Preparing for tomorrow, today

3 Tomorrow’s World (1 Thessalonians 2:13-20)
It’s been said, “Only two things in this world are eternal—the Bible and people.” If this is true (and it is), it only makes sense to build your life around those things that will last forever. Think about it: God’s Word will last forever…people last forever…everything else disappears. In light of this sobering reality, how should we live? We should live our life backwards from the judgment seat of Christ and ask, “What difference will my life make in 10,000 years?” Most of the things we work for or worry about won’t matter in three weeks, let alone three months or three years. We focus on the trivial and forget to pursue the eternal. But 10,000 times 10,000 years from now, you’ll still be glad you invested your life for Jesus Christ. In 1 Thess 2:13-20 Paul says, “You can shape tomorrow by starting today.” In these eight verses, we are challenged to give thanks for two of God’s blessings.
1. Thank God for the work of His Word (2:13-16).
1 Thess 2:13-16 serves a transitional role in this letter. In 2:12, Paul’s focus shifted from the behavior of the missionaries (the primary subject of 2:1-12) to that of the Thessalonians. Now, still focusing on the Thessalonians, he picks up and develops further a point touched on in 1:6: the Thessalonians’ acceptance of the gospel in spite of severe suffering (2:13-14). This reference to suffering in turn sets up what he will say in 2:17-20 (where his focus again shifts from the Thessalonians back to the missionaries).
In this first section, Paul thanks God for the response of the church to Scripture. In 2:13, Paul pens a lengthy but potent verse: “For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.” Paul states that he and his coworkers “constantly” thank God for the way the Thessalonians responded after they preached the gospel to them. The word “constantly” (adialeipto) is an adverb which means “without interruption, continually, regularly.” It is used in 1 Thess 1:5; 2:13; 5:17; and Rom 1:9. In each passage it has to do with some aspect of prayer. He thanks God that they “received” God’s Word. The word “received” is an objective external response that refers to “the hearing of the ear.” It’s like signing a receipt at the post office so you can accept a package. Paul means that the Thessalonians listened intently to the message he preached because they knew it came from God. The word translated “accepted” is a subjective internal response that refers to “the hearing of the heart.” This word is used of welcoming a guest into your home. It is a picture of warm hospitality. The point is: it’s very possible to listen to preaching and not be changed by it. It’s something else to welcome God’s message into your heart and let it transform your life. “Performs its work” is energeo from which we get our word energy or energize.
How frequently do you thank God for people who have received and accepted the gospel? During this past week, I have been reminded to thank God for how He is constantly touching people and reaching people with His Word. Do you need to express thanks for some people you know who have trusted in Jesus? Why not write down several names on a 3×5 card or a Post-it-Note and then daily thank the Lord for these individuals and pray that they continue to grow?
Before we move on to 2:14, we need to further apply 2:13. As a church family, how can we grow in our response to God’s Word?
o Pray for a deeper appreciation for the Word. Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) once said, “The Bible is God’s best gift to man.” It is easy to nod our head at this statement, but it is harder to live out its truth. It’s been said, “There is little difference in people, but that little difference makes a big difference.” The little difference is attitude. If you’re not really excited about the Word, pray that God will deepen your appreciation. Specifically, pray that you will treasure God’s Word like Job who said it was worth more than his daily food, or David who said it was more valuable than fine gold, or even the Psalmist who said it was more valuable than sleep. If the preaching of the Word bores you and you can’t seem to stay awake and engaged, don’t just keep sleeping through sermons and devotional times. Pray that the Lord will give you an insatiable hunger and zeal for His Word.
o Work hard in your study of the Word. James 1:21 tells us that the Word is implanted in us the moment we believe in Christ. Yet, we still bear a responsibility to read and study God’s Word. We can’t pawn this responsibility off on busyness or any other excuse. Have you ever played chess? If I really wanted to learn how to play chess, I could ask a pro to teach me. I could also check out Chess for Dummies at the local library. Easier still, I could go online and study various websites on how to be a chess champion. So why don’t I? I haven’t made the decision to do so. Perhaps you have never chosen to read and study the Word. If so, you are without excuse. (I say this with love and compassion.) We have every opportunity in this day and age to learn the Bible for ourselves. Today, ask a fellow believer to study the Bible with you. Plug into a Sunday class or small group where the Bible is taught. Visit a website that will teach you more about the Bible. I recommend http://www.biblegateway.com. But do something today! You can shape tomorrow by starting today.
o Apply what you hear and learn in the Word. It is not enough to appreciate the teaching of God’s Word; we must apply it in our experience to make it fully effective in our lives. After all, what makes the Bible unique from all other books is its inherent ability to transform lives. Those who read and apply the Bible will see their lives transformed like a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. Think of it this way: What if you took food into your mouth, chewed it up, and never swallowed it? The food would be of no benefit to you. It might taste good, but its nutrients would not be absorbed into your system. If you do not digest your recommended daily intake of food you will eventually die.
This principle is also true in the spiritual realm. Are you on spiritual life support? Do you have a head full of Bible knowledge and feet empty of Bible obedience? If so, get your feet in gear and obey what you read. One of your goals ought to be to consistently model Christ in everything you say and do. Personally, I find that one of my most challenging ambitions is that my wife, Karen, would be able to honestly say that I am the godliest man that she knows. If the one who knows me best can say that, I know I am making progress in applying the Scriptures and modeling Christ to others.
In 2:14, Paul further explains that he is thankful for the Thessalonians because they willingly accepted persecution for the sake of Christ. He writes, “For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews.” The Christian life is no manicured bed of perfumed roses. It’s not all plain sailing into an orange sunset. The church at Thessalonica became “imitators” of other churches by undergoing suffering. The exact nature of the persecution is not stated. It may have been persecution by the local government. Perhaps it consisted largely of persecution from former friends, discrimination in the marketplace, and even violence that went unnoticed by the magistrates. Regardless, belief in Christ and God’s Word attracts persecution. The term “countrymen” refers to fellow Thessalonian Gentiles.
In our context, it could mean the people closest to you. If you decide to believe the Bible is the Word of God, many people who are close to you will not share your faith. If your spouse, your siblings, your parents, your children, or your friends reject your faith, how will you respond? Will you boldly carry on even though you may not please them? It is very difficult to live a dynamic Christian life when we are constantly trying to please people. Bill Cosby once said, “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” If those closest to you criticize you, will you take it on the chin like a spiritual man or woman? People constantly hurt by what others say about them are usually distracted and ineffective. It is very difficult to live a dynamic Christian life when wearing a thin skin.
If you struggle with being a people pleaser and having thin skin, I have two suggestions for you.
(1) Seek to hang out with bold believers. When you observe a brother or sister that is fearless, you will become emboldened. It is nearly impossible to spend time with a bold believer and not have some of their courage rub off on you. If you don’t know any bold believers, get to know some bold unbelievers and learn how they share their message with others.
(2) Study the persecuted church. When you read about our brothers and sisters in Christ who are being tortured and killed for their faith in Christ, you will find yourself challenged and inspired to be bold for Christ. I would encourage you to get on the mailing list of Voice of the Martyrs. They have a very helpful weekly e-mail called “VOM—USA News & Prayer Update.”. These tools will help you to be bold for Christ. You can shape tomorrow by starting today.
In 2:15-16, Paul pens two very controversial verses directed toward Jews. Although the purpose of these words is illustrative, these verses have caused some to insist that Paul is anti-Semitic. However, before arriving at a decision, read Paul’s words for yourself: “[The unbelieving Jews who persecuted the churches in Judea] who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost.” Paul says that some first-century Jews were responsible for instigating the death of Jesus. Furthermore, the nation of Israel has a long history of rejecting the prophets God sent to them. Finally, it was the Jewish religious leaders in Thessalonica who instigated the riot that led to Paul, Silas, and Timothy being run out of town. It was also the Jewish religious leaders who resisted Paul’s efforts to share God’s good news about Jesus with the non-Jewish people.
So in these verses Paul is not talking about all Jewish people of all time, or even all Jewish people of his time. This passage is a condemnation of some of the Jewish people of a particular time in a particular place, specifically the religious leaders who rejected Jesus and opposed the early church in the first century. What Paul is saying here is that those Jewish people who were engaged in the activities he lists here are under God’s judgment. He’s not talking about all Jewish people everywhere, because Paul himself is Jewish, and the Christians living in Judea who were suffering were also Jewish.
Tragically, horrible evils have been justified toward Jews from a misinterpretation of this passage. This is not God’s heart, for God loves the Jewish people—they are His chosen people. Nevertheless, we can’t exonerate those who reject Christ. Paul makes it clear that the Jews who are hostile to Jesus are heaping judgment on themselves and their hostility will one day be answered by God. It is important to understand that God’s wrath isn’t referring to God losing His temper and flying off the handle in anger. Paul is talking about God’s justice to those who oppose His work in the world. Paul’s anger is the anger of a man with his own nation, his own people. He is very much part of them, and he sorrows at their faith. He is not gleefully invoking dire disasters on them, but grieving over the effects of their misdeeds. We must thank God for the work of His Word. Why? Because God’s Word changes lives!]
2. Thank God for the work of His followers (2:17-20).
In this second section, Paul specifically expresses his joy over the Thessalonians. In 2:17 he writes, “But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short while—in person, not in spirit—were all the more eager with great desire to see your face.” Paul fervently loved his Thessalonian converts, but persecution forced him to leave. The words “taken away” (orphanizo) means to make an orphan of someone. Paul viewed himself as an orphan separated from his family. Perhaps you have observed on film some of the horrible scenes from World War II when Jewish fathers and mothers were “torn away” from their children and sent off to different locations, sometimes never to see each other again. Imagine the inner pain! Paul’s pain is comparable to these families. Consequently, he is “eager” and possesses “great desire.” The term “desire” is the word used for lust in the New Testament. It almost always has a negative sense. The point being, this is a strong word to describe Paul’s love for this church.
Do you have this type of love for your church? It has been said, “If absence makes the heart grow fonder, some Christians must really love the church.” Seriously, do you love God’s people? When you are separated from this body, do you ache or do you breathe a sigh of relief? Are you attending church to merely fulfill your religious obligation or do you truly love God’s people? If this church family was taken away from you, what would you do? How would you feel? Would you even care? Pray that God increases your love and commitment to His church.
In 2:18, Paul shares a very intriguing verse. He writes, “For we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, more than once—and yet Satan hindered us.” Exactly what did Paul mean and how did Satan stop him? It is likely that Paul is referring to some kind of ongoing problem that kept him from returning to Thessalonica. We can’t be sure of the precise details, but we know that Jewish opponents followed him from city to city openly opposing him and spreading lies about his ministry. This verse informs us that not all of Paul’s plans worked out.
One of the primary reasons for this is that Satan “hindered” him. The word “hindered” is a military term used for the destruction of roads and bridges in the face of the enemy’s advance. That’s right, Satan hindered Paul and he can hinder you and me. However, we must recognize that God permits satanic opposition. In fact, Satan can’t touch our lives or our ministries apart from God’s permission. Constable writes, “How can we tell if Satan is opposing us or if the Spirit is directing us? It seems to me that the New Testament writers viewed God’s sovereign control of all things on different levels at different times.
Sometimes, as in Acts, they spoke of the One who is in ultimate charge and focused on His direction. At other times, as here, they spoke of the instruments that God uses. God permitted Satan to oppose Paul’s return to Thessalonica, but this was all part of God’s sovereign will. In Acts the emphasis is on the One responsible for the expansion of the church, but here the emphasis is on the instrument God used in this situation. Satan can only oppose us as God gives him permission to do so (Job 1-2) If Satan cuts up one road, then God will create another. If the devil closes a door, God will open a window. We must always recognize that wherever God is at work, Satan and his demons are surely present.
Elsewhere, Paul says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers…powers…world forces of this darkness…spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12).Yet, instead of being frustrated by this, we need to be complemented because we are a threat to hell. If we aren’t doing much for the Lord, Satan will leave us alone. You may face opposition at work or from a critical colleague or from a classmate, a friend, a teacher, a neighbor, a relative, or even from your children or your spouse. Satan’s primary strategy against the church is to discourage us by stirring up opposition so that we will stop spreading the gospel. We must always recognize that our battle is not against flesh and blood but against satanic rulers, principalities, and powers (Eph 6:12).
Paul concludes in 2:19-20 by explaining (“for”) why he is so eager to see the Thessalonians: “For who [not “what”] is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.” Every new parent understands what Paul means. What happens when a baby is born? You can’t wait to tell the good news. You have pictures and statistics and stories about how he has his daddy’s chin and his mother’s eyes and how smart he is and how it doesn’t matter what the doctor says, you know he smiled at you. He’s the smartest, best-looking, cutest baby ever born. And you’ve got pictures to prove it!
Paul uses boasting or exultation to describe the Christian’s delight in being commended for faithful service by the Lord at his return.” The Thessalonians are the crown, and the result at the Bema will be rejoicing or exultation. But what did he mean by this? In view of Paul’s use of “crown” (stephanos, the victor’s crown) in other places, and the fact believers will cast their crowns before the Lord (Rev 4:10), Paul undoubtedly had in mind a personal crown or reward that believers will receive because of their presence at the return of the Lord for faithful ministry. Though, in this passage the apostle does not say he would receive a crown, this is suggested, if not here certainly in other passages.
In these two verses, Paul and his coworkers call the church at Thessalonica our “joy.” Paul concludes this passage the way he began, with thanksgiving. These new believers are Paul’s hope. He is confident in their faith and obedience. The Thessalonians are also a source of joy and spiritual delight, not only in the present time but in the future, at the return of the Lord. Paul also calls these believers his “crown of exultation.” Paul did not say that he would receive a crown, though this is suggested. He said that the saints themselves would be his crown when he met them at the judgment seat. To be sure, some of the believers in the church were not living as they should, and some were a burden to Paul. But when he looked ahead and saw them in glory, they brought joy to his heart.
In his letters, Paul often pictured these rewards as “crowns.” It is the word stephanos from which we get the names Stephen and Stephanie. The word refers to a wreath of leaves given to the winner of a race in the Isthmian Games. One of Paul’s rewards in heaven would be the pleasure of seeing all those new Christians standing with him.
In 2:20 Paul declares, “For you are our glory and joy.” The word “you” is emphatic in the Greek—“you and especially you are our glory and joy.” The word “glory” (doxa) means “fame” or “renown” that a person receives when honored by others. Paul is saying, “Whatever honor is ascribed to me has its source in you Thessalonians.” It is Paul’s honor to introduce his converts to the Lord Jesus Christ. When he sees the Lord, he will know that his team’s glory will be people in heaven because of their witness. This is legitimate pride because it is based on what God did through them. Our reputation in eternity will be based, in part, on winning people to Christ. “On that day, believers and holy angels alike will be glad to see those who have come to know the Lord Jesus, but those who have had a part in the spiritual birth of individuals will experience an even greater joy. A woman may be pleased that have a major of joy when her sister has her baby, but nothing rivals the joy that is hers when she becomes the mother of her own baby. There will be an incredible fullness of joy at the judgment seat for those who are spiritual parents.” Do you have a part in building up Christ’s Kingdom? Will people point to you that you had a part in bringing them into the Kingdom?
This leads to a very fascinating question: Does it make any difference what local church you attend? I would argue that it makes an eternal difference because of the biblical significance of team ministry and corporate rewards. In the West, we are consumed with individual performance, but in the Scriptures, God makes it clear that He cares about the church.
By way of analogy, the National Football League each year “crowns” a team the Super Bowl Champions.
All team members receive, among other things, a ring commemorating their participation on the championship team. Whether or not they actually played in the last game (or any game), all are rewarded. All that matters is that each player was on the team. Of course, it is hard to imagine a player who does not contribute in some way to a championship team, especially as the whole group embraces its quest together. Corporate rewards, as a possibility at the judgment seat of Christ, will mean that some of the believer’s rewards (or loss of rewards) will be based on the corporate faithfulness and works they all accomplished (or neglected) together. This in no way compromises individual responsibility. Indeed, a “most valuable player” exists in the Super Bowl analogy. Individuals can be rewarded for both his/her own efforts and the entire team’s results.
So both individual and corporate rewards are significant. We need to impact people individually and corporately with the gospel. You may be serving in a ministry next week. As an individual, you have served behind the scenes, invited your neighbors, prayed, and prepared for your responsibilities. Next week though, you will also be teaming up with the one of the greatest groups of people ever assembled. You will be a part of what God is going to do simply because you’re a part of the MBC family. And you will reap whatever rewards come from this next week because of your partnership with this church.
This principle is applicable for youth, college, and adult ministries as well. It matters what your church believes. It matters how faithful your pastors are. It matters how zealous your ministry partners are. It matters how unified your body. It matters in this life and it will matter for all eternity.
What difference will your life make in 10,000 years? How will you wish you had spent your few years on this earth? Live your life backwards from the judgment seat of Christ. You can shape tomorrow by starting today.

 

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Being a model church

What makes a model ministry? How can we be the church that God wants us to be? [Think about these questions for just a moment.] At Mobberly, we have a mission – people leading people into a life-changing, ever-growing relationship with Jesus Christ. In that, we are engaging our community for Christ. We have come a long way in this endeavor but we still have even further to go. Interestingly, our efforts to be a model church are addressed rather nicely in 1 Thess 2:1-12. In this passage, we will learn from Paul and his coworkers how to work toward a model ministry. We will see that a model ministry is dependent upon each and every individual doing his or her part. Paul tells us that this can happen when we serve Christ with pure and parental hearts. In these verses, Paul says, “A little example can have a big influence.”
1. Serve Christ with a pure heart (2:1-6).
In this section, we will see that Christian ministry can be fruitful when it is carried out with a pure heart that desires to please God. In 2:1-2, Paul explains that God blessed his ministry because of his willingness to preach Christ amidst persecution. He writes, “For you yourselves know, brethren that our coming to you was not in vain, but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition.” The word “for” that begins 2:1 indicates that the material in this chapter is the basis for the preceding material in chapter 1. The main point of chapter 1 was Paul’s thanksgiving for the Thessalonians’ faith and dynamic witness. The ironic climax of 1:6-10 was that Paul and his coworkers did not need to preach Christ as much in the areas where the Thessalonians faith had spread (1:8). Consequently, his visit was “not in vain.” On the contrary, it was quite fruitful! Verse 2, then, gives the reason (not a contrast) for Paul’s claim in 2:1. Paul’s coworkers were fruitful because they proclaimed the gospel even in the face of persecution.
In 2:2, Paul states that they had “suffered and been mistreated” in Philippi. That is a bit of an understatement. In Philippi, Paul and Silas had been stripped, beaten, thrown into prison, and their feet fastened in stocks. It had not only been an extremely painful experience but humiliating as well, since they were flogged naked in public, without trial, and in spite of their Roman citizenship. After this, most of us would have taken a vacation or found an excuse not to minister ever again. But Paul and his coworkers headed to Thessalonica where they met up with more strong opposition. Yet, they didn’t say, “We better pull the punch in our preaching so that we don’t offend anyone.” Instead, they preached the Word with no-holds-barred! These guys were animals! In Thessalonica, the attacks were probably coming mostly from without. The Jews, who were jealous of Paul’s success and opposed to his message, stirred up a bunch of rabble rousers and the city authorities against Paul, so that he had to leave town. They even followed him to Berea, 50 miles away, to stir up opposition there.
Acts 17:4 reports that a number of leading women in the city had believed after hearing Paul preach. Perhaps the husbands of these women were saying, “Paul is just another religious huckster like we see come through here all the time. How could you be so dumb as to fall for what he said? He’s just out to make a buck or to con women into sleeping with him. Don’t be so gullible!” To answer these charges, Paul asserts and defends his own integrity with the aim of defending the gospel and of urging the new Christians to walk worthy of God. Steven J. Cole, “Becoming Men of Integrity” (1 Thess 2:1-12): 3-4.
But before we get too excited about Paul and his men, we must note that Paul declares they had boldness “in our God.” It was not their own boldness—it was “in God.” He gave them their boldness.
It is also worth noting that the term “opposition” is the Greek word agon—from which we derive our English word agony. Agon is an athletic term that suggests intense effort and strenuous exertion in the face of hostility and conflict. The Greek world was familiar with athletic contests, and Paul often used this idea to illustrate spiritual truths (see 1 Cor 9:27; Phil 3:13-14; 2 Tim 4:7). Paul used this same word in Phil 1:30 where he pictured the Christian life as an athletic contest that demanded dedication and energy. It had not been easy to start a church in Philippi, and it was not easy to start one in Thessalonica. Cf. Col 1:29 where the verb (agonizomai) is used in much the same way.
This reminds us that ministry to others, the work of leading people to Christ and helping them grow in Christ, is a contest, a spiritual struggle. It is not an easy job—it is physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually demanding and draining. Nevertheless, it has been said, “The door of opportunity swings on the hinges of opposition.” So what are we to do in the face of opposition or indifference?
(1) Refuse to be intimidated. One of the reasons Christianity is so ineffective in our culture is that we are easily intimidated. In other words, we are more scared of people than we are Jesus. Today, will you pray for “holy boldness?” Will you ask the Lord to help you to boldly proclaim at work or school this week?
(2) Rely on prayer. Persevere in prayer despite discouraging circumstances. Will you write down two names this week—one unsaved and one saved—and then begin praying for these two people?
(3) Stay the course. Don’t stop sharing Christ and living the Christian life because people reject you. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to keep on doing what you are already doing, whether anyone pays attention or not. If you keep serving with a pure heart long enough, sooner or later it will pay off. Our Christian lives and ministry are all about perseverance. A little example can have a big influence.
In 2:3-6, Paul details how to serve with a pure heart. Since Paul was being grouped in with religious charlatans and hucksters he responds to personal attacks against his own ministry. Interestingly, these attacks have continued to be levied against Christianity for the last 2,000 years….sometimes legitimately and other times illegitimately. He writes, “For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit” (2:3). In this verse, Paul debunks three accusations surrounding his ministry.
First, Paul’s ministry did not come from error; rather, it was grounded in God’s Word. This is how you can judge a ministry: is it grounded in the truth of God’s Word? An effective ministry is not based upon preferences, opinions, or musings…it is based on God’s truth. The one great advantage that Christians have is that our holy book is accurate. Even though people attempt to find contradictions and errors in the Bible, their attempts are always foiled. In fact, many of Christianity’s greatest detractors have become believers during their quest to disprove Christ or His resurrection.
Second, Paul’s ministry did not come from impurity for he was a man of purity. In this context, the word “impurity” is broader than sexual immorality (cf. 4:7). The NIV is probably right to render the word “impure motives,” alluding to such evils as “ambition, pride, greed, and popularity.” Paul is saying, “I am ‘above reproach’ in every area of my life and ministry.” We can measure the impact of God’s Word upon any group of people by the spiritual caliber of the spokesman. Water flows through pipes. If the pipe is rusty, the water may flow but there will be discoloration and sediment in the water. It will taste of the pipe. Often God’s Word will not taste right if the messenger is unclean.
Third, Paul’s ministry did not come from deceit for he was an honest man. The word “deceit” was originally used of a fisherman who deceives a fish with a lure. Secular Greek literature also used “deceit” for a tavern keeper of the ancient world who would water down the wine of an inebriated person. There are those who also water down the Word. Paul didn’t use trickery or slick salesmanship to sell the gospel, assuring people of things that the gospel never promises. Getz comments, “Here’s where we are dealing with a delicate balance. Jesus stated that we are to be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Matt 10:16). He also taught His followers how to be ‘fishers of men’ (Matt 4:19). But this in no way gives us license to be cunning, crafty, and tricky.” 51. Sometimes, in an effort to get people to receive Christ, we tell them how Christ will solve all their problems, but we don’t tell them the hardships and cost of following Christ. So they come to Christ under false pretenses. When their problems don’t go away, or grow even worse, they grow bitter and fall away.
Paul’s words in 2:4 mark a stark contrast: “but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts.” I like what Bill Cosby once said, “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” Paul and his coworkers have been “approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel.” Therefore, they are responsible to proclaim Christ to anyone and everyone who will listen, regardless of what others think or say. The contrast Paul makes is between pleasing men and pleasing God, who examines the heart. In making this claim, Paul is not saying that he did not care how he lived in front of people or what they thought about his way of life, but that he just answered to God. Sometimes you hear men say, “I don’t have to answer to people; I just answer to God” as an excuse for not being accountable. That’s not what Paul meant. In fact, he repeatedly appeals to their knowledge of his blameless life. He simply argues that the dominant goal in his life and preaching is pleasing God above all else.
Let’s suppose that you have been feeling sick lately. When you go to the doctor, he administers a test. The results are not good. The outlook is grim, but the disease is treatable if you get started now. What do you want the doctor to do? If he tells you truth, you’ll be devastated. If he doesn’t, you’ll be dead. Would you rather have him sugarcoat the truth or even lie to you? Or do you want to know the whole truth about your condition? I know the answer for me. When I go to the doctor I want to know the whole truth, even if it hurts. But what if he says, “I want to spare you pain?” I would tell him, “Doc, tell that to my wife and children at my funeral.”
When life and death issues are at stake only the truth will do. When it comes to the gospel of Jesus Christ, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Therefore, Christians must be people who hold to the highest possible standards of truth and integrity. A little example can have a big influence. When you and I live for Christ with our lives and our lips, the world can be changed.
In 2:5, Paul continues to detail how to serve with a pure heart. He writes, “For we never came with flattering speech.”
Dale Carnegie once said, “Flattery is telling the other person precisely what he thinks about himself.”
In preaching and ministry many leaders want to tell people what they want to hear. It is easy to say, “You’re a victor, a child of the king, and God wants you healthy, wealthy, and wise.” That’s a popular message and one that many people want to hear. But it is flattery and it is not the gospel.
Cubic zirconium is a mineral that is hard, optically flawless, and cheap. It resembles a diamond so closely that sometimes only a trained eye can tell the difference. But it isn’t a diamond—and that’s the point. A similar comparison exists between true compliments and flattering words. They may look alike, but one is sincere and precious; the other is insincere and cheap. We must ensure that we tell the truth when we minister in God’s name.
Paul also says in 2:5 that he never came with “pretext for greed—God is witness.” Always remember, if the apostle Paul was accused of greed we must expect that we will be as well. Have you ever been accused of greed?
Paul concludes this section in 2:6 with these powerful words: “nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority.” For the second time in three verses, Paul brings up pleasing men. Here he says we did not “seek glory from men.”
Our aim must always be to glorify God and please Him. If people are pleased in this process, praise God! But this is not a criterion by which we are to judge our ministry (cf. Gal 1:10).
[Paul’s exhortation has been serving Christ with a pure heart. Why is this so important? Because only when we please God will we see lasting results.]
2. Serve Christ with a parental heart (2:7-12).
In this second section Paul explains effective ministry. To draw this out, he uses paternal metaphors. This is important because some believers have lost family relationships for believing in Christ. In this light, Paul’s extensive use of parental and family images is significant. Through the use of such language he essentially portrays the congregation as a new family, whose relationships substitute for those that have been broken or lost. In 2:7, he compares his pastoral work to that of a nursing mother. Paul writes, “But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children.” Instead of the common word for “mother” (meter), Paul employs a term with the specialized meaning of “wet nurse” (trophos), someone who suckles children. The use of wet nurses was widespread in the Greco-Roman world, and ancient writers typically portrayed the wet nurse as an important and beloved figure. Since the original text refers to this woman nursing her own children, Paul has in view here the natural mother rather than the hired wet nurse. Yet he uses the unusual term trophos because this metaphor of a nursing mother underscores his sincere love for the Thessalonian Christians. A hired nurse competently cares for the children in her charge, but she cherishes her own children even more.
One of the distinguishing characteristics of mothers is that they are gentle. This is a lovely image that goes against the grain of our mental picture of the apostle Paul. Of all the words we might use to describe him, somehow the word “gentle” doesn’t come to mind. Strong, determined, zealous, and impassioned—yes. But gentle? Nonetheless, there it is. Gentleness is not a quality often respected today. We tend to value tough, strong, assertive leaders. But none of us likes to be bullied; we’d all rather be loved. Thus, Paul illustrates his relationship with the Thessalonians by describing the bond between a nursing mother and her child. Just as a mother nourishes her child through her own body, so Paul as a spiritual parent nourishes his children in the faith with the Word of God.
In 2:8 Paul writes, “Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.” The word “affection” (homeiromai) is only used here in the NT; however, in Greek literature it was a strong term of affection related to parents longing for children who have passed away. We need to have a heart of compassion and tenderness for others. It takes the gospel, plus us. People will listen to our message when they know we care about them. The old axiom is that people do not care how much we know until they know how much we care.
For most people to believe in Christ for the first time, the personal touch is required. This means that we have folks into our home or take them out to a meal or talk to them in the foyer about a faith relationship with Jesus Christ. This is the responsibility of the church. We all bear the privilege and responsibility to share Christ with others. We then share a responsibility to share our lives with new Christians.
Paul was not too shy or too proud to be an affectionate person. Although he had only recently got to know these Thessalonians he had taken them into his heart, and wanted them to know how much he loved them. They were foreigners to him. He was Jewish and they were Macedonians. But Paul did not let any kind of cultural differences bother him. He is a citizen of God’s worldwide church, and so are they. He loves them with the love of Jesus.
In 2:9 Paul writes, “For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.” If you read 1 Corinthians 9, Paul makes it clear in that passage that he doesn’t consider it wrong for a man to live off the preaching of the gospel. And in 1 Timothy 5 he says that an elder who both rules and teaches is worthy of “double honor,” which presumes that elders would in fact be paid for their work. But he himself apparently worked in secular jobs wherever he went so that he would be free of any accusations about his motives. His work ethic was exemplary.
Tragically, many Christians give Christianity a black-eye because of their poor work performance. This is a crying shame, since work is an expression of worship and it also serves as a powerful witness. This week, will you go to your cubicle or your classroom or home and work as unto the Lord? As you work your daily grind for the glory of God the mundane and monotonous nature of your work can become extraordinary in its kingdom impact. A little example can have a big influence.
In 2:10 Paul writes, “You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers.” The word “devoutly” speaks of inward affections toward both God and man; the word “uprightly” refers to their outward behavior toward God and man; and the word “blamelessly” is the overarching result of being holy and righteous. Paul means to say that no one could make an accusation against him and make it stick. No one could say, “Aha! I gotcha!” To be “blameless” means to live in such a way that no one can successfully make a serious charge against you. It means living in such a way that anyone who finds fault with you would have to tell a lie to do it!
Paul continues his train of thought in 2:11 where he writes, “just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children.” Paul says that he behaved with the Thessalonians as a father with his children. “Exhorting” speaks of pressing upon God’s people the need to live a life of godliness. Often, this takes the form of a rebuke. “Encouraging” points to progress where a spiritual father might say, “I see your growth. I am watching your steps of faith beyond your comfort zone. You are moving toward your potential. I believe in you. I am proud of you.”
“Imploring” is the strongest of the three since it suggests the idea of insisting or requiring that a certain course of action be adopted. This is where we challenge people to cross the line of faith or press on in the faith. We urge people to make a decision once they have been exhorted and encouraged.
Not long ago, I read an interesting statement about the difference between mothers and fathers. Mothers tend to worry about their children’s safety and security; fathers focus on their children’s success. A mother frets over things like tender loving care while fathers push their children hard because they know we live in a world where failure is easy and success difficult. Both are absolutely necessary—in raising children and in serving the Lord.
The purpose of this entire section comes to a crescendo in 2:12b: “so that you would walkin a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory” (cf. 4:1). Paul exhorts the church to walk in a worthy manner. Spiritually speaking, this is putting one foot in front of the other and taking steps of forward progress. For this, Paul doesn’t give them a list of rules, rituals, and regulations. Instead, he urges them to become like Jesus in their character and conduct. This is simply responding to God’s call upon our lives.
Paul refers to “His own kingdom.” We must temper and tune our lives to this calling. We adjust ourselves to God; He does not adapt Himself to us. We could accept a call to many kingdoms. Those kingdoms would compete for our commitment and these false allegiances will lure us away from our ultimate purpose. Many philosophies will pander to our baser motives. God designed us for the highest calling. The chief end of Paul’s ministry is a church that is obeying God. Fascinatingly, the word translated “glory” (doxa) here is used in 2:6. In this way, the theme is repeated. If I know that it is God’s kingdom of glory I am being called into, then I will not be so worried about the praise of men. It is the eternal kingdom of the glory of God that I’m being called to, and therefore I want to live a life worthy of Him. This type of life is not a means of earning God’s favor. On the contrary, it is clearly a response to God who calls us to Himself. Paul’s prayer is that we would express our gratitude to God for who He is and all He has done, in the form of a thank you card.
Spiritually, you may be nursing, crawling, walking, or running. The important thing is that you’re moving forward in your maturity. If you are growing, God is pleased. He wants the best for you. He yearns for you to be conformed to the image of Jesus. He will not stop until He accomplishes this in you. Today, will you respond to Him? Will you take small steps that will help you grow as a spouse, a parent, a worker, a church member? You can be used by God to make an eternal difference in your home, work, and church.

Encouraging our leaders and others

Do you have a favorite sports team? If so, I want you to lock that team into your mind for just a moment. Perhaps you graduated from the TAMU or UT, so you are a die-hard Aggie or Longhorn. Maybe you live and breathe the Dallas Cowboys or the Rangers. If so, God bless you. What happens when your favorite team wins a big game? You respond like this: “WE DID IT! WE WON!” You may run around the living room high-fiving, chest-bumping, and doing a little jig. Now my question is: What role did you play in this victory? Maybe you bought a jersey or a cap, but the truth is you didn’t do anything that contributed to your team’s success. Yet, you feel intense ownership because this is YOUR team.

If you and I can feel this strongly about our favorite sports team, how much more intense should our feelings be for our local church? We need to think of the church as “we,” not “they.” Although churches are made up of individuals, when you and I speak of the church we must never say “they.” Instead we should say “we”…for we are the church!

 

In the book of 1 Thessalonians, we will learn about a church that we can get excited about. Although there are no “perfect” churches, the church in Thessalonica is a model church. As we study this church, we will learn how we can be a church that glorifies God and leads the world to Him. Specifically, in 1 Thess 1:1-10, we will see that God uses the church to encourage leaders. Encouragement is found in the lives that we live.

 

  1. Leaders need encouragement in ministry (1:1-5).

In this first section, we discover that even godly and competent leaders need encouragement. Even though many leaders look confident and secure on the outside, on the inside they can be discouraged and insecure. God’s leaders are constantly under attack from Satan and need to be encouraged. In 1:1, Paul introduces his letter with these words: “Paul and Silvanus (Silas) and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.” Paul has written 13 New Testament books, yet this is the shortest of any of Paul’s greetings. He is obviously fond of this church and they are familiar with Paul and his traveling companions. Paul does not include his official title “apostle” in either 1 or 2 Thessalonians. This is also true of Philippians and Philemon. In Paul’s other nine epistles he uses his title, most likely because he is “under fire” from others. The reason for its omission in every case appears to have been the intimate and affectionate character of his relations with the parties addressed.

Paul includes “Silvanus and Timothy” because they were with him in Corinth when he wrote this letter, and these men had also assisted him in the building up of the Thessalonian church. More importantly, Paul seems to be affirming team leadership as the basic New Testament pattern. Paul was a team player that shared ministry and trained others to do ministry.

 

In your area of ministry, are you seeking to build a team? Have you sought to train others for ministry? Do you seek to train others so well that they surpass you in your ministry? Our MBC leaders have a team ministry philosophy. We are all co-equals who simply fulfill different responsibilities.

 

When Billy Graham received his Congressional Medal of Honor, the first thing he is reported to have said upon receiving the award is, “This has been a team effort from the very beginning,” and he proceeded to name the people who had ministered unto him through the years. In closing he said, “We did this together.” What a humble and God-honoring attitude!

 

It is worth noting that the phrase “in God” is as unusual as the phrase “in Christ” is familiar. The Thessalonians needed to be reminded that their sphere of protection and provision was “in God.” In the midst of tribulation and suffering it is easy to forget this. Still, in the greeting, Paul accords Jesus Christ equality with God the Father. Furthermore, he uses the full title of our Savior: “Lord Jesus Christ.” “Lord” refers to Yahweh—the God of the Old Testament. As “Lord,” Christ is God and the supreme Creator and Sustainer of the universe. “Jesus” means “Yahweh saves.” This is His earthly name and points to His humanity. Yet, Jesus is not just an exalted man but the eternal God who became man that He might die for our sin. “Christ” refers to the long promised Messiah who is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies.

 

The final words of Paul’s greeting are “grace and peace.” “Grace” was a common Greek salutation that meant “greeting” or “rejoice.” “Peace” is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew shalom meaning “favor,” “well-being,” and “prosperity in the widest sense,” especially prosperity in spiritual matters. Paul used both words when he greeted the recipients of his epistles. God’s grace is the basis for and leads to our peace. When you trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, He gives you grace that leads to peace with God.

 

Paul now launches into the longest thanksgiving section in the entire New Testament. He is pumped about this church! Although Paul is quite pleased with this church, there is another reason he spends so much time expressing thanks. It is fairly certain that this congregation lacks confidence in their salvation. Consequently, Paul spends time affirming them. In 1:2-3 he writes, “We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father.”

 

It’s been said, “You can tell a man’s values by what he appreciates.” In these verses, Paul expresses his deep appreciation for the spiritual maturity of the Thessalonians. The words “always” and “constantly” don’t indicate an uninterrupted task of incessant praying, but rather a faithful, regular pattern of prayer and thanksgiving. Nevertheless, these verses are challenging. They call you and me to pray for our church, specifically. Not just a generic, “Lord, bless our church,” but specific expressions of gratitude for individuals in our church. Start with your small group. Cry out to God for individuals in your ministry. Paul had a prayer list. Do you? Use a prayer list, a prayer diary, a prayer card. Stick a photo on the fridge, on the bathroom mirror, or on the steering wheel of your car. Whatever it takes!

 

In 1:3, Paul shares three characteristics he appreciates about the Thessalonian believers. First, he mentions their “work of faith.” Salvation is God’s gift. Faith rests upon the work of God, not our work. Yet, when we rest on God’s work, God produces His work in us. Paul blesses these believers because of the works that followed their faith. Encouragement is found in the lives that we live.

 

Second, Paul refers to their “labor of love.” The word “labor” denotes wearying toil involving sweat and fatigue to the point of exhaustion. It is a love of blood, sweat, and tears. I remember one summer when I worked as a handyman’s apprentice. It was hard work. I labored because I had to, but I also labored because I wanted to. You see, I was working to learn things I have used ever since. This was a valuable time for me, but it was some of the hardest work I have ever done.

 

I know many individuals in our church who work their tails off. Like most people, these folks have a spouse, children, and work responsibilities. Nevertheless, they refuse to say, “I don’t have time to serve the Lord. I have family responsibilities, I have work responsibilities, and I need my free time.” These choice people are concerned about all of these responsibilities, but they are equally concerned about their obligation to their Lord. Interestingly, it is those people in our church who serve the most that also tend to have the best marriages and families. They are also the most successful in their careers. God is no man’s debtor. If you labor for Him, He will multiply your time and bless you to boot!

 

Lastly, Paul refers to their “steadfastness of hope.” Our English word “steadfastness” seems soft and passive. Yet, the Greek term behind this translation is tenacious and aggressive. Similarly, the English word “hope” transmits the idea of wishful thinking. We say, “I hope it is sunny tomorrow.” We mean by that, “I wish for another warm day tomorrow.” Biblical hope, however, is not wishful thinking. No, hope has the idea that we have assurance in the future because of who God is. Hope helps us claim the promises of God. In other words, the problems we currently face do not daunt us because we see beyond the moment. We possess a holy stick-to-it-iveness that enables us to remain steadfast in the midst of trials and difficulties.

 

Our dog, Maggie can hold onto a toy longer than any dog we have ever had. Do you have this type of tenacity? If God calls you to a task, do you refuse to let go? Those who want to advance the cause of Christ in the world cannot give up.

These three characteristics can only be lived out by noting the last phrase of 1:3: “in the Lord Jesus Christ.” When we abide in Christ and live in Him, supernatural living occurs. This is what is really exciting!

 

“What do I give thanks for?” Encouragement is found in the lives that we live.

Paul continues his thought in 1:4 and explains why the Thessalonians are able to live such godly lives. The short and sweet phrase he pens is: “knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you.” With the word “choice,” we are confronted with the doctrine of election, a doctrine that has different effects on various people. It can be a frightening, confusing, and maddening doctrine, for in election man’s finite mind meets head-on with the infinite mind of God.

 

But this issue doesn’t have to be as hard as we like to make it. Scripture teaches both God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. How does all this work together? I’m not sure. But I know this: We will never understand the total concept of election this side of heaven. But we should not ignore this important doctrine that is taught throughout the Bible. In the end, we must recognize that the doctrine of election includes these two irreconcilable truths that are nonetheless true.

 

It is sufficient to ask this question: Do you understand how a brown cow can eat green grass and give white milk and yellow butter? Of course not! Yet, we enjoy the products. In the same way, even though we can’t completely understand or explain election, we should still enjoy it because the Bible teaches it.

 

Since Paul doesn’t elaborate on the doctrine of election neither will I. I will just quickly break down this phrase. First of all, Paul is confident that the Thessalonians are elect so he uses the word “know.” There are no doubts, no ifs, no maybes, and no buts. We can know that we are elect, if we have believed in Christ. Works give further human or visible confirmation of one’s election (James 2:14-26). Paul affirms the Thessalonians in three expressions: (1) brethren, (2) beloved by God, and (3) chosen of God.

 

When it comes to election, all you need to know is this:

(1) Salvation begins with God.

(2) Salvation involves God’s love.

(3) Salvation requires faith. God chose you to be saved. If He had not chosen you, you would not be saved today.

 

Election and evangelism go together. The person who says, “God will save those He wants to save and He doesn’t need my help!” understands neither election nor evangelism. In the Bible, election always involves responsibility. God chose Israel and made them an elect nation so that they might witness to the Gentiles.

 

Sometimes we speak of “finding” the Lord, but if He had not found us first, we would never have found Him at all. Salvation begins with God, not with us. He chooses us and then we believe. Salvation is all by grace, all of God, all the time. If you have placed your faith in Jesus Christ, this should give you incredible confidence. The assurance of your salvation does not depend upon you; it rests on God’s choice of you.

 

Many godly people try to explain away election and in doing so remove one of the strongest arguments for assurance and the security of the believer. The truth is: Nothing gives security to salvation like the concept of election. God is the creator, sustainer, and preserver of your salvation. Even if you are faithless, He remains faithful (2 Tim 2:13) because He has chosen you and adopted you into His family. You may choose to fall away from God, yet He will not choose to cast you out of His family (John 6:37-40). He loves you and will remain loyal in His commitment to you.

 

Paul is confident of the Thessalonians’ election because of the evidence of God’s grace at work in them and the gospel that he delivered. He concludes this section in 1:5 with a “triple whammy:” “for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know that kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.”

 

(1) God’s election is effective because it is the Word of God. The gospel is based upon the promise of God who says, “Whosoever will believe in Christ can have eternal life.”

(2) God’s election is effective because it comes in the power of the Holy Spirit. Even when we have done our best as preachers, it will count for nothing without the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the hearers. God must prepare hearts and make them receptive to His Word.

(3) God’s election is effective because it produces deep conviction in the hearts of the hearers. This means people are so deeply convicted of their sin and their need for a savior that they run to the cross and embrace Jesus as their only hope of heaven. The phrase “full conviction” also means that the preacher and the hearers can be confident that the Word of God has been preached.

 

Paul closes this section by saying, “The gospel is not word only, for talk is cheap. We proved to be godly men among you.” The gospel will be most effective when Christians live a life worthy of their calling. This means cultivating the fruit of the Spirit and godly character.

John Wooden, the former basketball coach at UCLA said, “Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.” Will you work on your character this week? Will you strive to become a contagious Christian? Will you become a person of faith, love, and hope? Encouragement is found in the lives that we live.

[Leaders need encouragement in ministry because it is easy to become discouraged. In our next section we will clearly see that…]

  1. Our lives can provide much needed encouragement (1:6-10).

In this section, Paul shares the specific reasons why he is so excited about the Thessalonians. Before we jump into these reasons, we must remember that this church is not typical of many churches today. It was not even typical of churches in Paul’s day. (Think Corinth) Nevertheless, the church at Thessalonica is God’s ideal—it is the type of church that He wants every church to become. Sometimes you see a label on a bottle of powerful cleaner (antifreeze, car window cleaner, etc.) that says, “Do not use at full strength. Dilute with water first,” because the liquid is too strong in its undiluted form. In this section we see Christianity in its earliest, undiluted form. No wonder the first Christians turned the world upside down. We need to work through this section and pray for undiluted Christianity. In the paragraphs that follow, Paul provides several reasons why he is particularly excited about the faith of the Thessalonian believers.

 

  1. The church followed their spiritual leaders (1:6a).Paul writes, “You also became imitators of us and of the Lord.”The word translated “imitators” comes from the word mimos meaning “a mimic.” Throughout his letters, Paul urges believers to “mimic” him as he mimics Christ. It is important that young Christians respect spiritual leadership and learn from mature believers. Just as a newborn baby needs a family, so a newborn Christian needs the local church and the leaders there. It is equally important that leaders give believers something to look up to and mimic. Fortunately, many of you are worthy of imitation. You are an inspiration to me in every area of your lives.

 

  1. The church received the Word (1:6b).The Thessalonian Christians “received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit.”Paul does not use the typical word for “received,” instead he uses an unusual word that refers to the warm welcome of a guest (as in Luke 10:8, 10; Heb 11:31). The Thessalonians seized the gospel with joy even in the midst of suffering. They received the Word with gladness. They could not get enough of it. What a congregation! A dream for every preacher! They were hungry for the Word; they were drinking in every word that was spoken; they were sitting on the edge of their seat. And they kept coming back for more. Does this describe you? Do you look forward to coming to church to hear God’s Word? Do you look for opportunities throughout the week to get into the Word?

 

Please note that the Thessalonian believers received the Word “in much tribulation.” The word “tribulation” means “to press.” Do you ever feel like the world, your flesh, and Satan are pressing in on you? Trusting in Christ does not guarantee a life free from tension. These believers experienced rejection from family members, loss of employment, and social disgust. Today, many believers experience physical persecution and even martyrdom. Yet, we must recognize that God may bring suffering for the sake of an effective corporate witness. Persecution can be the fastest way to grow a church in health and number. I know some of you willingly suffer for Christ. You’re willing to be an outcast at work. You don’t always fit in with your family and friends because of your faith. But you continue to persevere in Christ. I can assure you that God will honor you in the life to come.

 

  1. The church encouraged other churches (1:7). By following their leaders and receiving the Word in much tribulation, yet with joy, the Thessalonians “became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.” This verse is the only place in the New Testament where a whole congregation is viewed as an example for other churches. And notice the word “example” is singular. Paul is referring to the whole church, not just a few standout members. The word “example” refers not merely to being an example which others are to follow, but also a pattern which influences them.

 

It’s not enough to passively live our lives before other Christians. Sometimes we must be more direct in our influence. Perhaps you have seen star- shaped cookies. Those cookies were prepared using a mold. But it isn’t enough to show off the mold, one must press the dough into the mold and onto the baking sheet. This is what Paul is talking about—intentionally influencing Christians for Christ. When we do this, we will be able to lead the world.

  1. The church spread the Word (1:8).The Thessalonian believers were both “receivers” (1:5) and “transmitters”—the Word went out from them. Paul writes, “For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything.”The verb “sounded out” is not used anywhere else in the New Testament. Outside of the NT, it is used of a clap of thunder or the sound of a trumpet. It means “to reverberate like an echo.” Wherever Paul went, the people told him about the faith of the Thessalonian believers.

 

It is interesting to note that the town of Thessalonica was the capital of Macedonia. We may not have our church in Austin, but if we showcase godly lives and sound forth the Word, we are capable of impacting our entire state. But this must involve you. That is why we are trying to engage our community.

 

For most people to believe in Christ for the first time, the personal touch is required. This means that we have folks into our home or take them out to a meal or talk to them at work about a faith relationship with Jesus Christ. Most people require a personal invitation in a one-on-one context. This is the responsibility of the church. We all bear the privilege and responsibility to share Christ with others. The Word must sound forth from YOU!

 

When I was in 7th grade, I tried to play the guitar. I took lessons because I wanted to lead music in our youth group. I was interested in 70s music and wanted to really rock the house. Unfortunately, I gave up the guitar after just a few months of unsuccessful lessons. I never did learn how to rock. I believe there are some Christians out there who want to rock. They want to “sound forth” God’s Word but have never learned how and have struggled to be faithful in this task. God doesn’t want you to give up; He wants you to persist until He makes our church what He wants it to be. Encouragement is found in the lives that we live.

 

  1. The church turned to God (1:9). Paul writes, “For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God.”

The people throughout Thessalonica and Macedonia saw a change in the Thessalonian saints and they talked up the church. This is the best form of advertising there is! What made this church “the talk of the town?” They turned to God from idols and immediately began serving the Lord. Note the order of words here. We would normally think in terms of turning from idols to God but here Paul’s argument is that they first turned to God and then away from idols. The Thessalonians didn’t leave their idols and then go out to find God. They turned to God and then left their idols. Conversion is not only turning from something but it is a turning to Someone. Don’t worry about cleaning yourself up first. Let God do this. Now not everyone turns immediately or sufficiently, but this is God’s business. He is more interested in the growth and health of His children than we are. Let Him work in His time and in His way.

 

  1. The church waited for Jesus’ return(1:10).Paul writes that these believers who converted to Christ responded by “wait[ing] for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.” The word “wait” is only used here in the New Testament, but it is used in the Greek Old Testament to describe a servant’s eager waiting for his wages (Job 7:2). It is also used to describe the longing of an afflicted person for his deliverance (Isa 59:11). The word means literally, to wait up. The Thessalonians were waiting up for the Lord’s return.

 

The “coming wrath” could refer to a couple of significant events.

(1) It could speak of the frightening eternal judgment of God.

(2) It could refer to the tribulation period when God pours out His wrath on earth for a period of seven years.

It seems to me that “the coming wrath” of 1:10 is best understood to refer to a particular wrath, the wrath of the Tribulation.

 

Chronologically, the next great expression of God’s wrath is the Tribulation, which is a time of God’s wrath poured out on a Christ-rejecting world. The judgment of the Great White Throne (see Rev 20:11-15)—a judgment of all the unbelieving of all generations—does not occur until after the millennial reign of Christ, which occurs after the Tribulation and the events of Revelation 6-19. In this book, the resurrection of believers and the deliverance of believers are closely related or tied together (see 1 Thess 4:13f). Thus, the implication is that deliverance comes through the rapture.

 

When you schedule a family vacation, likely you count down the days until you can “take off.” If someone is engaged, they count down to the wedding day! If someone has a spouse in the military and they go away for a year, does the family s count the days until they return? Looking for the Lord to return at any moment will change our lives. It will transform our way of doing things. It will change the way we deal with temptations. It will alter our priorities. It will lead us to do something about broken relationships. Many of you are living this type of life and I thank God for you. Encouragement is found in the lives that we live.

Life’s final exam

The end of the school year is nearly upon us. What does this mean? Two words: summer vacation. But before you enjoy your summer vacation, I have two more words for you: final exams. That’s right! GULP! Final exams are a part of life. No student can escape them; they are inevitable. Yet, most people assume that final exams only belong in school. Today, however, we will discover that there are final exams in God’s Word.
As we prepare to conclude our course in Ecclesiastes, we are going to be given a final exam. I want you to picture King Solomon at the front of the classroom, passing everyone a copy of the test. “Let’s test your wisdom,” he declares. “Use a number two pencil, and keep your eyes on your own scroll. The test is going to cover all twelve chapters of Ecclesiastes. You’ll be asked about life, death, pleasure, suffering, food, work, money, poverty, wisdom, foolishness—pretty much everything ‘under the sun.’” “That’s a lot of material,” you whisper in panic to the fellow in the next seat. “What if I don’t have a clue?” “Whenever you don’t know one, the probable answer is ‘vanity,’” your friend whispers back. “This works every time. When I’m stumped I just write, ‘Life is filled with such questions that can’t be answered. This too is vanity.’ Teacher likes that one.” You mutter, “I hope he was serious when he said that true wisdom is realizing how much we don’t know. If he sticks to that one, I’ll get an A.”
Interestingly, in Solomon’s final exam, he reverses the expected formula. For Solomon it is exam first, lessons later. In school, we study and then take an exam. Solomon claims that in the real world we face the exam, and then we study. In Eccl 12:9-14, the final six verses of the book, Solomon gives us two homework assignments to pass life’s exam.
1. Take God’s Word seriously (12:9-12).
In this first section, we will be reminded of the awesome power of God’s Word. Specifically, in 12:9-10 we discover the time, energy, and skill that went into the writing of Ecclesiastes. Solomon writes, “In addition to being a wise man, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge; and he pondered, searched out and arranged many proverbs. The Preacher sought to find delightful words and to write words of truth correctly.” Some scholars believe that 12:9-14 are the words of an editor that came along after Solomon penned this great book. Yet, it is more likely that in these verses Solomon speaks in the third person. Practically speaking, this is a simple way of boasting in God’s Word without coming across in an arrogant fashion. In 12:9-10, Solomon describes four activities of a wise sage. These activities are not just true of Solomon, but should be true of all Christian teachers and leaders. As you read through these activities, ask yourself how you can improve in each of these areas.
o A wise person faithfully teaches people knowledge. Solomon “taught people knowledge.” He could do so because he was a “wise man.” He became “wise” by growing old and learning from his experiences. Nothing teaches like life. This is why we say to wise and mature twenty and thirty year olds, “You are wise beyond your years.” It’s because you can read all the books that you want, but life is the ultimate teacher. Solomon says that those who have lived long and experienced life now have a duty to impart the wisdom learned to the next generation. The goal ought to be to keep future generations from making mistakes. So why is it that these groups never seem to cohabitate? Both parties can be guilty of pride and arrogance. The youth love to pretend that they don’t need help, despite the fact that their world is falling apart at the seams. The wise assume that the youth are just supposed to know how to do life. Furthermore, there are natural apprehensions and fears that keep the wise and young separate. Many young folks are scared to approach an older, wiser person. Many older, wiser folks do not feel like they have anything to offer anyone. Today, these trends must change. If you are an older, wiser person, will you commit to be a mentor? If you are a young person, will you seek out those who can help you?
Perhaps you’ve heard the story of a young pastor who rose to preach on Psalm 23. He gave it his best effort but never connected with the audience. Afterward, an old man got up to speak. He bowed his head, his hands quivering, and his body worn from years of hard work. Gripping the podium, he began to recite, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” As he finished the audience sat in deep silence, profoundly moved. When the young pastor asked the old man why his words had made such a difference, the old man said simply, “You know the psalm, I know the Shepherd.” The truth is some things are learned only through experience.
Is there a man or woman in your life who you respect who can take you to the next level? Perhaps, like Solomon, it is an author you can read, or a preacher you can listen to, or it may even be a person you can meet with on a regular basis. Do so today!
o A wise person carefully studies God’s Word. Solomon “pondered, searched out many proverbs, and arranged many proverbs.” 1 Kgs 4:32 informs us that Solomon wrote thousands of proverbs. A proverb is an earthly saying containing heavenly truth. The word’s basic meaning is “to be straight” (cf. 1:15; 7:13). It’s distilled wisdom, a practical word for a complicated world. Proverbs are God’s “sound bites.” The term “proverbs” refers to the entire book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon did not merely share with people the first thing that came into his head. He thought before he spoke. He spent time searching out what he was going to teach. This activity is part of the editing/compiling process, which took place over many years. This implies a labor of study. Solomon’s work is similar to a description of a scribe’s work in Ezra 7:10: study, practice, teach. If you are a leader or teacher, does this describe you? Do you take God’s Word seriously? Even if you don’t consider yourself a teacher or leader, as a Christian we are all to understand God’s Word for ourselves (Acts 17:11). How are you presently fulfilling your responsibility?
o A wise person effectively communicates. Solomon “sought to find delightful words.” He had a sense of God’s presence and power, using them to communicate His will to others. Furthermore, he was on a quest to articulate God’s Word to others. It was not enough to have knowledge. It was not even enough to have it arranged intelligently. The Preacher also labored to speak in a pleasing manner. The NIV says that he picked “just the right words.” He gave thought and effort to communicating in a way that would capture the attention of his readers. In your class or small group, do you seek to craft your words in a way that people can hear? Do you work hard at perfecting your speech and content? Or are you currently satisfied with your abilities? It has been said, “A teacher is someone who talks in other people’s sleep.” My prayer is that this is not true of any teacher or leader in our church. Even if you are not a formal teacher or leader, in your conversations do you seek to be an effective communicator? Is your speech gracious and seasoned with salt (Col 4:6)?
Is it filled with grace and truth (John 1:14)?
o A wise person correctly presents truth. Solomon “sought to write words of truth correctly.” He had a sense of God’s presence and power, using them to communicate His will to others. Furthermore, he was on a quest to communicate truth. We live in a relativistic age. People have bought into the idea that truth is relative. We hear that something might be “true” to one person but not true to another. The Bible knows nothing of such a concept. Truth IS. A style of teaching means nothing without truth. A lie all dressed up in eloquence is still a lie. This tells me something important about the book of Ecclesiastes. In spite of its often dark and gloomy view, it is a book that teaches truth. It is written to give us a realistic view of life that, as a result, we might live for the Lord.
Think about it. Most cults do not outwardly reject God’s Word, but they offer new revelations that add to God’s Word. Most cults are begun by founders disenchanted with the existing church and its beliefs, so they formulate distinctive doctrines to give them a new identity. Individuals do the same. More than ever, people are viewing God’s Word like a buffet line in a restaurant, taking what they like—maybe a little bit of what is good for them—and leaving the rest for someone else. In effect, the diet a person receives is more a matter of what is palatable to them than what will truly nourish them.
Yet, Vance Havner said, “The Word of God is either absolute or obsolete.” Will you proclaim the truth regardless of the consequences? Will you refuse to compromise?
In 12:11-12, Solomon continues to describe how Ecclesiastes can be used in people’s lives. In 12:11 he writes, “The words of wise men are like goads, and masters of these collections are like well-driven nails; they are given by one Shepherd.” Solomon states that the words of Ecclesiastes are powerful. He uses two memorable metaphors that refer to how Ecclesiastes stimulates us to action. “Goads” are long wooden rods with an iron point used for driving oxen and other animals. A goad is poked at the animal to make him move in the desired direction. It represents moral guidance and stimulus in human affairs. Nails were used by shepherds to fasten their tents. They are hammered to keep something in place. Goads are designed to motivate the sluggish and nails are intended to secure the drifting.
The book of Ecclesiastes (and the whole of Scripture) accomplishes both of these purposes. It “afflicts the comfortable and it comforts the afflicted.” If you are comfortable with your life, God’s Word acts as a goad to move you out of your comfort zone. It pushes you to do those things you ought to do. If you are burdened and tossed to and fro by the winds of life, it provides a haven of stability.
Ecclesiastes has this type of power because the book is “given by one Shepherd.” In the Old Testament, the title “shepherd” is often used of God. Solomon is saying that his words are given straight from God. This is a very strong argument for the inspiration of Ecclesiastes. It seems clear that Solomon went out of his way to emphasize this doctrine because he figured many would have problems with his book. Boy, was he ever right!
Some have felt that this book should not have been canonized because of some of the seemingly contradictory verses that appear. But Solomon is clear that this book is from God and it can be trusted in its entirety. I have found this to be true in my own personal experience. This book has impacted me more than any other book I’ve studied. It has taught me more about contentment, the brevity of life, and priorities than any other book of the Bible.
Solomon concludes this section in 12:12 with these words: “But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body.” This is a favorite verse for high school and college students who are weary of study. But Solomon isn’t telling us not to love and appreciate books. If he was, I would be in deep trouble. The contrast is not between the study of canonical versus noncanonical wisdom but between failure to appreciate wisdom on the one hand and excessive zeal for study on the other. Solomon is warning us that we shouldn’t study other books to the exclusion of Scripture. Other books were given for our information, but the Bible was given for our transformation.
I don’t read many secular works. It’s not that they’re bad; it’s that they’re just eye candy to me. Every time I start reading something outside the Bible, I think about what I am missing: words of eternal life. It’s like that commercial tagline: “I could’ve had a V8.” I could’ve been reading Ecclesiastes. I challenge you to make sure that you are consistently reading God’s Word and prioritizing God’s Word over other reading. Do you read the newspaper before you read the Bible? Do you check your email or your favorite web page instead of reading the Bible? We need to be careful not to put human writings above the divine Word of God.
[Why should we take God’s Word seriously? Because God’s Word is powerful and can make an eternal difference in the lives of people. The second homework assignment that Solomon gives is…]
2. Consider God’s judgment appropriately (12:13-14).
In the final two verses, Solomon urges us to prepare for judgment day by fearing God and keeping His commands. These two verses summarize the book of Ecclesiastes and ultimately the whole of Scripture. In 12:13, the teacher writes these pointed words: “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person.” To “fear God and keep His commands” are not suggestions or options—they are commands! Solomon commands you and me to fear Him and obey His commands. In other words, take God seriously and do what He says. But we need to look at this a little more carefully.
First, the phrase “fear God” is terribly misunderstood and rarely proclaimed; however, it is paramount throughout the Scriptures. The Bible speaks of our love to God, His name, His law, and His Word, a total of 88 times. This breaks down to 45 references in the Old and 43 references in the New Testament. The Bible speaks of our trusting in God, His name, and His Word, 91 times. This breaks down to 82 times in the Old and 9 times in the New Testament.
When we come to the subject of the fear of God, the Bible speaks of it 278 times! I am referring to all of the places in Scripture where it speaks of men fearing God, His name, His Law, or His Word. In the Old Testament there are 235 references to the fear of God. In the New Testament there are 43 references to the fear of God, which, by the way, is the same number of references as man’s love to God. So whatever the phrase “fear God” means, it is everywhere throughout the Bible, therefore, it is critical for us to understand.
Typically, the “fear of God” is defined as “reverential awe.” There is truth to this definition as it pertains to God as Creator. I have been to the Grand Canyon, the mountains of Alaska and the volcanos of Hawaii. On each of these occasions when I have gazed on God’s majestic handiwork, I felt small, fearful, and awestruck.
God wants us to stand in awe of who He is and all that He is. But our definition of the fear of God must also encompass His judgment (see 12:14). This leads us to also include in our definition downright fear or terror. If you and I understand that our God is a consuming fire that is able to destroy both body and soul in hell and that as believers we will give an account of our lives to Jesus Christ, we will have some holy fear. But many of us do not fear God. What do we fear? Among the top ten fears of parents are saving for retirement, dying before the children are grown, gas prices, the threat of terrorism, and traffic. It seems that we fear everything and everyone but God. This is sheer insanity! Oswald Chambers (1874-1917) once said, “The remarkable thing about fearing God is that, when you fear God, you fear nothing else; whereas, if you do not fear God, you fear everything else.” This is the way the believer should live.
In Prov 1:7 Solomon writes, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” In Isa 66:2b the Lord declares, “But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.” The man or woman that God uses most powerfully is the one who expresses both awe and obedience. God longs for you and me to humble our hearts and prostrate our souls before Him. If you and I are to fear God properly, we must have a high view of God. Many years ago, A.W. Tozer said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”
Second, to “keep His commandments” is to obey the Law. Fortunately for us, Jesus summed up the commandments into one central, basic command: “To love the Lord your God” and “your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:34-40). This is the chief end of humankind. This phrase literally reads, “Because this is all of man” or “because this is the all of man.” The implication is that “this is the whole duty of man.”
I am always so impressed with men who can just toss the directions and dive right into a project. Yet, I have seen such men confound themselves and have to return to the discarded directions. Similarly, God created life and He alone knows how it should be managed. He wrote the “instruction manual” and wise is the person who reads and obeys. “When all else fails, read the instructions!”
So why are we called to fear God and obey His commands? In 12:14 Solomon states, “For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.” Winston Churchill’s (1874-1965) epitaph reads, “I am ready to meet my maker. Whether my maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.” Apparently, Churchill did not understand the fear of God and the judgment that is awaiting him.
The Bible teaches that there is an appointed day of judgment where we will have to give an account of our lives. Through the Lord Jesus Christ, God will hold us accountable for our thoughts, motives, words, and deeds. Everyone is answerable to God for everything, whether obvious or concealed, good or evil. I find it mildly horrifying that even the hidden things will be judged. The implication is that the glory and reward we enjoy on earth and in eternity will depend on the lives we live here on earth. The natural and inevitable conclusion is that you and I had better live our lives appropriately in light of God’s judgment.
I know many people who struggle with questions of right and wrong—especially in those areas for which we have no explicit guidance in the Bible. They truly want to please the Lord, but worry about their daily decisions. Here’s a simple question that will replace many of the dos and don’ts: Can I do this to God’s glory? That is, if I do this, will it enhance God’s reputation in the world? Will those who watch me know that I know God, from my behavior? Or will I simply have to explain this away or apologize for it later.
God is always watching everything we do. His eyes are always on us, nothing escapes His notice, and all of life must be lived for His approval.
For years, the opening of ABC’s The Wide World of Sports illustrated “the agony of defeat” through the painful ending of an attempted ski jump. The skier appeared in good form as he headed down the slope, but then, for no apparent reason, he tumbled head-over-heels off the side of the jump and bounced off the supporting structure. What viewers didn’t know was that he chose to fall. Why? As he explained later, the jump surface had become too fast, and midway down the ramp he realized that if he completed the jump, he would land on the level ground, beyond the safe landing zone, which could have been fatal. As it was, the skier suffered no more than a headache from the tumble. The fear of the slope, the fear of flying too high, and the fear of the fall led him to change course.
In the same manner, a proper fear of God ought to lead to a course correction. For this passage and the entire book of Ecclesiastes teaches that the fear of God leads to life. A biblical fear of God will lead to life in this world and the world to come. If you think you have been enjoying life, but haven’t been fearing God, think again. The fear of God leads to life…and only the fear of God will lead to life. Today, is there an area of your life that the Lord wants to correct? Will you respond to His goads and nails? Will you rest in your Shepherd and trust that He alone can satisfy you?

Make the most of every day

Like many of you, I have been in a car accident or two.  I have also been in several near misses and a few spins on the ice.  Each time something like this happens, I get another reminder that God is not finished with me yet. I have also had my share of loved ones dying throughout my life, and particularly in the last 15 years.  God reminds me each time that I am confronted with my own mortality or that of someone else that I need to invest well in the relationships that matter most.

Since that time, Eccl 11:7-12:8 has taken on great meaning. In this passage, I believe Solomon says, “Live while you are dying.” If you know country music, this may sound a lot like Tim McGraw’s song, “Live Like You Were Dying.” The notable revisions are the words “while” and “are”—live while you are dying. By modifying this statement, I have chosen to focus on the biblical truth that all people are appointed to die. Thus, you don’t have to live like you were dying because your body is actually dying at this very moment. It is, therefore, more accurate to say you need to “live while you are dying.” In this memorable passage, Solomon shares two exhortations that will enable us to live while we’re dying.

 

  1. Rejoice now while you can (11:7-10).

In this first section, Solomon focuses on the importance of living our lives to the fullest before we grow too old. In 11:7 he writes, “The light is pleasant, and it is good for the eyes to see the sun.” In Scripture, “light” is often a synonym for “life” and the word translated “pleasant” is often used in reference to honey. I may not necessarily be a fan of honey, but I do enjoy it on occasion. The point is that life is “sweet” and should be savored like honey. Thus, the phrase “light is pleasant/sweet” means “it’s good to be alive.” So feel free right now to rock your head back and say, “Ahhh.”

 

In 11:7, Solomon continues and makes use of a truism of life—that seeing the sun typically brings delight. We often say things like, “What a beautiful day it is!” “Don’t you just love these sunny days?” Solomon references those days when you wake up and everything works. You know, those days when you wake up five minutes before your alarm goes off and you can breathe through both of your nostrils. Your bum back is not hurting, your legs aren’t hurting, and your relationships are working. We’ve all had days when the music sounded better and we just wanted to roll down our car windows and enjoy life because everything worked. Solomon says, “Enjoy life because there are some amazing days.” Feel free to let out a big, “YES!” Or maybe a little James Brown, “I feel good.”

Now before we get too carried away, we will see why Solomon is not a guy most people would choose to have over for Sunday lunch. He moves from “Life is sweet” to “I will ramble on about death for the rest of my time with you.” In 11:8 he puts it like this: “Indeed, if a man should live many years, let him rejoice in them all, and let him remember the days of darkness, for they will be many. Everything that is to come will be futility.”

 

Solomon exhorts us to “rejoice” in all of the days that we are fortunate to live. Notice that three letter word “all.” Even if we live to be a ripe old age, we are to rejoice in all of our years. Yep, that’s right…even the seventies, eighties, and nineties. A simple way we can do this is by enjoying the ordinary nature of life. A great deal of what we do every day may seem mundane and even trivial, but that is where the will of God begins for you and me. Blessed is that man who enjoys the routine, blessed is that woman who delights in the mundane, for they shall discover that God is in the details of life.

 

As we age, we need to learn to be thankful just to be alive. The older we get the more thankful and content we should become. As it turns out, the golden years may really be golden after all. Recent research suggests that older Americans are not only the happiest Americans, but they are also much more socially active than expected. Although many older individuals face health problems, they are generally more content with what they have than younger Americans. The research found that the odds of being happy increased by five percent for every ten years of age. Ilse, an 84-year-old retired nurse says, ‘Contentment as far as I’m concerned comes with old age … because you accept things the way they are. You know that nothing is perfect.’ Although aging is often looked at negatively in our society, age brings many benefits, including a greater likelihood of contentment. Christians can also look at aging as bringing us one step closer to heaven and eternity with God.

 

With that said, it is critical for us to recognize that when it comes to years of life, it is still a matter of quality over quantity. It is better to add life to your years than to add years to your life. We need to live life fully every day.

 

In the movie Braveheart, William Wallace (as portrayed by Mel Gibson) said, “Every man dies but not every man really lives.” This is a rather biblical assessment of life. The Bible declares that we will all die, yet many of us miss out on the abundant life that God offers us. Don’t let that happen to you. Live while you are dying.

At this point in the context, Solomon begins to talk about the different opportunities and problems that regularly occur during the different stages of life: childhood, youth, young adult, and old age. In 11:9 Solomon writes, “Rejoice, young man, during your childhood, and let your heart be pleasant during the days of young manhood. And follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes. Yet know that God will bring you to judgment466for all these things.” Here Solomon writes specifically to young people and commands young men and women to rejoice during their childhood and teenage years. Now this doesn’t mean party-hearty and sow your wild oats. This advice refers to the natural human instincts of young people: be with friends, enjoy life at social events, see the world, find one’s vocation, and desire a family and children. Enjoy your life. Don’t put tremendous pressure upon yourself when making significant decisions.

 

Remember the words of Ps 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.” If you are delighting yourself in the Lord, His desires will naturally become your desires. This means you don’t have to find God’s will, you just need to find God. Or, as Augustine and Luther have said, “Love God and do whatever you please.” Christians ought to have more fun that anyone, but we should be pure and blameless before our on-looking world. The reason for this is that we are responsible for our acts (cf. 12:14). God will judge us for what we do even in our youth.

 

The Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), once said, “Youth is such a wonderful thing. It’s a shame to waste it on young people.” Shaw was right. Young people are typically either driven to a fault or lazy to a fault. It is rare to find a balance in children and teens. Consequently, it is easy for young people to squander their youth and fail to rejoice during their formative years. When I was in middle school, I wanted to be in high school. When I was in high school, I wanted to be in college. When I was single, I wanted to be married. And so on and so forth. One of the most difficult issues in life is contentment. Young people, enjoy your life. I command you, the Bible commands you, “REJOICE!” Rejoice now while you can.

In 11:10, Solomon exhorts young people with these words: “So, remove grief and anger from your heart and put away pain from your body, because childhood and the prime of life are fleeting.”

Young people, you are commanded to actively and intentionally “remove” three entities from your life: grief, anger, and pain. Practically speaking this means: As far as possible the problems that beset heart and mind are to be resisted. Quit being a worrywart. Guard yourself from being stressed out by school, sports, and relationships. There will be plenty of time to really worry when you get older. Just kidding! Worry is a sin, so avoid it at all times. Don’t develop a root of bitterness. If your parents have divorced, forgive them. If your best friend gossiped about you, let it go. Don’t bring pain upon your body through alcohol, drugs, and sex. It’s just not worth it.

I have to also wonder if the phrase “put away pain from your body” has the application: Stop complaining about your health problems. Here is a principle for young people: If you want to avoid being an older crabby person…don’t be a young crabby person. I have a hunch the adults that I know who never complain about their cancer, migraines, and general health issues are those who learned to not complain as young people. And always remember this: “When we complain, 90 percent of the people don’t care and don’t want to hear it; the other 10 percent probably feel a secret satisfaction that we are getting what we deserve.” So it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to complain.

 

Solomon says we are to remove grief, anger, and pain because childhood and the prime of life are fleeting. The phrase “the prime of life” literally refers to “blackness” of hair as opposed to grey hair. This has great meaning to me. When you have black hair, a grey hair really stands out. I started noticing grey hair at 39 years young. At first, I was like, “What is this?” I thought I had a few more years before greydom. Initially, it was disappointing to me. But now I find this a helpful motivation. What’s left of my black hair is going to quickly turn into grey. This should not discourage me; rather it ought to remind me that my time is short. Youth is “fleeting” (hebel) just like our “breath.” We need to enjoy life now. We need to live for Christ now.

 

In the movie Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams plays a poetry teacher for an old, established all-boys school. On the first day of class, he takes his students downstairs to a hall filled with old photos of past classes. Some of the photographs are fifty to seventy-five years old. Most of the men in the photos have lived and died. They are nothing but worm food and daisy fertilizer. The pictures portray them in their youth and vitality, but that was in the past and now they are dead. As the boys gaze on these long-forgotten portraits of youth, they hear the words Carpe Deim—“Seize the Day!” Life is short. All too soon they will be nothing more than a faded photograph on a wall. So seize the day—make each day count. Live purposefully and meaningfully. Do great things while there is time for greatness. Don’t put happiness on hold. Enjoy what you have. Live while you are dying.

 

It takes a break in life to gain a greater appreciation for this section. When was the last time you took a vacation? I mean one that you were refreshed and renewed. The kind that make it hard to come back to “the real world.” Compare that to the last time you had the flu or a really bad cold. The week of vacation represents the joys of youth; the week of the flu represents old age.

[Why should we rejoice now while we can? Because old age is coming. Thus, we should live life to the glory of God. Solomon also exhorts us to…]

  1. Remember now while you can (12:1-8).

Three times in this section (12:1, 2, 6) Solomon uses the word “before.” His call is for you and me to live life to the fullest before old age and death comes. In 12:1, Solomon summarizes what he will say in 12:2-7, namely that we will have no delight in old age and death. He writes, “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near when you will say, ‘I have no delight in them.’”

 

To “remember” doesn’t mean to jog one’s memory. Rather, the verb “to remember” (zakar) is a command that involves a wholehearted commitment to love, serve, and fear God. God’s expectation is that “remembering” Him translates into action. We must live as stewards who will give an account to our Creator. The phrase “evil days” refers to sickness, sorrow, senility, and eventually dying. God commands us to remember Him in our youth because He wants the best days of our lives.

 

One of the worst moves a young person can make is to forget their Creator in the days of their youth. This leads to bad choices that can forever affect their life. If you don’t walk with God in your high school and college years, the choices you make in a college, a spouse, and a vocation may not be the ones God wants you to make. If you don’t believe me, ask Solomon. Initially, Solomon loved God. He was the son of David and the builder of the temple. He asked for wisdom above any other gift. He started well but got off track. He eventually refused to remember his Creator in the days of his youth. Gradually, over the course of time, he made little compromises that resulted in disaster. He cultivated relationships with ungodly women and these ungodly women led him into idolatry. Even though he had everything this world has to offer (i.e., wine, wealth, wisdom, women, and work), he was miserable. It was all hebel.

 

But if you “remember your Creator in the days of your youth” you will be set up for decades to come and into eternity. You will abstain from sexual immorality and marry a godly spouse. You will select the right college for you to attend. You will choose the vocation that God has created for you to do. You will make the right financial decisions. You will not have to overcome various vices and addictions. You will have a love and a commitment to the local church.

Some people have insinuated that our church focuses too much on children and youth. Whenever I hear this, I strive to tell folks that this is indeed what we are attempting to do. We prioritize children and young adults because we want to be preventative. We believe that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It’s not that we don’t love adults, but many adults are set in their ways. They have the broken marriages, addictions, and bad attitudes. Our goal is to keep these things from happening to our young people. We are thinking of the church of the 21st century.

 

However, you may be saying, “I have wasted my youth. Is there any hope for me?” The answer is, “YES…if you begin to remember the Lord TODAY!” It is a grave mistake to say, “I’m going to wait until I get older to begin serving the Lord.” Relatively few people turn to the Lord in their old age. I understand there’s a sign on the Trans-Alaska Highway that says, “Choose your rut carefully; you’ll be in it for the next 200 miles!” So today you must choose whether or not you’re going to remain in your rut. God will give you a new lease on life if you say, “I want to remember you.” Of course, you can’t turn back the hands of time, but you can live while you are dying.

 

In 12:2-7, Solomon describes the advance of old age in the imagery of a decaying house. He is not saying that all of these things happen to everybody. But it is an allegory that fittingly describes what we can expect in old age; and it should motivate us to serve God in our youth, whether our “youth” means our teens and twenties, or the “youth” of whatever years are left. But before I launch in I must remind you that I’m just the mailman, not the writer of the mail. So please don’t be offended by what you are about to read. Solomon is an old man who is living out the waning years of his life. He is likely a little crotchety. So he is going to tell things the way they are. When you are an old man sometimes you don’t hold back and watch your p’s and q’s. You just speak things the way they are. You could say that is one of the privileges that comes with age.

 

In 12:2 Solomon says that we are to remember God “before the sun and the light, the moon and the stars are darkened, and clouds return after the rain.” This refers to the fading capacity for joy and excitement. It also points to the repetitive gloom faced by the elderly.

 

In 12:3 Solomon says that the “the watchmen of the house tremble.” This means that the arms and hands shake and become feeble. When he says that the “mighty men stoop,” he is referring to the shoulders, legs, and back slumping and becoming feeble. Your knees buckle when your belt won’t!

 

Your back goes out more than you. “The grinding ones stand idle because they are few” speaks to the scarcity of teeth. You sink your teeth into a steak and they stay there. The phrase “those who look through windows grow dim” means vision suffers. Or if you prefer, your arms aren’t long enough to hold reading material.

 

In 12:4 Solomon says, “and the doors on the street are shut as the sound of the grinding mill is low.” This refers to the loss of hearing. To make matters worse, Solomon writes, “and one will arise at the sound of the bird, and all the daughters of song will sing softly.” These two phrases mean that as we age we will struggle to sleep and we will wake up early. Furthermore, our voices will quiver and weaken. We will be hard to hear.

 

In 12:5 Solomon says, “Furthermore, men are afraid of a high place and of terrors on the road.” This refers to fear of injury due to frailty. The following phrases are rather picturesque: “the almond tree blossoms” refers to our hair turning white. The phrase “the grasshopper drags himself along” speaks of the halting walk of the elderly (“grasslimpers”). The phrase “the caperberry [desire] is ineffective” refers to a decrease in the appetites of life (e.g., food and sex). In other words, you turn out the light for economic rather than romantic reasons. And tragically, even though you eat less and less you tend to gain more and more as you age. This begins in your twenties. The final phrase in 12:5 is, “For man goes to his eternal home while mourners go about in the street.” The point being, man dies and life goes on.

 

In 12:6 Solomon writes, “Remember Him before the silver cord is broken and the golden bowl is crushed, the pitcher by the well is shattered and the wheel at the cistern is crushed.” All of the items mentioned in 12:6 are associated with a well. Throughout Scripture, a well is a metaphor for life. But this one is no longer being used for drawing water. Someday your body is going to wear out. You will be nothing but a dry shell of your former self. The four verbs emphasize the finality of life. You and I are going to die! As bad as this sounds, remember, Art Linkletter once said that it’s better to be over the hill than under it. Whatever life is for us, wherever we find ourselves in age or stage, every moment is a gift of God—brightly wrapped, waiting to be opened, admired, and delighted in. The bittersweet nature of loss makes the present more precious; knowing that the silver cord will one day slip away, we cherish it all the more while it is in our hands.

 

It has been said, “Growing old is not for sissies.” These verses prove it! Yet, the humbling thing is I am sprinting headlong into old age. It’s been said that our body begins to suffer the negative effects of aging in our teenage years. We could say, “Its downhill from there,” so to speak.

According to an old fable, a man made an unusual agreement with Death. He told the Grim Reaper that he would willingly accompany him when it came time to die, but only on one condition—that Death would send a messenger well in advance to warn him. Weeks winged away into months, and months into years. Then one bitter winter evening, as the man sat thinking about all his possessions, Death suddenly entered the room and tapped him on the shoulder. Startled, the man cried out, “You’re here so soon and without warning! I thought we had an agreement.” Death replied, “I’ve more than kept my part. I’ve sent you many messengers. Look in the mirror and you’ll see some of them.”

As the man complied, Death whispered, “Notice your hair! Once it was full and black, now it is thin and white. Look at the way you cock your head to listen to me because you can’t hear very well. Observe how close to the mirror you must stand to see yourself clearly. Yes, I’ve sent many messengers through the years. I’m sorry you’re not ready, but the time has come to leave.” May we learn to pay attention to the messengers.

 

In 12:7, Solomon abandons imagery and states, “then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.” Death is the returning of the body to the dust. This verse is very similar to what God said to Adam, “For you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19). The spirit’s returning “to God who gave it” reminds us of the source of our life (Gen 2:7). Solomon’s point throughout all his allegorizing is crystal clear: Old age will not be a time of strenuous service for the Lord. Does that mean old age cannot be glorious? Of course not! If you’re a believer in Jesus Christ on your way to your “eternal home,” you can be ecstatic! You can spend your time drawing near to God, knowing that your life has counted for Him. We will all face the above realties unless we die young or Christ returns. Therefore, it is critical that we set goals and live while we are dying. We can live the rest of our life “young at heart.” We must recognize that we are not really old until we abandon our purpose and mission in life. A perfect example is Caleb. Ask God for a mountain. You’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die. Settle eternal issues and throw yourself into life.

This passage concludes in 12:8 with familiar words: “‘Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher, ‘all is vanity!’” The book of Ecclesiastes is characterized by two phrases: “vanity of vanities” (1:2) and “under the sun” (1:3). By utilizing these phrases Solomon uses satire, irony, and tongue-in-cheek statements as a way to force fallen humanity to come to grips with the fleeting frailty and hopelessness of life without God. Yet, in spite of the brevity of life and its disappointing nature apart from God, life is good and is meant to be enjoyed with God.