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2 Thessalonians 1:6

God Will Deal With Bullies

The Thessalonians experienced great persecution from their Jewish neighbors and Roman rulers. Much like in Jesus’ case, the political authorities were aroused to abuse Christians at the behest of the leaders of the Jewish community. The Jewish residents wielded influence with the government authorities. They used this against the new Christians. The government authorities were stronger and more numerous than the meager collection of new Christians in the Roman cities. They used their positions and their power to abuse the weaker group. In 2 Thessalonians 1:5-6, we read about God’s justice in dealing with the persecutors. It says, “This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering—since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you.”

We usually associate bullying with childhood. But it occurs at any age. Webster defines bullying as “Abuse and mistreatment of someone vulnerable by someone stronger, more powerful, etc.”  We often see bullying in the world around us at every stage of life. God speaks a lot about those who do violence to others without cause just because they are stronger or bigger or have the authority to do so. According to Proverbs 6:16, there are six things that God hates. One of them is “the one who sheds innocent blood.” That’s the bully! Psalm 11:5 also teaches that God hates those “who love violence.” Psalm 5:5 says, “the boastful” will not stand before God. He hates all evildoers. It’s important to have someone who will speak up for us when we’re being bullied. We need an even stronger person to take up our cause. One writer says, “I will never forget having a bottom locker in my fifth-grade year. An older boy in seventh grade chose to open his locker and hit my head. It was cruel, but my older sister stood up to him nearby. Even though it was an unfortunate scenario, having a sister who would stand up for me meant the world. We get to be those advocates for others, but we can only be those helpers if we intentionally open our eyes to the injustices going on around us.”[1]

God hates the bully. He promises to stand up for the innocent parties that are bullied in life. I think this is the promise Paul is making to the Thessalonians experiencing persecution at the hands of the powerful government and the Jewish authorities who are instigating the persecution. The Message Bible Translation, by Eugene Peterson, puts Psalm 35 in very clear terms. It’s all about God’s dealing with bullies. The Psalmist exclaims that my enemies – discouragement, fear, depression, insecurity – rail against me, Lord.  “…God, punch these bullies in the nose. Grab a weapon, anything at hand; stand up for me!” They don’t give me much peace! But I’m certain you won’t let me down. No one loves me like you do! You put your arms around me, and you see me through! As these scourges in my life strive to destroy me, you fight for me. You break their chains and “…let me run loose and free…every bone in my body laughing, singing, ‘God,  there’s no one like you. You put the down-and-out on their feet and protect the unprotected from bullies!” The Psalmist continues speaking about after God delivers him from his bullies. He tells God, “When you do, I will shout, ‘God is great—everything works together for good for his servant. I’ll tell the world how great and good you are. I’ll shout Hallelujah all day, every day.’”

[1] What Does the Bible Say about Bullying  Topical Studies (

1 Thessalonians 1:8

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

We’ve all heard the saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” There are many such sayings in our history. The great preacher of the 4th Century said, “Men will not attend to what we say, but examine into what we do; and will say, ‘First obey your own words, and then exhort others.’ This is a great battle. This is the unanswerable demonstration, which is made by our acts.” Ben Franklin said, “Well done is better than well-said.” An old Spanish proverb says, “Deeds, and not fine speeches, are proof of love.”[1] Jesus gave us this idea also. He said in Matthew 7:16, “By their fruit, you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?” In 1 Thessalonians 1:8, Paul encourages the suffering Thessalonians by telling them that their example speaks for itself. They have good fruit, and everyone sees it. He says, “For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere so that we need not say anything.” The Thessalonians were very vocal about their faith and did not hesitate to share it with those in and around their area. The message spread far and wide, but their actions spoke louder than words.

Words are cheap, by the way. We get to know people through their actions, not just their words. Communication is very important, especially in our age of computers and the Internet. However, it is increasingly easy to conceal one’s true intent online. Many predators have deceived people into investing in non-existing funds. Young girls have become prey to older men masquerading as younger men online to take advantage of them. It’s easy to pretend to be something you are not. During the early persecution of the church by the government, many professing believers would offer incense to Caesar to save their lives or the lives of loved ones. Some would buy certificates saying that they had offered sacrifices even though they hadn’t. But many others went to the stake, refusing to disown Christ. They were eaten by wild beasts, burned alive, and beheaded, as well as other violent tortures to recant their profession of faith. Tertullian, a second-century believer, told the authorities, “The more you destroy us, the more we become. The blood of the saints is the seed of the church.”

When Paul and his disciples arrived at Thessalonica, he was received with great enthusiasm by some Jews and some Gentiles. When Paul proclaimed the good news at the Synagogue, many would come to hear it, and many responded. But the Jews who rejected the message raised up a riot and ran Paul out of town. The believers at Thessalonica rescued Paul from the mob and helped him escape to Berea. The believers at Thessalonica were left to face the persecution on their own. They lived up to the challenge. They professed their faith in Jesus during Paul’s ministry and never gave way to the pressure of both Jews and Gentiles to recant their faith. Thankfully, we don’t face violence against us in America for faith in Jesus except for isolated incidents. Yet there are places around the world where persecution of believers is still very severe. Even though we’re not physically threatened with execution, we still see the disapproval on people’s faces when we profess faith in Jesus. Some are passed over for promotion, denied a pay raise, or excluded from neighborhood gatherings because of their faith. There are numerous other ways the professing believers feel the disapproval of a humanistic society. The Thessalonians received praise from Paul and the other believers for not shrinking back from their faith in the face of their persecution. The Thessalonians were willing to put their money where their mouth is. We should be willing also.

[1] Water, Mark. 2000. The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations. Alresford, Hampshire: John Hunt Publishers Ltd.

Colossians 1:6-8, Various

The Grace Of God’s Truth

After introducing himself and Timothy in the letter, Paul then sends “grace and peace” to them from God the Father and then offers a significant prayer of thanksgiving to God for them and their faith, love, and commitment to the truth of the Gospel message. Paul then reminds them of the source of that message. It appears that Paul felt it necessary to remind his readers that they had first heard the message from Epaphras, who was a fellow servant with Timothy and Paul in their work at Colossae. Just as the Gospel is being spread throughout the whole known world, the residents of Colossae were not neglected. They, too, had the good news preached to them and have hung on to it ever “since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit” (Colossians 1:6-8).

 They understood the grace of God in truth. The major characteristic of the message proclaimed by Paul, Epaphras, and the others in Colossae was the good news of God’s grace to sinners. Some, as we’ve seen in Galatia, were preaching the false gospel of works. Paul was always doing battle with those who distorted the Gospel. He told the Galatians, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” The proclamation of the good news of God’s grace is just what it’s called: Good News! It’s not good advice. Richison observes, “The heretics of Paul’s day were preaching the gospel of legalism. The grace of God in truth is the grace of God without adulteration. It is the grace of God in its simplicity. The message was one of undiluted grace. The gospel came as an act of grace on God’s part. It was a message from God, not men. God took the initiative.” It’s all of Grace. Paul also made that clear to the Romans when he said, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise, grace would no longer be grace.” We can do nothing to earn or deserve God’s favor. Richison goes on to say, “Jesus won God’s favor by his merit. True Christianity rests in the provision of Christ’s death upon the cross. Jesus’ death satisfies the just demands of an absolutely holy God. This is true both for becoming a Christian and living the Christian life.”[1]

Paul was constantly at war with the legalists of his day. Of those that heard the message of God’s grace, not everyone understood it or accepted it. The Jews especially had a difficult time with the message and always insisted on works being a part of the proclamation. But not Epaphras. He got the message Paul preached.  He understood that it was the proclamation of God’s grace to sinners that was the good news. It was this message and is still this message, that raises believers all over the world. When Paul referred to Epaphras as a “beloved fellow servant,” he was affirming the message that was proclaimed by Epaphras. By calling him a “faithful minister of Christ,” Paul was adding his own endorsement to Epaphras’ teaching. It is the preaching of the gospel of God’s grace that arouses “love in the Spirit.” The gospel is a message to sinners. God demonstrated his love for sinners by sending Jesus to die in their place for their sins. As John says, believers now love because God loved first. That’s the gospel for the whole world!

[1] Richison, Grant. 2006. Verse by Verse through the Book of Colossians. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems.

Philippians 1:2

Grace and Peace To You

If you are familiar with the Epistles in the Bible you have probably begun to take Paul’s greeting to the Philippians for granted. They are simply the standard greeting he uses in all of his letters. The standard letter in Paul’s day included a “from” line. It identified the writers of the letter. In this case, it was Paul and Timothy. It then proceeded to note the recipients of the letter; in this case, it was the assembly of believers in Philippi, along with their elders and deacons. The usual opening then contained a greeting. Sometimes the greeting was “greetings.” That’s what many of the emperors used when they wrote letters to various cities around their empire. Paul’s greeting is found in verse 2, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” The word “grace” translates the Greek word “Cherein.” It comes from the same root word that Paul’s word for “grace” comes from. But, as Boice observes, “At the same time, however, it is important to note that the words are transformed in Paul’s hands so that they carry Christian meanings. The normal gentile greeting in Greek was a verb, but Paul uses the noun form of the same root, Charis. The difference is slight, but there is a great change in meaning.”

Paul is referring to God’s unmerited favor. He’s reminding his readers that the greeting, although coming from Paul and Timothy, is from God the Father through Jesus Christ. It’s more than just saying, “I greet you.” It’s pronouncing a divine blessing upon the recipients of his letter. God’s grace is the source of our forgiveness. It’s the source of our joy. God’s grace is the basis of our salvation and the assurance of our present happiness and future deliverance from the struggles in this sinful world. It’s the solid basis of God’s love for us. He does not love us because we are such loveable people. He loves us because of His grace. We do not deserve it. We cannot earn it. It is a gift from God through Jesus Christ. Paul has taken the root of the standard Gentile greeting and added to it the depth of God’s unmerited favor to all who come to God through faith in Jesus.

The next part of the greeting in the letter to the Philippians is “peace to you.” The standard Hebrew greeting then and now is the same: shalom. This is the word for peace. Throughout the New Testament, we see the war that takes place between Gentile and Jewish believers. Much of the persecution that Christ experienced and that followed Paul from city to city had its roots in the Jewish religious community. As Paul wrote this letter, he was imprisoned in Rome because of the accusations brought against him by the Jewish community. Paul is bringing the two greetings together. Because of God’s wonderful grace, all men, Jew and Gentile, can experience the peace of God that comes to us through Jesus Christ. As we read further in chapter 1 of the book of Philippians, we’ll see that real joy is found in the “peace” that Christ established on the cross for all mankind based on his grace. He wrote to the Galatians that based on the grace that brings peace with God, we also have the joy of peace with each other. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28)

Ephesians 1:4-5

In Love

The verse numbers and chapters in the Bible are not inspired. In-depth studies often show that they start or stop at the wrong places. The transition between Ephesians 1:4-5 is one of the most contested transitions in the Bible. Verse four ends with two words, “in love.” It says, He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him in love….” Putting it here suggests that the ones who assigned the verse numbers thought it went with what came before the phrase and is associated with love being connected in some way with believers being “holy and blameless before Him.”  However, If the “in love” phrase goes with the following verse, we have In love, he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” It is strongly argued by various proponents of both options. I think it belongs to both! I think the important thing to notice is that “He” is the subject in both sentences. He did the choosing, and He did the predestining!

He chose me before the foundation of the world. He chose you too. But why did he choose us? Was it because we were so good? No! Was it because of some special quality we might have over and above others? No! The Bible makes it clear that the only reason He chose us is because He loves us. This was the basis of his choice of Israel as well. Courson writes, “I love this Scripture. Moses says I want you to know the Lord didn’t select you to be His, holy, or different because you were mightier than others. No, He chose you simply because He loved you. God loves you and me, not because we are mighty, together, or have something awesome to offer. Quite the opposite, He loves us just because He loves us. Period. His love is not based upon how good I’m doing or how much you’re doing, how poorly I’m faring, or how much you’re erring. God’s love for us is honestly, truly, absolutely unconditional. And once we grasp this, we can go through our day expecting the Lord to bless us, to shower grace upon us—not because of who we are or what we’ve done but simply and solely of who He is.”[1] The only explanation we can find for God’s choosing us is that He loves us. Furthermore, He loves us because He loves us. He does not choose us, and He does not love us because we are loveable. It’s a mystery, and we must be content with that answer.

The “Predestination” Paul refers to in the last part of the verse is also based on His simple love for us. I may not understand it, but I have to accept it. God’s predestination involves our adoption as God’s children. We were not born into God’s family as the children of Abraham, but we were grafted into the family through our faith in Jesus. It might be argued that the adopted child is less loved than the natural child. But that is not the way it is with God. God is like the mother who went to be with her daughter as she delivered their first grandchild. After giving birth, the daughter said, “I don’t understand how his hair can be so dark; both my husband and I have light blond hair.” “Well, honey,” the mother began, “your daddy has black hair.” “Mom, the girl replied, “You know that doesn’t matter; I was adopted.” “Oh yes, Mom replied, “I always forget that.”

 [1] Courson, Jon. 2005. Jon Courson’s Application Commentary: Volume One: Genesis–Job. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

Galatians 1:5

To God Be The Glory

The Jewish religious leaders worshipped the law.  I think that’s why the bible often refers to the strictest of the Pharisees as “Lawyers.” They did not know, love, or worship the lawgiver but turned the instructions God gave for healthy, happy community life into their religion, the object of their faith. The true believer in Jesus does not worship the law; he worships Jesus, the fulfiller of the law. In Seminary, there are courses in Bibliology. It’s the study of all things pertaining to the Bible. It’s great to learn about the inspiration of the writers, the transmission of the truths contained therein, the translation into many languages, and the content, author, and dates of all the biblical content. Some people confuse interest in God’s word with the worship of God’s word. It becomes an idol that beguiles us away from our love for God to our love for the law. There is a fine line between Bibliology and bibliolatry, the worship of the Bible. We often sing, “To God be the glory, great things He has done.” I’m old enough to have the tune ring in my mind as I wrote that last sentence. The book teaches us about all the great things God has done for mankind, from creation to redemption. Paul wants his readers to know that all glory belongs to God, so he says in Galatians 1:3-5, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”

When we worship the written word instead of the living word, Jesus, we become legalists who miss the entire point of God’s giving us His word. The focus shifts from what God has done for us in His Son, Jesus, to what we do for Him. Paul always focused on his love for Jesus and his worship of God the Father and Jesus Christ, His divine son. Man cannot win God’s acceptance with the works of the law. As a matter of fact, without faith in God, it is impossible to please God at all, according to the author of the book of Hebrews. When my behavior, my knowledge of the law, or my commitment to the law becomes the key focus of my life, I fall from grace. It becomes about me! It must remain about Jesus! Paul’s opening words in his epistle to the Galatians make that clear. He commends Grace and Peace to his readers, which can only come from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. He then speaks of Jesus’ action of giving himself for our sins to deliver us from this present evil age as God had planned.  He emphasizes what God has done for us. Then in Galatians 1:5, he concludes, “To whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” If we focus on what we do instead of what He did, we seek our own glory.

Gromacki says it well in his commentary on this passage. He writes, “To bring glory to God, a believer must thank Him for who He is and for what He has done. He must admit, with Jonah, that ‘salvation is of the Lord’ (Jonah 2:9). He does that when he knows that the plan, provision, gift, and preservation of human redemption are all of God. This is the reason why Paul concluded his book with these words: “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14). When a person adds works to faith as a prerequisite to salvation or as a basis for the retention of salvation, he takes away from the glory of God. To Paul, the difference between a true gospel and a false message was determined by whether God received all of the glory or just part of it. Evolutionists strip the glory of creation away from God, and the Judaizers were stealing the glory of redemption from Him.”


2 Corinthians 1:5-7

Unshaken Hope

2 Corinthians 1:5-7 continues Paul talking about how God comforts us in all of our sufferings in union with the sufferings that Christ experienced. Comfort for the hurting always gets passed on. It says,  For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ, we share abundantly in comfort too.  If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.  Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.” One commentator said, “Paul believes that there are some significant benefits that go with the suffering one undergoes for Christ’s sake—the joy and encouragement one gets from seeing others come to or grow in Christ.”[1] The idea of the passage is not just personal comfort that comes from others’ suffering. It’s an inspiration!

This brought to mind a quote often attributed to Tertullian, an early Christian around 150 AD, who lived during some horrible times of persecution at the hands of Rome. He said, “The more you mow us down, the more we grow. The blood of the saints is the seed of the Church.” When others see the way martyrs boldly go to their death, they are inspired by such testimony. I remember Robert the Bruce from my history of Western Civilization. But I had never heard of William Wallace until the movie “Braveheart” came out. Bruce was the leader who moved Scotland to rebel against the evils of an abusive English Monarch. He is credited with having won Scotland’s freedom at the Battle of Bannockburn around 1300. What many history books leave out is that it was indeed William Wallace who inspired Bruce. Wallace led successful rebellions against the evil Longshanks, King of England, but was finally captured and tortured. In the movie’s final scene, we see Wallace being flayed alive and even then screaming the word “freedom.” Bruce was one of the local Lords who betrayed Wallace at the hands of his enemies. But as he watched the courageous death of Wallace, he was moved so strongly that he picked up the staff of William Wallace and finished the task of leading Scotland to Freedom.

Hughes summarizes this passage, “This is a dynamic way of looking at life because it endows all Christian living with elevated importance. The hard things we undergo and the comforts are all graces that authenticate and empower ministry so that those who truly desire to minister will patiently accept their lot from God and work aon.”[2] Job serves as an exciting example of this. Having suffered in every way imaginable in life, he is most famous for some of the most frequently quoted phrases: “Naked came I into the world, naked from it I will go.” “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” In all his sufferings, he did not curse God. Even when his wife urged him to curse God, he replied that he would not trust God only when good things came his way. He will trust God even when the bad things come! “Though He slays me, yet will I trust Him.” When things become difficult, when things pile up against us, when the worst that we might imagine overwhelms us, let’s not curse God or our circumstances. Instead, let’s remember the very ending of the book of Job and wait patiently for God’s comfort and deliverance from our trials. Paul said that his hope remains unshaken during the hardships because he knows God’s comfort is just around the corner.

[1] Witherington, Ben, III. 1995. Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[2] Hughes, R. Kent. 2006. 2 Corinthians: Power in Weakness. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

1 Corinthians 1:4-9

Thankful For God’s Grace

In 1 Corinthians 1:4-9 Paul records his extended prayer for the Corinthians, which begins with thanksgiving as any good prayer does. He expresses his thanks to God for the grace that was extended to them in salvation and for the spiritual gifts that they have been blessed with. Paul then proceeds to confirm the solid ground upon which their faith is based. It says, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” Paul regularly opens his letters to churches with a prayer of thanksgiving. In the prayer that opens the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul expresses gratitude to God for three things.

The first thing he thanked God for concerning the saints in Corinth was the grace they received from God in their saving faith in Jesus. The Corinthians had come from a plethora of pagan backgrounds. There were some Jews for sure, but most of them seemed to have been Gentiles. To the Jews, all Gentiles were sinners. This was not to say that all of the Gentiles were evil people with no moral codes at all. Some of them lived up to strict moral standards. What the Jews meant by this, as Arichea points out, “In this context, sinners refer not to persons who have committed sin or wrong, but to those who are outside the Law.”[1] As Paul uses it in Galatians, the term “sinner” was often used as a synonym for Gentile. It was still a thing of great wonder that God’s grace extended to these people. At the same time, the vast majority of the Jews rejected Christ as their Messiah. That opened the door of salvation to us Gentiles. Paul was still in awe of this reality. The inclusion of the Gentiles is a fulfillment of Hosea 2:23, “I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’; and they will say, ‘You are my God.’ ” God is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9), and “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).

The second thing he thanked God for concerning the saints in Corinth is that they have been blessed with many spiritual gifts, especially those associated with speaking and understanding. The proper functioning of a church is dependent on the member’s utilization of the various gifts they have been blessed with. Corinth had more than its share of spiritual gifts. God provides His church with all the spiritual gifts it needs to accomplish God’s purpose in each generation. The word for spiritual gifts is “Charisma.”  Staton says, “Every Christian has charisma for living in the present. When there is cleansing from the past and charisma for the present, there is potential for real progress, regardless of the present circumstances. God gives us precisely what we need to live in the here and now. God, who has given birds the equipment to live in the air and fish the equipment to live in the water, has not failed to give His converted children the equipment for living in the atmosphere of our age.”[2]

Finally, Paul thanked God for His faithfulness in that He will preserve the Corinthian saints to the end. He knows of the many sinful patterns that existed in the believers at Corinth, but he wanted to assure them that they were secure in God’s faithfulness to hold them blameless in the end. Paul is going to point out many failures that plague the members of the church in Corinth. But he did not want them to question their salvation. Their many failures are not an indication of a lost state. They are manifestations of an immature state. The eternal destiny was not secured for them through their faithfulness but through God’s faithfulness.

[1] Arichea, Daniel C., and Eugene Albert Nida. 1976. A Handbook on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. UBS Handbook Series. New York: United Bible Societies.

[2] Staton, Knofel. 1987. First Corinthians: Unlocking the Scriptures for You. Standard Bible Studies. Cincinnati, OH: Standard.

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