One of the first words that comes from the mouths of babes can be singled out as one of the most powerful two letter words in the English language. It translates easily from one language to another, it is a word that is recognized across most every culture and anyone can use a simple hand gesture to get its message across. Printed on a ballot, this word has the ability change the most powerful leadership regime, this seemingly small word has the potential to change the direction of one’s life.
The word is NO.
“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” (Titus 2:12). When we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit into our lives, as we say “yes” to living a life in Jesus name we say no in a big way to the passions of the world. Titus was left in a bit of a pickle as he worked to build a church in a place where it was not easy to break ground and grow followers of Christ. Paul gives Titus practical advice on how to appoint elders who love what is good, men who love the lord and do good (say no) for the sake of the Gospel. Paul then takes it a few steps further, he instructs Titus to teach every generation (older men, older women, young men, young women) to live in unity with each other, to live lives of integrity. When we say no to the sinful acts that separate us from God and give over the passions of the world to Him we live according to His will, we bring honour and glory to him.
As a believer called by God we have a responsibility as Paul says, to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, reverent, to teach what is good, to be kind and to be an example to each other. For lack of a better word, our “function” as a called people is to resist temptation and say no to the evil and darkness of the world. It is through the kindness and love of God that we are saved, not because of what we have done, but because of his loving grace and mercy. The power of the word NO in this context is saying yes to being upright and godly, it is saying yes to living a life that is self-controlled and honouring to God. The present time that we live in offers so many “evils”, our culture almost demands compliance and can be difficult to navigate. Through our faith in Jesus, we can put our trust in Him to see us through these present times.
As I progressively read 1, 2 and 3 John I see that each letter becomes more and more personal. 1 John seems to be written to a general audience, 2 John written more specifically to an unnamed lady (possible this may have been a family in the church) and then 3 John is a letter written direct to a dear friend of His. Each one of these short books has the common thread in the message of truth and love.
In the same sense we see a progression in the messages from John warning us of false teachers and deceivers working diligently to take advantage of new believers and infiltrating the church. Here in 3 John we see the work of one that has made it into the church and turns it into something of his own, not trusting in God and discouraging new believers from being a part of the church.
John commends his friend Gaius for his faith and willingness to be a part of spreading the gospel through being hospitable and receiving strangers (fellow believers) into his him home. John shows us the hospitality that Gaius shows is because of the love he has for Christ, living in the truth and loving others through this gift is an example we need to imitate. “Dear friends, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God.” (vs.11) If we continue reading on we can see the comparison of evil with good in the opposite actions of Diotrephes in rejecting believers and who loves himself first and not God.
Again John repeats his wish of meeting a friend face-to-face as in his last letter, making the letter and relationship seem more personal. I see this as a challenge to make more efforts to be more intentional about meeting together face-to-face with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Loving in truth, knowing truth, upholding truth, walking in truth and living in truth…
John has given us a clear understanding of the theme or message of this short letter; it’s all about truth. As in his first letter John reminds us of the dangers of the false teaching and those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh and look to worldly ways. He warns us not to let them into our homes (our churches) as when we do we then tempted to share in their wicked ways.
When we have a true understanding of the truth and walk in confidence with God we can guard ourselves from those who are outside the truth. John found “great joy” in knowing that the love they have for one another is a love that comes through walking in obedience to the commands the Lord has given us.
This short letter from John concludes with a note of desire to visit and talk with and teach more about how living in the truth will strengthen and encourage the people. Even in his day and age when communication was limited to writing or speaking face-to-face John has this desire to know them and be with them. I do believe that in our present day modes of communication we are beginning to lose that personal connection. We need to embrace the same attitude as John we as brothers and sisters in Christ need to be together to love and encourage each other.
“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5)
“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
When I think of light in the physical sense of seeing an image or a display of light one that continues to amaze me and often stops me for a moment is God’s creative display of light in the colors of the rainbow. Not only is this a reminder of God’s promise to never flood the entire world but I see it as a reminder of who He is, the light in the darkness after a storm.
When we walk in the light, when our lives are focused on God and know that we will fall into the darkness because of sin we can always find forgiveness from God for our shortcomings. When we are honest with ourselves and honest with God (confessing our sins) He is faithful to forgive us. Our sinful nature will continue to pull us towards the darkness as long as we are walking on this earth. Even as we are truly walking in the light we will always need forgiveness and I am thankful that through Christ dying on the cross those sins are covered.
When we walk in the light, when we can see through the darkness our lives will be filled with His love. This love becomes a light in our lives and can shine so others can see and know the love God has for us.
46 times in 26 out of 105 verses you can find the word love in the book of 1 John, this is the first thing that struck me today as I read through this book. Obviously the author (whom we presume is the apostle John) had a point to make about love. Not to downplay the other themes of walking in the light and understanding and believing that Jesus is the Christ this subject of love is what jumps out at me today.
My favorite verse in this book is 4:18 particularly the first half that reads, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” God’s love for us is incredible, when we know and believe that God showed us His love by sending His one and only Son into the world to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins we can’t help but share that love with others.
Here we have John pouring out his heart for the people to remember the foundations of their faith, believing in the basic understanding of how God loves us, how God is the light in this dark world, a reminder that through Jesus our sins have been forgiven. John reminds us that when we experience and know God’s love we will be prepared to face the challenges and actions of the world that face us each day.
As we grow into leadership and relationship with others it is this love that John talks about that needs to shine through us.
Paul understood the power of prayer; you might think this is an obvious statement and wonder why I might even bring it up. As we read through 1 & 2 Thessalonians we see over and over how Paul is dedicated to praying for the Thessalonians, he knows the challenges they will continue to face and can rejoice and be thankful with them for the good things the Lord has done in their lives.
Paul as an apostle, as a leader is setting the bar for how we need to be living today as Christians in what I think we can consider a similar situation as the Thessalonians only in a different time and place. Today we as leaders have to have the same passion for prayer as Paul did, we need to be praying for the people in our churches and in our communities constantly.
As we continue to grow as leaders and committed followers of Christ one of the things we can learn from Paul is not to be afraid to ask for prayer. Even as Paul continually prays for others he is asking for prayer as he carries on the work of the Lord. We need to humble ourselves and be open and available to ask for prayer in our own lives and for the work of the Lord to be accomplished through the gifts he has given us.
After dropping a letter in the mailbox or clicking on the send button to send off an email have you ever wondered if you would have to write a second letter to explain yourself? I wonder if Paul after writing his first letter to the Thessalonians wondered the same thing.
In his first letter we read into the references about the believers who have died and the day of the coming of the Lord. There would have been some confusion and questions, as Paul may not have had the proper amount of time among the people to explain the details and circumstances around these topics. After receiving word that the Thessalonians were concerned regarding the coming of the Lord in their own lifetime, Paul writes this second letter to help clarify his previous statements.
In his second letter to the Thessalonians Paul continues to encourage and pray for them as they grow in their understanding of their new life in Christ. Paul had to reassure the Thessalonian people that even though they were experiencing troubles they were not the troubles that signaled the end times. Paul continues to be a strong voice in teaching them to stand strong and hold on to the teachings he had given them. Verses 16 and 17 offered a powerful encouragement to the Thessalonians and is still a timeless passage for us today to be encouraged and strengthened.
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.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”.
Paul could have sat back and been happy with Timothy’s encouraging report of how the Thessalonians have been growing in their faith and confidence in the Lord. Paul continues to write to them pushing them to go beyond what the Lord has called them to do “now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.” (vs:1b)
I think Paul understood the position of the Thessalonians well, they were in a place were they may have felt that they were “walking on water”, Paul did not want them to be comfortable in their faith, he wanted them to realize that they could be doing more. The first half of chapter 4 of 1 Thessalonians teaches us that the Thessalonian people were surrounded by the same temptations and evils of sexual immorality we are faced with today. These instructions were not something Paul had come up with on his own; it was by the authority of the Lord Jesus that Paul could present these instructions to them.
Each time I read through this passage I have to think about the fact that Paul was writing these words as a letter to the Thessalonians, I can only imagine the longing Paul had to be with them. Chapter 2:18 Paul writes that “Satan blocked our way”, Paul knew that Satan was keeping them separated so as to discourage and dishearten them, yet Paul continued to encourage and teach through these written words.
Just like Paul and the Thessalonians Satan tosses up similar roadblocks in our lives today, trying to send us in a different direction away from God. Paul’s words are as much alive today as they were back then, our lives and our focus has to be on the Lord. When we accept and live out the instructions of purity and holy living we will be living a life that is pleasing God.
I remember many years ago starting a new job working in a warehouse receiving shipments and putting them into their appropriate places. For the first three months I was on probation, I was working through a period of time testing my abilities and character. Once past the three months I received a letter from the president of the company welcoming me to the “family”, I was given a formal evaluation with encouraging responses and hopes of a bright future within the company.
As new believers working through some of their first experiences particularly in the face of adversity would have been encouraged by the words of Paul’s first letter to them. Reading the introduction to this letter reminded me of that letter (in the sense of being encouraged) I received early on in my job as a warehouse receiver.
“We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and you endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thess.1:3)
“You became imitators of us and of the Lord” (vs.6)
“…you became a model to all the believers” (vs.7)
“…your faith in God has become known everywhere. (vs.8)
These words of encouragement and acknowledgment for the Thessalonians would have bolstered their confidence and faith in the work that they were doing, learning for themselves to continue the work of Paul and the other apostles after they left.
Imitation… verse 6 holds one of the essential keys to leadership in the church today. When we as leaders do the best we can to model the life of Christ in all that we do, we effectively become better leaders. Imitating Christ’s love should reveal through us His perfect example of love and forgiveness. Even as new Christians the Thessalonians became models to all the believers, it was their faith in God that became known.
Boldness, confidence, love, prayer-fulness, thankfulness and encouragement. These are a few of the themes we can discover in the short 25 verses that make up the words of Paul as written in the book of Philemon.
Paul displays for us the boldness he had and the boldness we ought to have in approaching our brothers and sisters in Christ. This is a boldness shaped by the confidence that he had in God to prepare the heart of Philemon to receive Onesimus back into his home as a new brother in Christ. Understanding the source of love in his own life we see how Paul communicates his love to others through this letter. Prayer and thankfulness are poured out between the partnership Paul and Philemon shared in their faith together. This models for us a need to continuously pray for each other as believers, to carry on loving and caring for each other. Not only is Paul encouraged but he is filled with joy because of the work that has been completed through Philemon, he continues to encourage him as a friend and Christ follower to accept the changes in the new life of Onesimus.
As I journey ahead I pray that with God’s help and using the people He puts into my life that I can apply all these examples (actions) to my own life.