Wednesday, February 25, 2015

NTDS (70): Faith and Love

2 Thess 1:3 We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing. NIV

As Paul addresses the Thessalonians in his second letter, he immediately commends them for growing in two areas, faith and love. If I had only two opportunities left in my life to teach biblical truths, these are the two I would pick. I cannot think of any two doctrines that are more critical to our relationship with Christ than these. They are linked together in eternal significance.

Whenever we see the word faith (you can substitute trust), we must remember that it means faith in Jesus Christ. Faith must have an object. Whenever we say things like, “my faith got me through this difficult situation,” we are really saying it is our trust in Jesus that got us through. Otherwise we are just commending ourselves. I did it because I have faith. Without an object, faith is worthless. With the wrong object, it is just as worthless.

If I put my faith in the wrong God, I am going to be sorely disappointed. The only God who can be trusted is the true and living God, manifest in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He is the God of the Bible. It is our faith in Jesus Christ for salvation that begins our relationship with Him and it is our faith in His continued work in our lives that deepens our relationship with Him. This is what Paul is commending these believers for. Their trust in Christ is growing stronger and stronger.

The evidence of this growing faith is seen by their increasing love for one another. Growing in faith will always bring about more love. More love for Him and more love for others. There is no greater evidence of our growing relationship with Christ than the law of love working in us.

When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment of God was, he replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matt 22:37-40)

Paul said in 1 Cor 13:1-3, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

Did you read that closely? Even if you gave up your life, if it was not out of love for Christ, it gains nothing! Now you can see why this is so important. It is also important to know what type of love Paul is speaking of. We use the term love so loosely today that it hardly has any meaning. When I say, “I love my wife,” it does not mean the same thing as, “I love ice cream.” I may love them both, but certainly in a different sense.

In 1st Corinthinans 13, Paul is describing what love is and what it is not. Many teachers have well said, that since the Bible teaches that God is love, this passage describes God. The Greek word for love here is agape. It is benevolent, unconditional love. I like to say it is “love without expectation of anything in return.” Did you know that it is the same word that Jesus uses in the Matthew passage? In other words, we are to love God and our neighbor unconditionally.

Jesus told His followers that the world would know that they truly were His disciples by their love for one another. The apostle John sums it up this way, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” (1 John 4:7-12)

Do you want to know if you are truly growing in your faith in Jesus? Read 1 Corinthians 13. Does that describe you and your relationships with those around you, especially your brothers and sisters in the Lord? If not, confess that to Him and ask Him, by the power of the Spirit, to increase your agape more and more. Then you must choose to follow His leading. It is not about how you feel; it is about surrendering to the one who you have put your trust in for salvation, justification and sanctification.

God bless you

Monday, February 23, 2015

NTDS (69): KISS: Keep It Simple, Saints

1 Thess 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. NIV

It seems to me that we sometimes make our lives with the Lord overcomplicated. After all, we read the Bible and don’t always understand it. We don’t always know what God wants us to do in situations. We struggle with obedience to His commands and sometimes, may even be confused about what His commands actually are.

When you start feeling this way, it is good to get back to basics. In chapter 5 of 1st Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul summarized how we should live as Christians. It really isn’t as complicated as we often make it. Paul starts off with a motivational statement, as to why these believers should live their lives in the manner he will present. In verses 1-9 He tells them that the day of the Lord, as predicted many times in the Bible, will certainly come and that they should live their lives as people who will not be surprised by that fact.

1 Thess 5:4-6 "But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled."

Then, in typical Pauline fashion, he gives them simple instructions on how to live their lives accordingly. These instructions apply to us as well and can certainly help simplify life for us. You might think of these as, keeping our priorities straight. Let’s look at his list of instructions for simple Christian living.

Be self controlled (v8)
Encourage one another (v11)
Respect those who work hard at leading you in Christ (v12)
Live in peace with each other (v13)
Warn those who are idle (not working, wasting time) (v14)
Encourage those who are timid (v14)
Help the weak (most likely in the spiritual sense) (v14)
Be patient with all (v14)
Don’t pay back wrong (or evil) with wrong (v15)
Be kind to all (v15)
Be joyful (v16)
Always be praying (v17)
Give thanks to God in all circumstances (v18)
Don’t resist the work of the Spirit in your life (v19)
Don’t despise prophecy but test it by scripture (v21)
Hold on to that which is good and avoid things that are evil (v21, 22)

What Paul is teaching us here, is that our decisions on how we live should not be that complicated. If you are confused about how to live, just review this list. Just because it is simple does not mean that it is easy to do.  We must choose to do what is right in God’s eyes, as represented here. The Holy Spirit will help us to make those choices but we still have to choose.

Paul then says that God himself will keep you blameless at he coming again of our Lord Jesus. He is faithful and we can trust Him to completely sanctify us (make us holy). As it says in verse 18, … “for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.”  So let’s keep it simple, saints!

God bless you

Thursday, February 19, 2015

NTDS (68): Sanctification and Sexual Immorality

1 Thess 4:3 It is God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; NIV

Uh oh, not a subject you think is devotional in nature? I believe you will find that it is. Look at the first half of the verse. Everything that follows, goes back to that first statement. It is God’s will that you should be sanctified! Since that is true, we need to make sure that we understand what sanctification means.

The root word in Greek (hagiazo) means to make holy, purify or consecrate. Sanctification is the process of being purified, made more holy. It is God’s way of refining us and making us more like Jesus. Since this is God’s will, should it not be the desire of our hearts? We should welcome this process, but it seems that we don’t always welcome it. We often may even fight against it because it goes against the selfish nature that remains in us. (Ro 7:24).

Why does Paul connect sanctification so strongly here with one particular sin? I believe there are a couple of reasons. One is, that in the culture that the Thessalonians lived in, as well as most of the churches Paul wrote to, sexual immorality was often part of their pagan worship. It must have been difficult to for these people to divorce themselves from these practices.

More importantly, I believe that Paul is emphasizing a sin that he knows every person can easily fall into. When you read through the whole Bible, you will see that sexual sin has always contributed to the downfall of people. It has always affected us in negative ways as individuals and to societies as a whole.

Let’s make it perfectly clear; any sexual activity outside of marriage, which the Bible clearly states is between one man and one woman (Gen 2), is sin. No matter what any culture decides is acceptable; God will not change His mind on the matter.

In verse 4 Paul says that we should learn to control our own bodies. This is part of the sanctification process, but Jesus took it even farther than that. Matt 5:27-28 "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.'  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

That tells us that sanctification is more than just changes in behavior. It is a change of mind and heart. Jer 17:9 says,“the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Only God can understand it and only God can change it.

 Our role in sanctification is to allow Him to do just that, change our hearts and thus change our behavior. When the desire of our heart is to do everything the way God would have us do it, He will purify us. Paul emphasizes one area of sin here, but the application is the same for every area that we may struggle in.

We must be willing to go through the refining process. Just as precious metals are put into the fire to remove impurities, we must go through our own “trials by fire.” It will be difficult at times, but the end result is worth it! Not only is the Lord pleased with our willingness to allow His will to be done in us, but you will find immeasurable joy in how He changes you.

Look at what it says in Heb 1:9,“you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
by anointing you with the oil of joy."
The further you are in your sanctification, the more you love righteousness, hate wickedness and are filled with joy. Will you accept the challenge and let God sanctify you in every area of your life? Just surrender your heart and will to Him now and He will begin that process and bring it to completion!

God bless you


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

NTDS (67): Faith, Love and Endurance

1 Thess 1:3 We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. NIV

People often ask the question, “What is the evidence of a person who is saved?” Many times it is because they have a friend or loved one who claims to be a Christian, but lives a life that looks very contrary to that. Though Jesus taught us to not judge whether or not a person is saved (Lk 6:37-7-5, Jn 8:15)), we can judge whether or not they are bearing good fruit in their life. Ultimately, we are encouraged by Jesus to be more concerned about the evidence of salvation in our own life, before we concern ourselves about what we see in others lives.

That being said, Paul is commending the believers in Thessalonica, based upon the evidence he sees of Christ’s redemptive work in their lives. He cites three pieces of that evidence, that we should see in ourselves as well as everyone who believes in Him.

First he mentions, “Your work produced by faith.” Paul is referring here not to some act of service, but rather that in faith, they turned from the idols they worshipped to the true and living God (v9). This should be demonstrated in our lives as well. We may not have been serving idols in the way these people did, but we still serve them. Need an example? What are our modern day idols? Money or material goods, power, fame. How do we know they are idols? Ask yourself, how much of a priority are they in your life? How much time do you spend in acquiring them? How important are they to you and could you do without them?

We can even make other people our idols. There are the obvious ones, such as celebrities or sports figures, but sometimes it is not as obvious. We can even worship a son or daughter, mother or father. They can become our idol.

When we come to Christ, He should become the number one priority of our life. We turn to Him in faith, surrendering our will to His and no longer worship anything else. This is what Paul saw in the Thessalonians. It was strong evidence that they were Christians.

Next, Paul mentions their labor prompted by love. This love (agape in Greek), is the kind of love that puts other people’s needs above our own and is demonstrated by action. The word labor literally means “toil,” and by implication includes pain. This labor, produced by love may not always be easy, yet it becomes a joy to the believer in Christ because of the love the Holy Spirit puts in one’s heart.

A third evidence of their faith in Christ is endurance. Paul says that the Thessalonians endurance was inspired by “hope” in Jesus Christ. What he is speaking of here, is that despite severe suffering (v6), they would persevere because of their expectation of spending eternity with their Lord. We should exhibit this same perseverance or patience in times of suffering, knowing that either by physical death or by the Lord’s return, we will spend eternity with Him. That is why Paul could say, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Rom 8:18

Are you looking for evidence of your own salvation, wondering if you are really born again? These are three things that should be demonstrated in your life. Are you worried about where a friend might truly be in their relationship with Christ? Look for evidence of their turning from idols to worshipping Him. See if there is a heart to serve others. Find out if they have hope in suffering or despair. If none of those things are there, do not judge the heart but encourage them to look at their own life.

Urge them to look at these verses, so that they may judge themselves as to whether or not they have truly been “born again.” They might even take offense, but better to be offended than spend eternity without Christ because no one loved them enough to speak up.

Remember, all of this comes by way of faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. That is whom we worship, that is whom we serve!

God bless you

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

NTDS (60): A Good Work

Phil 1:3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.  NIV

This often quoted passage, is one of the most encouraging pieces of scripture I can think of. The Apostle Paul begins a personal letter to the church at Philippi, which had been established shortly after Paul visited the city on his second missionary journey. It is evident by verses 12-14 that he was a prisoner at the time he wrote the letter.

What you see in verse 5 is that the Philippians had partnered with Paul in ministry. How had they done that? One way was by sending Ephaphroditus to minister personally to him. Another way was by sending Paul financial gifts, to make his imprisonment a little more comfortable (Ph 4:14-19). They had done this on at least two other occasions.

This is a result of the good work that Jesus had begun in the Philippians. As you read through all of chapter one, you can see that the practical application of God’s spiritual work in the believers at Philippi, had stimulated great affection from Paul. Note in verses 3 and 4 how Paul prays for this group of committed believers in Christ.

When God begins a good work in your heart, it should also be demonstrated through practical application. In verse 9, Paul says that he prays that their love would abound more and more. That means that it must have already been abounding! When Christ comes into our hearts, the first change that we should see is that our love for Jesus is demonstrated in love for other believers (Jn 13:35).

This kind of love (agapee- love without conditions or expectation of anything in return) is a love that only Christ can give. It is visible proof of one’s relationship with God. This love must be the motivation for any good works. Without it, Paul says our actions gain nothing (1Cor 13:1-3).

Here is the best news of all. Look back at verse 6. Who was it that began this good work in these people? It is God. When did it begin? It began on the day that they received Jesus as their Lord and Savior, the day of their salvation. How long will it continue? It will continue until the “day of of Christ Jesus.” That means until He returns for His church or until your personal day of meeting Him face to face comes.

Remember, it is He who begins the work in you and He is the one who “carries it on to completion.” That means that no matter what is going on in your life, He is working. When you feel discouraged, beaten up by the world, He is working. When you are excited about life, He is working. When you can’t understand what is going on around you, He is working. He is always working to complete the work of love that He began in you and He will finish the job! Don’t ever let anyone, including the enemy of your soul, the father of lies, convince you otherwise. Be confident (convinced by argument), just as the Apostle Paul was, that this is the good work that God will do in your life (Ph 2:13). Give Him thanks and praise for His glorious works!

God Bless You