Thursday, November 05, 2009

1 Thessalonians 2:5-12

V5-12 – 5You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed – God is our witness. 6We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else. As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, 7but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. 8We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. 9Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. 10You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. 11For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into His kingdom and glory.

Paul began this chapter with “you know.” He says it again in v5, v9 (“surely you remember”), v10 (“you are witnesses”), and v11. It’s a powerful argument to remind of Paul’s integrity. The Thessalonians know that Paul and his companions did not flatter or try to cover up greed; though they had the right, as preachers, to be honored for their labor, they did not seek vainglory. Nor did they arrogantly lord themselves over the Thessalonians in authority (v6), but they mothered them and showed gentle care (v7). Calvin comments, “In this comparison [Paul] takes in two points that he had touched upon – that he had sought neither glory nor gain among the Thessalonians. For a mother in nursing her infant shows nothing of power or dignity. Paul says that he was such, inasmuch as he voluntarily refrained from claiming the honor that was due to him, and with calmness and modesty stooped to every kind of office. Secondly, a mother in nursing her children manifests a certain rare and wonderful affection, inasmuch as she spares no labor and trouble, shuns no anxiety, is wearied out by no assiduity, and even with cheerfulness of spirit gives her own blood to be sucked. In the same way, Paul declares that he was so disposed towards the Thessalonians that he was prepared to lay out his life for their benefit. This, assuredly, was not the conduct of a man that was sordid or avaricious.”

In v8, Paul says, “We loved you so much… you had become so dear to us.” Remember that just 3 months prior to writing this letter, Paul had never met a single Thessalonian. He was a stranger in every sense (race, culture, ethnicity, and religion). Yet he affectionately desired fellowship with these people in the unity of the gospel. That’s what God wants with us through Jesus. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). In v9, Paul reminds the Thessalonians that he and those with him worked hard to support themselves during their ministry in Thessalonica. They didn’t burden the audience, though they rightly could have, with a requirement of supporting them for preaching the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:3-14). Instead he worked hard to earn his own way; when with the Corinthians Paul even proclaimed to “rob” the other churches in order to minister to them (2 Corinthians 11:7-9). Calling God as his witness, Paul reminds the Thessalonians again of his integrity; he and his companions were “holy, righteous and blameless” among them (v10).

Now after comparing his ministry to that of a mother (gentle care), he offers the comparison that his ministry was like that of a father for his children, “encouraging, comforting, and urging” them to “live lives worthy of God” (v11). V11-12 serve as both a summary of Paul’s teaching to the Thessalonians and conclusion of his ministry delivered in v1-12. Just as fathers are not to “exasperate” their children (Ephesians 6:4), so Paul trained them and instructed them rightly. And Paul mentions worthiness in several of his letters; here he urges living a life worthy of God Himself. Elsewhere, he writes of being “counted worthy” of God’s kingdom (2 Thessalonians 1:5), being worthy of God’s calling (2 Thessalonians 1:11; Ephesians 4:1), being worthy of the Lord (Colossians 1:10), and being worthy of the gospel (Philippians 1:27-28). A worthy life is, as the footnote of my Reformation Study Bible (2 Thessalonians 1:5) declares, one of “patient, joyful discipleship even in the face of life-threatening abuse from those hostile to the faith. Such lives are sure evidence that God’s judgment is right. Even while enjoying the benefits of citizenship in the heavenly kingdom, Christians still must suffer for its sake (Acts 14:22), since the kingdom will inevitably confront diabolical opposition.”

1 Thessalonians 2:1-4

V1-4 – 1You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure. 2We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you His gospel in spite of strong opposition. 3For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. 4On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts.

Paul explains his ministry in the first half of this chapter in order to serve as an example for the Thessalonians to continue to emulate. Though it may be that not many were converted, the visit was not a failure (v1). Calvin suggests that the persecution faced by both Paul and the Thessalonians ought to be deemed a positive, emboldening result of his visit. Perhaps those persecuting the Thessalonians suggested that they were foolish to buy into Paul’s teaching by appealing to the majority of Thessalonians that did not repent and believe the gospel. Perhaps they also accused Paul of trying to trick them or flat out being wrong. But as Vincent Cheung says, “Slander is a favorite tactic against the gospel… If we preach and practice the gospel, it is likely that we will be slandered. The proper response is to rejoice, defend, and believe. Then, the awareness that we as individual believers might be slandered alerts us to the possibility that other believers, Christians other than ourselves, might also be falsely maligned at times. This realization is significant because it reminds us that many criticisms and accusations against other Christians are untrue, and just as we would not want people to slander us, we should not slander others, spread slander about others, or to believe slander about others.” The Pharisees slandered Jesus throughout his ministry; Paul was slandered at every major city he stopped in along his second missionary journey. But slander can’t stop the boldness of Holy Spirit working in His people.

In fact, the key feature of Paul’s ministry which ought most be mimicked is the boldness revealed in v2. Though beaten and imprisoned for speaking God’s gospel (v2,8-9) in Philippi, Paul and his companions continued speaking God’s gospel (stressing that the words and power are from God, not from man) after being called into Greece. See Peter and John acting with boldness as well in Acts 4:18-20. That boldness is strong evidence that the message is not a trick (v3); and the lack of hypocrisy, along with Paul’s obvious integrity, helps others to see that motives are pure. Paul’s doctrine was sound; he was not trying to delude the Thessalonians. In v4, Paul notes that his efforts were never intended to be appealing solely to man in the first place. Rather, he was intent on pleasing God, not man, and that is what matters; pleasing God is seen in “faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6; cf. Romans 8:8, 12:1, 14:17-18; Galatians 1:10; Colossians 1:10; 1 Timothy 2:1-3, 5:4). Thus even if not a single person is won to faith in Christ, God is pleased with a bold message, preached from the heart.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Scientists keep on learning

A recent (title-linked) article reported the following regarding a crack in the desert of Ethiopia:

Using newly gathered seismic data from 2005, researchers reconstructed the event to show the rift tore open along its entire 35-mile length in just days. Dabbahu, a volcano at the northern end of the rift, erupted first, then magma pushed up through the middle of the rift area and began "unzipping" the rift in both directions, the researchers explained in a statement today.

"We know that seafloor ridges are created by a similar intrusion of magma into a rift, but we never knew that a huge length of the ridge could break open at once like this," said Cindy Ebinger, professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Rochester and co-author of the study.

The result shows that highly active volcanic boundaries along the edges of tectonic ocean plates may suddenly break apart in large sections, instead of in bits, as the leading theory held. And such sudden large-scale events on land pose a much more serious hazard to populations living near the rift than would several smaller events, Ebinger said.
This is noteworthy, because something like this - on a much larger scale - most certainly occurred during (and after) the flood of Noah's day. We shouldn't be surprised, as Ebinger was, "that a huge length of the ridge could break open at once like this." Neither should we be surprised "that highly active volcanic boundaries along the edges of tectonic ocean plates may suddenly break apart in large sections, instead of in bits, as the leading theory held." Secular science is slowing confirming, through the proper interpretation of evidence, that the Bible is true.

This news today may not seem like much, but it gives good insight into what happened when God judged the world for the heinous sin of mankind with a worldwide flood. Genesis 7:11 says, "All the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened." Genesis 8:2-3 says, "Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky. The water receded steadily from the earth." Micah 1:3-5 says, "Look! The LORD is coming from His dwelling place; He comes down and treads the high places of the earth. The mountains melt beneath Him and the valleys split apart,like wax before the fire, like water rushing down a slope. All this is because of Jacob's transgression, because of the sins of the house of Israel." Finally, Romans 8:19-22 aptly concludes, saying, "The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the One who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time."

1 Thessalonians 1:7-10

V7-10 – 7And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 8The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia – your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, 9for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

In their perseverance through “severe suffering” (v6), other believers witnessed what Christianity is all about. Thessalonica was a major city in the Roman Empire; it stood along trade routes in every direction. Thus news got out quickly to the Roman world, and “not only in Macedonia (the northern province where Thessalonica was located) and Achaia (the southern province where Corinth was located).” The Thessalonians’ “faith in God has become known everywhere.” We never know whom our witness will touch in hard times. Vincent Cheung notes, “Other Christians readily recognize the powerful effect the Holy Spirit produced in the Thessalonian converts, so that wherever Paul travels, he has no need to tell others about them [v8]. Believers everywhere already know how the Thessalonians have ‘turned to God from idols’” (v9).

Calvin comments here: “For although all do not worship idols, all are nevertheless addicted to idolatry, and are immersed in blindness and madness. Hence, it is owing to the kindness of God, that we are exempted from the impostures of the devil, and every kind of superstition. Some, indeed, he converts earlier, others later, but as alienation is common to all, it is necessary that we be converted to God, before we can serve God [Romans 6:20]. From this, also, we gather the essence and nature of true faith, inasmuch as no one gives due credit to God but the man, who renouncing the vanity of his own understanding, embraces and receives the pure worship of God.” Cheung continues:

“True conversion results from a drastic and permanent transformation at the deepest level of one’s intellect and personality. God changes the individual’s most basic commitments, so that he denounces the abominable objects he once served, and turns to offer true worship to God. This change in a person’s first principle of thought and conduct generates a rippling effect that transforms the entire spectrum of his worldview and lifestyle. Thus conversion produces not only a negative change, in which one turns from idols, but Paul states that they have also turned ‘to serve the living and true God’ (v9). Moreover, a biblical system of thought replaces the former unbiblical philosophy. This new worldview is one in which we ‘wait for [God’s] Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath’ (v10).”
So Paul points out that genuine faith – a gift from God – involves works (Ephesians 2:8-10), both of which the Thessalonians had shown; and he thanks God for that, while at the same time encouraging them to continued perseverance in the midst of severe trials. Additionally, genuine faith directs the believer to hope in the second coming of Jesus Christ; believers acknowledge that God raised Him from the dead, and this resurrection would be pointless if He weren’t coming back to gather His own. It is also this second coming of Jesus that will rescue His people from the coming wrath of God – a major concern of the Thessalonians. It appears that they may have been moved to faith and repentance by the threat of just judgment on sin. Thus, we conclude that, as Paul’s typical preaching among Gentiles (Athens for example) included an emphasis on the just judgment of God, it is good to consider the wrath of God in order that we might revel in the mercy shown us by God and praise Him more full for rescuing us through Jesus Christ.

Monday, November 02, 2009

1 Thessalonians 1:4-6

V4-6 – 4For we know, brothers loved by God, that He has chosen you, 5because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. 6You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.

Paul reveals, beginning in v4, why he is thankful to God for the Thessalonian believers, why he remembers before God their faith, love, and hope, and the fruits those virtues exude. It is because God “has chosen” them. Vincent Cheung says, “It is God who sovereignly chooses the elect, so that Paul says, ‘He has chosen you,’ and not ‘He has approved of your choice.’ If God merely accepts our choice, then he does not choose us in any real sense of the term.” In other words, Paul is thankful that God has chosen them; otherwise, Paul would have to be thankful that they first chose God. But this is not what Paul says or implies. Paul goes on in the next set of verses to reveal how he knows that God has chosen them:

First, in v5, Paul knows that God has chosen the Thessalonian believers “because our gospel came to you not simply [or only] with words.” In other words, the Thessalonian believers did not just hear the words and consent to their truth. Their conversion wasn’t merely intellectual assent, although it did include that. The rhetorical nature of Scripture has in view the importance of words as such. For example, Acts 20:32 says, “Now I commit you to God and to the word of His grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” God’s word is not to be belittled, but words can be empty if not understood, appreciated, and applied. Cheung concludes, “[Paul’s] preaching was not always accompanied by the power of the Spirit, in the sense that God did not always make his preaching effective; otherwise, all who heard Paul preach would have been converted.” But the gospel itself remains infinitely valuable as the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24).

Thus, Paul saw his gospel come to the Thessalonian believers “not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.” In other words, when Paul preached the words of the gospel, God poured out His Spirit and convicted His own among Paul’s audience, such that they responded to the gospel in faith, which was of course, worked out as Paul noted previously (v3). Sanctification was underway in the Thessalonians, and they were making good progress in it. They were persuaded and assured (by the Holy Spirit) that the message was true. 1 Corinthians 2:4-5 has in mind the same concept as our passage when in it Paul says, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” So “your faith” comes from “God’s power,” not through the will or desire of man (Romans 9:16). And that’s why Paul thanks God for having chosen the Thessalonian believers. “It is because of [God] that you are in Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:30).

The final part of v5 reveals that the Thessalonian believers witness how Paul and his companions lived humble, joyful lives while in Thessalonica, despite significant persecution (see Acts 15-17). And then in v6, Paul recalls that the Thessalonian believers “became imitators of” them and of Jesus. And then he comments that, whereas false believers fall away when times get tough – consider the parable of the sower; two of the three soils that receive the seed do not last and produce fruit – true believers rejoice in suffering and retain their faith thanks to the Holy Spirit. The Thessalonians’ perseverance is yet another reason for Paul to celebrate and give thanks to God that they have been chosen by Him. Cheung concludes, “Faith embraces the gospel in spite of the dangers and consequences. The Thessalonians demonstrated the genuineness of their conversion by their joy in the face of severe suffering. Paul would certainly denounce those who compromise the faith that they claim to affirm because of financial losses, political threats, or pressures from relatives and friends. On the other hand, ‘No one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life’ (Luke 18:29-30).”

DC 401 - Week 9 - Genesis 1-3

This week, we tackle the interesting topic of creation. Looking at Genesis 1-3, our workload will look something like this:

Monday -
Read Esther and comment
Tuesday -
Read Daniel 1-6 and Psalms 74-76 and comment
Wednesday - Read David Henderson's article, "This is My Father's World," and memorize Genesis 3:6 - When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it - and review previous memory verses, such as Romans 13:1, Jeremiah 29:11, and Ephesians 2:10
Thursday - Answer questions 1a-d, 2a-b, and 3a-f (12 questions) and review memory verses
Friday - Answer questions 4a-c and 5a-h (11 questions) and review memory verses