24.9.17 – Trusting In Chariots – Peter Cheyne

Yesterday two very significant things happened: New Zealand had a general election and the world ended. Many people put material online predicting the end of the world on September 23. If you have been reading the emailed newsletters, you will know what I mean.

Now, of course, the world might still end on September 23. Does it mean September 23 in New Zealand or Israel or USA? It is already 24th in New Zealand and Israel but many of those who predicted the end of the world are from the United States of America. By the way, what do you call a person from the United States of America? It cannot be “American” since everyone in North and South America is presumably an American. I don’t think there is a word for the people from the USA. Isn’t that strange?

Anyway, these United Statesians on YouTube seem to think that the Bible is all about the USA. So, if God lives in, say, San Francisco, there are about another 9.5 hours in which the world might end.

So, I had in mind these two events that were coming up and I was wondering which to speak about today – which was kind of tricky because I didn’t know what was going to happen with either of them. Which is the more important – a New Zealand election or the end of the world. Clearly the end of the world. On the other hand, which is more important: a New Zealand election or speculation about the end of the world? Probably the New Zealand election. So let’s talk about the New Zealand election.

The Bible contains some very strange military tactics. Modern armies study ancient battles but I doubt they feel they can learn much from some of these battles. For example, how many modern armies would think it was a good idea to march around a city every day for six days blowing trumpets and then march around it seven times on the seventh day, and then shout? And yet that, of course, was what God told Joshua to do and the walls of Jericho collapsed. This is unconventional warfare.

Or how many armies would reduce their man-power to less than 1% of their original strength, and do that, in part, on the basis of the men’s river-drinking technique? But that is what God told Gideon to do. How many armies would believe that their success would depend on the ability of an old man up a mountain to hold his arms up in the air? And yet, while Moses held up his hands, the Israelites prevailed over the Amalekites, and when he grew tired and his hands slumped, the Amalekites started winning.

There are many more examples – times when the Israelites faced insurmountable odds but they won, not through their military might but by doing some very strange thing that God required of them. Most people would think that military victories result from military might but biblically, military might counts for nothing. What actually counts is God. God can defeat a whole army using only one man if He wants to. He did that, for example, using a shepherd-boy.

Listen to what David said to Goliath.

1 Samuel 17:45-47      45 David said to the Philistine, ‘You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.’

In a contest between military might – sword, spear, javelin, training, armour, great size and strength – and God, who wins? God wins. We would feel far more comfortable having the sword and the spear and the javelin but David trusted God to be greater.

Note the phrase David used there: “the battle is the Lord’s”, or “the battle belongs to the Lord”.

That phrase is repeated in words spoken by a prophet to King Jehoshaphat

2 Chron 20:15     He said: ‘Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the Lord says to you: “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.

God often warned Israel not to trust in military might – not to trust in horses and chariots and alliances with the super-powers of the time. Listen to…

Isaiah 31:1          Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the Lord.

Woe to those who trust in horses and chariots but do not look to God. The passage goes on to say that God is powerful but the Egyptians are mortals and their horses are mere flesh. Do not trust in human strength; woe to those who trust in human might and military hardware and strategies and human organisation, and not in God. If modern armies were to learn tactics from the biblical battles, the lesson would be that they should seek God. That would be unconventional warfare.

When we vote in an election, we are looking for a saviour, and we have high hopes that this party or that party is going to solve our problems and save our country. We weigh up the policies and the skills of the people. But ultimately, every time we are disappointed. Why is it so unusual for a government to get a fourth term? We try one party and after a few years we are disillusioned and we see another party offering what this one has failed to deliver and our hopes sore again – only to be disillusioned again.

I am not saying we shouldn’t vote. I voted. I am not saying we don’t need leadership. Of course, we do. I am not saying we shouldn’t try to identify which party’s values most reflect God’s values. I hope we all did that. I am saying that every party is going to disappoint. Every party has feet of clay. There is not God-honouring party. Every party will be good at some things but weak in other areas. Because every party is merely human and humans are fallible and sinful. We make a fundamental mistake if we look to people to save our country

Isaiah 31:1          Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the Lord.

Can our government fix our problems? No. Of course, a good government will do some good things. Sometimes we will make real progress. But that government will reveal its dark side as well. There will be scandals; there will be failures; selfishness and dishonesty will manifest because humans are selfish and dishonest. It is unavoidable. Even supposedly Christian parties have not proved to be above these things. Christians don’t seem to handle power very well. Society today is certainly more advanced in some ways but it has as many problems as previous generations. We have not proven that we can sort out our problems. We might have a rock-star economy – maybe – but we have increasing poverty and horrific levels of mental illness and polluted rivers and… That is why National’s opponents have harped on about being in power for 9 years but failing to solve our problems. But equivalent statements will be true after a Labour-led government has been in power.

There has been euphoria about Jacinda – not quite enough euphoria for her liking – and Jacinda will presumably be Prime Minister one day. But the time will come when people will be fed up with Jacinda too and demand a change. That is what we do – euphoria followed by disillusionment. We trust in chariots but chariots fail.

No secular government (of any colour) can bring in the Kingdom of God. Woe to us. Only God can establish the Kingdom of God. But we, as a nation, are not seeking God. And often, we, as Christians, are not seeking God but we are still trusting in the chariots and horses and strength and human skills.

This principle of “woe to those who trust in horses and chariots” applies in many areas of our lives. Many of us feel secure because we have money. We trust in money. Or we feel insecure because we don’t have enough money, or we are working to make money so that we can feel secure. Why are we trusting in money that can disappear overnight? We are trusting in material things, not in God.

If we are ill, do we look first to the doctor or first to God? Who do we trust more?

Churches that want to grow can rely on marketing techniques and gimmicks and pandering to people’s needs, and flashy events. I wonder if the result might be different is we just prayed. What do we trust?

Does this mean that we do nothing, leaving it all up to God? No, it means we do whatever God asks us to do. What is God’s plan? Sometimes God’s plan will seem silly. Maybe marching around Jericho seemed silly but the Israelites did it. Going out to meet Goliath with no armour and only a sling and five stones, seems reckless and foolish. Everyone said that David could not beat Goliath. They thought training and strength were necessary. Saul urged David to wear armour. Why? Because that is what sensible people do. Don’t trust God; wear armour. David chose no armour but he did have that sling and stones. He did walk out to confront Goliath. But his trust wasn’t in his own strength and ability with his weapon. His trust was in God. Without God, he was a lost cause.

Here’s something crazy. God plans to establish His Kingdom in Mornington through us, not through the government. We can have a much greater impact for good than the government. Society will not be transformed by government departments and think tanks and policies and taxes. Those things might all have their part to play but deep transformation comes only from Jesus. Do you know what God’s plan is for transforming our community? That we make disciples; that we help people to become followers of Jesus and to live following Jesus. Society is transformed when people are transformed.

So, what are the crazy things God is asking us to do? What is His strategy?

God commands us to do crazy things like love people, forgive them, pray, share the gospel of Jesus Christ, grow people to spiritual maturity. Those things will transform people and society.

2 Corinthians 10:3-4  For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.

We don’t use the world’s weapons. Unconventional warfare. The weapons we use have divine power to break the strongholds holding people in bondage. What are those weapons that have divine power?

It is not the whole answer but let’s start with Ephesians 6 – the armour of God. Ephesians 6 lists 7 weapons. Let’s contrast them with 7 others which, just for fun, spell out chariot.

Committees Truth
Human ability Righteousness
Activity (programmes) The gospel
Riches Faith
Ideas, ideology & arguments Salvation
Order (law, power) The Bible
Technology & innovation Prayer
  1. What is the difference between those two lists?
  2. Which one better describes the governments strategies? Which list would actually work? (Proverbs 14:34 says that righteousness exalts a nation; righteousness makes a nation great. Do we believe that?)
  3. Which one better describes the church? Which one should describe the church?
  4. Which one do you trust more?
  5. If the world does end in the next 9 hours – or, whenever Jesus does return – which list will be important?
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27.8.17 – Lifestyle Does Matter – Peter Cheyne

Read 2 Thessalonians 3:6-18

This passage might be quite troubling for some people so I want to see if we can understand it.

The Aaron Smith saga is pretty sordid. It is shameful to even talk about such things but it provides a good example. Unfortunately, I guess we have all heard about his tryst with a woman in a toilet. That led to a one-match ban, a tearful apology and his return from South Africa to try to reconcile with his girlfriend.

But now, there are allegations that he lied to his coach and employer and that he tried to get the woman to sign a false affidavit. Consequently, the Rugby Union has re-opened the investigation.

  1. Why would Smith be disciplined? Initially there was the one-match ban and now the possibility that there will be further consequences. Why?
  2. What business is it of the NZRFU?

Sometimes players who turn up late for training are dropped from the team. Why?

Today’s passage says that lazy people should be rejected by the church. Is that what it says? And why?

In the NIV, the phrase “idle and disruptive” is used twice and “idle” used once. Plus, there are other words like “not willing to work”, “not busy” and it is contrasted with “earn the bread you eat” and “never tire of doing good”. There does seem to be a lot about laziness.

Twice – in vv.6 and 14 – it says, “Do not associate with idle people.” So, lazy people are to be shunned by the church. Have nothing to do with them. Are we OK with this? But this is the word of God. What are we going to do with it?

Church discipline is not a popular concept these days – the idea that the church should take action against people because of their lifestyle. But even if it was, wouldn’t we think it should be reserved for the worst of sins? Should the church really discipline lazy people?

Do you know what? In the original Greek, there is no word for idle or lazy!

So, how come it is in our translations? The word used in vv.6, 7, and 11 – where it is translated “idle” – is ataktos. Look it up; google it. It means disorderly, out of line. It means unruly, or refusing to obey God’s rules. Maybe we could say “rebellious” or “disobedient”.

It is very easy to see why the translators talk about idleness. Paul does talk about laziness – about people who refuse to work, etc. The context is about laziness; the word is about being unruly, so the translators have hedged their bets by saying both – idle and disruptive. Laziness is one aspect of an undisciplined life but the word is much more general. It is about any unruly – not following the rules – lifestyle.

v.11 talks about people who are “ataktos” but then says they are busybodies. Well, that doesn’t make sense. Busybodies are not idle; they are busy but they are busy meddling in other people’s business instead of getting on with their own. They were out of line but they weren’t idle. Paul said those people need to settle down. Lazy people do not need to settle down; they are already far too settled! So, ataktos doesn’t mean “idle”. It means out-of-line, disobedient, disruptive behaviour.

Aaron Smith’s wasn’t accused of being lazy but he was “out-of-line”. That required action.

Does that make the issue of church discipline any more understandable? Maybe not. Let’s pursue it further. Note that it is talking about Christians. V.6 says, “Keep away from any believer who is out of line.” He is not talking about the church condemning people in society but rather that Christians come under the discipline of the church. He is saying to the church, “You need to exercise that discipline.”

It is about maintaining discipline within the church but that is still a concept that will upset some people. Some people will bristle at any suggestion that the church has any authority over them. Let’s look at it.

In v.6, the church is commanded to dissociate from these disruptive people. It is not a piece of advice. It is a command. In fact, it is made even stronger: In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you… We are out-of-line if we reject a command.

What is this discipline to look like? V.6: “keep away from this person”. V.14: “do not associate with them.” It is not about public floggings or executions. It is about saying, “You cannot fellowship with us.”

Why? Why would a church do this? The passage gives us four reasons.

V.6 says, “keep away from this person”. V.7 gives us the reason: “For… because… you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example.”

The Greek is quite strong. “It is necessary – it is compulsory – it is required – that you follow our example.” For Christians, Christian living is not optional. Christians are expected to live according to God’s rules. And the church is expected to require that of its members.

So, the first reason for disciplining the unruly person is that for the Christian, Christian living is not optional. Christians are expected to obey God and the church has a responsibility to make that clear.

The second reason is implied by the word “disruptive” which is used in the NIV. Disobedient people disrupt the church. For example, they disrupt relationships. Think of the person who causes division, maybe spreading rumours, spreading discontent, dividing one group of people from another. The church should say, “No, sorry, that is not who we are. That is not acceptable. You are out-of-line”.

To give you a biblical example…

Titus 3:10            Warn a divisive person once, and then a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him/her.

Discipline is not even the first step, but if a person receives two warning and carries on causing division, the church is commanded to take action – exactly the same action as in 2 Thessalonians: have nothing to do with him/her.

The unity of the church is important to God. The person who is disobedient and therefore disruptive, should not be tolerated by the church.

But it could be anything else that is disrupted. Maybe the work of the church is disrupted by people who oppose change all of the time, or the witness of the church is damaged when the wider community sees greed or domestic violence or immorality amongst Christians. When Christians are unruly, the credibility of the church and of the gospel suffers. Jesus’ name is brought into disrepute. The damage is too serious and so the church should not tolerate it.

The second reason is that out-of-order behaviour damages the church and its witness and brings dishonour to the name of Jesus.

The third reason is that, if the church tolerates bad behaviour, other members think that it is OK and the bad behaviour becomes the norm. The church should not allow a bad apple to spoil the whole barrel.

Notice how conscious Paul was of his example because it influenced others. He chose not to eat anybody’s food without paying for it. He was within his rights to expect support from those he was teaching but he chose not to receive that support. Instead, he worked night and day, labouring and toiling. He modelled hard work and not bludging off others. Why? Look at v.9. “We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate.” Paul disciplined himself in order to be an example. Example influences the next generation. It is required of us that we follow his example and that we also be examples.

The third reason is: Others will do what they see the church allowing.

The fourth reason is in v.14: Do not associate with them in order that they may feel ashamed. Naming and shaming is often seen as a way of punishing and humiliating. But not in the Bible. The motivation is not to hurt people. Biblically, the motivation is to bring someone to repentance. The hope is that strong action will bring the person to his/her senses and back to God. The purpose is always redemptive. It is tough love. We can see that in v.15: Do not regard them as enemies, but warn them as fellow believers. This is not a way of hating people or hurting people. It is a way of loving people. A warning is designed to bring about a change; to shock the person into facing reality and changing his/her behaviour. Being cut off from the fellowship of the church is intended to say, “This is unacceptable. Please take heed.”

The disobedient person is still to be seen as a fellow believer (not an enemy); someone we love and want to see restored to the family.

The fourth reason is to bring shame on the person in the hope that that leads to repentance and that that leads to incorporating that person in the fellowship of the church again.

In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul dealt with a man who was sleeping with his step-mother. Again, he said that the man should be put out of the fellowship. But Paul’s motivation is: “so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord” (v.5). The objective is always the person’s salvation.

Should the church have higher standards or lower standards than the NZRFU?

Why does the NZRFU discipline its players? Because it is concerned to protect its reputation and its internal culture. It is the same for the church. The mission of the church is far more important than rugby and the reputation of God’s name is far more important than the reputation of the NZRFU.

v.13 nicely summarises how we are to live. “As for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.”

Paul mentions two ways to know what is good: Firstly, the teachings that have been handed down. In v.6 he talked about those who “do not live according to the teachings that you received from us”. Clearly for us that is primarily the Bible. The second way is through the example of godly Christians. We learn a lot about Christian living by watching Christians live. That is why it is so crucial for Christians to set a good example. Other people’s eternity is impacted by our example.

We have been looking at this letter under the heading of “Christians in a crazy world”. We live in a world where long-accepted standards are being jettisoned; where bizarre views seem to be main-stream; where everything is unpredictable and truth is hard to find. We wonder if the world has gone mad. In a crazy world, the church needs to be doubly sure that it is being the church; that we are being faithful to God. This is the time to be more focused on knowing what is right and doing it. When the world is ready to condemn, Christians are called to live to a higher standard and, corporately, we have a responsibility to uphold that standard.

  • Christian living is not optional
  • Out-of-line behaviour undermines the reputation of the church and the name of Jesus.
  • Others will do what they see the church allowing.
  • Tough love might lead to repentance whereas condoning bad behaviour never will.

“As for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.”

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20.8.17 – The Early Church As Family – Paul Trebilco

Readings: Mark 3:31-35: Mark 10:28-30

Imagine as a congregation that you had no buildings. Its not that something had happened to your buildings and so you have to make some arrangements while you build a replacement. No, its just that you don’t have any buildings, and that it has never occurred to any of you that you should have a building.

So where do you meet? In each other’s homes – each Sunday and on other days too.

That’s what it was like in the early Church during the first century. In fact it wasn’t until the end of the second century that the early Christians first started to own buildings. Prior to that, they met in each other’s homes, and occasionally in rented space. This was easier – no worries about land and about real estate. And it was very difficult for Christians to actually own a building – they weren’t an established religious group – as Jewish communities were, or as worshippers of pagan gods were. So owning land was difficult. And Christian groups were often persecuted – so buildings could be an easy target. It was better and safer to met in each other’s homes. They would have met in a dining room, or in poorer people’s homes, in the only main room of the house. This is spoken of a few times in the NT

** 1 Corinthians 16:19: “The churches of Asia send greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, greet you warmly in the Lord.”

Colossians 4:15: “Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters in Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.”

This also fitted very well with how they saw themselves. For one of the key theological ideas in the early church was that they were a new family – so meeting in a family home, around the family table – fitted in very well.

This goes back to Jesus’ ministry. Think about Mark 3:19-21, 31-35:


19 Then he [Jesus] went home; 20 and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” …

31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

In Mark 3:19-21, we learn that Jesus’ family aren’t on board with what Jesus is doing in his ministry at this point. They know Jesus as a brother and a son – and so his amazing authority is astounding – disturbing even. So we’re told that they come and try and restrain Jesus. They want him to take some time out – they think he’s overdone it. But Jesus wont be distracted from his mission.

And then in Mark 3:31, the family call to Jesus to come and talk – probably again to try and reason with him and to restrain him. How does Jesus respond? Jesus here actually redefines who his true family is. It’s not his biological family – but rather those who are following him, who are sitting around him, listening to his teaching – they are his ‘brothers and sisters and mother’. He is expressing ‘the will of God’ in his teaching – so those who listen to God’s will as he teaches it and who do it, are his ‘brothers and sisters and mother’. They are given the amazing privilege of being Jesus’ true family.

So Jesus’ followers are given this amazing gift of being Jesus’ brothers and sisters! This involves a sense of belonging, of closeness, of intimacy with Jesus. In the ancient world, the family was the place where you received your identity – where you came to understand who you were. Jesus gave his followers this sense of identity – they were his brothers and sisters. They belonged as part of his family. They were in an intimate and loving relationship to him, as his brothers and sisters. That’s a gift Jesus gives us.

But we also become brothers and sisters to each other. Look at Mark 10:28-30:

28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.

They have left their biological family behind – this reflects the fact that becoming a follower of Jesus for many in the early Church would have involved falling out with Mum or Dad, or siblings – they would have thought you were mad to follow Jesus. There was a huge cost involved.

But they also experienced a new family in the Christian community – in fact one-hundredfold!! They joined a new community of brothers and sisters, mothers and children.
But note they don’t get back everything they have left behind. They leave behind one thing … They don’t get back 100-fold fathers. This is a new type of community. The father in the ancient world had supreme power – even the power of life and death. This sort of authority figure was not to exist in the Christian community. Men became brothers to each other, and brothers to sisters.

Some of you might know the theme song from Cheers – an American TV programme. The song has the line ‘You wanna go where everyone knows your name’. It was like that in the early Church. One-hundred fold new brothers and sisters – where everyone knows your name.

So this is the ethos of early Christians. A new family of brothers and sisters meeting in a family home. One indication of this is how they addressed each other.

For how do you think someone like Paul would have addressed a group of Christians? Not fellow Christians, since that term emerges slowly. Not Presbyterians. Perhaps as ‘followers of the way’. ** But the key way they would have addressed one another was as ‘brothers and sisters’ – adelphoi. In the New Testament, authors address their readers or refer to their readers as ‘brothers and sisters’ 271 times – this is found in every NT book except Titus and Jude.

They experienced conversion as becoming brothers and sisters of Jesus, and brothers and sisters of one another – and so calling each other ‘brothers and sisters’ was their favoured term. This is all of a piece with where they met – a new family of brothers and sisters, meeting in the family home.

I want to go on to suggest why some of the success of the early church can be put down to seeing themselves as a new family, meeting in the house church – but let me first ask how we might replicate some of this ethos, this sense of belonging and of intimacy – today.

Clearly, small groups are part of the answer. For you can’t have this strong sense of belonging in a large church. You might feel you belong to the church – but I don’t think you can really feel you’re ‘brothers and sisters’ in a strong, caring and real way with hundreds of people. You simply can’t share life in depth with a whole lot of people. Imagine a biological family of 200! So this all strongly suggest that small groups – or some other way of really engaging with each other – is very important.

Which brings me back to the size of these groups. How big were they? The number of people involved would have been determined by the size of the largest dining room owned by a member of the group. That might be 20-30 people. Certainly it wouldn’t be bigger than that and might have been smaller.

But there are a few other things that result from the house church structure.

There is a sense of full involvement in worship – there’s no back row in a house church when you’re all sitting around in a dinning room. Note ** 1 Cor 14:26 “What should be done then, my brothers and sisters? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.”

Col 3:16 “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.”

Notice then that there’s lots of people contributing to worship – each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation – which makes sense, around the table. And there’s real sharing  – ‘teaching and admonishing one another’ – which can happen really well in small groups.

And of course Paul also speaks about all having gifts for ministry.  All members of the body have gifts for the up-building of the whole body. Paul uses the analogy of the body to say that everyone matters.

1 Cor 12:14-18

14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.

Everyone belongs, everyone matters, everyone has a role, everyone knows your name. There’s no back row around the table.

But we shouldn’t think of these as closed groups. In 1 Cor 14, Paul speaks of unbelievers and outsiders entering a worship gathering and being convicted by a word of prophecy and goes on: ** 1 Cor 14:25: After the secrets of the unbeliever’s heart are disclosed, that person will bow down before God and worship him, declaring, “God is really among you.”

So these aren’t closed groups. In fact, some of the ‘homes’ in which they met, may have been big apartment buildings – perhaps several stories high. They would have been quite flimsy and not sound-proofed. So non-members would have been aware of what was going on, and come by … Or if they met in a house, people would have been able to walk in off the street.

It’s also clear that everyone in the house church is responsible for the group’s life. In 1 Corinthians, there are all sorts of problems going on. But throughout that letter, Paul doesn’t simply tell the leaders to ‘fix the problem’. No, he addresses the whole community – it is the responsibility of all of them together to sort out the problems and to share in correcting issues.

So no back row, body ministry, shared responsibility, everyone has a place and a role. This fits small groups today really well.

When they got together weekly as a house church, they would have shared the Lord’s Supper – communion. It’s clear from 1 Cor 11 that this was shared in the context of a meal. So at some point during or after sharing a meal they would take bread, break it and share it, and in the same way they would share in the cup. Both would be done in memory of Christ. It would be the hosts of the house church – probably a married couple – who would preside over this.

Sitting around the table would be a variety of people. There would be the husband and wife who owned the house and their family – children, and aunt perhaps, perhaps grandparents. There might be slaves from the family. There would be another family or two. And there would be single people where the rest of the family weren’t Christians.

But the social mix would be important. There would be masters and slaves, socially privileged and under-privileged.

And there would be a mix of ethnicities too. There would be Jews and Gentiles – including Gentiles of a range of ethnic groups.

These different social and ethnic groups would rarely, if ever, mix in the ancient world. But here, they would all get together and sit around the same table. A master might even serve communion to their own slave. Revolutionary stuff! This is a new family, breaking down social and ethnic barriers – with powerful social implications.

So here the early Church lived out Gal 3:28:
Gal 3:28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

Col 3:11 In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

This became real in the house church. So masters and slaves as brothers. And Jew and Gentile as brothers and sisters. Breaking down these huge barriers in the ancient world.

Of course, in the ancient world in a big gathering, you could have high-class people and lower class people – but the high class people would be up the front and they would eat special food – quite different from everyone else’s. But in a small group – everyone is sitting around the same table, everyone shares the same food. Everyone is equal. This was a revolution socially.

So through the work of Jesus, we have become a new family. We become brothers and sisters in the Lord. May this be a real experience for us – that the community of Christ might be a place of belonging, a place where we ‘do life together’ with each other, a place where everyone knows our name. Amen.

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9.7.17 – How Will They Know? – Mary Somerville

A few times in my life I have aspired to be a singer.  I even once paid for a voice coach.  I went to my lessons, listened to the tips the coach gave me… (Minnie Minnie…) and did the hard work for a while.  My voice improved but I will never be a great singer…not an Ella Fitzgerald or Kiri Takanawa.  This coaching and practice did help though.  I also aspired to be an artist…and began my drawing classes at the young age of 4. I went on to teach art after years and years of practice and training from my wonderful teachers and mentors.

The problem for me always seems to be that when I want to do something I want to be good at it …NOW…. not later…I don’t always want to put in the hard work to accomplish something.  I suspect we have many like that. But the reality is that in anything I have wanted to accomplish, music, art, ministry or my theology degree I have had the best results from having a steadfast commitment to taking the time to put in the work and listen to those who taught and mentored me along the way.

So, to get “good” at anything we need:

  • Discipline and time
  • a willingness to learn
  • teachers or mentors that guide well

I think that being a disciple and making disciples is worth our time to “get good at it”.    We are here because we feel called by God to be a disciple and follower.  In our conversion and baptism, we have realized that the call to follow Jesus is not just an idea, or something that makes us feel good, rather it is a journey we are invited to share with others. A journey that lasts our whole life.

The journey of Christian discipleship is a lot like singing or artwork or an even better image perhaps is that of an apprenticeship.  It requires openness to learning, attentiveness and discipline.  There is a lot of talk about discipleship in the churches currently.  I think it is because are tired of playing the church game, of running programmes and gathering with other Christians to talk about mission.  It doesn’t seem to be working for us as the church either.  My hunch is that we have been operating on a classroom kind of model of church for a long time, hearing interesting sermons, and doing very little about them, it is time for a change and I think the story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch gives us some cues in the right direction.

In this story, I think we see a model for Christian ministry that models’ discipleship as apprenticeship –  as a getting alongside and journeying with.   This story captures what faithful ministry should look like and in some cases, does look like…. especially in our church today.

The story from Acts we have listened to today begins with an angel appearing to Philip and telling him to get up and go south.  So, Philip obeys and down the road he sees a eunuch coming.  Just for your information a eunuch is a man who was castrated and often performed social roles such as servant or slaves for royalty.

This eunuch was from the official court of the queen of the Ethiopians.  He had been on a journey of pilgrimage to worship in Jerusalem and was on his way back.  He was clearly a person seeking spirituality and it is also likely that being a eunuch he was treated as ritually unclean so he could only have a certain degree of access to worship in the temple, which wasn’t very much.  In other words, this Ethiopian traveller was a true outsider to the religious establishment, yet he was seeking God.

So, the first thing we might notice about the story is here as is so common in Luke and Acts we see a story of the Spirit of God reaching out to an outsider….

The Ethiopian Eunuch is a lot like the many people that we encounter today in the sense that he is an outsider to the religious establishment but is seeking God.  As you will know we live in a post-Christendom world.  Less people are coming looking to church for answers to spiritual questions, not because they are necessarily anti-church but perhaps more likely that it is the last place they would think of to look.

We live in a day and age where many people are seeking but not sure where to look.  Many have no idea even what a bible is or what it is used for.  They are lost, but still seek… (story about youth).

So – back to the story in Acts – This Eunuch was riding past and Philip gets a prompt from the Spirit, “Philip. Go over to the chariot and join it”.

Again, Philip obeys and goes over to the eunuch to have a chat.  Here we find another important element in the story.  Twice Philip is obedient to the leading of the God.  Philip is attentive to God’s voice and obeys when he hears it.  In this story, it is no coincidence that the eunuch rides past when Philip is there, this is a God ordained moment.  God is at work and he invites Philip to join him.

Here in Acts Philip is obedient to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  Here is our second lesson – Faithful ministers listen and are obedient to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  It is important here to think about this…we are all mentors…we are all Ministers!

Philip starts to chat with the eunuch.  The eunuch is reading Isaiah and Philip asks him, “Do you understand what you are reading?”  The eunuch replies, “How can I, unless someone guides me?”

This question that the Ethiopian asks should stick with all of us who do ministry.  “How can I unless someone guides me?”

It is a plea to understand, it is yearning to know.

There are many people out there who fit within the “How can I unless someone guides me?” category.  People are hungry for more than just 9-5 existence till they die.  Many people are seeking God, but how can they truly find without someone guiding them?  Think of your own journey and I can bet there have been people along the way who have guided you.  Take a moment to share with each other someone who mentored you and then share how you might mentor someone else on yours and their journey.

Faithful guides and ministers hear the spiritual questions that people are asking…

As we hear the Ethiopians question, yearning for guidance, let it ring in our ears.  We who are called to be ministers, which is every Christian, we are invited to interpret.  We are invited to interpret the spiritual questions that people are asking and we are invited to interpret Scripture and help make sense of both.

We don’t get to hear much of the conversation that Philip and the Eunuch have, we just hear the questions, and the passage from Isaiah.  We hear that Philip joins the dots between the suffering servant in Isaiah 53 and Jesus, shaping the churches interpretation of Isaiah for hundreds of years to come.

Faithful ministers know the story of the Gospel!

The story tells us that Philip proclaims the gospel news of Jesus to such an extent that the Ethiopian as soon as he spots some water proclaims “Look!  Here is water!  What is there to prevent me from being baptized?”

And the beauty of this exclamation should dazzle us!  Here is a person who is an outsider, who has been prevented in many ways from entering worship fully.  He is a Gentile, and a Eunuch, which both count towards bring ritually unclean and an outsider, and here in conversation with Philip he understands who Jesus is and what Jesus has done for him and he sees that there is now nothing preventing him from being baptized.  And so, Philip baptises him, and in a style reminiscent of Elijah, Philip is whisked away by the Spirit leaving the Eunuch to rejoice.

What might learn from the encounter between Philip and the Ethiopian?

Earlier in Acts chapter 8 Philip preaches to a crowd.  This is often how we do ministry.  It is our kind of default setting.  Services and programmes are our bread and butter.  I am not sure that this way of ministering is working in New Zealand today.  Sure, we can gather a religious crowd and every now and then new people come along and discover faith…. but overall the church isn’t growing this way.

What is being faithful ministers in the 21st century looks like taking some cues from the story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch.  People that I meet both inside and outside of the church want meaningful spiritual connections, they want to know how to pray and how to hear God speak.  What if being faithful ministers today meant we ourselves learn afresh how to be apprentices of Jesus to learn from Jesus what it means to follow Him and then teach others.

I think that according to Acts chapter 8 this looks like:

  • Looking for where the Spirit is at work.
  • Being obedient to the promptings of the Spirit.
  • Engaging with the spiritual questions people are asking.
  • Knowing the Gospel story and living it.

Let us leave here today asking questions, learning from Jesus and engaging with outsiders who are seeking to know God more.

Let us pray….

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13.8.17 – Why Those Prayer Requests? – Peter Cheyne

Read 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5

Paul began to wrap this letter up with a few final comments, the first of which was to ask for prayer.

  1. What were his prayer requests?
  2. What do they say about Paul?

You might have noticed that this prayer request kind of morphs into more reassurance for the Thessalonians which perhaps says something about the character of Paul. He knew he needed prayer and he was not ashamed to ask for it but he was always thinking of other people and always building up disciples of Jesus Christ.

But when asking for prayer, what was his request? What was top priority for him? Again, he wasn’t really thinking about himself. He said, “pray for us” but it wasn’t a selfish prayer. “Pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly. And be honoured just as it was with you.”

  1. So, who was he praying for?

He was praying for himself and for his team (It was “us” not “me”) because they were called to spread the gospel. The prayer was “May we be effective. May we be able to make huge progress. May we be able spread this message far and wide. May we have opportunities and open doors.

Then he asked for prayer that the gospel “be honoured, just as it was with you”. He asked for prayer for those who would share the gospel – for himself and his team – but he also asked for prayer for those who would receive it. When it is heard, may it be honoured. May it be received and taken seriously and understood. May people respond.

So, who is on Paul’s mind? Himself? Is he wanting to be successful and receive the glory? I don’t think so. That is not Paul’s heart. His heart is that people come to know Jesus.

For example, look at Colossians 1:27-28 where Paul sums up his purpose and his priorities.

Col 1:27-18         We proclaim Him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.

Paul said that all his energy – no, all the energy that Jesus gave him – was focused on presenting everyone fully mature in Christ. That is what disciple-making is all about – bring people to faith in Jesus then bringing them to maturity in Jesus.

That is his heart; that is what prompted him to ask first and foremost for success in spreading the gospel. So, who is he really praying for?

He is praying for the lost. He wants to see people saved. Put that in context.

  1. Can you think of anything we have seen in this letter already that makes this particularly relevant?

In the previous chapter, when he was exhorting the Thessalonians to stand firm amidst persecution, he had talked about how people were perishing. People did not love the truth but instead delighted in sin. People were not honouring the gospel. They were hearing it and dismissing it. Light came into the world but they preferred the darkness. They treated the gospel as of no value – something to be discarded and maybe even mocked. These were the people who were persecuting the Christians.

In chapter 1 he had also talked about God’s judgement and said that God would punish those who did not know Him and did not obey the gospel of the Lord Jesus.

2 Thess 1:9          They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might…

There has been quite a lot about judgement.

  1. Is judgement something Christians delight in?

Paul does not say these things with any glee. He was not delighting in the fact that people would be judged. He is certainly realistic about it. It is true: if people ignore the salvation God offers because they want to continue living their lives the way they want to, then it is true that a day of reckoning is coming and it will not be pretty. That is the realism but it is not what Christians want; it is not even what God wants. The Bible says that God wants everyone to be saved. That was Paul’s heart too and the reason his priority prayer request is about the gospel spreading and being honoured.

But he wasn’t only praying for the lost. If people treated the gospel as being of no value then, by implication, they were saying that Jesus was of no value. You might remember that the answer to the first question in the Westminster Shorter Confession. What is the chief end of man? Why do we exist? To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.

Paul wanted people to be saved but he also wanted God to be glorified. If Jesus was treated with contempt, Paul grieved because he was all about God receiving the glory that is rightfully His.

2 Thess 1:12        We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you…

His passion for the gospel and for the spreading of the gospel arose out of love for God and love for others. Those two commands that Jesus said were the most important and the second most important, must lead us to evangelism. If we love God, we want God to receive glory; we want more and more people honouring and worshipping God. And if we love people, we do not want them punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of God.

Would this have been your priority prayer? Pray for me that I might be effective in rapidly spreading the message about Jesus?

Paul said to the Thessalonians, may the gospel be honoured as it was with you. It is interesting, I think, to see what happened when Paul preached in Thessalonica. READ 1 Thessalonians 1:4-10 and 2:13.

When the gospel came, it was not simply words. It came with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. God moved powerfully. They recognised it as the word of God not just human words and they welcomed it with joy even in the midst of severe suffering. They repented. Hey turned from idols to serve the living and true God. They then set about learning how to live as Christians, becoming imitators of Paul and of Jesus Himself. Then the gospel message rang out from them throughout two whole provinces – Macedonia and Achaia. Everybody knew about their conversion and their faith. They proclaimed it.

The early Christians knew that their God-given task was to tell others about Jesus but mission is not often at the core of today’s churches.

We live in a context where we find it increasingly difficult to talk about Jesus. There is more antagonism and apathy. We also might not have experienced a context where the church has been strongly missional. We haven’t had it modelled for us. Or, even if we have, the world is changing so rapidly that those methods do not seem to work anymore. We start at a disadvantage. The question is: What do we want the future to look like? Could we go on a journey with the desire to reflect the heart of Paul so that our priority prayer request is also that God might use us to rapidly spread the gospel? Could we go on a journey towards loving God with all our hearts, minds and souls so that we want to see Him receive more and more glory, and loving others enough that we don’t want to see them punished with everlasting destruction? That journey might start with just looking to build relationships and serve in the name of Jesus. And then becoming better at knowing how to offer the good news of Jesus Christ.

The second part of Paul’s prayer request was “and pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith”. Paul was not asking to be able to retire from evangelism – “Lord, please give me an easy and comfortable life far from the dangers of wicked and evil people”. On the contrary, he knew he was going right back into the battle and so he sought prayer for God’s deliverance.

There are people out there who will oppose the gospel. He does not mention it here but there are also spiritual forces violently opposed to anyone hearing the gospel of Jesus. As Paul said to the Ephesians, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the power of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph 6:12).

Our world seems to have gone crazy with all sorts of bizarre ideas that are accepted as normal, huge secularisation meaning that people ignore God, immorality on a large scale and a justifying of that, huge social problems, etc. In a crazy world, God needs people whose first thought is spreading the good news of Jesus Christ and who are willing to suffer for that. People are perishing in large numbers all around us. God is not honoured. The world is being misled and sleep-walking to destruction. God needs people who love Him and love others and whose focus is that people need to hear about Jesus. Is that you?

Paul knew he was putting himself into danger. He knew he needed the Thessalonians’ prayer. But notice his very next statement: “Not everyone has faith. But the Lord is faithful.” That is where His confidence is. And that is where the prayer requests morph back into encouragement for the Thessalonians. Paul forgets about his own situation and assures them that God will be faithful to them in their situation. “but the Lord is faithful and He will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one… May He direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.”

We can have confidence that God is faithful and will strengthen us and protect us.

  1. What do we need to pray in our context that picks up Paul’s prayer concerns?
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6.8.17 – Who Is The Man Of Lawlessness? – Peter Cheyne

Read 2 Thessalonians 2

I was a little surprised to read that this passage is considered to be one of the most obscure and difficult to interpret, of all of Paul’s writings. Well, that’s encouraging; let’s give it a go.

How much do you know about Jesus’ return? Some people are preoccupied with it and they study all the details and make up me other details. Others ignore it altogether thinking that it is too complicated and too dependent on different people’s speculation. Maybe we think this is a topic for nutcases only. Sane, level-headed Presbyterians don’t get into this stuff!

I want you to notice something. Look at:

2 Thess 2:5          Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things?

Paul had been in Thessalonica for only a few months. The gospel came with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction (1 Thess 1:5). A number of people were converted. But persecution was never far away. In the few months that he was there, Paul instructed and trained the new converts and then he was forced to leave. He knew that they would be persecuted. He had to build into them as much Christian maturity as he possibly could. He had to do as much as he could, in just a few months, to grow them towards Christ-likeness. He didn’t really have time for idle speculation about unimportant topics, and yet he used to tell them about Jesus return. Apparently, this was part of Paul’s discipling for new Christians. This was foundational. This is what you teach new Christians. Why is this important?

Last week, we looked at what this chapter says about false teaching but we didn’t look at this particular example of false teaching. Somebody was teaching – and attributing it to Paul – that Jesus had already returned. Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to not be led astray and unsettled but to hold onto the truth. To help them, he repeated some of the teaching that he had already given them.

It wasn’t possible that Jesus had already come because there was a sequence of events that had to happen first, and they hadn’t.

2 Thess 2:3          …that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed…

This seems to be the sequence:

  1. The secret power of lawlessness is already at work (v.7)

That would have been no surprise to the Thessalonians. They knew there was rebellion and lawlessness abroad. They were already experiencing persecution from people opposed to the gospel. Clearly, there was a spirit of rebellion; a spirit of defiance against God.

We would say the same, wouldn’t we? There is an anti-God spirit at work in the world. People mock God. There is a force of evil that causes people to disobey God and to rebel against God.

  1. But it is currently being held back. (v.6)
  2. At the proper time, that restraint will be removed (v.6, 7)

Think about that. It seems pretty bad now but a day is coming when evil will be unleashed. Can you imagine living in a world where the powers of evil are set free to do their terrible work? Imagine evil being rampant in our community.

And are you not grateful that God, at the moment, anyway, is holding back those forces? But how far away is it?

  1. The man of lawlessness will be revealed (v.3, 8)

The spirit of lawlessness is already at work in the world but, one day, it will be manifested in an evil person. How evil?

  1. He will oppose and exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped. (v.4)

He will not be a false Messiah claiming to be the way to salvation; he will claim to be God Himself. He will exalt Himself over God and urge people to worship him. In fact,.

  1. He will work in accordance with how Satan works. (v.9)

He is not Satan. He is a separate being from Satan himself but he certainly will work in a satanic way. He will be Satan’s agent.

  1. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie. (v.9)

The lie is that he is to be worshipped; that he is exalted above God; that he is God.

V.9 talks about his “coming”, his “parousia”, the same word that is used of Jesus’ “coming” in v.8.

He uses signs and wonders, great displays of power – just like Jesus. One scholar has said, “Christ worked miracles by God’s power and the Jews attributed them to Satan; Antichrist will work miracles by satanic power; and many will worship him as God.” (Hubbard in Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, p.56)

That quote used the term “Antichrist” to refer to this same person. 2 Thessalonians is the only place where he is called “the man of lawlessness” or “the man of sin” but many other passages talk about this same person – in Daniel, in John’s letters, in Revelation, in particular. It is John who refers to this person as “Antichrist”. Same person; different titles.

v.10 also says that he will use all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing.

  1. Many people will be fooled by the miracles and the claim to be God. (vv.10-12)

They will perish because, as we saw last week, they refused to love the truth, instead delighting in wickedness.

  1. Jesus will return. (v.3, 8)
  2. The Antichrist (the man of lawlessness) will be overthrown by the breath of Jesus’ mouth and destroyed by the splendour of His coming. (v.8)

This evil imposter will have his day of glory, leading many astray but then he will be utterly destroyed. He is no god. He is only an arrogant opponent of God. When the real Son of God comes on the clouds accompanied by all His angels, this man of lawlessness will be overthrown and destroyed. In v.3, Paul had talked about him being doomed to destruction.

Why is all this important? Why did Paul include this in his discipling 101 course? And should we? Do young Christians in our age also need to know about this?

In a crazy, up-side-down, confusing world, like the Thessalonians’ and like ours, there are two reasons why all Christians need to know this?

Firstly, we need to be forewarned.

When this happens, many people are going to be deceived. Jesus once said, “…false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See I have told you ahead of time.” (Mt 24:24-26) He was talking about multiple false messiahs and false prophets, not this one antichrist but if they could deceive even the elect – even God’s chosen people – how much more powerful will be the deception of the antichrist? Even Christians will be in danger of being deceived.

If you doubt that, ask yourself if you are ever tempted by evil – and ever give in to temptation – now. Sometimes I love wickedness more than I love the truth. If I can fail now, when the power of lawlessness is being held back, how can I possibly be confident that I will be strong when evil is at its peak?

One safeguard is to be forewarned so that when it happens I recognise it. Jesus’ comment “See, I have told you ahead of time” seems to suggest, “You have been warned. Be alert; be watchful.” I don’t know when this is going to happen but if it was in your lifetime would you recognise it and stand firm?

But we also need to note what Paul said next. People will perish because they choose sin, but… See how v.13 starts with “but”. There is a contrast. People will perish but… we give thanks because God loves you and has chosen you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. They had believed the gospel; they had been born again by the power of God. God had redeemed them and called them so that they might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

God’s plan was that they be saved but they had to stand firm and hold fast to the truth and God would encourage them and strengthen them. Christians do need to be alert and do need to stand firm but we are not on our own and we will not be buffeted by forces too great for us to withstand. God loves us. If we are Christians – and that is the crucial question – God has chosen us; God’s plan is that we be saved and we share in Christ’s glory. He will encourage our hearts and strengthen us in every good deed and word.

With this unleashing of evil there is bound to be persecution of Christians. Someone who declares himself to be God and demands worship is not going to tolerate Christians worshipping Jesus. Rampant evil is going to oppose good. It will be a tough time for Christians – the time the Bible calls the Tribulation – a time of suffering and testing. But God… But God loves us; He has called us to be part of His Kingdom; He will not abandon us; He will be our strength. And, if we persevere, we will be saved. Forewarned is forearmed. When Jesus talked about the end of the world, His message was invariably, be alert.

The second reason for teaching this is that Christians need to know that God wins. The Thessalonian Christians were already suffering and, one day, even worse is to come. It might look hopeless. Do we look at our crazy world and wonder where on earth it is heading, and why doesn’t God intervene and do something? How long, O Lord?

But we know the end of the story: God wins! The man of lawlessness swill be destroyed. Satan will be cast into the fire. Christians need to know that. It is worth holding on – it is worth suffering for a period – because God wins. And doesn’t it sound like a magnificent and dramatic victory. Jesus overcomes this man of lawlessness by the breath of His mouth and destroys him by the splendour of His coming. I am not quite sure what it means to say that Jesus overcomes him by the breath of His mouth. Maybe it means that Jesus just has to speak. This man of great satanic power is defeated by a word from Jesus. In Revelation 1:16, Jesus is described as having a 2-edged sword coming out of His mouth. I don’t know.

There are things in this passage that are difficult. What is holding the power of evil back currently. I have assumed it is God but we are not told that. Paul said that the Thessalonians already knew so, unfortunately, we are not told. If this man of lawlessness is going to set himself up in God’s temple, where is that temple? Is there going to be a new temple built in Jerusalem or does it actually mean the church? Might he be a church leader? Will he be an actual individual man? I don’t know.

But we do know that a time of rebellion is coming and we need to stand firm. And we do know that Jesus will return victorious and His people, who stay faithful, will be saved. That is why it needs to be taught to new Christians.

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30.7.17 – Love The Truth – Peter Cheyne

2 Thessalonians 2

What is the main issue in this chapter?

Jesus’ Second Coming is pretty exciting. What will happen at the end of the world? Who is this “man of lawlessness” who does signs and wonders and deceives people to worship him instead of God? Is he in the world now? How soon will these things happen?

But I want to suggest that that is not the main issue. It was the issue confusing the Thessalonians and it needed to be address. It is a very important issue. So we will look at it next week.

But the main issue here is truth. Some people were saying that Jesus had already returned. That was confusing because the Thessalonians hadn’t been gathered to Him; the Kingdom hadn’t come in its fullness. Had they missed out? Were they not really Christians? Had Paul’s teaching been wrong? How do you be Christians in a crazy world where there is conflicting and confusing teaching?

But it could have been another issue. There were all sorts of other false teachings circulating. The Galatians had been persuaded that salvation wasn’t by faith in Jesus but by obeying the Law. The Corinthians were being told that Jesus hadn’t been raised from the dead. Some people in Rome believed Christians could keep on sinning. The more sin the better, because you received more of God’s grace.

It is no different today. Look at the ideas promoted via social media, the internet, television, podcasts, etc.

To see the main concern of this chapter, look at the words and concepts repeated numerous times. “Truth” is mentioned in verses 10,12 and 13. Lying and deception are mentioned in verses 3, 9, 10 and 11. Verse 2 talks about “teaching allegedly from us… asserting that the day of the Lord has already come”. False teaching, not from Paul. Verse 15 talks about holding fast to the teachings that had come from Paul.

We are told we live in a post-modern world where there is no truth. Actually, I am not sure if we still do. Now people are reacting against alternative facts and fake news and people object to things that are demonstrably wrong. People are demanding truth. Maybe we do believe in truth again.

You might be thinking Donald Trump but think also Metiria Turei. Is it wrong to gain financial advantage by deception or do the circumstances justify it? Is it absolute or is it relative?

Post-modernism says there are no absolute truths. What is true for you might not be true for me. It is all relative. “Absolute” means it is true no matter what. It is always true. “Relative” means that it changes depending on the circumstances. What was true yesterday might not be true today. What is true in Dunedin might not be true in Mosgiel. It all depends. People might say, “Don’t claim to tell me the truth because I have a different truth.”

Which is true? Are there absolute truths or are there not?

As many people have pointed out, post-modernism contradicts itself. Post-modernism says, “There is no truth”. Is that true? If it is true that there is no truth, the statement is not true.

Paul would have laughed (or cried) at the idea that there is no truth. The whole passage is about truth and lies; truth and deception, false teaching versus the truth.

How important is truth? Look at the three verses that explicitly mention truth.

2 Thess 2:10        …They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.

2 Thess 2:12        …all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness

2 Thess 2:13        …God chose you… to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit and through belief in the truth.

Our salvation, or our damnation, depend on what we do with the truth.

Verse 10 talks about loving the truth. Verse 12 and 13 talk about believing the truth. Verse 15 talks about holding fast to the teachings.

I guess we understand believing and holding fast to the truth but loving the truth is an interesting expression. Verse 10 is very strong: They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.

Do you love the truth? Here perhaps are some indicators that you do love the truth

  1. You love the word of God. You are drawn to reading it and studying it.
  2. You love comparing what God says with the attitudes of the world and you opt for what God says
  3. You love sorting out fact from fiction because you value facts.
  4. If you discover you are wrong, you change your views because truth is important.
  5. You stand up to defend the truth even if there is a cost for you. You cannot stand lies.
  6. You don’t flirt with all sorts of intriguing ideas that are contrary to the word of God.

Those who will perish refuse to love the truth (v.10). It is not that they don’t have enough information or the wrong information. They know what the truth is, but they refuse to love it. They don’t want to.

Many people who say they don’t believe in God, don’t want to believe in God because to admit that would mean they have to turn away from their sin, and they don’t want to. It is not that they cannot believe; it is that they will not. The choice is not truth versus error. It is truth versus sin.

John 3:19-20       19 This is the verdict: light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.

I’ve been listening to the Black Hands podcasts about the Bain murders and I have realised that, in my heart, I am hoping it shows that David is innocent. Why am I biased about that? I don’t know. Shouldn’t I simply want the truth to come out? Do I love the truth or do I have an agenda of my own?

When I read the Bible, do I read to learn truth from God or do I have an agenda of my own?

A rich young ruler came to Jesus asking what he had to do to enter the Kingdom of God (Mt 19, Mk 10, Lk 18). Jesus told Him: keep the commandments. He said, “I have”. Then Jesus said, “Sell all your possessions and give the proceeds to the poor.” I am assuming Jesus knows about how people can enter the Kingdom and His answer was tailor-made truth for that man. The truth was that he had made a god of his wealth. Unfortunately, his love for his money was greater than his love for the truth Jesus spoke. He asked but then he didn’t want to know.

I’ve noticed in Bible studies sometimes that people will say they don’t like certain biblical teachings. What we like is not the point. We do not get to choose what is true and what is not.

I watched a Youtube video the other day asking if it was biblical to say that God loves everybody unconditionally. That is said so often: God loves everybody. God’s love is unconditional. The answer, on the video, was no. Oh! We would like to believe that God does but what does the Bible say?

In 2 Thessalonians, Paul points out a terrible sequence. When people refuse to love the truth, God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie. If people decide they love sin more than the truth about God, God says, “OK, have it your way” and they become even more entrapped in the sin. If we turn away from the light, God makes the darkness even darker.

See this sequence?

  1. They love sin more than truth.
  2. God says, “OK”.
  3. Their situation gets worse; they get more entrapped in the falsehood.
  4. They are condemned.

Verse 12 again describes the contrast: instead of believing in the truth they delighted in wickedness. The distinction is not between truth and falsehood but between truth and wickedness. People have to choose between truth and sin.

But there is another side to this: The Thessalonians show that God saves those who do love the truth.

2 Thess 2:13-14   13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Look at the sequence there.

  1. God chose them
  2. God called them through the gospel
  3. They believed the truth of the gospel. Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again.
  4. The Holy Spirit works to sanctify them
  5. God’s purpose was that one day they would share the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Even there, there might be some things that cause us to say, “Um, I’m not sure I like that idea.” So, even this passage (even this sermon) become a test case. Do we love the truth even when the truth disturbs us?

I missed out 5 and 6 but they are perhaps the most important part of this passage. In this crazy world, what are we to do while we wait to share Jesus’ glory? 5. is up to us. 6. relies on God.

2 Thess 2:15        So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.

5. Stand firm and hold fast to the truth.

Christians in a crazy world, stand firm. Do not give up. Do not give in to the pressures. Truth might be very unpopular but stand firm and hold fast to it. Do not go with the flow and adopt the ideas and philosophies of the world. Hold fast to the Bible. Stand firm; hold fast to the teachings.

Earlier, Paul had said, “Do not let anyone deceive you. Do not be unsettled or alarmed by this teaching.” Essentially, that is the same thing: stand firm, hold fast to the truth.

2 Thess 2:16-17   16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

6. May God encourage and strengthen you.

May Jesus and God the Father, who saved us in the first place – assuming that we have been saved. If you have not yet got to step 3 and believed the truth of the gospel and trusted in Jesus as your Saviour, I urge you to do that. Love the truth that Jesus died for you. Love that more than your sin.

But, where that is the case, may Jesus and God the Father encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

That is my prayer for all of us.

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