Through the Bible, September 21

Reading: No scheduled reading

Summary: Once again we have scheduled a to catch up if you’ve fallen behind in your reading. This one is for the third week of September. Otherwise, below are some thoughts for your consideration for today from this past week’s readings.

  1. The city of Thessalonica played an important role in the region of Macedonia as the chief city of the region and the seat of Roman administration. The city also enjoyed a strategic location having an excellent harbor as well as being located on the primary overland route to the east from Rome, the famous Roman highway–Egnatian Way.
  2. Thessalonica is sometimes remembered negatively because Paul’s experience in Berea, the town to which he fled following the threat of violence at Thessalonica. Luke speaks to the noble mindedness of the Bereans in receiving the gospel, especially compared to the Thessalonians (Acts 17:11).  It should be remembered that there were several conversions at Thessalonica—obviously—and that Luke’s reference is specifically to the Jews of the synagogue in Berea.
  3. How interesting to consider Paul’s work in Macedonia and Greece being instigated by the Lord (the “Macedonian call”) and yet his encountering so much opposition and resistance at Philippi, Thessalonica, and Corinth and apathy at Athens. Doing God’s work does not mean that all will go smoothly and bumps in the road are no reason to stop the journey.

Devotional Thought:

Increasing Love

For what do we wish to be known as followers of Jesus Christ?   How do we want people to see us?  Superior Bible knowledge? Great piety?  Member of a strong church?

Jesus said the world’s perception of us as His followers would come through the love we possess for each other (John 13:35).

Think about what the Bible says about this love.  As famously described and defined in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, this love is what every Christian is to have for others, not just husbands and wives.

Our cleansing from sin through obedience to the truth is not an end in itself, as important as it is.  But that purification is “for a sincere brotherly love” so we may “love one another from a pure heart” (1 Pet. 1:22).

Love is the pinnacle of Christian virtues.  It is greater than faith and hope (1 Cor. 13:13).  It is “above all these”; “these” being compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forbearance, and forgiveness (Col. 3:12-14).

No wonder Paul was so ecstatic over the Thessalonians.  His desire for them was that they would “increase and abound in love for one another” (1 Thess. 3:12).  What he later learned was that indeed “the love of every one of you for one another is increasing” (2 Thess. 1:3).

Is the very thing Jesus wishes to identify me as His follower the same thing I want others to know about me as His disciple?

Through the Bible, September 20

Reading: 2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:17

Summary: Paul wraps up his Thessalonian correspondence with encouragements to faithfulness, a request for prayers, a warning against idleness, and reminder to remain steadfast.

Devotional Thought:

Bad Tradition, Good Tradition

Wait a minute!  I thought religious traditions were bad.  Isn’t that what Jesus taught?  He said that keeping traditions led men to leave and reject the commandments of God and to make void the word of God (Mark 7:8,9, 13).  Yet, here Paul plainly says that Christians should “stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us” (2 Thess. 2:15).

What’s going on here?

Our trouble here is the word “tradition”.  The term used means a “giving up” or “giving over”.  Some English translations don’t even us the term “tradition” in the 2 Thessalonians text, they say something about the teachings that were passed on (see NIV, NLT, MSG).

The critical question here appears to be the source of what has been passed on; given over from whom or from where?  Jesus was warning against the teaching from men replacing God’s own word (see Mark 7:7).  Paul is talking about the teaching received from himself as an inspired apostle, either written or spoken (2 Thess. 2:15).  And that message was not from men, but from God (1 Thess. 2:13; 4:2).

Beware of men’s traditions and beware that we dare not neglect God’s traditions.

Through the Bible, September 19

Reading: 2 Thessalonians 1:1-2:12

Summary: This second letter to the Thessalonican church appears to have come quickly on the heels of Timothy’s delivering the first one.  Paul rejoices that some of the very things for which he prayed and was concerned were being answered (see 1 Thess. 3:10, 12 and 2 Thess. 1:3).  He returns to the familiar theme of Christ’s coming and the judgment as well as the unfamiliar (at least to us) discussion of the man of lawlessness.

Devotional Thought:

A Church to Brag About

Is there a church for which you have a particular fondness?  A congregation that you freely tell others about and would love to be a part of—if you’re not already?

What’s so special about them?  What appeals to you about this body of the Lord’s people?  Is it because they have growing numbers?  A dynamic worship assembly?  Are they meeting some particular need of yours or a loved one?  They say and do all the things just like you would?

For whatever reason(s), you want to be among their number.

Paul bragged about the church at Thessalonica and thanked God for them.  Notice why; their faith was growing abundantly, their love for one another was increasing, and they exhibited steadfastness and faith in the face of persecution and afflictions (2 Thess. 1:3-4).

Would you want to be counted among them?  Are these the kinds of things about which you would boast and be thankful?

Are the parameters for my assessments of churches and even individual Christians in need of adjustment?

Through the Bible, September 18

Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5

Summary: Of great concern to the Thessalonian Christians was Jesus’ return.  Some clarifying instruction had been called for (4:13-18), but also encouragement to be prepared for this unknown date (5:1-11).  Paul concludes this letter with a flurry of commands and instructions.

Devotional Thought:

A Metaphorical Drunk

The Bible is exceedingly clear when it addresses the issue of drunkenness and the dangers of strong drink (Rom. 13:13; 1 Cor. 6:10; Gal. 5:21; Prov. 20:1).  On at least one occasion, though, it talks about the drunk who may have never taken a drink. It’s the figurative, metaphorical drunk.

First Thessalonians 5:6-8 says, “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.”

Though the terms “sober” and “drunk” are used, he’s not talking about imbibing alcohol and becoming inebriated.  Instead, it’s a state of mind that is alert and controlled and aware as opposed to oblivious and unconcerned.  We know it’s not literal because sleep and being awake are paralleled with being drunk and sober

The encouragement is that in light of Jesus’ return, Christians should live accordingly; aware and alert and serious-minded.  They have prepared themselves for what will transpire at Christ’s coming, though we do not know when it will occur—it will be “like at thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2).  Otherwise, it is as though one was drunk, never giving consideration to this epic (and that’s even an understatement) event.

So, you may have never been drunk, but are you drunk?

Through the Bible, September 17

Reading: 1 Thessalonians 4

Summary: Keep in mind that Paul is writing to Christians from whom he feels he was separated prematurely.  His material is very fundamental and basic.  He reminds them of the very crux of Christian living, that is “to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more” (v. 1).  What is more, this is course is informed by the “instruction we gave you through the Lord Jesus” (v. 2).

Devotional Thought:

Then and Now

How’s this for a brief summation of what being a Christian is all about?  “Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more” (1 Thess. 4:1).  It’s all about learning how to walk and to please God.

That actually flies in the face of many perceptions of Christianity.  Apparently, there is something that one must do.  Not only that, but being a Christian is much more than what one claims or desires, it is very directly related to how one lives.  Further, pleasing God is what it’s all about, not God pleasing us.

Notice also that what the Thessalonians were doing was according to the instruction they had received from Paul.  I wonder what would happen if a person today would follow the same instruction?  Would the results be the same?

Could the results be the same?

Mustn’t the results be the same?

Through the Bible

Reading: 1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:13

Summary: Paul’s feelings for the Thessalonians and having to be separated from them is evident as you read, “But since we were torn away form you brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you…” (1 Thess. 2:17-18).

Devotional Thought:

Worry Over Faith

Paul worried unnecessarily.  But who could blame him?

His departure from Thessalonica had been premature.  Of that he was convinced.  Inability to return there he blamed on Satan and fervent prayers had been offered that God would bring him back (1 Thess. 2:18; 3:10-11).

Paul’s concern was for their faith.  Was it sufficient to withstand their inevitable afflictions?  Would it survive?  Would those whom he considered his “glory and joy” become a bitter disappointment?  Would his own efforts among them prove to be in vain?  Paul just couldn’t stand it.  He sent Timothy back “to learn about your faith” and “to establish and exhort you in your faith” while He remained alone at Athens (1 Thess. 3:2, 5).

Turns out Paul was very pleasantly surprised.  They had not only survived, they thrived in their faith. What Timothy found was that both the word of the Lord and their faith in God had “gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything” (1 Thess. 1:8).

Though Paul had contributed significantly to the conversion and early instruction of the Christians in Thessalonica, the quality and depth and strength of their faith was not dependent on Paul.  After all, they had received Paul’s message, not as the word of men, but as God’s word “which is at work in you believers” (1 Thess. 1:13).

It’s not that preachers and preaching aren’t important (see Rom. 10:14-15), but the power is in the message, not the messenger (Rom. 1:16).  Men may encourage faith, but only God’s word produces it (Rom. 10:17).  Paul learned that faith can flourish in his absence, but he knew it would die apart from the word “at work in you believers” (1 Thess. 2:13).

Now, about your own faith—is it what it is by the working of God’s word in you, or is it based on some man?

Just asking.

Through the Bible, September 15

Reading: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-2:16

Summary: Paul obviously had great fond affection for the Christians in Thessalonica and was impressed with what he heard from Timothy about them even in the relatively short time he’d been gone. It’s interesting to read Paul’s description of the very personal nature of their work among Thessalonians.

Devotional Thought:

Still, These Three Remain

I guess Paul wasn’t kidding.  He famously said that faith, hope, and love abide (1 Cor. 13:13).  But this isn’t a letter to Corinth, this is to Thessalonica.  When Paul prays for these dear Christians, he remembers their faith, hope and love before God (1 Thess. 1:3).  Specifically, it was their “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

It turns out these three show up often together, 1 Corinthians 13 just happens to be the best known. For instance, for the Colossians Paul thanked God “since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven” (Col. 1:4-5).

It’s not even the only time it shows up in Thessalonians.  “But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation (1 Thess. 5:8). You might also want to look at Galatians 5:5-6 and 1 Peter 1:21-22.

Would you not agree that these three serve as an excellent barometer for our spiritual condition at any given time?  How deep is my faith?  How firmly anchored is my hope? How lavish is my love?

These three remain. Do I remain in them?

September Week 3 Bible Reading Introduction

Week 3: Churches Instructed and Strengthened (1 & 2 Thessalonians)

September 15-21

During Paul’s second missionary journey—this being the one started with Silas, joined by Timothy, and marked the apostle’s first venture into Europe in response to the “Macedonian call” (Acts 16:6-10)—one of his stops is at Thessalonica, after having left Philippi.  His time there is recorded in Acts 17:1-9.  He has success in this city as a number of Jews respond favorably to his preaching as well as “a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few o the leading women” (v. 4). This also, though, stirred great opposition among the Jews.  So strong was the reaction—they “set the city in an uproar” (v. 5)—that Paul found it necessary to leave this fledgling congregation much sooner than he had wanted.

First Thessalonians is Paul’s letter to this church after he had received a report from Timothy who had returned to check on the brethren there.  The letter was likely written from Corinth to which Paul had gone, after spending some time in Berea and Athens, and where Timothy caught up with the apostle (Acts 18:5).

Second Thessalonians is likely written soon after Paul receives word back from Timothy after he delivers the first letter.  Noticeably absent from this epistle is the anxiousness Paul had expressed for them in the first.  Paul likely sent this letter before leaving Corinth.

Through the Bible, September 14

Reading: No scheduled reading

Thoughts and Reflections: Today is the regularly scheduled day for the second week of September to catch up if you’ve fallen behind in reading. Otherwise, below are some thoughts for your consideration for today from this week’s readings.

  1. The address of the book of James to “the Dispersion” may seem unusual to us, but was a common thought among first century Jews. During Jesus’ ministry, He said to ones sent to apprehend Him, “You will seek me and will not find me.  Where I am you cannot come.”  Not understanding Jesus’ meaning, the Jews said, “Where does this man intend to go that we will not find him? Does he intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks?” (John 7:34-35).  Following the time of Babylonian captivity more of the Jews lived outside of Palestine that within.  A condition referred to as “the Dispersion.”
  2. Why is so much of Acts focused on the work and ministry of Paul? Undoubtedly, others of the apostles also traveled and preached.  We know, for instance, that Barnabas and Mark—though not apostles—upon parting with Paul sailed to Cyprus (Acts 15:39).  What happened there and where else they may have gone we are not told.  Additionally, early church history tells of a strong representation of Christians in Alexandria, Egypt.  Someone took the gospel there.  We simply don’t know who and when.  So why the nearly exclusive attention given to Paul?  In part, it may well be the purpose for which the book was written. It, along with Luke, is addressed to one named Theophilus as an account first of Jesus, then of the spread of his message—primarily through Paul.  With Acts’ abrupt ending with Paul in prison, it is suggested that perhaps the books were written initially as a part of Paul’s defense for his trial and that Theophilus was somehow involved.
  3. Paul’s mission efforts were hardly individual endeavors. In addition to Barnabas and Silas as primary companions, he obviously enlisted the efforts of many other preachers.  Reading his letters, in addition to Acts, one pieces together a picture of a traveling band who evangelize a town, and sometimes a larger region, with Paul at some point in time moving on while others remain behind to assist and teach these fledgling churches.
  4. Luke’s participation in the work of Paul can be traced by following the personal pronoun “we” in the accounts of Paul’s travels. The first person plural pronoun, which would include the narrator of the story—Luke—is found in Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 17:1-28:16.

Devotional Thought:

It’s Not In the Bible

Just so you’ll know, this devotional is really based on what’s not in the Bible.  That might sound a little dicey but stay with me.

We are quite familiar with Paul and his evangelistic efforts because the book of Acts devotes so much attention to them.  We ought to be duly impressed.  What Acts doesn’t tell us about are the mission efforts of the other apostles.  Is that because they didn’t do anything?  No, I do not believe that to be true.  The Bible is always selective in what it chooses to record.  Just like with Jesus, John says he did and said many other things that aren’t recorded in his Gospel (John 20:30; 21:25).  The same, I believe could be said of the rest of the apostles.

A very popular tourist attraction in Kiev, Ukraine is called Saint Andrew’s Slope.  It is a street on a steep hill rising from the Dnieper River.  The street is cobble stone and near the very top is situated Saint Andrew’s Cathedral, a comparatively small, yet very ornate Russian Orthodox Church.  Inside is a portrait of Andrew, probably ten or twelve feet tall.  The legend is that Peter’s brother, the apostle Andrew, traveled north across the Black Sea (the very southern portion of which usually shows up the very top of the map at the back of your Bible of Paul’s journeys) and evangelized the region that is today covered by parts of Ukraine and Russia and perhaps beyond.

We don’t know if he did or not.  Many legends are based in fact and we have not definitive records of his or any other of the apostles’ travels, so, perhaps it’s true.

I’d love to know the stories of Andrew’s travels.  I’m sure many are no less thrilling than those from Paul’s travels.

Here’s the point.  What we and others do in service to God does not have to be, or need to be, known by others.  As far as history is concerned these other faithful servants of God worked in anonymity—compared to Paul—and that’s OK.  It could be said we only know 1/13th of the apostolic work in taking the gospel into all of the world (the number is actually much smaller because we don’t even know all that Paul did).

Don’t let the fact that others don’t know what you’re doing discourage you.  As a matter of fact, there’s inherent danger if they do (see Matt. 6:1).

Might one of the great joys of heaven be learning the stories of all the other things Jesus, Paul, and the twelve other apostles did that Scripture didn’t record?

Through the Bible, September 13

Reading: Acts 19-20

Summary: Paul’s third journey is dominated by his time spent in Ephesus.  This is Paul’s lengthiest stay in any one location as far as the record of Acts is concerned.  It becomes a basis of operation for the evangelization of all of Asia, likely including the beginning of many of the congregations of which we later learn in the New Testament.  As several of Paul’s epistles are written during the time of his journeys (particularly the second and third), we will turn our attention in our daily reading to these letters—beginning next week—before returning to the historical account of Acts (during the second week of November).

Devotional Thought:

The Way

“If we don’t change direction soon, we’ll end up where we’re going.” (Professor Irwin Corey).

That showed up today in my “Quotes of the Day” widget on my browser’s homepage.  In today’s Bible reading, the Christian faith (or we could say the church or the kingdom or Christianity—as used biblically, not popularly) is referred to as “the Way” (Acts 19:9).  That’s not the only time this happens (see also Acts 9:2; 19:23; 22:4; 24:14,22).

The word literally and simply means a way, a road, or a path. So the Christian faith is seen as the way to God and life and eternal bliss.  The native American’s name for Christianity was “the Jesus road.”

Of course, Jesus famously spoke of two possible roads on which one might travel.  One is narrow and restrictive, the other very broad and accommodating.  The first, as Jesus said, leads to life, the second to death (Matt. 7:13-14).

Now, back to the quote of the day.  Few people take the time to consider where they are going; that is, where the path on which they currently travel in life will take them.  Most need to change direction—sounds kind of like repentance, doesn’t it?  Most are on the path leading to destruction, Jesus says.

“The Way,” by all means, is the way to go; otherwise we’ll end up where we’re going.