Love One Another

I Thess. 4:9-10. “But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another. And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia: but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more.”

This chapter opened with Paul’s encouraging the Thessalonian believers to “Please God, so ye would abound more and more.”  Everything in this chapter details ways that pleasing God may be accomplished: Moral purity, honoring the holiness of God, and now loving each other more and more. 

It is  clear that Paul was already pleased with them on this matter. He says he really doesn’t need to say much about the way they love one another, because they are already doing so well. 

The word used here for love of the brethren is very familiar to us. It is philadelphia, and in classical Greek it was  used to describe the relationship of a brother or sister by birth.  In the New Testament, however, it always describes love for fellow believers, members of the adopted family of God by virtue of the new birth. This practice of brotherly love was one of the outstanding characteristics of the early Christian church. The believers of that day  followed the example Jesus had set in His own personal ministry, and it was present in the Christian community from the beginning (Acts 4:32). Philadelphia was the tie that bound new believers to the family of God.

Paul goes on to say that the Thessalonians not only loved each other, but that they were “taught of God” to do so. The word used here is theodidaktoi. Taken in two parts, the word Theo is God; didaktoi is taught by.  This word is used only here in the whole New Testament, and is in the present tense, indicating the teaching of God through the Holy Spirit.  They were being taught by God Himself through the indwelling of the Spirit. 

Not only were they fulfilling God’s teaching that they love one another; their love was also spreading to “all Macedonia.” We don’t know the specifics of how this love was acted out.  We do know that Thessalonica was the capital of Macedonia, and as an important seaport there were people in and out of the city all the time.  The gospel had spread rapidly throughout the area, and there were certainly many opportunities for the believers in the city to open their hearts and homes to other believers passing through.  There were also churches in Philippi and Berea, and probably other smaller groups spread throughout the province as the gospel was spread through the dispersion that always comes with persecution. 

And still, Paul exhorts them to “increase more and more.”  Their love was to be active and increasing to an overflowing measure.  There can never be enough of the love of Christ abounding in the lives of believers. Like a living plant, it must continue to grow and bear still more fruit.

We can never feel we have done enough, worked enough, taught enough, ministered enough.  If one opportunity of ministry closes, we need only to ask God where the next one is to open.  I promise you, from personal experience, that He will give you that opportunity if you ask Him to. 

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His Holy Spirit

I Thess. 4:8. “He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, Who hath also given unto us His Holy Spirit.”

This verse serves as a wrap-up for this passage on moral purity.  It is so simple, yet so profound.  The God  Who demands moral purity of believers is the God Who has given the the gift of the Holy Spirit to help us live as God has commanded.  The most important word in this passage is Holy. How easily we forget, ignore, or minimize the importance of the holiness of God; of the holiness with which He commands us to live. Because the demands of our own desires seem so important to us, we choose to rationalize our behaviors.  Sometimes we do so on the grounds of so-called “Christian liberty.”  A better phrase would be “Christian license.” We have the very mistaken idea that we are not bound by rules, standards, regulations; rather, we have the liberty to live as we choose and somehow God will overlook our disobedience.  The liberty we have as believers is the liberty to be free from the bonds of the Enemy; the chains of sin and judgment. 

I believe every Christian would do well to study the concept of holiness. 

To live as we choose, ignoring (despising) God’s commands, is not just an affront to our fellow believers; it is an affront to God.  We are despising (look down onloathescorndisdainspurnundervaluederidedetestrevileabhor,condemn) God Himself and placing our own desires above Him, above His commands, above His holiness. 

We are foolish.  

Terry Update #2

Saw the orthopedic surgeon today. He says swelling is now under control enough to schedule surgery, which will take place on  Tuesday, Sept. 4 at St. Luke’s Quakertown.  It will be outpatient, barring any unforeseen problems.  The doctor says there are several small fractures but that they are all lined up well with where they should be; the main fracture came from his ankle bone driving into the heel bone and displacing the back half of it.  There will be plates and screws that will remain in place permanently.  There will be arthritis. But he seemed confident that the healing, while slow, will be good and feels that Terry will be able to start putting weight on the foot very slowly and carefully about two weeks following surgery. 

Thanks to the many of you who have called, sent cards, prayed for us.  Deeply appreciated.   I’ll tell you more when there’s more to tell. 🙂

That no Man. . .Defraud. . .his Brother

I Thess. 4:6-7. “That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified. For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. “

It is important to go back and read the verses that come just before this one, to help us keep it all in context. Keeping one’s fleshly lusts under control, abstaining from fornication, is to be done as unto God. It is also to be done in order not to defraud anyone else. 

Sanctification results in honor toward both God and man. No man is to “go beyond” the boundaries of sanctification and honor in order to have more than what is truly his own.  To do so is to risk defrauding a brother.  One translation of this verse is “not overstepping the rights of and wronging the brother.”  

Defraud  is “to have more, to take advantage of, to cheat a person of what is rightfully his.” The idea of self-seeking and selfish fraud is very clear in the original language of this verse.  And the person being defrauded is a brother; a fellow-believer, perhaps even a blood brother.  Some translators see it as “any fellow human being.” 

The specific “matter” in this verse is fornication–illicit sexual behavior, concupiscence, which is the strong desire for that which is forbidden. This covers both premarital and extra-marital sexual sin.  Premarital sex robs (defrauds) the couple of the holiness and purity that comes with waiting until marriage.  If they do not marry, then the future partners are defrauded.  Sexual sin after marriage defrauds both those who participate and those who are victimized by the sin.  I know that great throngs of people would argue this matter, saying that if both people agree, then it’s okay to do whatever you want as long as no one is hurt. 

I contend that there is no such thing as illicit sexual behavior in which no one is hurt.  God created us in His image and likeness.  Sex and sexuality outside of the marriage vows are offenses to the body, soul and spirit. It is an offense to a holy God.  It is an offense to the innocent people who are hurt when their spouses, sons, daughters, brothers or sisters sin in this matter.  It is especially an offense to children who are affected by sexual sin. It changes a person’s spirit, and sometimes even pollutes the body with sexually transmitted diseases.  There is no such thing as harmless sexual sin. 

Paul states three reasons for obeying God’s command to abstain from fornication.  First, to disobey will bring God’s vengeance. “The Lord is an avenger in all these things.”  I am convinced that most of us do not take seriously enough the promise of God’s judgment on our behaviors. We sin with impunity. 

Second, to obey is  to recognize that it is His divine will.  God tells us clearly what His will is: Abstain from fornication.  Immorality is inconsistent with God’s grace and love toward us. Verse seven says, “For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.”

Third, to disobey God is to reject Him and His great love. It is to take God’s clear command very lightly, to make it null and void in our minds. It certainly shows how little regard we have for Him when we choose to ignore His clearly stated command in this matter. 

To choose to continue to live in impurity, whether it be of the mind only, or of both mind and body, is a direct insult to the divine Giver of the Holy Spirit, Who has been given to us to help us to live a life of holiness, sanctification, and honor. We are indeed ignoring all promptings of the Spirit when we continually choose to live in sexual sin. 

 

Not a Rant :)

I just met with a young couple who, for something new and different, are very much in love and came seeking my help to solve a dilemma in their marriage.   It was so refreshing to talk with them, because they weren’t accusing each other; neither of them had a burning need to be RIGHT; both are kind in their speech and manners.

The problem lies in their personality differences.  He’s a slow processer.  It takes him some time to figure things out, decide how he feels, what he thinks, what he’s willing to do.  He’s a peacemaker, sometimes to his own detriment.  We do teach people how to treat us.  When we continually accept poor behavior, we’re teaching others that they can say or do anything they want and we’ll just take it.  Not good.

She, on the other hand, is an instant responder.  She operates from a set of very strong ideas of what’s right and what’s wrong; she doesn’t tolerate mistreatment with very much grace at all; and she wants him to defend her when the need arises.  Instantly, mind you.  No stopping to think.

So we talked it through; they each said what they needed to say.  She felt he left her spinning in the wind. He felt she pushed him to do something he really didn’t want to do. This was a relatively easy session, and I was able to offer them suggestions that seemed to settle her down and brace him up. What were those suggestions?

1.  It is his job to deal with his family members.  It is up to him to support and encourage her, to protect her and defend her. He should address the situation, and I offered him some ways to do that without dragging him out of his comfort zone.  Years ago, my pastor told me, “Linda, you can say almost anything you need to say as long as you do it with a smile.  Kindness matters.”

2.  She needs to love him enough to trust him to do what is best for her.  That means she has complete freedom to tell him what she needs from him; she can express her strongest feelings to him, and she should. But then she needs to leave it in his hands.

3.  He can tell her he needs to think about it for a day or two.  He is not allowed to just forget it and let it slide.  He should come back in a day or two and tell her what he thinks, and what he’s willing to do.

4. She, again, needs to love him enough to respect him and trust him to do the best thing.

5.  They both need to forgive;  each other, and those involved in the upset.  She needs to forgive him for not defending her.  He needs to forgive her for pushing him past his own desire to intervene.  They both need to forgive the ones who helped create the problem.

And that was my first session today.  Nice and easy.

Psalm 119:165. “Great peace have they which love Thy law; and nothing shall offend them.”

Concupiscence?

I Thess. 4:5. “Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God;”

This verse, of course, is a continuation of verse 4, which teaches that each of us is to know how to gain mastery over the lusts of our own bodies in sanctification and honor. 

We are not to indulge in the lust of concupiscence.  Okay, that word sent me straight to my Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance as well as to my Webster’s Dictionary.  I think  I know what it means, but you never know. . . .

So, Strong’s says the word comes from epithumia.  The root of epithumia is epithumeo, which is “to set the heart upon, long for (rightfully or otherwise); covet, desire, lust after. 

Epithumia carries the added connotation of a longing for what is forbidden. So, putting it together with the previous verses, Paul is teaching that fornication, which is forbidden, is not to be sought after or desired; rather, believers are to gain control over their own bodies in the matter of sexual behaviors.  We are not to be like the unbelieving world.  Not knowing God or godliness, they indeed worship the flesh and find any way they can to satisfy their sexual desires. 

We are to be different.  We are to live in a way that is a stark contrast to what our sex-saturated society has declared is “normal.”

Going off on a little rant here.  I’ve been on this one before. You may know, or not, that I work as a therapist in a Christian counseling office.  Doing this work brings me into daily contact with people who have messed up their lives (or been messed up against their will by a sexual predator, when they were children) with unrestrained sexual behavior.  Every week, I talk with kids who think they have to know whether they are straight, gay, or bi-sexual by the time they enter middle school.  They fully expect to have sexual relationships very early in their teens.  They’ve been taught how to do so in their sex ed classes, having seen demonstrations of how to use condoms when they are too young to have any wish to do so. 

You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to understand what a mess we’re in. 

I see couples who have both had affairs but feel it’s not important because “It was while we were separated.” I talk to men who use pornography as “a harmless way to relieve sexual tension,” not caring or believing that doing so is an offense to their wives and to a holy God. 

Saddest of all, many of these situations involve people who claim to be born-again, Bible-believing Christians. They sing “Holy, Holy, Holy” on Sunday and then go home and watch porn in the afternoon.   Why, I have to wonder, is their daily walk not affected and influenced by what they say they believe?  Does the Word of God have no influence?  Do they read it at all? As a society, have we become so inured to the prompting of the Holy Spirit that even those who say they love God are beyond the reach of His Word?

How can we watch violent, sexually explicit movies and TV programs, read books and magazines that take us into places that we should avoid, and still think that we are pleasing God?  

There are times during my work week when I don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or run screaming from the room. God help us. We are losing our spiritual sensitivity, allowing our boys and girls to dress in ways that are explicitly sexual in the name of being “in style,” and behaving as if God never said “Be ye holy.” 

God help us. 

In Sanctification and Honour

I Thess. 4:4. “That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour.”

 Before politically correct grammar clouded the issue, the masculine pronoun was understood to include all people.  As some wise sage put it, “The masculine embraces the feminine.”  So two pronouns in this verse are important:  Each (every one) and his

Each makes it clear that Paul is addressing every member of the congregation, not just the men. It is important that men and women abstain from fornication; and it is important that men and women know how to “possess his vessel.” 

His”  is inclusive of both genders. All of us are vulnerable to sexual temptation.  Such temptation is not exclusive to men. 

God wants us to know and understand how to behave in the matter of sex. That Paul is addressing the issue makes it clear that God considers it a matter that requires instruction and self-discipline. Purity is a matter of knowledge and habit. 

There is some question among biblical scholars about the words possess  and vessel. Two distinct meanings are advocated for each word.  Without going into a lot of detail about verb tense and usage, which fascinates me but probably seems tedious to anyone but another lexophile, I’m going to tell you what I believe and leave it up to you to do the research if you are interested. 

The most sensible meaning here seems to be that “to possess” is a gradual process of mastery and control over one’s  own vessel, one’s body. We know that the Christian walk is not mastered in a day, or a year; indeed, mastery requires a lifetime. Temptation is never completely absent for a believer, and sexual temptation is one of Satan’s favorite tools. My reading and clinical experience tells me that there is an epidemic, even among pastors, of addiction to pornography. It is estimated that one in every four people in any church congregation is involved in some sort of use of pornography; and that estimate is based only on those who admit it!

Back to words. The word vessel is also interpreted differently by some. It could refer to a wife. This position is based on the use of the word in Ruth 4:10 (in the Septuagint) and also in I Peter 3:7 where the wife is referred to as “the weaker vessel.” But if the wife is a weaker vessel, then the husband is the stronger vessel. Both are considered vessels. It makes more sense to me that each of us is responsible for maintaining the purity of our own vessels, our bodies. More could be said on this point, but I don’t want to belabor it.  You can do your own word search if you are interested. 

In sanctification and honour: Mastery of one’s fleshly desires is to be done as a matter of personal consecration, realizing that the body must be sanctified, set apart, for the service of God. Such sanctification excludes impurity, because impurity dishonors the body that was created in the image and likeness of God. 

Please don’t misunderstand what Paul is teaching here.  He is NOT advocating that we abstain from married sexual pleasure. God, after all, is the One Who created it and made it pleasurable. What Paul is teaching is that we are to gain mastery over those illicit sexual thoughts, desires, and behaviors that dishonor God, dishonor our mates, and dishonor our own bodies. 

Many years ago, my pastor said that sin always takes you farther than you ever intended to go.  It’s like a whirlpool, moving in a wide and slow circle at the surface but spiraling downward ever faster as it narrows down and disappears down the drain. 

Galatians 5:1. “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free; and be not  entangled  again with the yoke of bondage.”  The yoke of bondage in this verse is not  referring to legalistic rules and regulations; it refers to the chains of sin that wrap us up and keep us bound to harmful habits.  True Christian liberty is to be free from the bondage of sin.