October 31, 2011

Tuesday after the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 90, 1 Kings 22:1-12, James 5:12-20
Evening - Ps. 104, Job 38:1-18, Mt. 17:1-13

Commentary
James 5:12-20

James ends his epistle with several important exhortations. Swearing, in verse 12 does not refer to "cussing," though cussing is an obviously evil thing. It refers to attempting to make an oath more valid by swearing in the name of God, Heaven, angels, or holy things which we have no power to bind by our promises. Such "vain and rash swearing is forbidden Christian men by our Lord Jesus Christ, and James his Apostle" (Articles of Religion XXXIX). Accordingly we Anglicans ask people in baptism and confirmation to promise, rather than swear, and, rather than asking them to attempt to obligate God or anyone else, we simply ask them to respond with "I will, by God's help." This answer is yea or nay. "By God's help" is not an oath in the name of God, but a prayerful confession that the help of God is necessary to enable us to keep our obligation.

Verse 13, though short, gives important directions for much of what happens to us in life. We are often afflicted. At such times let us seek God in prayer. When we are merry, let us sing Psalms to God in our joy. Thus, in joy or sorrow, we come to God. Often, even Christians, facing sorrow we seek relief in things other than God. Rather than prayer, and seeking to know the Biblical way to deal with our troubles, we think a vacation or a new toy will cheer us up. But perhaps the Biblical answer may be to persevere and honour God even in our sorrows. Likewise, in joy, people often forget about God instead of remembering and thanking Him.

Verses14-16 do not guarantee physical healing every time we get sick. They do remind us that the prayers of our friends, and, especially, our ministers, are as important in the treatment of illness as the medications and advice of physicians. We are to call for the minister of the church with as much urgency as we call for the physician. His prayers, which avail much (5:16), are an important part of the means of our cure. Our own prayers are also important, and chief among them is the prayer of confession. This means we are not simply praying that God will heal us so we can go back to business as usual. We are asking that life in the future will be more Godly. We are asking not only to be delivered from suffering, but also, even, especially, that we may serve God more fully in the future.

Verses 17 and 18 continue to urge the sick, and all of us, to pray by reminding us that God answers prayer. If God answered Elijah's prayer to withhold the rain for three years, we may believe He will answer the prayers of those who call upon Him today.

Verses 19 and 20 show that our responsibility for Christian compassion and love requires us to learn and grow from one another. This includes the sermons, liturgies, and Bible studies of the Church, and also our daily discourse with one another. Our conversation should be edifying to our hearers, building them up in the faith. We should also be open to the wisdom of others, who may be able to see things we have overlooked. This does not mean we are to become busy bodies, looking for faults in others and imposing our advice on them. Remember James' earlier warning to be swift to hear and slow to speak. It means that our actions and conversation should be helpful to others by pointing them toward Christ, His Word, and His Church. If God in His grace uses you to help turn someone from error or sin, rejoice, for God has saved a soul from death and forgiven a multitude of sins.

October 30, 2011

Monday after the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.89:1-19, I Kings21:11-22, James 4:13-5:11
Evening - Ps 92, Job 28:12, Mt. 16:13

Commentary
James 4:13-5:11

Continuing in the subject of the difference between "doers of the word" and "hearers only," 4:13-17 shows that hearers only are primarily concerned about money and the comforts and pleasures it can buy. They are worldly rather than Godly. James is not talking here about the openly profane, or about those who use questionable tactics in business. He is talking about people who profess Christ, but whose faith does not move them toward God and Godliness. These people claim to be Christians, but go through life with little care or thought for God. Though such people may be very moral, James says their actions are evil (4:16). In this uncertain world, goods, and even their lives can be taken away from them at any moment (4:14), therefore they should be more concerned about knowing God and seeking Him in all of life, including their business ventures (4:15). They know this, yet do not practice it, thus, they sin (4:17).

In 5:1-6, James turns to the perils of wealth and the evil into which it has led many people. The point of verses 1-3 is that wealth is easily lost. Verses 4-6 show the evil men do to obtain and keep wealth. 7-11 call Christians, and those who have been "hearers only" to turn their attention to the Lord, waiting for the promises of God as the farmer waits for the rains and the harvest (5:7-8). He gives the Old Testament prophets as examples of patient faith, who endured rejection and persecution from their own people, just as Jewish Christians were experiencing in James' time (5:10). He calls Job to their minds as an example of one who, though suffering grief and poverty, remained faithful to God, thus, possessing the greater wealth of God's love and mercy (5:11). The point, of course, is that the Jews who were suffering persecution and loss for the sake of Christ also possess wealth that cannot perish, and even death can't steal, through the tender mercy of the Lord.

October 28, 2011

Saturday after the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.71, 1 Kings 21:1-10, James 4:1-12
Evening - Ps. 93, 98, Job 25:2-6 & 26:6-14, Mt. 16:1-12

Commentary
James 4:1-12

James is still writing about Godliness in the life patterns of Christian people. Elaborating on his statements in verses 2:17 and 18, his point is that real, Biblical faith changes a person and that change is visible, or, expressed, in his actions. By contrast, a false faith, one that is merely an intellectual assent to doctrinal propositions, makes no change in a person. It leaves him in the same old sinful inclinations he was in before he came to believe the propositions. Such unchanged people still lust and war over the things of the world (4:1-2). Their prayers are not prayers of faith that trust God to supply their needs, they are prayers that God will grant them the things for which their hearts lust, so they may consume them in gratification of their lusts (4:1). While Abraham was called the friend of God 2:23, their friendship is with the world, and they are at enmity with God (4:4). It is no wonder, then, that God resists them (4:6) for they resist God.

Thus James encourages his readers to submit to God and resist the devil (4:7). Rather than heedlessly chasing the world, James asks them to draw nigh unto God (4:8) with the same fervour and devotion with which they formerly sought the world. He promises that God will draw nigh to those who seek Him. Verse 9 means to turn completely away from the former things. Let those things for which they were formerly prepared to fight, now become the cause for mourning and heaviness. No more are they to laugh (find pleasure) in sin, but to be filled with sorrow over it. To be humble in the sight of the Lord is to mourn over sin; to confess and turn away from it, and to turn to God as Lord and God. Those who do so will be lifted up out of their degradation and condemnation. They will exalted to Heaven forever (4:10) by the Lawgiver (Christ) who is also the Saviour (4:11-12).

October 27, 2011

Friday after the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 51, 1 Kings 19:9-21, James 3
Evening - Ps. 85, 86, Job 24:1-20, Mt. 15:21

Commentary
James 3

James returns to the subject of bridling the tongue. Why does he spend so much time on this subject? Because the essence of a person is expressed in his words. Remember that James is writing about the life of those who have truly embraced Christ as the Master and Saviour. He is writing about what Paul called being sanctified and transformed into new people. He is writing about living a faithful life (see Jas. 2:14-26 and accompanying notes for Thursday after the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity). The tongue (mouth, words) of a person who is becoming more Godly will express the spirit of Godliness. His mouth is a fountain of sweet water (3:12). His conversation shows wisdom (3:13) and meekness. "Conversation" as used in 3:13 refers to our whole way and pattern of life, not just our words. The Christian's words express his way and pattern of living for Christ, while the unGodly person's express his way and pattern of living in wickedness. In short, our words express our character.

There is also a sense in which our words, and thoughts, form and shape our character. "For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he" (Prov. 23:7). Therefore, if we make an effort to control our words, we are also making an effort to control, and, therefore, change, our character. If, instead of cursing, we bless with our words, we also form a blessing character. We can influence the way we live, and we can develop our character. If we are not making a good faith effort to do so, we are simply allowing the bitterness, envying, and strife of sin to rule us, and if we are allowing sin to rule us, and, at the same time, calling ourselves Christians, we are lying against the truth (3:14). This is one reason why daily Scripture reading is so important. By spending time in the Bible we are attempting to let its words shape our thoughts and characters. We are not simply trying to gain knowledge about the Bible, though such knowledge is very important. We are certainly not merely doing a religious duty, nor are we simply "spending time with God." We are letting the Bible change, and renew our minds. We are letting it shape our values and goals and life-views. We are seeking to become more like Christ in our minds, for that will cause us to be more like Him in our actions and our being. It is to bring our minds into contact with the wisdom that is from above which produces in us peace, gentleness, mercy, and the fruit of righteousness (3:18).

October 26, 2011

Thursday after the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 49, 1 Kings 19:1-8, James 2:14-26
Evening - Ps. 73, Job 21:7-33, Mt. 15:1-20

Commentary
James 2:14-26

Many have thought James teaches salvation by works instead of salvation by grace. Verses 21-25 are the primary verses upon which they base their view. But the point James makes is not that Abraham and Rahab earned Heaven for by doing good works; it is that real, Biblical faith results in good works as naturally as being an apple tree results in apples. James is writing about what Paul calls being transformed (Rom. 12:2), becoming a new kind of creature (2 Cor. 5:17), and sanctification, or becoming more Godly (1 Thess. 4:3). It is the opposite of the mere assent to facts and doctrines, which even devils know (2:19). It is being moved out of knowing about God and into actively doing His will.

If our faith does not express itself in good works (2:18), our faith is dead (2:17, and 20). In other words, if your faith (assent to Christian doctrine) does not move you to faithfulness (seeking to live a Godly life), it is not Christian faith in the Biblical sense at all. It is a corpse, a body without a soul (2:26). So James is trying to tell us to move beyond intellectual belief to love and obedience of God. We do not do good works in order to be saved; we do them because we are saved.

October 25, 2011

Wednesday after the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.44, 1 Kings 18:25-46, James 2:1-13
Evening - Ps. 50, Job 18:5-21, Mt. 14:22

Commentary
James 2:1-13

It is not difficult to grasp the meaning of the words, "have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons." Nor it is difficult to grasp the fact that the Church often, maybe, usually holds the faith with respect of persons. The Love of Christ is for all. The call of the Gospel, and its offer of forgiveness is for all. Nationality, gender, race, and, especially, money, mean nothing to Christ. In His eyes we are all poor, sick, and dirty until we come to Him for riches, health, and cleansing in our souls. "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Mt. 5:3).

Quite obviously, not all wealthy people are wicked oppressors, and not all poor people are Godly. James is not saying they are. He is saying that our concern, as the Church, is for all people alike. There is a saying, "The ground is level at the foot of the cross." It is also level in the Church. If we create distinctions, it is we who err (2:9-13).

October 24, 2011

Tuesday after the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 42, 43, 1 Kings 18:16-24, James 1:22-27
Evening - Ps. 39, Job 14:1-14, Mt. 14:13-21

Commentary
James 1:21-27

Verse 21 tells us what we all know, that hearing the Word of God is not enough. Those who allow the Scriptures to move them to faith and faithfulness are the ones who benefit from the Word. Not surprisingly, James pictures two scenarios; one of the people who merely hear the word, and one of people who hear and do the word.

Those who merely hear the Word will have different reactions. Some will dismiss it entirely to live in unbelief. They may be belligerently anti-Christianity, or they may be mildly respectful of it. Either way, the Word has no home in their lives. But these are not the people James writes to. He writes to people in the visible Church, and he writes to encourage them to live for Christ as He lived, and died, for them. Then, as now, many, maybe even most, who heard the Gospel and made some kind of response of faith in Christ, never really understood the Gospel, and never really had Biblical faith. They may have changed some of their ideas about religion, started attending Church, and maybe even put away some of their more obvious sins; but they never really made any attempt to offer themselves as living sacrifices to God, or to embrace God as their God and His ways as their ways. Like the Laodiceans of Revelation 3:15, they were neither cold nor hot about Christ. So they did their religious "duties" but remained unchanged in their hearts. They did not become Christians, they just added a little Christian flavouring to their lives. James describes them as looking into a mirror, but forgetting what they see as soon as they leave it (1:23-24). The Word, that is, the Scriptures, tells us about ourselves as much as it tells us about God. It tells us of our complete alienation from God due our willful sin. It tells us we are under God's wrath and without excuse, and that our very best works and deeds are but filthy rags compared to Gods' consuming perfection. It tells us of God's love, love so great it compelled Him to become a man and live and die to reconcile us to Himself. It tells us that He offers reconciliation to all who will accept it by faith and return to Him. Yet, those who are hearers only, see themselves in the mirror and walk away unmoved and unchanged.

Those who hear and do the Word, described in verse 25 as the "prefect law of liberty," and "continue therein" are the ones who are blessed. To continue therein is to receive Christ in Biblical faith. It is to confess and repent of sin, and to turn to a life of love for and obedience to God. To be blessed is to receive the gift of forgiveness and salvation.

The chapter closes with an example of hearers and doers in real life (1:26-17). The hearers only do not bridle their tongues. Instead of being slow to speak (1:19) they are swift to speak and bold about voicing their views and desires. Their tongues are not under the control of God, showing that their lives are not either. We will see more of what this means in chapter 3, the reading for this Friday.

The doers of the word are characterised by kindness, compassion, and charity. Visiting orphans and widows in their distress, refers to actively working to relieve their sufferings. Rather than causing hurt and strife by their words, doers of the Word bring balm and relief by their actions. The stinging words of those with unbridled tongues come from a heart ruled by self importance. The kindness that speaks louder than words comes from a heart ruled by the love of Christ.

October 23, 2011

Monday after the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.41, 1 Kings 18:1-15, James 1:12-21
Evening - Ps. 33, Job 12:13-22, Mt. 13:53-14:12

Commentary
James 1:12-21

Today's reading supports the statement made in verse 12; "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation." In verse 2, temptations refer to the various trials of life. Here, in verse 12, they are the specific temptations to sin that we encounter in "the world, the flesh, and the devil." To endure such testing is a blessing from God, because those who endure temptation will receive them crown of life, which is eternal rest and peace with God in Heaven (1:12).

Verses 13-16 picture the progress of sin from temptation to action. After affirming that God does not tempt or lead us in to evil, James tells us that our own lusts (the flesh) draw or lead us into temptation. We are then enticed to fulfill our lusts, even by ungodly means. So sin is conceived in lust and born of lust, and death is born of sin.

By contrast, God gives good and perfect gifts. Note the line of thinking here; God does not tempt us. Instead He gives all good and perfect gifts. Sin leads to death, but God gives the crown of life. There is no variation in God. He is good throughout, and He begat us, or, caused us to be born again, by His word, that we may be the first-fruits of His creatures (1:17-18).

Finally, James draws two practical conclusions from his statement in 1:12. First, let us be swift to hear, which is to receive instruction in Godliness, and slow to speak and wrath, which is to give in to pride and self-importance, and does not work Godliness in us. Second, we are to lay aside the lusts and pride that lead us into temptation, and receive with meekness the word which is able to save our souls.

Sermon for Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity

Grace to Follow Christ
1 Corinthians 1:4-7, Matthew 22:34-46
Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity
October 23, 2011


I think I can summarise the meaning of our Gospel reading in a couple of short sentences. First, the meaning and purpose of life is to love God fully and completely with every fiber of your being. Second, Jesus is God.

As every person knows, loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind, is not as easy as it sounds. It is not easy because the true love of God is not an emotion. Much effort has been made over the centuries to turn loving God into emotional feelings for God. We see this in the music people choose to sing about God. Much of it is no different from the romantic love songs of pop music. Often, it even takes their beat and style, but worse than that is that it reduces loving Christ to sentiment and emotions similar to what is often called, "falling in love."

Of course, those of us who have been married for a while know love is much more than just being "in love." Really loving your spouse requires you to be as generous, as forgiving, as committed, and as self-giving when you are not feeling terribly good about him or her as when you are. In fact, it is in those unromantic times, when you are not feeling very much "in love" that your real love shows itself.

Loving Christ is the same way. It is not the way you feel when you're singing a happy chorus about how you love Jesus; it is what you do in those times of sorrow and trial, and it's the general direction of your heart soul and mind when you aren't feeling particularly spiritual or loving toward God. And, I think for most of us, that is our normal condition. I think most of us don't live in a continuous state of spiritual euphoria, with hearts bursting with feelings of love for Christ. This is a good thing, not a bad thing. Just as we could not function if we lived in a perpetual state of "falling in love" with another person, we also could not function if we lived in a perpetual condition of "falling in love" with Jesus. And the Bible never encourages us to be "in love" with Christ. Christ is not telling us to be "in love" with Him when He tells us to love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds. Christ is asking for something much more solid. The love He calls for is the kind of love that keeps going when the feelings grow low and the flesh calls us to quit. That's why the Bible calls it crucifying ourselves. That's why Christ said those who love Him keep His commandments. That's why Christ said anyone who loves, (values) his own life above Christ is not worthy of Him, meaning, does not really love Him. So, we could say that to really love God is to value Him more than you value your own heart, your own soul, and your own mind.

I think most of you will agree with me if I say that the tendency of the world is to draw us away from God. Again, I am not talking about emotions. I am talking about the way the world imposes its values and ideas upon us; the way it tends to press us into its mold. The world does not like individual thought or personal initiative. It prefers people to march in lock step to its commands and collective goals, and usually, those goals are not those of Godliness. The goals are to perpetuate the same old systems and the same old evils until the end of the world.

There is another enemy that militates against our love for God. That enemy is us. In fact, as we go through life, we are often our own worst enemies. We make foolish decisions that have lasting consequences based on nothing more than passing whims. We choose fleeting pleasures over lasting good. This is what the Bible means when it talks about the "flesh." The desires of the flesh lead us away from God because they lead us to be preoccupied with our own pleasures and comforts and amusements instead of God. I am sure you know this by your own experience.

With the world and the flesh leading us away from God, we don't need another enemy, but there is another. We know him as Satan, the devil. He is the ultimate Anti-Christ, for he hates all that Christ loves. He is also the ultimate anti-man, for he hates all people. He laughs when bombs fall and cities burn and orphans cry in the streets. Hunger and disease are his friends. Hell is what he wants for you and all people. Needless to say, he works diligently to lead us away from God. He tells us lies about God and ourselves. He teaches us that God is cheating us and oppressing us. He tells us the ways of God are slavery, and we must break away from God and indulge our whims and desires. Only then will we find happiness in life, because we will be free. We will be like God.

Thanks be to God we are not left to fight these enemies alone. The Epistle for today, 1 Corinthians 1:4-7, tells us of the grace of God that will confirm us to the end, "that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ." The word, "confirm" means much more than to simply affirm of verify something. It means to make something firm and solid. In the realm of human relationships it means to promise or guarantee. So God, in His grace, is working in His people to make us firm and solid in Christ so we can be guaranteed that we will be accepted into Heaven and dwell with Him forever in the Day of the Lord. In other words, while the world, the flesh, and the devil tempt us away from God, God is working to draw us back to Himself and to keep us safely in Him until we reach that Day when the world, the flesh and the devil can't tempt us anymore.

One of the ways God keeps us in Himself is by giving us things that help us in our journey of faith. Our Epistle for this morning calls these things, "gifts." It is important for us to know these are not the same gifts that caused such controversy in Corinth. The tongues and prophesies named later in 1 Corinthians are specific gifts for a specific era in the Church prior to the giving of the New Testament. The gifts in today's readings are different from them. They are the things that grow faith in us, that strengthen us in Christ, and keep us in Christ. These gifts consist primarily of our good friends, the means of grace.

The Corinthians came behind in no gift (1 Cor. 1:7). The same is true of Christ's Church in every era, and we, here in Holy Trinity Church in Powhatan, Virginia, like the Corinthians, come behind in no Gift. We lack no gift from God that will keep us in the faith now and forever. We have the Scriptures. We have the New Testament and more than 2,000 years of history and tradition. We have prayer. We have the Church. We have The Lord's Supper, worship. the preaching and teaching of the Scriptures, and the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God. So, when we pray a prayer like the Collect for the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity, asking God for grace to help us withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, so we can follow Him with pure hearts and minds, we are asking God to help us make diligent use of the means of grace.

Let us pray.

Lord, we beseech thee, grant thy people grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil; and with pure hearts and minds to follow thee, the only God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

October 21, 2011

Saturday after the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.37:25-41 1 Kings 17:17, James 1:1-11
Evening - Ps. 145, Job 21:1-10, Mt. 13:31-52

Commentary
James 1:1-11

James, the brother of our Lord, gave us the earliest of the New Testament writings, dating from around the year 48 A.D. Its audience is clearly Jewish and its purpose is to instruct Jewish Christians who fled Jerusalem during the persecution that followed the stoning of Stephen in Acts 8:1 (Jas. 1:1). Because he grew up in the same house as Christ, and became a believer after the Resurrection, James was an influential leader in the early Church (Acts 15:13). The earliest liturgy of the Church in Jerusalem bears the title, "The Divine Liturgy of James, the Holy Apostle and Brother of the Lord."

Today's reading encourages Christians to remain faithful, even under persecution, and gives a critically important picture of what God is doing in the lives of His people. God is not trying to give us lives of ease: He is forming us into new people, new beings who are being renewed in every aspect of our being. He is sanctifying us, and preparing us to dwell in Heaven with Him forever. In this process He is weaning us from earth and leading us to value, love, and trust Him more and more. Rather than delivering us from our trials and hardships, He uses them to draw us to Himself and to teach us to trust in Him.

In short, His purpose is to develop Godliness in us. As James wrote, He is working to make us "perfect and entire, wanting nothing" (1:4). Our trials are often the tools He uses to increase us in Godliness. Every trial is a temptation to desert God and return to sin. Every temptation is an opportunity to choose God over self; to choose to follow Him in faith, or to run back to sin. Thus, in temptation, our faith is exercised. It is tried, it is tested, it is made stronger as the body is made stronger with physical exercise. Perseverance, or, endurance, is the kind of patience this trying of faith produces in us. And those who persevere become more faithful and more Godly. Paul may have been thinking of this passage in James when he wrote Romans 5:1-4. The pattern in both passages is the same: tribulation works patience, patience produces experience, and experience produces hope. The end result of faithfulness in trouble is Godliness, and Godliness is the goal of God for His people.

October 20, 2011

Friday after the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.37:1-24, 1 Kings 17:1-16, 2 Thess. 3:6-17
Evening - Ps. 22, Job 11:7, Mt. 13:24-43

Commentary
2 Thessalonians 3:6-17

There is a God-ordained order, or, pattern for life. It revolves around God and consists of faith, worship, love, and work. We could express it as; love God, love your neighbor (especially those of your own household), go to Church, and find a useful occupation to provide for your needs and honour God.

A small group of people in the Thessalonian Church were not living by this pattern. They were, "walking disorderly" (3:6). They were not carousing or fornicating, but neither were they living by the pattern of life God intended. Their primary departure from the pattern was that they had stopped working for a living and were expecting the others in the church to feed and clothe them and their families. Why? They believed the Return of the Lord to bring in the fulness of the Day of the Lord, was so immanent that it made all preparations for future life on earth meaningless. These people believed the Second Coming would occur within the next few weeks, or even within the next few minutes (2 Thess. 2:1-2). Therefore, they had stopped working and caring for themselves and their families, expecting others in the church to clothe and feed them. Thus, Paul exhorts and commands them, "that with quietness they work and eat their own bread."

Paul and the evangelists exemplified this when they were in Thessalonica, working night and day to both preach the Gospel and provide for their own expenses (3:7-9). Though they had the right, as do all ministers of Christ's Church, to receive a wage for their work, just as any other person in any other honourable occupation, Paul and his companions did not want to burden the new Christians, so they earned their meager living by working another job in addition to their labours in the Gospel. The implication is that, if Paul can provide for himself, so can the Thessalonians. And Paul offers himself and his conduct as an example to the disorderly in Thessalonica (3:9). The word used in the original Greek is the word from which we get our English word, "mimic." So Paul is exhorting these people to mimic him and his companions by returning to work and providing for themselves.

Those who refuse to live by this teaching (tradition) are to be avoided (3:6). This is not formal church discipline, and it is certainly not excommunication, for the people are to be treated as brothers rather than unbelievers (3:15). It does mean those who work are not to enable idleness in others by feeding and caring for them. They are to stop subsidising the sin of idleness and let every one live by the rule "that if any would not work, neither should he eat" (3:10).

Paul closes his exhortations with a prayer that the Lord of peace Himself will give His peace to the Thessalonians (3:16). The disorderliness of some has caused disruption in the peace of the Church and the lives of its members. Their disorder is in stark contrast to the Lord of peace. His ways are the ways of peace. His order for quiet Godliness brings peace. So this is a prayer that the Thessalonians will return to His ways and restore His peace in the church. "By all means" refers to the means by which God works peace in His people. These are usually the ordinary means, rather than miraculous gifts. Peace comes through trusting God with this life and the next, and by accepting what He gives. It comes through living peacefully with others and by conducting ourselves humbly and lovingly toward others, with words and actions that promote peace rather than instigate hostility. It comes from hearts and minds that are being transformed and renewed by constant immersion in the Scriptures, the Church, and all the means of grace. These things work peace in us individually and corporately.

Verse 17 simply tells us that Paul wrote it with his own hand as proof that the letter is from him. The rest of the epistle was probably written by someone else as he dictated it. Verse 18 closes the epistle with a benediction very characteristic of Paul and full of his love and hopes for the Thessalonians. Like all Scripture, it is not just for those first recipients, but for all of God's people in all times and all places; "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen."

October 19, 2011

Thursday after the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity

Thursday after the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.27, 1 Kings 16:29, 2 Thess. 2:13-3:5
Evening - Ps. 31, Job 10:1-18, Mt. 13:1-23

Commentary
2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5

Doom and destruction await the man of sin and all who reject the Gospel of salvation in Christ alone (2:10-12). What a contrast this is to the state of those who believe in Christ unto salvation. We may tremble for those who do not believe, but we, like Paul give thanks for those chosen for salvation (2:13-14). We give thanks that we are sanctified by the Spirit and enabled to believe the truth. We know we were called into this grace by the proclamation of the Gospel. Note that Paul calls it "our Gospel" (2:14). He does not mean it belongs to him, or that he made it up. He means it is the Gospel Christ gave to the Church through the Apostles, and which Paul and the other Apostles preach and teach. It is what is often called the "Apostolic Faith."

Paul's desired outcome of enduring hardship and persecution to preach the Apostolic Faith is that those who receive it will continue in it until the Lord receives them into Heaven forever. Thus, he encourages the Thessalonians to "stand fast," a military term meaning to stand your ground in the face of enemy attack (2:15). They are to "hold" or embrace the "tradition which ye have been taught." This is not the tradition of men which the Pharisees produced and followed in preference to the Scriptures. It is the Gospel and the knowledge of Christ given by Christ through the Apostles. At the time of Paul's writing, it is probable that the Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John, had not been written. So the Church relied on the testimony of the Apostles as guided by the Holy Spirit (Jn. 16:12 and 13). During their ministry it is likely that the Apostles began to write some things down, and as they aged, they compiled the Gospel accounts. But only the Gospel of Peter, known to us as "Mark" because Mark wrote it as Peter dictated it, existed, at the time Paul wrote 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and the Thessalonians did not have a copy.

More of the joy of the Christian, as opposed to the doom of the unbeliever, is expressed through a benediction found in verses 16 and 17. It is basically a prayer that all the good things Christ died and rose again to procure for His people, would be given in abundance. to the Thessalonians. These are the things that will comfort their hearts; things like faith, hope, assurance that they are in Christ and that His promise of forgiveness and Heaven will not fail. Having this comfort, Paul prays that they will be established in every good word and work.

In 3:1-2 Paul asks the people to pray for him. He asks that the word of the Lord, the Gospel, would have "free course, and be glorified." "Free course" means to run free, to be unhampered so it may go where it will. Paul is asking that it will not be hampered by him, either by his own human frailties, nor by the persecution he faces for it. He is asking that persecution and trials would not stop him from proclaiming the Gospel. That the Gospel would be "glorified" means that people will receive it in faith and become followers of Christ: that they will recognise it as the word of God, as the truth, and will honour it in their lives and in their hearts, regardless of opposition, persecution, or cost.

His confidence is not in people, but in the Lord (3:4). The Lord is faithful and will establish them in the faith, keep them from evil and enable them to do what Paul commands them as their Apostle and pastor in the Lord.

The last phrase of verse 5 is important in the context of the earlier discussion of the Return of Christ. Paul prays for them to be directed "into the patient waiting for Christ." He asks them not to become distracted from the daily Christian life and their regular duties in this world, by a constant preoccupation with the time of the Lord's Return. They are to look for His Return. They are to live in anticipation of it. They are even to pray for it, "Thy kingdom come." And they are to be patient, tending to the business of being God's Church on earth until that Day arrives.

October 18, 2011

Wednesday after the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 21, 28, 1 Kings 12:25, 2 Thess. 2:1-12
Evening - Ps. 29, 30, Job 5:8-18, Mt. 12:31

Commentary
2 Thessalonians 2:1-12

Not surprisingly, the Thessalonians still had questions about the Return of Christ, which Paul answers in this passage. Again, let us remember that the subject here is Christ's Second Coming to inaugurate the Day of the Lord (1 Thess. 5:2), or, as Paul calls it here, the day of Christ (2 Thess. 2:2). It is His Coming to establish the Kingdom of God on earth in all its full glory and completeness. The Greek word used here is parousia, which carries the meaning of a royal visit, or coming in royal glory to rule the kingdom. Thus, in 1 Thessalonians we see Christ returning as the King of Glory, heralded by the trumpet of the Archangel, and issuing royal commands to the creation (1 Thess. 4:16). Theologians have spent much time trying to decide whether verse 2 means to say that the Thessalonians fear the Day of Christ has arrived in fulness, or that they merely believe it is near, "at hand." Actually, both are correct, for Paul is arguing against both concepts. He uses a Greek word that means to be present with, as well as to be impending or near. so he is saying that the idea that the Day of the Lord has already come, and the idea that the Day of the Lord is so immanently near as to make planning for the future and working for a living unnecessary, are wrong. Those who say it has already happened are quite obviously wrong, for the world goes on much as it did before Christ came to earth and worked His wonderful gift of salvation by the blood of His cross. Evil has been dealt a death blow, but it still lives, and people live in open and unrepentant sin. When Christ Returns, all of this will end. The Day of the Lord will bring His Kingdom of Righteousness to fulness forever.

Likewise, His return is not so near that we can put the rest of life on hold to wait for it. This is the most prevalent problem in Thessalonica, and is one reason why we should agree with the reading in the King James Version, which tells the Christians of Thessalonica not to fall for schemes that say the Day of Christ is "at hand," meaning immanent at any second. Some in Thessalonica, had stopped working and supplying the needs of themselves and their families because they believed Jesus would return within the next few days, if not the next few minutes. Instead of earning their own living, they spent their time spreading their views in such obnoxious ways as to make them nothing more than "busybodies" (3:11), who, because they had not worked to provide for themselves, expected others in the church to feed and clothe them and their families. This is not according to the "tradition" (teaching and example) of Paul, and the short answer to this problem is that "if any would not work, neither should he eat" (3:10).

Paul then tells them that the Lord will not return until a great "falling away" from the truth occurs within the Church, and the man of sin is revealed (2:3). This man, also known as the Anti-Christ, opposes all that Christ stands for, and he does so in such a way that his ways appear good and godly. While there are many anti-Christs, there is but one Anti-Christ, and he will ultimately deceive people into believing in him as God (2:4). This Anti-Christ appears prior to the Return of Christ, and our Lord will destroy him at His coming (2:7-9). All who were deceived by him (10-11) will be destroyed with him at the Lord's return (2:12). So this event will occur prior to the Lord's Return.

Each generation has read this passage and thought it was in the time of the falling away and the man of sin. In a sense they were right, for the spirit of anti-Christ is always strong in the world because the general nature of fallen humanity is inclined towards it. People have noted the moral decline of culture, and have noted many wicked people, whom they thought might be the Anti-Christ. But Paul seems to indicate that there will be no doubt in the Church as to the Anti-Christ's identity. We will know him when he appears. Until then, we are to devote ourselves to Godliness and faith, not idle speculation.

October 17, 2011

Tuesday after the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 20, 23, 1 Kings 12:12-20, 2 Thessalonians 1
Evening - Ps 11, 12, Job 4:12, Mt. 12:14-30

Commentary
2 Thessalonians 1

Like 1 Thessalonians, Second Thessalonians was written by the Apostle Paul from Corinth in or around the year 52 A.D. Timothy had been sent by Paul to Thessalonica and had probably spent a couple of months there completing the task of organising the church and instructing the clergy and congregation in the doctrines of the faith (1 Thess. 3:2). Because Paul was anxious to hear back from him about the safety and progress of the Thessalonians, Timothy went to Corinth, where Paul was teaching at that time, and gave the Apostle the good news that the Thessalonians were persevering well in the faith (3:6). He was sent back to Thessalonica almost immediately, bearing a letter from Paul, which we know as the book of 1 Thessalonians. One of the purposes of the letter was to inform the Church that Christians who die before Christ returns to bring the Day of the Lord to complete fulness, will not miss out. They will have a prominent role in the events of Christ's Return, and are now with Him in Heaven (1 Thess. 4:13-17, see also 2. Cor. 5:8). Timothy, returning to Thessalonica with this letter, probably spent several more weeks in that city, teaching the Church to know and follow the Saviour, Christ. At length he returned to Corinth to work with Paul and report back on the situation in Thessalonica. Continuing questions and issues in Thessalonica caused Paul to send Timothy back to it, this time carrying another letter from Paul, which we know as 2 Thessalonians.

Apparently the persecution in Thessalonica continued, even months after Paul left the city, for 2 Thessalonians opens by addressing it. The Christians are commended for their patience and faith in their persecutions and tribulations (1:4), and, especially that their faith and love "groweth exceedingly" in spite of their sufferings, (1:3).

Verses 5-11 refer specifically to the fate of the persecutors, and the result of enduring persecution in the lives of the Thessalonians. For the Christians it is a sign of God's favour, for they have been counted worthy of the Kingdom of God, and worthy to suffer for it. Had they been unworthy, had their faith been simply an emotional response to the manipulations of the many false teachers of the era, they would not have withstood persecution. Standing firm shows the reality and depth of their faith. Theirs is a worthy faith.

It is always easy to go over to the other side; to abandon the true faith for the easy believism offered by those who preach a different gospel and a different Christ. Today many call themselves Christians, whose faith is really about emotional experiences, self-esteem, or getting worldly goods and miracles from God. These people leave their faith as soon as the church "services" fail keep them entertained, which is why so many churches feel the need to constantly be on the cutting edge of music and cultural trends. Or, finding that the promised health and wealth miracles do not come, they leave their faith, and the real one, behind. In short, when their faith requires anything from them, they find they have nothing to give because they have received nothing. The Thessalonians had received the Gospel of Christ. They had received life through His atoning sacrifice. They had received the presence of the Holy Spirit, and the means of grace. They did not expect God to make life easy for them. Their church was born in persecution, and they expected following Christ to be costly. Thus they were able to persevere.

Yet they did not expect their persecutors to get away with their evil, and Paul makes it clear that their tormentors will suffer terrible consequences for their actions. Paul remembers that persecuting Christ's Church is persecuting Him (Acts 9:4), as every sin against the Church is a sin against God, and he shows that God will repay the persecutors with tribulation (1:6), just as He will repay the faithful with "rest" (1:7). When He comes with His angels to bring in the fullness of His Day, the tormentors will be cast into the fire and punished with everlasting destruction, banned forever from the presence and glory of God (1:8-10). This fate awaits all "that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1:8). Notice again that it is "that day," the Day of the Lord that Paul refers to. This is the Second Coming of our Lord, in glory and power to put all things right (1:10).

Paul ends the first chapter with a prayer. There is no asking for deliverance from suffering in it. There is no asking that the persecution will end. Instead he prays that the Thessalonians will continue to prove themselves worthy of their calling in Christ as they persevere through their suffering (1:11). This prayer is a terrible blow to those who teach or believe that having enough faith guarantees that God will deliver them from circumstances and situations they don't like, or will give them health and wealth and miracles anytime they ask for them. Paul prays for God to fulfill the pleasure of His goodness, and the work of faith with power. He is praying that, as the Thessalonians show themselves worthy through their endurance and faithfulness in all situations in this life, God will continue to work faith and Godliness (the pleasure of His goodness) in them. This faith will continue to show itself in the increasing and continuing "work of faith with power." In other words, faithfulness under trial leads to increased faith, and increased faith leads to more faithfulness.

The result is that the name of our Lord is glorified (1:12). This verse is yet another reminder that the center and meaning of all things is God, not us. We err greatly when we think God created all things, suffered on the cross, and endures the constant sin and frustrations of humanity just for us. It was for His own glory and pleasure that we were created (Rev. 4:11). He has a purpose for His creation, and He is daily at work bringing it towards His goal, which is to establish a Kingdom and people for Himself. The goal of God is to bring all things together in one in Christ (Eph. 1:10). It is Christ, not we, who is the central figure. It is for His glory that we are saved, and live, and die, and live with Him forever.

October 16, 2011

Monday after the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.18:1-20, 1 Kings, 12:1-11, 1 Thess. 5:12-28
Evening - Ps. 7, Job 3:1-20, Mt. 12:1-13

Commentary
1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

1 Thessalonians closes with words that are full of practical wisdom and truth, yet are so clear they need little explanation. The relationship between the Church and her ministers is addressed in verses 12 and 13. The ministers are described as "over" the Church in verse 12. This means they have the responsibility for overseeing the work and ministry of the Church, especially the ministry of the word and sacraments. It also means to care for the souls of the members, and has a note of authority in it. They have authority to "admonish," which means to give encouragement and hope, and to correct errors and call people to Godliness, through the public ministry of teaching and preaching, and through the private ministry of personal visitation and counsel. They also have authority to discipline people who have fallen into serious and unrepentant sin. The minister is to labour for the Church. He is to spend himself, and to be spent in the service of the people, in order lead them into the things of God.

The Church is to "know" her ministers, meaning to recognise their service, their sacrifices, and their self-giving love on their behalf. It also means they are to recognise the true ministers, and distinguish them from the false teachers. The Church is to esteem her ministers, which is to hold them in high regard; not just regard, but love.

The end of verse 13 turns to the relationships of the people of the Church, beginning with the encouragement to "be at peace among yourselves." 14 and 15 continue in this theme, and are so clear that no explanation of their intent is necessary.

Verses 16-28 give several short exhortations, most of which are self explanatory. Verse 20, "Despise not prophesyings," puzzles some until it is remembered that God continued to send prophets to His people in the early days of the New Testament Church. The prophets were enabled to expound and apply the Old Testament Scriptures to the Church. Thus, their ministry was primarily one of preaching the Gospel prior to the writing of the New Testament Scriptures. The office of the prophet has now ceased, and preaching, which is the exposition and application of the entire Bible, has taken its place.

Sermon for Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity

Our Christian Vocation
Ephesians 4:1-6, Luke 14:1-11
Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity
October 16, 2011

In our minds, the word, "prevent" means to stop or advert. For example, if someone moves a pile of gasoline soaked rags from the side of a hot wood stove, he might rightly claim to have prevented a house fire. But in the days of the Reformation, when the Collect for the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity was being translated into English by Archbishop Cranmer, "prevent" followed a more literal meaning of its two syllables, pre, and vent. Pre, means to be in front of. Vent means to come. So the two together mean to come before, or lead.

Let's apply this to the Collect. We are not here asking God's grace to stop us from doing something. Of course, there are times when it is entirely appropriate to ask God, in His grace, to stop us from doing something. We should ask God to stop us from making foolish decisions, stop us from thinking evil thoughts, and stop us from doing evil things. We do pray for this every time we pray the Collect for Grace in Morning Prayer, "grant that this day we fall into no sin." We also pray for this every time we pray the Lord's Prayer, "lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." So this is a legitimate, and a very good thing to pray for. But the Collect for today is not so much about God stopping us as it is about Him enfolding and enclosing us in His grace, so that it goes before us and follows after us. We see in this almost the military precision of highly professional soldiers escorting a valuable cargo to its destination. There will be a group that precedes the main body, ensuring that the way is clear, removing obstacles, and dealing with enemies, if necessary. There will also be a group that follows, protecting it from attack from behind. This is the picture we have in this prayer, that the grace of God will go before us and follow after us, leading and protecting us from dangers, but also making us, or enabling us to be given to all good works; enabling us to live like Christians. It is much like the words of that great hymn, "St. Patrick;"

Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me Christ beside me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger

The Collect intends to emphasise an important point in Ephesians 4, which is stated in the first verse, and expounded in the remainder of today's reading; "walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called." How many of us think of being a Christian and living for Christ as our vocation in life? Most of us, if asked what our vocation is, would say what we do to earn our money. In other words, we would name our occupation. But an occupation is something different from a vocation. I know most dictionaries equate the two words, but I maintain that, Biblically speaking, they are different. Your occupation is the way you earn your daily bread. Your vocation is your calling from God to live in Christ and honour Him in all things. Your occupation is an important part of your vocation, but your vocation is more than your occupation.

So let's look at the word "vocation" again. In English it comes from the Latin word for "calling." Likewise, in Greek, it means to call, and the Greek word, kaleo, actually resembles our English word call. So our vocation is our life calling. It is that one thing to which we devote the majority of our time, energy, attention, talents, and abilities. It is the one thing that gives priority and direction and meaning to everything that we do, and everything that we are.

Our vocation is not stated directly in today's reading. Instead we are given directions about how to "walk worthy" of it; how to carry it out and accomplish it in every day life. We walk worthy of our calling when we conduct ourselves in lowliness, meekness, longsuffering, forbearance, and love, and keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Our reading from Luke also guides us in how to live worthy of our calling. Here we find stated one of the great principles of Godliness, a principle so great it was followed by our Lord Himself; the principle of humility, showing that those who exalt themselves, meaning to consider themselves worthy of God, will be abased, while those who humble themselves, meaning to confess their sin and trust in the righteousness of Christ, will be exalted. To exalt yourself is to be against God. To humble yourself is to seek God.

This is how we "do" our vocation. But what is our vocation? Those who know the Westminster Shorter Catechism will remember the answer to the first question; "The chief end of man is glorify God and enjoy Him forever." That is a good statement of our vocation. Anglicans spend much time talking about Christian vocation, and, for us it is expressed perfectly in the words of Christ, who, when asked which is the first and greatest commandment, answered, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind." Paul also states our vocation for us in Ephesians 3:17-19.

That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.

So the passage we read earlier from Ephesians 4, is a commentary on and explanation of this passage, especially the last words, "that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God." We could also say this passage is a commentary on the words of Christ that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind. In fact, in one sense, the entire Bible is a commentary on Christ's words. All Scripture explains to us who God is and what it means to love Him with our entire being. And this, to love God with our entire being is "the vocation wherewith ye are called." This is our life calling. This is the one thing to which we devote the majority of our time, energy, attention, talents, and abilities. It is the one thing that gives priority and direction and meaning to everything that we do, and everything that we are.

Thus we ask God to go before us and behind us, by His grace, that we may be continually given to all good works. We're not just asking God to help us do nice things, like work in a homeless shelter. Good though such actions may be, the "good works" of the Collect are the things of Godliness. They are to seek Him in the Scriptures, worship Him in His Church, and obey His commandments. And they are to love one another as Christ loved us, and as we love ourselves. It is to do all the things taught in our Scripture readings for today, and to do them out of love for God and His creatures. It is to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called.

Let us pray.

Lord, we pray thee that thy grace may always prevent and follow us, and make us continually to be given to all good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

October 14, 2011

Saturday after the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 142, 149, 1 Kings 11:26-37, 1 Thess. 5:1-11
Evening - Ps. 97, 98, Job 2, Mt. 11:20

Commentary
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

Having shown that Christians who die before the return of Christ are actually with Him in Heaven and will return with Him to greet those who are alive at His coming, the Apostle turns to the event of the Second Coming in this morning's reading. Paul calls it "the day of the Lord" (5:1). It is important to see that today's passage is a continuation of yesterday's. Yesterday, in 4 13-18 Paul wrote of the condition of those who die prior to that Day; in today's passage he writes about discerning the times and seasons. The times and seasons are not signs that tell us the Day is near; they are the present time and season, and the future time and season of the Day of the Lord (Acts. 1:7). We live in the time and season prior to the fullness of Day of the Lord. But, the time and season of its fullness is coming, and Paul wants the Thessalonians, who are confused about this (1 Thess. 5:1, 2 Thess. 2:2), to know which time and season they are in, and how to conduct themselves in it.

The Day of the Lord is a frequent phrase in Scripture, describing the time in which God visits His wrath and grace upon the earth. It is the era in which He makes all things right and establishes His Kingdom in fullness upon the earth. It has the sense of both being here now, and the sense of being not yet here in its full and complete sense. We who are in the Church are in people of that Day, but the Day itself is visible only to the eyes of faith. One day our Lord, who came once in humility, will return in power. In that Day He will bring the time and season of darkness and sin to an end, and will establish the time and season of His Righteousness openly and fully in the New Heaven and New Earth. When will this happen? Paul says the Day will come "as a thief in the night" (5:2). This means it will come at a time when the world does not expect it. The people of the world will be going about life as usual, not looking for God, not concerned about Godliness, but, as in the days of Noah, carrying on with life as usual, thinking all is well and that they live in peace and safety (5:3). Then, as far as they are concerned, without warning, the way labour pains come upon a woman, the Day of the Lord will be upon them, and there will be no escape.

But it will not be that way for the Church. We are not in darkness (night) like the people of the world (5:7), so the Day will not overtake us like a thief (5:4). A thief comes secretly, at a time he thinks he will not be detected, his arrival is unexpected. If we knew when a thief was coming, we would be awake and ready. The point is that Christians are awake (5:6) and looking for the Lord's return. It will not be a surprise to us. We are ready always. Knowing that the Lord will return, and being people of the Day who look for the Day of the Lord, we are sober, put on the breast plate of faith and love; and the helmet of the hope of salvation (5:8). In other words, we live in anticipation of the return of the Lord, whether He comes to catch us up to meet him in the air (wake), or whether He comes to take us individually to His House of many Mansions (sleep), (5:10). We live in His grace, we conduct ourselves in Godliness, and we look for His Return.

Verse 9 brings us to an important point; we will not be overtaken by surprise, because we are appointed to salvation, not wrath. It is those appointed to wrath who will be surprised. They do not look for the Day because they do not seek God. They don't believe the Day is coming, just as those in the days of Noah did not believe the flood was coming. Since they didn't believe in it, they didn't prepare. Since they didn't prepare they were lost. Those who don't believe in the return of Christ will not prepare for it. They will not put on the breastplate of faith or the helmet of the hope of salvation. They will continue in the things of darkness (5:7). Since they will not prepare, they will be lost. But we who have put on faith and hope in Christ are prepared, and we will be saved.

It is integral to a right understanding of this passage to know that it is this spiritual preparation to which Paul refers. It is faith and hope in Christ Jesus for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life in Heaven (5:8). Paul does not intend for us to spend our lives trying to make current events correspond with Scripture as "signs" that His return is near. Nor are we to attempt to "date" the Day of Christ's Return, as so many have done in recent decades. We are to be preoccupied with faith and Godliness. Note also that this passage, like 4:13-18, is not about the "rapture." It is about the Return of Christ, the Second Coming, the great and fearful Day of the Lord.

"Wherefore" (5:11), meaning, because of these things, because you know these things and because you are appointed for salvation, comfort and edify yourselves and one another with them. To comfort is to encourage faith and hope. To edify is to build up a person in the faith and hope of Christ. This is not accomplished by working up feelings. It is accomplished by putting us in mind of the great truths of this passage. It is done by reminding ourselves and others that we are in Christ whether we sleep or wake (5:10), and that either way we will see the Day of the Lord on this earth, and will participate in it in all its glory and goodness. This is our hope and comfort.

October 13, 2011

Friday after the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 102, 1 Kings, 9:1-9, 1 Thess. 4:13-18
Evening - Ps. 139, Job 1:13-22

Commentary
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Timothy brought much good news to Paul regarding the Thessalonians. He also carried back with him their one big question, what happens to Christians who die before the Lord returns? Apparently some have died in Thessalonica, causing so much grief and anxiety among them, Paul worried that they grieved as the pagans, having no hope that the dead would have a part in Heaven. Thus, Paul writes to comfort them with greater understanding of the promises of God (4:13). As Christ often called dead "sleep," so Paul says Christians who have died are asleep in Jesus (4:14). The first thing we learn here is that they are not dead as the pagans thought of death. Their being has not ended. It continues on in another state or dimension, so that it may be said of them that they sleep. Second, the dimension, or realm of their continued existence is Christ. There is no separation from Him in death for the Christian. The Christian merely sleeps in Christ, but this sleep is of the body only. The soul goes into the immediate presence of God, as shown by such passages as Luke 16:19-29, Luke 23:43, Philippians 1:23, and, especially, 2 Corinthians 5:6-8. Third, the body will be resurrected. People question how a body that has been eaten by beasts, or become nourishment for trees and plants over thousands of years can be resurrected. To that we can only reply that it will be a glorified body, and that the One who created this vast universe is able to re-order its elements and compounds as He decrees. Though, how, is beyond our understanding, the fact of the resurrection is as much a part of the Gospel as the Return of Christ.

Our hope, or, confidence, for the resurrection is that Jesus died and rose again (4:14). Christ Himself made it very plain that His death was a conscious offering of Himself on the cross as the propitiation for our sins. No power on earth could have taken His life otherwise. He had the power to lay down His life, and the power to take it up again (Jn. 10:18). If He has that power for Himself, He has that power for His people also.

The dead will have a dual role in the return of Christ. First, they will come with Him (4:14). Their souls, which have been with Him in Heaven will come with Him when He returns, and will witness the entire event. Second, their bodies will be resurrected before those living at the time are taken up. "The dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up" (4:16-17).

The result of this is, "and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (4:17). This is the Second Coming. This is the return of the Lord to bring the world as we know it to its end. This is not the "rapture." It is not a covert heist of believers. It is open and public. Christ commands the dead to rise with a loud voice; the trumpet blasts like a military signal that is "loud enough to raise the dead."

Finally we come to the point of all this, which is comfort. "Comfort one another with these words" (4:18). Paul is saying these truths, these doctrines ought to bring cheer, joy, and hope to believers when we stand beside the grave of a loved one, and when we face our own death. For even in death we are in Christ, and we will ever be with the Lord.

October 12, 2011

Thursday after the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 126, 128, 1 Kings 8:54-63, 1 Thess. 4:1-12
Evening - Ps. 121, 122, 138, Job 1:1-12, Mt. 10:32-11:1

Commentary
1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

The Thessalonian Church seems to have been remarkably free of the theological and practical errors that plagued so many churches of that time. Maybe it was because the church was so new the false teachers hadn't discovered it yet. Maybe it was because the false teachers stayed away out of fear that they would be persecuted along with the Christians. Certainly the persecution contributed to their faith and unity, for the false teachers stayed away, and the false and lukewarm believers left. Only the true believers stayed, and they needed each other so much they did not think about fighting and dividing over the foolish things that often divide modern churches. Thus, Paul does not spend time in this letter exhorting the people to repent of sin and heresy. Instead, he calls upon them to "abound more and more" and "increase more and more" in the things they are already doing (4:1, 10).

His exhortations in verses 2-12 are not given because the Thessalonians do not know or do the things of God. They know the commandments they were given by Christ through Paul (4:2). The exhortations are given to remind them and encourage them to continue to increase in the things of Christ.

Paul uses the word, "sanctification" to describe the process of abounding and increasing in one's walk with God. As it appears in English, sanctification derives from the Latin word for holy. This meaning is made clear in its many English derivatives, such as sanctity, sanctuary, and sanctify, meaning, holy, holy place, and, to make holy. Thus, sanctification means to be made holy, or to be set aside for God. In Greek it means to make pure, and since God is absolute purity, it means to become more like Him. Sanctification, then, is the life long process of becoming more and more holy, or, more and more like God in your character and actions, and more and more the person God intends you to be, and less and less the person you were before you trusted Christ and began to walk with Him.

Paul makes this point in verses 4-12. The "vessel" of verse 4 is the body. To possess it is to keep it, and we are to keep our own bodies in (here's that word again) "sanctification." Our bodies belong to Christ as surely as our souls. So we are to honour Him with our bodies. The most obvious meaning of this is sexual purity rather than lust or, "concupiscence" (4:5), but there are other applications as well; clean living, healthy lifestyles, and sobriety are examples. Fraud (4:6) refers to impropriety in business, which is just another means of theft. "Uncleanness" is the life of sin and disregard for God. It is the opposite of the life of quiet Godliness and sanctification (4:11) to which Christians are called (4:7). For those interested in such things, the word translated "sanctification" in verse 3, "holiness" in verse 7, and "holy" as in "Holy Spirit" in verse 8 are all forms of the same Greek word, "hagios." So, though our English version uses two words to translate it, in the Greek they are all the same.

To despise what Paul teaches here is not just to despise Paul, but to despise God. How does this apply to those who distort the Bible's message? How does this apply to those who stay away from the Church, or attend churches where the Gospel is distorted? How does this apply to those who refuse to heed the Biblical teachings of a Godly minister?

While verses 5-8 describe things that are in opposition to the life of holiness. Verses 9-12 tell of things that are in accord with it and of its essence. As Paul wrote, "as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you." You already know and practice it, so "increase more and more" (4:11). Integrity in all dealings with others is an important part of Godliness. We should do our own business (4:11) rather than expecting others to take care of us. "Those without" (4:12) are those outside of Christ. We are to conduct ourselves with integrity and honesty toward them. As we do our work and earn our livings in integrity and honesty we will provide the things we need for ourselves and families. This honours God, and is an important part of the sanctified life.

October 11, 2011

Wednesday after the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 119:113-128, 1 Kings 8:22-30, 1 Thess. 2:14-3:13
Evening - Ps.119:129-144, Mt. 10:16-31

Commentary
1 Thess. 2:14-3:13

To be followers of the churches in Judea (2:14) is first to be in Jesus Christ and the faith delivered to the Church by Him, taught by His Apostles, and recorded in the Scriptures. Second, it is to suffer persecution from your own people. The "Jews" of verse 14 are not the average "man in the street" but the religious and political leaders and their henchmen who committed the horrible deeds of verses 15 and 16. Many Jews were also Christians. Others were sympathetic to the Church and held it in high esteem (Acts 2:47). Thus, Paul's statement in verse 14 is not against Jews as a people, but against all who do evil in the name of God.

Paul desired to return to Thessalonica, and had planned to do so many times. When he says Satan hindered him (2:18) he probably refers to the attention his return would call to the Christians, renewing and intensifying the persecution against them. While Paul did not fear for himself, he preferred not to further endanger the Thessalonian Church. Thus, he sent Timothy to Thessalonica from Athens to further establish and comfort them in the faith (3:1, 2, 4). Timothy was not as well known as Paul, and could easily enter the city without causing another riot. His task was to continue to teach the faith to the Church, and to help them not loose heart due to the continuing persecution of Paul and his companions (3:3 & 4).

Paul is encouraged by the good news Timothy brought back from Thessalonica (3:6-8). His sacrifices and sufferings for the Gospel are worth it when he sees people standing firm in the faith due to his work. This is true joy for all faithful ministers of Christ (3:9), while it is almost crushing sorrow to see people they have spent and been spent for (2 Cor. 12:15) turn away from the Church and their ministry. Thus, chapter 3 ends with a benediction (11-13) which summarises Paul's prayers for the Thessalonians. Everything he asks in this prayer is for the benefit of the Thessalonians, even his prayer that God will direct his way back to them, is a request that he may continue to teach and strengthen them in Christ. When a true minister of the Gospel asks you to come to church, Bible studies, and prayer circles, he is not asking you for his benefit. He is asking you to come for your benefit, so you may increase in Christian love and be established in holiness before God, and so you will be found in Christ at the coming of our Lord.

October 10, 2011

Tuesday after the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 118, 1 Kings 8:12-21, 1 Thess. 2:1-13

Commentary
1 Thessalonians 2:1-13

The Roman world was rife with travelling "preachers" selling their various religions and philosophies for a price. It is not surprising that Paul has often been accused of being just another of them. This charge comes not only from modern skeptics, including many inside the Church, but also seems to have been prevalent in Paul's own life time. Surely his opponents and detractors would use such a charge to discourage people from listening to or believing the Gospel, and, apparently some in Thessalonica accused him of it, for 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 seems to be a defense of Paul's legitimacy as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The false teachers sold empty promises at high prices to the poor and hopeless masses of the Empire. Using psychological/emotional manipulation they induced emotional experiences in their followers, which they claimed was the work of their deities. The experiences relieved the people's mind-numbing despair and left them with a good feeling, for which they gladly paid large amounts of their small incomes. Some of the false teachers began to preach heretical versions of Christianity, finding their way into the churches Paul established, and often finding the Christians easy targets for their scams. The church at Corinth is an obvious example of this, and cults continue to use these tactics today. Many of their converts are former church members who do not know the Scriptures or the faith well enough to resist their manipulative methods. This is one reason why we should spare no effort to learn and understand the Scriptures and worship in a Biblical church.

Paul says the Thessalonians know Paul and his fellow ministers are not like the others (2:1). They know, "our entrance unto you." The false teachers sought comfort for themselves, but Paul and Silvanus suffered great physical abuse for the Gospel. At Philippi they were publicly flogged and imprisoned (1 Thess. 1:2, Acts16:22-24). In Thessalonica a mob took to the streets with the intention of killing them (Acts 17:1-10).

Paul says his ministry among the Thessalonians was free of the manipulation and tricks of the false teachers (2:3). He used no "deceit," meaning false teachings or watered-down doctrine to attract crowds. He used no "uncleanness," which is preaching Christ for personal gain and fame (see also verse 6). Nor did he preach with "guile," meaning he did not use psychological/emotional tricks to manipulate and sway the people. It bears mentioning that watered-down doctrine, personal gain, and psychological/emotional manipulation have become standard methods of drawing people into the church today. Preaching has been exchanged for motivational pep talks; and worship has been patterned after rock concerts and sporting events, all in the effort to please the people and make them feel good about being in church. But Paul says he does not try to please the people. Instead of using tricks, he trusts God to reach people through the faithful preaching of the Gospel. It is impossible to imagine Paul going into a city with a band playing the music of the pagan culture, or having the crowd sing emotional songs in a semi-hypnotic fashion to get them ready for an emotional sermon, long on anecdotes and flattery (2:5), but short on doctrine. Such were the ways of the false teachers, not Paul.

Instead of "selling" the Gospel, Paul was not "burdensome" by receiving money from the Thessalonians (2:6). Though, as a minster of the Gospel he had every right to financial support (1 Cor. 9:1-14) he, and his fellow servants of Christ laboured night and day because they "would not be chargeable unto any" (2:9). While the false teachers grew wealthy on the gifts of the people, Paul and his companions supported themselves through Paul's work as a tent maker. They probably made tents during the day and taught about Jesus at night and in the Synagogues on the Sabbath. He reminds the Thessalonians of this, saying, "For ye, remember, brethren, our labour and travail" (2:9).

The difference between the character and behaviour of Paul, Silas, and Timothy is shown in verses 7, 8, and 11. Their concern was for the spiritual good of the Thessalonians, not their own fame and fortune. He compares them to a nurse or "nanny" who cherishes the children trusted to her care. Again he says they were "affectionately desirous" of them; they cared about the Thessalonians and wanted them to know Christ. In this desire they gladly gave not only the Gospel, but also their own souls to the Thessalonians. These words are very similar to those Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:15; "I will very gladly spend and be spent for you." This expresses well the feelings of all true ministers of the Gospel. We desire to spend and be spent in the service of God's people because they are dear to us. Verse 11 compares their labours to those of a father comforting and teaching his children.

The Thessalonians know Paul speaks the truth here because they are witnesses (2:10). The Thessalonians saw the lives and behaviour of Paul with their own eyes. But God also saw it. God also knows that they behaved themselves "holily and justly and unblameably" for the cause that the Thessalonians would walk (live) worthily of God who called them into His Kingdom (2:12).

Verse 13 begins to describe the way the Thessalonians received the ministry of Paul, Silvanus (Silas) and Timothy. They not only saw how the ministers lived and noted the sacrifices they made, they also saw that the Gospel they preached was not like the doctrines of the false teachers; it was the word of God. It is important to note that the holy living and sacrifices made by Paul testify to the truth of his message. Just as Peter and other Apostles would not have been willing to suffer for a lie, Paul and his companions would not be willing to endure their trials merely for the sake of making money from a false religion. They obviously believed in what they taught, and this lent credence to their words. Ultimately, however, it was God, not Paul, who enabled the Thessalonians to believe the Gospel. Through His Spirit He enabled them to see that it was the word of God, and by His Spirit He made it effectual in them. Paul did not need to use tricks and gimmicks to reach people for Christ. The Gospel does that by the power of God. "For the word of God is quick, and powerful... and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Heb 4:12).

Monday after the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 103, 1 Kings 8:1-11, 1 Thess. 1
Evening - Ps. 104, Mt. 9:18-35

Commentary
1 Thess.1

The Church in Thessalonica was founded by Paul and Silas during Paul's second mission journey and has the distinction of being the second church founded on European soil, probably in the year 51 or 52 A.D. (Acts 17:1-10). Silas is called by his Roman name in 1 Thess. 1:1, "Silvanus." Paul may have written 1 Thessalonians from Corinth, for he mentions in verses 7 and 8 that the Thessalonians were examples to believers in Achaia, where Corinth was located. The letter was written to encourage the Christians in that city who were under persecution from the very start (Acts 17:5), which is why Paul wrote they had received the word in much affliction (1 Thess.1:6). The new Christians feared for Paul's safety, and secretly sent him and his companions away at night (Acts17:10). Yet the Thessalonians' perseverance in the faith was known "abroad" (1:8). According to Acts 17:2, Paul spent only 3 weeks in Thessalonica, so these new converts, with very little exposure to the Gospel, remained faithful in the face of persecution.

Truly the Gospel came to them in power and in the Holy Ghost (1:5). Paul does not mean that he used persuasive arguments or eloquent speech to move the hearts of the Thessalonians. He refers to the Spirit moving the people to believe the Gospel and trust in Christ.

October 7, 2011

Saturday after the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 92, 1 Kings 3:16-28, 2 Cor.13:1-14
Evening - Ps.46, 96, Mt. 9:9-17

Commentary
2 Corinthians 13

This chapter is a wonderful combination of warning, encouragement, and promise. The warning is that Paul, in the name of and acting for Christ, will deal with those who remain in the sins he wrote of in chapter 12. He will not spare them (13:2). There is a time for patience, and a time for action. The Corinthians have been stumbling through apostasy and sin due to the influence of false teachers for several years. Now it is time for action. They must rid themselves of the false apostles and their followers, or Paul will cast them out when he comes. Christ in Paul will accomplish this (12:3-4). They must also repent of the sins that are dividing the church and dishonouring Christ (11:20-21). If they will not, Paul will cast them out of the Church. This means they will be considered and treated as non-Christians. By their actions and doctrines they seem to show that they are not of Christ, therefore, Paul will remove from them the privilege of participation in the Holy Communion. This may not sound very serious to the modern reader, but it is actually very serious. To be a Christian is to participate in Christ. It is to live in Christ, hope in Christ, and feed on Christ as a branch feeds on the tree. To be excommunicated is to have the Church say that a person's life and views are antithetical to Christ, and seem to show that he is not participating, hoping, or feeding on Him as a Christian. Therefore the sign and seal of his participation in Him is removed. Such a person is being turned over to Satan in the hope that he will see his spiritual danger and seek Christ fully.

The encouragement is found throughout the chapter, but is especially abundant in verse 5. Paul encourages the Corinthians to examine themselves to see if they are truly in the faith, and to prove themselves by true doctrine and faithful living. Paul is encouraging them to examine themselves by Scripture, not the teachings of the false apostles, and not by the feelings and excitements they experience in the services led by the false teachers. This is a difficult thing to do, and few Christians ever really attempt it. But it is the only way to know whether we are truly in Christ or reprobates.

The promise is that turning from sin to Godliness brings all of the fullness and grace of God into our lives (13:11). The holy kiss (13:12) is not an invitation to turn the worship of God into a hugfest. It means that those who truly belong to Christ have ceased the debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults, and sensual sins which have characterised and divided the Corinthian Church for so long (12:20-21). Having turned from those sins, they now live in peace with one another. Those, formerly considered "enemies," against whom the sins of 12:20 were committed, have now become fellow partakers in Christ, and live in Christian peace and love. This does not mean they no longer have disagreements, or that they live in a state of sinless euphoria. It means they practice forbearance, humbleness, and forgiveness, trying not to give offense to others, and refusing to take offense at the actions and words of others. Such people, instead of greeting one another with wrath and strife, greet one another in peace and harmony. Rather than fighting, they "kiss."

The saints of verse 13 are the Christians in Macedonia, from which Paul wrote 2 Corinthians.

The letter closes with words of peace and grace; the benediction with which we close the services of Morning and Evening Prayer, and which, according Evan Daniel's history of the Prayer Book, was universal in the ancient liturgies. John Chrysostom, who wrote the prayer which precedes it in the Prayer Book, also wrote of this benediction, "After having united [the Corinthians] to one another by the salutations and the kisses, he again closes his speech with prayer... uniting them unto God also." Matthew Henry wrote that in this verse, we are promised "the grace of Christ as Redeemer, the love of God who sent the Redeemer, and all the communications of this grace and love, which come to us by the Holy Ghost." "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion (fellowship) of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen."

October 6, 2011

Friday after the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.85, 1 Kings, 3:4-15, 2 Cor. 12:14-21
Evening - Ps.89, Mt. 6:28-9:8

Commentary
2 Corinthians 12:14-21

There is a saying, "No good deed goes unpunished." That describes Paul's feelings about his treatment from the Corinthians. Throughout this epistle he has professed his love for them. He has recounted the sacrifices he made to bring the Gospel to them (11:23-29). He has reminded them that others contributed money so he could minister in Corinth without cost to them (11:8), and that he suffered need rather than accept money from them (11:9). In today's reading he plans to make another trip to Corinth, to spend yet more time and effort, at great personal cost to him and at the expense of people outside of Corinth. He reaffirms his willingness to spend and be spent in their service (12:15). Yet, he says, "the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved."

The Corinthians have preferred the flashy, self-promoting false apostles, with their false gospels and emotional experiences, to the self giving love of Paul, who preaches the truth simply and honestly. The false apostles used the Corinthians to build a financial empire for themselves, and the Corinthians loved them. Paul spent himself to build Biblical faith and hope in them, and they rejected him. He fears, for their sake, that many of them remain in their sin (12:20). He fears he will still find them in debates (arguing for false teachings) envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings (murmuring and complaining in attempts to divide the Church) swellings (conceit), and tumults (12:20). In other words, he fears he will find a divided church fighting over unimportant things while meekly accepting lies and false teaching.

How often we find the same things happening today. Churches will fight and split over the tiniest, most insignificant things, yet allow themselves and their loved ones to be indoctrinated with the most hellish heresies imaginable. People who share the Biblical faith, and are otherwise united in culture, values, and life-views, will divide and allow themselves to be divided over trivialities that don't matter at all. There is only one word for this, SIN. Notice that Paul addresses this sin before the other sins of fornication and lasciviousness (lewd behavior). He does so because, contrary to popular belief, these sins are "worse" than the others. He does not say the others aren't sin. He was certainly willing to excommunicate people for them, which is the same as saying they are no longer part of Christ's Body and Church." He is saying the other sins are worse. People committing them often think that if they are not committing adultery and lewdness, they are in good shape, spiritually. Paul strongly disagrees.

False doctrine does not have to be extreme to be false. False teachers can appear very orthodox about Christ, yet change the focus of His work from saving souls to having religious experiences or social action. Both of these views are prevalent in contemporary churches. Most of the mega churches teach religious experience as the primary focus of following Christ, and giving such experiences dominates their worship and ministries. They do not usually deny the orthodox doctrines of the faith, they simply place them in the background. But placing them in the background changes the focus, and changing the focus essentially changes the message. The gospel of social action has taken over most of the so called, "main line" denominations. This "social gospel" may also teach fairly orthodox things about the being of Christ, but it goes astray in the application of these doctrines to the Church and the Christian life. Such churches usually assume that Christ's death and resurrection secured salvation for all people of all time. Since all people are going to Heaven, regardless of their religion or lack of it, the Church's task is not to tell them that Jesus died for their sins and get them to become Christians. It is to clean up the mess of social injustice, poverty, sickness, and war. Both of these lines of thought place the emphasis in the wrong place, and, thus, distort the Message.

October 5, 2011

Thursday after the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 81, 1 Kings 2:1-12, 2 Cor. 12:1-13
Evening - Ps.80, Mt.8:14-27

Commentary
2 Corinthians 12:1-13

In the early days of the Church God continued to reveal Himself through visions, dreams, and miracles. False apostles focused on these things, turned them into emotional/psychological experiences, and made them the heart of being a Christian. They encouraged people to work themselves into a high emotional state using stirring music, often repeating the same words many times, to lead them into a semi-hypnotic state. During and after experiencing this euphoric condition the endorphins flowed freely, and the false apostles and their followers thought they were experiencing the work of the Holy Spirit.

Real visions and experiences were very rare in the early Church, even among the Apostles. John records one in the book of Revelation and Acts records three for Peter, excluding two times he witnessed people speaking in tongues but did not himself participate. Even Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament, records relatively few such experiences, and never suggests they are a normal part of the Christian life or to be sought by Christians. His words, "caught up" (2 Cor. 12:4) show that he did not seek such experiences; rather, he was caught up in them by God when he was not expecting them.

The false apostles pointed to the excitement they brought to the church, and the experiences people had as the result of their "ministry." This, they said, was proof that the Spirit of God was working through them, not through poor Paul who neither had these experiences nor enabled the Church to have them. Paul responds to this in today's reading.

He tells the Corinthians about an experience he had fourteen years earlier. He speaks of himself in the third person as "a man in Christ..., caught up to the third heaven, into paradise..., and heard unspeakable words... not lawful for a man to utter." Due to the timing of this event, many believe Paul writes here about his experience in the Temple recorded in Acts 22:17-21. Whether Paul refers to that experience or another, we always see that his experiences were not sought or worked up by himself, and that they always gave Paul specific direction for the work he was called to do. They were never experiences for the sake of experiences. This proves the experiences of the false apostles are not from God.

Paul describes his experience in intentionally vague terms. He does not know if he saw these things by literally being transported into Heaven or not. He only knows that he was allowed to see paradise, and that it was so wonderful he could not describe it even if he were allowed to (12:2-4).

But it is not in such experiences that Paul glories. He glories in his weaknesses (12:5) so that no one will think he is more than what he is (12:6). In other words, Paul does not want to call attention to himself, or even to the unusual experience he had, for that might make people seek him or the experience instead of Christ. Furthermore, though he, as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the Word of God came to the Gentiles as from the prophets of ancient Israel, had this experience, he was given a thorn in the flesh to keep him humble (12:7).

Much discussion has been devoted to this thorn in the flesh. Was it a physical illness? Was it a spiritual weakness? Was it the persecutions of the unbelievers and false apostles? When you get to Heaven, you can ask him. For now let us simply know what the Bible tells us, that in the weakness of that thorn, God's perfect strength was revealed. Paul thought the thorn would work against his ability to be effective in the work of the Gospel. To Paul, it seemed to be something that would cause people to reject his message. Yet God used Paul mightily because of his weakness. Thus, the thorn, which made effective preaching and evangelism seem impossible, was the very thing God used to make Paul's work effective. The false apostles seemed to have everything, and the people thronged after them. But those who followed Paul heard the true Gospel. It was they who believed unto salvation.

Therefore, Paul took pleasure in his infirmities and reproaches (12:10). It is very likely that the things mentioned in verse 10 are all part of Paul's "thorn in the flesh." But when Paul is weak, then Christ is strong in him. His grace is sufficient (12:9). His grace is sufficient to make the Gospel appeal to His people. His grace is sufficient to make Paul an effective ambassador for Christ. His grace is sufficient to build His Church and edify His people. His grace is sufficient to enable Paul to persevere in his work until God calls him Home. Paul, like all ministers, is insufficient in himself. No matter how knowledgeable, no matter how gifted he may be in public speaking, no matter how attractive he may be, or how magnetic his personality, he is insufficient and these traits may actually be hindrances rather than helps. Only the grace of God is sufficient for these things, and His grace makes our weaknesses strengths.

These words may well be heeded by those in small but faithful congregations and denominations today. The experience based churches always draw the crowds and get the money. Those who meet in rented buildings and homes and public halls may think they are disadvantaged by these weaknesses. But it may be that true Christian faith flourishes in such conditions far more than it does in the mega churches and cathedrals. It may be that the things we consider thorns are the very things God uses to exalt Himself in us. Thus Paul says to the Corinthians that without the false apostles and their appealing doctrines and ecstatic experiences, they were not inferior to any other church. They had it all because they had Christ. Paul's one regret about his ministry among them is that he did not allow them to share the expenses of preaching the Gospel in Corinth (12:13).

October 4, 2011

Wednesday after the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.77, 2 Sam. 24:10-25, 2 Cor. 11:16-33
Evening - Ps73, Mt. 8:1-13

Commentary
2 Corinthians11:16-33

According to Paul there are two groups of fools in Corinth. First is the group of false apostles. They are the ones who glory after the flesh, meaning to boast and put confidence in their own abilities to sway a crowd and motivate people, rather than in the Gospel and the Spirit of God (11:18). Second is the group that follows the false prophets. They are the people who are swayed by emotions and psychological tricks rather than the word of God. Thus Paul says of them, "ye suffer (allow yourselves to be influenced by) fools gladly (11:19). "You gladly allow fools to lead and abuse you," we might say in paraphrase. When, in verse 19, he calls the Corinthians wise he is making a point by stating the opposite, much as a politician might speak of his "worthy" opponent when he really thinks (and wants his hearers to think) the person is terribly unworthy. Since the Corinthians are so "wise" and Paul is so "foolish," Paul says, they should hear him out (11:16-18). They have let the real fools abuse them (11:20), they should at least hear the words of one who really cares about them and has suffered for their benefit.

Thus, Paul begins to tell of his service to Christ and the personal cost to him of bringing the Gospel to Corinth. Verses 22-29 tell of the cost to Paul. He equals the false apostles in their Hebrew origins (11:22). Verse 23 does not mean the false apostles are truly ministers of Christ, but even if they were their labours cannot begin to match those of Paul. Who among the false teachers has been beaten, imprisoned, stoned, shipwrecked, or lived in exhaustion, hunger, thirst, cold and inadequate clothing for the sake of the Gospel and the Corinthians? Have they not rather demanded ease and luxury for the service of leading the Church astray?

False apostles and their followers have called Paul foolish and weak, but Paul replies that he will not glory in his strength and wisdom; he will glory in his infirmities, his weaknesses. It is because he is weak that he knows the Corinthians have not been moved to believe in Christ by his eloquence, his magnetic personality, or the attractiveness of a false gospel. They have been moved by the word and Spirit of God. That is the meaning Paul is trying to get across to us.

I fear this truth has been largely lost in the pop religion of today. Many churches are simply personality cults, and most preaching has little or nothing to do with the real Gospel. False teachers abound, and people prefer them and their tricks to the simple preaching of Christ. God have mercy upon us.