Just a Thought! – 13 June 2016

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.” (1 Thessalonians 5:15, 18)

If the New Testament had to have been compiled according to the order in which the books were written, scholars tell us that the book of Thessalonians would have been the first book of the New Testament. In the coming weeks we will be looking at selected passages through this epistle and see how we can apply the message that Paul had for the early church to our live today.

Context

At the time that this epistle was written, Thessalonica had been under Roman rule for over two centuries. It was the capital city of the province called Macedonia and was therefore the seat of Roman administration for the province. Located on a major Roman road, the Via Egnatia, Thessalonica’s residents were exposed to a wide variety of social and cultural influences. Religiously the Thessalonians honoured many deities. Apart from following the Roman imperial cult, they honoured gods from a variety of countries – the Greek god Dionysus, the Egyptian gods Isis, Osiris and Serapis, and the Phrygian god Cabirus being the most prominent.

Very little is known of how the Gospel grew in the city other than that Paul and Silas visited there in Acts 17. Their visit was short, but was seemingly successful in that some became believers, a church was established and that their testimony was known throughout Macedonia, Achaia and the surrounding areas (cf. 1:8).

Greetings

The verse quoted above is one that tends to be skipped over as it simply seems to be telling us who the letter was from – Paul, Silvanus and Timothy – and who it was for – the church in Thessalonica – however it is a verse that has raised much debate and contains a lesson for us today.

What is also interesting to note is how the writers conclude their salutation. Typically in those days one would end simply with the words “Greetings”, however, this is not the case here. Instead they use the phrase “Grace to you and peace”. This shows that the letter was not just a general letter between friends, but was expressing a deep connection with, and concern for, the recipients that is rooted in the promises of God that include the grace and peace that only He can give.

God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ

This is the phrase that has stirred the debate: is this a reference to the church being located in God Himself, or does it describe the authors as being in Christ? In terms of the Father relationship: is it a reference to Him being the Father of Jesus Christ or the Father of all creatures? The tricky thing is that in the Greek it can be taken either way. However, focussing on these kinds of questions can cause us to miss the true meaning of this verse.

The meaning here is that the Father and Jesus Christ are the primary agents in the Thessalonian church and in the ministries of Paul, Silvanus and Timothy. Irrespective of what any of them accomplished, God is the one who is to be thanked as He is the one who builds and directs the church and He is the one who will remain faithful when man does not.

And the same is true for the church today. It doesn’t matter what person’s name is attached to a church/ministry, at the end of the day, it is God who has done all the work and has built any particular church or ministry. It is all about Him and not the man whose name is in the title.

Therefore, whether you are a leader or just a participant in a church/ministry, give God all the praise and glory for what He has built and allowed you to be a part of. Because to think that the almighty God would choose me, a sinner to be a part of His work is truly amazing.

Just a Thought! © 2016

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Just a Thought! – 15 February 2016

Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, … And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:15, 18)

This week we look at the third of seven key areas in Paul’s instructions on how to walk wisely in Ephesians 5 – spirituality. Let’s explore it together.

True Spirituality

Spiritual or spirituality are words that are thrown about by almost everyone today. People of various religious persuasions use it. Some use it synonymously with “religious” to simply refer to someone who leads a very religious life. Others us it to refer to things unseen within one’s religious experience, irrespective of one’s religion. Others use it to describe one’s own personal inner being or experiences. But what does it truly mean?

Well, in many ways it means all of the above, however, as Francis Schaeffer claimed in his book True Spirituality, it is something that only a Christian can truly experience. In other words, one cannot be spiritual without first being a Christian. It is something that can only be properly understood after the truths of the Gospel have taken hold of a person and have been applied to one’s life in a holistic manner, not separating the person from the world around them.

It therefore means that there is no such thing as sacred or secular to a truly spiritual person. All work that one does is spiritual in the sense that the whole being is involved in the task and all is to be done for God, giving Him all the glory (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:31). One cannot leave their spirituality at home when one enters the workplace, but rather one’s spirituality influences and governs how one works in all aspects of life.

Be Spirit-Filled

But true Christian spirituality also means that the Holy Spirit is involved in a person’s life, and in every aspect of life – from family life, to work, from ministry to driving one’s car – every part of one’s life has to be under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

But Paul uses this in contrast to being drunk on wine, why? Simply because being drunk on wine means that one is to a large degree out of control of their faculties, and has instead allowed the wine to rule over them. Many to the extent of becoming dependant on the wine – they can’t go a day without it. The same is true for anything else that can take control of you – from drugs to adrenalin boosting activities. When this happens, one behaves out of character, doing and saying things that they ordinarily would not. Though these things are what may be hidden on the inside, they are not under control by a sane mind and are not being dealt with by a repentant heart. Instead one loses control and the end result is a ruined testimony and damaged relationships.

Instead one must be filled with the Spirit of God, and when this happens, a change results in a person’s heart, mind, words and behaviour. The person begins to show evidence of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and begins to practice the various gifts of the Spirit as He has given them. And in each case, the end result is a strong testimony of the power of the Spirit in one’s life and the building up of others in all areas of life.

This therefore is true spirituality – being a believer and under the control of the Holy Spirit, as one walks the journey that God has determined for each of us in all aspects of life, so that we not only grow in our relationship with God, but also be a testimony for others, building everyone up.

Challenge

The challenge I have for you is two-fold. Firstly, how is your spiritual walk – are you a true believer and is Jesus just as much a part of your life at work as He is at church? Secondly, are you under the influence of the Holy Spirit only – not allowing other things to take control of your life? For anything else is false spirituality.

Just a Thought!

© 2016

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Just a Thought! – 8 February 2016

Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, … So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesians 5:15, 18)

In Paul’s instructions on how to walk wisely in Ephesians 5 he gives us some important advice and motivations for our lives. This week we look at the second of seven key areas – purpose. Let’s explore it together.

What is God’s Plan for My Life?

This has to be one of the most frequently asked question in Christianity, and the answers given vary greatly. From people claiming to have audibly heard God telling them to take a certain job or marry a certain person, to so-called prophets prophesying over their lives, there are tens of thousands, if not millions, of Christians asking this same question, with not many satisfactory answers being found.

How then should one answer it? After all, Paul does tell us in this passage to “understand what the will of the Lord is”. How can we understand it if we don’t know what it is? How then do we know what God’s will is?

There are two clear and very different meanings for the term “will of God” in the Bible. Firstly there is God’s will of decree, or sovereign will. This is God’s sovereign control of all that comes to pass. The clearest example of this is the way Jesus spoke of the will of God in Gethsemane when he was praying in Matthew 26:39, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will”. This refers to the sovereign plan of God that would happen in the coming hours leading up to Christ’s death – this was His divine plan, His decree, and there was no changing it. But for you and I, this is something that remains a mystery to us – we will never know God’s full purpose for our lives.

The second meaning is what we can call his will of command – in other words, His will is what he commands us to do. These are the commands issued to us through His Word that we can can choose to disobey and fail to do. And this is how Paul uses the term “will of God” in our passage – knowing God’s commands for us.

But how? There are three basic steps: (1) Study God’s Word – His will of command is to be found only in the Bible. (2) Apply and obey God’s direct commands – such as do not be anxious, do not be angry, etc. (3) Apply the Biblical truths/principles learned to the areas of your life that are not explicitly addressed in the Bible – e.g. it does not tell you who to marry, whether to own a home, or whether to take a certain job – but it does give you principles that can be effectively applied to thousands of decisions you may have to make every day.

Do Not Be Foolish

This then is the motivation, to not be foolish. And again, there are two uses of the word in Bible. The first applies to knowledge of God – a fool is a person who does not know God (cf. Psalm 14:1). The second use refers to application – a fool is a person that does not apply their Biblical knowledge to their lives.

Paul’s does not want his readers to be foolish, I believe, in both ways here. He wants them to both know God, to believe that He is, but also to apply His commands to their lives. This is a call for all to study and apply God’s Word to their individual lives – to become familiar with God’s will, to learn about His commands, understand who He is and how He wants us to live, and then to live it. You do not need to know if He has called you into a particular career or for Him to give you a roadmap of your life – that is all part of the mystery – but you do need to know who God is and what His commands are for you life.

The question I have for you is this: are you being wise in your understanding of who God is and what He wants for your life? But more than that, are you living out and applying God’s will in your every day life? Not cherry-picking and only obeying the things you like, but everything He has commanded – for that is the will of God for all of us.

Just a Thought!

© 2016

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Just a Thought! – 1 February 2016

Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” (Ephesians 5:15-21)

In these verses Paul gives instructions on how to walk wisely in seven key areas of our lives, providing a motivation in each area. Those areas are: Time-management, purpose, spirituality, speech, worship, thanksgiving and submission. Let’s explore the first one together.

Time is Ticking Away

I am sure you have met people who say they wish they had more time in their day to accomplish all they have to do. Maybe you are one of those people. Then we look at other people who have far more on their plates and wonder how they manage it all. Do they some how have more hours in a day than we do? Certainly not. God has graciously given us all the same number of hours in a day to accomplish all that we have to – twenty-four.

How is it then that those who already have a full plate get more done than we do? Quite simply, they manage their time better. There is the saying that goes if you want a job done properly, give to someone who already has a lot to do. Why would that be? Because they are people that are already managing their time well that to add another job to their day is not going to phase them – they will just schedule it in. But those who have little to nothing to do, well that job will just sit on the pile of jobs that will be done when they get around to it.

The reality is that time is ticking away, and like spilled milk, you cannot pick it up again and put it back in the bottle – it is lost forever. And the older one becomes the faster it seems to tick away.

Make the Most of Your Time

Hence Paul’s exhortation in our text, walk wisely, making the most of your time. The word for “making the most” is best translated as “redeeming” and the Greek word can mean “to buy up, ransom, or rescue from loss”.

But how do we do this? For those who are not saved it could mean a number of things, such as driving over the speed limit to make an appointment, skipping breakfast, doing your make-up in the car, or working eighteen hour days. But in the Biblical sense it means something far different. It means making the most of the time that remains in our life. Planning our days, sticking to a schedule, being in time for appointments, prioritising those things in our lives that are truly important and putting aside the trivial matters.

Living in the twenty-first century we have hundreds of tools on hand to help us with this. From diaries, to modern gadgets, from alarms to apps on our cell-phones or tablets, we literally have time-management at our fingertips, but we neglect to use them. Why? I think the answer lies in one word – discipline. We lack the discipline to use the tools and manage our time and ourselves efficiently.

Motivation

But why must we manage our time? Is it so that we can have a good reputation? No. It’s because, as Paul says, “the days are evil”. The reality is that if we don’t manage our time, sin will get an even stronger grip on us and we will be wasting our time with things that will pull us away from God. Our lives are meant to be lived for His glory, and how can we expect to glorify Him if we are wasting our time on things that don’t matter and are evil.

We can only redeem today and plan to redeem tomorrow, for yesterday is gone! We alone are responsible for using the gift of time that God has given to all of us. Let’s use it wisely.

Just a Thought!

© 2016

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Just a Thought! – 25 January 2016

Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” (Ephesians 5:15-21)

Whenever a new year begins we are surrounded by people who want to give us advice on how to live. From motivational speakers to talk-show hosts, from magazine articles to the latest “7 Ways To…” book to hit the shelf, everyone, everywhere seems to want to give us advice on how to live a better life.

But what does the Bible have to say? Does it give us any advice for the year ahead? Yes, absolutely. The above verses are one such place. Let’s look a little closer at them and discover God’s advice for the year ahead.

Be Careful

The first admonition is to be careful how we walk. The Greek here is not merely talking about your physical walking, that you be careful where you tread, such as stepping out into a busy road without looking, rather it refers to your life in general – how you live.

Another interesting thing to note is how verse 15 reads when translated literally from the Greek, “Therefore, observe how accurately you walk”. Paul’s command here is expressing a precise observation of our lives. That we don’t walk through this life blindly, but that we consciously observe how we live. But more than that, he is commanding us to walk accurately. To be careful that we take the right steps in life, and in the right direction.

And in case one is uncertain as to what that means, Paul spells it out in the next phrase, “not as unwise, but as wise” [literal translation]. We tend to call people wise too loosely these days. If a person does well in an exam for example, or wins large amounts of money on Who Wants to be a Millionaire, we say that they were wise. In those cases what we really mean is that they are knowledgeable, because there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom – knowledge is knowing facts, while wisdom is the application of those facts.

But more than that, in Biblical terms wisdom is the application of our knowledge and understanding of the things of God – to walk in His ways, to apply His teachings to our everyday lives.

So this is Paul’s command here: we are to apply God’s laws, standards and principles to our lives – that we walk according to the counsel He has given us through His Word, and we are to do it accurately – observing how we walk and being precise in our applying God’s commands.

But in what areas? Well Paul spells it out for us in the verses that follow in that he gives instructions on how to walk wisely in seven key areas of our lives, providing a motivation in each area. Those areas are: Time-management, purpose, spirituality, speech, worship, thanksgiving and submission (We will examine these more closely in the weeks to come).

Are You Being Careful?

We are living in a society that hates rules, that thinks we should just love each other and not worry about rules and restrictions. Even Christians tend to put the love of God above the commands He has given us.

The question I have for you is, does that describe your attitude and way of life – ignoring God’s rules and commands? Or is your attitude more like what Paul has commanded – living carefully – observing how you live, making sure that you accurately apply God Word to your life? I pray the latter describes you.

Just a Thought!

© 2016

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Just a Thought! – 11 January 2016

Enoch lived sixty-five years, and became the father of Methuselah. Then Enoch walked with God three hundred years after he became the father of Methuselah, and he had other sons and daughters. So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.” (Genesis 5:21-24)

One thing in the Bible that people tend to ignore are the genealogies. Many find them boring and uninteresting. However they can be filled with some great insight. The above verses from the genealogy in Genesis 5 that lists the generations from Adam through to Noah’s three sons is one such case. I want to focus on just four words and see what we can learn from them an apply to our lives – “Enoch walked with God”.

Who was Enoch?

All that we know of Enoch is contained in the above verses and an apparent prophecy by him mentioned in the book of Jude. Other than that all you will find about Enoch in the Bible is his name in the genealogies of 1 Chronicles and Luke, and in Hebrews where we learn that he was taken by God without tasting death.

According to the text before us, Enoch lived at for 365 years and at least fifteen centuries before Moses, the traditional author of Genesis. This begs the question, how did Moses know that Enoch “walked with God”? I think that there are two very likely options which are probably both right.

Firstly that God told Him. Moses had a very special relationship with God. I believe it is entirely possible that God told Moses the things he needed to know and record from creation – and God was the only one there who could have told Moses how it happened – all the way through to the things that Moses had either personally learned from tradition or experienced himself (although God inspired Moses’ recording of the things Moses already knew too).

The second reason that I believe is also credible is that of tradition. Imagine having this kind of claim to fame, that you are not more, that God took you away, because you walked with God. What a testimony and a legacy to leave behind. The probability is that Moses knew this tradition, passed down from generation to generation through oral tradition, that God confirmed for him as He inspired Moses to write.

Walking Back and Forth

Walked” translates the Hebrew halak that literally means “walked back and forth”, and describes Moses’ personal communion or intimacy with the Lord. It appears that Enoch’s relationship with God was not a private one that no-one knew about, but rather it was one demonstrated so publicly that others took note of it and told his story across generations.

Do you want to leave a legacy like that when you leave this earth? Do you want to impact your church, your community or your family for Christ that will lead people to say about you, “he/she walked with God” and for them to look to Christ as their saviour too? Then pay attention to Enoch’s life and testimony.

The reality is that no other person can see your heart, but they can watch your actions. No-one can hear your thoughts or what you say to God in your quiet prayers, but they can hear what you say to or about others. Jesus said in Matthew 5:16 that we are to let our lights shine before men, so that the world may see our good works and give glory to God who is in heaven.

As you walk “back-and-forth” with God, your visible life will influence others until Jesus returns. The question is, will it be a testimony that will draw them to Christ or repel them from Him completely.

Will you be an Enoch today?

Just a Thought!

© 2016

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Just a Thought! – 4 January 2016

But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” (Hebrews 2:9)

The Christmas season has come and gone, and a new year has begun. While many are still recovering from all their holiday spending and eating, let us spend some time reflecting on the truths of the passage above in light of the recent celebrations.

Jesus the Babe

The accounts in the Bible of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem are well-known to almost anyone who has encountered Christmas. It doesn’t matter whether one is a Christian or not, all people across the planet that have witnessed or celebrated anything regarding the season, have seen the nativity scenes or plays and heard the accounts retold or read from the Bible. From the angel’s first announcements to Mary and Joseph, through to the events of that glorious day when Christ put on human skin, millions across the globe know much of the events.

Included in the events are the visits by the angels, the shepherds and the wise men from the East. The angels came to the shepherds in the field, honouring the fact that God had come as a babe and commanded the shepherds to seek Him out. When the shepherds arrived at the manger in Bethlehem they too worshipped His coming. Later the wise men arrived seeking to honour the baby who was born king of the Jews.

The scene we all know portrayed in nativity scenes and plays is of all the people present, gathered around the feeding trough and honouring the baby Jesus – even the animals are seen to be bowing their heads and remaining silent as they too honour Him. But as solemn, majestic and fitting that scene may be, especially since Jesus as God humbled Himself by becoming a man, we must be careful not to become sidetracked and remember Him only in that manner.

Jesus is No Longer a Babe

The truth of the matter is, as Luke reminds us, Jesus is no longer a baby in a crib, but grew up to be a man (see Luke 2:52). He grew in stature and later became the Rabbi who led twelve men, performed miracles, taught great truths about God and ultimately carried His own cross to be crucified by the people. That little baby in a manger in a small country town, died the death that none of us would wish on our worst enemy just eight kilometres from His birthplace. A death reserved for the worst of criminals and blasphemers, but a death that we know was far greater than that.

Jesus’ death on the cross resulted in the forgiveness of sins for all believers across the world for all eternity. A death we deserved to die ourselves but couldn’t, that restored those who are His into a right relationship with the Father. But more than that, after His death, Jesus was raised back to life and later ascended into heaven where He has been crowned with glory and honour because of that death.

The Ascended Jesus

And it is there, in His position of glory in Heaven that Jesus sits, interceding for us, and pleading our case before the Father. And it is there that we now look to – not the manger in Bethlehem, but the throne in Heaven. As Paul wrote, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.” (2 Corinthians 5:16).

Yes it is wonderful thing to remember our Lord as the Babe born at Bethlehem. We should all celebrate Christmas and remember the fact that God put on human skin, but still more wonderful is to know Him now as the One who is seated at the right hand of the Father, where one day, “every knee should bow … and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10-11)

Just a Thought!

© 2016

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