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The Coming of the Lord April 27, 2013

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11.

Summary: Paul begins by telling the Thessalonians that they should not mourn excessively for believers who have died; they should not follow the example of unbelievers, who give full rein to their grief when they mourn for the dead. Since Christ was raised from the dead, all believers – who have been grafted into Him by faith – can share in His resurrection. In fact, Christ has stated that at His Second Coming, deceased believers will be resurrected before living believers. At that time, the archangel will act as the herald who initially summons deceased believers to Christ’s tribunal. After that, living believers will not die; instead, their bodies will be suddenly changed, and all believers will have eternal life with Christ. Thus, the Thessalonians should minister comfort to each other in the midst of their grief.

Paul then recalls the Thessalonians from curious and unprofitable inquiry about the day of Christ’s Second Coming. Indeed, that day will take unbelievers by surprise. Unbelievers act carelessly and fall into indolence – yet that day will suddenly attack them.

On the other hand, Christ has shone on the Thessalonians by the faith of His Gospel, and so they look forward to the day of His Second Coming. Since Christ has rescued them from darkness, they enjoy the light of day. Thus, they should not be like unbelievers, who are sunken in indolence and senselessness in the world; instead, they should cast off the cares of the world. Moreover, they are fighting in a war, and so they should put on the full armor of God. Now it is reassuring that God has not decreed that believers should be subject to His judgment against reprobates; instead, they have obtained salvation, as Christ has acquired it for them. Indeed, Christ died for all believers – both deceased and living – so that they can have His life, which is perpetual. Paul concludes by stimulating the Thessalonians to continue comforting and exhorting each other in light of these facts.

Thoughts: In this passage, we see that Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to avoid excessive grief over deceased believers. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 13 of chapter 4:

It is unlikely that the hope of a resurrection had been spread among the Thessalonians by ungodly men, as was the case in Corinth. The apostle rebuked the Corinthians severely, but here he referred to the resurrection as a thing that was not in doubt. It is possible, however, that this conviction was not strong enough in the Thessalonian believers’ minds and that they, mourning for the dead, retained part of their old superstitions.

As an aside, I wonder if the “superstitions” that Calvin cites were endemic to ancient Greece or if they were confined to Thessalonica. Now based on this passage, it is possible that the Thessalonians were mourning excessively for their departed brethren, and this grief was hindering them in their spiritual walk. In particular, excessive grief over deceased believers would have dampened the Thessalonians’ desire to continue loving each other (and all others); any believer who has experienced loss can attest to this. While Paul did not want them to forget their departed brethren, he wanted them to grieve in an informed manner so that they could maintain their desire to honor God in this life.

In this passage, we also see that Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to be prepared for the Second Coming of Christ. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 3 of chapter 5:

The prophets often reprove the wicked because of this negligence, and assuredly the ungodly wait in a spirit of carelessness not merely about the last judgment but also about everyday events that happen to them. Although the Lord threatens them with ruin and confusion, they do not hesitate to promise themselves peace and every kind of prosperity. The reason they fall into this indolence, which is so dangerous and deadly, is because they do not see that these things will take place soon.

I find this point to be challenging for believers, too (though this varies from believer to believer). Now Christ does not call believers to constantly think of His return; in particular, they should not sell all of their possessions, move to a mountaintop and wait for that day. Instead, He calls believers to serve Him faithfully and advance His Kingdom without knowing when that day will come. Now while we are serving Him in various capacities – e.g. teaching a Sunday School lesson on Solomon – we cannot always think of His return. My thought is that God calls us to not be overly attached to the world; we must never allow ourselves to place undue weight on the pleasures of the world and forget about His Second Coming. Serving God in the world while not being overly attached to the world is a difficult balance that we must strike.

Forgiveness for the Sinner November 19, 2011

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Here are my thoughts on 2 Corinthians 2:5-11.

Summary: Paul begins by noting that although his previous letter to the Corinthians had been written with sorrow, their (formerly) incestuous brother – who played a major role in causing that sorrow – had not offended him personally; also, he had only offended some of them. In fact, their punishment of him was sufficient. Paul then encourages the Corinthians to forgive and comfort this brother – so that he will not be driven to despair (and destroyed in the process). To this end, he exhorts them to publicly assure this brother of their love for him. Now in his previous letter, Paul had instructed the Corinthians on how to deal with this brother in order to:

  • test their integrity
  • see if they would submit to his legitimate authority over them.

He is ready to join them in forgiving this brother, and his act of forgiveness occurs in the presence of Christ. Paul concludes by noting that his act of forgiveness stems from his desire to keep Satan from advancing his cause by destroying this brother – as Satan constantly endeavors to destroy believers.

Thoughts: Reading this passage got me thinking about church discipline and how it should be exercised in a modern-day church. Now let’s assume that as a church member, you are positive that a fellow church member is committing a particular sin on a regular basis (for now, we can assume that a brother, and not a sister, is in error here). Here are some thoughts on how you could address that situation.

First, I would pray (seriously) about this issue and wrestle with the following questions: is that brother actually sinning, or am I making a mountain out of a molehill? Also, what would be the best way for me to approach him about this issue? I would also talk with other trusted believers in our church; are they aware of his sinful actions and do they concur with your assessment of his behavior? If so, how would they approach him about this matter?

Then, I would approach the brother in question. Ideally we would meet in a location where he would be at ease. I would cut to the chase and tell him about his sinful behavior that I – and other church members – have noticed. Along with making an appeal for him to change his ways, I would tell him about his strengths that I – and other church members – have noticed. This stems from my belief that when constructive criticism has to be given, the message is more easily conveyed by also noting what the subject of the criticism is doing well.

Now if the brother in question changes their ways after that meeting, that would be great. Otherwise, I would gather two or three trusted believers from our church to talk with that brother about his sinful behavior. Ideally these trusted believers would agree on the need for corrective action – while each of them would present a unique perspective on the issue at hand. In this way, we would increase our chances of being able to communicate our concerns to that brother.

Then, if the brother in question changes their ways after this meeting, that would be great. Otherwise, I would gather our church body – including that brother – and discuss his sinful behavior. Now at this stage of the problem, I am utterly clueless as to how to act properly – apart from obeying the general principle of acting in love. Indeed, the concept of a church-wide meeting to address a particular member’s sinfulness sounds rather unpleasant.

If the brother in question changes their ways after that meeting, that would be great. Otherwise, I suppose that he would have to be put out of our church for some time. Ideally I – and other church members – would continue to meet with him on an individual basis, mainly to remind him of our love for him and our desire for him to remain in the Lord.

Any thoughts on these actions would be welcome.

The God of All Comfort November 10, 2011

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Here are my thoughts on 2 Corinthians 1:3-11.

Summary: Paul begins by praising God the Father as He who redeems; he characterizes Him as being full of compassion and able to give us peace of mind. Indeed, God has comforted Paul in the midst of his external – and internal – afflictions, allowing him to comfort others who experience similar difficulties. This stems from the fact that while believers endure the sufferings that afflicted Christ, their union with Him allows them to experience great comfort. In fact, Paul’s troubles allow the Corinthians to be comforted – and saved; their bond with him enables them to experience the consolation that he has received, allowing them to patiently endure the troubles that are an integral part of the Christian life. He has a steadfast hope that they will share in his joy, since they join him in suffering as Christians. Now Paul notes the troubles that he endured in the province of Asia, where he was pushed to the point of doubting his chances of survival. At that time, he felt condemned to die – yet even though his own abilities could not rescue him from impending death, God effectively brought him back from the dead. Indeed, God delivered Paul from those fearful trials, and He continues to deliver him from them; moreover, he is confident that God will rescue him in the future. Paul concludes by noting that his future rescue – by God’s grace – would follow the prayers of various churches on his behalf; these prayers lead to God’s deliverance, allowing those who pray to give thanks for His blessings.

Thoughts: In this passage, Paul praises God for being the God of comfort. Hodge offers some thoughts on why Paul needed comfort in his commentary on verse 10:

Though he had been delivered from the instant and fearful death with which he was threatened, the danger was not over. The machinations of his enemies followed him wherever he went. He, therefore, says that God had not only delivered but continued to deliver him. He was still beset with danger.

This demonstrates that the comfort that Paul refers to in this passage greatly surpasses the mere comfort that one would desire over the course of a “bad day.” God is not only the God who can encourage believers after, say, a rough day at the office – but He promises to sustain us and deliver us even in the face of death. Though Paul would be eventually beheaded in Rome – showing that God did not allow him to escape an “instant and fearful death” – he knew that God would secure him for eternity. We know that God will comfort us and remind us of our eternal security in Him, no matter what difficulties we face in this life.