Wednesday, July 12, 2017

I Thessalonians 4:9,10 – “To Know Him”


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

9But you are not having a need [for us] to write to you concerning brotherly love, for you yourselves are God-taught ones into the love (agape) of one another and 10for you are doing this into all the brothers in all of Macedonia. But we are urging you, brothers, to abound more and more,

As I related in my last post, I think it is a tragedy that modern Christianity (at least in America, the only place I know) has so far departed from its basic charge to love, and, in particular, in light of this passage, the charge to love each other. Jesus told His disciples to love each other and the early church did it so well, even the unbelieving sceptics marveled at them.

How could we have wandered so far? Could I suggest the problem is that we’ve lost touch with God’s heart? As a generation, we don’t seek Him with any vigor, and therefore we don’t find Him. I fear we’re too content with our church going traditions and simply don’t invest the effort to really know Him.

I sense this in my own heart as I look at this passage. It certainly wouldn’t be true of me to say I’m known for how much I love my fellow Christians. How could that be? I read Zeph 3:17 again, “The Lord your God in the midst of you is mighty; He will save, He will rejoice over you with joy; He will rest in His love, He will joy over you with singing,” and can’t say I see other believers through those eyes. As I studied vv3-8, I realized I really don’t see the whole sex issue through God’s eyes. As I said there, I’m willing to just accept that sex outside marriage is wrong, but I realize I don’t really see it through God’s eyes. And then, in that passage it mentioned how God has called us to live a “holy” life. I’ve lamented before that I don’t think we really even know anymore what “holy” means. The Seraphim see God and cry out, “Holy, holy, holy!” Do any of us really even know what it is that so enraptures them? Really? They obviously know exactly what “holy” is and when they see it in God’s divine perfection, it moves them to cry out! Again, I don’t think we even know what it is.

So we don’t see other believers through God’s eyes, we don’t see the matter of sex through God’s eyes, and we don’t even know what holiness is any more.

So do we really know God?

I for one don’t think I know Him well enough. I’m ashamed that I don’t really know His heart on such basic issues as these. I’m ashamed that after 40 years of “knowing” Him, I don’t do a very good job of seeing the world through His eyes.

All I can do is tell Him that, tell Him I am genuinely sorry I’ve learned so little, and ask Him to help me truly know Him, know His heart, see the world through His eyes.

He deserves people who really, sincerely want to know His heart.

I hope I can become more that kind of person and maybe, if you’ve stumbled across these feeble scratchings, maybe you’d be encouraged too to pray to know Him better.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

I Thessalonians 4:9,10 – “Yikes!”


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

9But you are not having a need [for us] to write to you concerning brotherly love, for you yourselves are God-taught ones into the love (agape) of one another and 10for you are doing this into all the brothers in all of Macedonia. But we are urging you, brothers, to abound more and more,

Hmmmm. I actually think these two little verses are a bombshell … and I’m not sure what to do with it.

What do I mean? Note here Paul is commending the Thessalonian church for their very evident love for each other and for all the other believers in their country. Paul, and everyone else, could see this love. It was observable and undeniable. Such love for each other was a characteristic of not just the Thessalonians, but of the early church as a whole. One man wrote, “In the second century the scoffing Lucian declared: ‘It is incredible to see the ardour with which the people of that religion help each other in their wants. They spare nothing. Their first legislator has put it into their heads that they are all brethren.’”

What is bothering me is that neither Paul’s words in I Thess 4:9,10, nor the “scoffing” Lucian’s are true at all anywhere today (at least in America, which is the only country I know). Where is it true that believers are known for their love for each other?

I have long been convinced that in Jesus’ words to the church at Ephesus, “You’ve left your first love,” He was actually not speaking of their love for Him, but for each other. I know the entire church today, it would seem, preaches, teaches, sings about, and is quite convinced that those words in Rev 2:4 refer to Christians having lost their “first love” for Christ. But, if we let the Bible speak for itself, and ask the question, “What was the ‘first love’ of the Ephesians,” then go back to the book of Ephesians, we find the only love specifically mentioned was their love for each other.

In America, I’m afraid we have not “left” our first love (for each other), we never had it!

Where can we go today to find Christians who are actually known, even among unbelievers, for their love for each other? In all my life, I’ve never seen anything even remotely resembling such a thing. Churches are all about their services, about busy things they call “ministries,” about their “positions” on important doctrinal issues or, in the public arena, moral issues. But where could Lucian look today that would move him to say, “It is incredible to see the ardour with which the people of that religion help each other in their wants...”?

Paul’s admonition to the Thessalonians is to do so “more and more.” What about us who never started?

Frankly, it makes my head spin.

Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.”

John later wrote, “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death” (I John 3:14).

Yikes!

Where it all circles back to, of course, is my own heart. I have to ask the question, “Am I any different?” I don’t think anyone would say of me, “See how much he loves other Christians!!?”

How can this be? How can we truly know God and love Jesus and be so utterly devoid of what He says is the most basic outward evidence of His presence in our lives?

In Zeph 3:17, it says, “The Lord your God in the midst of you is mighty; He will save, He will rejoice over you with joy; He will rest in His love, He will joy over you with singing.” I wonder if, at the root of it all, the problem is that we don’t see each other through those eyes? The Lord “joys” over His people “with singing.” That is not only talking about me, but about every single other person who is a believer. Do I see them that way? Are they “precious” in my sight?

Hmmmmm. I suspect there is some really deep festering I need the Lord to help me see and change. God in Heaven, help me to see the sin in my heart and repent of it. I can’t change anyone else, but at least change me.

Yikes!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

I Thessalonians 4:3-8 – “Through His Eyes”


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

3For this is God’s desire, your sanctification, [that] you keep yourself from sexual sin, 4[that] each of you know to acquire his own vessel (body, wife?) in sanctification and honor, 5not in a passion of lust just as also the peoples who do not know God, 6not to overstep and take advantage in the matter his brother, because [the] Lord [is][the] avenger concerning all of these things, just as also we said before and solemnly warned you; 7for God did not call us upon uncleanness but in holiness. 8Therefore, the one rejecting [this instruction] is not rejecting man but God who gives into you His Holy Spirit.

I’ve been pondering this passage for quite a while but don’t feel I’ve yet really gotten in touch with God’s heart. Sometimes it comes as I type, so I think I’ll just give it a whirl.

I could comment on the precise meaning(s) of the word porneia, which I’ve translated “sexual sin.” We also could join the debate of whether the “vessel” mentioned is a person’s own body or a man’s wife. We could also debate whether the “overstepping” and “taking advantage” is still talking about sexual sin (which I think it is) or whether it is just a general prohibition against harming others. However, since gallons of ink have already been spilled in those discussions, I may not take the time.

What really stands out to me and what I’ve been pondering is that, obviously, sexual sin is a really big deal to God. In the passage before us, it’s a matter of “sanctification and honor” versus “passions of lust” and “not knowing God.” It’s a sin of “overstepping” and “taking advantage.” It’s something over which the Lord Himself takes the position of “Avenger!” It’s something concerning which, even in his short stay, Paul had “solemnly warned” the Thessalonians. It’s a matter of “uncleanness” versus “holiness;” and we are sternly warned that rejection (more likely minimalizing, in our culture) of this teaching is a direct affront to God Himself. Finally, and probably the trump card is the fact that God has given to us His Holy Spirit – that in salvation, the very Third Person of the Trinity has taken up residence in the very bodies which we may or may not involve in this activity that so deeply offends God.

Woosh.

What bothers me is that, way down deep in my heart, I realize it doesn’t bother me that much. Of course it’s “wrong.” Every Christian knows that. It’s one of the Ten Commandments! Early in my Christian life, I learned to “look away.” All these years the Lord has helped me to stay away from pornography (for which I thank Him from the bottom of my heart). While we were dating, my wife and I took all of this very seriously and the first time I kissed her was when the minister said, “You may now kiss your bride.”

I think I can honestly say I’ve taken the matter seriously pretty much my entire Christian life.

But that has been from the perspective of simply, “It’s wrong.”

Somewhere I ran across the quote, “When men forbear vice, though they do not hate it, this may be the sinner’s motto, ‘Fain I would, but I dare not.’ Here is no change of heart. Sin is curbed, but not cured; …” When I ran across the quote, I copied it, because I thought to myself, “That is exactly what is bothering me.” I “forbear” the vice, but I “do not hate it.” As the writer says, “Here is no change of heart.” “Sin is curbed, but not cured.”

I guess what I am saying is that it simply is not enough for me any more to know what’s “right” or “wrong.” I want to know God’s heart. I want to see the “right” and “wrong” through His eyes. I want to see my life, my world through His eyes.

Up to this point, I don’t think I have ever seen sexual sin through His eyes. It’s just “wrong.” But again, way down deep in my heart, I don’t necessarily see what’s so “wrong” about it. At some point in my life I observed that immorality almost invariably hurts children – from the problems caused by unwed pregnancies to the effects of unfaithfulness on families – and so I reasoned that is a huge part of why God so hates this sin – because it ultimately hurts children while God really, really, really loves children. And I still think that’s true. More recently, our pastor has pointed out that sex is about the oneness of marriage and all sexual sin undermines that unique oneness that God intends. (By the way, I think he’s right and one way or another that thought will prove significant – when I do figure it out). But all of that said, I still don’t find in my heart the loathing of this sin which I know is true of God’s heart.

And that is what is bothering me. I want to see it through His eyes.

Once again, we could catalog all the pain and heartache sexual sin creates in this world. There are the sexually transmitted diseases people pass around, some incurable, and some, like AIDS, even fatal. Unfaithfulness has destroyed countless marriages, whether it was just the destroyed relationships or actual divorces. There’s not enough paper in the world to record the heartaches of children conceived/born out of wedlock and never knowing the security and warmth of growing up in a home with their own two parents, with their own full-blooded brothers and sisters. And we could go on.

All of that is horrible to recount, but does it pin down what God is seeing? I don’t think so, because a person could look at all of that and say, “You just need to be careful. As long as two consenting adults are careful, as long as they ‘use protection,’ as long as they aren’t married to someone else … what’s the harm?” Basically they could be saying, “As long as you guard against the potentially negative consequences, what’s so bad about it?” Right now my only reply would have to be “because it’s wrong.”

In a sense that is enough. It’s been “enough” for me for 35 years of marriage and it will be “enough” whether I figure out the “why?” or not. Obviously it is a big deal to God and I will go on making the fact that “it’s wrong” a big deal in my own heart and life. I love my God and if it bothers Him, then I just won’t do it. If it pleases Him that I keep my heart glued to my beautiful wife, then that’s what I’ll do. He showed me Prov 5:19 years ago: “…Be ravished always by her love.” As a young man and as I studied those words I found that “ravished” is a Hebrew word that literally means to be “intoxicated,” “to be unable to walk a straight line”, and “love” is actually “lovings.” Both the context and the verse itself are intensely sexual and I realized what the Lord was telling me was to keep myself crazy about this girl, to let my head explode over the thought of her, and that has been a huge protection to me all these years. As long as a man stays crazy about his wife, the rest of the world may be full of very beautiful and very alluring women, but who cares? I’m married to an angel who must have fallen out of Heaven! The thought of her sets off the Fourth of July in my head. The rest just really don’t matter.

But for all of this, still, in some sense, I am the sinner of whom the man wrote, “Sin is curbed, but not cured…” The approach of “It’s wrong” works I guess, but still, I wish I really understood God’s heart. I wish I could see it through His eyes.

This post is probably already too long, but, for the record, I want to consider I Cor 6:12-20. This is the most extensive passage I can find in the Bible where God is actually sharing His heart on this subject. It reads:

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit. Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”

Okay. Here’s the thing. These nine verses actually tell us what God thinks. We can set aside all our other “reasons” why we think “it’s wrong,” and just listen to God. Obviously, to me from this passage, in God’s eyes our bodies, in and of themselves, are important to Him, and He sees them as a tool by which we accomplish “oneness” – whether it be physically with another person, or spiritually with the Lord Himself. The problem with sexual sin is that it violates God’s plan for oneness. Apparently, “oneness” is extremely important to His heart, and He sees our bodies as tools to accomplish it. Somehow, sex is more than just two bodies together. Somehow it creates a “oneness” of the two people that, in God’s eyes, is more than what we see. Obviously, from the rest of the Bible, it is a very good thing within marriage, but it is very bad in any other context.

Hmmmmmm. I think that is it. I’m just not sure I really comprehend it all. I think I will just let those thoughts settle into my brain, that I will try to think on those things rather than just the “it’s wrong” as I have the temptations swirling around me all day every day, and see how it all develops. Maybe if I do, I can begin to see the whole matter through God’s eyes.

I hope so. His heart is always a big huge heart full of love. Knowing His heart allows me myself to have a bigger heart of love – even if that includes understanding the “wrong” in the world. Knowing His heart should allow me to be able to say “It’s wrong” while still loving people, even the ones who may be very “wrong.”

God give us Your heart.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

All of My Days


I just turned 60 in April. This morning I ran across the following thoughts I typed at age 50. Interesting how, after 10 years, I've absorbed the encouragement into my life, but would not have remembered when or where I learned it. In the hope it might be encouraging to you too, I am posting it:

There is something I’ve been struggling with for quite some time.  At the age of 50 and looking back, I feel like I have made so many bad choices and have so many regrets.  I think when I accepted the Lord at age 22, I thought following Him would help me make good choices and I wouldn’t have to live with a lot of painful regrets.  But now here I am at 50 and sometimes the memories of it all just about suffocate me.  I would still like to think this isn’t necessary.  But I’m writing this with the strong suspicion that my problem is “common to man.”  Since we are sinners, it is probably inevitable that as the years go by we almost can’t help but accumulate a realization that we’ve taken too many wrong turns and then have to suffer the painful consequences we’ve earned and inflicted on others.

This is all, of course, acknowledged while at the same time being deeply grateful to the Lord for more blessing than I could have ever dreamed.  In spite of all my foolishness, I find myself “compassed about with blessing.”  I can’t argue at all that I am anything but enormously blessed today.  My years have been blessed with a wonderful family, with many really, really special Christian people, with good jobs with great people, with all these times when the Lord has taught and showed me, and all the times He has met me in the way with some little cordial of kindness that gave me strength to carry on.

But with all that acknowledged, still, there are these awful regrets, bad decisions, mis-guided choices, etc., etc.  What do I do with this ugly little monster that follows me around and relentlessly tries to steal the joy of all my blessing?

The Lord showed me something this week that really, really helps me.  It is found in Psalm 139:16:

All the days ordained for me
       were written in Your book
       before one of them came to be.

All of the days,”  “before one of them came to be.”  They were “written in Your book.”

Every one of my days was ordained by God(!).  That includes the days when I was making bad choices.  In fact it even stretches back to before I was saved.  Talk about bad choices!  But even if God had to weave my bad decisions into the tapestry, still He has always had me securely in His eternal wise control.  Somehow, He knew He had to let me make those bad choices.  Somehow they either served to teach me something or get me some place where He could teach me.  Whatever was going on, it all adds up to His glory.  Of course, I’m still accountable for my bad choices. I still have to live with their consequences. I’m still sorry for how they’ve hurt other people. I still want to learn from them and make better choices.  But it is so encouraging to be able to kind of “sweep” my past “under the rug” of God’s goodness.  Somehow, in that light, the memories still hurt, but not in the depressing, joy-stealing way they have for so long.  Hmmmm.  The joy of the Lord is my strength(!).  That really, really helps.  All of the days …”

He is so good.  How does any one live without Him?  Maybe I’m weird in that I’m always asking these questions, wrestling with these thoughts.  I guess whether I am or not, I do wrestle with them.  Whether or not I’m weird, I can say without a doubt that God is faithful.  He said, “Ask, and it shall  given you …”  “Call unto Me and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things you know not.”  One of the joys of my life is these times when the Lord shows me these things that not only answer my question but also encourage me so much.

Thank you, Lord.  You are so good.  Do help me make better choices.   But most of all, help me to see You, to love You, to trust You, and to let You be my joy.  You’re awesome.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

I Thessalonians 4:3 – “Your Wish Is …”


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

3For this is the will of God, your sanctification …

I’ve been studying this passage all the way down to verse 8. As a unit of course it is addressing the issue of sexual purity, but I’d like to pause at the gate, so to speak, and record some thoughts about these first few words. And I don’t believe my thoughts at all extraneous to a proper understanding of the whole passage. Here’s what I’m thinking:

“The will of God” – what kind of images do those words conjure in your mind? As a Christian cliché, of course, we can all act like the words are a warm fuzzy, talk about it, preach about it, sing about it. But I think to too many people, the real truth is that the words invoke thoughts of harsh rules, of God’s sternness. Even at the head of a passage about sexual purity, it’s easy to see it as, “Okay, now God’s going to lay down the law. Everybody straighten up. No more fun.” “The will of God” – ultimately He’s the great “Cosmic Kill-Joy.” I strongly suspect from listening to and observing other people and from tracing the progress of my own spiritual growth, that this underlying attitude is a huge part of why so many even Christian people give so little attention to the Word and invest so little of their hearts in actually knowing God. Hopefully I can explain what I mean.

What is this verse really talking about? The Greek word for “will” here is a noun form of the verb thelo, which fundamentally means “to desire.” There is another Greek word boulomai which is a very close synonym to thelo, but means fundamentally “to purpose.” Even in English, the two thoughts significantly overlap. If I “desire” something, or wish it, that very easily spills into “purposing” or resolving that I will do it. On the other hand, the normal reason I “purpose” to do something is because in some way I “desire” or wish it. So the two concepts significantly overlap. However, even in English, they do not mean exactly the same thing. I can “desire” something, but for whatever reason, choose not to pursue it. On the other hand, I can resolve to do something, even though I personally may not find it desirable. (That of course happens all the time at work!) So, although intimately related, there is a difference between “desiring” and “purposing,” and I hope to show that understanding the difference is integrally important to our relationship with God.

Now, I need to (quickly) inject here the acknowledgment that I am on very thin ice. If a person does any amount of research on their own on these two words, thelo and boulomai, “desire” and “purpose,” they’ll find a good deal of what is written which would say they are essentially synonyms, that there is no difference in meaning. I beg to differ even though I’m reminded of John Eadie’s words, “Interpretations are generally false in proportion to their ingenuity.” I have been watching the two words for nearly 40 years and, in every occurrence I have ever observed, if you let the two words retain their distinctive meaning, the passages would make perfect sense, in fact even better sense. And so, deeply aware of John Eadie’s warning, I remain convinced what I’m saying is true – though very similar and possessing considerable overlap, the words are different.

“So what?” you ask. Well, the phrase “the will of God” in the Bible invariably is the word thelo, and so could be translated, “the desire of God.” When the word occurs in the Bible, whatever He’s talking about, He hasn’t necessarily “purposed” anything. It is expressing His desire, like when Paul told Timothy the Lord “wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (I Tim 2:4). It is expressing His desire, not necessarily His purpose. What we’re talking about with the “will” of God is actually understanding His heart. As a person who has been captivated by His grace and love, when I hear the “desire” of God, I immediately want to know what it is and I’ve already embraced it, whatever it is, because I love Him. This is relationship stuff. I would like to suggest, the idea of “the will of God” being a stern list of all the harsh do’s and don’ts comes from a heart that isn’t loving Him. When we’re in love, it isn’t hard to say, “Your wish is my command.”

I’d like to reinforce this with some more word study. One verse that really demonstrates this is Hebrews 10:7, which is a NT quote based on Psalm 40:8. In the NT it says, “Then I said, ‘Here am I … I have come to do Your will.’” The “will” here is a thelo noun. This of course is Jesus speaking, and He is telling the Father that He has come to do His will. What He is saying is that He has come to do what the Father desires. Again, it is a “Your wish is my command” sort of expression.

This is even more apparent looking at the verse in its Hebrew original in Psalms. There it says, “I desire to do Your will, O my God; Your law is within my heart.” “Will” in Hebrew is the word ratzon and actually means “pleasure, delight, favor.” Jesus is saying to the Father, “I desire to do whatever pleases and even delights You.” And what is even more interesting is that the word translated “desire” itself speaks of delight. Jesus is saying, “I delight to do Your will.” It is the Hebrew word kafatz, which, as a verb, means “to delight in, to be pleased with, to desire.” And it even goes a little deeper than that. TWOT says, “In the case of kafatz, the object solicits favor by its own intrinsic qualities. The subject is easily attracted to it because it is desirable … [the word] means ‘to experience emotional delight.’” Jesus is saying He Himself sees the Father’s will – what the Father desires and delights in – as something very desirable and delightful to Him! The verse could be translated, “I delight to do whatever delights You.”

I hope by this point, anyone reading this can see that what is going on here is an intense love relationship. This is not the expression of a groveling servant bowing to the commands of His harsh, demanding king. The people who know their God find in Him an ever growing love relationship and, the more and more we see how good and wise He is, the more we realize that whatever He has planned, whatever He wishes of us, is not only good, but actually desirable and even delightful! We delight to do His will. We delight to do what delights Him. As it says in Psalms 1:2 of the godly man, “His delight is in the Law of the Lord.”

Back to our passage in I Thessalonians, Paul announces, “This is the will of God for you …” As he goes on to explain exactly what that is, will we hear it groveling or will we hear it with hearts wide open, eager  and even delighted to hear whatever it is that our good, loving God wishes of us?

Once again, it is all about relationship. Grace sets us free to fall into the arms of this wonderful Savior God and King. Grace means life is simply not about some list of rules we must bow to. Grace means it is about knowing the heart of my Lover and actually finding delight in whatever He desires, conforming my life to what I know He wishes. Love means His wish is our command – and we’re happy about it!

Monday, May 29, 2017

I Thessalonians 4:1,2 – “More and More”


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

1Finally, therefore, brothers, we are asking and urging you in the Lord Jesus, that, just as you received from us how you ought to be walking (just as you are walking) and pleasing God, that you should abound more and more, 2for you know what commands we gave to you through the Lord Jesus.

I’ve been pondering these two verses for a while specifically because I fear they’re the kind of words which are easily skimmed over. If we’re not careful, these two verses could be read as clichés. What do I mean? In a sense, the words are so familiar, it’s easy, without even intending to, to just assume, “I’ve got this, of course,” and read on. Try reading them again. Sure they’re familiar, but what do they mean … really? Do you know? And whatever they mean, are you doing it? These are the questions I’ve been asking myself. One man also observed this problem and said of these very verses, “…having been bred up from our cradle in the knowledge and understanding of our Christian duty, we are apt to fancy ourselves familiar with the practice of it too. We are convinced in our minds that we know it well enough; and this of itself inclines us to be too soon satisfied with our accustomed way of doing it.”

For whatever it’s worth, this is precisely why I study the Bible … and by “study” I mean slowing down, stopping, and trying to ponder over every single verse. I also try to be constantly reading the Bible from cover to cover. I manage to get all the way though it about every two and half years. I like to do that reading, hoping it gives me a constantly broad view of what the Bible teaches (and what it does not). But I find I also need this time where I stop and linger over specific passages. I need to do exactly this – to fight this tendency to find it “familiar” and, as the fellow said, “… to be too soon satisfied with our accustomed way of doing it.” This is God’s world, not mine or ours. As we would read the Bible, we must all resolve not to be so “soon satisfied” but rather be resolved to know the mind of God, to deliberately hold up our lives to the standard of His Word, and to strive to live our lives according to His heart – not our familiar and perhaps comfortable notions of what Christianity should be.

I like Bishop Westcott’s thoughts on these verses: “Are we able to pause in the solemn stillness of thought till we are alone with God, and to offer ourselves to the fire of His love; that so little by little all may be consumed in us--all passion and pride, all self-seeking and self-trust--which does not minister to His glory, which does not, that is, make clearer to men His infinite perfection?”

“Pause in the solemn stillness of thought …”

And so I linger here.

First of all, I note Paul reminds the Thessalonians of “how you received from us how you ought to walk and please God” and that what they “received” was “commands we gave to you through the Lord Jesus.” In their (the Thessalonians’) case, their instructors had been careful to only teach what was truly from the Lord Jesus. Even as I type those words, I wonder who can say that today? I fear such teaching is almost non-existent, that the church of today has turned into a colossal “bait and switch,” to a place where people are drawn in with talk of God and Jesus and Heaven, then fed traditions and standards and expectations which simply have no basis in the Bible. Paul could say with confidence, what we taught you was directly from God Himself. It was His truth. They were His commands. Again, I wonder if anyone can honestly say that today.

And, once again, this is why I study the Bible. I don’t want to feed on other people’s ideas of who God is and what He desires of me. I want to know that the “truth” I’m believing is true truth. I must say, I appreciate my pastor and anyone else who teaches the Bible, but, especially today, we’d better all be Bereans – listen well then go home and study our own Bible and “see whether these things are so.” Whether we’ve received the “commands through the Lord Jesus” or not, it is, in the end, our own responsibility to know God and walk with Him. Here in America, we all know how to read. Why shouldn’t we read the Bible for ourselves? And here in America we have all kinds of helps and tools available, so why shouldn’t we all be studiers? I say we can and we should. And so we study on. Lord help us not to be simply “familiar” with the Bible but to be constantly resolved to know it better.

Next I notice what it’s all about is their “walk.” It is their “walk” which Paul wants them to consider. He had instructed them “how they ought to walk” and he commends them that, in fact, they are so “walking,” and wants them to do this “more and more.” Stop and ponder for a minute, what is a person’s “walk?” It is, of course, how they live, what they do, the kind of person they are all day every day wherever they go. That’s their “walk.” That is the “walk” where we ought to know and follow “the commands through the Lord Jesus” and where we ought to “please God.” All day every day. Not just at the church building. Not just during services or involved with ministries. All day every day. At our jobs. Driving down the road. Brushing our teeth. Paying for our groceries. Calling AT&T about our phone problem. Dealing with the sewer backup in our basement. And on and on and on and on and on. That’s life. Our own individual “walk.” Once again, Lord help us not to be satisfied with the ways we’ve hopefully let the Word impact our daily walk. Help us see those times, those situations, those places in our life where perhaps we just haven’t made the connection between faith and the person we are.

And notice the “more and more.” In 3:12 Paul had wished for them that the Lord would “… cause you to increase and abound in love toward one another and toward everyone.” Now he again wants them to “abound more and more.” In 4:10, he’ll commend them for their brotherly love and then say, “Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more.”  “More and more.” Can I just inject the thought that this is one of the wonders of grace? Truly knowing Jesus isn’t simply another religion, another set of rules – it is a living, breathing relationship of knowing this beautiful Savior who died and rose again specifically to call me to Himself and to save my soul and to actually redeem me – to gather up the mess of who I am and to patiently, kindly, work with me day by day by day to show me His love and teach me how to live it myself. This is precisely why real faith is a “more and more” thing. Every experience of His grace I enjoy only makes me want more. Every time I try to trust Him and then experience how utterly amazing He is – it only makes me want to trust Him more. And every time He actually helps me to love others and I get to watch and see the good He brings about – it only makes me want me to love more and more. I ask, is that not true of all real relationships? To know my wife and every single minute I get to spend with her only makes me want to know her more, to spend more time with her. I love the words from the old hymn, “Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes.” Yes. Lord give us more and more of You – and may more and more of You translate into more and more of a grace walk for us.

Lord, help us to be deliberate about building our lives on Your Word, and may our daily lives – all day every day – be pleasing in Your sight. May we really know You and trust You and love in a “more and more” relationship that makes us more and more like You.

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!