Praying About Difficult Decisions

I. Introduction

From time to time, we all come to a big decision in our lives. I’ve lost my job; what should I do now? I have a medical issue; how should I treat it? Is this person right for me? Should I compromise, or should I stand my ground?

We are faced with decisions often. Yearly, monthly, daily. Some of the decisions we face are very mundane. Should I wear this tie today? Some are more serious. Should I go to church and bible study today? And some are serious indeed: job, family, friends, moral choices. Many times, the choice affects not just you, but several or many people.

Several years ago, I had made a decision to get Lasik surgery to get rid of my very thick glasses. I read up the procedure, became familiar with the different types, selected a doctor and had the examinations and evaluations. And then the day finally came for me to have the operation. It was only a 10 minute operation, max, to treat both eyes.

There was a small hiccup. Apparently I have small pupils, but they had to be very dilated before the surgery could begin. So while it took 3 different treatments of those drops they put into your eyes, so they kept slipping my treatment later and later waiting for my eyes to dilate. I had time to walk around the doctor’s office.

Now, this doctor had a glass-walled operating table. I could see a patient laying on the table, bit computerize contraption over their head as the doctor began to work. And he also had a television monitor outside so you could see the surgery up close. And I watched an extreme close-up of an eye sliced open and lasered. And my appointment was next.

I don’t recommend that for anybody. I had been calm, cool, collected up until this point, but watching an eye sliced opened and lasered ten minutes before this butcher, Dr. Frankenstein, would do his science experiment on me filled me with anxiety. What was I thinking? What if something went wrong? Would this hurt? What if I was blinded? Can I change my mind? Can I get a refund? You know, now that I think of it, coke bottle glasses aren’t so bad after all. I mean, I had a lot of anxiety about this decision.

I can hardly imagine the anxiety Jesus faced with His most important decision. Jesus’ decision would make would affect the world and he would suffer serious pain, humiliation, and then death. How did Jesus get through this decision? That’s what we’re going to study today in Mark 14.

II. Mark 14, The Ministry of Jesus

First, let’s summarize where we are in history. Jesus has been teaching us parables, teaching us behaviors, and teaching us scripture and prophecy. But the end of the chapter of Mark is coming, and with that is the climax, the purpose for Jesus Himself. Soon, to fulfill prophecy, Jesus will suffer and die on the cross.

Mark 14 has a series of disappointments for Jesus. His ministry is nearly complete, and those closest to Him let Him down. Let’s look at a couple of quick verses –

Verse 1. “Now the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some sly way to arrest Jesus and kill him.” These are the pastors, the deacons, the bible study teachers of Jesus’ time. They studied God’s Word looking for His purpose, and instead of recognizing Jesus for who He is, they plotted to kill Him. There are two very serious problems here – one, despite all their studying, they don’t accept the Messiah that fulfills prophecy. Were they really studying, seeking God’s purpose? I think one could answer that by the second problem, they sought to deal with Jesus by trying to kill Him.

How many commandments are there? Do one of the commandments deal with killing people you don’t like? So these leaders either weren’t really studying and didn’t know, or they were so full of their own self-righteousness that they believed the law didn’t apply to them.

And in verse 17, the disciples are all eating supper together, the Passover meal. And Jesus knows He is having supper with Judas Iscariot, His betrayer. A man who has spent the last 3 years studying and traveling with Jesus. Verse 43, Judas leads a mob from the Sanhedrin to arrest Jesus.

And in verse 53, the Sanhedrin put on a sham trial in order to convict Jesus who was innocent of any sin. And between the mob and the trial, one of His closest disciples who promised never to deny Jesus did exactly that in verse 68. And Mark 14 closes with Jesus alone, abandoned by His friends and convicted by those who wanted to kill Him.

Jesus knew all these things would happen. How do you think Jesus felt? Knowing all these things were to happen, Jesus was hurt, troubled, distressed, and even scared. Jesus is God, but Jesus is also man. He was about to suffer for who He was.

So the night before Judas leads the soldiers of the High Priests to Jesus to arrest Him, Jesus has to make a decision. What steps did Jesus take to make sure He was making the right decision?

III. The Prayer of Jesus

Mark 14:32-35 –

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him.

How would you describe Jesus’ emotions this night?

Why do you think it was important for Jesus to take some disciples to the garden for prayer?

When people face a difficult decision, what type of person do they turn to?

What’s the first thing Jesus did when faced with a difficult decision?

The garden of Gethsemane was most probably an olive garden on the western slope of the Mount of Olives. Other scripture indicates that Jesus came here more than once with His disciples; it was probably a peaceful, quiet place. Jesus took His closes friends – Peter, James, and John – with Him for support.

The NIV says Jesus was troubled; the NASB version translates this word as “horrified.” His human self and sense of self-preservation was now at battle with His spiritual side. It had all come down to this. Three years of walking among the people, healing them and teaching them, offering a chance to know and accept Him and knowing that they would reject him. Before the next 24 hours were complete, Jesus would offer himself up for the world and for you and for me. The worst part must have been the anticipation, the anxiety of knowing that tomorrow He would die, and die painfully. Julius Caesar once said, “It is easier to find men who will volunteer to die than it is to find those willing to endure pain with patience.

And with those thoughts in His mind, Jesus fell to His knees and began to pray.

It is easy to forget the power of prayer. Our prayers are shallow. Somebody tells us about their pain or their anxiety, and we put our hand on their shoulder and say, “I’ll pray for you.” And I suspect most of the time we don’t. We return to our own life and forget our promise to pray. What are some of the reasons we don’t pray? (No immediate gratification, we’re too busy, we doubt the prayer will be answered.)

Let’s look at Jesus’ prayer in Mark 14:36 –

“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” Once more he went away and prayed the same thing.

a. Prayer Depends on Our Relationship

The normal method of prayer for Jews is a standing position with palms up and open to address God. Jesus’ prayer is radical for the time; first, he’s not standing. He fell to the ground. He is in a position of pleading, making an urgent request. And His first word is…. Abba. This is not the musical group Abba of the 70’s. Abba is a term of endearment, a child’s word. Children in our culture might say “Dada;” the Jewish children said “Abba.”

And the first thing we know about Jesus’ prayer is that He knew who He was praying to. He had a relationship with God, a close, personal relationship. “Abba” is used three times in the New Testament. The second time is Romans 8:15 by Paul –

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

And the third time in Galatians 4:6, And because you Gentiles have become his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, and now you can call God your dear Father, Abba.

When you pray, who do you pray to? A concept? A belief? The Force, like in Star Wars? Some vague deity somewhere in the sky? God wants more from you. He wants you to know Him as He knows you already. He wants an intimate, personal relationship. That sounds great. How do I do that?

If we are going to pray to God “the” Father then it better be to God “our” Father. He only becomes our Father when we become his children. How do we become a child of God? John 1:12, “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.”

And as His Children, do we have any chores to do? Philippians 2:15, “You are to live clean, innocent lives as children of God in a dark world full of crooked and perverse people. Let your lives shine brightly before them.” This relationship should be evident to others; 1 John 3:10, “So now we can tell who are children of God and who are children of the Devil. Anyone who does not obey God’s commands and does not love other Christians does not belong to God.”

You are a child of God if you have believed in Jesus and accept him and you live clean innocent lives and obey God’s commands. Then you can call out to Him, Abba.

b. Prayer Depends on Trusting God’s Power

Jesus also knew the power of God. Everything is possible for you. What’s the point of praying if you don’t believe God has the power to answer your prayers? We have to understand and have faith that with God, everything and anything is possible. The biggest stumbling block to believing that is everyone who prays has unanswered prayers. I prayed and God didn’t answer.

What we need to understand is that God does not always answer prayers the way we expect. In my experience, most but not all my prayers are answered in ways I didn’t expect. God doesn’t always answer our prayers; I don’t know why. Some of my prayers I’m glad He didn’t answer. Some of my prayers I didn’t wait for an answer and took matters into my own hands. Some of my prayers, well, I prayed for God to make somebody else do something.

It’s like this – I can pray that God make everybody I know be sweet and loveable. But God doesn’t force His will on anybody. But it’s not because God is not able. The angel Gabriel told Mary in Luke 1:37, “For nothing is impossible with God.”

c. Prayer Depends on Asking

So Jesus prayed to His daddy, believing that God can do anything and everything, and then… Jesus prayed for himself. I struggle with this, I don’t know why. I feel guilty, praying for myself. I should be praying for others, and I’m selfish if I pray for myself. But we shouldn’t feel guilty; if we can call God “Abba,” what father doesn’t want His children to be happy? And wouldn’t it make a father happy to give His children what they ask for?

Think for a second about the Lord’s prayer. How much of that prayer is for us? Our father, give us our daily bread, forgive us, keep us from temptation. It’s not wrong to pray for ourselves, to ask God to take care of us and provide for us and protect us. Jesus once asked in Matthew 7:9-11, “What man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him?”

d. Prayer Depends on Surrendering

So it’s ok to ask for things for ourselves. But here’s the hard part – letting God decide what is right. The fourth part Jesus’ prayer is the hardest. “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” How do you know the will of God? To me, the most incredible part is that God’s will for me has, for the most part, already been written in the bible. It’s already been revealed, I just have to seek it out.

The key, I believe to seeking it out, goes back to Jesus’ example. Troubled and anxious and in need of God, Jesus went to a quiet place to pray, to be alone with God. I confess I don’t always have the best quiet time with God. I tend to shortchange prayer in my life, I pray when I’m driving or showering or studying or something. Setting aside prayer for the sake of prayer is something I need to work on. I study often, especially when it’s time to teach, but that’s only half of what it takes to understand God’s will. Jesus set an example that prayer is needed, it is necessary, and it is comforting to pray to our most powerful heavenly Father.

Jesus didn’t want to suffer, and Jesus prayed for release from the events about to occur. But He added a “yet.” Yet not my will, but your will. Our prayers are most effective when we are not seeking to change God’s will, but by asking God to change us.

What does Jesus’ prayer reveal about His trust in God?

How can our prayers reveal our trust in God?

Why was it important for Jesus to declare His commitment to God’s will?

How can a person’s actions demonstrate a commitment to follow God’s will?

IV. Conclusion

The best way we can begin dealing with a difficult decision is in prayer. Pray. Focus on God’s will. Choose God’s will. Then do God’s will.

Jesus gave us a four part prayer example for when we are faced with a difficult decision. Know who you are praying to, know that He has the power to answer prayers, ask specifically what you need, and surrender your will to the Creator of the Stars.

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How to Develop Your Faith

I. Introduction

Forgive me ahead of time; it was difficult to focus this week on preparing a lesson. We had plumbing leak #4 this past Sunday and our study was damaged by the leaking pipes. We were already working on a solution to replace the ancient galvanized piping with the newer PEX tubing which was going to be expensive, but I was waiting until after taxes and IRAs and stuff. But the leak rushed us into a fix, and 3 big sweaty guys spent the week in our house tearing out sheetrock in every single room in the house to get at the plumbing. Our little peaceful sanctuary of home has been a demolition zone this week. So it was hard to focus.

Before we dive into this week’s lesson, let’s put it in context. Back in Mark 6, Jesus had fed 5000 people with only five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus walked on water and calmed the storm that was frightening the disciples. Around this time, the popularity of Jesus was growing as word of his knowledge, compassion, and miracles spread. The knowledge of the disciples was growing, and Jesus had drawn the attention of Pharisees. In Mark 7, Jesus clashed with the Pharisees over the the ceremonial cleansing of hands before a meal; Jesus pointed out that it wasn’t the food that a man put into his body that defiled him but the wickedness that comes out of a person’s heart that defiles him. Jesus was pointing out that empty rituals of cleansing and diet did nothing for God, it was a right relationship with God that He desired.

Now, many years later in Acts 17, Paul went to Berea and was questioned. It says in Acts 17:11, ” Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

So the Pharisees questioned Jesus, and the Bereans questioned Paul. Were the Pharisee considered noble for questioning Jesus? What’s the difference between the way the Pharisees and the Bereans questioned God?

II. Mark 8:1-13, Little Hope

During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.”

His disciples answered, “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?”

“How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked.

“Seven,” they replied.

He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. When he had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people, and they did so. They had a few small fish as well; he gave thanks for them also and told the disciples to distribute them. The people ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. About four thousand men were present. And having sent them away, he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the region of Dalmanutha.

The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it.” Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side.

The Pharisees had closed their minds to Jesus. Jesus had already performed dozens of miracles by this point in view of the Pharisees, including feeding the 5000, feeding the 4000, raising a little girl from the dead, healing a paralytic, healing a leper, calming the storm, walking on water. But they wanted Jesus to perform on demand.

We must resist the urge to do this today. When we are scared or when we are weak or when we are troubled, we pray to God. We want Him to answer now, on our terms. And when He doesn’t answer on demand, our faith wavers. Who is our God that He couldn’t or wouldn’t do this for me?

But faith in our God cannot depend on Him being a magic genie in a bottle. God does not bend to our will. Instead, God asks us to surrender our will to him.

Today, People still have a choice to accept spiritual truth or reject spiritual truth. Why would one reject it? I don’t know, but the Pharisee sure rejected the truth in front of them. They wanted a sign from heaven right now. What authority did they have to demand miracles from God?

I talked to an old high school friend this week who’s an avowed atheist. He believes that Jesus was a good person, but religion is bad and the supernatural stuff didn’t happen. I believe the supernatural happened and is still happening today. Everything around us is a God-given miracle, from the giant glowing ball of fire in the sky that warms our planet to the tiny blood cells that carry oxygen from my lungs to the tips of my fingers. If you believe that to be a miracle, you can see God’s work everywhere. Or if you’re like the Pharisees, you say, “oh that giant glowing thing that warms our planet is just a natural occurrence of nuclear fusion. That’s not a miracle.” The point is that nature and science doesn’t have to act this way at all, and that the very existence of nature and science is in itself a miracle. If you exclude miracles from everything around you, then you don’t see God anywhere.

Did the Pharisees really want a sign? If they really wanted a sign, would they have seen one?

Jesus said, “No sign will be given.” Jesus does not force belief on anyone. Be honest for a moment. Is there a particular miracle you want God to perform for you right now? I know I do. And if God doesn’t answer to us on our timetable the exact way we want him to, does that affect our faith in Him? But to demand that God perform a miracle to justify our faith in Him isn’t faith. Trust without proof is faith.

Jesus left the Pharisees to move on to others who wanted to understand. Why did Jesus enter into a dialogue with the disciples, but refuse to enter into a discussion with the Pharisees? Weren’t the Pharisees men of the synagogue, the peak religious people of the time?

III. Mark 8:14-21, Some Hope

The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.” They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.”

Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? 19When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”

“Twelve,” they replied.

“And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”

They answered, “Seven.”

He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”

Jesus listened to the disciples and I find it interesting He allowed their confusion. Perhaps the disciples were arguing about who was supposed to bring food. Their attention was on physical food. Jesus redirected the question to what they needed spiritually. It’s important spiritual nourishment comes first, before physical nourishment.

Jesus challenged them about having eyes that do not see or ears that do not hear. Just like the Pharisees. Just like OT Israel. Just like you and me if we aren’t diligent. A lack of spiritual maturity can manifest itself with eyes that do not see, ears that do not hear. Because of our traditions, or thoughts and feelings, we alone decide what is “right” and disregard the scriptures, disregard the word of God in our hearts. Just like Jesus’ disciples, we have the capacity to understand, but we must be careful not to become deaf and blind as those who were antagonistic toward Jesus.

So Jesus equates the physical bread to the spiritual bread to make a point, that the disciples should keep in mind the miracles of Jesus in their lives. Jesus points out in verse 19 (loaves for the 5000, leaving 12 loaves) and in verse 20 (loaves for 4000 leaving 7 loaves). This is not an encouragement to work on our arithmetic.

Jesus sounds a little exasperated when he asks, “Don’t you understand yet?” Jesus asks them to again think about what those miracles meant. It’s a lot more than just providing food for hungry people. It confirms Jesus’ supernatural power to provide for all of our needs and Jesus asks us to look beyond the material.

In order to open our eyes, open our ears, we must learn to look beyond the material moment. High gas prices. Loneliness. Anger. Messy homes with leaky piping and sheetrock damage. Job loss. Sickness. Among all of these shortages in our life, Christ provides constant spiritual care.

Has something material diverted your attention from God? How can you use this opportunity to focus on God instead of being diverted?

Who watched the Texas Alabama game this week? University of Texas playing against Alabama for the National Title. The quarterback, Colt McCoy, missing out earlier this season on the Heisman Trophy, trying to win a national championship. And in the very first series, he hurt his shoulder. Can you imagine the disappointment, not being able to play and watching from the sidelines as your team loses?

At the postgame interview, he was asked how it felt to watch from the sidelines, and he sort of struggled to talk at first, then he explained how much he really wanted to play but his arm felt dead, like it was asleep. But in his suffering, he congratulated Alabama for obtaining the dream he so badly wanted to win, and then proclaimed that God is in control of his like and that He trusts in God’s purpose even when he may not completely understand it.

IV. Mark 8:22-33, More Hope

They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”

He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”

Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t go into the village.”

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Christ.”

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

I think the next miracle in Mark 8:27 is indicative of the lesson Jesus was trying to teach; he heals a blind man just after asking the disciples if they did not have eyes to see. Then he asks, “Who do people say that I am?” It’s interesting how many people have a response to this question. Whether a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist, an atheist, everybody seems to have something to say about who Jesus is. A prophet, a good man, a teacher, a wacko, a god, everybody has an opinion. The disciples said that some thought he was John the Baptist, others as Elijah, other as a prophet. While Jesus was indeed a prophet, it’s only a small part of a larger truth. Jesus was God’s son, sent to fulfill prophecy, to become a living sacrifice so that all may become children of God.

Peter’s response of “You are the Messiah” was also interesting as all the disciples knew that he was the Messiah. They just didn’t understand what that meant. The Jews expected “a” messiah with a little “m; literally, an anointed one or a deliverer. The Jews at the time also believed in a conqueror that would set them free from foreign occupation.

These preconceptions, whether from what we’ve heard from others or what we heard as a child can hinder our faith, like the Pharisees preconceptions hindered theirs. What are some of the misperceptions about Jesus today?

In verse 30, why do you think Jesus warned them not to tell anyone he was the messiah? The messiah meant many things to many people. using the title messiah would certainly lead to confusion. Not even the disciples understood the implications. The idea of a military-political leader would rally the Jews to rise up against the Romans, a purpose for which Jesus did not intend to fulfill. Therefore, claiming to be the messiah caused problems. Peter spoke the truth – Jesus was the messiah, and he did fulfill the hopes and dreams of a nations, but Jesus needed to refine this understanding.

In verse 31, Jesus began to teach the disciples about who he was as the messiah. This teaching would last far longer than 1 or 2 lessons; it took most of Jesus’ energy for the rest of his ministry on earth. Jesus asked, “Who do people say I am?” to challenge the disciple’s faith. The disciples knew who Jesus was, but did they really know who he was? Many Christians today can say that they know Jesus is their savior, but they do not know how to explain to somebody who he is.

Who do you say Jesus is? If Jesus appeared today and asked you to explain who he was, what would you say?

When you listen to the Word of God, what sort of questions challenge your understanding of Him?

Jesus instead referred to himself instead as the Son of Man, probably because of the misconceptions regarding the word messiah. This title is found mostly in the books of Daniel and Ezekial. The title referred to a man who drew strength from the spirit of God to judge the people, a purpose for which Jesus the Messiah fulfilled.

Jesus says some shocking things about himself. He says the anointed one must suffer. The disciples didn’t understand that the suffering fulfilled God’s intention, both physical suffering but also the suffering of being rejected by the Pharisees, the elders, the chief priests, the scribes, the people that were supposed to be in tune with God’s revelations. But these very religious people were so certain of what God’s will was and who the messiah was supposed to be that they would not open their eyes and ears to what Jesus had to tell them. We run that same danger today. The misconceptions we already talked about hinder people coming to Christ.

Jesus also said he would be killed. This was so shocking, Peter tried to rebuke Jesus. The messiah, the conqueror, the deliverer, would be tortured and killed? What kind of messiah is that? But again, the misconceptions of Jesus interfere with our ability to see and her who Jesus really is.

V. Conclusion

Learning to keep your eyes and ears open is our lesson, something to practice daily so our hearts do not become as closed as the eyes and ears of the Pharisees. Challenge yourself to find out who Jesus really is and what His death means to you and to all men. If our eyes are closed and our ears are closed, then our minds are closed and we cannot develop spiritually. Look away from the material things that Jesus provides and look to the future that Jesus provides. If we are open to receiving spiritual truth, we will recognize it with new eyes and ears not bound by our past misconceptions.

Hedonism

I. Introduction

Who knows what hedonism is? According to dictionary.com, “the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the highest good; or, devotion to pleasure as a way of life.” What I found interesting is that when you lookup the word “hedonism” on dictionary.com, you also get advertisements. “Come to Hedonism Resorts of Jamaica! Book Today!” “Enjoy Tampa Bay’s Luxurious Adult Only Resort, Book Today!”

Hedonism is essentially a love of the world and all the things in it. We want the latest iPhone, we want a better car, we want hot stone massages, we want the thickest, juiciest steak, we want to look young forever, we want designer clothing, jewelry, babies, marriage, we want, we want, we want.

What we’re going to study in James 4 is that this spirit of longing has been placed there by our Creator, but the object of our longing is misdirected. Hedonism is rampant in the “keep up with the Jones'” world, but it also exists in Christians. It’s the battle of the flesh we all face, and a battle that we learn to fight as we grow in Christ. We learn that it’s not through our own strength that the successful battle is fought, but learning to trust God and lean on Him and rely on the Holy Spirit to fight the battle.

God wants us to long for Him. Longing for worldly things is the source of trouble and argument and is in opposition to the longing that God wants us to learn.

II. James 4:1-3, The Pleasures of the World

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

I read a story about an argument in an old tribal village. Two men had completely different opinions and they could not resolve their differences. They decided to see the village elder who was very wise and they believed could see through the problem. The first man visited the village elder, told his side of the story, what had happened, and why the other man was wrong. When he finished, the elder said, “You’re absolutely right.”

The next night, the second man visited the village elder and explained his side of the story. When he finished, the village elder said, “You’re absolutely right.” When the second man left, the village elder’s wife said, “What’s wrong with you? Those two men told two completely different stories, and you agreed with both of them. They both can’t be right!” And the village elder said, “You’re absolutely right.”

When did you last have an argument with a friend? What was the cause of the argument? To what source did James trace our tendency to fight with others?

How do our human desires affect our relationship with God?

The first problem with hedonism among Christians is the strife it causes among the church body. According to James, fights break out when selfish pleasures motivate us. The NIV says “your pleasures,” King James says “your lusts,” but the Greek word is ????? (h?don?), the root word for “hedonism,” selfish pleasures. Sometimes, we don’t even realize our own hedonism, but it’s expressed through our frustration in not getting our own way. It may be related to power, prestige, position, dominance, financial gain.

This hedonistic desire is not a one-off event; hedonism describes a lifestyle of living selfishly. The result is that our prayer life suffers. Verse 3 says, “we ask with wrong motives.” The Greek word for “wrong” is usually translated “miserable, to be ill.” It implies a sickly prayer life. When hedonistic attitudes dominate our spirit, we go to God with a sickly attitude and pray for the wrong things.

III. James 4:4-6, Our God is a Jealous God

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Our God is a jealous God. The scripture here implies that God himself placed a spirit of envy within us, a deep spiritual longing. Part of growing up in faith is recognizing when our longing is misplaced and focused on worldly, hedonistic things, and repenting, turning from worldly things and turning to a deep spiritual longing for God. Jesus warns us in Matthew 6:19-24 not to store up treasure on earth, for where our treasure is, our heart will be also. We cannot serve two masters. James tells us that God considers this spiritual adultery, trying to love two competing things. Exodus 20:5, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.” God created us with the ability to love Him, and gives us the ability to choose to love Him. Our fights and sickly prayers are based on love of the things of this world and not the love for Him. Can we recognize that the worldly things we covet are themselves created by God?

This can be a difficult thing to learn and practice. Whether material things, our health or the health of family, aligning our spirit with God’s spirit takes a lifetime of practice. We will mess up, our own ego will cause us to trip. But God gives grace to us to those that humble themselves before the Lord.

James talks about “friendship with the world.” In reality, most of us have few close friends. What does it take to develop a friendship? (Time, sacrifice). How much time do we spend being friends with the world? How much time do we spend being friends of God? What does it take to become a closer friend?

How would obeying each of these commands lead to a stronger friendship with God?

IV. James 4:7-10, Draw Near to God

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

There are several command in a row – boom, boom, boom – in avoiding the attitude of hedonism. It’s like the Ten Commandments of James, although four of them are closely related.

1. Submit yourselves to God. We must recognize that God alone is worthy of honor and praise. How could we be fooled into offering praise and worship to things? We are urged not just to place our faith in the Lord, but to submit. In other words, do the Lord’s will. Lean and study, then apply.

2. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. If we submit to the Lord and resist the devil, it is an awesome combination. The devil will flee from such opposition.

3. Come near to God and he will come near to you. This involves praise and worship, recognizing God as our only sovereign Lord. As we seek Him, He will make more of Himself known to us.

4. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. The wording here reflects the language of a religious ceremony and reflects the words in Psalm 24-3-4, admonishing us to have clean hands and a pure heart. Notice the words apply to both the outside and the inside. Our hands should not be involved in evil actions and compromises. Sometimes it’s easier to have a pure heart but our hands are dirty doing ungodly things. Perhaps that is why James calls us double-minded when we say one thing but do another. Remember Paul, and how he sang songs in prison because he knew he was doing the Lord’s work? And out of prison, he noted that he did not do what he wanted to do, and did do what he didn’t want to do. And then he cried, “oh what a wretched man I am!”

5. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Perhaps all Christians ought to be miserable. Or perhaps not. In context with the rest of the verse, James is again warning against hedonism. Materialism is fun. Who doesn’t like to shop? Who doesn’t like to have fun? James isn’t telling us to be miserable creatures, but what he is doing us is reminding us that if we are neglecting God and finding sin fun, then we ought to examine ourselves more carefully. If we find ourselves in sin, it’s not a cause for celebration. Jesus paid the price for our sin, and it’s cause for serious contemplation instead.

6. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. When we are prideful, God will cause us to stumble. And when we are humble, God will lift us up. When we believe that on our own that we are good, decent people, we attribute pride to ourselves because alone, we are nothing. It is through grace of our Lord that we are sons and daughters, not through our own actions.

V. James 4:11-12, Do Not Judge Others

Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

James reminds us that the Word of God is for us to learn and apply to ourselves. We are not the judge of whether a brother or a sister has the proper heart for God, that role is reserved for God and God alone. If I see a brother driving a brand new Corvette, a sister wearing a new pearl necklace, my initial reaction might be hodenistic – I want that. The proper spiritual response is not to covet something worldy, but James warns against going too far in the opposite direction. If I can’t have something, you shouldn’t either.

VI. James 4:13-17, Who’s In Charge of Your Life?

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.

I am particularly guilty of this, and something I’ve struggled with all my life. I go when and where I want to go, and attempt to drag God along behind me. My actions may not have been wrong, but my heart satisfied my own desires, and then I expect prayer and worship to cover my attitude. I spent most of my life living that bumper sticker, “God is my co-pilot.” And then one day, I realized I was sitting in the wrong seat.

We do not know the future. We do not know if God will present an opportunity to us or whether tomorrow holds a catastrophe. Our attitude, though, should be one of seeking the Lord’s will and depending on Him, not one of self-sufficiency.

A hedonistic lifestyle says that we are in charge of our own lifestyle. We make the plans, we execute the plans, we reap the rewards of our own plans. That’s not how God wants us to live. James is asking, who’s in charge of your life? You, or God?

First, we assume too much about the future. James starts verse 13 with “Listen closely.” Pay attention. We do not know the future. We don’t know what will happen in a year, much less tomorrow or even later this afternoon. Verse 13 describes a hypothetical businessman who has made plans a year in the future, and even presumptious enough to claim what he will accomplish.

What is it about human nature that leads us to assume we know more about the future than we actually do? If we knew the Rapture will come tomorrow, how would that change our action today? And yet, that is precisely the way Jesus calls us to live.

When we assume we will live forever, we become lazy about today. We will seek the Lord’s will…. Tomorrow. Not today, I’m busy. Seeking the Lord’s will is not a particular event that we can plan for. Seeking the Lord’s will is a process, a practice.

Verse 14 says that not only do we not know what will happen a year from now, but we don’t even know what will happen tomorrow.

James isn’t advising us to be paranoid about the future. We are to live each day as a child of God, seeking His favor. But we will not live forever. Every year, to me, goes faster and faster. When I was a child, the week before Christmas lasted approximately 3 months, or so it seemed. Now, it seems 3 or 4 years pass in a blink. God is forever, eternal. Our lives on earth are mist. Whoosh. And then we are gone, and the items of hedonism we so cherish on earth are gone, just like us. Where is our eternity? And where should we be storing our treasures?

We are just a mist that appears for a little while. William Beebe was an explorer and American naturalist and a friend of Teddy Roosevelt. He wrote, “After an evening of talk we would go out on the lawn and search the heavens until we found the faint spot of light mist in the constellation Pegasus and one of us would recite: That is the Spiral Galaxy of Andromeda. It is as large as our Milky Way. It is one of a hundred million galaxies. It is 750 thousand light years away. It consists of 100 billion suns – each larger than our sun. After a moment, Col. Roosevelt would grin at me and say, “Now I think we are small enough. Let’s go to bed.”

James also isn’t telling us to make plans for tomorrow or the next day or a year from now. The arrogance is making plans without God. These businessmen in James’ example made their plans without any regard to God’s desires. Embracing God is not an event, it’s a lifestyle.

So how shall we live? James tells us to consider the Lord in everything we do. “If it is the Lord’s will, then I will do this.” In both cases, plans are made. They may even be the same plans. But one is acknowledging the sovereignty of God in our life, the other is claiming the sovereignty of us.

Why is it so hard to acknowledge we do not have control over our own future? Think back on your life when you were a teenager. Did you imagine the life you have now?

Jeremiah 29:11-13, ” For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

VII. Conclusion

A hedonistic lifestyle usurps the authority of God in our life. When we seek pleasure for its own reward, we will find it’s an empty lifestyle. When we seek God’s will in our lives, not just once or twice but as a lifestyle, we will find that joy in the Lord surpasses anything the world can offer. Which will it be? Joy in the world, or joy in the Lord? The choice is ours.

Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Let’s enjoy the day the Lord hath made.

Faith and Deeds

Charles Schultz often touched on religious themes in his cartoons. You might remember his Christmas special years ago, where Linus recited the meaning of Christmas from the book of Luke. Charles Schultz taught bible study into the 1980’s, and many of his cartoons were thought to illustrate bible scripture. His illustration for our study today, the second half of James 2, shows Snoopy shivering outside in the cold. Charlie Brown says to Linus, “He looks kind of cold, doesn’t he?” And Linus says, “Maybe we’d better go over and comfort him. So they walk over to Snoopy, wearing their warm coats and mittens and hats and Charlie Brown says, “Be of good cheer, Snoopy!” Linus also says, “Yes, be of good cheer.” And then they walk on by.

Today, we’re going to learn that Christian faith and Christian deeds are one and the same, and you can’t have one without the other.

I’m going to be honest about today’s lesson – it’s a difficult lesson to grasp. Not even all the commentary I found on the subject agrees. Last month I taught from the book of Galatians, and how it is grace that saves us through faith and not by our own works. Today, the book of James, at first glance, appears to contradict this, and says our salvation depends on our deeds. Do they contradict? Or is this a deeper walk with Christ with a lesson to teach us about what our faith is and what it does? We’re going to come back to this point because it’s an important step in understanding our salvation and sanctification.

First, let’s talk about things that always seem to go together.

i. Peanut butter and _______ (jelly)
ii. Salt and _______ (pepper)
iii. Hugs and _______ (kisses)
iv. Spaghetti and _______ (meatballs)
v. Socks and _______ (shoes)
vi. Thunder and _______ (lightning)
vii. Death and _______ (taxes)

Certain things go together, and you know one by the other. If you met somebody who claimed to be an auto mechanic, what outward, visible sign would you expect to see that proves they are what they say they are?

What if you met a doctor? A chef? What if you met somebody that said they are a Christian, what sort of evidence would you expect to see?

James 2:14-18, Rhetorical Questions
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

James begins with two rhetorical questions. First question, “What good is faith without deeds?” Answer: none. The needy brother or sister, without clothes or food, finds no good in a pious response of, “Go in peace, may you be warmed and filled.” It’s an expectation that God will step in and do what we will not.

Second question, “Can faith without deeds save? Answer: no. James isn’t asking if faith alone can save others; James is asking if our faith alone can save *us*.

James makes two combined points. First, faith without actions is useless, and second, faith by itself cannot save us. The combination of these two questions to state without a doubt that faith without deeds is completely useless to others, to ourselves, and to our salvation which is the primary point of having faith in the first place.

The trouble with interpreting this passage is that so much scripture seems to say the opposite. We cannot work our way into heaven. There are not enough good deeds we can do to gain entrance to the heavenly throne room. Paul says specifically in Romans 3:28, “So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.” He says again in Galatians 2:16 that I taught from last month, “Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law.” In Galatians 2:21, “For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.” The entire New Testament says we are saved by faith alone. “By grace, through faith, we are saved.”

So, do we need to do works or not? The key to understanding these passages is to understand that Paul and James are discussing to entirely different things. Paul was talking to the Jews. They believed they were God’s Chosen Ones, and as such, all they had to do was follow the bazillian laws perfectly and they win a prize. The Jews also believed that Gentiles who wanted to be Christians also had to follow these same bazillian rules. It’s a problem that still confronts us today, the problem of legalism. That if we’re Christian, we must have so much quiet time, we’re not allowed to go dancing, we must do this or that.

James is fighting the opposite problem; lackadaisical faith. Lax faith. Lazy faith. All you have to do is believe and you are saved. Where Paul was talking about laws and rules and regulations, James is talking about acts of love, sacrificial love, agape love. Paul talks about what happens to you on the inside, and how you are saved. James is talking about the outside; how to show you are saved.

One way to think of it is how we know certain invisible things exist. We cannot see the wind. How do we know it exists? We can see the wind blowing the branches of the trees, we can see the waves on a lake. We can harness the energy of the wind for power. We know wind exists because we see what it can do. How do we know oxygen exists? How do we know love exists? How do we know faith exists?

So James asks a question in verse 14, what good is faith without deeds? Then he answers it in verse 17, faith without deeds is dead. James is severe in his criticism. Faith alone is dead. James certainly understood the saving grace of faith; back in James 2:5, he notes that some people are rich in faith. And certainly James is not advocating deeds instead of faith. What James is telling us is that one cannot have authentic faith by itself, without any deeds to show for it. James says there is no separation of faith and deeds, they are one and the same. They are not equal, they are not contradictory, they are not alternatives. When James says in verse 18, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith in what I do,” James declares that the only way to have genuine faith is to demonstrate it with deeds. Works aren’t added to faith; genuine faith includes works. Otherwise, the faith is useless and dead. To you, to others, to God.

Let’s turn to Luke chapter 5 and look at Jesus giving us a great example of this. Verse 17, Jesus, the Great Healer, is teaching:

Luke 5:17
One day while Jesus was teaching, some Pharisees and teachers of religious law were sitting nearby. (It seemed that these men showed up from every village in all Galilee and Judea, as well as from Jerusalem.) And the Lord’s healing power was strongly with Jesus. Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a sleeping mat. They tried to take him inside to Jesus, but they couldn’t reach him because of the crowd. So they went up to the roof and took off some tiles. Then they lowered the sick man on his mat down into the crowd, right in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the man, “Young man, your sins are forgiven.”

That must have been some sight. Imagine being at some small group study, listening to a great teacher, and all of a sudden somebody pries off a skylight and lowers a sick and paralyzed man through the roof. And Jesus says, “Young man, your sins are forgiven.”

Is that it? A sick, paralyzed man, unable to walk, meets Jesus, and all Jesus says is “Your sins are forgiven?” Remember the story of Snoopy, and how Charlie Brown and Linus say, “Be of good cheer?” That comes from this very story; the King James Version in Matthew 9, Jesus says, “Son, be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee.”

Is Jesus guilty of giving the paralyzed man a sermon instead of a sandwich? A message instead of medicine? What did Jesus do? He followed up his good wishes with good deeds. Jesus healed the paralyzed man.

Let’s look at James 2:19-26 and see three examples –

You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

a. Demons
James uses a horrible warning to people who claim to have faith and yet have no deeds. People who claim to believe in the one true almighty God, but do not demonstrate it with deeds, are indistinguishable from demons. Demons, too, believe in the same God.

That’s horrible. What could possibly be worse than to be compared to a demon? In Mark 5, there is a story of a man with an evil spirit inside him named Legion. When the man saw Jesus, he shouted at him, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!” The demons know who Christ is, but do they have a saving faith? The demons recognize Christ and continue to do evil deeds, and rather than changing their behavior, they only shudder at the judgment to come. Their belief is correct, their behavior is not. Believing the truth without obeying the truth does not save us, anymore than it saves demons. Some commentaries say this comparison to demonic faith implies that belief without obedience is even worse than useless.

b. Abraham
Whew. I’m ready for a more positive example. James brings up Abraham as an example of righteousness. If you recall, Abraham waited years and years for an heir. And then Abraham was called to sacrifice his only son Isaac on the altar, but at the last moment, an angel stayed his hand and Isaac was spared. Abraham had faith. His faith prompted Abraham to obey. His obedience completed his faith. Abraham’s deeds give testimony to his faith. By Abraham’s obedience, Abraham’s faith was perfected. In other words, the more we trust God and go out on a limb to do His will, the more we find that God is trustworthy.

God was surely satisfied with Abraham long before because of Abraham’s faith that God would give Abraham a son. What God really wanted was for Abraham to be an example of genuine faith to others.

c. Rahab
Abraham and Rahab, by human standards, couldn’t have been further apart. Abraham, a major, revered patriarch, father of the faithful. Rahab, a foreigner, disreputable, a minor character in the bible. If you recall, Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho. Joshua, in preparation for battle, sent two spies to investigate. When soldiers came looking for the spies, Rahab hid them. Rahab tells the spies that she has faith in the same Lord they do. What if Rahab had simply said, “Be Safe! Hope you don’t get caught!” No, she risked herself and was obedient to God.

The reason James uses both Abraham and Rahab is to make a point about our station in life. It doesn’t matter who we are – from Abraham to Rahab, from respected patriarch to redeemed prostitute, our faith is perfected by our deeds. James says both Abraham and Rahab are declared righteous because of their actions.

James’ conclusion in verse 26 repeats what he said in verse 17. Faith without action is dead. It’s not a genuine, saving faith, but a useless imposter. A genuine faith is a saving faith.

I think James is trying to clarify exactly what faith is. When you dissect this chapter, James is saying that faith is not something you say, or think, or feel, or believe. And it’s not even a question of faith versus deeds. Real faith is something you do. Saying you trust God, and actually trusting God are two separate things. Saying you have faith, and actually having faith means you do what God tells you to do, stop making excuses about why you can’t help or serve, and actually getting up to help and serve. God wants us to demonstrate our faith because demonstration means we have to trust God for who he says he is. And when we trust God, he strengthens our faith so we can do even more.

I read a story about faith verses words and belief. George Blondin was a famous tightrope walker in the 1860’s. For a publicity stunt, he decided to walk across Niagara Falls on a tightrope. He started slowly, walked step-by-step, very carefully, inch by inch… when he got to the middle, everybody knew one little step would plunge him down the falls to certain death. And when he finally reached the other side, the crowd went wild. And George Blondin said, “I’m going to do it again.” And he did. And when he got to the other side, he said, “I’m going to do it again, pushing a wheelbarrow full of dirt.” And he did. And a second time, and a third time. And a fourth time. And then at the one trip across, one of spectators says to him, “Wow. That’s incredible. I believe you could do that all day.” And George Blondin dumps the dirt out of the wheelbarrow and says, “Get in.”

An empty faith is no faith at all. And empty faith is a working faith. We can make one of two major mistakes when dealing with faith and deeds. Either is a hindrance to understanding the true gospel, the good news of Christ.

  • Salvation comes by faith plus works. Paul dealt with this subject frequently. We often hear it referred to as “Jesus Plus”. In order to gain salvation, you need Jesus Plus something. This leads to legalism, a focus on the deeds themselves. We cannot work our way into heaven, we cannot earn our salvation. We become like the Pharisees that Jesus had no use for.
  • Salvation comes by intellectual faith alone. Our study today deals with the opposite view that deeds aren’t necessary; it is faith alone that saves. James explains that this, too, is incorrect. Faith alone is worthless, it’s dead, and he even compares it to demonic faith.

    What does the life of a person look like when they hold to one of these false views of salvation? (People focused on deeds are burdened with an expectation to do more, and fail to realize God’s grace. People focused on faith without deeds are pious, holy, useless, and obedience no longer produces sanctification.)

The correct view of salvation which James explains in our text is: Salvation comes by genuine faith that is evidenced by works. Faith and works are not separate, but intertwined as one thing. Jesus Christ is both our savior and our lord. He is not two separate people. Faith alone professes Christ as Savior, and that sort of faith is worthless. True saving faith recognizes Christ both as Savior and as Lord. As He is Lord, we are called to obey, and it is this obedience to Him that demonstrates a saving faith. Jimmy Carter once said, “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

Jesus himself admonishes us to be obedient and express our faith with our deeds. In Luke 6:46, Jesus says, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” And in Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

Ephesians 2:8-10 sums it up: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, for a life of good works that God has already prepared for us to do.” That’s what God wants from us. That’s genuine faith.

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Faithful Inside and Out

Icon of Second Coming (also used for All Saint...
Image via Wikipedia

I. Introduction
We’re wrapping up the letters of from Paul to the church of Thessalonica today. Paul’s 1st letter consisted mostly of encouragement as the church faced prosecution and urged Christians to live by high moral standards in an immoral society. Anybody think this might be applicable today? Paul also talked about Christ’s Second Coming, urged the faithful Christians to warn believers who refused to work, and gave guidance on how to live as Christians.
Paul must have received news that in spite of his first letter, the Thessalonian Christians still struggled with three major problems, so he wrote the 2nd letter to Thessalonica. In Chapter 1, Paul encouraged the believers that God is fair even if the world is not. God will punish those who punish the faithful, so we should leave judgment to Him. In Chapter 2, Paul provides additional information about the Second Coming of Christ and encouraging them to persevere despite the hardships and to seek correct doctrine and obey the Word.
Now, in Chapter 3, Paul asks his brothers and sisters in Christ to pray for him, and then addresses the growing problem of believers who not only won’t work, but also interfere with the work of others.

II. Faithful Outside the Church (2 Thessalonians 3:1-5)

Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith. But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.

Responsible Christians pray and obey to spread the Gospel. When Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to live morally in the immoral society they lived in, he’s recognizing one of the greatest truths of the bible: we cannot do God’s will in this world under our own power. The powerful Christian life always involves two forces; the power of God and the obedience of the believer. There is no doubt Paul was one of the most effective missionaries in the history of the world. Paul was knowledgeable about scripture, Paul was obedient, and here we also see Paul relying on the power of prayer. In verse 1 he asks for prayer that God’s will may be done through him. Paul constantly asked for prayers when he wrote his letters – Romans 15:30-31, Ephesians 6:18-19; Colossians 4:3; 1 Thessalonians 5:25; Philemon 22; the list goes on and on. It pleases God when we pray for His will to be done, and the prayers of a righteous man are powerful. Prayer has many facets to it –

a. Continual Prayer.

In verse 1, Paul says “Pray for us.” The tense indicates a continual prayer, not just a one time event. Paul recognized the need for constant prayer; in 1 Thessalonians 1:2, Paul says he prays for the Thessalonians constantly, and in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Paul tells them to pray without ceasing. The world is as lost today as it was in the time of the Thessalonians and is in need of a savior they don’t even know. Pray they hear the word; pray we tell them the word. Pray and obey.

b. Offensive Prayer

These continuous prayers should be both offense and defense in our earthly battle. The words Paul chose for “spread rapidly” implies an imagery from the Old Testament where God’s Words runs swiftly, as though a runner in a race. Psalm 147:15 says, “He sends his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly.” And “honor” – or “glory,” in some translations, indicates a winner. The runner receives glory through winning, and God’s Word receives glory when somebody comes to Christ. Evangelistic prayer encourages us to go on the offense and spread God’s message so He may receive glory.

Offensive prayer has a purpose. Our world, you may have noticed, is sick. Our world is dying. The Word of God is life-saving medicine. Paul prays that the medicine is spread rapidly because lives are at stake. Jesus had the same urgency in John 9:4: “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.”

c. Defensive Prayer

Prayer is also defensive; we must never forget we are soldiers of Christ engaged in spiritual warfare. The breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the sword of the Spirit are all parts of the armor of God to protect us. We are at battle with spiritual darkness and the plans carried out by evil men. Evil men that have not only corrupted themselves but intent on corrupting others. Evangelists are on the front line on this battle, and need both offensive prayer to spread the gospel effectively, but also defensive, protective prayer against the evil that would stop them.

III. Faithful Inside the Church (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15)

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”
We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat. And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right.
If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.

Discipline inside a church is necessary. And just like we’d like God’s justice to reign down on somebody else while only God’s mercy reigns on us, we only want church discipline to be imposed on other people. Some people and even some churches use discipline to kick people out of a church. But church discipline as used by Paul is a loving act. Church discipline is demanded by scripture to bring our wayward brothers and sisters back to the church, back to the fold, to heal wounds, to restore them in love.

Listen to what Jesus says in Mathew 18:15-17

If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

The relationships we have with one another are those of brother and sister, and they reflect our understanding of the love God has shown for us. If we can’t show love to our brother or sister, do we truly understand love at all?

In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus tells us that our relationships with each other are so important that until we are reconciled with our brother, our offerings to the Lord are of little value. Our service to the Lord, our tithes, our worship, worthless. Jesus says to put your offering down and go reconcile with one another. Then come back and give your offering.

How do we do that? The first step is simple communication with each other. Just talk. If that doesn’t work, enlist a friend or two to help. If that doesn’t work, take it to somebody in the church leadership. Do that as many times as necessary, it’s not a one-time thing.

Human nature being what it is, you’re thinking of somebody that you’d like to drag up before the church leadership. But what if somebody drags you to the church leadership? What sort of attitude should you have?

Removing somebody from the church body is serious. Remember the goal is to restore sinners and bring them back into repentence. We should give them every opportunity to respond. The most important thing to remember is that we never have the right to treat them in an non-Christ-like manner just because they are acting in a non-Christ-like manner. Regardless of how the other person acts, we are to love them.

Here in the case of the Thessalonian church, Paul was dealing with a specific issues. In 2 Thessalonians 1, Paul explained to the church how to act while under persecution. Chapter 2, Paul warned against false teachings. And now, Paul is addressing idle people. See, most of the Thessalonians were Greek and part of the Greek culture was a disdain for work. Work was beneath them, and so they owned slaves to do all their work. Did you know the Roman calendar at this time observed 156 holidays a year? Festival of feasting, Festival in honor of Mercury, Festival of Mars, Festival of Flowers, Festival of Childbirth, Festival of the Dead, Festival of Success. They even had a festival, Agonalia, honoring Janus, the god of gates and doorways.

The Greek Thessalonians used the return of Christ as an excuse not to do work. These idle Greeks became burdens to the church; rather than contributing to the benefit of all, the Greeks lived off the works of other church members, working hard to make a living and contribute to the church.

Paul begins his discussion on church discipline first by studying scripture, in verse 6 he says we must live according to the teaching we received. What does the Lord say about work?

Turns out God has a lot to say about work. Starting in Genesis 2:15, Adam’s job before the fall was to cultivate and keep the garden. In Ecclesiastes 9:10, Solomon says, “whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your might.” There are a dozen proverbs (Proverbs 6:6-11; 10:4-5; 12:11, 12:14, 12:24, 12:27; 13:4; 15:19; 18:9; 19:15, 19:24; 20:4; 21:25-26; 22:13, 22:29) that deal with work. Here’s Proverbs 6:6-11 –

You lazy fool, look at an ant.
Watch it closely; let it teach you a thing or two.

Nobody has to tell it what to do.
All summer it stores up food;
at harvest it stockpiles provisions.

So how long are you going to laze around doing nothing?
How long before you get out of bed?

A nap here, a nap there, a day off here, a day off there,
sit back, take it easy—do you know what comes next?

Just this: You can look forward to a dirt-poor life,
poverty your permanent houseguest!

Ok, so scripture is consistent about work. After making sure your exhortation is consistent with scripture, the next thing Paul commands is that you yourself aren’t guilty of the same thing. Jesus once said that before you judged another for the speck in his eye, you had to make sure you didn’t have a plank in your own eye. Paul had a vocation; he was a tentmaker and earned his living as he traveled. He reminds the Thessalonians of his example in verses 7-10. In order to be an effective witness for Christ, you must examine your own life first to ensure you are a worthy imitator of Christ. Paul didn’t have to work so hard; I’m sure he was fatigued after teaching all day, writing letters to churches, and then making tents at night. As an apostle, Paul was entitled to accept help from the church, but instead Paul went the extra mile to make sure he was an example worth imitating and relieving the church of the burden of supporting him.

First, examine the scriptures, then examine ourselves. The next step is to examine the situation. Why are the Thessalonians not working? Is it because they are unable, or because they are unwilling? Some people are unable to work. Perhaps they are disabled. Perhaps they haven’t found an opportunity or there are no job openings available. Our country is in a recession, and it appears it’s getting worse, not better. We should be diligent in applying ourselves to work as soon as possible.

Don’t take this to mean that the job must be a well-paying job, or that it pays at all. Some of the most demanding work is housework or taking care of children or ministry work. The point is that, as far as you are able, to contribute to work instead taking, to be busy at the things that pleases God instead of using idle time to simply please ourselves or meddle in the lives of others.

Look at verse 12 again. What commonsense advice does Paul give? As Christians, how can we apply this in our approach to society in general? What type of character is created by honest work?

Once the examination of scripture and examination of ourselves is complete, we may find that it’s time to confront another in the church out of love and to heal the body of Christ. Verse 13 is key to our heart at this point; Paul says we are never to tire of doing what is right. Doing what is right may be uncomfortable, but it can also be a time of significant personal growth. Here are some reasons for Christian confrontation –

i. Personal differences. This is probably the most common. We are so quick to judge others, yet are so blind to ourselves. The Thessalonians may have grumbled among themselves, “If they don’t have to work, why should I?” Sin is often unintentional, but sin nonetheless hampers God’s plan for us and for His church. When there is sin in the life of a believer, the health of the church is affected. Paul’s word for these believers were “disorderly” believers, people that marched out of step with others, disobeying Christ’s commands or the instructions of church elders. Instead of being busy, they were busybodies, and 1 Timothy 5:13 says that busybodies are more than just idle gossipers, they may be opposing God’s will by talking nonsense about others and doing Satan’s will. How tragic to find that we think we are good Christians but find instead that our idle talk is encouraging Satan instead of the church.

ii. Doctrinal error. We may find another Christian teaching the wrong doctrine. If they are doing it out of ignorance or lack of knowledge about scripture, we are to teach them the truth. 2 Timothy 2:25 says we are to do this so that God will grant them repentance and lead them to the truth. If they continue, Titus 1:10-14 says we are to rebuke them sharply. If the error continues, Romans 16:17 says avoid them, and 2 Timothy 2 says eventually we are to separate from them because their teaching will spread like gangrene.

iii. Another reason for righteous confrontation is if a believer has been overtaken by sin. This happens to believers, far more often than we think. Even the Apostle Peter denied the Lord, David yielded to lust, Moses to pride, and so on. Galatians 6:1-3 says that for these believers, we the church are to restore them gently. Remember Jesus and the adulterous woman? Jesus wasn’t harsh with her, He was gentle, admonishing to her to go and sin no more. The word “restore” literally means “to set a broken bone”. It takes gentleness and kindness and patience, not sudden judgment and condemnation.

iv. Then we get to the repeating troublemaker. Titus 3:10 tells us to warn them twice and then have nothing to do with them. These people are divisive, they often have good scriptural knowledge but because of their pride, they love to take side and encourage argument. They have a strong opinion because they love to get their way – they may argue about how the Lord’s Supper ought to be served or how the worship songs should be sung or even what kind of service to the Lord is more important. Pride is at the root of division, and Satan uses such heretics to divide a church.

v. And then, there is the church member living in open immorality. 1 Corinthians 5 deals with a case of incest within the church. The church was proud of their tolerance, how despite this open, flagrant sin, the church passed no judgment on him. There are many churches like this today that openly accept members and elders in open sin. Paul tells us that instead of being prideful of our tolerance, we should be in mourning. A believer in open sin should be expelled from the church. Paul warns us not to treat these people as enemies, because they are not. They are our brothers and sisters. Just like Lot fell out of fellowship with Abraham and the Lord because he moved to Sodom, Genesis 14:14 says, “When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan.” Our goal is to rescue our brother, not condemn him.

2 Thessalonians 3:14 says we should have such a purpose in our separation. When it comes to the idle, the busybodies, the heretics, the unrepentant sinners, after trying to restore them, rebuke them, disassociating with them, the purpose of our actions is to bring them back into the Lords will. Examine scripture first; make sure you are correct in your theology. Examine yourself, make sure you do not have a plank in your own eye and that you are a good example. Confront them individually, with another believer, with a church elder in order to restore them. And then, if all else fails, leave them alone and mourn that they are not in fellowship with the Lord.

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.
I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

Paul wraps up 2 Thessalonians 3 with note that as Christians, the Lord of Peace himself will give us peace at all times and in every way. This peace is for all Christians; notice Paul says, “The Lord be with all of you,” and this includes those he just finished rebuking. This peace is for us. Let us examine ourselves and our church family and work for what is right for the benefit of all, to make a strong, healthy body of believers for our Lord and Savior.

In the two letters to the Thessalonians, Paul taught them how to live in fellowship as believers. The lesson Paul taught is just as true today. We don’t know when Jesus will return, but we do know that His return is eminent. Until then, we have tasks to do as His body. Work eagerly and joyfully at the tasks God has given us on this earth, all the while keeping an eye toward heaven. In this Chapter, Paul tells us about two of those tasks; we are to pray, and we are to earn a living. In all circumstances, we can take comfort in the peace given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Walking Together

Pittsburgh Steelers logo
Image via Wikipedia

Let’s talk football. Today’s the big day, Superbowl 43, Pittsburgh Steelers versus Arizona Cardinals. Pittsburgh is going for their 6th Championship ring, and they are a football dynasty. Arizona Cardinals last won an NFL title in 1947 and hold the record for the longest drought without a title.

There are great reasons to root for both teams. For instance, Diane is rooting for Pittsburgh because it’s her home town. My mother is going to root for the Cardinals because their uniforms match her fingernail polish. Both excellent reasons.

But there is something bigger going on behind the scenes this year. Kurt Warner, the quarterback of the Cardinals, is a Christian evangelical who gives thanks to God in nearly every interview. Before his NFL career, he was bagging groceries, and now he holds weekly bible study sessions with as many as 20 of his teammates. Kurt says, “You just have to embrace it, whatever God does in your life and wherever He puts you.”

Troy Polamalu, safety for Pittsburgh, is an Eastern Orthodox Christian, savage on the field but gentle in person. This week, Troy said, “I feel like faith is the foundation of everything I do on and off the field,” he said this week in Tampa. “It determines how you live your life when you love God.”

And the faith of the Steeler’s coach, Mike Tomlin, is the cohesion that holds the team together. Here’s a snippet from an article from BehindTheSteelCurtain.com


The cohesion of a football team is the direct reflection of its head coach. The 2008 Steelers are the ultimate model of individuals coming together as one. It is said that truly great people take more than their share of the blame and less than their share of the credit. Through Tomlin’s leadership, you can hear that mantra ringing from each and every player. Not only do Steelers’ players not snipe at each other and look to blame, they genuinely love each other and defend each other. The camaraderie on the 2008 team was as good as it gets. Stan Savran, popular Pittsburgh media personality, has been around the team for more than 30 years. Heading into the AFC Championship Game, Savran could feel the unity. “There’s something very special going on in that locker room,” said Savran. “You can feel it.”

Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger can attest first-hand about Savran’s intuition. “We have a special group. We call ourselves ‘The Band of Brothers.’ The offense picks the defense up. The defense picks the offense up. Special teams picks us all up. We say that nothing can come between us. We’re a real close group. We really feel that way. We want to go out and play for each other.”

LaMarr Woodley, a young player in just his second year, is experiencing something that he’s never experienced before. “I never imagined feeling this way about teammates,” revealed Woodley. “We’re not playing for ourselves. We’re playing for the team. There are no individuals in that locker room. It’s really hard to explain, but it is very real and very special.”




And how does Mike Tomlin hold the Steelers together? He puts into practice what he’s learned as a Christian. This week in Tampa, Tomlinson explained his faith in Jesus Christ this way: “First and foremost, I want people to know who I am and what the most important thing is in my life, my relationship with Jesus Christ. I want to lead with a servant’s heart. Football is what we do; faith is who we are all the time.”

For further reading on Mike Tomlin’s faith, follow the link.

• What role do you believe unity has played in the success of the Steelers?
• How important do you think it is for us as Christians to be unified?
• How does unity affect our effectiveness as Christians to non-believers? To believers?

Does God want us to work as a team? Of course He does. The bible says that we are made in His image, and He is a relational God we can know. The love God shows to us, we are to model by loving our neighbors as ourselves. This is the message behind Paul’s conclusion to the church at Thessalonica at the end of 1 Thessalonians, so let’s turn there now. Here’s a scripture for today, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28 –


Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

Brothers, pray for us. Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.



When I first read this conclusion, it reminded me of all those final instructions Grandma gave after a visit to her house. “Goodbye! Be safe! Eat well! Study hard! Wear clean clothes! Look both ways before crossing the street!” And she’d still be calling out all these instructions, even after the car window was rolled up and we were headed down the street and couldn’t hear her. There is much more to these last instructions, though; Paul is telling the Thessalonians how they are to live together as a church of believers.

There are no indications the church at Thessalonica was divided at this time; Paul’s just encouraging and teaching them to be in harmony with each other. In the first sentence, Paul calls them “brothers.” Paul uses this word 27 times in the letters to the Thessalonians; as Christians, we are all adopted children of God, and Paul saw the local church as his family.

I. Family Leadership

No family is perfect; each and every one of us know the dysfunction in our own families. We’re all imperfect and a little dysfunctional, but it is our love for our family that helps us overcome our dysfunctions. And so it is with our local church.

In each local family, we have a leader; without leadership, the family falls apart. God’s structure for the family is for the husband to be the head of the family and sacrifice himself for the good of the family. The wife is to stand next to him and make sure he sacrifices himself. I mean, she encourages him and supports him in love and cooperation. And the children are to obey their parents. This is God’s structure, and the family becomes dysfunctional when we don’t respect that structure.

And so it is with the church. Even though Galatians 3:28 says, “we are all one in Christ Jesus,” Ephesians 4:11-13 tells us that God has given each member of the church unique spiritual gifts –


was he [Christ] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.





So some people are given gifts to pastor and teach the church so that the church as a whole may be raised up in maturity and prepare God’s people for service. That is God’s purpose for the church, and God’s purpose for the spiritual leaders of the church.
Paul’s letter, though, is not addressed to the leaders; it’s addressed to the brothers and sisters of Christ. What responsibilities do we have as brothers and sisters in Christ toward those in leadership?

a. Accept them.

People in church leadership are doing their best to utilize the gifts God gave them. Church leaders are not dictators, they are example to follow and have been given spiritual authority from the Lord. As they follow the Lord, so we, too, must follow them.

b. Appreciate them.

Verse 12 says, “respect those who work hard among you.” Spiritual leadership is both a great responsibility and a difficult task, whether one is serving as a pastor, deacon, director, or other spiritual leader like teacher, mission leader, social director, or His Honor, Royal Guardian of the Lunch Ministry. Encouragements are few, battles are many, and leadership is always under attack by Satan. As brothers and sisters, we should pray for our leaders, encourage our leaders, and appreciate our leaders, and serve joyfully with them. There is nothing wrong with honoring faithful servants as long as it is God who gets the glory.

c. Love them.

Paul chooses his words carefully, verse 12 says that our spiritual leaders are our brothers and are “among us,” but they are also leaders “over us in the Lord.” This can easily strain relationships as leaders are called to speak the truth in love. For a pastor to be “among us” and be “over us” at the same time requires the power of the Holy Spirit to be effective. If our ministry leaders are just our good friends, their authority to be over us and lead God’s will is weakened. On the other hand, if our ministry leaders are too authoritative, we view them as a dictator. Our leaders have to practice fellowship and authority at the same time and it requires careful balance.

d. Obey them.

Hebrews 13:17 says,


Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.



Spiritual leaders are not always right in everything they do. They’re human and often fail. David, a king and a man after God’s own heart made serious errors in pride, adultery, and murder. Peter denied Christ 3 times and is almost a study unto himself on how to say and do goofy things while in the ministry of Christ. But wise leaders know this; they are jars of clay, prone to cracking, and they seek Christian counsel in their decisions. As leaders, they are God’s servant, and when they call us to obey God’s word, then we must give them willingly our cheerful obedience unless it is obvious they are strayed from God’s message.

If we do these four things for our leadership – accept, appreciate, love, and obey them, then we win the Church super bowl. Paul tells us that the fruit of this cheerful following is that we will be at peace among ourselves. If there’s no peace and harmony, it’s almost always because of selfishness and sin on the part of the leaders or the followers or both. This leads to dissension and division. James 4:1-3 says


What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.




Which do we want as a church? Peace and harmony, or strife and quarrels? It’s clear that only through submission to those appointed as our leaders will we enjoy peace in the family. But we cannot put the burden of peace and harmony squarely on our leaders, so Paul also talks about how we should get along with each other.

II. Family Relationships

In many churches, people expect the church to provide for them. The laymen give their tithes, the church provides the services. But church leaders can’t do everything, and then the people grumble, the leadership weakens, and the church becomes ineffective.

But that’s not God’s plan for the church. The people of the church are supposed to do the work of the ministry. The purpose of the leadership is to equip the people to do the ministry according to Ephesians 4:12 which we just read a moment ago. Instead of blaming the church for the weakness we see, we are to step up and serve. Titus 2 tells us that the older members of the church are to instruct the younger members. As brothers and sisters, we help our brothers and sisters. We don’t have to wait for the leadership to tell us to help.

Some of our brothers and sisters are… special. Paul tells us specifically in verse 14 about three family members that need our help –

a. The unruly. The NIV calls these the idle, but the word means “careless” or “out of line.” The word was usually applied to a soldier who couldn’t march in line. Anybody in here want to admit to marching to the beat of a different drummer? We’re all unique individuals with special gifts, but there are some rules we have to follow if we are to be a cohesive church. We conduct this class according to certain rules, church starts at a certain time, we volunteer to fill specific roles. Otherwise there is chaos. As parents, we love to see our children grow and express individuality, but if that individuality leads to rebellion against our standards, it causes us grief. Individuality is good, rebellion is chaos.

b. The feebleminded, which the NIV calls the timid. The literal translation means “little-souled.” These are the quitters, the criticizers, the pessimists. Paul calls us to encourage them and comfort them and help them grow into bigger souls.

c. The weak. Paul isn’t talking about the physically weak, he’s talking about the spiritual health of the church. Paul means those that are weak in the faith of the Lord. As Christians, we tend to think of the spiritually weak as new believers or those in danger of falling away, but Paul’s actually referring to those people that do not understand their freedom in Christ. New believers in Paul’s time were still also trying to fulfill Jewish law, and they were full of condemnation for those that ate meat on holy days, did work on the Sabbath, and so on. The spiritually weak among us may think they’re strong, but if we criticize or condemn another brother or sister, *we* are the spiritually weak. To be strong is to learn how to be encouraging instead of judgmental.

Ministering to the unruly, the timid, the criticizers and spiritually weak isn’t easy, especially if we don’t realize when *we* are the unruly and spiritually weak. Paul tells us to keep three things in mind when we are ministering to our brother or sister –

1. Be patient. Be patient with whom? Everyone. Patience is a difficult thing to learn, especially when dealing with others. Everybody grows in faith at a different speed, and God speaks to us all individually in His perfect timing. Romans 15:5-6, “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

2. Watch our motives. Paul elaborates on this in Romans 12:17-17, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.”

3. Be kind. Paul tells us to be kind to each other and to everyone else. While the bible is useful for teaching, rebuking and training in righteousness, too often we wish we had a really heavy bible so we could beat our unruly brothers over the head with it. Criticism and complaining never yields the fruit Jesus expects from us; instead, use kindness and encouragement. Kindness and encouragement is very effective at motivating others to grow.

III. Family Worship

Worshiping the Lord in church gives glory to God, and it’s what we are called to do as brothers and sisters. We must start with worship, otherwise ministry becomes stressful, teaching becomes dry, and relationships aren’t fruitful. All of our activities as a church must begin with worship and praise. I bet Paul had instruction for us in worship, too. Let’s run through verses 16-28; Paul gives us a bunch of instruction in rapid-fire –

a. Be joyful always. God wants a joyful family, not one of dissension or criticizing or irritation. Each family member should contribute to the joy of all. Worship in joy. Then, when we give, give cheerfully. When we serve, serve with joy. Nehemiah 8:10 says, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”

b. Pray continually. Being a mature member of Christ means being in constant conversation with God. I don’t mean we are to be constantly mumbling prayers, but that in our thoughts and actions we stay in touch with God to see if what we say and do pleases him. We are called to “pray without ceasing.”

c. Give thanks in all circumstances. Thanks and praise must be an integral part of the family of God. Ephesians 5:19-20 says “speak… to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Study alone is insufficient; application of God’s word begins with praise and thanksgiving to Almighty God.

d. Do not put out the Spirit’s fire. Many things can extinguish the Spirit’s fire. Complacency, legalism, criticism, discouragement. But God is at work, halleluiah.

e. Don’t despise prophecies. In 1 Corinthians 14:3, Paul says the purpose of prophecy is to strengthen, encourage, and comfort the church. One way to quench the Holy Spirit’s fire is to look down on the work others are doing. I know occasionally I criticize the “name it and claim it” preaching I hear from other pastors, but the Holy Spirit is at work, even when the message is incomplete. It’s one thing to correct and rebuke, but despising the message is going too far.

f. Test everything, hold on to the good. The “nam
e it and claim it” messages may be incomplete, but they still contain some truth. How do we know what is truth? We test it, compare it to the rest of scripture, and keep that part of the message that is true. The Christian life involves hearing a lot of spiritual messages, and we must learn to keep the message that is authentic and discard errors and falsehood. The only way to learn how to do that is to read God’s word and learn it.

g. Avoid every kind of evil. We’ve heard the instruction to be in the world, but not of the world. Temptation abounds. When we recognize it, we should avoid even the appearance of evil.

h. Rely on God. Whew. Grandma’s almost finished. We’ve just read a whole lot of instruction to our family of believers about how to treat our leadership and how to treat each other. Fortunately, we don’t have to do it alone. Paul reminds us that God Himself, the God of Peace, is at work in us. If we are in prayer without ceasing, Jesus is faithful and the Holy Spirit will give us the strength to be the brother and sister of Christ that encourages and builds up one another.

Sixteen short verses; a lifetime of instruction to practice if we are to be a model family of believers. There is a purpose to all these instructions; Jesus will return, and we are to be ready. “May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Word of God is at work in our lives; let us continue to build the fire of the Holy Spirit in each and every one of us until the coming of our Lord and Savior.

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Walking in Christ

What is your philosophy of life, and what does it say about you? I found a collection of quotes about life; here’s a small sample –

  • Erma Bombeck: “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.'”
  • Henry David Thoreau: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
  • Richard Bach: “Here is the test to find whether your mission on earth is finished. If you’re alive, it isn’t.”
  • Ashleigh Brilliant: “My life has a superb cast but I can’t figure out the plot.”
  • Dennis Wholey: “Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are good is like expecting the bull not to charge because you are a vegetarian.”
  • Unknown: “Life is a whim of several billion cells to be you for a while.”
  • Cary Grant: “My formula for living is quite simple. I get up in the morning and I go to bed at night. In between, I occupy myself as best I can.”
  • Mark Twain: “Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.”
  • Unknown: “Life is an endless struggle full of frustrations and challenges, but eventually you find a hair stylist you like.”

Some philosophies of life are awe-inspiring. Others are depressing. Philosophies of “live it up” or “just getting by” or “what’s in it for me” tell us a lot about the person who believes them. Would it surprise you to know that Christ has a philosophy for us? Jesus Christ wants us to walk the Christian walk.

A walk implies a starting place. It also implies a destination. In between, there is a journey. Depending on the road traveled, the journey is bumpy or smooth, uphill or downhill, paved or muddy. Some people say they need to find themselves, as if going on such a walk, they’ll eventually find a path that leads back to them. But that doesn’t work; I’ve discovered that no matter where I go, there I am. I am the walk.

Paul talks a lot about the Christian walk. In Ephesians 4:1, “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” Ephesians 4:17, “walk not as other Gentiles walk.” Ephesians 5:2, “walk in love,” and Ephesians 5:8, “walk as children of light.”

Walking suggests progress, that on the journey we do not stay in one place. The new Christian begins his new life with a single step of faith. But that step of faith leads to a walk in faith. 2 Corinthians 5:7 says “for we walk by faith, not by sight.” We mature along a path; Hebrews 6:1 says we are to press on to maturity, and Philippians 3:13-16 says we are to press on toward the goal to win the prize in Christ Jesus. And because Satan has put traps and detours along the way, 1 John 1:5-7 tells us to walk in the light as He is in the light.

Jesus says that narrow is the road that leads to life. On the left side of the Christian walk is liberalism. A Christian will say, “I have accepted Jesus as my Savior, and I’m free in Christ. Doesn’t God want me to be happy?”

• What’s wrong with Christian liberalism? What is wrong with living to please yourself? How widespread is this attitude among Christians?

At the root of liberalism is often selfishness; we are trying to please people or trying to please ourselves more than God. But if the left side of the path is a ditch of liberalism, there is a ditch on the right side, too. The right side is the ditch of legalism. Christians get wrapped in the rules of being a Christian. We get wrapped up in finding rules in the bible, define rules for our lives, refine the rules, and judge others by the rules we’ve discovered. The problem with legalism side of the path is that we mistakenly think that by applying and living rules that we can earn our way to heaven by doing good deeds. We forget that salvation is a gift that we cannot earn on our own.

In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul describes how to walk this Christian walk. The first step for the new Christian was a step of faith; the first part of the journey is to walk in holiness.

I. Walk in Holiness (verse 1-8)

Let’s read 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.

1. To please God (verse 1)

Everybody lives to please somebody. Many live to please themselves. Eat, drink, be happy. That’s great advice if you’re on vacation. But in terms of lifestyle, Christians should not spend their life in selfish pleasure. Romans 15:1 says,

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.

We can see one goal is to please others. Instead of criticizing the weak for their failing, a solid Christian will bear with their failings and try to help instead.

But we must also be careful when pleasing others. It’s possible to please others and dishonor God at the same time. Paul says in Galatians 1:10,

Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Paul opens 1 Thessalonians 4 that the Christian walk consists of living to please God. Jesus Himself says in John 8:29, “I always do what pleases [God].”

Pleasing God is a lot more than simply doing God’s will. If you are obedient but have a bad attitude, that displeases God. Remember the story of Jonah? After obeying the Lord, Jonah sat outside the city, angry with everybody, including God. God blessed His Word, but could not bless Jonah with an attitude like that.

Children should please their father. We should please our Lord. How do we know what pleases God? By listening to Him, living with Him, reading His Word, and fellowshipping in worship and in service. When we understand God’s heart, we’re better able to please Him with our obedience.

2. To obey God (verses 4:2-3)

Obeying God with the right attitude pleases God; verse 3 spells out part of God’s will for us. It is God’s will that we should be sanctified. Where the NIV says, “It is God’s will,” it doesn’t do the word justice. The Greek word for will is “thel?ma” and it’s a military term that means “command.” It’s God’s command that we should be sanctified. What is sanctification?

In the Greek, “sanctification” is the same word as “holiness”. “Hagios” means a separation. What are we separated from? In the theology of original sin, we are separated from God by sin. Becoming a believer, becoming “saved”, is a first step in faith that Jesus is Lord. Sanctification is the lifelong purification process that separates us from worldly sin. It’s the path we’re walking. It is a practical, progressive holiness in our lives as we manifest Christ and the Holy Spirit, becoming less of the world and more of Him. When we are perfectly sanctified, we will be perfectly holy. When does that happen? Well, not in this lifetime. The sanctification journey is complete when we stand before the Living God, blameless in His sight because we’ve accepted the sacrifice of Jesus. Previously, we were part of this world and separated from God. God wants us to separate ourselves from the sin of the world and be part of Him.

Some Christians are saved, put one foot on the path to salvation and never take another step. Some Christians select certain rules regarding study, prayer, service, church attendance, whatever, and stop in the middle of the path. But God’s will for us in this life is that we should be sanctified, continually examining ourselves and separating ourselves from worldly sin. It’s a continuous journey. It is us saying to God, “Yes, I place my life in your hands, mold me according to Your will.” It’s an active process; we cannot simply wish to be sanctified. That isn’t going to happen. We have to actively seek God’s full measure take control of our mind and body, soul and spirit. Living in a way that pleases God is not optional; it’s a command, it’s a moral necessity, and it’s an obligation.

Paul selects a specific worldly sin to warn against; sexual immorality does not please God. God created sex and He and He alone sets the rules for how sex is enjoyed. In the beginning, when God created Adam and Eve, God established marriage as a sacred covenant between one man and one woman. God created sex for reproduction and God created sex for the pleasure of marriage partners. Hebrews 13:4 says,

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.

God sets very strict rules about sex, not to steal joy from people, but for protecting them so that they may not lose their joy. Here’s some disturbing statistics:

  • 30% to 60% of all married individuals in the US will engage in infidelity at some point in their marriage. That sounds high, but when you consider that half of all marriages end in divorce and that as relationships fall apart, people are more likely to stray, some researchers believe even more individuals may engage in adultery.
  • Infidelity is increasing, especially among people under 30, because of greater opportunity and multiple partners before marriage.
  • Men used to cheat more than women, but with more women financially independent, infidelity among married women has nearly caught up to men.
  • Emotional infidelity rates are even higher. No physical contact takes place, but emotional infidelity occurs through the internet, email, and chat rooms.

Where can infidelity start?
What are excuses for infidelity?
What are the resulting damages from infidelity?
What are the best ways to protect against infidelity?

Sexual immorality is a great stumbling block on the walk of sanctification; that’s why God warns us so many times, and Paul specifically tells us here that the proper application of sex is between a married man and woman, and no amount of Hollywood glorification of casual sex or adultery and no amount of Massachusetts or California court rulings about homosexual marriage and no amount of societal acceptance of premarital sex, adultery, or living together will change one iota of God’s Word about sex.

3. To glorify God (verses 4-5)

God’s message is more than rules consisting of “don’t do this” and “don’t do that.” It’s a positive message; live our lives in a way that glorifies God. When we were gentiles, we lived heathen lives because we did not know God. As saved Christians, our lives are more than selfish pleasures; we are members of the body of Christ and are supposed to live lives separate or sanctified from gentiles. “Be in the world, but not of the world.” Most bible interpretations say “control his body” but the literal translation is “possess his vessel.” That can also possibly mean to possess or to live with his own wife since the same word is used in 1 Peter 3:7, calling the wife the “weaker vessel.” Regardless, the principle that God gives us additional talents if we are faithful holds true here. We are to be able to control our own bodies, our mouth, our thoughts, our actions, in a way that honors God. If we cannot be spiritual leaders over ourselves, men cannot be expected to be effective leaders over their household, and 1 Timothy 3 requires men to be leaders of themselves and over their own homes before they are entrusted as leaders within the church. True self-control means willing ourselves to obey God. Either we control our bodies, or our bodies control us. Either we control our thoughts, or our thoughts control us. Self-control is a habit of holy obedience which is perfected and strengthened over time.

4. To escape the judgment of God (verses 6-8)

God hates sin and will judge it accordingly. The Lord will punish men for failure to control themselves, and God must also deal with His own children when they sin. Colossians 3:23-25 says to Christians,

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism.

I heard a story about a church member who criticized a pastor for preaching against sin in the lives of Christians. Christians are forgiven, so sin in the life of a believer is different than sin in the life of the unsaved. The pastor replied, “Yes, it is different; it’s worse.”

We are forgiven, of course; that is why Christ died for us. That’s not an excuse to disobey the Lord. Being saved is not a “get out of jail free” card. Remember the story of David we just studied? When David confessed his sins of adultery and murder, God of course forgave him, but could not change the consequences of that sin. It’s the same for us today; God’s Word against sin is to protect us from ourselves and the consequences of our sin. 2 Peter 2:19 tells us that every “man is a slave to whatever has mastered him” and we are all mastered by something. In our walk with Christ, our goal is to be master by Him alone. That’s why Paul reminds Christians here in 1 Thessalonians 4:7 that God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Those who reject God’s Word also reject God.

Any comments about Walking in Holiness? Are there any sins that Christians don’t have to worry about because they’re saved?

II. Walk in Harmony (verse 9-10)

Let’s read 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10 –

Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more.

Paul transitions from holiness, our separateness, to brotherly love. Just like God’s holiness should motivate us toward sanctification and removing sin from our lives, so too, God’s love for us should motivate us to love one another. A Christian should love one another.

In the Greek language, there are 4 basic words for love. “Eros” is physical or sensual love. Our modern culture elevates this form of love above all others, but this type of physical love, unless it is within the boundaries of marriage, is sinful. “Storge” (stor-gay) is family love, the type parents have for their children. And there’s agape love which we often study in bible study, the love mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13, the love of patience and kindness, the love that isn’t rude and is not easily angered. It is a self-sacrificing love. Agape love is doing something that is in someone else’s best interest, regardless of whether it’s in your own best interest.

Paul’s talking about the fourth kind of love, “philia,” affectionate love, the type of love between close friends and between married couples. Christians belong to the same family. We have the same father, and we are all brothers and sisters. Paul calls us to be affectionate with one another, and then he calls us to do so even more.

God teaches us to love one another more and more, to be affectionate and loving, by placing us in circumstances that force us to practice this. Anybody in here ever had a serious disagreement with another Christian brother or sister? Somebody else in this church? Perhaps in this class? Perhaps at home? I’ve heard wonderful stories from my Christian brothers and sisters about difficulties they once had with another Christian, but by practicing philia love, affectionate love, they overcame their difficulties. In many cases, they are very close friends today because they practiced this love. There is no point in the Christian life where we can ever feel we have completed the Christian walk, we can never sit back comfortably and decide we have grown enough and no further sanctification is needed. All believers need to keep growing in love.

Any comments about Walking in Harmony? Do we always get along with each other? Is there somebody you don’t get along with?

III. Walk in Honesty (verses 11-12)

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

I like the King James translation better than the NIV because instead of “win the respect of outsiders”, the King James says “that ye may walk honestly toward them that are without.” Paul tells us we are to live an honest life, one without hypocrisy. If we say we believe something, let our actions show it. Show that we truly believe it. We’ve heard the saying from St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the gospel always. If necessary, use words.” If you want to be a poor example for Christ, tell people you’re a Christian but lead a mean-spirited, unloving life.

Christians have the obligation to love one another, both philia love and agape love, but also to be good testimonies to the rest of the world. Paul says be ambitious about leading a quiet life, but being ambitious seems at odds with being quiet. Paul is talking about the quietness and gentleness of spirit, having an inner peace that trusts in Christ. Paul reminds Christians that while we are waiting on the Second Coming of Christ, we are not to be idle. The walk of life, the walk of sanctification, is not a moving sidewalk that carries us toward a destination. We must each and individually do our own walk with Christ. You’ve heard the phrase that idle hands are the devil’s workshop. Idle people are selfish, depending on others for their upkeep. Idle people have time to interfere in the lives of others and getting into trouble. Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 3:11 “We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies.” Believers who are about the Lord’s business have little time or desire to meddle in the affairs of others.

Some believe that to work the earth is a curse. That’s a misunderstanding of Genesis. Adam had work to do in the Garden of Eden while still in Paradise. It is the ground that is cursed which makes us toil and sweat. And working enables us to be givers, not takers. If we want to be able to give to those in need, it is better if we are not in need ourselves.

So the exemplary Christian life should be an example, not a hindrance to others. We should live a life of honesty and integrity. The word “integrity” comes from the word “integer” which means “one.” We are to be one person, the same inside as we are outside, the same in public as we are in private.

Any comments about Walking in Honesty? What happens when a Christian’s words and actions toward their family or toward their Christian brothers is not completely honest with what they say they believe? Do you think we are better Christians in public or in private?

Unsaved people should be able to see our quiet walk in Christ towards our sanctification. They should be able to see how we live holy lives of sexual purity, how we live harmonious lives of brotherly love with our Christian brothers and sisters, and how we live honest lives of diligent work and not meddling idly in the lives of others. Living in a way that pleases God, pure and sanctified in obedience and brotherly love is the whole purpose of our walk with Christ.

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