Love, Joy, Reason

1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

The caption in my Bible for these 16 verses is “Final instructions and benediction.” I don’t think it is a good caption, considering the depth of what Paul wrote. Fortunately, the captions are not part of the Word, but were added by editors, supposedly to make reading easier. Sometimes they can be helpful, but sometimes they don’t make sense.

There is so much packed into these verses. It’s a description of how to live out our faith on multiple fronts. I see three broad categories: act in love, choose joy, and use your mind.

Acting in love takes many forms. First, humility by respecting those who are called to teach us. Then, living at peace with each other – even when we guide each other into godliness. There is no place for disparaging judgment in the family of faith, only patient restoration done in and through relationships.

Choosing joy is a recurring theme in Scripture. Here, Paul says we should rejoice ALWAYS. Even when we don’t feel like it. We are to pray continually with gratitude for EVERY circumstance. That is so hard! It certainly doesn’t come naturally to me, but there it is: gratitude and joy are not feelings, but choices made when we converse with the Father.

God made us senescent, thinking, reasoning beings. We are not animals that act on instinct, nor are we to be gullible followers of any person who uses Christian jargon for selfish gain. Paul is clear: test everything. That means using the brain that sets us apart from the animals to think, question, challenge, and search out the Word, keeping what is true and turning away from that which is not. If someone teaches that what we do influences our salvation, it is evil. Only God can make us holy and that happens when we know Him with our minds, as well as hearts, souls, and strengths.

Paul saves the best for the end: He who calls you is faithful and He will do it [He will set apart and make holy those who follow Him]. Knowing that my salvation is in Jesus and my sanctification is the work of the God of peace Himself means I am free to act in love, choose joy, and use my mind.

More and more

1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

The Thessalonians acted on their beliefs, even though they didn’t know as much as Paul would have liked them to know. He told them that they had been taught by God to love one another, and he encouraged them to not only continue in their love, but to increase it, loving each other more and more. The holy love they lived out was part of their journey to sanctification.

We can never love too much on our journey to being sanctified in Christ. Paul defined the process of becoming set apart and made holy as being continual; we never stop becoming the name He gave us when we first believed this side of heaven.

We can never be too loving, too pure, too kind, too compassionate, too forgiving, or too holy. The will of God for believers is for us to work hard, live without creating drama, and love each other more and more. Our reputations verify and validate our testimony.

Loving God fully shows itself in loving others authentically. When we love and live in Jesus, we will do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly more and more (Micah 6:8). 

Keep in step

There is a really cool percussive dance genre called Stepping. When I read Galatians 5 this morning, all I could imagine was a team of people using their whole bodies and their voices to create complex rhythms with a message. Stepping requires coordination, discipline, practice, unity, and commitment for the routine to have its full effect.

The same thing is true of the Church. Paul reiterates our freedom in Christ throughout this chapter, this time explaining that with great freedom comes great responsibility (apologies to Peter Parker). What we do (or do not do) cannot buy our freedom in Christ; only his gift of mercy and grace can do that. However, once we live in that freedom we live it out in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Our actions and attitudes reflect what (or whom) we worship.

All Christians are called to live out this lifestyle. The Church is made up of wonderfully made unique individuals who join together to serve one another and to reach the hurting people of the world. But when we isolate ourselves or get so caught up in the works we do, we fall out of step, and God’s message of hope gets muddled. We need to be committed and disciplined to learn the steps together so that the Church can manifest the complex rhythms that will draw people to Jesus. When the Church is in step with the Spirit, it is a powerful force that can withstand any evil that comes against it.

Why go back?

Why would anyone go back to something that doesn’t work?
Galatians 4

Why Jesus? Why did he relinquish his divine authority and be born as a human to live in an oppressed population under the Roman government? Paul says it plainly, ” to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (v 5). Jesus’s purpose was to fulfill the Law that condemns us because we are unequivocally able to keep it.
If we truly understand the implications of our salvation, we should respond with gratitude and joy. Somehow, though, we become convinced that we have to add to what Jesus did by keeping old traditions, maintaining some form of legalistic rule, or worshiping the “right” way – whatever that is. When we fall into that trap of trying to add to Jesus for salvation, justification, and sanctification, we enslave ourselves again to the things from which Jesus freed us. Legalism, as far as being required for salvation is idolatry.

Jesus redeemed us because we couldn’t meet the requirements of the Law; why would we go back to living like the Law still has power over us?

There is nothing wrong with traditions; they remind us of where we used to be. We should be doing good while pursuing justice and mercy; that comes out of the overflow of God’s goodness and mercy toward us. But these things are not ends into themselves, nor do they provide a boost to our salvation. When we look to tradition or deeds as justification as Christians, we willingly go back to being enslaved by the Law and we drag other people with us.

Our adoption as God’s children is complete. Rejoice in that gift of life, being certain that only Jesus is credited with our redemption from slavery under the Law.

Why grace as default?

There can be no question that Western culture stands on the precipice of an anti-Christian era. Many people, particularly in academia, have already dismissed Christianity as a nonsense philosophy that is dangerous to democracy. Incorrect assumptions abound, particularly regarding Jesus and the gospel. The assumptions are sometimes based in how people in the Church act toward each other. If the gospel is truly the foundation upon which we as believers build our lives, we must live according to the will of God, rather than the dictates of popular preachers, influencers, and policy. In short, we must treat each other the way Jesus taught us.

That begins with understanding the great love of God for us. Without that love, nothing we do matters. We must know it, understand is, receive it, and practice it. Jesus was clear, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35, ESV).

If we begin with love, we are able to see each other. Really see. We see the stories that make up the human condition and we are compelled to share burdens, rejoice together, grieve together, and come alongside each other (John 13:14; John 15: 17; Romans 12:10, 16; Romans 15: 5; 1 Corinthians 12:25-26; 2 Corinthians 13:11; Galatians 5:13; Galatians 6:2; Ephesians 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 3:12; Hebrews 10:24; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 4:7-11).

The goal of this blog and anything that may come from it, is to remind the church that we must love one another. Loving one another no matter what will continue to become more and more challenging as the culture wars progress, but love is the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:36-40), and if we are in fellowship with the Father, if we are walking in the light of Jesus, then our fellowship with each other will stand as testimony to the power of the gospel.

Too often, however, we are quick to judge each other based on our own biases, fears, insecurities, and misapplications of scripture. God has put on my heart a burden for the hurting families in the church, families who feel judged, alone, and without the support of their brothers and sisters in Christ. The families for whom I write are those whose children have wandered far from the faith they were taught as children. There is a blemish on the church in how its members treat those whose loved ones follow the world instead of the Lord. Those who leave choose many paths: agnosticism, atheism, sexual impurity, , secularism, humanism, activism, and other forms of goodness according to the standards of Western culture. Other family members do not choose to leave the faith, but suffer debilitating mental illnesses, including depression, addiction, self-harm eating disorders, and suicide. Often the parents of these sufferers are judged because they are perceived in playing a part in how mental illness develops. Science has demonstrated over and over that much mental illness is genetic or idiopathic, not environmental, but for some reason, the church writ large has not taken up the challenge of supporting the mentally ill or their families.

The purpose of my work here is to share the stories of believing parents (and siblings) who have been largely overlooked, misunderstood, or judged by fellow Christians. Some stories may be based on true stories. Others will be compilations blended into a narrative that affords the storytellers a level of anonymity. In sharing the stories, I hope to bring to light specific scriptures to guide Christians in how to be the loving and grace-filled people Jesus calls us to be. When we choose grace over judgement or ambivalence, we begin to reflect the love of Christ as we live out the will of the Father.