Exhortation - May 20

MAY 20

Reading: 2 Thessalonians chs. 1 and 2

We have just sung: "Be careful for nothing, the Lord is at hand; Remember the glory, Remember the land. Be fervent in spirit, be instant in prayer, work out your salvation, With trembling and fear." We are heirs of a promise which is so great that it almost defies imagination. We have to pinch ourselves sometimes to believe it is true that we shall be, by the grace of God, transformed from this mortality, from this weakness, to ever-living beings, able to praise God and to see our Lord Jesus Christ in the beauty of eternal life. This is set before everyone of us by the grace of God. We remember these things with such a simple ceremony, just by partaking of bread and wine. This is so unlike what the world wants when they think of religion. They want pomp, they want ceremony. We do not. Yet we are the recipients of awesome, great benevolence which is centred upon you and me. We are known, we are carefully selected by God. That is a wonderful thing to contemplate.

When we endeavour to rise to this knowledge and hope that is set before us, when we think of the sacrifice and the courage of our Lord Jesus Christ, and what he endured, and what he achieved, only then can we in some measure appreciate what our heavenly Father has done for us. We think that it is by Divine grace that we are being led from a prison. It is not a prison that man would make with stones and iron bars. It is a prison more secure than that. It is death, eternal death, never to see the sun again, never to know what will happen the day after next. This is the dire punishment that awaits all mankind, apart from the way of release that has been made possible by God's grace and by our Lord Jesus Christ.

This way that we fail to appreciate, in any real depth, the hope of our calling for most of the time, is, we feel, summed up by Paul in those words he writes in his First Letter to the Corinthians 13.12: "Now we see through a glass, darkly," that is, obscurely, "but then," when this transformation takes place, "face to face." He says, "Now I know in part; but then I shall know even as also I am known." This is true for you and me, as it was for the faithful of all ages. Paul glimpsed this more perfectly than we can. He actually saw in vision the glory of this future age which is to come. He saw the total transformation of the quality of human life upon this planet. He saw glory to God in the highest, and honour, peace and goodwill towards men. Also, by the grace of God, he saw the risen Christ in a blaze of elory on that road to Damascus. These things transformed his life. He became a man of zeal, of love of God, always praising and rejoicing even though he went through great tribulations and trials. He agonised in bringing other men and women to this knowledge, this precious hope of salvation.

Well, we might say, that was special for Paul; we do not have direct, Divine intervention in our lives in such a dramatic way. This is true, but on the other hand we have proof positive that we are living in the very last days of human rule and government. We are in the latter days. We know this. There is no doubt in any of our minds. We know that our Lord Jesus Christ is due to return very, very soon. How close it is no man knows; we know not the hour nor the day. But as we see the world around us entering into more and more trouble, troubles for which they cannot find a solution, and when we put together the atrocities and all the things that relate to this day and age, we know that we stand in the latter days.

How then should we react to this? Should we be complacent? God forbid. Christ himself has spoken to us in Luke 21, where he says: "When these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh." This is a reality. It is not just a form of words. It is a reality for you and for me. Our redemption, this transformation, this freedom, this magnificent freedom, is nigh at hand. We should be excited about it. We should be thrilled at the prospect. But are we?

Paul, in writing to the early believers in Thessalonica, was addressing a body of men and women who were very excited at what they thought was the imminent return of Christ, and some of them had even given up working. They had neglected their daily ministrations because they thought that at any time Christ would return and establish the Kingdom. Now, we can say that we have the benefit of hindsight. We can read this epistle and can see that it was Paul's duty to explain to them that many, many years, centuries, were to elapse before their Lord would stand once again on the mountains of Israel. We say it is easy to look back with hindsight and think that their reaction was extreme, but Paul was very pleased with their enthusiasm and their obvious love of the Truth, so we thought it would be beneficial for us to have a look at one or two aspects of this Second Epistle that he wrote to the Thessalonians, encouraging them and ourselves, and so to prepare our minds before we partake of the emblems.

See what he says in this Second Epistle ch. 1.3: "We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth." Their love towards one another abounded. Now surely there is an exhortation straight away for us. Do we think Paul could say that about us now? We said that we have the signs of the times, we can look back down the centuries and can realise where we stand. We can see the outworking of prophecy. There is no doubt that the return of the Lord is very close at hand. Are we enthusiastic about that?

Now the other feature of this young ecclesia that Paul admired so much was their self-evident love of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of their fellow brethren and sisters. He says that their charity abounded. Well, how do we bear comparison with those early believers? Can you and I say in our hearts that we do love one another with a pure heart fervently? It is expected of us. Those who are candidates for the Kingdom must have a love of their brethren and sisters, not harbouring animosity, God forbid, or hatred, but true love. Paul enthused over this quality in those Thessalonians.

We are taught by Christ himself to pray, "Forgive us our trespasses"—our transgressions—"as we forgive them which trans¬gress against us." Yes, that is what we are taught to pray. How do we put it into operation? It is a question for individual contemplation. These early epistles are very brief when we compare them with some of the other writings of Paul, but they are very powerful. It is obvious that the early brethren and sisters were undergoing a very severe trial of their faith. They lived in .that period of history we call, when we come to the Apocalypse, the white horse seal period. It was a time when the Truth was being vigorously promulgated but their antagonists were stronger than they were. Paul could not do anything for them physically. He knew this, so he wrote to encourage them, to stimulate their faith, to urge them to hold fast while this trial was about them. He told them that their faith was like a beacon of light that had influence upon other ecclesias. He had come through places like Amphipolis and Apollonia and he writes to them and says that the brethren in Macedonia and Achaia were very, very impressed by their exhibition of faith and love. They were an example far beyond the confines of their own meeting-place.

Again, surely this has to be a powerful exhortation and a lesson for ourselves. Everyone of us has a sphere of influence. How we react, our bearing, how Christlike we endeavour to be, is noticed, and it is not just noticed by those closest to us. That sphere of influence can extend far and wide. Most unexpectedly, you hear of brethren and sisters who are known all over the place. It is a very powerful lesson. There is the supreme example, our Lord Jesus Christ. He is going to have a sphere of influence, and that sphere of influence is the world itself. To him every knee shall bow. He will be known by all men, all women, in his glorious Kingdom. That is the marvellous example that we have, and again, we cannot rise to the occasion, as it were. We know our own frailty, but our faith and action and belief is an example to others.

2 Thessalonians 2.15 tells us: "Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle." Show your faith by action and belief. Be careful to hold fast to the Truth, never deviating to the left or to the right, and the result will be amazing. We must not be daunted when we consider our own lives and our own probations in comparison with the supreme example which our Lord has set us. We have our obvious limitations. We know how difficult it is, for example* to try and concentrate upon spiritual things, to be spiritually-minded for any length of time, without other thoughts crowding in on us. It is depressing at times to realise just what leaky vessels we are. We can hear a stirring exhortation or a wonderful lecture, and in next to no time we seem to have forgotten most of what was said.

James has this to say: "If any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: for he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was." It is very true. We try to be doers of the word but the old man of the flesh holds us back. Imagine the amazing freedom which is set before us when, in God's good grace, we will be able for all time to think spiritually, with purity of mind, without the other things creeping in. That in itself is breathtaking to contemplate. This is what is set before us, our minds, our bodies released in a dazzling spirit energy, to praise and glorify God. We will have gained eternal release, an eternal salvation. What a debt we owe both our heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, to make this heady prospect a reality, when Jesus comes again.

Those early believers felt the thrill and the urgency of their signs of the times. They really thought that at any moment Christ would return. As we say, they even went to the extent of neglecting their work. Yet in a manner of speaking we are as close to the return of Christ as they were to the time when he ascended bodily into heaven. We are at the time of the end. Unlike any other previous generation, we should be watchful, we should be enthusiastic, we should be preparing to meet our heavenly Bridegroom. Are we?

Paul's writings in his First Epistle ch. 5.1 are actually a clarion call to you and me. He says, "Of the times and seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you." And in v.4: "But ye, bretheren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day; we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober." That word "sober" is watchful. Our great High Priest is at hand and we have a duty to become more Christlike. How do we do it? We do it by our care and by our concern for one another, by our self-evident love of God and of Christ. If we could say, as Paul did, "I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me," then what fine Christadelphians we should be!

We have "ten thousand instructors" in Christ. We think of his compassion, think of his care for others, think of his boldness in preaching, and especially, as we partake of this bread and wine, we remember the sacrifice that he made for us, that sacrifice which has made us free. We have a reminder of the trial and crucifixion that he endured, the shed blood of the Lamb without spot and without blemish. How did he do it? Our Lord did it through faith and complete trust in God. That is what carried him through, faith and obedience. If we want proof that faith can remove any obstacle surely this is it.

What of our own faith? It is very easy to say, 'Brethren and sisters, be ye of a good courage, fight the good fight,' until we get a trial of our own; and yet by our daily readings we have proof positive that faith can overcome the obstacles. We only have to think of the incident of Jericho which we read today; seemingly impregnable, and yet by faith it was destroyed. As we say, the ultimate expression of faith, living faith, must be centred in Christ. But our own feelings of inadequacy often threaten to make us give up before we have even started, as it were. We excuse our lack of faith on the grounds that his example and standard were so far beyond the reach of any other man. Yes, they were, but at the same time our own tests are Divinely, exquisitely tailored to our needs. If they were not trials for us they would not hurt us, but it is when they hurt that they are touching us at our weakest point. It is not a trial to test us when we are strong, it is a trial to test us when we are weak, and to strengthen that weakness.

We say that the Thessalonian brethren and sisters had physical trials to face. We have something different. We live in an age of apathy. We live in an age when there is a lukewarmness all around us, the attitude which prosperity and an easy lifestyle induce. This can affect us directly. We think of the contrast between those early ecclesias and our own day and age. How did we arrive today? By car? When we go home we go back to warm, welcoming homes, with plenty of food. We take it as the normal way of life. This is the way things are. We know that a vigorous faith often achieves its cutting edge by a measure of austerity and where there are few worldly goods to encumber. The writings of Dr. Thomas and Robert Roberts are good examples, when they are writing to brethren and sisters of those days who did not enjoy what we have now, and it shows in their faith.

We are living in an age of unprecedented sophistication, but we also have distractions more than any other age. They can occupy our time very easily if we let them. This is our peril. We meet people who do not have even the slightest interest in spiritual or scriptural things. We have this wonderful knowledge and nobody wants to share it with us. The dangers of affluence are epitomised in the reign of king Solomon. This man was granted great wisdom, but think how much his time was sought by those builders and craftsmen, all the people who helped administer his vast kingdom. We could say his time was scarcely his own. His money and wealth brought great luxury but they also brought great danger, and we know with dismay that he gave in to temptation, that he wanted many wives who managed to seduce him away from his initial love of God, even to false worship. Surely there is a lesson for all subsequent generations of what wealth and sophistication can bring.

We in our own day and age are living in wealth and sophistication. We have pastimes and gadgetry which can waste our time if we let them, but we have to look for the antidote, and what is this? The perfect antidote is, of course, symbolised in the bread and wine. It is symbolised in the way that Jesus devoted all his energy to godly ways and pursuits. He shows us the ideal all the time.

Paul's words in 2 Thessalonians 2.13 are a great encouragement, a great comfort, to help us to endeavour to fix our minds upon the glorious future which can be ours. He says: "For we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." And these thoughts bring us back again to our opening remarks, the prospect of being released from an eternal grave, to a degree of freedom which in our present mortal frame we cannot fully understand, to be made like unto the angels to die no more, to be beautified with salvation and glory, for countless centuries in the ages to come, through Christ; yes, by what he suffered, by what he endured, to give each one of us, and the faithful before us, a hope which is so magnificent that it is a struggle to understand even partly what it really means for us now.

So as we once more take the bread and wine in remembrance let us rejoice, rejoice in knowing how close we are to seeing the one who, please God, is coming to release us from the curse of sin and death, from mortality; and let Paul's words in 2 Thessalonians 3.5 now focus our minds on this. He writes: "And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ":—D. Shiner