1 Thess 2:1-8
I have to say, 1 Thess 2:8 is one of my all time favourite verses. It is a significant stumbling block for me, as a lay pastor, especially as a more theoretical and bookish kind of personality, and wrestling with it has been an incredibly rich experience and the Lord has surely increased His Kingdom through a proper interpretation.
The temptation for any man drenched in Scripture is to ‘information dump’ on the folk that you’re pastoring. Whilst the argument may indeed be raised that we are charged with the dispensation and sharing of the Gospel, that the great commission refers specifically to making disciples of a Resurrected and Triumphant Jesus, and indeed that the furtherance of the Gospel forms our highest calling, this verse prevents us from copping out of the full breadth of Gospel responsibilities.
This is because it is easy enough to exchange or even to impart ideas, but, conversely, it is extraordinarily expensive to exchange and impart one’s life.
This verse is significant in that it makes a clear separation between the Gospel and our regular life-worship (Romans 12:1), whilst nevertheless establishing our holistic life-witness as indispensable to our Gospel proclamation.
In a few words; to share Jesus, we have to walk the Talk.
This is because it is very easy, somehow, to omit the fact that Jesus was a man. He was flesh, just as we are. How beautiful is that? What a mystery. The Incarnate God. But when we think ‘Jesus’, we can often limit our thoughts to the ‘Logos’. One and the same Person, for sure. But when we think of Jesus, we think of His flesh. He was embedded, warm, He tabernacled among us, walked down rickety dirt byways, crossed over Kidron. His hands were coarse from all the long hours of rough sanding, He would have had grungy feet from all the fierce traveling He did. All the manifold consequences of being a real, corporeal Being were part of His identity, and He wanted it that way. The Gospel came as a Man. It was written on flesh as it was spoken in Greek. The Logos and Jesus are One.
See where I’m going? Jesus was not content to share merely the Good Story, the Grand News of God with those privileged by history and circumstance to meet Him. As if Paul can use the term ‘only’, anyhow!! The remarkable reality was that Paul shared the Gospel upon his flesh, too. He ‘bore the wounds of Christ’ (Gal 6:17) upon his body; the stigmata of servitude. We learn in his second letter to the Thessalonians that he and his cohort ‘worked day and night that (they) might be be a burden to any of them’ (2 Thess 3:8). That kind of grace, that kind of backbreaking labour, measured in pints of sweat, is at the heart of the Gospel. We, as Christians, are so desperate that the world receives the witness of Christ, and so filled with compassion, that we demonstrate the Gospel to great lengths in our lives.
This is part of what Peter means when he tells us to ‘live such good lives among the pagans that when they revile you as wicked men, they may still see your good deeds as glorify God on the Day of visitation’ (1 Peter 2:12).
I wouldn’t go so far as St Francis of Assisi and say that we may ‘preach the Gospel at all times, and use words if necessary’. I would say that we should preach the Gospel, verbally, fully, at all times, and demonstrate it out of our ‘affectionate desire’ for the world, that by any means our colleagues and neighbors meet Jesus.
My neighbor John said to me, as I was painting the front of my house with a third ox blood coat, that there are two kinds of religious people. One kind are the ones on paper. The other kind lives out their values. His affirmation that me and my Christ-fearing family, even in the face of our hypocrisy (these walls aren’t really that thick, and we Royters can have loose throats and full lungs in the heat of our ‘discussions’) are of the latter kind was an understated and incredibly precious piece of information. We are certainly not perfect (John has a good enough sense of humour that he’d probably let me quote him saying so), but we are well on our way to having the Gospel written on our flesh.
The best ministry I’ve been blessed to be a part of has been the most vulnerable. People don’t care about concepts, generally. They care about life, and how it can be salvaged. Satan will be conquered by the Blood of the Lamb and the Word of our testimony (Rev 12:11). Lets have integrity, live up to our own processions, and let people look right into the bowels of our Belief, so they can see the mechanics of a regenerate heart, washed by the blood of Jesus from all sins, joyful in its salvation.
Talk is cheap. Jesus spent three whole years investing most of it in twelve people.
Have we become loose with the Gospel, and stingy with our own selves?
Lord, let this challenge sink into me like a blow!
1 Samuel 17
Classic reading. I’ll try to contribute only my most original thoughts to this well rehearsed passage!
1 Samuel 17:1. ‘They were gathered at Socoh, which belongs to Judah’. How did the Philistines penetrate so deep onto Israelite territory? Because the Jews let them. The profound insult and symbolic grief of a foreign army mustering its force on your own land is hard to comprehend for us. But it has an analogous relationship to the footholds we have allowed satan to gain in our hearts. Surely we all have secret pleasures, forbidden fruits we have devoured in the dark, away from all sight of all the folk that surround us, surely we have said to ourselves ‘ah, this small indulgence of mine never hurt anyone’. Believer, have you made any private concessions to the devil? Has he ‘gathered in the Socoh’ of your heart?? Your heart, like Judah, belongs to The Lord, as does mine!! It is meant to be Holy, altogether His property, ‘meant for The Lord Alone’ (1 Cor 6:13). We need Christ, the fulfillment of the line of David, to slay the philistines go have encamped upon the forbidden ground of our heart. We must be rid of all trace of paganry and idolatry!! Like the Israelites, we lack fear of The Lord in ourselves, so we need the True David, Jesus, to admonish us (1 Sam 17:26, 31-37, 45-47).
The ‘valley stood between them’ (1 Sam 17:3). The battle hung, poised, hesitant, awaiting the Warrior of Israel. But it is not so with the Spiritual war we are in today. The battle for our souls has already begun, and we are in the thick of it. Even as you read this, my friend, you are caught in the thick of spiritual maelstrom!! There is no avoiding this; war is upon us. Since Eden, there has been no calm frontier, no uncontested land. The Spiritual valley has been filled with war, and savage fighting, and brutal tactics. Our souls, like the Israelites, are weak and powerless against the ‘rulers, authorities, the cosmic powers that reign over this present darkness, the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places’ (Eph 6:12). But thanks be to Jesus, Who strides into the gap, single handedly defends our lives, and still gives us honour of being called His coHeirs. Whoa.
Lord, its by You Alone that we win these contests of Spirit. Our victories are but simulacrum of Christ’s victory at Calvary, and we overcome only by virtue of His having overcome death as hell. Give me and my fellow readers victory over our sin.