing. But God reminded them, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:28-31 ESV). God was not indifferent to their predicament or incapable of doing something about it. He was the God of the universe. He knows all things. He is all-powerful. He is the source of all strength, all hope, all deliverance, all help, all joy, and all restoration. In spite of the sins of Judah, He would eventually restore them to the land. In spite of the sins of mankind, He will eventually restore His creation to a right relationship with Him. The day is coming when all men will hear the words, “Behold your God!” That does not mean that all men and women will worship Him, but they will acknowledge Him as the God of the universe. There will be no more debate as to His existence or His sovereign reign over everything and everyone.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

In Revelation 2-3, we have the words of Jesus spoken to the seven churches. In these two chapters we see Him both commending and condemning these churches. He acknowledges their faithfulness and perseverance under trial. He praises their endurance and determination to remain true to Him even while facing extreme difficulties. But He also reveals their glaring deficiencies and failures. He points out their compromise, as well as their spiritual arrogance and pride. He exposes their self-sufficiency and tolerance of falsehood in their midst. He accuses them of spiritual apathy and lukewarmness. But repeatedly, He reminds them to stay the course. He encourages them to not give up or give in.

To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” – Revelation 2:7 ESV

The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.” – Revelation 2:11 ESV

To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.” – Revelation 2:17 ESV

The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations…” – Revelation 2:26 ESV

The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.” – Revelation 3:5 ESV

The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God.” – Revelation 3:12 ESV

The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.” – Revelation 3:21 ESV

While this may all sound like the burden lies on us to make it through to the end, the Scriptures make it clear that our ultimate victory is the Lord’s doing, not our own. Our ability to conquer and come through this life faithful and true is made possible by the indwelling presence of God Himself. Our faithfulness is not of our own making, but is provided by the Spirit of God within us. He empowers and equips us. He gives us strength to obey and the will to remain faithful to the end. So that when all is said and done, and we stand before the Father in heaven, we will hear the words, “Behold your God!” and fully understand the sobering significance of their meaning.

Father, You are incomparable. Your power is immeasurable. Your love for me is unfathomable. I can’t fully grasp who You are and all that You have done for me. Yet You are my God. That is unbelievable. You are with me each and every day of my life. You never leave my side. You never lose sight of me or ever take your hands off of me. You will never leave me nor forsake me. You refuse to abandon me and You will faithfully complete Your plan for me. I WILL conquer. I will survive. I will make it through to the end, in spite of my unfaithfulness, weakness, inconsistencies, lack of love, lukewarmness, compromise and spiritual complacency. It is YOU who are faithful and true. And any good I do in this life is completely up to Your Spirit’s work in my life. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

1 Timothy 6:11-21

The Goal of Godliness.

1 Timothy 6:11-21

But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. – 1 Timothy 6:11 NLT

As Paul wraps up his letter to Timothy, he gives him one last charge. He calls him to live differently and to see he life as distinctive and set apart from all those around him, including those who are crave money and have wandered from the faith. Unlike the false teachers for whom godliness was merely a way to become wealthy, Timothy was to run from that kind of attitude and make true godliness his sole goal, along with ever-increasing faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. Paul tells him to “pursue” godliness – which in the Greek meant “to run swiftly in order to catch” or of one “who in a race runs swiftly to reach the goal.” Money, materialism, popularity, power, pleasure, significance, comfort – none of these things were to be the focus of Timothy’s life. And while Paul is addressing this last section of his letter to Timothy, it is really a call to all believers of every age. Paul had made it clear to Timothy that he was to “Teach these things … and encourage everyone to obey them. Some people may contradict our teaching, but these are the wholesome teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. These teachings promote a godly life” (1 Timothy 6:2-3 NLT). Everything Paul had shared in his letter was intended to be practiced and promoted among the people of God. As a leader, Timothy was to be an example of godly living to all those under his care. Paul had told Timothy, “Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity” (1 Timothy 4:12 NLT).

As believers, our lives are always on display, and others are watching. Our behavior and conduct is constantly being witnessed by God Himself, our fellow believers and the lost. Paul wanted Timothy to live his life well and consistently. He told him to “fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you” (1 Timothy 6:12 NLT). For Paul, perseverance and consistency of faith was essential. He wanted Timothy to finish well. He wanted him to keep his eyes on the goal, which was the return of Christ. The reality of that event was to never be far from Timothy’s heart and mind, so that he would live his life in such a way that no one could find fault with his character or conduct. There would certainly be those who disliked and disparaged his life because he lived it for God, just as Paul had experienced. Suffering for the sake of Christ was always acceptable and expected. But Paul  didn’t want Timothy to do anything that would harm his reputation as a believer or bring dishonor to God.

Paul gives Timothy one last message concerning those who are rich in the things of this world. He doesn’t condemn them, but simply warns them that they are not to put their trust in their money, because it is unreliable. It makes a lousy god. Instead, they were to put their trust in God, who is the ultimate provider of all that we need. Those who had been blessed with money were to see it as a God-provided resource to be used for the care of others and the cause of the Kingdom of God. They were to be “rich” in good works and generous to those in need. God called them while they wealthy, so God must have had a purpose for placing them in the body of Christ in that condition. By focusing their attention on obedience to God and service to others, they would learn that their wealth was just a tool in the hands of God, not a treasure to be horded and held onto.

Some of Paul’s last words to Timothy were, “guard what God has entrusted to you” (1 Timothy 6:20 NLT). He was to see his own salvation and the news of salvation through Jesus Christ as invaluable and worthy of his constant protection. Leadership in the body of Christ is a dangerous calling and it comes with great responsibilities. Timothy had been entrusted with the message of the Gospel and the care of the flock of Jesus Christ. He had an obligation to put the needs of the congregation ahead of his own. And yet, he was also to guard himself – watching over his character and conduct constantly. The same message applied to Timothy that Paul shared with the elders from Ephesus: “So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock – his church, purchased with his own blood – over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders” (Acts 20:28 NLT). The goal for all spiritual leaders should be godliness – not only for themselves, but for all those under their care. But godliness without God’s grace is impossible. This journey of faith to which we have been called is only possible through an ever-increasing dependence upon God. We need His Word to teach and guide us. We need His Spirit to empower us. We need His grace and mercy to miraculously meet us where we are along the way and constantly remind us that godliness is our one and only calling.

Father, make us godly. Continue to mold and make us into the likeness of Your Son. Keep us focused on the one and only goal that we should all have – our godliness. Don’t let us get distracted by the things of this world. Prevent us from loving the world more than we love You. May our godliness as individuals and as members of the body of Christ be what drives and motivates us all the days of our lives – until You call us home or send Your Son to come and get us. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men