Sunday, May 21, 2017

I Thessalonians 3:12,13 – “Stable”

As always, here’s my fairly literal translation of these verses:

12And may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love toward one another and toward everyone, just as we to you, 13into the establishment of your hearts [to be] blameless in holiness before the God and our Father in [the] coming of our Lord Jesus with all His holy ones.

These two verses are jewels, diamonds to turn every which way and see them sparkle. Pretty much every one who comments on verses 11-13 refers to them as prayers, but actually they’re more like wishes. Paul is saying, this is what I wish for you – which of course easily becomes his prayers, but still, they are wishes. In Greek the verbs are in what is called the optative mood, which was their way of expressing wishes and “hope-so’s.”

These apostolic “wishes” are highly significant for us to note because they actually express to us the heart of God Himself. Loving Him makes us ask the question, “What does He want for me? What can I do to please Him, to love Him in return for all He’s done for me?” How can we sum up the life God wishes us to live? The answer is to be found right here in these two simple verses. In my last post I looked at verse 12 which says, And may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love toward one another and toward everyone, just as we to you,…”

There you have it from the very mouth of God. What, in a nutshell, does He desire? What does He “wish” for you? “To increase and abound in love.” He is love and His presence in our hearts is one of His means of channeling His love into our world. He pours it into our undeserving hearts and we, overwhelmed by grace, overflow that love into the lives of “one another and toward everyone.” If you or I were to pause and ask, “What do I want most for my children and their spouses? What do I most desire for them in their marriages?” Would it not be this very thing – that they should “increase and abound in love” first of all “for each other” and then “for everyone?” This is not only love – it is parent love, it is Father love!

Verse 13 continues these thoughts, and, if I may say so, this verse highlights exactly why I want to study the Bible, why I am very glad to be able to scratch in the original languages. What do I mean? Verse 13 is actually a statement of purpose. In the Greek, the verse begins with an “eis” clause, a prepositional phrase which specifically expresses purpose or intent. The word “eis” literally means “into” (as I translated it above) but the idea is “in order that,” “for the purpose of,” “to the end that.” So, in verse 12, the Lord desires that we increase and abound in love, then verse 13 says, “In order that …”

For whatever it’s worth, note that some translations, like the NIV, do not reflect this purpose clause. They express verse 13 as just another “wish” and thus lose the logical flow from the love of verse 12 to the purpose clause of verse 13. As I said, this is exactly why I am very thankful I can scratch in the Greek. I want to know exactly what the Lord says – and what He does not – and be able seriously to build my life on what I am confident are the very words of God. Verse 13 is not just another wish, it is telling us what the Lord wishes for our love to accomplish.

For the sake of people who want to think deeply, this is profoundly important. The Lord doesn’t just say, “Love everyone,” and leave it at that. Even the loving is for a purpose. He’s going “somewhere” with it. It’s not like He wants us to sit up in a tree and just “love everyone.” And for those of us who love Him, we long to know more of His heart – and so when He says, “In order that …,” we’re all ears.

And what is it? What is the purpose of our increasing and abounding in love? It is “in order that your hearts may be established blameless in holiness before God and our Father …”

Note several things. It is “in order that your heart …” It is your heart that the Lord is after! “My son, give me thine heart …” (Prov 23:26). “Above all else, guard your heart, for out of it are the issues of life” (Prov4:23). The Pharisees thought they were deeply religious, but Jesus said of them, “Everything they do is done for men to see” (Matt 23:5). It was all externals. It is a very sad fact that the entire human race thinks “religion” is about externals, about rituals and rules, and saying all the right things, doing all the right things – and some of that may have its time and place – but Jesus died to save us to something far greater than a new set of rules. He is after our hearts – the inner us, the real us, the man or woman who lives behind those eyes, who sees and hears and thinks and decides.

And what is it He desires for our hearts? First of all notice, it is that they may be “established.” The word means to “set fast,” to “render solid,” to “make immovable.” Even within the English word “establish,” you can see the word “stable.” He wants to give us hearts that are stable. He wants the inner us, the person we really are, to be a stable, mature person. Even the psalmist asked, “Give me an undivided heart …” (Ps 86:11). Note in our passage, it is an “increasing and abounding love” which will result in an “established” heart. This is again where the Greek here is so important. This matter of established hearts isn’t just another “wish” for us. It is a result we will enjoy as we let the Lord give us a greater love.

This is an amazing blessing I’ve certainly enjoyed from the Lord and I see in my own life exactly what Paul is talking about. The Lord saved me nearly 40 years ago and His presence in my life immediately meant I made better decisions, and was just generally a LOT more stable person. But I’ve still felt almost my entire life a sense of confusion, of not knowing exactly where to land. It was way worse before I was saved, but even after, I feel like I’ve spent my life groping around trying to figure things out, with the result that I far too often said really stupid things, did really stupid things, made very bad decisions.

Just in the last ten years, He finally helped me to understand what Jesus meant when He said the two great commands are to love God and love others – and that, in those two things, I’ll find everything that matters. When He enabled me to shed my legalism and really embrace His love, suddenly now the world makes almost perfect sense to me. It makes sense to me that my life is His love – that every minute of every day, in every conversation, in every interaction, in every decision, in every activity I undertake, the bottom line is His love – for me myself and expressed through me into the lives of the people He places around me. And what I feel and what I see happening, is that that realization, that understanding, suddenly gives me a sense of peace, of confidence, of stability, to begin making good decisions, of saying and doing the right things. His love has in fact, for me, given me a more stable heart. Words utterly fail to express my gratitude for this one simple blessing, but I feel it is monumental in my own heart and life. I hate being confused. I love to have a compass that always points north!

But then finally, notice it is established “blameless in holiness before God …” Once again, it isn’t just “love” however we want to define it. It isn’t just “established” or “stable” in any way that we would imagine or desire. It is all about our God. “In Him we live and move and have our being.” It is all about the “holiness” that He desires for us. Only He knows what is truly best for us, how we “fit” together, what we were created to be. And we must find, in His presence, and in His heart, what is truly good and best. In a sense, that is the point of the entire Bible – to help us live wisely, or, even more precisely, to love wisely.

And it is interesting to me how Paul includes, “in the Coming of our Lord Jesus with all His holy ones.” This unblamable holiness in which our hearts have been established by an ever increasing love – it is supremely important it be true when Jesus comes. I sort of think I understand why this is true, but I don’t know why it was important to add this. In other words, it seems like it simply is important – always. So then, of course it is important when Jesus returns. So why add that? I suspect there is something here I don’t understand, but I’m going to have to let it go and, as I continue to study, simply trust the Lord to teach me whatever it is.

For now, it is enough to see here in this short little passage, the grand design of our wonderful salvation – to give us this ever increasing love for each other and toward everyone which then results in stabilized hearts that feel a confidence to live and love wisely.

I knew when He saved me, He’d do me good. I just never dreamed just how far or how deeply He’d go.

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

I Thessalonians 3:12,13 – “Increasing, Abounding Love”

As always, here’s my fairly literal translation of these verses:

12And may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love toward one another and toward everyone, just as we to you, 13into the establishment of your hearts [to be] blameless in holiness before the God and our Father in [the] coming of our Lord Jesus with all His holy ones.

“Increase and abound in love.” I am amazed just how much the Lord emphasizes the importance of love. I’ve been studying the Bible my entire life, yet it seems like it’s only been in the last ten years I’ve begun to see just how central to it all is this thing called love. It’s been there all along, of course, in book after book, passage after passage. This is even the second time I’ve studied through I Thessalonians, and here it is, falling off the page in front of me, but I didn’t see it before.

Here is Paul writing to these people whom he himself dearly loves. He prays the Lord would allow him to see them again and to supply “what is lacking in their faith,” and what does he wish for them? That they might “increase and abound in love.”

How could we miss it? “God is love.” “Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels and have not love, I am nothing.” The two great commands are “to love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself. On these hang all the Law and the Prophets.” “The fruit of the Spirit is love.” “Owe no man anything but the continuing debt to love one another.” “All that matters is faith expressing itself through love.” “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children, and live a life of love, just as Christ loved you.”

Frankly, I think it has been my legalism that blinded me to this centrality of love. “Faith” was too much about so many externals. Christianity was too much about all the rules and “principles” and “applications.” Then finally I really realized Christianity is about Christ. It’s about knowing Him, about a life of sitting at His feet and just letting my heart get lost in the wonder of who He is. In His face, I find myself loved beyond my wildest imagination. In His face, I find a kindness that melts my heart. I find there His grace – this love that has engulfed me in spite of the fact I utterly don’t deserve it. In His face, I even realize just how much I have totally failed Him, and yet that realization doesn’t depress me – it only sweeps me deeper into His arms as I realize His love transcends even that. And as my heart lies engulfed in His gracious love, I find it moves me to do two things – to graciously love the people He’s put around me, and to extricate from my life anything that would displease this wonderful, kind Master. “Oh to be like Thee, blessed Redeemer.”

And here it is in the passage before us. The passage tells us a lot about love. Back in v11, I failed to point out an amazing fact one can only see in the Greek. It said, “May the God and our Father Himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you.” What is amazing is that the subject of the sentence would grammatically be considered plural – “our Father and our Lord Jesus” – but the verb “to direct” is actually singular. It is like saying “They is …” It doesn’t “work” in English. But the fact is, “they is.” The Father and the Son are One. The same thing happens in the opening verse of the Bible. In English it says, “In the beginning, God created.” The word “God” is actually plural, yet “created” in the Hebrew is a singular verb. Once again, “they is.” There is throughout the Bible this plurality within the Godhead, what we call the Trinity. Volumes could be (and have been) written on the subject, but realize that underneath it all, the Trinity itself is the very expression of love. God’s very essence precludes the possibility of being a “loner.” His very essence is a plurality of Persons functioning as One. The love of a husband and his wife makes them a plurality of persons who learn to function as one – “and they two shall become one flesh.” “God is love” and godliness is to “increase and abound in love.”

Note in v12, it comes from God. It is Him who “makes us to increase and abound in love.” We don’t “womp” it up. It comes from God and we’ll find it only at Jesus’ feet. Note it is something that does “increase and abound.” In 4:9,10, Paul commends the Thessalonians’ love then says, “Yet we urge you , brothers, to do so more and more. Love is not some kind of destination or an endpoint to be achieved. It is a pattern to be ever enlarged and expanded. Note it is a love “for one another.” I’m reminded of the pastor who said he loved the ministry, “it’s just the people I can’t stand.” Love isn’t something we’re saving up for somebody out there somewhere. Love received from the heart of Jesus looks around and longs to show itself to everyone within arm’s reach. One man actually realized there was something seriously deficient in his faith when he spent an hour in church loudly praising God, then yelled at his wife all the way home in the car. God’s love embraces those closest to us.

Then note it is “for everyone.” Once again, this is a grace thing. As I lie in the warmth of my Savior’s engulfing unconditional love for me, how can I not wish to love everyone? “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me,” Jesus said. “For God so love the world …” “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men …” God’s grace would draw all men. And when it enters my heart, I would too. Note this increasing abounding love is “just as we to you.” It is a modeled love. Because Paul’s love was grace love, because it was a love not that he had conjured up but one that was actually the overflow of God’s love to him – because it was grace love, it was worth imitating. May the same be true of us.

Verse 13 continues to expound on this subject of an increasing, abounding love. I think this is enough for one post, so I’ll write more as soon as I can.

But, for myself and for anyone who stumbles across my feeble scratchings, may the Lord make your love to increase and abound. May His love in you flow like a river into the hearts of the people He has placed around you. May His grace conquer our sin and make in us a world of love.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

I Thessalonians 3:11 – “Together”

As always, here’s my fairly literal translation of these verses:

11And may the God and our Father Himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you.

Throughout this book, Paul’s longing to see the Thessalonians, to visit them again, has been a common theme. He has said before, “But, brothers, when we were torn away from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to come to you – certainly I, Paul, did, again and again … Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again …” (2:17-3:10). Now he adds this prayer, “And may the God and our Father Himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you.”

I’d like to stop and just ponder this whole business of “missing” people, of longing to see them, and wanting to be with them. We all know the old saying, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Why is this? What I’d like to consider is that this is actually an expression of our God-likeness.

What were the first recorded words of the Lord after Adam and Eve fell? Gen 3:9 says, “The Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’”

It was sin that created “separation.”

And consider Jesus’ words, “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am (Jn 14:2,3). Later in I Thessalonians, Paul tells them, “After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (4:17).

The Lord Himself wants us to be “together,” to be “with” Him. He Himself describes Heaven as a place where, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God” (Rev 21:3).

No wonder we all have this longing within us to be together with the ones we love. That desire comes straight from the heart of God. Based on this observation, I would propose that the more we grow in Christ, the more we grow in love, the more we’ll find ourselves missing our loved ones and longing to see them. I’m suggesting that the more we’re like God the more we will long to be “together.”

But then this whole matter goes even further, I think. I notice looking ahead to verse 13, Paul mentions the Coming of our Lord Jesus “with all His holy ones.” We know too from Rev 19:14 that when Jesus returns to earth crowned with many crowns and riding His white horse, it says “The armies of Heaven were following Him, riding on white horses …” Stop and think about this – Jesus doesn’t need us with Him. He doesn’t need the armies of Heaven to somehow help Him conquer the earth. He has only but to speak and earth would melt. So why does He return “with all His holy ones?” It is because He loves us. He wants us to be with Him. He wants to be with us.

I think about His Return and how He will bring us all with Him, how He will actually allow us to be a part of His victorious conquering of the earth, and He does that, not because He needs us, but because He loves us, and then I think, “And how is today any different?” Is not today His day? Is He not today conquering the earth? Is He not today doing a great work in this world, “drawing all men unto Himself?” And is not life itself my opportunity to be with Him, to be a part of whatever He’s doing? He wants us with Him. It’s part of His great amazing love that I actually get to join Him in whatever He’s doing.  He doesn’t need me. Yet He calls me to join Him.

He didn’t need Moses to lead the people of Israel. He could have done it Himself. He didn’t need young David to slay Goliath. Goliath’s very breath was in God’s hand. He didn’t need Solomon to build the Temple or Nehemiah to rebuild the wall -- He Himself spoke galaxies into being! He doesn’t need husbands to love their wives. He could do it much better Himself. He doesn’t need parents to bring up their children. He doesn’t need workers to “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things.” Yet in all these things He allows us to be a part of what He’s doing!

The question is not then whether He’s “with” us but whether we’re with Him! The very opportunity of life itself is for us to join Him, to be a part of His great work in our world. He wants us with Him. Today. Wherever we are. Whoever we’re with. Whatever we’re doing. It’s all part of His great work.

In my world the date today is May 9, 2017. But this isn’t just any day. This is His day. He is and will be doing great and mighty things today. As I sit here typing, I don’t even know what that means. I don’t know what today will bring. As far as I know, I will go to work. I’ll interact with people pretty much all day. My task will be to love God and love people, whatever I find myself doing. Somehow He will take that and weave it into His great plan. And I’ll get to do it because He loves me. He wants me to be with Him, to be a part of whatever He’s doing.

May He give us all the faith to see beyond the apparent mundane of our lives and see it is all the grand and glorious opportunity to be “together,” to be “with” our God and with each other. And may He give us the grace today to love well – like He does, to enjoy “together” because it’s all simply part of being like Him.

Friday, April 28, 2017

I Thessalonians 3:10 – “Questions”

As always, here’s my fairly literal translation of these verses:

10night and day praying exceedingly into to see your face and to mend the deficiency of your faith.

The NIV does a nice job of smoothing out this verse and translates it, “Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.”

I have been pondering the last phrase “and supply what is lacking in your faith.”

This is going to be a post where I ask lots of questions and offer few answers. If I live long enough and learn enough, I might someday read this post and be able to answer my own questions, but for now, I’ll just ask them – with the hope they might stir someone else’s mind to ponder the same things.

“What is lacking in your faith.” First of all, you probably couldn’t even say this to a group today. People say they aren’t perfect, that they need to grow, but try telling them their faith is lacking –then watch the fangs and claws come out. “Lacking!?”

Yes. Lacking.

But that’s the easy part. We can all agree, of course, no one is perfect. Everyone still needs to grow.

But I suspect there is something we do not understand about this whole subject.

We say we all need to grow, we’re all just learning. But what about all the verses that distinguish between the “mature” and “immature?” If we’re all “just growing,” all just working our way through the growth process, why are some called “mature” – as if there is in fact some sort of level that can be attained (and apparently some do).  Here are some verses that call out such a distinction:

Heb 5:12-14 – “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.”

Eph 4:13-15 – “… 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. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.

Phil 3:15 -- All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things.

James 1:4 -- Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

So, based on verses like these, there apparently are believers who can be said to have attained some level of spiritual growth where they can be described as “mature,” while there are others who may in fact be “growing” but haven’t attained that “level.” Someone may object at this point, “Well, duh. Everybody knows some believers are ‘mature’ and others aren’t.” But what does that even mean? How do we decide someone is “mature?” How does one know when they’ve reached “it?” And – if we acknowledge “it,” then we are acknowledging it’s not true, “We’re all just growing.”  I would suggest that there is in fact a difference between the “growth” that needs to go on in a new or young believer’s life, and that which is needed for someone who has attained to whatever this “mature” category means.

I honestly don’t have the slightest clue what I’m talking about, but I wonder if it comes back to my lifelong pondering of linear versus fractal logic. Perhaps the reason we struggle with this idea is because we are seeing growth as a linear thing – I grow in this, then that, then this, then that – when in reality it is about a pattern. Of course, what we are shooting for is in fact a pattern – it is the likeness of Christ – as it says in Eph 4:13, attaining to “the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” We can add to this Rom 8:29, “For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son …” Jesus is the pattern.

Now why is it significant we’re talking about a pattern rather than just a string of advancements? When we are first saved, obviously our lives have little that looks like the pattern of Jesus’ life. Everything that is not like Him, that doesn’t fit the pattern, needs to go. That is particularly the challenge of a younger believer. But even if it is true that some people significantly attain to the pattern, become significantly “like Christ,” I would maintain they still need to “grow,” only now it’s a matter of developing the pattern. What I mean is, with a pattern, you can always make more of it and you can make it bigger, and it’s still the same pattern – so at that point, a person could be described as “mature,” meaning their life really is significantly “like Christ” but they still can be continuing to “grow” – to express Christlikeness in more and bigger ways. But again, that “growth” is something different from the younger believer who is primarily weeding out all those areas of their life where they are significantly not “like Christ.”

So all the way back to our passage in I Thessalonians, when Paul speaks of “supplying what is lacking in your faith,” could it be that he has in mind the younger believers’ problem – that there are still major areas of the Thessalonians’ lives that don’t fit the pattern of Christ, that Paul being torn away early from them was painfully aware of their need for “maturity?” Given the idea of maturity being a pattern, the idea of their faith “lacking” would fit well for the Thessalonians. They were “young” believers. Perhaps with “mature” believers the problem isn’t so much “lacking” as just needing more of the same? Paul will go on in 4:9,10 to commend their love, then say, “Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more.” They had attained a part of the pattern – now the charge is to make more of it.

Hmmmmmm. Lots of questions. Few answers. I feel like I’m scratching all around something I should understand but still don’t. In theological terms, I’m suggesting our doctrine of progressive sanctification is perhaps itself deficient. It contains no acknowledgment of a distinct difference between “mature” and “immature,” what that even means, and how a proper understanding would then affect how we address different people’s “growth.”

Just to throw in a dog bone, I also wonder if we don’t have trouble seeing any of this precisely because no one is “mature?” At least what I have seen in American evangelical Christianity, I think our Wesleyan Arminianism has so infected our faith that no one becomes mature. Our Arminian error means we have all substituted “busy-ness” for real spirituality. People who are busy “serving the Lord” are hailed as “mature” when in fact their lives are very often marred by a great deal of pride and selfishness. The Martha’s of faith get exalted, but where are the Mary’s who’ve made it their passion to “sit at His feet” and drink deeply of His heart? How can anyone become “like” Him if we are all so busy “serving” Him, we have no time to know Him?

I believe there was a time when people were “mature.” As I read the writings and lives of people who lived before the scourge of Wesleyanism infected the church, I read of people who really did “know their God.” I can read their commentaries and derive great benefit, can actually learn deep and significant truths about God and about life. Then, after about 1800, for the most part Christian writing became almost unbearably shallow. The 1800’s still had their Charles Spurgeon and their J.C. Ryle, but those men were even acknowledged as “the last of the Puritans.” In other words – something had changed. The “faith” of the church became something other than that which was true during that period of 1500 to 1800. And I am suggesting the change was not good.

I should add that I am at times heartened by the music many young people are writing today. Much of it is still the same old Arminian clich├ęs but still there are many writing like people who do in fact sit at Jesus’ feet and drink of His heart. I hear young people singing thoughts I’ve just learned to think in the last few years of my 50-something life. I also hope maybe it’s just American Christianity that is so infected, that perhaps I’m only seeing my “corner” of the world. Maybe there are entire people groups of faith out there whose sincere goal is to know God and to fill their own hearts with Jesus. But again, I’m suggesting that, here in America, it might be hard to answer these questions about spiritual maturity precisely because no one is.

Well, better wrap this up. Lots of thoughts. Lots of questions. Some ideas.

I love to study the Bible. I love exactly times like this, where it is obvious there is something I don’t understand. That means there is something the Lord will teach me (eventually) that will rock my world, and, as Jesus said, “When you know the truth, the truth shall set you free!”

May there be more Mary’s in this world!

Monday, April 24, 2017

I Thessalonians 3:9 – “Joy”

As always, here’s my fairly literal translation of these verses:

9For to what are we able to recompense gratitude to God concerning you upon all the joy with which we are rejoicing because of you before our God?

Hmmmm. Joy.

Joy is something I find a very interesting subject.

I would suggest that we, as the modern evangelical American church, actually know very little about this thing the Bible calls joy. I rather suspect we confuse it with happiness. I have lamented for years that I found in my own heart very little of this thing the Bible calls joy – as I pondered over the fruit of the Spirit in Gal 5:22-24, I felt I could say I had grown in each of the fruits – except joy. I remember knowing a man years ago who was described as “joyless and grim.” I feared in reality that was me. I could certainly find joy in my heart as I thought about the Lord, about salvation, grace, Heaven, my wife, my children, and so on, but as I turned to survey my own life, it just seemed like the overwhelming sense was pain.

So at one point, I actually prayed that the Lord would teach me something, change me somehow, and actually let me know something of this thing He calls joy.

I’m very happy (no pun intended) to say that He has answered that prayer. I actually have begun to have a sense of this thing He calls joy. It is perhaps only a flicker, but it is there nonetheless, a window of His light in the darkness of this world.

As I ponder the verse before me, I actually think I see the commonality with what I’ve discovered in my own life. I’ll see if I can articulate it. Paul is here “rejoicing in all the joy” he has because of the Thessalonians. He wants to give thanks to God, and the joy he’s having is “in the presence of God.” First of all, why are the Thessalonians giving him such joy? It is because their lives, their faith, their love are to a large extent exactly what they should be. The pattern is right. And I would suggest it isn’t simply that they’re doing what Paul thinks they should, therefore they make him “happy.” It is much larger than that.

God has a pattern. He created us. He created our world. In a sense, righteousness is just us conforming our lives to that pattern. And conformance to that pattern makes the world seem “right” to us. We like to think we’re “free” and can make it all be what we want it to be. But there will only be “joy” when it all fits God’s pattern. That is because nothing else can work. This is God’s world, not ours. Our world will only make sense, it will only fit together in a soul-pleasing way when it follows God’s pattern.

And other people can be a source of great joy to us, when their lives are fitting God’s pattern. It might make us “happy” if they “do what we want,” but they will actually give us “joy” when it is all right, when they’re doing “right.” As Paul hears Timothy’s report, he experiences great joy because he hears the Thessalonians are doing right.

And it is of monumental significance that Paul sees the thanks going to God and that his joy is “in the presence of God.” The whole business of “right” only makes sense with God in the middle.  Leave Him out and the whole world is a tossing sea of conflicting opinions and meaningless events. Include Him and only then can it all “make sense.” And this is where I see this verse connecting with what I myself have been learning. I see now that I have always thought of all of this as “my life,” that I was living “my life” and I needed God to step in and help me with it all. “My life” was such a precarious thing. It seemed a considerable struggle to try to make it all fit together, to make it all work out, and by and large, it simply didn’t. As I said above, it has always seemed to me to just be too much of a world of pain.

But what I’ve been learning is that it isn’t “my life.” It is His life. It’s not a matter that I need Him to step in and help me with my world. It’s a matter of me being a part of what He’s doing in His world. And the truly wonderful – even joyous – thing about His world is that, in it, everything fits together. In His world, even the pain is for a grand, eternal purpose. Even the “wrong” of this world is only allowed because He, in His unfathomable wisdom, sees some good purpose in it.

For example, the crucifixion of Jesus was the greatest wrong we humans ever committed. It was tragic that such a great and good man was ruthlessly murdered, that the Jewish people killed their own long-awaited Messiah. But that is how we see it in “our” world. In God’s world, He Himself was providing the eternal salvation of the entire human race. From Peter or John or Mary’s perspective, it was a horrible, dark day in “their” lives. But in God’s world it was the greatest day in human history. They couldn’t have been happy about what was happening, but, if only they could have seen it all through God’s eyes they could have, like Jesus Himself, “for the joy that was set before Him” endured the Cross, endured that day, and actually seen the joy of how it all fit perfectly in God’s world.

The Thessalonians brought great joy to Paul because their lives were right. And it was a joy to Him specifically because Paul could see it all as a part of the wonderful world God Himself has created and over which He reigns.

Like the Thessalonians, you and I can be a “joy” to others when we’re sincerely trying to let Jesus live through us, when we’re ordering our lives according to the pattern He desires – His pattern of faith and love. And we ourselves will find joy only as we deliberately choose to see all of this as part of His world, as we try to live minute by minute seeking to be part of what He is doing, not just living “our” lives and hoping He helps us with it all.

In Him it all makes sense.

In Him we can actually know joy.