Read 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5 with your family.
Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. – 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5 (ESV)
Pray for Us
Paul’s ministry depended on prayer. In his letters, he often reminds his readers that he is praying for them. He prays they would grow in their knowledge and love of God and that God would be glorified in them (see 2 Thess. 1:11).
But Paul doesn’t only pray for his readers; he also asks his readers to pray for him. “Pray that the word would speed ahead and be honored, says Paul, “as happened among you.” From 1 Thessalonians 1, we know that the Gospel was eagerly received by the Thessalonian believers. They had personally experienced the transforming work of Jesus. Paul asks them to pray that the same thing would also happen for others.
If we have believed in the Good News of Jesus Christ, then we should desire that others would receive this gift as well. Do you pray for the ministry of missionaries and other churches? Do you pray for your own evangelism? Apart from God’s saving grace, sinners are naturally opposed to the gospel. Not only that, but the Enemy is also at work to blind the minds of unbelievers (2 Cor. 4:4). Paul asks to be delivered from “wicked and evil men.” When we pray for our ministry to unbelievers, we are acknowledging that we are utterly dependent upon God to make our evangelism fruitful. We do not rely on human eloquence or intelligence; instead, we recognize that God uses weak and imperfect vessels like ourselves to make his glory known.
Discuss: This week, spend some time praying for the work of evangelism in your local community and in the world. Is there a missionary that you can be praying for? Is there another church or ministry that we can be supporting through our prayers? Don’t forget to pray for the work of evangelism that is happening through the ministry of our church as well!
Confidence in the Lord
Paul was deeply affectionate towards the Thessalonian church. In his first letter to them, he compares himself to a nursing mother and an encouraging father (See 1 Thess. 2). Although he could no longer be with them in person, Paul was not afraid that the Thessalonians would abandon the faith or ignore his teaching.
We see this in 2 Thessalonians 3:3-4: “The LORD is faithful. He will establish and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things we command.” Paul understands that he is not the one who saved the Thessalonians. His confidence is “in the Lord.” He is merely the instrument through which Jesus worked. And when Jesus begins a good work in our hearts, he is faithful to bring it to completion.
Paul was not a “helicopter parent.” He says, “We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will do what we command” (v.4). Paul knew that the Thessalonian believers would listen to his teaching, because he knew that Jesus was working a genuine transformation in their lives. Christians are meant to grow up into full Christian maturity – as individuals and as a community. One of the marks of maturity is genuine obedience from the heart.
Spiritual maturity does not mean that we just strike out on our own. We are still called to honor the various authorities that God has placed in our lives – pastors, parents, and other shepherds in the faith. Nevertheless, we should not remain spiritual infants, constantly depending on others, never learning to read God’s Word, to pray, to follow Jesus with our own two feet. Parents can teach us the commandments of Jesus, but they cannot obey Jesus on our behalf. Pastors can proclaim the truth of the Gospel to us, but they cannot believe in the Gospel for us.
Discuss: Are you reliant on others for your faith? What steps are you taking towards spiritual maturity?
How do we become a people who genuinely obeys God? Verse 5 tells us: “May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.” Here, we see three things.
First, it is God who transforms. It is the Lord who directs hearts to him. Thus, like Paul, we should pray for ourselves and one another, asking for God to change us.
Second, the transformation is heart change. Obedience is not only a matter of external behavior. A person may have good behavior while having a heart that is far from God. When God transforms us, he begins by working in our hearts, changing our desires, directing our hearts towards him.
Third, the heart change is directed towards the love of God and the steadfastness of Christ. Jesus says, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). When God gives us a heart that loves him, our actions and external behaviors change to reflect the love that we have for him. We cannot have genuine obedience if we do not love God. This love for God and the resultant obedience is not temporary, but it perseveres even as Jesus persevered. When we find it difficult to love God and obey, let us look to Jesus, who, for our sake, endured the cross.
We love God because he first loved us (1 John 4:10). We can be steadfast because Christ was steadfast. All of this is shown to us in the death and resurrection of Jesus on our behalf. Here, we see God’s love, paying the debt that we owed to him. We see God taking the initiative to forgive us by providing the perfect substitute to die in our place, in order that our old, sinful selves might die with him. We see Christ patiently trusting and obeying the Father, even in the face of death. And in the resurrection of Jesus, we see also the promise of new life, held forth to all who repent and believe in him.
Discuss: Is there disobedience in your life that reveals a lack of love for God? What heart change should you be praying for?
Read Ephesians 2:1-10 with your family
If Christians still struggle with sin, how are we any different than unbelievers? Is Christianity just another system of moral behavior? Or does the Gospel actually change us?
The Bible clearly teaches that those who trust in Jesus are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). There is a real change between the old self that was dead in sin and the new self who is alive in Christ. One of the places we see this is Ephesians 2:1-10.
Writing to the Ephesians, Paul says, “you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked” (v.1). Then in verse 3, he says “we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” Without the redemptive work of Jesus, all of humanity is in a state of spiritual death.
What does it mean to be dead in sin? Paul names several things: walking in sin, following the world and Satan (the prince of the power of the air), and living out the lusts of the flesh. Let’s focus on what Paul calls “the passions” (or lusts) of our “flesh.” Notice that he is not only talking about physical desires; these are desires of both the body and the mind. Jealousy and envy are “lusts” just as much as gluttony or sexual immorality.
This gets at one of the main ways that the Bible teaches us to think about sin. In the Bible, sin is not just about external behavior. External behaviors are like the fruit of a tree; they are the outward manifestation of a person’s heart desires. We act out our loves and lusts. In other words, sinners sin because sin is what they want or desire.
Does this mean that all desires are evil? No. God created desire. When our desire for him rules over us, then all other desires begin to be put in their right places. This helps us to see that the lusts of the flesh are desires that have been corrupted or blown out of proportion. It may be a desire for the wrong thing. It may be a desire at the wrong time or in the wrong place.
Take, for example, the desire to please other people. Pleasing other people isn’t necessarily evil. Bringing genuine joy to those around us is a good thing. However, desiring to please others becomes a sinful lust when it replaces our desire for God. This can be expressed in many ways. You may be overly self-conscious, always wondering what others think of you. Wanting to please your peers may lead you into making fun of someone at school. Or, maybe, for the sake of impressing your boss, you deal unfairly with a coworker or competitor. In these examples, our desire to please others (peers, bosses, etc.) leads us into disobeying God’s commands to trust him, to love our neighbor, and to treat others with justice.
Now, if being dead means that we once lived out sinful, disordered desires, then being made alive must mean that our desires are being transformed by God. Romans 6:17 says, “you who were once slaves to sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed.” Through the cross and resurrection, Jesus puts us in a right relationship with God. To be in a right relationship with God means that we are no longer his enemies; we are no longer rebels against him who seek our own way. Instead, we are rightly related to him as sons and daughters. And if we are true sons and daughters, then our ultimate desire is to love, honor, and glorify God – not only outwardly, but from the heart.
This is what separates the Gospel from moralism. Moralism focuses on outward behavior. Moralistic religion offers standards of good behavior or “morals” without changing the heart. In moralism, it is up to us to muster up the willpower to become better people. This is the basic “religion” of many Americans. People say: “I’m not perfect” (i.e., I haven’t lived up to the standard of morality), “but I’m trying to become a better person” (i.e., I change myself and my behavior). This is moralism, and it is not the Gospel.
The Gospel is the good news that Jesus died and rose again for us, in order that we might die and rise again with him. What needs to be changed is not merely our behavior, but our selves. True transformation begins in the heart. We need to be changed from people who hate God into people who love him. This change of heart – this dying and rising again – is not something we can accomplish for ourselves. Instead, it has been accomplished for us by God in Christ Jesus his Son.
A changed heart with changed desires is one of the key differences between an unbeliever and a Christian. The unbeliever neither knows God nor loves him. The unbeliever is driven and motivated by what Paul calls the lusts of the flesh. But the person who trusts in Jesus has been given a new heart, so that their ultimate desire is for God. Thus, Jesus says that the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind (Matt. 22:37). This love for God is itself a gift from God. And it is the fountainhead from which the rest of the Christian life flows.
Do Christians still struggle with the lusts of the flesh? Yes. In Galatians, Paul says that the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh (Gal. 5:17). Sinful desires still inhabit the believer. However, God has given us his Holy Spirit to dwell in us, and by his power, we put to death the deeds of the old self (Rom. 8:13). We are not eliminating desire; we are putting our desires in their right places, under the Lordship of Jesus.
God does not leave us in our sins and lusts. He has changed us; he has given us a new heart. We are no longer children of wrath, but sons and daughters. And as we allow our desire for him to rule over our desire for all other things, we are becoming more and more the true sons and daughters that he has created us to be.
Discuss: What are the desires that motivate you the most? Do those desires rule over you, or are they submitted to the rule of God? What are some desires that need to be changed or transformed by God?
Read 2 Thessalonians 2 with your family
2 Thessalonians 2 is a famously difficult chapter to interpret. Futurists interpret this passage as a prophecy that will be fulfilled in our future. It is about what will happen right before Jesus returns for the resurrection and last judgment. On the other hand, Preterists (meaning “past”) interpret this passage as a prophecy that has already been fulfilled. It is not about the coming of Jesus to raise the dead; instead, it is about the judgment of Jerusalem and the temple, which occurred in AD 70.
Faithful Christians continue to debate how the details of this chapter should be interpreted. This need not discourage us. Though certain aspects of the passage may be unclear to us, they were certainly clear for Paul and his original readers. This is a reminder that the Bible was not written directly to us – that is, we aren’t the original recipients. Nevertheless, the Bible is written for us – for our salvation and sanctification. So, there is still much that we can learn.
Since we don’t have space to discuss every detail of this chapter, let us focus on a few of the things that are clearly taught.
The Temptation of Lawlessness
In the “man of lawlessness,” we see the recurring temptation to set oneself up as God. He sits in the place of God, even declaring himself to be God. This is what the serpent promised to Adam and Eve in the Garden: you will be like God. Pagan emperors are prime examples of how man tries to exalt himself above God. In the days of the early church, Roman emperors proclaimed themselves to be gods or descendants of the gods.
In our modern context, we may not exalt any individual person as a god, but we are still drawn to the promise of human power. Our modern gods are celebrities, or “the party,” or even “the people.” We may believe that if only our political party comes to power, then all things will be made well. Or, we may be tempted to reject God’s Word because it is unpopular with the majority.
But we do not only try to be gods in society and politics. We also encounter this same temptation at the individual level. Maybe you’re not trying to be king of the world, but perhaps you are trying to be king of your own life. You are willing to believe in Jesus so long as he doesn’t interfere with your plans or your own personal beliefs and preferences. We still want to be in control over our own lives. We are willing to accept Jesus as savior, but not as our King.
Jesus shows us a different way. Jesus shows us that true kingliness means becoming a servant to others. He teaches that if we try to hold onto our lives – if we try to grasp onto wealth, or good looks, or worldly prestige – then we will lose it. But if we die to our old selves, if we surrender our lives to him and seek his kingdom, then we will find true life in him (Matt. 16:25).
Discuss: What are some of the ways that we try to exalt ourselves above God, either in society or in our individual lives? Is there something in your life that you won’t let go of – that you are trying to control – instead of trusting God?
The Danger of Self-Deception
As we read elsewhere in the Bible, Satan may persecute and even kill God’s people, but he cannot ultimately deceive them into following him (Rev. 13:7-8). In other words, those who trust in the power and wonders of the “man of lawlessness” (whoever he is) are not believers, but “those who are perishing” (v.10).
Let us take a closer look at what Paul says about those who are perishing. Why are they deceived? Paul tells us in verse 10. They are deceived “because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” When people reject God’s salvation and follow idols, it is not an honest mistake. Instead, sinners reject God because they refuse to love God’s truth. They are deceived because they have already decided that they don’t want God.
In Romans 1, Paul says that God’s invisible attributes are displayed in creation, so that men are without excuse. But, in our sin, we suppress this knowledge of God. Because of that, says Paul, “God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity” (Rom. 1:24). God’s judgment against sinners is to give them up to their sinful desires.
Paul makes a similar point here in 2 Thessalonians 2. Verse 11 says, “Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false.” God is not deceiving innocent victims. Remember, Paul is speaking of those who reject the Good News – those who refused to love the truth and so be saved. Because they have already deceived themselves, God gives them up to be deceived by lawlessness.
Discuss: What are some ways that we deceive ourselves about sin? about ourselves? about God?
Called through the Gospel
If it is true that we have all been deceived by our own sinful hearts, then how can anyone be saved? The good news is that God intervenes to save us from our own sin and self-deception. Paul writes, “…we ought to always give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (v.13). Here, Paul reminds the Thessalonians that they are not among those who are perishing. Instead, they are loved by the Lord and chosen by God.
But they are not the only ones who will be saved. Paul calls them the “firstfruits” of salvation. In agriculture, firstfruits are the very first crops to be harvested. But after the firstfruits, the rest of the harvest is still to come. So, the Thessalonians, along with other first-century believers, are the first of many generations of peoples who will be saved, who will believe in the truth of God.
For us, then, salvation is available just as it was for the Thessalonians. “To this he called you through our gospel,” writes Paul, “so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v.14). How does God bring salvation? How does he save people from their sin and self-deception? How does he break through hard hearts? By calling people through the Gospel of Jesus.
Paul calls this “our gospel.” Of course, he doesn’t mean that the Gospel belongs to him or that he invented it. He means that he is the one who preached it to the Thessalonians. He was the instrument that God used. In this life, we cannot see who is ultimately saved and who isn’t. God has not given us knowledge into other peoples’ hearts. Instead, Jesus calls us to follow him in proclaiming the Gospel to all people. Since that is the case, let us strive to share the Good News with everyone that God has placed in our lives.
Read 2 Thessalonians 1 with your family
For the next few weeks, we will be going through 2 Thessalonians. In today’s post, we will be looking at 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12.
Faith and Love
Like many of his other letters, Paul begins 2 Thessalonians by offering thanksgivings to God: “We ought to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing” (v.3).
A couple things are noteworthy about what Paul says. First, we see that growing in faith and love go together. Do you ever wonder if you are growing in your trust in God? Then see whether you are growing in your love for others. It’s been said that faith doesn’t just stay in your head, it also comes out through your “fingertips.”
Second, Paul emphasizes that each member of the church is growing in their love for others in the church (v.3). Love is acted out on particular people. It isn’t vague or generic. To say that one loves “people” or “humanity” in general is easy. To actually love your flesh-and-blood neighbor – that sibling who always gets on your nerves, that classmate who likes all the things you dislike, that church member who seems to have nothing in common with you – that is difficult.
Thus, one sign that we are growing in our faith is that our love for particular people is increasing, especially our love for the people within our own churches. Do you love that person who is awkward or difficult? Or, perhaps you are the one putting unreasonable demands on others; are you willing to humble yourself and put the interests of others before your own (Phil. 2:4)?
The Justice of God
The Thessalonians Christians were suffering persecution at the hands of their fellow countrymen (see 1 Thess. 2:14). You could imagine them asking, “If God is just, then why are we suffering at the hands of evil men?” In verse 5-10, Paul reassures the Thessalonians that God is just. Rather than being evidence of God’s injustice, their suffering will be the occasion for God to demonstrate his justice. In the last day, God will repay those who afflict the Thessalonians, while giving the Thessalonians relief. Thus, God’s righteousness is demonstrated when he vindicates those who trust him while punishing those who afflict his people.
This is one of the places in Scripture where the doctrine of eternal judgment is clearly taught. Those who persist in their rejection of the Good News of Jesus will “suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (v.9).
In our day, the idea of eternal punishment for evildoers may seem unfashionable. How could a loving God really punish people? But it is not God’s sense of justice that is out of proportion. Instead, it is the sinner who is out of proportion. Our sense of right and wrong, good and evil, has been distorted by our sinful rejection of God. In Romans 1:18, Paul says that God has clearly revealed himself in creation, but men, in their unrighteousness, suppress the truth about God. This is willful ignorance, a refusal to acknowledge God as God. It is like saying to God as to an enemy, “Who are you? You’re nothing to me.” When we reject the knowledge of God and refuse to receive the Gospel of Jesus (v.8), that is what we are saying.
This is one of the things that makes Hell so terrifying. Hell is where God eternally gives the sinner exactly what they’ve been asking for. The sinner spends his whole life walking away from God, calling evil good and good evil, making things crooked. The slide towards destruction may be steep, but, more often, it is a gradual slope – disobeying parents while young, indulging lusts here and there, holding small grudges, secretly building up pride and self-righteousness.
All of this is saying “No” to God. Hell is where all those little “No’s” become an eternal “No.” Having spent his whole life running away from God, the unrepentant sinner is eternally excluded from God’s presence – excluded from his glory, his joy, his light, his life. If we didn’t want God in this life, why would we want to be where he is for eternity?
In this sense, we see that those who were persecuting the Thessalonian Christians were really rejecting God himself. What do your actions (what you do) say about your desires (what you want)? Are you becoming a person who says “Yes” to God, or a person who says “Yes” to Self?
Glorying in Christ
This doctrine of eternal judgment should not cause us to gloat over unbelievers or have a vengeful attitude towards those who wrong us. We should want everyone to repent and be saved through Christ.
Consider that Paul himself was once one of the great persecutors of the Church. He put men and women in prison for their faith in Jesus (Acts 8:3). He used to breathe “threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1). What the persecutors were doing to the Thessalonians, Paul once did to the churches in Jerusalem and Judea.
So, as Paul writes these words about God’s justice, he is not writing as the self-righteous Pharisee he used to be. Paul knows that he once stood under the very same judgment of God that he is writing about. He knows how his sin – his hatred and enmity towards Jesus – was pushing him towards the eternal destruction of Hell. And he realizes that it is only by the grace and mercy of God that he has been redeemed.
May that be our realization as well. Our sins may not be Paul’s sins, but we’ve been saved from the very same sentence of condemnation. And like Paul, we were not saved by our own doing; it is all gift, all the grace of God. Jesus died for us, so that in him, our old sinful selves would be put to death and be raised again.
We haven’t only been saved from something; we’ve also been saved for something. Look again at verse 11. The NIV puts it this way: “…we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith.” God is transforming our desires into desires for good things. He is making us a people whose actions flow from our trust in him. In other words, by God’s grace, we are becoming a people who say “Yes” to him in all things.
This is what it means to glory in Christ. We no longer live for our own glory, but for his. Instead of saying “Yes” to self, we say “Yes” to God through Christ. Now, Paul says that when this happens, Jesus is “glorified in you, and you in him” (v.12). As we live for the glory of Jesus, we are also glorified in him. We get to share in his glory. This is where we find true glory – in knowing Jesus and making him known.
Prior to the shelter in place orders, we had been studying 1 Thessalonians in youth group. In this post, we’ll wrap up our study of this letter.
Read 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28 with your family.
12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.
23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
25 Brothers, pray for us.
26 Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.
27 I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.
28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28 (ESV)
Paul concludes 1 Thessalonians with a series of exhortations to the Thessalonian church. While this passage may seem like a list of miscellaneous advice, it gives us a glimpse into how the Good News of Jesus should infuse all of life. Through the Gospel, the Thessalonians had experienced a complete transformation of who they were and how they lived, turning from idolaters into worshipers of the true and living God (1 Th. 1:9). In his concluding exhortations, Paul instructs the Thessalonians on how they are to continue growing as a people set apart for God.
Let’s break down Paul’s exhortations into three general areas. As we go through them, consider how God may be calling you to obey him in these areas.
Esteeming Spiritual Leaders
God has placed certain people in our lives to be “over” us in the Lord (v.12). This includes pastors, elders, deacons, and others who serve, but it also extends to parents and spouses. These ministers are to work hard in admonishing us in the Gospel. In response, we are to “esteem” them in love (v.13).
Discuss: Are we esteeming those whom God has appointed to counsel us and care for us spiritually (pastors, elders, deacons, parents, etc.)? Are we teachable? Do we ask for prayer? Or are we taking a “lone ranger” approach to our faith?
Be at Peace
Last week, we talked about the false peace that comes from being in the darkness. As Christians, we have a peace that comes from God, a peace grounded in the hope of salvation (1 Th. 5:8). But it is also a peace that must be practiced. In verse 13, Paul says that we are to be at peace “among yourselves.” In this sense, peace cannot only be individual. If we are quite secure in our own selves, but not at peace with family members and others in the church, then we don’t really have the peace that Paul is talking about.
This means that we can’t just sweep sin under the rug. To have genuine peace, we must deal with genuine problems. Thus, Paul writes, “we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (v.14).
Notice that Paul is not only writing to the pastors, but to all the believers. While none of us is able counsel everyone, all of us can bring godly counsel to someone in our lives. Sometimes, what a person needs to hear is a firm but encouraging word. Other times, what they need is help or comfort. Always, we are to address one another in love and patience. Another way of saying this is that we are to do good to all (v. 15).
Discuss: Are you at peace with your family and the people in your church? Is there someone you need to admonish? Is there someone you need to cheer up? Is there someone who needs your help? In this time, how can you be seeking the good of your parents, your children, or your siblings with whom you live?
Paul says that we should “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances” (v.16). In his commentary on 1 Thessalonians, F. F. Bruce writes, “To ‘pray without ceasing’ does not mean that every other activity must be dropped for the sake of prayer but that every activity must be carried on in a spirit of prayer.” In other words, Paul is not to say that we should never do anything else except rejoice, pray, and give thanks. Rather, rejoicing, prayer, and thanksgiving ought to be infused into everything that we do. These are foundational attitudes that we bring to all of life.
This kind of godly cheerfulness, prayer, and gratitude is possible only when we are grounded in what God has already done for us and what he will do for us. Gratitude is the response to God’s gift of life and salvation. Prayer recognizes that we depend upon God for all things. And we rejoice as we remember that “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:9).
Discuss: When do you find it hard to rejoice? To pray? To give thanks?
Listening to God
Paul’s last exhortations have to do with paying attention to God. “Do not quench the Spirit,” he says, “Do not despise prophecies” (vv.19-20). We should not ignore what God may be saying to us through those who proclaim his Word. Neither should we starve ourselves of our own personal reading of the Bible.
Nevertheless, we do not accept every voice, but we are to “test everything” carefully (v.21). In Deuteronomy, God commanded Israel to ignore any so-called prophet who enticed them to leave the Lord and serve other gods (Dt. 13:2-3). In the same way, we must test all things against the standard of God’s Word. We should hold fast to all that God’s Word reveals as good, true, and just, but we should refrain from all forms of evil.
Discuss: What voices are you listening to (music, news, etc.)? What images do you allow into your imagination (books, TV, etc.)? What sources do you trust for how you should think and feel about God, yourself, and the world?
Look back again at Paul’s exhortations and notice how often he says “all” or “always” or something similar. As we mentioned earlier, Paul is not giving us a list of random tips about life. When Paul first arrived in Thessalonica, he proclaimed the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Thessalonians believed this message with "full conviction," and as a result, they “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God" (1 Th. 1:9-10). Once idol worshipers, the Thessalonians experienced a total transformation in who they were and how they lived. The Gospel transforms all of life. It is like yeast that works its way through the whole lump of dough.
We are reminded of this in Paul’s concluding benediction: “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Th. 5:23). To be “sanctified” means to be set apart for God. Every aspect of ourselves and our lives is being set apart for him. There is no isolation of the ordinary from the supernatural, no separation between the spiritual and physical. All of it belongs to Christ.
Discuss: Why should the Good News of Jesus’s death and resurrection impact all of life? As Christians, we often “compartmentalize” the Gospel instead of letting it infuse all our living. Why do we do that?
Read: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 with your family.
5 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4 But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. 5 For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. 6 So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. 8 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. 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. - 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 (ESV)
When news first broke about a novel coronavirus, few of us expected it to lead to the situation we face today. What does the Bible say about how Christians should respond in uncertain times? In 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, Paul writes concerning the “day of the Lord.” Many commentators say that Paul is talking about the resurrection, which he had just mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Another possibility is that Paul refers to the impending judgment against Jerusalem and the temple.
Whether Paul refers to the resurrection or the destruction of Jerusalem, this passage has much to teach Christians, here and now. This is because, in one sense, the day of the Lord has already begun with the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. The Bible tells us that Jesus is the “light of the world” (John 8:12) At the transfiguration, Jesus’s face shines “like the sun (Matt. 17:2). Revelation calls him the “Morning Star” (Rev. 22:16). Luke says that “the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79).
We could go on citing examples like these, but the point is that the “night is far gone; the day is at hand” (Romans 13:12). God is bringing us out of the darkness of the old creation, broken by sin and death, and into the light of the new heavens and new earth. In fact, the one who has turned to Jesus is already a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). And whomever God has made a new creation has passed from the darkness of sin and death into the daytime of eternal life (John 5:24).
On the other hand, to remain in unbelief is to be in the darkness. One sign of being in the darkness is when we find our peace and security in things other than God. Sometimes, we satisfy our desire for peace and security in ways that are clearly evil – for example, pornography or materialism. But often, the darkness is more subtle. We may try to find security in going to college or in a career. Or, we might find our identity in a spouse. In themselves, these are good things. But if we allow our desires for these things to supplant God and rule over us, then we are in the darkness. It is as if we are spiritually asleep or drunk.
But the darkness can only offer false peace and security. This false peace and security can be exposed in personal trials, but there are also moments in history when God shakes entire nations and even the whole world. Indeed, the present crisis seems like one of these moments. If we’ve been finding our peace and security in things other than God – if we worship the gifts rather than the Gift-giver – then we will feel as if we’ve been caught by a thief in the night.
Discuss: Where do you find your peace and security? What are the things that make you feel comfortable? What are the things that make you think that “all is well”? What challenges your sense of peace and security?
As Christians, our peace is not found in things that are shakable or in things that are passing away. This doesn’t mean that Christians never suffer loss or hardship. But it does mean that when the world is shaken, we are not caught off guard like someone who has been robbed. When God shakes the world and casts out the darkness, we aren’t overtaken as if by a thief. Why? Because we don’t find our identity, our peace, our security in the darkness nor in worldly desires.
Instead, we find our identity in Christ. Whereas the unbeliever is at home in the darkness, the believer is at home in the light of the Lord. Paul says that we are children of the light, children of the day. Note the connection: the day of the Lord is coming, but we are already children of the day. And because we are children of the day, we are called to live in the light.
How do we do this? Paul tells us. To live as children of the light means putting on faith, love, and hope. In 1 Thessalonians 1:2, Paul commends the Thessalonians for their “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Faith, hope, and love are the hallmarks of a people who have been brought out of the darkness and into the light of Jesus.
What kind of faith, hopes and loves have you been putting on in the past few weeks? Take some time to reflect on these three areas:
Faith: Where are you putting your faith? Who are you paying attention to the most? Which voices are you allowing to shape the way you think, feel, and act? Faith is not just believing that God exists, for even the demons believe this (Jas. 2:19). More than that, faith is personal trust in God. It’s trusting him, just like you’d trust your parents, but you wouldn’t trust a stranger. Specifically, faith means trusting the message of the Gospel – that the living God has sent Jesus his Son to die and rise again for our salvation (1 Thess. 5:9-10). During this time, have you been anchoring yourself in God’s Word? Are you trusting God more than online articles, social media, politicians, the news, or even friends and family?
Love: What desires are you currently indulging? What pleasures are you pursuing? What gets you through the day? Ask yourself how your current behaviors reveal what or whom you love. Are you pursuing Christ, or do you find yourself reverting to sinful habits?
The first great commandment is to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. The second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:37-39). When our loves are rightly ordered towards God, they will also be rightly ordered towards other people and other things. But when our loves are directed away from God, that is when our desires get distorted and blown out of proportion. That is when ungodly lusts and desires hijack the throne of our hearts.
Hope: What are you looking forward to once this crisis is over? Are you simply hoping for things to get back to “normal” – going back to school, or college, or your job? Or is your hope to emerge with a deeper commitment God’s kingdom? Is your hope the “hope of salvation”?
At the end of our passage, Paul says that God has not chosen us for destruction, but to obtain salvation. This means that we will surely enter the newness of life, which has been promised to us by God and purchased for us by Jesus. Through Christ, we have an “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” (1 Peter 1:4). Have you set your hope on temporary things or on things everlasting? Since our hope is in salvation, we can live with Jesus by trusting him and keeping his commandments, even through changing times and seasons.
Read: John 20:19-31 with your family.
John 20:19 says that on the evening after Jesus was raised, the disciples were locked inside for fear of the Jewish leaders. In some ways, our current Easter season is like that first evening of the resurrection. We’re all in our homes in a statewide lockdown. Many of us are afraid of the virus that lurks outside – afraid of what might happen to us personally or what might happen to our communities as the virus continues to spread.
Jesus is the one who brings peace in the midst of fears. Twice, Jesus says to the disciples, “Peace be with you.” He shows the disciples his wounds, proving that he really has been resurrected. Death could not keep Jesus out. The tomb could not keep him out. Neither locked doors, nor the threats of religious and political leaders, nor the disciples’ own fears could keep Jesus out. No obstacle is too great for the one who has conquered the grave.
Discuss: What do you think Jesus means by “peace”? How would you define peace?
We don’t have space to go through everything the Bible says about peace, but we can see what the Gospel of John says. In John 14:27, Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” Then, in John 16:33, Jesus says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.” Along with John 20, these passages show us that peace is nothing less than the personal presence of Jesus. It is his peace. It comes from him. In him, we have peace. Thus, when the disciples see the risen Lord, standing in their midst, they rejoice. Where Jesus is, there is peace.
We all want peace, but often, the peace that we want is peace on our terms. We want peace without laying down our lives. We want peace without giving up the things that we hold onto for our security and identity. We want peace without the cross. Ultimately, this means that we want to have peace without having Christ. But that is an impossibility. We will either have Christ (and his peace) or we will have chaos.
So, if we find ourselves lacking peace, then perhaps the question we should be asking ourselves is not, “How do I get peace?” but, “Is Jesus there?” Is Jesus in your marriage? Is he in your finances? Is he in your relationship with your kids? Regardless of what fears are outside, is Jesus in your home?
Now, you might say, “The disciples saw Jesus. But how can he be there for me if I can’t see him or touch him?” The rest of John 20 gives us the answer.
In verse 21, Jesus proclaims peace a second time, but he adds this: “As the Father sent me, even so I am sending you.” Then, he breathes the Holy Spirit onto the disciples. This scene reminds us of how God created Adam by forming him out of dust and breathing the breath of life into his nostrils (Gen. 2:7). Like God, Jesus is making the disciples a new creation. He gives them his Holy Spirit empower them, to make them truly alive, to send them out into the world. The peace of Jesus is not inward facing; it’s a peace that spreads, a peace that sends us out into mission.
This brings us to Thomas, one of the original twelve disciples. At one point, he was ready to die with Jesus. But now, Thomas isn’t even with the disciples. John doesn’t tell us why. Perhaps he had given up. Perhaps he was afraid. In any case, the other disciples find him as soon as they can. They’re like Jesus, the Good Shepherd, going out after the one lost sheep.
Their first attempt at sharing the Gospel doesn’t go so well. Thomas refuses to believe. Perhaps you’ve felt like Thomas before. Perhaps there was a time when you used to be excited about the faith, but now, it seems childish to you. Maybe you lost your faith after a difficult experience. Maybe you’d believe if God offered some empirical proof of his existence. Or, perhaps what you want is a feeling or experience so that you can genuinely claim that you’ve “owned” your faith.
Of course, Thomas eventually gets to see Jesus. However, Jesus doesn’t show up to Thomas right away. He waits until the disciples witness to him first. And when he does come, Thomas isn’t alone. Instead, he’s with the disciples once again. Jesus works through the witnessing of his people.
According to verse 26, Jesus appears to Thomas after eight days. In the Bible, the eighth day is a symbolic day. It is a “new creation” day, since it is the beginning of a new week. Israelite boys were circumcised on the eighth day of their life, suggesting that Israel is a new humanity (Lev. 12:3). Aaron and his sons were consecrated as priests on the eighth day, showing that they are new Adams serving in God’s sanctuary (Lev. 9:1). And of course, Jesus was raised on an eighth day (the first day after the seventh day).
So, when Jesus appears to Thomas, he is about to make him a new creation, just as he made the other disciples a new creation. Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus appeared to the disciples the first time. He wasn’t there when Jesus breathed out the Holy Spirit. Does this mean that he lost his chance or that his joy will be lessened? No! Instead, we see that the new life that began on Easter continues to be available even to those who weren’t there.
In fact, Thomas confesses something about Jesus that none of the other disciples say. He cries out, “My Lord and My God!” Though he doubted, Thomas is the first to speak what John has been showing us all along in his Gospel – that Jesus is the Word become flesh, the Word who was with God, the Word who is God (John 1:1).
Now, you might be thinking, “Thomas might have missed the first appearance, but he still got to see Jesus.” He has an advantage. However, look at Jesus’s response to Thomas. “Have you believed because you have seen me?” asks Jesus. Thomas should have believed the disciples the first time. But, in his next words, it’s almost as if Jesus begins speaking to us: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Like most of John’s original readers, we have not seen Jesus with our physical eyes. Like Thomas, we were not there on that first Easter. But we are no more disadvantaged than Thomas was. As we read these words of John’s Gospel, and as we receive these words in faith, what happened to Thomas is also happening for us: Jesus is presenting himself to us. When we receive the Gospel, we are receiving what was also given to Thomas and the rest of the disciples. We are receiving Jesus himself.
Jesus says, blessed are they who do not see and believe. John says he writes to us so that we can believe and have life in the name of Jesus (John 20:31). This means that we can really have what the disciples had, even though we are separated by thousands of years. The presence of Jesus in his Holy Spirit is just as real for us as it was for Thomas, as it was for the other disciples. We, too, have that same peace. We, too, can rejoice. We, too, have the Holy Spirit. We, too, have life in his name. If that’s true, then it means that we are also sent, even as Jesus sent the first disciples. We are called to be witnesses, to tell others, “We have seen the Lord!”
Discuss: John 20:31 shows us that the Word of God is sufficient for belief, and yet so often, we seem to think that it’s not enough. Why do think we do that, and what are some of the things that we use to try to replace or add to God’s Word? How have you seen Jesus in your reading of God’s Word?
Read with your families - Psalm 1; John 15:1-11; Revelation 22:1-5
Dendrology is the study of trees. By paying attention to the dendrology of the Bible, we can learn a lot about ourselves. Some people are fruitful, like the man of Psalm 1. Others are like thorns (2 Sam. 23:6). Sometimes, the difference is not so clear. For example, Jesus cursed a leafy fig tree that looked fruitful, but had no fruit (Mk. 11:12-25). Here, he was really pronouncing judgment on the temple, which was supposed to be a house of prayer, but had become a den of thieves.
Another example of a “tree” bearing false fruit is Absalom. Absalom was one of the sons of King David. Outwardly, he had the characteristics of an ideal prince. He was handsome and charismatic, drawing praise from all of Israel. It seems that Absalom was well known for his crown of hair. 2 Samuel 14:26 says that he would cut his hair once a year and weigh it. In the Bible, hair is an image of glory. Based on appearances, then, Absalom was a glorious man.
Yet, Absalom’s glory was a false glory, for the glory that he sought was his own. Although his name means “father of peace,” Absalom was anything but that. Like Cain, he murdered his brother. 2 Samuel 15:6 says that Absalom “stole the hearts of the men of Israel.” Instead of bringing peace to David’s kingdom, Absalom rebelled and conspired to tear the throne away from his father.
Absalom’s glory-seeking led to his own demise. 2 Samuel 18 tells how Absalom’s armies were defeated by David’s men. As Absalom rode away from the battle, his head was caught in a tree, possibly because of his long hair. So, he was left hanging “between heaven and earth” (2 Sam 18:9). There, David’s men found him. Although David had commanded that Absalom be spared, David’s commander, Joab, did not listen. Instead, Joab killed Absalom as he hung from the tree.
Here is a striking image. Absalom hangs on a tree, almost like fruit. He may have had the looks of a glorious tree, a tree of life, but he really was a tree bearing fruit for death. Paul reminds us that the fruit—the wages—of sin is death. We were once slaves to sin. “But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things which you are now ashamed?” asks Paul. “For the end of those things is death” (Rom. 6:21).
Humans are like trees. Some are fruitful for God’s kingdom; some are withered; some seem lush, yet really have no fruit or bear deadly fruit instead. How can you tell what kind of tree you are? The answer is by looking at the fruit you bear. Jesus says that a diseased tree bears bad fruit, but a healthy tree bears good fruit (Matt. 7:17). What fruit does your life bear? What food do you give to others? Are you jealous, full of anger and lust, seeking after your own glory? Do you spread fear, or gossip, or bitterness? Do you sow division in your family or in your church? What kind of tree are you?
The problem is that we cannot bear fruit for life, anymore than a fallen branch can bear leaves or fruit on its own. Absalom’s death reminds us of the Fall, which also occurred at the foot of a tree. Adam was given a garden, a kingdom, a world filled with God’s good blessings. But instead of learning obedience to God, Adam seized forbidden fruit. He rebelled and sought to rule according to his own terms. This same, basic pattern of sin is repeated in us every time we are angry at our children, or disobey our parents, or lie against our neighbor, or bow to an idol. Every time we sin, we show that we are just like our father Adam, bearing thorns and thistles instead of fruit. We are like Absalom, seizing a kingdom for ourselves, seeking after our own glory.
Generations after Absalom’s death, another son of David died in a similar way. This son was also hung from a tree and cursed with many curses (Acts 5:30). But unlike Absalom, he was the true Prince of Peace, for by his sacrifice, he has brought peace between God and man. I am speaking, of course, about Jesus. On the cross, Jesus bore the curse of the Fall on our behalf. Paul says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone hanged on a tree’” (Gal. 5:13). On the cross, Jesus experienced exile and separation from God in our place. Jesus, the faithful Son, died on a tree for faithless Absaloms like you and me.
Jesus’s death, however, is a fruitful death. By raising Jesus from the dead, God has turned the tree of cursing for Jesus into a tree of life for us. In John 12:24, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Jesus died and rose again. But Jesus’s resurrection is not for him alone; it is for all sons and daughters who die with him. This is what we celebrate on Easter.
Thus, if we are to bear the fruit of eternal life, we must be grafted into the One who is the tree of life. Jesus is the Righteous Man of Psalm 1, planted by rivers of water, yielding his fruit every season. He is the true vine and we are the branches. Jesus says, “As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (John 15:4). Those who are in Christ no longer bear fruit for death; instead, we yield the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23). Jesus died and rose again so that we can share in his life, and in sharing his life, we become fruitful even as he is fruitful.
At the end of the Bible, John sees a vision of the glorified Church—the New Jerusalem, the Bride of the Lamb (Rev. 22). It is a garden city; it is Eden transformed, surpassed, glorified. And in this city, a river flows from the throne of God and the Lamb. On either side of the river is the tree of life, with twelve kinds of fruit, yielding fruit every month. Here is a vision of God dwelling in the midst of his people, watering them with his Holy Spirit, making them fruitful (see John 7:38-39). This Easter, let us look to Jesus. Let us celebrate and abide in the one who takes fruitless, withered trees and makes them fruitful again.
Read Matthew 10:26-31 with your family.
26 “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
In the past couple of weeks, we have been talking a lot about trusting God. But in order to trust God well, we need to know something about the God that we are trusting; you can’t trust someone you don’t know.
In this passage, Jesus is preparing the disciples for the opposition that will come as they proclaim the Gospel among the towns of Israel. But what he says about fear applies to Christians in all generations. Jesus says that we shouldn’t fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Instead, we should fear the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. By the way, Jesus mentions hell more than any other writer in the New Testament. The doctrine of hell wasn’t invented by the church; Jesus himself taught it.
There is something worse than the death of the body – the eternal death of body and soul in hell. This has been forgotten by secular Western culture. It is even forgotten by Christians when we are more concerned about personal comfort and social standing than we are about our spiritual condition.
Why have we forgotten? I think there are two reasons: we don’t take God seriously, and we don’t take our sin seriously. First, we don’t honor God as holy and truly worthy of worship and fear; instead, we prefer to treat him like a buddy or like Santa Claus. We’ve domesticated God. Second, we don’t see our sin as a personal offense against God. To us, sin is nothing more than an honest mistake, rather than rebellion against the goodness and love of a holy God. If we think that God isn’t that great and our sin isn’t that bad, then of course we won’t fear him.
In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lucy asks about the lion Aslan:
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
That is the kind of fear we ought to have for God. God cannot be tamed; he cannot be domesticated. We fear God because he is good. This is the answer to all our other fears. Why are we afraid of what other people think of us? Why do we fear failing to get into college? Why do we fear sickness and death? The answer is: because we do not have the fear of God in us. If we are to have boldness in the face of evil and disaster, then we must learn to fear God once again.
Now, Jesus could have stopped with fearing God, but he doesn’t. He wants to show us how fearing God casts out all other fears. Look at what he says next: “29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
I used to think that Jesus was emphasizing the value of human life – of course, you and I are worth more than a sparrow. Genesis tells us that human beings bear the image of God, which is not said of any other creature in creation. All of that is true.
But notice that Jesus places just as much emphasis on the kindness and goodness of God. He says that the death of a single sparrow will not escape the attention of God. How many sparrows have died today? Do you know? Do you care? God even knows the exact number of hairs on your head. When was the last time you counted how many hairs you have?
Job 38 & 39 make a similar point (take some time this week to meditate on these two chapters):
39 “Can you hunt the prey for the lion,
or satisfy the appetite of the young lions,
40 when they crouch in their dens
or lie in wait in their thicket?
41 Who provides for the raven its prey,
when its young ones cry to God for help,
and wander about for lack of food?
God looks after things that we would regard as irrelevant or insignificant – sparrows, ants, lion cubs, baby ravens, the hairs on your head. He comprehends things that we cannot even begin to understand. He is personally involved in upholding every detail of creation. As Mr. Beaver says, God is good and he’s the King.
So, we see that God is not only more understanding and more powerful than we are. God is also more compassionate. He is kinder than we are. God’s love is greater than our love. Therefore, Jesus says to us, Do not be afraid; do not fear. When we fear God, when we are in a right relationship with him, the fear of God casts out all other fears.
1 John 4:18 says, “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” Does this contradict what we’ve been saying about the fear of God? No. For John, the fear that is cast out is the fear that has to do with punishment. This is the fear that makes demons shudder before God (James 2:19). This is the fear that comes upon a sinner when he is first convicted of his sinfulness. But John says that this is the kind of fear that is cast out when we come to know God’s love.
What is the perfect love that casts out fear? 1 John 4:10 says, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be a propitiation for our sins.” We do not need to fear punishment for our sin because Jesus has offered himself as a sacrifice for us, in our place. That’s what it means for Jesus to be a “propitiation.” God forgives us and accepts us for the sake of his Son Jesus, who died and rose again. This is the perfect love that casts out fear. If God gave his Son to save us while we were still in our sin, how much more will he deliver us from all things, even death itself?
Discuss: What are some of the things you currently fear? How does the fear of God (rightly understood) address those concerns?
The challenge for Christians in a time like this is to continue thanking God even in hardship. Yes, we must pour out our hearts to God, even as Hannah did with much anguish and tears. We must mourn with those who mourn. But even as we do this, our hearts must be filled with gratitude.
Job said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21, ESV).
Some of you are facing the loss of the rest of your school year – plans to celebrate with friends, graduation, maybe vacations or trips. Though I pray that this is not the case, some of you may know friends or family members who have lost their jobs or are even losing their health. Are you still able to say with Job, “Blessed be the name of the LORD”?
Discuss: What’s something that you should be thanking God for right now?
Read the following passages together as a family:
9 Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? 11 Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes?
2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
In Jeremiah 7, the prophet Jeremiah is addressing people who are going to the temple to worship God. Although they maintained the outward forms of worshiping Go, they indulged in idolatry and sin behind the scenes:
9 Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? 11 Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes?
Generations later, Jesus referenced this passage when he rebuked the temple leaders for also turning the temple into a “den of robbers” (Mark 11:15-19). These passages remind us that real worship must be accompanied by repentance. If we do not turn away from sin, we cannot sincerely claim to be turning towards God. If we don’t repent, we’re not just asking God to protect us, we’re also asking him to protect our sins.
This is a sobering reminder for our present time. As we seek God’s deliverance for ourselves and for the world, we must come before him with a repentant heart. And that starts first and foremost with ourselves, as we confess our own sin to Him. Like Jeremiah’s audience, many of us would come and worship weekly before God at church. But do our lives reflect a changed heart? Or do we think that God turns a blind eye to our sin?
God’s promise is that if we confess our sin, he is faithful and just to forgive (1 John 1:9). And that is the only way to deal with sin. Sin doesn’t go away with time. It doesn’t disappear if we pretend it isn’t there. Only the blood of Jesus can cleanse us from unrighteousness.
Discuss: Spend some time as a family confessing your sins before God. Pray that God would also cause the hearts many to turn to him in repentance.
James 1:2-3 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
James teaches us how we can have genuine joy in trials. Trials are of “various kinds.” For example, everyone is experiencing the current pandemic differently. For some, the trial is the disease itself. For others, the trial is losing their livelihoods. For many, this is a time of great fear and uncertainty. But God is sovereign in all things. Because of that, you can be assured that whatever trial you are experiencing now is exactly what God has prepared for you. Nothing that God sends our way is random or meaningless.
James tells us that when we meet trials, we know that it is a “testing” of our faith. No matter how old or young you are in the faith, the present crisis is testing our trust in God. Just as the process of refinement results in pure gold or silver, so testing reveals genuine faith.
Discuss: What is the trial that God has sent you right now? Be specific; remember: God’s trials are personal, not generic.
What happens when our faith is tested? James says that testing produces steadfastness. That’s interesting. Typically, we think that we need steadfastness before the test. You might be thinking, “I wish God would give me steadfastness and perseverance, then I would be able to make it through this trial.” But here, James is telling us that steadfastness is the result of the trial.
Think about the physical body. A muscle only gets stronger when it is exercised. Strength is the outcome of “testing” our muscles. Similarly, by the testing of our faith, God produces steadfastness in us. The Greek word for “steadfastness” comes from the idea of “remaining under” something (like a heavy burden). That is a good image to keep in mind. As we are tested, we get stronger, more steadfast. And with greater steadfastness, we can handle more, hold more, bear more – not just for ourselves, but also for the people around us.
Why does God test us? The purpose of all of this is spiritual maturity. “Let steadfastness have its full effect,” says James, “that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” Here, “perfect” means being complete, mature. It also includes the idea of becoming like God. Jesus says that we are to be perfect, even as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matt. 5:48).
God sends trials not to harm us, but to strengthen our trust in Him and produce spiritual maturity in us. This promise is the foundation of our joy. Our example of joy is Christ himself. Hebrews 12:1-2 says, “…let us run with endurance the race set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross….” On the cross, the only sinless man who ever lived died at the hands of sinners. Yet God was able to turn the suffering of Jesus into the salvation of everyone who believes in Him. Because of this, we can trust that God will also turn our suffering towards our good and His glory.
Discuss: As a family, spend some time remembering and thanking God for his steadfast love and faithfulness. Pray that God would give us eyes to see his goodness in the present trial.