1 THESSALONIANS 2

In this chapter, Paul gives us a good glimpse at the manner of his preaching, setting an example that should be followed when we ourselves preach the gospel.

  1. Don’t take the easy way out. 

He writes: “with the help of our God, we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition.” (1 Thessalonians 2:2). Despite what some of Paul’s accusers said, Paul did not only resort to preaching the gospel when it was easy or convenient. Rather, he spoke boldly for the Lord even amidst times of conflict, backlash and rebellion from the people.

2. Speak with integrity and truth. 

I was reminded today in church that anyone preaching must make sure that what they are preaching is true. In fact, the preacher (who was not our regular pastor), insisted that if anything did not ring true about what he was preaching, the senior pastor should immediately get up and point this out. There would be no use in waiting until the preacher had finished, as by then, the damage would have been done.

“For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you.” (1 Thessalonians 2:3)

Paul emphasises that his preaching is motivated by the truth, and not from any deceit or uncleanliness of the spirit. Flattery and niceties should not be employed. Importantly, banish greed and pride, and do not seek glory from men. We need to make sure that when we are speaking on behalf of and for God, we are doing so solely in servitude for him, and that there are no hidden, selfish motives.

3. Practice what you preach. 

“For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.” (1 Thessalonians 2:12).

The higher up you are, the further you fall.  Those were the words a friend told me recently on the way to Hillsong church. While boarding the bus, a passer-by yelled repeatedly and aggressively at those on the bus – “Pedophiles!” “Molesters!” Utterly confused, I wondered aloud why he responded so. I knew the Catholic church had an issue with pedophilia – but the Christian church too? My friend explained that the founder of Hillsong had been implicated for child sexual abuse in 2000. He had to resign and never preached again. Almost 20 years on, the repercussions are still being felt. This definitely serves as a reminder that “above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

On top of that, we should do what Paul asks – encourage, comfort, and urge each other to live lives worthy of God. Keep each other in check, identify sins and mistakes, and, most importantly, hold each other accountable.

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1 Thessalonians 1

In this chapter, Paul starts off his letter to Thessalonians with grateful words of praise – thanking them for maintaining their faith despite their hardships.

We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

In describing their faith, he highlights three important elements that he appraises them for: faith, love and hope. In fact, these aspects effectively describe how we should approach what we do – from the mentality, motivation and the perseverance in the long term. This is especially important in evangelism, in serving God and when maintaining the notion that everything we do, we do for His glory.

(1) Work Produced by Faith

Faith is “assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). Not only should our actions be in accordance to our belief in God and that the gospel is real, but we should be driven or inspired by it. Us going out of our way to tell the people around us about God should be a direct result of our faith in Christ.

If we can truly understand that evangelism should be a faith-inspired act, then we will be able to overcome our own ‘barriers’ – from the many thoughts and excuses that we might make for ourselves, to the fear of rejection. The chances of success in evangelism is not measured by the things we CAN see  (i.e. our own calculations based on what we know about the other person). But rather, God just wants to count on our faith and whether they accept or not does not depend on us. As the old saying goes: try your best and God will do the rest.

(2) Your Labor Prompted by Love

Here, labor refers to hardship and effort… it even suggests that it might be a painstaking effort as, for most, it requires stepping out of their comfort zones.  In Matthew 5:11, it is written that those who are persecuted in the name of Christ will be rewarded in heaven.Paul writes that our efforts should be fuelled by love: love for God and love for the people. In 1 Corinthians 13, it is written that “love is patient, love is kind” followed by a long list of descriptions of what ‘love’ is. By learning how to love, we can appreciate the value of evangelism and make a sacrifice.

(3) Your Endurance Inspired by Hope

To sustain in the long term, hope is needed to help us endure and persevere. In the context of evangelism, this can be continual rejection or even persecution. Here, hope means optimism – that one should not feel discouraged in the long term but should instead remain motivated in our efforts to spread the gospel!

Colossians 4: Personal Evangelism

How would you define a coincidence? According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a coincidence is: “an occasion when two or more similar things happen at the same time, especially in a way that is unlikely and surprising. Well then, I guess I’ve had my fair share of “coincidences” this weekend (although I’m sure the events are not so much a coincidence as God prompting me to do something).

Although I’m not a regular attendee at Hillsong, I decided to go along with my housemate to their Saturday evening service. The message was about evangelism, and the speaker gave us 3 key points:

  1. Think like a prophet.
  2. Act like an apostle.
  3. Speak like an evangelist.

This Sunday morning at my regular church, the message was ~again~ about evangelism. The pastor reinforced the fact that despite our differing political or social views, it is a mark of the church that we are made up of people who disagree about all kings of things but we agree on one thing – the gospel. We are united by nothing but the gospel.

And, of course, the third and final “coincidence” was this passage – which focuses on evangelism:

And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:3-6) 

Are we making the most of every opportunity? As a matter of fact, a good friend of mine recently reached out to me, expressing an interest to come to church. She even made it there today!  The first part had already been done for me – all I have to do now is continue praying and asking the Holy Spirit to guide me, so that our conversations may be rich and stimulating in Christian content, and that I might know how to best answer her questions.

Of course, sometimes it seems like that is easier said than done. Lots of nagging doubts fill my head – what if she feels threatened by my evangelising? What if I am acting like a hypocrite? What if this disrupts the dynamic of our friendship? What if I’m teaching her the wrong thing? And what about those answers she doesn’t want to hear (who wants to be told that non-believers are going to hell?!)

Well, our Pastor reinforced that we should speak the truth, and nothing but the truth. Christianity is not a sugar-coated faith, why should I sugar-coat things? Of course, this does not translate into being overly brash in my evangelising, but I need God’s wisdom and knowledge to know when best to speak, and how to express myself. I hope I answer his call.

COLOSSIANS 3

Most Christians have a general sense of what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’, of what qualities and behaviours are desired by God. In this chapter, Paul reminds us about the importance of ridding some of these things from our lives (v. 5-10). But what is interesting is the concept of the ‘old self’.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.[b] You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

In verse 7, he writes that “you used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived” and that by being saved, we can take off our “old self with its practices”. It is important to understand the concept of the ‘old self’.

As a Christian who has been going to church for most of his/her life, it is easy to dismiss this. ‘Old self’ does not simply refer to the person you were before coming to Christ, but can be better understood as the person you are when you do not live a godly life or when you do not live according to His will and desires. This is something that everyone will have experienced regardless of how long he/she has been a believer for: whether it is a season where one has strayed from God, or when having a premature or weak relationship with Him.

The ‘old self’ can also be seen as the self without God’s intervention and succumbs to earthly desires and desires of the flesh.

God made each of us unique – from the way we look, to our thoughts/dreams and our personalities; everyone’s walk is different as is their struggles and weaknesses. Whilst some people find it difficult to remain sexually pure (as in v. 5), others find it difficult to remain well-tempered in all situations (v. 8). It is imperative for one to understand his/her own weakness before being able to invite God to help him/her prevail in such struggles.  It is easy to fall into the mentality when we sin that we think “oh, at least I haven’t done ________!”. God doesn’t want us to just check some of the boxes on the list and be pure in some ways. He wants us to follow him wholly and be free from all the things that He does not desire.

We must seek to “put on the new self” (v. 10). Paul tells us that this is achieved by being “renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator”.

This involves three things: (1) knowing WHO God, (2) knowing OUR identity in God and (3) understanding the relationship and role we play between ourselves and God.

This knowledge can be gained through studying the Word and by having a good devotional/prayer lifestyle. In doing so, not only do we gain the knowledge, but we also really learn how to apply it so that our lives can become “renewed”. Through this, we make our Salvation relevant in our lives, understand His desires and to truly learn how to place our weaknesses and vulnerabilities in His strength to overcome.

 

 

 

COLOSSIANS 2: SPIRITUAL FULLNESS

Throughout this chapter, two major themes come to light: spiritual fullness in Christ, and freedom from human rules. The first theme is of course an expansion on what Paul covered in Colossians 1.

Spiritual fullness in Christ

In the world today, where political instability and social uprising become increasingly common, it is important for us to ‘see to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ’ (Colossians 2:8). We need to be vigilant in weeding out lies from the truth, so that we can avoid letting false, worldly ideals affect us. Some things that come to mind are: the prosperity gospel, the seeds of hate sown by a certain recently elected president, and the self-entitled mindset that many millennials nowadays seem to hold. Personally, I need to stop letting everything be about ME, and to really stop and wait on God to see what his plans are. Spiritual fullness in Christ will only come when I listen to the Holy Spirit and let him guide me and prevail in my life.

How can I be confident that I will no longer be “ruled by the flesh”? (Colossians 2:11). As a child of God, having been baptised in him and having received the Holy Spirit, I was “raised with him through my faith in the working of God” (Colossians 2:12). I have been brought to fullness in Christ. Not only were our personal sins forgiven at the cross, but those rules that condemned us have been removed by the death of Christ.

Freedom from Human Rules

In the second half of this chapter, Paul warns against the blind following of false teachings based on “human tradition.” Instead, real wisdom stems from a believer’s decision to increase their spiritual well-being through God’s grace.

Significantly, we are reminded that we no longer belong to this world, and we do not have to submit to its rules, human commands and teachings. Specifically, verse 23 mourns the lack of any restraint in “sensual indulgence” – pointing to sexual gratification and the selfish satisfying of needs. As young adults, this is of course a prominent issue, and of course, pressure is felt to conform with society’s norms in engaging in casual sexual relations. With continual reliance on the Spirit, this temptation can be avoided.

TL;DR: Personal goals

  • Focus on spiritual fullness, not on selfish ambition and worldly satisfaction.
  • Be aware of false teachings and deceptive philosophy.
  • Be reminded that as children of God, made in his likeness, we should have faith in the working of God and the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Colossians 1

This chapter serves as an introduction to his letter – like the other letters to the different churches, it begins with a quick summary of the gospel and Paul’s work.

Although it may seem that the message in this chapter is very simple, verses 9 to 12 effectively remind us of how we should approach living our day-to-day lives and, more importantly, the mentality we should adopt.

9…We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light…

In this section, Paul highlights and draws the link between two aspects of our lives: (1) our relationship with God and (2) how we should approach and perform the tasks we are faced with.

From this passage, our goals are to:

  1. Bear fruit in every good work

    This has always been something that I have found difficult to apply. We are often told to glorify God in everything little thing that we do. This verse is another reminder that, somehow, every action we do should ‘bear fruit’. The image I get from ‘fruit’ is the fulfilment of His command (to love others) and to spread the gospel to save others.

  2. Give joyful thanks to the Father

    This is giving recognition that what we have is provided by Him. If we can fully appreciate that what we have and experience is bestowed upon by Him, then it becomes easier to trust God to surrender to Him the control over our lives and to remain positive even in trying times. ‘Joyful’ is also an important part of this verse – our gratefulness should be out of joy, not out of duty. This can be achieved by really knowing God’s involvement and scheme in our lives.

Paul tells us HOW we should seek Him and how to fulfil the goals above:

  1. By relying on the Spirit to know the His will
    The Holy Spirit exists all around us all time and we often forget how easy it is to simply ‘ask’ or to invite the intervention of the Spirit. The will of God can be imparted to us through the Spirit and this verse tells us that we can receive this guidance through simply listening to what He has to say to us.

    To put this in context, I believe that as long as we are willing to listen, the Spirit will teach us how to face the different aspects in life: to deal with challenges at work, to communicate with different people throughout the day or in serving at church.

  2. Growing in the knowledge of God

    This is simply referring to one of the oldest ways in the book – by reading God’s word. I have heard many many times that as we seek to know more about Him through studying and meditating the word, we will be opened up to new revelations and understandings. The more we seek, the more we find.

By getting the approach right, we will be ‘strengthened with all power’ by Him – in particular, giving us ‘endurance and patience’. Again, something that I have heard in church many times over the years is that we achieve these qualities NOT by our own strength but by the strength He GIVES to us. All we must do is ask for it.

… and by doing this, we will be able to ‘live a life worthy of the Lord’ which will ‘please him in every way’ and in effect: ‘share the inheritance’ in the kingdom.

These couple of verses may seem simple, but it nicely sums up the Christian lifestyle.

TL;DR: seek Him by the Spirit and his Word -> get strengthened -> bear fruit in our lives and remain thankful to trust in Him

Philippians 4: Steadfastness and Unity

In Philippians 4, Paul gives a final summary of the chapter of Philippians, reinforcing what he has to say and giving us important verses to live by. Paul thanks the Philippians for being a steadfast church, one that has provided him with unbridled support, even sending Epaphroditus, whom Paul describes as ‘a brother, co-worker and fellow soldier’;  as a representative of the church to show love and concern for Paul.

Paul reminds us to ‘rejoice in the Lord always.’ (Philippians 4:4), and to leave everything up to God. The key, guiding verse within this chapter is:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

This verse is of particular significance to me as it has carried me through rough times – it is a biblical and explicit confirmation of the fact that God is constantly looking out for us, and that he cares for each individual that takes up the cross and follows him. He hears our prayers and gives us peace, and provides for us even in the hardest of times. Through trials and tribulations, and when everything seems dull and impossible, he provides us with a stroke of hope and clarity. As our shepherd, his rod and his staff will forever comfort us, according to Psalm 23.

Furthermore, we are to associate ourselves and meditate upon ‘whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, and whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy.’ This means cutting out the bad influences in our lives – whether it be friends and acquaintances who often gossip, slander and talk others down in a futile attempt to elevate themselves, and eliminating unpure and lustful thoughts which might arise in our heads. We are to keep a constant lookout to guard ourselves against evil, and this can be done through steadfastly meditating on God.

Perhaps one of the most personal and impactful verses of this passage is Paul’s emphasis that ‘I can do all things through him who gives me strength’ (v 13). This point further ties back to Chapter 3. Just like Paul, we are to eliminate our reasons for having ‘confidence in the flesh’ – being confident because we have wealth and because you have attended bible studies or Sunday School for much of your life on a superficial level does not improve our relationship with Christ. Rather, we are to concentrate on how Jesus suffered, died, and was resurrected in order to give us confidence, in order to bridge the gap between man and God. A God who loves us this much will certainly give us motivation to do all things, and the ability to carry on.