Explore The Bible

Mark Rathel

Mark RathelMark Rathel is professor of theology and philosophy at The Baptist College of Florida.  Archives



2 Samuel 24:10-25

August 26

Our lesson focuses on a passage of Scripture that raises some interesting questions.

First, why was God angry with Israel? The book of 2 Samuel ends in a negative way. People suffered because of the actions of King David. The chapter opens with God’s anger against Israel again. The biblical text does not state the reason for God’s anger. In my opinion, the key term in verse one is “again.” I personally think God’s anger arose because of the people’s continual lack of truth/faith in God.

Second, who incited David to complete a census of Israel and why? 1 Chronicles 21.1 states, “Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to count the people of Israel.” 2 Sam 24.1 states, “The Lord’s anger burned against Israel again, and he stirred up David against them.” It is important to notice the common terminology the Bible used to describe the same event as well as the key difference. Both 2 Samuel and I Chronicles state that God directed His anger “against Israel.” The difference is that 1 Chronicles seems to ascribe the impetus for David’s census to Satan while 2 Samuel ascribes the impetus for the census to God. Is there a contradiction? God can use Satan for His purposes, but I think there is a possible solution. The Hebrew term “Satan” means adversary. In the Hebrew Bible, the term “Satan” can describe the fallen angel and leader of rebellion against God. The term, however, can have the general meaning “adversary” without the connotation of the devil. For example, the Philistines viewed David as a potential “satan” or “adversary” as David mingled with the Philistines as he hid from Saul. “Send that man back and let him return to the place you assigned him. He must not go down with us into battle only to become our adversary [Heb. ‘satan’] during the battle” (1 Sam 29.4 CSB). 2 Samuel 19.22 provides another example, “Send that man back and let him return to the place you assigned him. He must not go down with us into battle only to become our adversary [Heb. “satan’] during the battle” (CSB). Furthermore, everywhere else in the Hebrew Bible the definite article precedes the term adversary when the reference is to the evil power – “the Satan.” The Hebrew Bible lacks a definite article. Perhaps 1 Chronicles 21.1 might be translated, “An adversary rose up against Israel. . .” Thus, God in his adversarial role against Israel incited David to take the census rather than both God and Satan being the powers that motivated David to begin a census.

Third, what is wrong with taking a census for ascertaining the military strength of the people of God? Why was the military commander Joab opposed to the census? At God’s direction, Moses conducted a census of potential soldiers prior to entering the land of promise (Num. 1.1-4). David requested the military commander Joab to conduct a census most for the purpose of discerning the military strength of Israel. 2 Samuel 24.9 details the results of the census in terms of military strength. According to 2 Samuel 24.3, Joab, David’s military commander, protested, “Why?” David likely desired a census to ascertain the combined forces of Israel’s professional army and militia (or what we would call ‘reservists.’) Joab represented the military establishment. Perhaps Joab took offense at David’s request because he thought the regular army was sufficient. God may have viewed the purpose of the census as pride on David’s part. “Some take pride in chariots, and others in horses, but we take pride in the name of the Lord our God (Ps. 27.7). David’s action certainly was one he needed to confess.

Third, what are the consequences of sin? As a result of the action of completing a census, “David’s conscience bothered him” (2 Sam. 24.10). When confronted by the prophet Nathan the prophet after his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah’s death, David confessed, “I have sinned against God (1 Sam. 12.13). Prior to a confrontation with the prophet Gad, David confessed, “I have sinned greatly” (2 Sam. 24.10). David became more sensitive to his personal sin. David requested God that take away his guilt. Our sins have serious consequences for other people. The prophet outlined three possible punishments. David choose the punishment of shorter more intense punishment. When David saw the devastation his sin caused others, he prayed that God would take his life (v. 17).

Fourth, how should people (leaders) respond to tragedies? David interceded for the people as they suffered as a result of the plague. After the plague ceased, David sought out a place to build an altar and worship God because He showed grace. David offered to purchase the threshing floor of the owner because he knew that worship costs. God prohibited David from building the temple – a role God gave to Solomon. In gratitude for God’s mercies, David was able to purchase the land upon which Solomon was able to build the temple.

The True Gospel

Galatians 1.1-10

September 2

Several New Testament scholars refer to Galatians as “The Charter of Christian Liberty.” The Greek noun, adjective, and verb translated with a variant of our English term “freedom” occurs ten times in this short letter. The message of Galatians focuses on freedom in Christ – freedom from the penalty and power of sin, freedom from legalism, and the freedom of life in the Spirit. God miraculously freed Paul, and now this free man fights vigilantly for the true gospel that provided his liberty.

The opening verses of Galatians provide a helpful outline of the book (Gal. 1.1-5). The introductory verses contain three themes: apostleship (1.1), the death of Christ for our sins (1.4), and rescues from this present evil, enslaving age (1.4). Galatians 1-2 provides a defense of Paul’s apostolic message. Galatians 3-4 explains the death of Jesus as His bearing the curse of our sins through His death on the cross (3.13-14). Galatians 5-6 proclaims our freedom to serve one another in Christ (5.13) as well as life in the Spirit.

What did Paul communicate as the essential message of The True Gospel?

First, Paul proclaimed the source of the True Gospel (Gal. 1.1-2). “The churches of Galatia” likely were churches Paul and Barnabas started on the first missionary journey. False teachers infiltrated the church and proclaimed a different message (Gal. 1.6). Consequently, Paul did not express thanksgiving for his readers as he normally did in his letters because false teaching endangered the gospel the true gospel message. The gospel did not arise from human origin (Gal. 1.11); the gospel is a revelation of (or from) Jesus Christ (Gat. 1.12). The Gospel neither came “from man” (the idea of source) nor “by men” (the idea of agency). Paul’s message of the gospel had its source of origin in God’s action “to reveal His Son in me” (Ga. 1.16). The risen Christ commissioned Paul as an apostle (representative, authorized agent) to serve as an authoritative communicator of true gospel.

Second, Paul defined the True Gospel (Gal. 1.3-4). The true gospel is a message of “grace” and “peace.” The first word of the message of Galatians is “grace” (Gal. 1.3); the last message of Galatians is “grace” (Gal. 6.18). Grace and peace together summarize the message of the True Gospel. Grace is God’s unmerited favor, and goodwill demonstrated in the saving work of Jesus. Peace describes the outcome of grace – restoration of wholeness and a personal relationship with God. The True Gospel is not a message of what humans can do or achieve; the True Gospel celebrates what Christ did on our behalf. First, the true gospel is costly; Jesus gave Himself. Second, the true gospel reveals the human predicament; the number one problem for humans is our sin problem. Third, the true Gospel proclaims the substitutionary death of Jesus. Jesus died “for” our sins. On the cross, Jesus bore our sins in that He suffered the punishment due to us. He received the punishment we rightly deserved. Fourth, the true gospel celebrates the purpose of the true gospel. The gospel rescues believers from the penalty of sin and the dominance of the power and of sin. Galatians 1.4 affirms the gospel if free and freeing.

Third, Satan has attempted to corrupt the message of the true gospel from its beginning (Ga. 1.6-9). Paul was dumbfounded that the Galatians quickly deserted the grace gospel for a different gospel that produced disorder (literally “shaking fear.”). A false gospel provides no assurance and results in fear. False teachers infiltrated the church and taught a message that repudiated Paul’s message of salvation by grace in favor of a message of works. This false gospel affirmed that salvation is Jesus plus works, in this case, Jesus plus circumcision. This “other gospel” –  literally a non-gospel according to Paul – denied salvation by grace in favor of salvation by works. The term “turn from,” described one who changed allegiance such as a military deserter. A spiritual deserter abandons the God of grace.

True Grace Gospel

Galatians 2:15-21

September 9

Augustine, the great leader of the early church, contrasted two cities in human history through a contrast between two spiritual cities. The inhabitants of the “City of Man” exalt self. In contrast, the inhabitants of the “City of God” humble themselves before God. Self-exaltation is the oldest religious alternative to the gospel of the grace of God. The religion of self-exaltation manifests itself in various ways, including humanity’s attempt to claim a right standing before God based upon deeds. The Christian affirmation of grace manifests itself in humiliations before God, repentance from the attitude of works-based salvation, and a faith-commitment to the grace message of Jesus’ substitutionary death. The gospel of Jesus Christ indeed becomes good news to an individual that understands two truths. First, God is right(eous). Second, humans are not right(eous).

Acts 15 provides a vital historical context to understand Paul’s discussion in Galatians 2. Some unknown men traveled from Jerusalem to Antioch and taught the recent gentile converts: “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom prescribed by Moses, you cannot be saved (Acts 15.1). The Jerusalem church hosted a meeting to deal with the issue of Gentile salvation and inclusion within the people of God. Peter testified to God’s grace in the salvation of the Roman centurion Cornelius (Acts 10-11) apart from circumcision. Peter concluded, “On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus in the same way they are (Acts 15.11). Paul and Barnabas testified to the signs and wonders God performed in the salvation of the Gentiles apart from circumcision (Acts 15. 12). James, the brother of Jesus, supported the grace mission to the Gentiles apart from circumcision based on prophecy from Amos (Acts 15.13-19). Sadly, the issue did not die. Paul may have sent his letter to the churches of Galatians approximately ten years after the Jerusalem conference to deal with the same problem. Peter’s actions of withdrawing from table fellowship with Gentiles due to the arrival of some men that claimed to be messengers of James threatened the gospel of grace by giving credibility to the expectation that Gentile believers needed to be circumcised for salvation and inclusion within God’s people.

What is the true grace of the gospel? Paul carefully unpacked the meaning of the gospel in light of false teachers that attempted to influence the Galatians to accept a false gospel that proclaimed a message of Christ plus human works.

First, a true grace gospel is needed because of the sinfulness of humanity (Gal. 2.15-16). The greatest divide between humans in the first century was the divide between Jews and Gentiles. The Jews regarded the Gentiles as “sinners,” yet the Old Testament instructed the Jews that all people, including the Jews, turned away from God (Isa. 53:6a). Many Jews of Paul’s day attempted to achieve a relationship with God by means of “works of the law” – a key term Paul repeated three times. “Works of the law” refers to acts performed in obedience to the law of God to achieve a proper standing with God. The Old Testament clearly affirmed the impossibility of self-achieved righteous standing. In the last phrase of Galatians 2:16, Paul quoted Psalm 143:2 to demonstrate universal need, “For no one alive is righteous in your sight.”

Second, the true grace gospel highlights the gracious nature of salvation (Gal. 2:15-16.). Rather than sinners justifying themselves through the law, God justifies sinners. The gospel of salvation is God’s act. Justification means a holy, righteous Judge declares sinful, ungodly, unrighteous people as “not guilty.” Individuals formerly condemned by God receive a verdict that the requirements of the law. God does not treat the subject of justification as an imaginary story. No, the righteousness of God demanded the death of His son –“if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing” (Gal. 2:21). Christ met the righteous demands of God’s holy law. God imputes or credits His righteousness to us.

Third, the true grace gospel explains the means to receive the act of God (Gal. 2:15-16). Paul repeats the thought in rapid succession: “by faith,” “we believed.” Paul clearly proclaims that faith is not a “work.” God does not justify or save an individual on the basis or grounds of faith. Faith is the means by which an individual appropriates the work of Christ. Paul powerfully expressed this, “We have believed into Christ Jesus.” The preposition “into” defines believe or faith as personal trust, the opposite attitude of self-righteousness through personal achievement. A work of faith does not save an individual; instead, the object of our faith, Christ Jesus, justifies us.

Fourth, the true grace gospel entails an obedient lifestyle (Gal. 2:17-21). Some accuse the gospel of justification by faith as promoting cheap grace. Perhaps the false teachers claimed that by setting aside the law as a means of securing a relationship with God, Paul encouraged moral weakness. Paul points out the absurdity of such a proposition employing two essential truths. First, faith in Christ means “union with” Christ. Through faith, a new believer unites with Christ in a co-crucifixion and co-resurrection. The death of a believer includes death to sin. By union with Christ in death and resurrection, a believer experiences a new source of life. A believer, then, does not live the Christian life through his or her strength. Second, Paul underscored the substitutionary death of Jesus; He gave Himself on our behalf. Out of gratitude for His sacrifice, believers obey.

True Life

Galatians 3.1-15

September 16

In Galatians 1-2, Paul defended his apostleship. Paul did not assert his apostleship because he felt insecure in the context of his opponents. In Paul’s mind, a defense of his apostleship was a defense of the gospel since the gospel message came by revelation to the apostle (Gal. 1.12). In Galatians 3-4, Paul defends the gospel against the false teaching of legalism.

What may twenty-first century Christians learn about applying the gospel to real life?

First, a failure to focus the eyes on Christ crucified makes people foolish (Gal. 3.1). Is the real-life found through Christ crucified or legalism? Paul exclaimed that living under legalism makes people unintelligent (Ga. 3.1). “No mind” is a literal translation of the Greek term “foolish.” Because the Galatians neglected the Lordship of Christ in the area of the mind or thought, they allowed someone (who? – maybe Satan) to bewitch or cast a spell on them. The ancients thought a magical spell could be cast upon someone through an “evil eye.” God publicly portrayed Christ crucified. The verb translated “publicly portrayed” described a public notice. One Southern Baptist scholar described the meaning of the term – “had the clarity of an advertisement on a billboard.” The Galatians took their eyes off the crucified Jesus and became foolish.

Second, living according to legalism opposes the ministry of the Spirit (Gal. 3.2-5). Paul’s point is that legalism is the opposite of life in the Spirit. Paul asked the Galatians to recall the beginning of their Christian experience. Did God pour out the Spirit into their lives because of their obedience to the law or through faith? The answer, of course, is faith. Paul points out the foolish of attributing the beginning of the Christian life to the reception of the Spirit and growing or maturing as a Christian through legalism. Did the miraculous transformation of the new birth come through keeping a law or through the Spirit? The answer, of course, is the Spirit wrought the miracle of salvation.

Third, the Old Testament taught that salvation came through faith, not legalism (Gal. 3.6-9). Paul illustrated the truth of salvation by faith through the example of Abraham. God promised Abraham a vast land, a great name, and a great blessing, and the privilege of being a blessing to the entire world (Gen. 12.1-3). The privilege of Abraham being a blessing depended on an heir. God made a promise. Abraham believed the God of the promise. God accepted Abraham on the basis of his faith. Paul quoted Genesis 15.6: “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” The Hebrew word translated “credited” was a bookkeeping term. A Hebrew dictionary provided a helpful definition of righteousness” means “adherence to what is required.” Through faith, Abraham met God’s requirement for a relationship with Him. Paul affirmed that the blessing of Abraham to the world (Gen. 12.3 & Gal. 3.8) were available to Gentiles through faith.

Fourth, the message of the gospel proclaims that Christ experienced a curse on our behalf (Ga. 4. 10-14). Rather than life, following the path of legalism is a curse because of human inability to keep the law. Obeying the law requires the keeping of the whole law according to Paul’s citation of Deuteronomy 27.26. Further, Paul cited two additional Old Testament texts to outlined in stark fashion the dramatic alternatives. In verse eleven, Paul quoted Habakkuk 2.4 as an affirmation of righteousness comes through faith. In verse twelve, the apostle cited Leviticus 18.5 as Scriptural evidence that the law requires the doing of the entire law. Christ delivered people from the curse of the law through experiencing the curse for us. “Redeemed” means to deliver through the payment of a price. Christ functioned as our representative and substitute. In His dual roles, Christ took upon Himself the curse due to us. Paul detailed two purposeful blessings. First, the blessings of Abraham flow to the Gentiles because Jesus received the curse for our sins. Second, because Jesus endured our curse, we can receive the Spirit.

Bible Studies For Life

Richard Elligson

Richard ElligsonRichard Elligson is associate professor of missions and chair of the theology division at The Baptist College of Florida.  Archives


Session 2

September 9, 2018


James 2:1-10

When it was time to anoint a new king over Israel, even Samuel—God’s own spokesperson and prophet—was quick to jump to conclusions. In passing over the prime son of Jesse, God reminded Samuel, “The Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). Most of us know that verse well enough to quote it…but applying it is another matter! If we were honest, we would have to admit that we make some sort of snap-decision about people the instant we lay eyes on them. While this is a selfish and arrogant attitude anywhere, it is particularly disturbing when evident in the church. In this text, James gives three reasons why playing favorites hurts our churches.

Playing favorites divides the congregation (vv. 1-4). We often say, “the ground is level at the foot of the cross.” The Lord Jesus exemplified His equal treatment of all people throughout His life and ministry. Yet a half-dozen times in the gospel of Luke alone, we read of the religious leaders ridiculing Jesus for socializing with the “wrong crowd,” specifically tax collectors and other “sinners;” ironically those whom Jesus specifically came to save! (see Luke 19:10; 1 Tim. 1:15). James’ example is also about judging people based on social status. In this case, it’s not their sinful condition, but rather their financial condition that becomes the litmus test of acceptability. Simply put, James condemns the practice of giving special treatment to the wealthy and especially inconsiderate treatment to the poor. Verse 4 explains the danger to the church: first, discriminating among yourselves means “distinguishing” (or “making divisions”) within your own body. And that means someone is making those judgements, and what’s worse, doing so based only on outward appearance. When all is said and done, such judgments demonstrate the selfish, manipulative thoughts within us.

Playing favorites demonstrates hypocrisy (vv. 5-7). James next reasons with those who are quick to embrace the rich while rejecting the poor. His reasoning is simple: generally speaking, God is on the side of the poor man, not because he is poor, but because of the humble dependence on God the poor must maintain. The Bible is full of examples of the poor honoring God and God in turn upholding the poor for their faith (for example, see the letter to the church at Smyrna in Rev. 2:8ff). In addition, there is an underlying insinuation that the believers James addresses are of humble means (see 1:9-11). So he confronts them sharply: why in the world do you cater to the rich? Aren’t they the ones who oppress you and drag you into court? Aren’t the rich the ones who curse the name of Jesus—that precious name under which you were baptized? Such hypocrisy!

Playing favorites disregards God’s law (vv. 8- 10). When Jesus was asked which law was most important, He replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command.” Then Jesus added, “The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” Then He summed it up this way, “All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands” (Matt. 22:37-40). In this response, Jesus linked the relationship we have with others as directly impacting the relationship we have with God. We must love God supremely, then love others as we love ourselves. Obviously, the only way to avoid favoritism is to treat all people equally, loving them as we love ourselves. Failure to do so, then, is a violation of the commandment Jesus gave. How does that affect our relationship to God? James is clear: “For whoever keeps the entire law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of breaking it all” (v. 10). To do something even as mundane as favoring some people over others shows our disregard for God’s law.

Session 3

September 16, 2018


1 Peter 4:7-11

One of the most important goals of the Christian life is consistency; that ability to live life calmly and confidently as it comes, regardless of the circumstances. First Peter was written to encourage Christ-followers who were suffering persecution to live exemplary Christian lives regardless of the difficulties. As he begins to end his letter, Peter emphasizes several characteristics of the Christian life that, when intentionally put into place, bring consistency to the believer’s life and glory to his God.

Prayer (v. 7). The Lord Jesus spoke of persistent praying (Luke 11:5ff). James, the brother of our Lord spoke of intentional praying (James 4:2-3). The apostle Paul summed up the priority of praying (1 Thess. 5:17). Here, Peter encourages intensity in praying. The “end of all things is near” has several possible applications. In the context of suffering, the temporary nature of human life is one possibility, as is the soon-to-be-felt siege of Jerusalem that would end that chapter of the Jewish experience. In any case, change was in the air; time was running out and Peter urged the believers to be serious (the old English translations say “sober” or “temperate”) and disciplined (or “watchful”). The key idea is that the serious times require a seriousness to prayer.

Love (v. 8). It’s not that love is more important than prayer per se, but rather love is more of an overarching attribute. Love is not only the greatest commandment (Matt. 22:36ff), but it is the distinguishing mark of the believer (John 13:35), and the church’s bond of unity (Col. 3:14). The believers Peter addresses already have it. The encouragement here is to maintain it in even more fervency. The reason? Love enables us to overlook a multitude of offenses against us (see Prov. 10:12).

Hospitality (v. 9). “Being hospitable” is the better translation. Hospitality is more than hosting in this case. It is “taking one another in,” or providing for one another in the broadest sense. The context here links it to love; hence, the first indication of fervent love for one another is taking care of one another. Like every other Christian activity, attitude counts! (see Col. 3:12ff) So Peter reminds them that showing hospitality is an act of love and should be done without any grumbling.

Stewardship (v. 10). With the context being the church, the giftedness Peter speaks of is likely the spiritual gifts bestowed by the Holy Spirit for the edification of the body (see 1 Cor. 12:4-11). But the meaning may well be broader. On this verse, John Wesley’s contemporary Joseph Benson said it well: whether “spiritual or temporal, ordinary or extraordinary,” believers are to “employ that gift for the common good.” Consistent believers are constant and careful stewards of all that God has passed to them.

Godly speech (v. 11a). The speaking here is proclamation of God’s word. The emphasis, however, is on the source of that word; hence, those who preach must proclaim the “oracles of God;” His utterances, His teachings. Preaching is not the time for personal opinion or self-promotion. Like John the Baptist, the mature and consistent believer is careful to decrease, so that Christ might increase (John 3:30).

Service (v. 11b.) The early commentators treated this “service” specifically as giving to the poor, but there is no reason to limit it as such. Service to others is ministry in its simplest form. Again, the context indicates that this ministry is a demonstration of the love mentioned in verse 8. Moreover, the Bible teaches that when any service is performed, it should be in Christ’s name, with thanksgiving (Col. 3:17), by His strength, and for His glory.

Session 4

September 23, 2018


Luke 10:25-37

It’s easy to love those who are loveable. It’s easy to love those who love us back. That’s the kind of love that just happens; our response to someone’s affections toward us. But if loving others is easy, then why does the Bible spend so many verses commanding that we do it?

Our lesson this week deals with the idea of “intentional love,” something I equate with compassion, that heart-felt care and genuine concern for the wellbeing of others, especially those who are hurting. The popular Hillsong chorus Mighty to Save begins with the words, “Everyone needs compassion…a love that’s never failing…” How true! Such love does not come naturally, but supernaturally. It’s not love as a reaction, but love put into action. It’s not accidental or incidental, but intentional.

Compassion explained (vv. 25-28). In this introduction to the story of The Good Samaritan, Jesus is confronted by an expert in the law who stood to “test” him. That he is a lawyer indicates that he knew the “official” answer to the question already but had something to prove by squaring off against Jesus. The exact nature of the “test” in this case is not stated. Some suggest the lawyer (a more specific title than the generic “scribe”) simply wanted to know how orthodox Jesus was in His teaching. But there is an underlying arrogance on display. His standing up to address his question to Jesus, his adequate rendering of the Great Commandment (see Matt. 22:34ff), and his follow-up question in verse 29 all indicate that this lawyer was attempting to boost his own status. Nevertheless, Jesus had the lawyer answer the question for himself, and he got it right. The command to love God supremely and your neighbor selflessly does not save; but only a saved man can do it! Love is always God-centered. God is love (1 John 4:8). We love Him because He first loved us. But 1 John 4:19-21 goes on to say that if we fail to love others, we really don’t love Him after all! Intentional love, then, begins with loving God supremely. Only then, can that love be turned toward others.

Compassion illustrated (vv. 29-37). The arrogance of the lawyer is further displayed in verse 29. To “justify himself,” in this case, means to vindicate himself. Not wanting to leave everyone with the impression that he was somehow guilty and deserving of the Lord’s rebuke, the lawyer quickly asked for a definition of “neighbor,” which in the Jewish mindset excluded gentiles generally and Samaritans specifically. This prompted the story of The Good Samaritan. The story is familiar and bristling with jabs at the hypocrisy of the Jewish religious establishment. But for our purposes, the story illustrates true compassion: the unconditional and intentional love that transcends ethnic bias and personal prejudice…and costs us something along the way.

Compassion commanded (v. 37). Jesus—the master teacher—presented such a compelling lesson that the lawyer asking the questions ended up answering them both himself. In certain resignation, even the arrogant lawyer had to admit the obvious. Though he would not mention him by name, the despised yet benevolent Samaritan was the hero of the story. Yet as always, the Lord forces him to apply the lesson learned. It’s not enough to know the right thing to do; it must now be put into action.

The lessons for the church are many. First, our love for others is predicated on a genuine love for God. Second, godly love expresses itself in acts of compassion. Third, those acts of compassion can never be limited by ethnic bias or personal prejudice. Finally, intentional love must be active love. Romans 5:8 reminds us that, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

Session 5

September 30, 2018


1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

What do people look for in a church? The answers vary widely. Some look for good preaching; others, for good programming, especially for children and youth. Others are interested in certain styles of praise and worship. But nearly everyone admits that the “church atmosphere” is an important factor in deciding what church to attend, and whether to stay there. By and large, everybody is looking for a community of believers who worship God and care for one another—and do so joyfully. Genuine joy in the Lord is impossible to miss when it’s present, and impossible to fake when it’s not. In 1 Thessalonians 1, the apostle Paul commends a hurting church for the joy for which they are known, even as they face ongoing persecution.

According to Acts 17, Paul, together with Silas and Timothy, started the church in Thessalonica while on their second missionary journey. A short time later, Paul sent Timothy back to the city to check on the new congregation. Timothy’s report was filled with good news. First Thessalonians was written as a response to that good news.

Joyous memories (vv. 1-4). Not all prayer should be prompted by dire need. Paul’s suggestion to “pray without ceasing” (coming up in chapter 5), leaves plenty of room for praying in celebration. The apostle mentions three specific memories that were cause for celebration. It’s not surprising that these three—faith, hope, love—are prominently featured in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, the city from which he pens this letter of 1 Thessalonians. Your work of faith does not refer to working for faith, but rather the works produced because of their faith (see James 2:14ff). Such good works were evidence of their salvation. Their labor of love indicates that the works they were doing were expressions of genuine love. The endurance of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ meant that the church was well grounded, and patient in their sufferings, knowing that Christ would indeed deliver them at His glorious appearance (v. 10). That Paul’s efforts in Thessalonica had been so rewarded was a source of great joy for the apostle and the church.

Joyous message (vv. 5-6). Good news is always welcome, but it is especially good when all the news lately has been bad! So it was for this congregation. As the people embraced Christ, the Jews attacked them, ultimately forcing Paul and Silas to flee the city (see Acts 17). Yet while the attacks against them increased, the church flourished. How could that be? Because the message of Christ came to them in such a powerful way. Not in word only, indicates that Paul and Silas demonstrated the truth of the gospel in their behavior. The messengers lived out the message! In power means that the effects were dramatic. After all, the gospel is “the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16). In the Holy Spirit reminds us that when the gospel is proclaimed, it’s the Holy Spirit who imparts truth and transforms lives. With much assurance means the gospel was presented—and accepted—boldly and confidently. This grasping of the gospel was done in such joy that Paul couldn’t help but marvel about it.

Joyous ministry (vv.7-10). Last evening, as I recounted the story of The Woman at the Well (John 4) to one of our youth, I was reminded that once she met Jesus, the Samaritan woman left her waterpot and ran back to the city to tell others she had met the Messiah. There is no greater proof that someone met Jesus than their desire to tell others. The joyous enthusiasm of the Thessalonian believers is captured in verse 8: “For the Lord’s message rang out from you.” The wording is only used here—applied to these believers—and refers to a trumpet blast. Not only was the gospel trumpeted loudly, but it was spread broadly, within their region and beyond. So genuine and so enthusiastic was their joy, that Paul could add nothing to it! Thus, this congregation—though suffering—was a model of Christian joy.

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