Try Tabletalk in 2014

2014_TBT_01_Jan_245x308If you don’t already have a plan for your personal Bible study this year, consider Tabletalk from Ligonier ministries. The daily Bible studies are excellent, and Tabletalk also includes specific daily readings to take you through the Bible in a year. 2014 marks my third year using Tabletalk for my daily Bible study as well as a guide to read through the Bible, and I can’t overstate its value. Speaking of value, an annual subscription is only $23, (which translates to $1.92 per month). You can try it out for three months absolutely free, and a digital subscription comes with the print edition!

 

Free Advent Devotional From Desiring God

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The Advent season begins December 1. John Piper and the staff at Desiring God have provided an excellent devotional guide for the season. We have printed copies at the back table, and you can download free copies for your iPad, Kindle, or other device here.

 

Dr. Greg Wills Speaking at Heartland Baptist Church

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We are thrilled to announce a very special guest speaker this Sunday, November 3, 2013. Dr. Greg Wills, Dean of the School of Theology and Professor of Church History at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary will be preaching in our morning service. Please invite family and friends to participate in this unique opportunity to hear from a Southern Baptist statesmen, theologian, educator, and pastor.

Dr. Wills is Dean of the School of Theology and Professor of Church History at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Wills was appointed to the faculty of Southern Seminary in 1997 after serving since 1994 as Archives and Special Collections Librarian with the seminary’s Boyce Centennial Library. Dr. Wills’ dissertation, Democratic Religion: Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South, 1785-1900, was published by Oxford University Press. Besides contributions to theological journals, Dr. Wills has also written Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1859-2009, an history of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Fear of Death and Disease

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by Robert Rothwell

“I see a spot we need to keep an eye on.” Cancer. It wasn’t a diagnosis that I ever expected to hear as a young man about to start a family. Immediately, my mind filled with questions: How will I tell my wife? How will she manage if I die? What will the treatment cost? Am I ready to die?

There were no words in the immediate aftermath. It helped that the cancer with which I’d been diagnosed has a 95-percent cure rate, but I’d be lying if I said that eliminated my worries. A 95-percent cure rate isn’t a 100-percent cure rate. Would I be part of the “unlucky” few? How would it be possible to maintain a straight face and tell my wife that “everything’s going to be alright” when I had no control over that? Sometimes things don’t turn out alright—at least in the short term.

People die every day. Babies, teenagers, young mothers, middle-aged fathers, the elderly—death is no respecter of persons. It’s not exactly true that the only sure things in life are death and taxes. You can avoid taxes. If you’re willing to put up with jail time, you need not pay the tax man. Death, on the other hand, is certain. Apart from those who are living when the Savior returns to consummate His kingdom, no one gets out of this world alive.

Why do we fear death so much? For non-Christians, the answer is easy. No matter how they suppress the truth in unrighteousness, whether by atheism, agnosticism, or false religion, they can’t escape their God-given awareness that they’ve broken His law and deserve hell.

Christians also fear death and disease. Of course, we know that we’re not supposed to, and we’d never tell anyone that we harbor such fears. Certainly, we know all the right things to say about death: God is sovereign. He has a good purpose in my pain. The Lord can teach and sanctify my family, friends, and me through the process of suffering and dying. Often, however, we say these things because we “have to” and not because we’re fully convinced. I’ve been guilty of that. In fact, we’ve all been guilty of that.

Believers don’t fear death and disease for the same reasons as non-Christians because we know Christ has a home for us in heaven (John 14:1–3). Instead, we fear losing control. We insure ourselves against property loss. We order our days so that we are most productive. By and large, we enjoy happy and fulfilling relationships by listening to others and giving of ourselves. But despite our best efforts, we can’t keep death and disease away.

We also fear suffering. Nobody wants a terminal illness. Nobody wants chronic pain. Nobody wants to lose his mental faculties.

In many ways, it’s right to fear death and suffering. Since God made the universe “very good” (Gen. 1:1–2:4), death and disease are intruders. They’re here because of sin, and they’ll be gone in the new heavens and earth. Until then, however, we must live with our fear of death and disease. How can we glorify God in so doing?

I can’t give all the answers, but I hope to offer some help. First, we should know why we fear death and disease. If you fear death because you are not reconciled to God, then you must be reconciled today by trusting in Christ alone. In so trusting, you will stand clothed in Jesus’ perfect righteousness before the Judge of all and He will welcome you into His kingdom. He has promised to give eternal life to all who believe in Jesus.

Second, admit your fears to God and others. I don’t know all the reasons why the Lord allows us to suffer. I do know that He uses our pain to conform us to Christ. Confessing our fears gives people the opportunity to pray for us and encourage us to keep our eyes on Jesus, not our disease. It allows us to bear one another’s burdens and fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2).

Third, help make your church a place where people can admit their fears honestly. Talk to your leaders about what you can do to create a church culture where people can find help if they or someone they love is facing the spectre of death and disease. Help with bereavement support groups, take meals to suffering families—there’s no end to what can be done.

Fourth, trust God’s sovereignty. Death and disease don’t surprise Him. He’s numbered our days (Ps. 139:16), so He’s always accomplishing His good purposes for us.

Finally, meditate on God’s promises until they become part of your very soul. “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Ps. 23:4). “The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18). “This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). These words of life comfort us in dark days.

Four years and two children later, I’m cancer-free. But death still lies ahead for me and for us all. May we face our fear of it with the courage that befits us as God’s children.

5 Ways to Pray for Pastors

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by Nicholas Batzig

Just the other day I received a letter in the mail from a medical doctor whom I have never met before. Having told me how he had benefited from some of my sermons and articles, he went on to tell me, “I pray for you. I will be able to do so on a very regular basis now and trust that you will be helped and strengthened in your ministry and family.” This was an enormous comfort and encouragement to me. Contrary to what some might suppose, ministers of the gospel desperately need the prayers of the saints. One of my seminary professors used to tell the student body, “Pastors have a bull’s eye on their back and footprints up their chest.” This is quite an appropriate description of the hardships that God’s servants are called to endure for the sake of the gospel. The flaming arrows of the evil one are persistently being shot at pastors. In addition, the world is eager to run them over at any opportunity. This is, sadly, also a reality with regard to some in the church.

With so much opposition and difficulty within and without, pastors constantly need the people of God to be praying for them. The shepherd needs the prayers of the sheep as much as they need his prayers. He also is one of Christ’s sheep, and is susceptible to the same weaknesses. While there are many things one could pray for pastors, here are five straightforward Scriptural categories:

1. Pray for their spiritual protection from the world, the flesh and the Devil.

Whether it was Moses’ sinful anger leading to his striking of the rock (Num. 20:7-12), David’s adultery and murder (2 Sam. 11), or Simon Peter’s denial of the Lord (Matt. 26:69-75) and practical denial of justification by faith alone (Gal. 2:11-21), ministers are faced with the reality of the weakness of the flesh, the assaults of the world and the rage of the devil (see this article). There have been a plethora of ministers who have fallen into sinful practices in the history of the church and so brought disgrace to the name of Christ. Since Satan has ministers of the gospel (and their families) locked in his sight—and since God’s honor is at stake in a heightened sense with any public ministry of the word, members of the church should pray that their pastor and their pastor’s family would not fall prey to the world, the flesh, or the Devil.

2. Pray for their deliverance from the physical attacks of the world and the Devil.

While under prison guard in Rome, the apostle Paul encouraged the believers in Philippi to pray for his release when he wrote, “I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:19). (See also 2 Cor. 1:9-11).

When Herod imprisoned Simon Peter we learn that “constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church” (Acts 12:5). After an exodus-like deliverance from prison, Luke tells us that Peter showed up at the home where the disciples were continuing to pray for his deliverance. This is yet another example of the minister being delivered from harm due, in part, to the prayers of the saints.

3. Pray for doors to be opened to them for the spread of the gospel.

In his letter to the Colossians Paul asked the church to be praying “that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains” (Col. 4:3). The success of the spread of the gospel is dependant in part on the prayers of the people of God. In this way, the church shares in the gospel ministry with the pastor. Though he is not the only one in the body who is called to spread the word, he has a unique calling to “do the work of an evangelist.” The saints help him fulfill this work by praying that the Lord would open doors “for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ.”

4. Pray that they might have boldness and power to preach the gospel.

In addition to praying for open doors for the ministry of the word, the people of God should pray that ministers would have Spirit-wrought boldness. When writing to the church in Ephesus, the apostle Paul asked them to pray for him “that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel” (Eph. 6:19). There is a well-known story of several college students going to visit the Metropolitan Tabernacle in order to hear Charles Spurgeon preach. As the story goes, Spurgeon met them at the door and offered to show them around. At one point he asked if they wanted to see the church’s heater plant (boiler room). He took them downstairs where they saw hundreds of people praying for God’s blessings on the service and on Spurgeon’s preaching. The gathering of the people of God to pray for the ministry of the word is what he called “the heating plant!” Believers can help ministers by praying that they would be given boldness and power in preaching the gospel.

5. Pray that they might have a spirit of wisdom and understanding.

One of the most pressing needs for a minister of the gospel is that he would be given the necessary wisdom to counsel, to know when to confront, to mediate and to discern the particular pastoral needs of a congregation. This is an all-encompassing and a recurring need. The minister is daily faced with particular challenges for which he desperately needs the wisdom of Christ. It is said of Jesus that “the Spirit of wisdom and knowledge, and of counsel and might” was upon Him (Is. 11:2). The servants of Christ need that same Spirit. Much harm is done to the church as a whole if the minister does not proceed with the wisdom commensurate to the challenges with which he is faced. Those who benefit from this wisdom can help the minister by calling down this divine blessing from heaven upon him.

Do The Ordinary: Gospel Balance

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In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing. Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time? It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand, for the one who fears God shall come out from both of them. (Ecclesiastes 7:15-18, ESV)

I admit my behavior swings constantly from legalism to liberalism and I get it right like two days a year. Balance is hard for me. Is it hard for you? Do you find it difficult just to follow Jesus? I do. I often want to add to what God requires and tragically, I subtract from it sometimes. Solomon gives us three principles for living in balance before God.

  1. Don’t trust in your own Pharisaic righteousness: Solomon says, “Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself?” Solomon is pointing to the self-righteous tendencies of the legalist, much like Jesus in Matthew 23, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!”
  2. Don’t be foolish with your freedom: Solomon warns us not to be overly wicked nor to be a fool. This is the other extreme from the legalist. While we acknowledge that sin is a part of our existence, even as Christians (Galatians 5:16-17), we must jettison the idea that because the presence of sin remains we have no responsibility to put it to death.  That’s not wise, nor is it safe. Christians put sin to death (Romans 8:13-14).
  3. Fear God: Reverence, worship God. Solomon takes the focus off of behavior and puts it on God. This is the journey of our existence as we seek to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Seek the balance between legalism and license: worship. We know that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10), and that Jesus Christ is to the believer “wisdom and righteousness” (1 Cor. 1:30), so we, as God’s people must avoid these extreme behaviors and seek to do the ordinary thing: worship Christ.

I’ll Fly Away: Death and The Second Coming of Jesus Christ

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But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

I have performed a lot of funerals. Everyone has a different way of getting through their grief, and funerals serve as the focal point of the beginning of the grieving process. I try to tell families to take their time in their grief without expectation about how long they will feel a certain way or when the reminder of their loved one will no longer make them respond emotionally.

It’s not the reality of grief that should concern Christians, as if we should be immune to pain. Rather, it is the redemption of grief that should concern Christians. The gospel impacts the way Christians view and do. The gospel impacts the way we view death and the afterlife and it impacts the things we do regarding death and the afterlife. For the Christian, every tear that falls, every picture that is placed in a frame, every time we say, “this belonged to your Grandmother” is inseparably linked to the cross, empty tomb, and second coming of Jesus Christ.

Paul has been writing to the Thessalonian church to encourage their faith and growth in Christ. We are reading what Paul wrote in order to encourage our faith and growth in Christ. This particular passage was written to address the Thessalonian church regarding their concerns about the death of their loved ones and the second coming of Christ. We are reading this to give us a framework to understand death for ourselves within the context of the gospel and the second coming of Christ.

The Thessalonians were worried. Some thought that the Day of the Lord had already come. Some thought that all believers would live to see the second coming. Some held a view rooted in Jewish thought that there would be a disadvantage to those who weren’t able to participate in the assumption into heaven. There were many different views on this, and I would add that there still are many different views on this. They held their views with a degree of emotion and concern, and we hold our views with varying degrees of emotion and concern. When we talk about the second coming of Christ, my concern is fundamentally pastoral in nature. That is, I want people to have gospel-driven confidence and hope when they think about death and the second coming of Christ. There are many different views on these passages and I think you can be a faithful believer and hold a premillennial view, whether dispensational or historic. You can hold the amillennial view, the postmillennial view, or a partial preterist view and be a Christian. These are not gospel-level, closed-handed issues. In the end, our concern in expository preaching is the message of this text as compared to other texts in the canon and the explanation and application of that text for our lives, and thus I will tell you what I think this particular text is saying and how that applies to your life.

Exposition

The fundamental reason for this passage is to answer the question, “What does death and the second coming of Christ mean for the Christian?” I am using the outline that I have used at two different funerals I have performed because the goal of gospel driven confidence and hope is the same as it would be for a funeral.  [I am indebted to Brian Croft and Phil Newton for this outline. Their book on Conducting Gospel-Centered Funerals is gold.]

Two Things God Doesn’t Want

  • Ignorance (13a): But we do not want you to be uninformed [unaware, ignorant, lacking information], brothers, about those who are asleep [euphemism, meaning dead. John 11, “Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus has died...’” This matters because some people get the idea of soul sleep from this passage and I don’t think you can get that from this. It is a linguistic technique describing death in a gentle way.] 
  • Hopelessness (13b): …that [so that, purpose] you may not grieve [be sad; be in distress] as others do who have no hope [to look forward with confidence]

What is he saying?

  1. There are theological truths about death. We don’t need to guess what happens. The craziest things are said at funerals. You were always my angel, now you have your wings. That’s from It’s a Wonderful Life. Great movie, not biblical. Or another one, “I guess God needed another angel.” That is sadistic! Like God is up in heaven saying, “Hey, guys, we’re running low on angels. Go ahead and run David over with a bus.” No! There are theological truths about death that we can know, understand and live our lives with.
  2. Grief is not sinful. If he ended the verse by saying, “So that you may not grieve…” then grief would be sinful. What does he say? He says that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. The issue is hopelessness, not grief. Grief is a part of life. When people are ripped from you in this life, it hurts! Jesus, at the tomb of his friend Lazarus did what? He wept! He didn’t shrug his shoulders and say, “Hey, I’m going to raise him up in like 20 minutes, everybody calm down.” No, he wept because death is the clearest image of the fall and the reason Jesus had to die. Grief is normal. Grief is not sinful. But, for the Christian, grief is hopeful. The unregenerate, Christ-less man grieves, but his grief terminates with the funeral. The Christian grieves, but his grief terminates in God, anchored in real hope. Let’s look at that hope together, both for the Christian who dies and the Christian who lives.

Two Things God Wants Us To Know

  • Christians Who Die Have Hope
    • Because of the Resurrection of Jesus (14): For [logical condition] since we believe that Jesus died [notice he doesn’t say, “fell asleep” here. He tosses the euphemism because of the theological significance of actually saying that Jesus died.] and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him [Jesus] those who have fallen asleep [he returns to the sleep analogy for believers]. There is a lot going on here, but I want you to see the main point. There is a resurrection for the Christian because there was a resurrection for Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:20, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” What are firstfruits? The representative gift of the entire amount. That is, Christ’s death and resurrection is a preliminary picture of the death and resurrection of all believers.
    • Because of the Return of Jesus (15-16): For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord [This means more than just that Paul is inspired by God to write this. He’s saying, “What we are teaching is the Lord’s teaching.” Calvin says it means, “We are teaching from his discourses.” G.K. Beale, “While it is certainly true that Paul was an inspired writer here and elsewhere, the likelihood is that Paul is recollecting the words of the earthly Jesus and paraphrasing him.” We know that this is the case because if you line up 4:16-5:7 next to Matthew 24:30-49 it is almost identical.], that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep [Emphatic; a statement of chronological order]. For the Lord himself will descend [Jesus is the one coming back; Acts 1:11, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”] from heaven, with a cry of command [Loud, not secret, and the command is aimed, most commentators believe, at the “sleeping Christians.” Think “Lazarus, come forth.”] with the voice of an archangel [Loud, not secret, and many arguments abound over whether this is the voice of Michael, the only archangel mentioned in the Scriptures, or if Jesus is just speaking in a very loud voice. Regardless, Jesus is commanding the dead bodies of deceased saints to rise from the earth with a whole lot of noise either from an archangel or from his own voice] and with the sound of the trumpet of God [Loud, not secret, Like in Exodus 19 when God announces his “coming down to meet with Moses” by trumpet blast; the king is coming, trumpets blast...loudly]. And the dead in Christ will rise first [again, in sequence].

So much happening in these verses. Let me break this down into a summary of events according to this text: Hendrickson, “[God] will cause [the previously dead Christians] to come along with Jesus, from heaven, that is, he will bring their souls along from heaven, so that these may be reunited quickly (in a flash) with their bodies, in which they will go forth to meet the Lord in the air, to remain with him forever.” I’ll break it down a little further. When you die, your body goes in the ground and your soul goes to be with Jesus, for to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Jesus told the thief on the cross, “today you will be with me in paradise.” When Jesus returns, he will bring the souls of his saints with him and they will reunite with their bodies and everything will be made new. Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians aids in our understanding of this passage regarding both sequence and transformation:

  1. Sequence: 1 Corinthians 15:23-24, “But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.”
  2. Transformation: 1 Corinthians 15:50-57, “I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Conclusion: So, the dead in Christ have hope because they will be raised with Christ at his return and all will be made new. They won’t miss out on reigning with him. They will be just as much a part of his kingdom as those who are alive, and while we’re there, let’s talk about Christians who live. They have hope too.

  • Christians Who Live Have Hope
    • Because of the Return of Jesus (17a): Then [word of sequence...next] we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up [grabbed, seized, taken away, removed, this is where people get the word “rapture” from.] together with them [at the same time, in the same moment, on the same day] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air [expression is a “technical expression in Hellenistic Greek for the departure from a city of a delegation of citizens to meet an arriving dignitary in order to accord the person proper respect and honor by escorting the dignitary back to the city"(Wanamaker).  “Paul conjures up images of an emperor visiting a colony or province. The citizens go out to meet him in open country and ten escort him into the city. Paul’s image of the people ‘meeting the Lord in the air’ should be read with the assumption that the people will immediately turn around and lead the Lord back to the newly remade world"(Wright).
    • Because of the Reign of Jesus (17b): ...and so we will always be with the Lord [sequence; that is, the Lord reigns and we reign with him forever]. When Jesus told the thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise…” the most important part of that sentence wasn’t today, or paradise. The most important part of that sentence was the with me part. Being with Jesus is the focus. Jesus is always the focus.

 

Again, so much is happening in these verses, but suffice it to say that the dead in Christ are not in danger of missing the second coming, nor are they in any danger of being disadvantaged at the second coming. Those who are alive will not precede them, but they will join them with Christ in the air as the conquering king who returns to earth to establish his eternal kingdom in glory, redemption, and everlasting joy.

One Thing God Wants Us To Do

Encourage each other: Therefore [because of what I have just said in 13-17], encourage each other with these words [the actual words I just said] There are a few things I want to point out about this final section of the text.

  1. The Second Coming is meant to be an encouragement: Many people talk about the situation in the world with wringing hands and worry and pessimism. The reality of the reigning Christ should shake us from fear and remind us that the Second Coming is when everything is made right. The Second Coming is when the kingdom is established forever. The hope of the Second Coming is that this life is not just about this life.
  2. We have words to say! We have actual words. Aren’t funerals difficult? You never know what to say. You want to say something encouraging and strengthening to people, but you can never seem to come up with the words. Paul tells us what to say. Say these words. Talk about these things. Your loved one, because of their faith and trust in Christ, because he has rescued them in his life and death will rescue them in their death and new life in him. He is coming for them and we can’t fathom the glory they know now. That’s why Martin Lloyd Jones, on his deathbed, passed a note to his wife that read, “Don’t pray for healing. Don’t hold me back from the glory.”
  3. The hope of the second coming is meant to produce certain Christian behavior. This passage says we are to encourage one another with these words. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15 also ends his great Second Coming passage by saying, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” Our hope for the future doesn’t allow us to be idle in the present. Rather, it spurs us on to the future as we long for the coming of Christ.

A disciple’s life is about learning and living, so I pray this passage changes the way we view death and the Second Coming of Christ, and that it changes what we do as a result.

Model Pastoral Prayer

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Before we get into the exposition of this passage, I want to direct your attention to another passage that will feed an understanding of this one. One of the chief rules in the study of the Bible is that Scripture interprets Scripture. Paul prays a very specific prayer here and I want you to understand why he does so. To do that, we need to take a close look at Ephesians 4:11-15.

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…”

Paul says that Jesus gave to the church apostles, prophets, evangelists, & pastor-teachers for what purpose? To equip the saints for the work of ministry. What does that accomplish? It builds up the body of Christ until it attains unity of doctrine (the faith), knowledge of Christ, and spiritual maturity. So, in summary, Christ gave apostles and pastors to promote the spiritual maturity of the church. Paul sees this as his role.

Paul believes his purpose as an apostle is to help the church grow into spiritual maturity (Eph. 4:11-13,15; Col. 1:28-29), thus his prayer is in alignment with that purpose: his prayer is that God will allow him to return again to Thessalonica to equip them for spiritual maturity.

The Meeting

There are two textual areas of Paul’s prayer I want you to notice. The first is the meeting (3:11).  Paul prays that God would allow him to see the Thessalonians again.

Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you…

Paul first uses the phrase, our God and Father himself (John 1:12-13; 1 John 3:1). How amazing it is that he is even able to pray this prayer. How amazing is it that God has given us the right to call him Father? We call God Father because he has first called us children of God. Second, he speaks about our Lord Jesus Christ who is the one through whom we have adoption, our brother, the substitutionary sacrifice for our sin, clearly grouped with the Father in this phrase, and thus divine. Third, the point of Paul’s prayer is that God would direct our way to you: The phrase “direct our way” means to clear the way, or to make the path straight. Remember, Paul described the devil’s prevention of a reunion between himself and the Thessalonians in 2:18, and here he is asking God to remove that obstacle. Interestingly, if you read  Acts 20:1-4, apparently that prayer was answered,  the obstacles were removed and Paul was able to come to them!

Our prayer as pastors should be that God would remove whatever obstacles are keeping our church from being the church. Be it pride, idolatry, legalism, or anything else. If there are obstacles that are keeping us from engaging one another in Christ-centered community, pastors should pray that God would remove those obstacles and cause us to seek after spiritual maturity together.

The Meeting For Maturity

The second major textual area in this passage is the reason for his meeting, the maturity of the Thessalonians

  • (1:12-13): Paul prays that God would allow him to see the Thessalonians again so that he could equip them for spiritual maturity.

“…12 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, 13 so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”

Two areas of maturity fall under Paul’s concern. The first is love (12). He wants them to increase (superlative; greater and greater) and abound (overflow, more than enough) in love (agape; the unconditional even if you don’t deserve it love).

That love is meant first for those inside the community of faith (one another). G.K. Beale says, “The Christian community is the school in which we learn to love. Like great musicians who practice tedious drills for long hours, Christians practice their scales at home in order to sing in public. In the community love is commanded and modeled, and here is where it must be lived out and practiced. This does not mean that love is limited to the boundaries of this community. But if the community does not live by the model and teaching of its founder, Jesus, how can it expect others to do so or to hear its call to join with them?” Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”(John 13:35).

Love isn’t, as Beale noted, limited to the Christian community. Paul directs the Thessalonians to demonstrate love for all, that is, for those outside the community of faith. We love those who are not within the community of faith, though we do so in a different way. What did Jesus tell his disciples? “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Other passages talk about our behavior toward those outside the community of faith in that we are to pursue peace with them (Romans 12:18), do good (Galatians 6:10), be patient (Ephesians 4:2), Praying (1 Timothy 2:1), showing consideration (Titus 3:2), obeying authority and government (Romans 13), honoring (1 Peter 2:17). Love is learned and practiced inside the community of faith and it overflows to those outside.

CLARIFICATION: This is a clear message from the apostle and it is clear from the previous passage (3:6-10) that this kind of love is produced by our faith in the gospel. That we won’t love people like this, whether they be inside the church or outside. If we are to love people, we will do so only as the gospel permeates every area of our being, which is what he talks about next.

 

  • Paul moves into his second concern for the Thessalonian church’s maturity and that is what I call holistic holiness (13). So that he may establish (strengthen; make strong or firm) your hearts (comprehensive being; Pr. 4:23; not just your emotions)
  • Christians tend to relegate their emotions and their actions to completely separate areas of their being. They say, “I may act like a jerk sometimes, and sure I ran over that old lady, but inside, I’m a really good person.” This is how Juvenile Christians get away with sin. It can be relegated it to a corner of their personality and they say something spiritual like, “In my heart of hearts, I’m not the kind of person who would say/do something like that.” Well, actually, it’s because you are that kind of person in your heart of hears that you said or did what you said or did. We have to be clear on this reality as we shepherd the hearts of our people.

 

Paul wants them to mature in Christ until they are spiritually mature, or blameless. And they will be so before God. They had to remember, and we must always remember that God is watching. Not just the world. It’s mystifying to me that I am more concerned about the fact that other people might be watching me than I am about the fact that God always is. I’m not alone, though. A few years ago, I started out a tithing sermon by saying that I decided to look at the financial records for our church and see what everyone gave. You should have seen the looks on everyone’s faces. Horror. Then I said I was kidding and asked why it was such a problem for them that I might know what they give, when God already knows what they give. God is watching. God wants his people to be spiritually mature, and he sees when they refuse to be.

Not only are we to be mature before the face of God, but also before the end: We don’t have much time until the trumpet sounds and Christ returns once and for all to establish his kingdom. He is coming and coming soon. Romans 13:11-14.

“11 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”

 

Let us be sober and awake and take advantage of the time we have been given.  Are you saying that we should tell our people to obey God because we are afraid of the judgment? Isn’t that fear-mongering legalism? No. While we rest completely in the finished work of Christ on our behalf for our standing in God (2 Corinthians 5:21), we cannot ignore the seriousness of the Christian life of maturity. We must tell our people not to waste their lives storing up treasure on earth when they could be storing up treasure in heaven. We must tell our people to press on to maturity in their relationship with Christ because that’s what the Bible says the Holy Spirit is in them to accomplish (Galatians 5: 16-25), and I’d like to go ahead and be on the same team with the Holy Spirit, wouldn’t you?

Patience in Pastoral Prayer

Maturity is what we are to be about as pastors and as churches. But that doesn’t mean we get to be impatient. We understand that there are babies and there are grown ups in the people of God. In a survey we took a month ago we learned that by far, the majority of people in our church have been saved for 10 years or more, which could and should mean a degree of spiritual maturity.

By way of an illustration, when you’re dealing with babies, there are certain things you understand. One pastor explained it like this and I like this illustration. When you go to a pool and you see toddlers splashing in the baby pool together (in that water that’s just a little bit warmer than the other pool), you don’t think anything about it. Why? Because they’re babies, in the baby pool. However, if you came into the pool area and there was a 55 year old man in the pool just splashing and giggling…wouldn’t you grab your phone and call the authorities? In the same way, we have patience with babies, but not with those who should no longer be acting like them. That’s why we take this so seriously. It’s our job, and it’s their life.

Let’s pray with the apostle Paul for our people that they would be mature and that we would mature, not above them, but along with them for God’s glory and our joy.

“Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith”(2 Corinthians 1:24).

The Power of Delight

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"Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them" (Psalm 111:2).

One of the most powerful motivators for Bible study is the inevitable delight in doing so. We study Scripture because when we do, we expand our delight in God, which causes us to come back again to study more, knowing that our delight in him will expand yet again. That is what the Bible is built to do.

“The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward”(Psalm 19:7-11).

Only the Bible can support the weight of our need for soul restoration in God. Herein is the secret of our delight in the study of the great works of The Lord: we forget him. We have bad days. We lose sleep in fear of upcoming decisions. The doctor gives us bad news.

“Some days with Jesus we are so sad we feel our heart will break open. Some days with Jesus fear turns us into a knot of nerve ends. Some days with Jesus we are so depressed and discouraged that between the garage and the house we just want to sit down on the grass and cry. Every day with Jesus is not sweeter than the day before. We know it from experience and we know it from Scripture.”-John Piper

Within the pages of the Bible we find the mighty, sovereign God who holds us together and restores our soul (Psalm 19:7,23: 3). We remember again that God causes all things to work together for our good and his glory (Romans 8:28ff). We remember again that Jesus came and died that we might not grow weary and lose heart (Hebrews 12:3). Our delight in God expands. Our focus is now upon our God, not on our pain. He is the God whose works are great, and we who have found our souls restored in them study out of delight, not out of duty.

TableTalk: A False Promise of Peace

QT Chair

“They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (v. 11). - Jeremiah 8:8–13

Bad news is something that we never want to hear. Yet when bad news is the truth, it must be heard if any good is to come of it. For example, nobody wants to hear that they have cancer. Still, we cannot seek treatment that can produce the good outcome of remission without knowing that we have the disease.

Jeremiah delivered truth in the form of “bad news” to the ancient people of God. Judah’s leaders, including scribes and other wise men, preached falsehoods in the form of “good news” that all was well and that the people were at peace with the Lord (Jer. 8:8–11). All things being equal, we are not surprised that the ancient Judahites wanted to hear only the good news. Yet all things were not equal. The bad news of looming judgment and the good news of security could not both be true, and Jeremiah proclaimed the truth even though it was bad news. Judah wanted to hear “peace,” but peace with God was a lie, and that false message could not lead to a good end (v. 11). Hearing and believing Jeremiah’s bad news, however, was the first step to repentance and restoration, to seeing that doom awaited the impenitent (3:12–17). Jeremiah was the Paul of his day, confronting people with the bad news of their sin so that they would run to God for salvation (Rom. 1:18–3:26).

Through Jeremiah, God conveyed the gravity of Judah’s sin in different ways, including his repeated, striking charge to the prophet not to pray for Judah (Jer. 7:16; 11:14; 14:11). It is hard to imagine the Lord being clearer about Judah’s desperate situation. Surely the nation had passed the point of no return if He was unwilling to hear the prayers of the prophets appointed to intercede for His people (see Num. 14:11–20).

Astonishingly, Jeremiah did not heed the Lord’s charge, interceding for the people even after being told not to pray for Judah (Jer. 37:3; 42:1–6). Did Jeremiah sin in this? No. First, prophetic oracles are often characterized by hyperbole that makes the reality of judgment clear and proves that the Lord will not ignore sin. The hyperbole does not falsify these oracles—it makes them more powerful to sinners’ ears, often becoming the means by which God moves people to repent. Second, the same God who told Jeremiah not to pray for Judah also told the prophet that He relents when a nation He has marked for judgment turns from sin (18:7–8). Even the most heinous sinners have an opportunity for repentance and forgiveness right up to the point that God’s wrath falls.

Coram Deo

God loves His elect so much that He will do whatever it takes to move them to repentance and faith. This includes speaking even in hyperbole to get our attention. We should never look at God’s warnings in Scripture and think, “that could never happen to me.” Instead, we must heed these warnings, knowing that they are the means by which the Spirit keeps us in faith. The Lord’s electing grace preserves us, but He does so through the warnings we find in the Bible.

Passages for Further Study

Psalm 106
Isaiah 59:14–21
Jeremiah 14:1–10
1 John 5:16–17

This devotion is taken from TableTalk, a monthly devotional magazine produced by Ligonier Ministries. I use it every day in my own devotions and it has become an invaluable resource to me. 

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