Practical Proverbial, from 2 Thessalonians, 13 August 2018

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 (NIV).

Have you noticed that Paul likes flowery benedictions?   He does this in most of his letters; why?  Simple:   praise and encouragement.

In these verses, (as you can see) that theme of encouragement is especially prevalent.  Think about it:  in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, he spent considerable time teaching about patterns of living in a pagan world (which was what Asia Minor largely was).   In this second letter, Paul used his time to talk about the end of times and the persecution that would happen.   Persecution was a subject his friends in Thessalonica would understand because they lived in a Roman world hostile to the nascent Christian faith.  Their city was a cosmopolitan trade hub, the largest city between Rome and Byzantium and they saw first-hand the worst the Empire could offer.  They were familiar with the brutality lashed out against anyone who ‘made waves.’   And they were familiar with people who had known Jesus of Nazareth personally, had seen and heard Him, in person and had followed Him and His teachings in the few short decades since He departed.

If you or I lived in first century Asia Minor, we might need some encouragement, too.

That’s why Paul moves to end his letter this way.   He gives praise to God, stating the reason we should do so (“who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope”), then prays encouragement over the reader (the rest of the verse).

By the time Paul ministered to the new church in Thessalonica, that city was already almost 400 years old; today it is nearly 2400 years old and is the second largest city in Greece.  His friends there understood that they would need to praise God and be encouraged in the time to come because persecution would indeed come.   Within 20 years, all the apostles except one would be murdered (including Paul), and the church scattered.   Those who held onto believing in this Jesus would need to focus on praising Him in adversity while being encouraged by constantly learning and re-learning the truth of His encouragement.

Two millenia later, have things really changed?  Thessalonica is still a major city.   Some people still follow Jesus while most of the world does not.  People overseas are still dying for Christian faith and people here are blacklisted for it.  And the gospel is still on the move, teaching about God’s grace and His eternal encouragement of how His eternity matters most here and in the here to come.  I’d say Paul’s flowery benediction has served well.

For further reading:  Philippians 4:20, John 3:16, 1 Thessalonians 3:2, 2 Thessalonians 3:1.

Lord Jesus, thank You for these words you inspired Paul to share.   Let them encourage people to faith in You today.

Advertisements

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 28 June 2018

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.  1 Thessalonians 5:28 (NIV).

What a great way to end a letter!   Read it again:   it’s the perfect way to end a letter to several dozen of your close friends.

Or several billion.

Or to begin your day.

Or to bless your dinner.

Or to greet someone at WalMart (go ahead:   try it!).

Or…or…you get the picture.

Next time you say goodbye, invoke the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ into their lives until you meet again.

In fact, shouldn’t this benediction be on your lips at all times?   When we really love someone, when we adore them, when we care enough to send the very best (including a Hallmark), shouldn’t we be blessing them with the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ to be with them?  At or near the end of Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon, Paul uses nearly identical words to bless his readers with the grace of Jesus.   He uses slightly different words in Colossians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus.  The message:   Jesus is the perfect way to end a letter.

Or begin your day…or bless your dinner…or, again, you get the picture.

We can’t do any better than the grace of Jesus Christ.   It’s the grace of Christ that created us, then breathed life into us.   It is the grace of Christ that sustains us in breath, blood and bone every day.   It is by the grace of Jesus that we live and GET TO LIVE every day.   It is by the grace of Jesus that we get eternal life after this one, and that we get to be part of that eternity now.   It is through the grace of Jesus Christ that we can love.

If you could send a Hallmark to your very best friend, wouldn’t you want to end it by giving them the best you had to give?   That’s what Paul is saying here (and in all those other letters).   This was serious stuff to Paul who, just the verse prior to this one, had implored his friends to read the letter to others.   Back then, it wasn’t broken up into numbered verses; back then, Paul probably though people wouldn’t memorize his words.   But he knew that God had spoken through them and that they were important.   They were words that God wanted us to remember.

So it only follows that Paul would end the letter with a benediction that blesses the reader with the present grace of the God-man, Jesus, who lives and reigns with the Holy Spirit, one God forever.  With that thought, Paul closes out his letter and so shall we.

See you next time.

For further reading: Romans 16:20, 2 Thessalonians 1:1.

Lord Jesus, bless me with Your wonderful grace today that I might share it with others.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 25 June 2018.

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 Christ1 Thessalonians 5:23 (NIV).

This is a tall order.   Admit it:  you can’t do this on your own; I know I can’t.   I’m betting quite a few people are better than I am at behaving themselves and at resisting temptation.  There are quite a few people who wouldn’t give a second thought to the pet sins that have plagued my life.   But the dirty secret is that there are many of THEIR pet sins that wouldn’t interest me in the slightest yet these may be very real struggles for them.   Everyone has a vice, even the folks we consider to be upright or pious.   Gambling, porn, drinking, marijuana, profanity, power, gossip, pride; pick one or name another.  Got skin, got sin.

Which is why Paul ends his letter with this benediction.   He doesn’t end with “prayers and positive thoughts to you” or “thinking of you” or “best wishes, pal.”   He invokes the tangible, real presence of the all powerful creator in the daily lives of his friends.   He asks for, even implores, God’s real action in their lives.   And he prays for this over his friends, asking that God set them apart as pure, then preserve everything about them to keep them blameless.

Paul knows his friends will be tempted; he has just written about how evil will always work to tempt us and how we must reject it.   Paul understands that his fellow believers are sinners like himself.   Paul realizes that they can’t be blameless in God’s presence without God Himself making it possible.   So he prays this benediction over them, both requesting for them and reminding them that God gives peace and sanctification.   Only God can do this; only Jesus is the only way.

Hint:   that’s still true.   Paul’s words still resonate with us because they still apply.   The same God who spoke everything into existence through His Son is still abiding with us now.   The same God who watched that Son die on that cross – and felt it all through Him – is still living through us today.   The same God who forgave, sanctified, and strengthened Paul and the Thessalonians 2000 years ago is still doing those things for us today.   We don’t have to do anything to please God; in fact we can’t.   But we do need to see Him through our hearts, to submit to Him and believe Him.   Tall order or not, without God’s presence in our lives, we don’t stand much of a chance against evil.

For further reading:  Romans 15:33, Hebrews 4:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:24.

Lord Jesus, stay with me.   Sanctify me, forgive me, abide with me.   Without You, I am powerless.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Thessalonians, 28 March 2018

Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you.  1 Thessalonians 3:11 (NIV).

Paul closes out this chapter of 1 Thessalonians with a three-part benediction; this is the first part.   Most benedictions are closing statements, but this one is a prayer, and that isn’t unusual for Paul.

Has it ever seemed to you that God closed the way for you to go somewhere, do something?   Were you prevented from going some place you desperately wanted to go?  Was the money just not there, or the schedule didn’t work, or something came up at the last minute?  Was Garth Brooks right in singing that it’s a good thing to thank God for unanswered prayers?

You know how things are.  We think of things we want, we ask God for them, and things don’t turn out the way we want.   Must be God’s fault, right?   God had it in for us!

Not quite.

Indeed, when things don’t turn out the way we want, it’s usually because of us or just the way things happen.   If we’re to blame, we’re to blame.   But if things don’t happen the way we want, that doesn’t mean God is against us, or even that He blocked the way.   What it does mean is that different paths present themselves, and that’s a good thing.   Sometimes they’re from God, sometimes not.   But they’re always opportunities for God.  If the path we wanted isn’t open, then perhaps God has cleared the way for another.  That’s always a good thing, and it’s good to remember that Jesus isn’t indifferent in our lives.

Paul believed in a Lord who was real, present, and active.  He believed that Jesus participated in human affairs from both afar and within us.  This same Jesus had confronted Paul on the road to Damascus, closing one path but opening many others.  Jesus did it in person, in Spirit, in real time.   Is it any wonder, then, that Paul believed – and demonstrated – how Jesus was personally involved in the affairs of his life?   It only follows that Paul would pray for God to open up a path to see his new friends in Thessalonica.

The same is true for us.  The same Jesus is still in and through us in everything we do.   Two thousand years of time are meaningless to the Christ who involves Himself in our comings and goings right now.   He lives through us by moving His Spirit in our minds, hearts and hands.   He acts out in kindness, patience, and understanding.   He breathes, sees, touches with the senses of those who follow Him.   And when it seems like He’s closing a path, He almost always opens the way to another.  That’s no unanswered prayer.

For further reading:   Philippians 4:20, 1 Thessalonians 3:12.

My Lord, I praise and thank You for living in me, for living out through me.