Key Verse: 1 Thessalonians 2:13 “For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you receive the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.”
When it comes to religion, we live in a skeptical age, and rightly so. There are more religious systems and philosophies in our world than ever before, all demanding a hearing. There is need for skepticism — a skeptic is someone who says, “I’m not convinced, I’m not sure but I’m open. Convince me.” The main reason for skepticism, of course, is that religious philosophies are, in the final analysis, “the word of men.” And why should we commit ourselves to something that ultimately is nothing other than the machination and construction of some mortal mind? Does that sound arrogant? It is not so in the context of eternal truth. When it comes to the destiny of my eternal soul, I want to be smart. I want to make the right choice.
That is why we need to hear “the word of God.” But how will we know it when we hear it? We’ll know it if I speaks of God made flesh and dwelling among us, “full of grace and truth.” God not only gave us the written word, He gave us the living Word — Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who lived among us, died and was buried, was resurrected the third day, appeared to many eyewitnesses, and ascended to Heaven before witnesses with the promise of His return. And, most God, presented Himself as God’s Son (making Him equal with God), and died for our sin (thereby satisfying God’s wrath). Then He rose again to show us the way to, and the nature of, resurrected life.
We believe in Him. We trust Him. That is why His word “is at work” in us: all because of the Word — Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Key Verse: 1 Thessalonians 1:3 “We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (NIV)
I don’t think I should be dogmatic about this, but what I see in the key verse certainly gives room for some good constructive thinking. Paul commends the Thessalonians Christians for their faith which has produced “work” (probably referring to moral conduct), their love which has prompted “labor” (probably referring to physical toil), and their hope which has inspired “endurance”.
Any theologian worth his salt will tell you that you cannot have faith in God without it affecting your moral behaviour. As you read the Bible, you see that God places eternal value on the human soul. Because it is so valuable, any activity that separates a should from God is called sin. That’s why His Word has much to say about ordering our private lives according to His will. We obey, mainly because we “fear” Him, but also because we love Him.
Why do we love Him? First of all, because He has created us with a profound need and capacity to love; secondly, because He has revealed His love for us in Christ. We love Him because He first loved us. That’s why we labour in good works — not to gain points, but to share the richness of His love with others. Love compels us, and hope inspires us.
And what is our hope? That “God is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Her.11:6). We trust what He has done in Christ and what He has promised us about the future. He is preparing “a place for us” and Jesus is coming back to take us to that place (John 14:3). We have a Father who loves us and is soon taking us to be with Him forever. That’s why we “endure”. Hanging in there makes a lot of sense.
Key Verse: Colossians 4 “Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving.”
Paul had a very strong view on prayer. The Greek verb he uses here was also used by an historian (Polybius) in describing the stubborn persistence of a siege. This powerful imagery is not an overstatement — it is merely consistent with the high view scripture has of prayer: “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (Jas.5:16). But it’s to be something else too.
Prayer is to be the communication of someone who is “vigilant” (or, “watchful”) and “thankful” (NIV). It’s not just to be the crying out of felt needs, but the intelligent expression of alert observation and grateful dependence.
To be alert in prayer means, among other things, to be in touch with the world. Prayer is not an “eyes-closed-get-in-touch-with-my-inner-needs” kind of exercise. Rather, its a “what’s-happening-in-the-world-and-what-are-my-neighbours-needs” kind of of exercise. That’s not to say we don’t include personal concerns in our prayers from time to time. But it is to say that prayer is to be much more than it is for many of u s in reality; prayer is so often an exclusive petitioning on behalf of one person: ourself. What’s more, that self-absorption is also presumptuous — we presume to give God our agenda, expecting him to perform our will.
That’s why gratitude in our prayer is so important. Gratitude says you acknowledge God’s grace, accept your dependence upon Him, and recognize you’re just one of the millions who have embraced His offer of forgiveness for sin in Christ. Most importantly, gratitude is the context in which which we most naturally pray, “Not my will, but This be done.”
Key Verse: Colossians 3:16 “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”
These are two ways of interpreting “the word of Christ”. The first is fairly straightforward: the word(s) which Christ spoke — His teaching. The other is a bit more complicated but no less probable: the “word” is the prevalent Greek concept “logos”, which referred to the divine essence imminent in the universe and present in the individual soul. Paul uses this concept but gives it teeth, as it were; he personalizes it and calls it, “the Logos of Christ” or “the Logos, which is Christ” (See John 1:1). But both interpretations apply. Both refer to the “substance” of Christian faith: Jesus Christ and Him crucified; and Christ is to dwell in you richly…” The question is “How”?
Here’s how: “teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs…” Two things stand out here. One is the assumption of Paul that everyone in the church has a responsibility for the spiritual welfare of his brother and sister in Christ (see 1 For. 12:7). The other is a remarkable comment on the richness and depth of early Christian music. Their music was substantial — it was full of lyrical theology and literally taught the people.
A question we should ask whenever assisting the relative value of Christian teaching and music is not, “Do I like the style?” Your personal taste is not the issue. The question is: “Is Christ the substance of this teaching or music, and is it directed to the Lord?” If the answer is “Yes,” then sing with all your heart.