November 5, 2016

Scripture and Commentary, November 6-12

November 6

Micah 3, Jn.13
Micah 4, 1 Thessalonians 2


1 Thessalonians 2

The Roman world was rife with traveling "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 Roman Empire.  Using psychological/emotional manipulation, drugs, and alcohol, 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. They often found the Christians easy targets for their scams.  The church at Corinth is an obvious example of this.

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 (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 (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 is, unfortunately necessary to mention 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 (5), but short on doctrine. Such were the ways of the false teachers, not Paul and the Apostles.

Instead of "selling" the Gospel, Paul was not "burdensome" by receiving money from the Thessalonians (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" (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.  Paul reminds the Thessalonians of this, saying, "For ye, remember, brethren, our labour and travail" (9).

The difference between the character and behaviour of the false teachers, and that of Paul, Silas, and Timothy is shown in verses 7, 8, and 11.  Their concern is 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 you 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 (10).  The Thessalonians saw the lives and behaviour of Paul and his companions 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 (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  Paul’s message is the word of God, and by His Spirit God made it effectual in them.  Paul did not need to use tricks and gimmicks to reach people for Christ.  The Gospel reaches them 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).

To be followers of the churches in Judea (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 the Jews as a people, but against all who do evil in the name of God. 
Paul desires to return to Thessalonica, and has planned to do so many times.  When he says Satan hindered him (18) he probably refers to the attention his return would call to the Christians, renewing and intensifying the persecution against them.

November 7

Micah 5, Jn. 14
Micah 6, 1 Thess. 3


1 Thessalonians 3

While Paul does not fear for himself, he prefers not to further endanger the Thessalonian Church.  Thus, he sends Timothy to Thessalonica from Athens to further establish and comfort them in the faith (1, 2, 4).  Timothy is not as well known as Paul, and can easily enter the city without causing another riot.  His task is to continue to teach the faith to the Church, and to help them not lose heart due to the continuing persecution of Paul and his companions (3, 4).

Paul is encouraged by the good news Timothy brings back from Thessalonica (6-8).  He feels that 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 (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 Prayers, 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.

November 8

Micah 7, Jn. 15
Nahum 1, 1 Thess. 4


1 Thessalonians 4

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 new.  Maybe it was because the church was persecuted.  Whatever the reason, the false teachers stayed away, and the 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 the contemporary church.  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 already know and do (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 (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 "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" (5), but there are other applications as well.  Clean living, healthy lifestyles, and sobriety are examples.  Fraud (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 (11) to which Christians are called (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?  Do not such people also despise God?

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" (11).  Integrity in all dealings with others is an important part of Godliness.  We should do our own business (11) rather than expecting others to take care of us.  "Those without" (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.

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 (13).  As Christ often called death "sleep," so Paul says Christians who have died are asleep in Jesus (14).  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 their bodies that they sleep.  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.  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 (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 (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" (16,17).
The result of this is, "so shall we ever be with the Lord" (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 open and public, for all to see.  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" (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.  

November 9

Nahum 2, Jn. 16
Nahum 3, 1 Thess. 5


1 Thessalonians 5

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 chapter 5.  Paul calls it "the day of the Lord" (5:1).  It is important to see that this passage is a continuation of chapter 4.  In 4:13-18 Paul wrote of the condition of those who die prior to that Day; in chapter 5 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 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.  We 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 at His return, or whether He comes to take us individually to His House of many Mansions through death (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.  Because they didn't believe in it, they didn't prepare.  Because 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.
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 they are to care for the souls of the members, and has a distinct note of authority in it. Ministers 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 true ministers, and distinguish them from 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 within the Church, beginning with the encouragement to "be at peace among yourselves."  14 and 15 continue 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 teaching and preaching Christ in the Old Testament during the completion of the New Testament.  The office of the prophet has now been replaced by preaching, which is the exposition and application of the Bible, Old and New Testaments.

November 10

Habakuk 1, Jn. 17
Hab. 2, 2 Thess. 1


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  several months there completing the task of organising the church and instructing the clergy and congregations 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 months 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 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 (4), and, especially that their faith and love "groweth exceedingly" in spite of their sufferings, (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 behind.  In short, when their faith requires anything from them, they find they have nothing to give because they have received nothing.  The Thessalonians have received the Gospel of Christ.  They have received life through His atoning sacrifice.  They have received the presence of the Holy Spirit, and the means of grace.  They do not expect God to make life easy for them.  Their church was born in persecution, and they expect following Christ to be costly.  Thus they are able to persevere.

Yet they do 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.  He shows that God will repay the persecutors with tribulation (6), just as He will repay the faithful with "rest" (7).  When He comes with His angels to bring in the fullness of His Day, the tormentors will be cast into the fire, punished with everlasting destruction, and banned forever from the presence and glory of God (8-10).  This fate awaits all "that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" (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 (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 (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 (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 toward 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.

November 11

Hab. 3, Jn. 18
Zephaniah 1, 2 Thess. 2


2 Thessalonians 2

 Not surprisingly, the Thessalonians still have 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). 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 both 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, have stopped working and supplying the needs of themselves and their families because they believe Jesus will return within the next few days, or the next few minutes.  Instead of earning their own living, they spend their time spreading their views in such obnoxious ways as to make them nothing more than "busybodies" (3:11), who, because they have not worked to provide for themselves, expect 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" (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 (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 (4).  This Anti-Christ appears prior to the Return of Christ, and our Lord will destroy him at His coming (7-9).  All who were deceived by him (10-11) will be destroyed with him at the Lord's return (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.

Doom and destruction await the man of sin and all who reject the Gospel of salvation in Christ alone (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 (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" (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 (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 faith and practice given by Christ through the Apostles.

More of the joy of the Christian, as opposed to the doom of the unbelievers, 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.

November 12

Zeph. 2, Jn. 19
Zeph. 3, 2 Thess. 3


2 Thessalonians 3

Paul asks the people to pray for him (1, 2). 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, or by the persecution he faces for it.  He is asking that persecution and trials will not stop him from proclaiming the Gospel.  That the Gospel would be "glorified" means 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 (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, or 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.

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 are not living by this pattern. They are, "walking disorderly" (6).  They are not carousing or fornicating, but neither are they living by the pattern of life God intended.  Their primary departure from the pattern is that they have stopped working for a living and are expecting others in the church to feed and clothe them and their families.  Why? They believe the Return of the Lord to bring in the fulness of the Day of the Lord, is so immanent that it makes all preparations for future life on earth meaningless. 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 (7-9).  Though they had the right, as do all ministers of Christ's Church, to receive a wage for their work, just like 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 (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 (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 (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" (10).

Paul closes his exhortations with a prayer that the Lord of peace Himself will give His peace to the Thessalonians (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."