Month: October 2017

How to handle persistent sin (2 Thessalonians 3:6-18)

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How should a community of believers (a church) treat someone in their community who is persistently disregarding the clear instructions on how to live a God honouring life?

These people Paul is referring to have been persistently disregarding the apostles teaching on what a right response to the gospel looks like in life.  This person or group of people had already been urged to change through his first letter (1 Thessalonians 5:14), and are disregarding the life modelled by the apostles (vs7-8) & the apostles teaching (vs10).

So how should we handle such a person, where there is disregard for the clear will of God in terms of some serious misbehaviour?  2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 gives us five practical guidelines on when, why and how discipline should be exercised:

(These 5 points are inspired by John Stott’s commentary on Thessalonians)

  1. The need for discipline arises when there is consistent deliberant disobedience to the plain teaching of Scripture.  The issue is not ignorance regarding God’s will, but a disregard for God’s will and a disregard of the appeals of the community of faith.
  1. The nature of the discipline which was required by the apostle was a measure of social exclusion because softer approaches had been disregarded already by the person(s).  Discipline should start soft and private, but becomes more more insistent and public in nature if people persist in their disobedience to God’s revealed will. Persistent unreported of disobedience should result in some degree of exclusion (‘not to be associated with’ see vs6 & 14), the congregation was to ‘take note of that person’ and together to not ‘mingle or associate with’ them (vs14).  The phrase used can have differing degrees of exclusion, ranging from total separation (as in 2 Corinthians 5:9-13) to more moderate avoidance of free and familiar fellowship (as at Thessalonica) according to John Stott.
  1. The responsibility for administering discipline to a persistent offender belongs to the congregation as a whole. Paul does not address his instructions merely to the elders of the Thessalonian church.  Leaders may need to take the initiative, but then a corporate response is needed by the whole church membership.
  1. The spirit in which discipline is to be administered must be friendly, not hostile. It is to be done ‘gently’ (see Galatians 6:1-2).  In 2 Thessalonians we find the apostle saying; ‘Do not regard him as an enemy’ (15a) rather the spirit here is to, ‘warn him as a brother’ (15b).
  1. The purpose of this discipline is positive and constructive. Although being excluded will result in shame (vs14b), the intention however is not destructive but meant to cause the person(s) to come to their senses, see the seriousness of their sin and repent.  John Stott says; “Paul’s intention is not that he be excluded from the community, but reinstated in it.”  We remember that Jesus’ instructions on this matter was that our desire should be that we could win our brother/sister back, be reconciled (Matthew 18:15-17)!

Prayers that criss-cross (2 Thessalonians 3:1-5)

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Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you (2 Thessalonians 3:1)

The Apostolic gift lifts local eyes from considering only the local church and personal issues to see the broader need, and in so doing the worldwide mission of Jesus remains in focus always.  The apostle Paul has addressed local questions that the believers had amongst themselves, but now he calls them to join him in Jesus’ mission to the whole world.

Paul asked these young believers to pray that the gospel ‘would run and be glorified’. He is asking them to pray that the gospel would advance and that it would be honoured (3:1).  The gospel advances through local churches, through preaching, through the lives of all believers living out their transformation and sharing Jesus.

What do you pray about?  Only local, personal things or are you prayers about the gospel speeding ahead, spreading out all across the world.  I urge you from Scripture to widen the scope of your prayers if that’s needed, to care about church planting, and the gospel’s advance reaching to all unreached people of the world.

He also asked them to pray that people would respond wholeheartedly to the gospel, that lives would be transformed (as had happened in Thessalonica) by the gospel (3:1).

2 and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. 3 But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.

In Paul’s mind, gospel advance was linked to danger and oppression.  So he asked them to pray that we may be delivered from wicked & evil men (3:2) and yet even as he is praying he knows, the Lord is faithful, he knows, he is confident that God will establish them and guard you against the evil one.

So he closes praying that the Lord would ‘direct their hearts’ (3:5).  Only God can lead and direct us at a heart-level so that we end up loving God more and becoming more and more robust/steadfast like Jesus.

This little section starts with Paul asking them to pray, and ends with Paul praying for them! May our prayers for one another criss-cross like this, us praying for others and others praying for us – partnering in prayer knowing that prayer is the power God’s given us to open and shut doors.

 

False teaching (2 Thessalonians 2:1-17)

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The Thessalonian church faced persecution from those outside of the faith, which the apostle has addressed in chapter 1.  Now in chapter 2 he turns his attention to another form of opposition that can be even more difficult to withstand: false teaching.

Some had been claiming that Jesus had already returned, and that the Thessalonians had somehow missed it (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3)!  Sadly this sort of stuff still happens today.  Just the other day the world was supposed to have ended – ooooops did you miss that!

Did you know that according to some, the so-called “Rapture” was supposed to have happened on Sep 23rd 2017.  Some doomsday so-called Christians who seem more focused more on crazy number patterns & astronomy than on the Bible itself put together a Youtube clip watched by 4.5million people in under 2months claiming such.  

And yet, no surprise really, but we are still all here.  Or did Jesus come back and we  somehow missed; ‘Jesus’ shout of command’, ‘the voice of the archangel’, the trumpet blast of God’ ‘and dead people rising up everywhere’ (1 Thessalonians 4:13-16)…? 

Friend, “Let no one deceive you in any way” (vs3), “we ask you brothers not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed” (vs2).  Jesus is coming back, he will destroy the anti-Christ with just the breath of his mouth (vs8) – no contest!  There will be displays of power and false signs and wicked deception from Satan himself (vs9-10) but we are all called to ‘love the truth and so be saved’ (vs10)

And Jesus Christ Himself is the way and the truth, and so believing in Him, trusting in Him is the only way to life eternal.  So do it, trust Him, believe in Him, and call all you know to do the same.

And, if you have already believed in Jesus, stand firm (vs15) and hold to what you know from Scripture and may Jesus Himself comfort your hearts and cause you to do great good works in the world because of Him (vs16).

God is just (2 Thessalonians 1:1-12)

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Paul has been boasting about these Thessalonian believers to other churches.  He has been encouraged by their growing faith and love, and also by their steadfastness and faith in the midst of the persecution and the affliction they have had to endure because of their faith.

“Faith under fire becomes faith refined by the fire.”

But what comfort is there for those who are being treated unjustly, persecuted because of their faith in Christ?

“…indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven…” (2 Thessalonians 1:6-7)

What comfort is there?  Scripture answers that God is just.  Implied here is that our Father God who is the righteous all-knowing judge of all sees everything that is done and that which is not done that ought to have been done.  God is just, because God will afflict those who have afflicted His children.

And so the knowledge that God is just gives relief/rest to one who has been unjustly treated or who has seen their loved ones unjustly treated.

We are often tempted to make premature assessments, in this life.  It can and does sometimes look like the unjust go unpunished, seemingly unaffected by their sin and seemingly free from consequences despite the despicable things they have inflicted on others.  Our systems of justice often let people down as the justice they deserve slips away into the cracks of our sin-broken societal systems of justice.

But for those who call God ‘Father’ there will be justice.  Our Father will act on our behalf and knowing this relieves us of any need to attempt to ‘repay evil with evil’ (1 Thessalonians 5:15).

Rather, we can and should forgive people.  As we do, we are stopping that thing they did from continuing to rob or hurt us into the future.  Forgiving people sets the forgiver free, and leaves the forgiven before the God of all the earth – who is just.

Ask Father God right now.  Is there anyone I need to forgive?

Choose now to set yourself free, choose now to stop allowing that thing from continuing to impact your life.  Thank your Father that He is just.

When though?  You might say, well I haven’t seen God being just yet!

I believe there are times when we do see the justice of God in this lifetime come upon people, but this passage is very clear that the time everyone will know that God is just is on the day when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with attending angels and flames of fire (vs7-8).

On that day God the righteous judge will ‘inflict vengeance/retribution’ (vs8) on those  who wronged his children (implied by the context) and specifically on those who rejected Jesus Christ.

Note how God is the active agent here, God the righteous just judge is the One inflicting retribution.  This clear teaching in Scripture confronts the unbiblical popular notion that the God of Scripture is some wishy washy dispenser of ‘love’ or that it is loving  to the victim to let the wicked go unpunished for the sin done to them!

And yet on this same day that Jesus comes back in all His glory, on this day when the unrighteous who rejected Christ will face the punishment for their sin (vs9) and will be shut out from the presence of God forever and ever, on that same day those of us who believed in Jesus will be glorying in Jesus, will be marvelling at Jesus in all His revealed splendour and majesty (vs10)!

May, you believe, may you ask Jesus Himself to forgive you of the wrong you’ve done before that Day.  May you and I reach out to EVERYONE we can while we still can with the good news that anyone can join that happy crowd (vs10) if they will only bow the knee now and accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour and ask Him to forgive them of their sin.

For if you do accept Jesus, God is just, and so will forgive you of your sin, you will not face any punishment for whatever you did, because God already punished that sin when Jesus died on the cross in your place for your sin, and so God will be just to save you and welcome you into a glorious eternity with Him.

Have you crossed the line of faith and put your faith in Jesus and asked Him to forgive you of all your sin?

Ask the Holy Spirit now to put people on your heart who don’t yet believe in Jesus, pray for them and DO ANYTHING the Holy Spirit leads you to do…

God’s will for our lives & His Church (1 Thessalonians 5:12-28)

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As this first letter to the Thessalonians comes to a close the Apostle Paul gives some a variety short instructions on a range of issues of what the transformed life and community of those who are following Jesus ought to be like.

Imagine all of these instructions, and all the more specific or focussed encouragements for right living through this whole letter (faith, hope & love, sexual purity & living with a biblical eternal perspective) being lived out!  What an incredible church, a community of faith that would be.

When there is a long list of exhortations like this, one can get caught in ‘skimming mode’.  You can’t possibly focus on so many things all at once.  My encouragement is for you to read through the list and to ask the Holy Spirit to just take His heavenly highlighter as it were and highlight that which He wants to speak to you about today.  Then meditate on those things, stop and ask the Holy Spirit to convict of wrongdoing maybe and or to encourage you as to the change that’s required in you.

So read through this diverse list, pray that our church would be all these things, but ask the Holy Spirit to highlight what He wants to work on in you at the moment and then take time to dwell on that, to hear what specifically needs correcting or changing.  Then repent or make changes accordingly.

  • Honour/respect leaders who’s job it is to at times admonish you (vs12)
  • Live peacefully with one another in the church (vs13)
  • Warn/admonish/correct gently those who are idle (vs14)
  • Encourage those who are fainthearted (vs14)
  • Support/help those who are weak or those without strength (vs14)
  • Be patient with all! (vs14)
  • Don’t take revenge on anyone (vs15)
  • Always seek to do good to one another and to all people (vs15)
  • Always rejoice (vs16)
  • Always pray and do so without stopping (vs17)
  • Always give thanks to God at all times as this is God’s will for you. (vs18)
  • Don’t quench, don’t extinguish the work of the Holy Spirit amongst you (vs19)
  • Don’t despise prophecy treating it as though it has no value (vs20)
  • But test/examine/discern prophecies to know what to approve/act on (vs21)
  • Hold fast only to that which is good in prophecies (vs21)
  • Abstain/keep oneself from every form of evil (vs22)

May God who is the One who will sanctify us (make us more and more like Jesus), may God who is the One who will keep working in you to make you blameless on the Day of Jesus, may God who is the One who called you to Himself, may God produce the change that’s needed in you and in me. (vs23-24)  Amen.

That Day: Great & Terrible (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11)

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‘The day of the Lord’ – (vs2) is the great and the terrible day spoken of all through the Old Testament when Yahweh will come to save His faithful ones and will come to punish the those who rejected His kind offer of forgiveness through His Son.

It is a day with two distinct perspectives depending on one’s faith trajectory.  For some, it’s a great day, a day to be longed for and anticipated, and yet for those who rejected God’s Son as their Lord & Saviour, its a terrible day.

This day will come suddenly, will come when people aren’t expecting it (vs3).  To some the suddenness is negative & not welcomed – ‘like a thief’.  Yet for others the suddenness is positive & welcomed like a pregnant woman suddenly going into labor. (vs3)

These contrasting ‘suddenly’s’ refer to the contrasting experience on ‘the day of the Lord’ depending on ones state of faith.

But this coming day in all our futures isn’t to be feared for those who are God’s children, ‘children of the light’ (vs4-5), for we have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness into Jesus’ kingdom (Colossians 1:13) which is the kingdom of light as Jesus is Himself, the light of the world (John 8:12).

Knowing these things, believing these things helps us to be at peace with our future, and helps us to stay alert, awake, sober ready for Jesus’ return. (Vs6)

Knowing these things, believing these things helps us to choose to keep putting on the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet of the hope of our salvation to protect us until that day (vs8).

We who have believed in Jesus Christ, we are not destined for wrath but for salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, the one who died in our place for our sin so that we might live forever with Him (vs9).

So let’s encourage one another and build one another up!

And let’s reach out to all we know with the good news that those who put their trust in Jesus, those who ask Him to forgive them of their sins, will be forgiven and then this THAT DAY will be the first of an eternity of GREAT DAYS.

Re-Uniting Day… (1 Thessalonians 4:14-18)

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There is a day when the temporary separation brought about by all death in this life will be overturned by the greatest day of re-unification ever!

I find airports very interesting spaces. Going to an airport one can observe a whole range of contrasting emotions on display.

On the side of departures there are last hugs, last kisses and last looks – endings, separations, increasing distance, tears & questions of when we will see one another next.

Yet, on the side of arrivals its the opposite. There are first hugs, kisses & words of joy and love. Decreasing distance, intimacy and re-unification, the resumption of relationships…

Death is like the departure section of the airport. The second coming of Jesus, however, is like the arrivals section! There is a day when the wait will be over, the distance between us and Jesus will evaporate forever, and a day when the separation we have endured from loved ones who died as believers will be over forever and ever.

These Thessalonians had questions about loved ones who had died, here in these verses Scripture describes the amazing day to come when King Jesus will return as King. The underlying Greek word (‘parousia) used here and translated as ‘the coming of the’ Lord is a word that has special meaning. It’s not just like a friend ‘coming’ round to your house but the picture the Thessalonians would have had when that word was used would have been that of a victorious king leading his armies and his captives in a victory parade through the streets, to be received with cheers and celebration from his home city/kingdom.

We get hints of this incredible scene when this passage describes the picture of Jesus’ return with three sounds;

  1. Jesus declaring loudly with a shout/command ,
    The voice of an archangel (chief angel) saying something about Jesus no doubt
  2. And God sounding a heavenly trumpet!
  3. In this moment there will be the greatest day of re-unification ever! It seems from vs15-16 that those who had already died, believing in Jesus will be raised and then they will join Jesus in His ‘parousia’, in His victory procession as ‘God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep’ (vs14).

I can imagine Jesus in all His glory out front, and the host of believers behind Him singing glorying in Him and yet at the same time looking out for, finding in the crowd and waving with joy and excitement at those who are still alive who believed in Jesus. What a day of re-unification, joy unspeakable! This is comforting for us who just feel the loss of separation in the present time, this sadness will be overcome with everlasting joy.

Lastly, the result of what I’m calling Re-uniting Day will be an intimate proximity to Jesus that will never be undone again; “and so we will always be with the Lord” (vs17).

These truths should encourage us, and should be used by us to encourage one another (vs18).

Who can you encourage with these words today?
Have you done it yet?

Not ‘no grief’ but… (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14)

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But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep… (vs13)

In their short time in Thessalonica, despite having covered many questions about life and faith, it appears as though questions regarding death and life after death were either not covered in Paul’s preaching while in person with them and so much of the remainder of 1 Thessalonians 4-5 focusses on what is commonly regarded as Paul answering questions that had been asked probably via Timothy who returned to Paul and the team.

When someone dies we as believers can be faced with the struggle of reconciling;

  • our faith and our emotions,
  • our faith and the loss of a loved one,
  • our faith and the likelihood that some of the things we prayed for weren’t answered as we wished they would be,
  • our faith and some of that which is unknown concerning this loved one and life after death.

Paul said to the Thessalonians, “we do not want you to be uninformed”(vs13). We do not want you to not know what we ought to know. As believers, although there is mystery still regarding death we do know many things from Scripture, and knowing helps grieving.

…that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.(vs13)

Grief is our multifaceted response to loss. Grief is unpredictable and can be full of conflicting emotions ranging from deep desperate sadness through to the relief that the person who died is no longer suffering, or even relief as the load of caring lifts and yet the pain of guilt that you feel relieved or are doing ok after their death…

Scripture doesn’t say that we as Christ followers won’t grieve.

To not grieve would be to deny our common human experience post-the-fall of humankind. Rather, what this verse teaches is that we don’t grieve in the same way, as those who ‘have no hope’.

Our grieving is transformed by hope. This life is not the end, death is not the end but rather a transition from this life to the next as Jesus Himself said;

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:24)

Believing in Jesus transforms us so radically that death becomes the doorway to eternal life! And in that moment death is swallowed up in victory (1 Corinthians 15:55), in life that’s imperishable.

This is why believers in Jesus don’t grieve the death of a fellow believer in the same way, as those with no hope, yes they grieve – because there is loss, a break in relationship for the present time, but that loss is informed, is transformed by the knowledge that this loved one if they believed in Jesus Christ has nothing but glorious suffering free imperishable life in their eternal trajectory with Jesus!

For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.(vs14)

Jesus who died and rose again, will resurrect us who believe, will resurrect those who have died having believed in Him in this life. And this knowledge, that believers in Jesus will be resurrected by Jesus on the day of His glorious second coming transforms our grief, doesn’t take it away, but fills it with unshakeable hope.

Gospel Response (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14)

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When the Gospel is preached there are normally a whole range of responses from even within a smallish group of people. Reading between the lines of this letter we can surmise already by this stage in the letter that in response to the Gospel being preached;

  • Some could be applauded for their wholehearted response to the Gospel (1:6-9 & 2:13)
  • Some could be applauded for their faith and love & their desire to please God (3:6&4:1)
  • Some needed to be urged to not continue in their sexual sin or living like unbelievers (4:3-5)
  • Some were applauded for their love for one another and for all the brothers in Macedonia (4:9-10)
  • And some were exhorted to keeping working so as not to have to depend on others finances (4:11-12)

All different responses from the same Gospel shared with them. And so pastorally different things were needing to be encouraged in different groups of individuals in this young church.

What would you be applauded for in terms of your Gospel response?
What might you need to be exhorted in?

When the Gospel is preached, a faith community of Christ followers that hadn’t previously existed forms (the church), and Jesus clearly expected that these new faith communities would be primarily characterised by a deep love that looks like family.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Churches are not about programmes or meetings, they are all about people who have been joined to one another because they have been joined to Jesus Christ. Paul could write about the Thessalonians that he didn’t need to teach them about ‘brotherly love’ because clearly God had been teaching them how to love one another (vs9). What an accolade for a church to receive!

God had promised hundreds of years before that one day He would make a new covenant (which He did through Jesus) and in that era God said;

“I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:33-34)

And that’s what God did with the Thessalonians, after just a short time of preaching God taught them, God wrote on their hearts His way for loving one another, for loving even ‘all the brothers throughout Macedonia’(vs10)!

God the Holy Spirit will teach us, will lead us how to love like He loves so that we will reflect who God is to one another and to the world at large. There is no greater hallmark of holiness than sacrificial love for others, and especially love for those whom we can’t realistically expect anything from in return.

How is God teaching you to be more loving to those in the church?
How is God leading you to love those in the wider community?

What does God want?(2) (1 Thessalonians 4:7-8)

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[If you didn’t read yesterday’s devotional I would urge you to look first at part (1)…]

When you think about your salvation, God’s having chosen to save you from your sins, have you ever paused to think ‘why’?  Why did God save you?  What was God wanting?

We know that God went to extreme lengths in order to rescue us from our sin, but why did God do it.  Our salvation cost Jesus His life as He chose to lay it down for us, our salvation cost the Father immensely too as the Father willingly punished His one and only beloved Son in our place and for our sin – so why did God do it?

Every person who has believed in Jesus was called by God out of darkness and into Jesus’ marvellous light (1 Peter 2:9).  But what did God have in mind when He called each one of us?

We know already from 1 Thessalonians 4:3 that God’s will for each one of us is that we be pure/holy like God Himself is.  Now in 1 Thessalonians 4:7 we learn that;

“For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.”

When the God considered our sin-state, our brokeness and considered His great love for us and His desire to have us with Him forever…

When God determined to save us, to redeem us by giving Himself to save us from Himself and His righteous holy wrath against sin…

We know from these two verses (vs3&7) of 1 Thessalonians that what was in God’s heart, in God’s mind for us whom He was choosing to save at great cost, was that God wanted us to be holy/pure.

God called us not to be impure but rather to be pure/holy like He is holy.  He wanted this so much, He sent His own Son, Jesus wanted this so much He endured the cross scorning its shame!

So, brothers and sisters, when we live impure, unholy, sin-stained, compromised lives we are grieving God, trampling on Jesus’s costly life-sacrifice.  We are not just doing something small and meaningless we are grieving God and are choosing to live against the will of God.

And this is why this passage contains some strong warning language;

8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. 

Whoever disregards what God wants from those He chose and called to save, those Jesus chose to die for makes a big error of judgement.  Such a person is not merely disregarding human traditions or ethical standards or expectations but is in fact disregarding God who not only gave us Jesus but also gave us His indwelling Holy Spirit to help us to be holy as He desires us to be.

So, let’s not take sin lightly.  Let’s not ignore what God wants from those He called, those He chose and those He paid the price for.  Let’s respond to God’s incredible kindness and mercy towards us who believe by living lives worthy of the calling we have received (Ephesians 4:1).

Is your will & God’s will aligned?

What might need to change when you consider what God wants?

Speak to God now about those things.

What does God want? (1 Thessalonians 4:3-6)

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What does God want from you and I as believers? There are times in our lives when we are not always certain of the answer to that question. Maybe you’re in a place of needing to make decisions and you’ve asked God for Him to reveal His specific will to you and at the moment you honestly could say that you don’t know what God’s will is in this thing that’s before you…

And yet here in today’s passage, Scripture affirms with absolute conviction and clarity what God’s general will is for all of us.

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification.”

The direct translation of the last word translated as ‘sanctification’ can also be translated as ‘holiness or purity’. God wants everyone of us to be pure, to be holy, to be more and more like He is. Note how this is an absolute and unqualified statement, it is always God’s will for all of us, it is not relative, it does not change.

In the passage, Paul zero’s in on an issue that many in Thessalonica seemingly battled to be pure in and an issue that many today still battle to be pure/holy in – sex.

Our world is awash with loose morals, the prevailing sexual ethic of our day is something like ‘everything is permissible as long as there are two or more consenting adults!’

Sadly, God’s moral law found throughout Scripture which makes it clear that there ought to be no sex outside of the covenant of marriage is disregarded by many both in and outside of the church.

The whole realm of sexual purity is one of those areas in which so often many of us could not be described as being pure or holy. But this is not God’s will for us.

Rather, God wants us to;

“…abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God”

And what is meant when the bible says God wants us to abstain from sexual immorality?

The Greek word used here is broad and so includes all sex before marriage and or outside of the marriage covenant between a husband and his wife.

Brothers and sisters, we need to be re-sensitised! We often see sex as a personal choice, and in one sense it is and yet God through Scripture warns us abundantly clearly that to engage in any sex outside of marriage is against God’s will for you.

More than that, the passage goes on to warn us saying;

“the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.” (vs6)

God is not unmoved by our ‘personal choices’, rather we grieve and anger God when we live as the unsaved person does, when we do not keep ourselves sexually pure before Him. This is a solemn warning, and warnings are of no use unless we take note of them and adjust accordingly.

So let’s not be like those who do not even know God, let’s not be guided by passions and lust but rather let’s be those who desire to please God and because we do want to please God, let’s be those who control our own bodies (vs4) and keep our bodies pure and honourable before God who sees everything.

What does God want? He wants His children to be sexually pure.
And what if we haven’t been?

The good news is that we have been given the most amazing gift by Jesus – we can always repent and He will forgive us because He died in our place for our sin. But, repentance requires that we change, that as Jesus said once to a woman caught up in sexual sin we are to; “go and sin no more.”

Do you need to repent? You can! You will be forgiven!

But then you need to make changes with the help of the Holy Spirit.
And if you need help, speak to someone in leadership you can trust.

What does God want?

He wants us to be sanctified, to be transformed more and more into the perfect holiness of our Saviour Jesus.

How now shall we live? (1 Thessalonians 4:1-2)

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“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. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 4:1-2)

These verses are the ‘hinge verses’ in this letter.  Up until now, the apostle Paul has been referring back this whole time, looking back at their visit to the Thessalonians, taking them back to the Gospel that was preached amongst them.

From this point onwards, Paul suddenly switches looking to the present and future addressing certain practical ethical problems of Christian conduct which were evidently troubling the Thessalonians or were ethical life-issues that Timothy had observed and felt needed correction.  So, Paul switches from explanations regarding his own behaviour to instructions regarding theirs because of their faith in God.

One of the great weaknesses of contemporary evangelical Christianity is our comparative neglect of Christian ethics, in both our teaching and our practice.

– John Stott

Paul presents a striking contrast when compared to our current neglect of ethics in our day.  For the rest of this letter, he gives detailed instruction in Christian moral behaviour.  Contrary to much of the thinking in our day and contrary to so much of the emphasis in our churches teaching, how we live really matters!

‘you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God’ (vs1)

Paul can say that these Thessalonian believers had received something from Paul and his team, they had left a deposit of how to live SO AS to please God.  He could say that the Thessalonians knew the instructions they had been given on what gospel life should look like in practice.

Living to please God is an overarching guiding principle of all Christian behaviour.   John Stott says the following about living to please God;

First, it is a radical concept, for it strikes at the roots of our discipleship and challenges the reality of our profession. How can we claim to know and to love God if we do not seek to please him? Disobedience is ruled out. 

Secondly, it is a flexible principle. It will rescue us from the rigidities of a Christian Pharisaism which tries to reduce morality to a list of do’s and don’ts. True, we still need to be instructed … how to live in order to please God (1), and this for us will necessitate the developing of a Christian perspective through biblical meditation. Nevertheless, our incentive will be not so much to obey the law as thereby to please the Law-giver, and this will become increasingly a matter of Christian instinct as the Holy Spirit trains Christ’s sheep to discern their Shepherd’s voice. 

Thirdly, this principle is progressive. If our goal is to be perfectly pleasing to God, we shall never be able to claim that we have arrived. Instead, we are summoned to please him more and more.” (extract from “The Message of Thessalonians” – J.Stott)

May we, make it our life ambition to live in such a way that pleases God.  After all, if we truly love God we will want to live in such a way that will please God.  And so as we read on in this letter which focusses on ethical teaching regarding how we should live, let’s remember that to do so is not legalism but rather practical help to those who want to please God.

And finally, lets remember that pleasing God is something which is never complete but rather something we want to do ‘more and more’.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for so radically giving Your life in order to sacrificially save my life.  I worship You and am so grateful to You.  

Thank you for the gift of repentance and the offer of forgiveness because of your life lived in my place and your death died for my sins.  

Today Lord I re-commit myself to living in such a way that will please you, finding out what does please you and then making changes to what I do and do not do, how I think, and how I speak and act towards others.  Holy Spirit, I invite you to challenge and change me more and more so that I might live in such a way that pleases You. Amen.

Praying for what really matters (1 Thessalonians 3:11-13)

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What we pray for reveals what we value.  In 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 we get a little insight into some of Paul’s prayer time for the believers he had to leave behind in Thessalonica. Let’s do a quick survey of the things Paul and his team were praying for and see what we can learn from what it was they were praying for…

  1. Paul and his team gave thanks for the Thessalonians response to the Gospel (1:2-3)
  2. Prayed that God might enable his team to help the Thessalonians to grow up in their faith through good teaching and leadership (3:10)
  3. Prayed that God would make a way through the devil’s hindering (2:18) so that they could be re-united with the Thessalonians again for their mutual encouragement (3:11)
  4. Prayed that the Thessalonians love would abound towards one another in the church & also about for all people (3:12)
  5. Prayed that the Thessalonians might be blameless on the day of Jesus’ second coming (3:13)
    Prayed that they might become more and more like God (sanctified) and that they be kept blameless until the day Jesus returns (5:23-24)

In summary, incidentally through this letter we discover some of the things that really mattered to the apostle Paul when he prayed for others.

  1. He gave thanks to God!
  2. He prayed for enabling power to accomplish that which God had called him to do.
  3. He prayed for God’s breakthrough where things felt stuck/hindered
  4. He prayed for these believers to be like God, to be abounding in love
  5. He prayed that God would keep them safe through trials to the very end of the age.

Think about your prayers for a moment.

What things are your prayers typically characterised by if you were to do an audit?

How could you pray through some of these things that were the apostle’s prayer focus in your life and over the lives of others?

Hardship: Anticipated or Shocked? (1 Thessalonians 3:1-5)

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Real life is full of ups and downs.  Good days and tough moments or even seasons when life can feel like an incredibly hard uphill battle.  It’s been said that its not a matter of when you and I will face hardship, sorrow or trials but rather just when.

And yet so often we are knocked off our balance entirely by hardships and or suffering as believers.  Why is this?

In part I believe that there is an unhelpful belief/teaching that makes out as if the Christian life is just victorious, just joy, just plain sailing…  And when real life isn’t like this, such teaching/belief leads to a potential crisis of faith (God’s not faithful, loving or sovereign) or unhelpful spiritual introspection or even depression believing that the root cause must be lack of faith or an underlying sin issue that’s not been dealt with.

However, a simple reading of the New Testament letters reveals a different picture for us regarding suffering/hardships.  Paul expected affliction/hardship, as did the Thessalonian believers because Paul had warned them in those first three weeks of their faith that hardship would come as a result of their faith in Christ.  Paul says to them;

“For you yourselves know that we are destined for this.  For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction just as it has come to pass, and just as you know.” (1 Thessalonians 3:3-4)

Paul wanted “no one (to) be moved by these afflictions” (vs3) that’s why he had warned them before the time that they would come.

I don’t believe Paul was morbid, negative, stoic or resigned to just enduring suffering and letting people walk all over him like a ‘welcome mat at the door’…  I believe Paul was REAL, he knew that the enemy although defeated on the cross and having ultimately destiny with destruction at the Lord’s second coming was still the enemy and able to inflict pain and hardship, able to hinder the Gospel and able to hinder believers.

So, he anticipated hardship so was not shocked by it, not knocked off balance by it, but rather he and those he lead could be fortified in it and know how to respond to it with faith.

Partnership & Prayer (1 Thessalonians 3:6-10)

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Paul and his team eventually send Timothy to Thessalonica to establish and exhort the Thessalonians in their faith in Jesus so that ‘no one would be moved by these afflictions’. (1 Thessalonians 3:2-3)

On his return to Paul in Athens Timothy brought back a good report of the Thessalonians faith, love and also their warm friendship and longing to meet again (1 Thessalonians 3:6).

This report comforted Paul and his team and provoked them to thanksgiving and more fervent prayer (night & day) for the Thessalonians that their faith might be firmly established.

What can we learn from this?

The Gospel forms new relationships that didn’t previously exist (1 Peter 2:10)!

Paul is worried, eager to hear news, wanted to come visit, was hindered, prayed, sent Timothy, then was relieved and prayed day and night – all for a group of people he didn’t know prior to their salvation and whom he only spent a month with.  But in that time God joined their hearts and true spiritual friendship formed so that they really cared for each other.

God established a heart level partnership between Paul’s team and this church, these believers so that the church longed to see Paul and team again and they were eager to see them and hear from them and wanted to see them built up and encouraged in their faith.

God does this at an individual level when we get joined to individuals in our church who come alongside us or whom God uses us to come alongside to establish and encourage them in their faith.

God does this at a church level when we as a church have people that speak into the life of the church, pray for and care for a church that is not theirs but is a church community of faith that they care for and love.

Over the years, as Oasis, we have had many people like that who have prayed for, loved and cared for Oasis Church even though they have been from somewhere else and have only visited or been with us for a short time – God has joined them to us in partnership & prayer…

We thank God for every Frontier Year Project person who’s ever invested in the life of our church, we thank God for Craig & Shannon Botha and their investment in our church, for Ray & Sue Lowe who love Oasis, for Lois who has advocated for us for so many years and prayed continuously, for Gerry & Donna too for their love and generosity & the whole of Centre Street Church for their partnership, for Common Ground Church & GodFirst Rosebank for their exceeding generosity and the many other Advance churches that have partnered with Oasis Church, for local churches who have supported and prayed for Oasis, for the Waldron family who made us their home and carry us in their hearts………….  I know I have missed out on many but the point is made.

We have been joined together with others in partnership and prayer as a local church, it’s what we see in the New Testament and its been our experience.

May we partner with others!  As individuals, may God use us to exhort and establish and encourage others in the faith, may God join our hearts in prayer and partnership for their growth and benefit, and may God keep using us more and more as a local church to plant and strengthen other local churches all over South Africa!