What are you confident in? What are you relying on when it comes to faith and the continuation of that faith? Life is filled with unexpected complexity and challenge – so what anchors you and your faith?
Paul prayed for these Philippian believers, thanking God with great joy and certainty for their faith because he had great confidence that was anchored in God alone.
The early converts of this church were a successful businesswoman, a redeemed fortune teller & a converted jailer (see Acts 16 for the full story of this churches inception). This diverse bunch of newly saved ones must have faced many challenges to their faith. Challenges that came from both from within & from outside the church.
To this group of believers in Jesus Paul could write;
“I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (vs6)
He wasn’t there to hold their hands! But he was confident that they would make genuine progress in spiritual growth. So what was Paul’s confidence anchored in?
1. That salvation is a work of God
No doubt Lydia, the Slave-girl & the Jailer could all remember the day that they put their faith in Jesus. But this is not Paul’s confidence; it is not that they ‘really’ believed. His confidence is that God started it all! Acts 16:14 says of Lydia’s salvation moment; “the LORD opened her heart”. God was at the bottom of it all as Charles Spurgeon said;
One week-night, when I was sitting in the house of God, I was not thinking much about the preacher’s sermon, for I did not believe it. The thought struck me; How did you come to be a Christian? I sought the Lord. But how did you come to seek the Lord? The truth flashed across my mind in a moment—I should not have sought him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself, How came I to pray? I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures.
How came I to read the Scriptures? I did read them, but what led me to do so? Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all and that he was the Author of my faith, and so the doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make this my constant confession, “I ascribe my change wholly to God.” — Charles Spurgeon
Friend, your faith is sure and secure only if God is at the bottom of it all.
2. God will bring what He started to completion.
‘So my faith had a good start, but will I be able to keep it going?’ – I hear you wondering.
Friend, Philippians 1:6 says that not only was God the originator of your faith in Him, more than that it is God Himself who will bring to completion what He started in you.
God doesn’t do half-jobs. God doesn’t get distracted or dejected because of slow progress. The writer to the Hebrews says it like this; “Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” (Hebrews 7:25 in NIV).
It would make no sense; it would not honour Jesus’ life, death & resurrection in our place for our sin for God to start and not bring to fullness our salvation. Friend, God is supremely invested in, God is behind not just the origination of your faith but the sustenance and progress of your faith. For some more verses on this theme check out: 1 Corinthians 1:8-9 & 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 & Colossians 1:21-22.
3. The Outcome and the Day are Guaranteed
There is a timeline when this completion will be fully realised. It is not today or tomorrow or in 1years time, but it is on THE DAY of Jesus Christ – the day Jesus returns in glory.
Sometimes spiritual progress in our own lives or in the lives of those we love or lead can feel like three steps forward and two backwards! Don’t despair, don’t give in during the long dark nights when you feel like you have to hold on to what faith you still have.
There is a day coming. And you can be confident that God who inaugurated your faith will bring it to complete fullness by the time of the return of Jesus Christ. That day on which you will see Him face to face, and you will be transformed & raised in glory (1 Corinthians 15:42-43 & 51-55).
If you have believed in Jesus, you can know with absolute certainty that you have believed because God is at work within your life, and you can rest assured that what God has started in you He Himself will continue until it is fully complete at the Day of Jesus Christ. Be secure, be full of praise and thanks!
“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. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)
Spend some time marinating in these two verses!
What is being promised here that will produce godly hope and assurance in us? Who is doing the heavy lifting here? What is our role in our own sanctification (our continual changing more and more into the likeness of Jesus)?
Don’t rush, read these verses again and again. Let the truth in them assure you of God’s commitment to your holiness. You are not on your own as you seek to please God by growing in Christlikeness (see 1 Thessalonians 4:3).
Pray now and ask for the Holy Spirit to fill you afresh, and rest in the knowledge that your personal growth in godliness is something God is totally committed to according to these verses – you are not alone!
What types of things get your joy-juice flowing?
And what form does your rejoicing take?
In popular culture, the most common public expressions of joy are often supporters arms aloft, jumping, hugging strangers and yelling because their team scored.
I have the joy of serving with a fantastic fellow elder, Sibongiseni Dlamini who simply cannot contain himself in certain moments in church life. He can not stop his feet and arms from doing a little high-speed mini-dance at certain times. Like when he sees God at work in someone’s life, or that moment in one of our church services (www.recroadchurch.co.za) when a diverse crowd of Christ followers is passionately worshipping God’s name all in unison or when someone comes to faith in Christ – pure joy!
What do you rejoice in?
In Romans 5:1-5, Paul mentions two but lists four things we rejoice in as Christ followers.
1. We are at peace with God
2. We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God
3. We rejoice in our sufferings
4. We rejoice that God has poured His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit
1. We rejoice because we are at peace with God
May we never tire of rejoicing in the wonder and goodness of our salvation – that God has justified the ungodly (Romans 4:5). We were saved FROM the consequences of our sin, but we were saved FOR relationship with God and access into His presence continually.
Those who have been declared righteous by God because of their faith in Jesus now are in a position of ‘having peace with God’. We were God’s enemies (Romans 5:10), but now we have been reconciled to a right relationship with Almighty God.
More than this as we will discover in later in Romans 8 we are granted the privilege of being adopted as the children of God because of our faith in Jesus (John 1:12) and therefore we have free access into the presence of the Holy God, calling out “Daddy” as we come to him (Romans 8:14-17).
When they were young (and to some degree still today) my children never asked if they could please interrupt me by bashing open my office door or bedroom door! If they wanted me, they came in without hesitation. They were confident and secure that whatever I might have been focused on was not as important as they were.
Come like that, rejoicing that you are at peace with God because you have been declared righteous (justified) by the grace of Jesus. Come knowing this is where you belong.
2. We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God
We rejoice knowing that we are not what we once were (‘sinners’ & ‘enemies of God’) and that we are not all that we will one day be! The best is yet to come. Although we have access into our Holy Father’s presence already, there is greater unlimited access & proximity to come in the new heaven and the new earth when this will happen;
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new..Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 21:1-5 & Revelation 22:20)
This is our hope. Unrestricted eternal access in the presence of God living in a new earth where all of the damage of sin and death and suffering has been eradicated! It’s hard to imagine, but it is our eternal and sure hope which we rejoice in. The future is very, very bright for the believer in Jesus.
3. We rejoice in our sufferings
Oooooh. This seems to be the odd one out. Seriously is there not a typo here? The most challenging word here is the word “knowing” in verse 3. Paul expects the believer in Jesus to rejoice in sufferings because they know something. Do you KNOW it? You need to KNOW it before you’re in it because once you’re in some suffering/pressure/hardship that will not be the right to try to get to KNOW this thing that Paul assumes you KNOW.
We rejoice in our sufferings because we KNOW;
1. That although in this age we suffer because of the sin of others, and because of the effects of the fall all around us in our bodies, creation & society around us. We know that Jesus is both with us in it, and ultimately is coming back to make all things new!
We know that; “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)
2. We also rejoice in our sufferings in that we know that they are not outside of the loving, sovereign control of our Heavenly Father who will use even the worst things, even sinful things to shape us more and more into His likeness and show us His love for us. We KNOW that suffering with a right perspective (Hebrews 12:10-11) results in us developing the muscle of endurance. A muscle which can only grow with the resistance training of hardship. We also KNOW that endurance produces authentic character in us, Christ-like godliness, which is only formed under pressure. And lastly, we KNOW that godly character results in a view of the world that is filled with hope because we are convinced of what Scripture says about the future coming age of Christ.
It is only possible to rejoice in sufferings if you KNOW God is still in control, if you KNOW God loves you, if you KNOW your loving Father is able to work through all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28), if you KNOW that this suffering has some purpose & that it will end and be swallowed up by eternal life to come and superseded by glory!
4. We rejoice that God has poured His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit
We rejoice because God the Father loves us with a love that is purer, deeper and more powerful than anything else in all creation. And we rejoice because this love has been given to us, not in some small measure, it hasn’t been rationed to us, it has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit! So rejoice, that you get to drink deeply of the love of God, by at any time inviting the Holy Spirit to overwhelm you again and again with the fullness of God’s love.
We have so much to rejoice in!
Jesus is at the Passover Feast and He stands up and cries out;
“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ”
What is Jesus referring to?
We don’t need to speculate because John tell’s us in vs39 that Jesus was speaking about the Spirit those who believed were about to receive once Jesus had been glorified. Jesus was speaking of the baptism in the Holy Spirit which we can read of again being promised in Luke 24:49 and then can read about being poured out in Acts 1-2.
But what is ‘Baptism in the Holy Spirit’?
Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a personal encounter with the person of the Holy Spirit, who then gives us spiritual gifts to equip us to witness effectively, to break with sin and to enable us for life and godliness.
Baptism in the Holy Spirit is:
- A promise to be clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:49)
- A gift (Acts 1:4-5)
- Experiential (Acts 2:1-4, Acts 8:18, Acts 10:44)
- Allowing yourself to be totally immersed in God (meaning of the word – baptised)
- Power from on high for service to God (Luke 24:49 & Acts 1:8)
- Enabling power for life and for godliness (2 Peter 1:3)
- Most often evidenced by the receiving of the gift of tongues (Acts 2:1-4, Acts 10:46, Acts 19)
Jesus told the disciples to wait until they had received power from on high (Luke 24)
Clearly Jesus thought that the baptism in the Holy Spirit was essential because in John 16:5-11 he told the disciples; ‘it is to your advantage that I go…because then the Helper will come” And who doesn’t need help?
Different Groups of people with regard to the baptism in the Spirit
- Those who are longing to be filled (Acts 2) spoke in tongues praising God
- Those who were receptive (Acts 8:14-19). These were Christians who had a second experience unclear what happened but was ‘wow!’ enough for Simon to want to buy it
- Those who are hostile – Saul (Romans 8:1-3, 9:1-2 & then was filled with the Holy Spirit 9:17-18) 2nd experience spoke in tongues as a result of this encounter
- Those who were unlikely (it’s for all), Gentiles (Acts 10-11) spoke in tongues praising God
- Those who were unaware previously but grew in faith by hearing (Acts 19:1-6)spoke in tongues and prophesied
How do I get baptised in the Holy Spirit?
- Believe in Jesus (John 7:38)
- Look to Jesus he is the one who baptises with the Holy Spirit (John 1:33)…
- Thirst/desire the baptism of the Spirit (John 7:37)
- Ask God for the baptism of the Spirit (Luke 11:9-13)
- Receive/drink (John 7:37-38 see ESV footnote) have your thirst satisfied by the Holy Spirit
But is baptism in the Holy Spirit a second experience – do we not receive the Spirit at salvation?
Well the answer is, ‘yes and yes’. As PJ Smyth says;
“Just as it is biblically indefensible to underplay the receipt of the Spirit at conversion, so also is it to underplay the on-going receipt of the Spirit after conversion…Importantly, whether or not you claim a major ‘baptism in the Spirit’ experience or not, you must remain in on-going pursuit of the Spirit, because scripture speaks of ‘fillings’ of the Spirit post both conversion, and, depending on your interpretation, post a major ‘baptism of the Spirit’ experience that followed conversion.”
Way too much time has been wasted haggling over when we get filled with the Holy Spirit, what is far more important is that we are continually filled with the Spirit so as to bear fruit as Jesus’ words ring in our ears; “apart from me you can do nothing”.
We need to be continually filled with the Spirit in order to live the Christian life, therefore we believe in and anticipate an infilling of the Spirit at conversion (which can’t happen without the work of the Spirit) and also anticipate subsequent in-fillings of the Spirit that are real and tangible as recorded in the book of Acts.
So, keep being filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) so that you might be full of the life of God (John 7:37-38)!
All through the gospel of John, Jesus uses physical everyday items people knew about to describe spiritual realities. Up to this point in the gospel Jesus has used the following everyday items;
- Light (to communicate the spiritual reality of Jesus’ purity in John 1:4-5)
- Temple (where God & humankind meet, which is now Jesus Himself in John 2:19-22)
- Physical Birth (the need to be born again, born spiritually in John 3:3-8)
- Wind (relating to the move of the Spirit in John 3:8)
- Water (the Holy Spirit within believers in John 4:7-15)
- Food (that which truly satisfies John 4:31-34)
In this encounter with the woman at the well, there is a moment when the disciples return from their mission to find some food in the village. They are astounded that Jesus is speaking with a woman, especially to a Samaritan woman (vs27) but don’t say anything to Jesus.
Maybe they were changing the subject onto something less controversial, maybe they did not wanting to risk delaying lunch with a new teaching from Jesus…? Whatever it was they urge Jesus to eat something (vs31).
Jesus’ reply must have surprised them further. “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” (vs32). I can imagine the disciples maybe even feeling agitated that Jesus had some secret stash of food that they hadn’t shared in or didn’t know about. ‘Had someone in this foreign town brought food to Jesus they wonder?’
But Jesus was once again doing what he often did, using an everyday item to explain a spiritual reality. Jesus goes on to say;
“My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work.” (vs34)
Jesus had told the woman that He had water that would sate her thirst forever (vs13-14), here Jesus explains to the disciples that there is something more satisfying to Him than even food! They went into town, hungry, eager to find satisfaction for their hunger. They urge Jesus to eat, in order that He can be satisfied too. Jesus replies; I have something that satisfies me more than food!
Jesus lived with a longing, a desire, a motivation pulsing inside Him to do the will of His Father. Jesus’ passion to fulfill the will of the Father, to please the Father, is a theme that will develop all through this gospel (see John 6:38 for example).
Jesus’ passion to do the will of God was so real, so tangible Jesus likened it to what the disciples were feeling, their hunger for food. Jesus compares the satisfaction they felt after eating with the satisfaction He felt when He had done the will of the Father.
What a challenge! What satisfies you? What do you wake up longing for?
May I, may we be more and more like Jesus who was motivated to constantly do the will of the Father in all circumstances and was in turn satisfied, felt that happy full feeling when He knew He had done the will of the Father.
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.
“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.