The Remnant Restored and Purified

Then the remnant of Jacob shall be
    in the midst of many peoples
like dew from the Lord,
    like showers on the grass,
which delay not for a man
    nor wait for the children of man.
And the remnant of Jacob shall be among the nations,
    in the midst of many peoples,
like a lion among the beasts of the forest,
    like a young lion among the flocks of sheep,
which, when it goes through, treads down
    and tears in pieces, and there is none to deliver.
Your hand shall be lifted up over your adversaries,
    and all your enemies shall be cut off.

10 And in that day, declares the Lord,
    I will cut off your horses from among you
    and will destroy your chariots;
11 and I will cut off the cities of your land
    and throw down all your strongholds;
12 and I will cut off sorceries from your hand,
    and you shall have no more tellers of fortunes;
13 and I will cut off your carved images
    and your pillars from among you,
and you shall bow down no more
    to the work of your hands;
14 and I will root out your Asherah images from among you
    and destroy your cities.
15 And in anger and wrath I will execute vengeance
    on the nations that did not obey. – Micah 5:7-15 ESV

Micah continues his description of the “latter days” which he began in chapter 4. He notes that, in that day, “the remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many peoples” (Micah 5:7 ESV). The Hebrew word translated as “remnant” is she’eriyth and it refers to “what is left” or “the survivors.” Micah used this word repeatedly when speaking of those Jews who will remain on earth when the end times takes place. According to Micah, God has great plans for this small group of Jews who will survive the persecution of the Antichrist and the plagues that will mark the Great Tribulation.

I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob;
    I will gather the remnant of Israel;
I will set them together
    like sheep in a fold,
like a flock in its pasture,
    a noisy multitude of men.
– Micah 2:12 ESV

In that day, declares the Lord,
    I will assemble the lame
and gather those who have been driven away
    and those whom I have afflicted;
and the lame I will make the remnant,
    and those who were cast off, a strong nation;
and the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion
    from this time forth and forevermore. – Micah 4:6-7 ESV

And the remnant of Jacob shall be among the nations,
    in the midst of many peoples,
like a lion among the beasts of the forest,
    like a young lion among the flocks of sheep,
which, when it goes through, treads down
    and tears in pieces, and there is none to deliver. – Micah 5:8 ESV

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
    and passing over transgression
    for the remnant of his inheritance?
He does not retain his anger forever,
    because he delights in steadfast love. – Micah 7:18 ESV

While Micah has made it painfully clear that the nation of Judah will suffer defeat at the hands of the Babylonians as punishment for their sin, he has also revealed that God will one day redeem and restore them. But not all of them. This image of the remnant is critical to understanding what God has in store for the nation of Israel.

The apostle Paul, a Jew himself, wrote extensively concerning the future salvation of his people. In his letter to the believers in Rome, he described a day when the people of Israel would be saved.

Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
    he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;
“and this will be my covenant with them
    when I take away their sins.” – Romans 11:25-27 ESV

While these verses seem to indicate that Paul believed God would one day redeem “all Israel,” the rest of his letter to the Romans paints a different picture. He is referring to a future day when all those Jews who remain, the remnant, will be saved. Look at what he says in chapter 9.

And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” And as Isaiah predicted,

“If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring,
    we would have been like Sodom
    and become like Gomorrah.” – Romans 9:27-29 ESV

Despite the events surrounding the Tribulation and the enemy’s attempts to irradicate each and every Jew living in those days, God will preserve a remnant of His people. In the Book of Revelation, the apostle John relates a vision he was given by God that describes the sealing or protection of 144,000 Jews from every tribe in Israel.

After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth, that no wind might blow on earth or sea or against any tree. Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:

12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed,
12,000 from the tribe of Reuben,
12,000 from the tribe of Gad,
12,000 from the tribe of Asher,
12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali,
12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh,
12,000 from the tribe of Simeon,
12,000 from the tribe of Levi,
12,000 from the tribe of Issachar,
12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun,
12,000 from the tribe of Joseph,
12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed. – Revelation 7:1-8 ESV

During the Tribulation, the Antichrist, under orders from Satan himself, will launch a pogrom of intense persecution against any Jews living during those days. And yet, God will see to it that a remnant of them will come to a saving faith in His Son, becoming the firstfruits of all those who will experience the salvation during those dark days. And John was given another vision, revealing that those same 144,000 will experience redemption and resurrection, standing before the throne of God in heaven.

This great choir sang a wonderful new song in front of the throne of God and before the four living beings and the twenty-four elders. No one could learn this song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. They have kept themselves as pure as virgins, following the Lamb wherever he goes. They have been purchased from among the people on the earth as a special offering to God and to the Lamb. They have told no lies; they are without blame. – Revelation 14:3-5 ESV

One of the tasks of this remnant will be to share the good news of Jesus Christ with all those who are living during the Great Tribulation. They will risk their lives in order that others might hear the message of salvation through faith alone in Christ alone. And while they go about their God-appointed ministry of evangelizing the lost, they will  enjoy divine protection.

And their efforts will not be in vain, because John describes the scene of a large mixed-race multitude standing before the throne of God in heaven.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” – Revelation 7:9-10 ESV

These will be Jews and Gentiles who will come to faith during the days of Tribulation because of the evangelistic efforts of the 144,000. The individuals who make up this great multitude will have been martyred by Antichrist for their having chosen to align themselves with Christ rather than bow down and worship him.

And Micah makes it clear that, during those latter days, the remnant of Israel will find themselves surrounded by enemies. The persecution will be intense and unrelenting. And yet, God will remove all the trappings of success and strength that Israel had traditionally relied upon.

And in that day, declares the Lord,
    I will cut off your horses from among you
    and will destroy your chariots;
and I will cut off the cities of your land
    and throw down all your strongholds;
and I will cut off sorceries from your hand,
    and you shall have no more tellers of fortunes;
and I will cut off your carved images
    and your pillars from among you,
and you shall bow down no more
    to the work of your hands… – Micah 5:10-13 ESV

The Israelites would no longer have any weapons or walled cities to rely upon. They would have no fortune-tellers or false prophets to tempt them with pleasant-sounding lies promising good news. And Antichrist will see to it that every single idol, other than the one dedicated to himself in the temple of God, will be completely eradicated. But, in His grace and mercy, God will see to it that a remnant of His people is restored to a right relationship with Him by opening their eyes to the truth of the gospel.

And finally, Micah reveals that God will execute His judgment against all the nations who choose to align themselves with Antichrist and reject the message of the 144,000. God will redeem a remnant of His people and He will destroy all those who refuse to repent and receive His gracious offer of salvation.

…in anger and wrath I will execute vengeance
    on the nations that did not obey. – Micah 5:15 ESV

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

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In the Fullness of Time

12 I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob;
    I will gather the remnant of Israel;
I will set them together
    like sheep in a fold,
like a flock in its pasture,
    a noisy multitude of men.
13 He who opens the breach goes up before them;
    they break through and pass the gate,
    going out by it.
Their king passes on before them,
    the Lord at their head.
 
Micah 2:12-13 ESV

It was not entirely wrong for the people of Judah to place their hope in their covenant relationship with God. After all, they were His chosen people and He had committed Himself to their care. And that relationship was governed by more than one covenant between God and His people.

The first had been the one God had made with Abraham, the father of the Hebrew people. Long before Abraham even had a single heir, God had promised to create a mighty nation from his descendants. And this, in spite of the fact that Abraham was old and his wife was barren.

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:1-3 ESV

This covenant was unilateral and unconditional in nature. In other words, its success or failure was completely dependent upon God. Other than leave his native land, Abraham had no requirements placed upon him by God. He simply had to believe in what God had promised to do for him. And while, over the years, Abraham would have his moments of doubt, he continued to trust in the word of God.

On one of those occasions when Abraham doubted, God appeared to him and said:

“Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. – Genesis 15:5-6 ESV

And God provided Abraham with insight into how this would all take place.

“Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.” – Genesis 15:13-14 ESV

Abraham never lived long enough to see that covenant fully fulfilled, but he believed in the promise contained in it. And God fulfilled it. By the time the people of Israel were delivered from their captivity in Egypt, they had become a mighty nation, numbering in the millions. And God had delivered them safely to the land He had promised to give to them as an inheritance. Once there, God placed over them a man after His own heart, a king who would rule them in righteousness: David. And God made a covenant with David as well.

“When your days are fulfilled to walk with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from him who was before you, but I will confirm him in my house and in my kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever.” – 1 Chronicles 17:11-14 ESV

This too was an unconditional, unilateral covenant, bound only by the word of God. It required nothing from David but was solely based on God’s commitment to make the Davidic dynasty an everlasting one.

As part of that same covenant, God had promised to provide the nation of Israel with a permanent place in the land of Canaan, where they would live peacefully and undisturbed.

“And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly.” – 2 Samuel 7:10 ESV

The third covenant God made with the nation of Israel is known as the Mosaic or Sinai Covenant. From a timeline perspective, this one falls between the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants. It was made not long after the people of Israel had departed Egypt and were camped at the base of Mount Sinai in the wilderness. It was there that God made His covenant with Moses and the people of Israel. And, in this case, the covenant was conditional in nature and chapters 19-24 of the book of Exodus contain the conditions or requirements placed upon Israel in order for this covenant to be fulfilled. God promised to keep His part of the covenant, but only as long as Israel lived up to their end of the agreement.

“‘Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” – Exodus 19:5-6 ESV

With those three covenants in mind, let’s revisit verses 12-13 of the second chapter of the book of Micah. God has just warned the people of Judah about the judgment He was about to bring on them due to their sin and rebellion against Him. And yet, they were clinging to their belief that they were the covenant people of God.

“Do not preach”—thus they preach—
    “one should not preach of such things;
    disgrace will not overtake us.” – Micah 2:6 ESV

They couldn’t believe that Micah would preach a message of doom and gloom when they were God’s chosen people. Didn’t he know about God’s covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David? Hadn’t God committed to provide and care for His people. Wasn’t David’s kingdom supposed to be an everlasting one and their place in the land guaranteed by God to be permanent? So, how could Micah be preaching a message of destruction? It made no sense.

But what the people of Judah failed to understand was that God’s covenant commitments, while binding, were eternal and not temporal in nature. God had a long-term perspective in mind when He made His covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David. Yet, each generation of Jews had lived with the mistaken belief that all of God’s covenant promises had to be fulfilled in their lifetimes. They failed to understand that God had a much bigger, all-encompassing plan in place that would extend beyond their particular generation and even beyond the ethnic boundaries of Judaism. God had promised Abraham, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3 ESV).

God’s plans for the nation of Israel were global in nature. And the reason God had committed to preserve and protect the nation of Israel was so that He raise up the Messiah from among them, the one who would provide salvation not only for Israel but for all the nations of the world.

In his letter to the believers in Galatia, Paul provided them insight into God’s covenant promise to Abraham.

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:16 ESV

Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham. It would be through Jesus, a descendant of Abraham, that all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus would make available to all men, salvation from sin and death. And Jesus would also be the ultimate fulfillment of the promise God made to King David. Jesus was would be born into the house and lineage of David, making Him the rightful heir to David’s throne. And one day, He will return to earth and rule in perfect righteousness from the throne of David in Jerusalem.

God had a long-term perspective. His focus was eternal in nature, as the prophet Jeremiah made clear.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’ – Jeremiah 23:5-6 ESV

And the prophet Isaiah, a contemporary of Micah, provided insight into the coming of the one who would fulfill God’s covenant to David.

For a child is born to us,
    a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
    And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace
    will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
    for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    will make this happen! – Isaiah 9:6-7 NLT

And Micah echoed the same message of hope regarding Israel’s future. God was going to keep His covenant promises. He was going to do all that He had said He would do.

“Someday, O Israel, I will gather you;
    I will gather the remnant who are left.
I will bring you together again like sheep in a pen,
    like a flock in its pasture.
Yes, your land will again
    be filled with noisy crowds!
Your leader will break out
    and lead you out of exile,
out through the gates of the enemy cities,
    back to your own land.
Your king will lead you;
    the Lord himself will guide you.” – Micah 2:12-13 NLT

But none of this would take place in Micah’s lifetime. He and the rest of the citizens of Judah would not live long enough to see the salvation that God had planned. But it would come nonetheless. In spite of their sin and rebellion, God would send a Savior. A child would be born. A son would be given. And His name would be Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). But it would all be according to God’s divine plan and in keeping with His sovereign schedule.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. – Galatians 4:4-7 ESV

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

Salvation, Suffering, and Scripture

10 You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. 12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:10-17 ESV

Timothy found himself surrounded by false teachers and foolish people whose lack of spiritual discernment caused them to accept their heresy as truth. But Paul was not going to allow his young disciple to lose hope or to abandon his ministry objectives. Timothy still had work to do. The gospel must be preached, new believers must be educated in the teachings of Christ, the truth of God’s Word must be defended, and the promises of God must be believed. At all costs.

If Timothy needed encouragement or an example to follow, he need only look to the life of Paul, his mentor, and friend. After all, Paul was writing this letter while confined to prison in Rome. And the sole reason he was there was because of his faith in Christ and his commitment to preaching the gospel. He had been falsely accused by those who opposed his message and despised him so much that they would do anything to see him eliminated. A group of 40 Jews had even made a pact, sealed by an oath, that they would not eat until they had personally assassinated Paul.

The next morning a group of Jews got together and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. There were more than forty of them in the conspiracy. They went to the leading priests and elders and told them, “We have bound ourselves with an oath to eat nothing until we have killed Paul. So you and the high council should ask the commander to bring Paul back to the council again. Pretend you want to examine his case more fully. We will kill him on the way.” – Acts 23:12-15 NLT

So, just in case his memory had lapsed, Paul provided Timothy with a sobering reminder of his own ministry experience. It had been anything but easy. From the moment he had received his commission as an apostle, Paul had found himself encountering opposition and having to face persecutions and sufferings. But he had done so with patience, faith, love, and steadfastness. This is not a display of arrogant pride or boasting on Paul’s part. He is simply reminding Timothy of what he had already witnessed with his own eyes. Paul recounts three different occasions when he had suffered persecution for doing what he had been called to do. The first took place in Antioch of Pisidia.

It was there that Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel of Jesus Christ in the synagogues and saw a great many people come to faith.

Many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, and the two men urged them to continue to rely on the grace of God. – Acts 13:43 NLT

But they also met with increasing opposition on the part of the Jews.

But when some of the Jews saw the crowds, they were jealous; so they slandered Paul and argued against whatever he said. – Acts 13:45 NLT

And it wasn’t long before their jealousy and slander turned to acts of physical violence.

Then the Jews stirred up the influential religious women and the leaders of the city, and they incited a mob against Paul and Barnabas and ran them out of town. – Acts 13:50 NLT

Having been railroaded out of Antioch by the Jews, Paul and Barnabas made their way to Iconium. But as Luke records in the book of Acts, things did not improve.

The same thing happened in Iconium. Paul and Barnabas went to the Jewish synagogue and preached with such power that a great number of both Jews and Greeks became believers. Some of the Jews, however, spurned God’s message and poisoned the minds of the Gentiles against Paul and Barnabas. But the apostles stayed there a long time, preaching boldly about the grace of the Lord. And the Lord proved their message was true by giving them power to do miraculous signs and wonders. But the people of the town were divided in their opinion about them. Some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles.

Then a mob of Gentiles and Jews, along with their leaders, decided to attack and stone them. When the apostles learned of it, they fled to the region of Lycaonia—to the towns of Lystra and Derbe and the surrounding area. And there they preached the Good News. – Acts 14:1-7 NLT

But things had taken a rather odd and nearly deadly turn in Lystra. Their miraculous healing of a crippled man had caused the inhabitants of Lystra to mistake them for gods in human form. They had even tried to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas, declaring them to be the Greek gods, Zeus and Hermes. But Paul had taken the opportunity to declare the good news, calling their audience to “turn from these worthless things and turn to the living God” (Acts 14:15 NLT).

But the crowds had remained undeterred by Paul’s words, still convinced that they must be gods. And then, a contingent of Jews from Antioch and Iconium had shown up, whose accusations against Paul and Barnabas had transformed the adoring crowd from worshipers to executioners.

Then some Jews arrived from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowds to their side. They stoned Paul and dragged him out of town, thinking he was dead. But as the believers gathered around him, he got up and went back into the town. The next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe. – Acts 14:19-20 NLT

And Paul reminds Timothy, “You know all about how I was persecuted in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra—but the Lord rescued me from all of it” (2 Timothy 3:11 NLT). Paul had miraculously walked away from his own stoning, making his way to Derbe, where he had continued to faithfully proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. Then, according to Luke, Paul and Barnabas had retraced their steps, returning to the very cities where they had faced opposition and Paul had been stoned and left for dead.

After preaching the Good News in Derbe and making many disciples, Paul and Barnabas returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch of Pisidia, where they strengthened the believers. They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God. – Acts 14:21-22 NLT

The inhabitants of these three cities must have been shocked when Paul and Barnabas showed back up. But no one would have been more surprised than those who had placed their faith in Christ as a result of the teaching of these two men. They had probably assumed they would never see Paul and Barnabas again. But not only did they return, they provided a living lesson in what it means to suffer on behalf of Christ. It is likely that Paul still displayed the cuts and bruises from his stoning in Lystra.

And Paul reminds Timothy of the message he had delivered to the faithful in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch: “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12 NLT).

The reality of the Christian life is that the godly will suffer while the ungodly will appear to prosper. False teachers will continue to deceive and mislead the innocent and immature. The wicked will appear to get away with their ungodly behavior, even flourishing, while those who follow Christ find themselves facing trials and difficulties of all kinds.

But Paul encourages Timothy to remain faithful at all costs, reminding him to consider the history of his own conversion and calling. Timothy had been raised by a godly mother and grandmother who had saturated his life with the Scriptures. And that immersion in the Old Testament had prepared Timothy to understand the truth regarding Jesus and His claim to be the Messiah of Israel.

You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. – 2 Timothy 3:15 NLT

Timothy knew that Jesus had been the fulfillment of all the Messianic passages found in the Hebrew Scriptures. He was the Son of David and the long-awaited Messiah. And He was Timothy’s Savior. And just as the Scriptures had prophesied Jesus’ first coming, they revealed that Jesus would one day come again. That’s why Paul reminds Timothy to keep trusting God’s written Word because it reveals the truth concerning His Living Word.

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. – Acts 3:16-17 NLT

Things were not going to be easy. Living the Christian life was not going to be a walk in the park. But Paul wanted Timothy to know that he could endure whatever came his way because he could trust in the Word of God. It had the power to instruct, discipline, encourage, and equip God’s people. It was divinely inspired and, therefore, spiritually empowered to help every believer not only survive but thrive. Salvation, suffering, and Scripture are three non-negotiables in the life of the believer. Saving faith will result in suffering. It comes with the territory. But Scripture, which reveals the redemptive plan of God made possible through faith in Christ, also provides everything we need to live Christlike lives as we await His Son’s return.

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

Standing on the Promises

14 Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 16 But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. 19 But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.” 2 Timothy 2:14-19 ESV

Paul wasn’t afraid to name names and call out individuals for their unfaithfulness or failure to remain committed to the cause of Christ. First, he brought up Phygelus and Hermogenes, two individuals who had abandoned him in Asia. Now he brings up another pair, Hymenaeus and Philetus, whom he accuses of “swerving from the truth.” This particular couple had been teaching that the resurrection had already taken place, a bit of information that had resulted in confusion and doubt among the faithful.

Paul’s mention of Hymenaeus and Philetus was intended to provide Timothy a concrete example of what he meant by “irreverent babble” or quarreling about words. Paul had just instructed Timothy to take what he had been taught and “teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others” (2 Timothy 2:2 NLT).

One of Timothy’s primary responsibilities as a minister of the gospel was to provide those under his care with sound instruction and a Christ-like model to follow. Because the body of Christ was still in its infancy, it suffered from a serious leadership void and there was a great deal of ignorance regarding spiritual matters. Those who had come to faith in Christ knew little beyond their original understanding of the gospel message. They had eagerly embraced Paul’s message of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, but beyond that, they had little knowledge of what living out their faith in Christ was to look like in daily life. Many had expected their salvation experience to result in a trouble-free, blessing-filled life, due to their newfound relationship with Yahweh. Yet, instead, they found themselves suffering persecution, facing difficulties of all kinds, and discovering that the Christian life was not a walk in the park.

And to make matters worse, there were those who had taken it upon themselves to serve as teachers, providing “instruction” in spiritual matters that had left their students more confused than ever. Conflicting messages and competing opinions were causing discord in the church, with people “fighting over words” (2 Timothy 2:14 NLT). And Paul deemed these arguments as useless because they produced nothing of value.

In the midst of all the confusion and competing agendas, Timothy was to be a source of sound teaching, “rightly handling the word of truth” and providing those under his care with accurate information regarding spiritual matters. That meant Timothy had to stick to the script. He was not free to adlib or add to the teaching he had received from Paul. There was no place for conjecture or personal opinion when it came to the gospel. And for Paul, the gospel was about far more than the message of salvation. It included the whole divine process of redemption, from salvation to sanctification, and ended with the believer’s glorification.

…those whom He predestined, these also He called; and whom He called, these also He justified; and whom He justified, these also He glorified. – Romans 8:30 BSB

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

Like the apostle Peter, Paul expected every believer to “grow into a full experience of salvation” (1 Peter 2:2 NLT). He told the believers in Ephesus “to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15 ESV). Salvation was to result in sanctification or ongoing spiritual maturity, which will ultimately culminate in the believer’s glorification or final transformation into the likeness of Christ.

Paul expected Timothy to reach these truths faithfully and accurately. And if he did, Timothy would have no reason to be ashamed. Time would vindicate the veracity of his message. But those who “teach man-made ideas as commands from God” (Matthew 15:9 NLT), will be eventually be exposed as fakes and frauds, guilty of “worthless, foolish talk that only leads to more godless behavior” (2 Timothy 2:16 NLT).

Paul describes this false, man-made teaching, as a disease that can spread throughout the body of Christ with deadly consequences. And he uses Hymenaeus and Philetus as examples of those who propagate such lies. Out of ignorance, these two men had drawn erroneous conclusions regarding Paul’s teaching of the resurrection of the dead. They were claiming that this future event had already taken place. Not understanding the true nature of the resurrection, they had over-simplified and spiritualized it, falsely assuming that they were already experiencing it. After all, Paul had taught the Romans:

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his….Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. – Romans 6:4-5, 8 ESV

And hadn’t Paul just told Timothy that “If we have died with him, we will also live with him” (2 Timothy 2:11 ESV)? So, these men had simply assumed that the resurrected life was referring to this life. It was the modern-day version of “Your Best Life Now.” This teaching was leaving believers with the false impression that all the promises associated with the resurrection of the dead were to be expected in his life, not the one to come. And you can understand how this claim had left the suffering and persecuted believers in Ephesus confused and concerned.

All of this is why Paul told Timothy, “If we die with him, we will also live with him. If we endure hardship, we will reign with him” (2 Timothy 2:11-12 NLT). He called this a trustworthy statement, a promise supported by the full weight of God’s glory and goodness. To support his claim that God can be trusted to complete what He has begun and to fulfill all that He has promised, Paul reached into the Hebrew Scriptures, citing two Old Testament passages.

God’s truth stands firm like a foundation stone with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and “All who belong to the Lord must turn away from evil.” – 2 Timothy 2:19 NLT

By paraphrasing Numbers 16:6 and Numbers 16:26, Paul illustrates the timeless nature of God’s promises. He always does what He says He will do. His words have an eternal quality to them, spanning the centuries and assuring all those who hear and obey them that their God is trustworthy and true.

Despite the teaching of men like Hymenaeus and Philetus, the believers in Ephesus had no reason to doubt their salvation. Just because things did not appear to be turning out like they expected, they had no cause for fear or doubt. The Lord knows those who are His. They could rest in the promise that they would remain firmly held in the loving grasp of God – all the way to the end. Their only responsibility was to turn away from evil. They didn’t have to strive to remain saved. They weren’t under some obligation to continually earn their right standing with God through additional good works. They simply needed to live out their salvation in daily life, allowing the Spirit of God to produce fruit in their lives through His power, not their own.

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

Fan the Flame of Faith

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus,

To Timothy, my beloved child:

Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. 2 Timothy 1:1-7 ESV

Over the course of his memorable and eventful life, the apostle Paul managed to write a number of letters, many of which would eventually form a large part of the New Testament canon of Scripture. His pastoral letters, like First and Second Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, were addressed to the churches in those communities which he had helped to start. Paul was, first and foremost, an evangelist, with a Christ-ordained mandate to take the good news of the Gospel to the Gentiles. In his former life, Paul had been a dedicated Pharisee on a personal crusade to eradicate every last vestige of “the Way,” the name given to those who had chosen to become followers of the former rabbi, Jesus, who had been crucified in Jerusalem years earlier.

Paul, as a faithful Jew and a zealous member of the Pharisees, had deemed the teachings of Jesus as radical and a threat to the Hebrew faith. Yet God, in His infinite wisdom and as part of His divine redemptive plan, had chosen to redirect Paul’s ambitions and turn him from antagonist to evangelist.

The story of his conversion from persecutor to church planter can be found in the ninth chapter of the book of Acts. It explains how Paul had an unexpected and life-transforming encounter with Jesus Christ Himself. As a result of this once-in-a-lifetime experience, Paul would come to realize that the rumors concerning Jesus, the itinerant rabbi who had been executed by the Romans, were actually true. He was alive and well, having been resurrected from the dead. And all as proof that Jesus was who He had claimed to be all along: the Son of God and the long-awaited Messiah.

As a result of his roadside encounter with the risen Christ, the trajectory of Paul’s life was changed forever. He discovered a new purpose for his life and a much-improved focus for his ambitious nature and high-octane personality. Paul became one of the most outspoken proponents of the gospel, focusing his evangelistic efforts primarily on the Gentile world. Over the course of his life, he would lead countless individuals to Christ, helping them come to know the joy of salvation through faith in Christ.

Paul was an apostle, literally “a messenger” of Jesus Christ, who had been called and commissioned by Jesus to carry the gospel to the far reaches of the known world. And Paul would take his commission seriously, eventually embarking on three extensive missionary journeys to the far corners of the Roman Empire. And along the way, he shared the gospel with both Jews and Gentiles, revealing the truth “that Christ was crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23 NLT) and “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4 ESV).

Paul faithfully preached this message in cities, synagogues, public squares, before governors and magistrates, and with a tireless passion to see the lost come to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. And along the way, he witnessed countless individuals come to faith in Christ, including the young man to whom this letter is addressed. Timothy was a disciple of Paul’s, having been hand-selected by the apostle to join him on his missionary journeys and assist him in the spread of the gospel. The tone of this letter reflects Paul’s deep and personal affection for Timothy. Written from Rome where Paul was under house arrest and awaiting a hearing before the Roman Emperor, the letter is a highly personal and intimate message from the apostle to his young protégé and friend.

Paul’s love for Timothy is reflected in his salutation: “To Timothy, my beloved child” (2 Timothy 1:2 ESV). Paul viewed Timothy as a son and this letter contains words of fatherly love in the form of encouragement and admonition. Paul was obviously proud of Timothy, and even complimented him for his “sincere faith.” He was thankful that God had placed Timothy in his life and longed to see his young friend again. But, since Paul was under house arrest in Rome, and Timothy was ministering in Ephesus, Paul could only pray for and write to his son in the faith. And, in part, this letter was intended to encourage Timothy to remain faithful in the face of opposition. Paul was determined to help his young coworker become all that God intended him to be. Physically separated but spiritually bound by a common belief in Christ and a shared calling to preach the gospel, Paul felt a personal responsibility for Timothy’s life and ministry. And this letter is his attempt to pour into this young man’s life by calling him to an ever-increasing commitment to his faith and his Christ-mandated mission.

Paul reminds Timothy to “fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you” (2 Timothy 1:6 NLT). We’re not told what “spiritual gift” Paul had in mind, but we know that he viewed Timothy as having been specially gifted by God and he longed to see him use every resource at his disposal to faithfully accomplish his work. And he wanted Timothy to know that because he was gifted by God, he had no reason to embrace thoughts of inadequacy or fear.  

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. – 2 Timothy 1:7 NLT

This was not the first time Paul had challenged Timothy to live in the power provided for him by God. In a previous letter, Paul had provided Timothy with strong words of encouragement aimed at countering any feelings of inadequacy or inability he may have felt.

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. Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them.

Do not neglect the spiritual gift you received through the prophecy spoken over you when the elders of the church laid their hands on you. Give your complete attention to these matters. Throw yourself into your tasks so that everyone will see your progress. Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching. Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you. – 1 Timothy 4:12-16 NLT

Paul knew from his own experience just how difficult living the Christian life could be. And the added pressure of preaching the gospel and shepherding the flock of Jesus Christ made Timothy’s job that much more difficult. He was young, relatively inexperienced, and in a high-pressure career where he faced opposition of a spiritual nature.

For 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

Timothy had been blessed to have a mother and grandmother who had modeled the life of faith for him. But he was now having to “fan the flame” of his own faith, learning to trust in the power provided for him by Christ. Paul wanted Timothy to know that he had power, love, and self-control at his disposal. He had everything he needed to accomplish that task before him. His age, inexperience, and any feelings of inadequacy he may have felt were irrelevant. He had a saving relationship with Christ, a clear calling to the gospel ministry, and the indwelling power of the Spirit of God. And Paul wanted him to know that he had a responsibility to remain faithful to his commission as a minister of the gospel because it is a “holy calling” (2 Timothy 1:9 ESV).

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

Future Glory Versus Present Suffering

13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.

16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, 17 comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17 ESV

The Thessalonians had been distracted. They had taken their eye off the prize and were focusing on their present circumstances, wondering if, as the false prophets had claimed, that the day of the Lord had begun. Their trials and tribulations seemed to support the idea that the end had begun. So, they began to believe they were living in the last days. But this thought was creating confusion and causing them to doubt the teachings of Paul and his companions.

Paul describes the last days as being filled with apostasy, rebellion, and the judgment of God upon all those who reject the truth concerning His Son. As bad as things may have been for the Thessalonian believers, their conditions were nothing like those that will accompany the final days. And the presence of trials in the life of a believer was not to be confused with the future day of Tribulation. In fact, Paul and the other New Testament authors encouraged believers to welcome trials as a vital part of God’s plan for their ongoing sanctification.

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. – James 1:2-4 NLT

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. – 1 Peter 1:6-7 NLT

God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. – Hebrews 12:10-11 NLT

Suffering and sanctification are inseparable in the life of the believer. Just as Jesus suffered in this life and then experienced the joy of glorification, so will we one day. And Paul reminded the believers in Rome that their status as children of God, made possible through their faith in Christ, also made them co-heirs with Christ. And part of their inheritance was the glory to come. But, as with Jesus, their suffering must precede their glorification.

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

But as Paul states, their present suffering was nothing when compared with their future glorification. And in his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul stressed the example provided by the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus.

6 Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
    he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

9 Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
    and gave him the name above all other names,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:6-11 NLT

And Paul reminds the Thessalonian believers that they had been chosen by God “to be among the first to experience salvation—a salvation that came through the Spirit who makes you holy and through your belief in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13 NLT). Their experiences of suffering were proof of their salvation and sanctification. They had been given the privilege of suffering on behalf of Christ and Paul reminds them that their suffering has a purpose. It is a God-ordained process for increasing their dependence upon His indwelling Spirit so that their lives might display His power in their weakness.

And Paul had learned this truth from firsthand experience. Three different times he had asked God to remove “the thorn” in his flesh. But each time God had answered: “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT). And this eye-opening lesson from God had radically altered Paul’s perspective on the role of suffering and weakness in the life of the believer.

So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NLT

Paul stressed to the Thessalonians believers that God’s ultimate goal behind their salvation was not their present happiness, but their future glorification.

To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. – 2 Thessalonians 2:14 ESV

Their ultimate glorification would not come in this life, but in the life to come. In the meantime, God was using the presence of suffering and trials to expose their weakness and to encourage increasing dependence upon the Spirit’s presence and power within them. And Paul challenged them to stay the course. Not only were they destined to experience additional suffering in this life, but they would also find themselves bombarded by false teaching that contradicted the words of Jesus and His apostles.

So, Paul called them to “stand firm and keep a strong grip on the teaching we passed on to you both in person and by letter” (2 Thessalonians 2:15 NLT). As he told the believers in Ephesus, his job was “to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12 NLT). And he was committed to doing just that.

This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. – Ephesians 4:13 NLT

His commitment was fueled by his belief in the transformative nature of the gospel message. Salvation was to result in sanctification. Faith in Christ was meant to produce those who bore the image of Christ. Spiritual infancy was to give way to spiritual maturity. And the spiritually mature are far less likely to be deceived and distracted by false teaching.

Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. – Ephesians 4:14-15 NLT

Paul closes out this part of his letter with a prayer that takes the form of a blessing. He asks God the Father and Jesus Christ His Son to provide the Thessalonians with comfort and strength in the midst of all their trials. Notice that he does not ask for the removal of their trials. His emphasis is on hope. This is a clear reference to their future salvation and glorification. God and His Son, Paul reminds the Thessalonians, “loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace” (2 Thessalonians 2:16 ESV). He stresses eternity and hope. His point is that the Thessalonians needed to quit being distracted by their current circumstances and the misguided teaching of the false prophets and refocus their attention on the finish line. 

If they kept their eyes on the prize, they would realize that “their present sufferings are not comparable to the glory that will be revealed” (Romans 8:18 BSB). And this future hope would provide the comfort and strength necessary to live transformed lives in the present.

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

Confusion Over Christ’s Coming

1 Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4 ESV

At his point in his letter, Paul jumps into the deep end of the pool. No more paddling around in the shallow waters of easy believe-ism. The Thessalonians have had their faith shaken by some fairly significant doctrinal error brought to them courtesy of false teachers. These individuals had been propagating the idea that the Second Coming of Jesus had already begun and, it seems, they were using the intense persecution of the Thessalonians as their proof. And they could back up their belief with the teachings of Jesus.

While sitting on the Mount of Olives, just across the Kidron Valley from the city of Jerusalem, Jesus’ disciples came to Him and asked, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3 ESV). Their question had been prompted by a statement by Jesus concerning the temple in Jerusalem.

You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” – Matthew 24:2 ESV

They were wanting to know when this fateful day would take place. And, in an attempt to calm their concerns, Jesus told them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet” (Matthew 24:4-6 ESV).

In other words, a be a great many things would take place long before “the end” occurred. In fact, Jesus included additional seemingly catastrophic events that would precede the end times and His Second Coming:

“For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.” – Matthew 24: 7-8 ESV

Jesus was attempting to prepare His disciples to expect a great deal of suffering, civil unrest, wars, and even natural disasters. But those were simply the precursors of the end, not proof of its arrival. Things were going to get worse before they got better. And Jesus proves it by adding:

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” – Matthew 24:9-14 ESV

But it seems that the false teachers who were negatively influencing the believers in Thessalonica were guilty of cherry-picking the teachings of Jesus. They were proof-texting, pulling out certain phrases that supported their view that the end had come and as a result, the Second Coming of Jesus was just around the corner. But this errant view flew in the face of Paul’s teachings concerning the end times.

In chapter one, Paul had assured the Thessalonians that, concerning Christ’s Second Coming, “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire,” He would inflict “vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 ESV). That had clearly not taken place yet. And it would not take place until the Rapture of the church occurred (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

Paul and the other apostles clearly taught in the imminence of Christ’s coming. They wanted believers to know that Jesus could come at any time, but that did not mean that He would. Followers of Christ were to live with a sense of urgency and immediacy, conducting their lives in a manner that reflected their belief in His return and the reality of eternity. This world was not their home. They were to set their minds and hearts on heaven and the promise of their eternal state. And, in his first letter, Paul assured them that God would protect and preserve them for that future day.

Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful. – 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 NLT

What rankled Paul was the fear and doubt being fostered among the Thessalonians because of the shoddy doctrine of the false teachers. The motivation of these men was probably sincere and well-meaning, but they were doing serious damage to the cause of Christ by speaking about things they didn’t fully understand. And it was causing unnecessary anxiety among the Thessalonians concerning “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him” (2 Thessalonians 2:1 ESV) – a direct reference to the Rapture of the church.

And Paul warns his confused and fearful friends not to let this false teaching deceive and disquiet them.

Don’t be so easily shaken or alarmed by those who say that the day of the Lord has already begun. Don’t believe them, even if they claim to have had a spiritual vision, a revelation, or a letter supposedly from us. Don’t be fooled by what they say. – 2 Thessalonians 2:2-3 NLT

And notice that Paul did not give these false teachers the courtesy of treating their teaching as an alternate view or perfectly acceptable option to consider. They were wrong. Their teaching was false. And it didn’t matter if they claimed that it came with God’s Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

For Paul, the Gospel was far more than just the faithful presentation of God’s offer of salvation through grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone. His concept of the Gospel was all-inclusive, encompassing the full spectrum of God’s gracious plan for man’s redemption. Salvation was just the beginning, with the sanctification of the believer being just as much an integral part of God’s divine plan. And it would all culminate with the believer’s glorification when they received their new bodies, designed to last for eternity. Paul discussed this miraculous final phase of our Gospel transformation in his first letter to the Corinthians.

But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. – 1 Corinthians 15:51-53 NLT

Salvation – sanctification – glorification. For Paul, that was the Gospel and anyone who deviated from and added to that three-fold plan was to be treated with contempt.

Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. – Galatians 1:8 NLT

According to Paul, the good news regarding faith in Christ had to include all three phases of God’s redemptive plan, and he succinctly articulates it in his letter to Titus.

For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation [salvation] to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures [sanctification]. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed [glorificatio]. – Titus 2:11-13 NLT

The believer’s glorification, the final phase in God’s plan, will take place when Christ returned for His bride, the church. Paul knew that the human body was not equipped for eternal life. It was, as he described it, a temporary tent in which we dwell until Christ returns.

“…our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever.” – 1 Corinthians 15:50 NLT

But Paul firmly believed that God had a plan that included new bodies, divinely prepared for eternity.

“We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed.” – 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 NLT 

And as Paul told the Thessalonians in his first letter, the Rapture of the church will result in the gathering of all God’s saints, complete with their newly glorified bodies, so they can return with Him to heaven. And that great day will usher in the beginning of the end. With the removal of the church, God’s final plan of judgment for the unbelieving world will be poised to begin. And Paul will expound on that future aspect of the end times in the following verses.

For that day will not come until there is a great rebellion against God and the man of lawlessness is revealed—the one who brings destruction. He will exalt himself and defy everything that people call god and every object of worship. He will even sit in the temple of God, claiming that he himself is God. – 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 NLT

Paul didn’t want there to be any confusion regarding these matters. The Thessalonians were not to worry or fret over the claims of the false teachers. They had not missed out. The Great Tribulation had not begun. There was much that had to happen before “the end” began. And all that they were experiencing was nothing more than the labor pains that naturally precede the delivery of God’s judgment on the world.

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

Grace and Peace

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

As is obvious from the book’s title, this is a second letter written by Paul to the congregation of the church in Thessalonica. There may have been other letters written as well, but they were not included in the Canon of Scripture. There is no indication as to how much time had passed since Paul had written his first letter, but it is clear that he had received new information regarding the spiritual state of affairs in Thessalonica and he felt compelled to pen his response.

Paul was still in Corinth, some 358 miles away, when he heard the latest report concerning affairs in Thessalonica. Driven by his pastor’s heart, but hindered by the distance between them, Paul immediately put pen to paper in an effort to clarify the confusion that had entered the church through false teachers. This was a constant problem for Paul and the other apostles. As soon as they proclaimed the good news regarding salvation alone through Christ alone, others would appear on the scene, declare themselves to be teachers, and begin offering what Paul elsewhere refers to as “different gospel.”

For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. – 2 Corinthians 11:4 ESV

These “false” teachers were propagating their own version of the truth, adding to or taking away from the message concerning Jesus that Paul and the rest of the apostles had been divinely commissioned to preach. But as Paul told the churches in Galatia, these individuals were to be treated as enemies of God and as threats to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. – Galatians 1:8 ESV

But before broaching the subject of the doctrinal controversy going on in Thessalonica, Paul addressed his audience in his usual gracious manner, expressing his strong affection for them and complimenting them for their “steadfastness and faith” in the face of all the persecutions and afflictions they were having to endure. The members of the Thessalonian church were still relatively new converts to Christianity and they were living in a predominantly pagan culture heavily influenced by both Greek and Roman culture. Located on a major trade route, Thessalonica was a cultural melting pot and enjoyed unprecedented prosperity. As the capital of the Roman province of Macedon, it also benefited from the protection provided by Caesar’s powerful legions.

But all of these factors made Thessalonica a particularly hostile environment for those who had chosen to place their faith in Christ. While considered a rather pluralistic society, there was strong resistance to Christianity from the Greeks as well as the small contingent of Jews who called Thessalonica home. The small but growing band of Christ-followers were feeling intense pressure from all sides as they attempted to live out their new faith under less-than-ideal conditions.

But Paul, writing on behalf of his ministry companions, Silvanus and Timothy, compliments the Thessalonians for their steadfastness and perseverance under fire.

We proudly tell God’s other churches about your endurance and faithfulness in all the persecutions and hardships you are suffering. – 2 Thessalonians 1:4 NLT

While the circumstances around them were difficult, these faithful few were not giving in or choosing to give up. In fact, Paul emphasizes that they were handling the pressure with remarkable poise and persistence.

…your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. – 2 Thessalonians 1:3 ESV

Paul opens his letter with his usual salutation, declaring his desire that they enjoy the ongoing benefit of God’s grace and peace. While Paul used this same phrasing in many of his letters, it should not be seen as some rote and therefore, meaningless line. He meant what he said. His desire that they experience God’s grace or unmerited favor was real. For Paul, the grace of God played an indispensable role in every believer’s salvation, but also in their ongoing sanctification. Without the benefit of God’s grace, no one could come to faith in Christ.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. – Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT

Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. – Romans 3:24 NLT

And God’s grace continues to play a vital role in the believer’s transformation into the likeness of Christ. He graciously provides each and every believer with His indwelling Holy Spirit, who provides the power required to live the Christian life. And Paul warned the believers in Galatia just how futile and foolish it is to try achieve spiritual maturity without God’s grace, as demonstrated by the Spirit’s enabling power.

After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? – Galatians 3:3 NLT

Paul knew that without the ongoing benefit of God’s unmerited favor, the Thessalonian believers would never experience the fulness of joy and the abundant life Christ promised to give them.

But he also knew that the peace of God was another essential resource in their ongoing spiritual transformation. In his letter to the churches in Philippi, Paul described this peace as that which “exceeds anything we can understand” (Philippians 4:7 NLT). And he assured them that God’s “peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

When Paul commended the Thessalonians for their faith and love, and complimented them for their steadfastness and faith, he knew that it was all attributable to the grace and peace of God. He was at work in their midst. He had saved them and He was also sustaining and supporting them as their spiritual journey continued. Paul was fully convinced in the reality of God’s ongoing participation in the life of every believer, a belief he expressed boldly and often.

Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. – 1 Corinthians 1:7-8 NLT

The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure. – 1 Corinthians 10:13 NLT

The Thessalonians were in good hands. They had everything they needed for living the godly life because of the grace of God the Father. And as Peter reveals, Paul was not alone in this confident assertion.

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. – 2 Peter 1:3 NLT

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

Never Give Up On Growing Up

23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

25 Brothers, pray for us.

26 Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.

27 I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.

28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. 1 Thessalonians 5:23-28 ESV

Like Peter and the other apostles, Paul had a strong expectation that the believers to whom he wrote would grow up in their salvation (1 Peter 2:2). Spiritual immaturity or stagnancy in their faith was unacceptable. He told the believers in Colossae that his preaching of Christ was intended to bring about salvation and sanctification.

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. – Colossians 1:28 ESV

In his letter to the church in Ephesus, he told them that his responsibility as an apostle was to “to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12 NLT). And then he added that this work of building up the body of Christ had a lofty end goal or objective:

This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. – Ephesians 4:13 NLT

The work would never be done. Full spiritual maturity would never be achieved – at least, not in this lifetime. And Paul expressed to the Galatians his intention to keep pouring into them until they bore the likeness of Christ.

Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I’m going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives. – Galatians 4:19 NLT

You might say that Paul was a man possessed. He could not bear the thought of any believer failing to experience the fulness of salvation offered to them in Jesus Christ. And this included their sanctification, the divine process by which believers are transformed into the likeness of Christ through the power of God’s indwelling Spirit.

So, as he begins to wrap up his letter to the believers in Thessalonica, Paul let’s them know of his desire for their holiness. It was his life’s passion and his constant prayer to God on their behalf.

Now may the God of peace himself make you completely holy… – 1 Thessalonians 5:23 NET

Paul knew that spiritual maturity was the work of God, not men. That does not mean we do not play a part, but that the work of sanctification is impossible without divine assistance. Paul has already told the Thessalonians that their sanctification was God’s will for them (1 Thessalonians 4:3), but now he reminds them that it is also God’s work. Only God can transform sinners into saints. Only He can replace their hearts of stone with hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).  Only He can radically alter their old natures, transforming them into new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17).

That is why Paul was constantly asking God to do what only He could do to bring about the spiritual maturity of His children.

I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. – Ephesians 1:16-18 NLT

Only God has the power to save and sanctify. And only God is capable of securing the spirits, souls, and bodies of His saints, so that they might remain “blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again” (1 Thessalonians 5:23 NLT). By his use of the word “blameless,” Paul is not suggesting the possibility of achieving a state of sinless perfection in this life. He is simply reiterating a point he had made earlier in his letter. Their ability to one day stand before God “without fault” or “free from blame” would be the work of God.

May he…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

The ability to maintain a life marked by righteousness and holiness is a gift from God, just as salvation is. No one can save themselves and no one can preserve their saved state through self-effort. It is the work of God. And Paul assures the Thessalonians that God can be trusted to do what only He can do.

God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful. – 1 Thessalonians 5:24 NLT

God could be counted on to do His part. But they had a role to play as well. Paul has made that point perfectly clear throughout his letter. They would need to maintain their commitment to “serve the living and true God” (1 Thessalonians 1:9 ESV). They must continue to “walk in a manner worthy of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:12 ESV). He expected to hear that they were “standing fast in the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 3:8 ESV). And they could not afford to let up on their commitment to “live in holiness and honor—not in lustful passion like the pagans” (1 Thessalonians 4:4 ESV).

Their sanctification was a joint effort, powered by God, but requiring their willing and eager participation. If God’s will was their sanctification, they were going to have to adopt His will as their very own. It was essential that they make Christlikeness their primary passion and lifelong objective. And there was to be no goal less than full maturity in Christ. This meant that their sanctification would not be complete until they died and went to be with the Lord, or they lived long enough to see Him return at the Rapture for His church. Either way, the commitment to spiritual maturity and their ongoing transformation into the likeness of Christ was to remain their highest priority.

The apostle Peter reminds us that, because of our faith in Christ, we have been given all that we need to live godly lives. We lack nothing.

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. – 1 Peter 1:3-4 NLT

And the apostle John provides us with further assurance of our completed transformation into the likeness of Christ.

…we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. – 1 John 3:2 NLT

Paul closes his letter with a request. He asks the Thessalonians for their prayers of intercession on the behalf of himself and the rest of his ministry partners. The work of sharing the Gospel required divine assistance. Paul coveted their prayer because he knew that he was in the midst of a spiritual battle “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).

Finally, Paul asks that they express his love to all the members of the congregation and to make sure that his letter is read to everyone. And then he closes with a final blessing, asking that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be upon them. For Paul, the unmerited favor of God was a truly remarkable gift that never ceased to amaze and delight him. It was the key to salvation, sanctification and, ultimately, the glorification of all believers.

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

More and More

1 Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 ESV

Paul had an overwhelming desire to see the Thessalonian believers face-to-face. But this was about far more than a chance to reconnect and get reacquainted with old friends. Paul had something far more important in mind. As he told them in the previous section of his letter, the motivation behind his desire to see them again was that he “might supply what is lacking in your faith” (1 Thessalonians 3:10 ESV). He had sent Timothy “to establish and exhort” them in their faith (1 Thessalonians 3:2 ESV). 

And while Paul has confessed that Timothy’s good news regarding their faith and love had brought him comfort, he still felt the pressing need to see them so that he might “fill in the gaps” of their faith (1 Thessalonians 3:10 NLT).

It seems quite obvious that Paul loved these people. He had a pastor’s heart that cared for their spiritual well-being. And while their faith was strong, even in the midst of trying circumstances, Paul knew that there was much they needed to know if they were going to remain strong in the days ahead. The battle was far from over. The enemy had not thrown in the towel. The opposition had not given up their efforts to demoralize the sheep and discredit the shepherd.

So, Paul feels compelled to share with them one final word of counsel. He has complimented them on their faith and love. He has described them as “standing fast in the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 3:8 ESV). But there is one more thing they need to hear him say.

we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God. – 1 Thessalonians 4:1 ESV

Paul was not admonishing these people or demanding that they correct their sinful behavior. In fact, he added the statement, “…just as you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 4:1 ESV). They were already living in a way that pleased God. But Paul wants them to know that they were going to need to do so “more and more” (1 Thessalonians 4:1 ESV).

In the short time Paul and Silas had spent in Thessalonica, they had instructed them how they ought to walk and please God. The Greek word translated as “walk” is peripateo, and it was a favorite term of Paul’s. It could be used to refer to the physical act of walking, but Paul commonly used it as a metaphor for spiritual life. When he used the term “walk,” he was referring to the daily conduct of one’s life. In those days, the average person went from place to place by walking. It was the primary mode of transportation. You couldn’t go anywhere or conduct your life without utilizing walking. So, Paul used this normal, everyday means of mobility as an analogy for living the Christian life. And he used it often.

who walk (peripateo) not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit… – Romans 8:4 ESV

Let us walk (peripateo) properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. – Romans 13:13 ESV

Only let each person lead the life (peripateo) that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. – 1 Corinthians 7:17 ESV

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk (peripateo) in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called – Ephesians 4:1 ESV

walk (peripateo) in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him.  – Colossians 1:10 ESV

As followers of Christ, their spiritual walk or manner of life was to be distinctively different than that of their lost friends and family members. They were to live set-apart lives, marked by holiness and righteousness. But their spirituality was never meant to remain in a static state. Being saved was never meant to be a one-time event but was to be an ongoing, regularly occurring, and lifelong transformational process. The apostle Peter referred to it as growing up in salvation (1 Peter 2:2).  Paul told the Ephesians believers to “grow up in every way into him” (Ephesians 4:15 ESV) – referring to Christ.

There is no place for complacency in the Christian life. At no point are we to become satisfied with the status quo. We are not the ones who get to determine whether we have successively achieved spiritual maturity. And Paul makes that point perfectly clear to his brothers and sisters in Thessalonica.

For this is the will of God, your sanctification – 1 Thessalonians 4:3 ESV

Paul put it in blunt terms. What God wanted of them and for them was simple: Their sanctification. But what did he mean by this? The Greek word he used is hagiasmos, and it can be translated as “holiness.” It derives from another Greek word, hagiazo, which means “to separate from profane things and dedicate to God.” To be holy was to be set apart or consecrated for a specific purpose. In the case of a believer, they were set apart to God. To be sanctified is the process of being constantly and consistently set apart for God’s use. It involves a separation from all that is ungodly or unrighteous. Or as Paul liked to put it, it involves putting off the old and putting on the new.

 …put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires…put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. – Ephesians 4:22, 24 ESV

Just a few verses earlier in his letter to the Ephesian believers, Paul challenged them: “you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do…” (Ephesians 4:17 ESV). They were not to conduct their lives in the same way they had before. In fact, in chapter two of Ephesians, Paul pointed out the stark difference between their new life in Christ and that of their old, pre-salvation nature.

…you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked (peripateo), following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. – Ephesians 2:2-3 ESV

But Paul stressed the change that had taken place in their lives.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved… – Ephesians 2:4-5 ESV

The lives of the Ephesians believers had been radically changed when they placed their faith in Christ. The same thing was true of the believers in Thessalonica. And that change was to be tangible and visible. It was to be evident in their behavior and in every facet of their daily lives. And just to make sure they understood the non-negotiable and all-pervasive nature of this change, Paul provided them with the details.

God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin. Then each of you will control his own body and live in holiness and honor—not in lustful passion like the pagans who do not know God and his ways. – 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 NLT

There was to be no compromising of their faith. There was no place for their old habits in their new life in Christ. Or as Paul put it to the Corinthian believers:

…anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! – 2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT

The old adage, “something old, something new” wasn’t going to cut it with God. He expected life transformation and had provided His Holy Spirit to make it possible. A life marked by sexual sin and immorality was unacceptable for the Christ-follower. It violated the will of God and failed to model a life of holiness. In the Greek culture of that day, sexual promiscuity was an accepted way of life. It was Demosthenes, a Greek statesman and orator who wrote:

“We keep prostitutes for pleasure; we keep mistresses for the day to day needs of the body; we keep wives for the begetting of children and for the faithful guardianship of our homes.” – Demosthenes

In a culture marked by self-indulgence and the willful gratification of all sexual desires, the Christian was to live in such a way that distinguished them as having been set apart or consecrated to God – separated from the profane and dedicated to His glory. To do so, Paul states would require self-control. They would need to control their physical passions and desires, choosing instead to “live in holiness and honor—not in lustful passion like the pagans who do not know God and his ways” (1 Thessalonians 4:4-5 ESV).

And, once again, Paul puts his thoughts in simple, easy-to-understand terms:

God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives. – 1 Thessalonians 4:7 NLT

Not a lot of wiggle room there. Paul leaves no room for negotiation or debate. God’s will was their sanctification. His expectation was holiness, not impurity. He was interested in set-apartness, not sameness. And if anyone rejected this idea was not rejecting the teachings of Paul, they were actually disobeying and, ultimately, denying the will of God Almighty.

Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. – 1 Thessalonians 4:8 ESV

Paul was teaching the need for ongoing life transformation. The Thessalonian believers were to walk and please God – more and more. There was to be no end to their spiritual journey. At no point were they to assume that they had arrived. Salvation was to result in ongoing sanctification – a never-ending, Spirit-empowered conformity to the image of Christ.

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