PLEASING GOD

Scripture Reading: I Thessalonians 4:1-8

“Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to live and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.” (I Thessalonians 4:1)

The most important concern for every believer in Jesus Christ is that he or she learn how to please God. How we live our everyday lives matters greatly to God. We are dealing with sanctification, the process of growing and maturing in our faith. God has told us how He wants us to live. His instructions are found in His Word. So, we must be diligent students of the Bible in order for us to know God and to know how to please God.

It is true that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. We cannot be saved by works. However, we were created in Christ Jesus for good works (Ephesians 2:10). Good works are proof of our faith. Good works, done in obedience to God’s commands, are the fruit and evidence of a true and living faith.

We are controlled by the love of Christ (II Corinthians 5:14). Christ’s love for us is so great that it influences, motivates, and controls our actions and choices. It causes us to live for One greater than ourselves.

Our love for the Lord results in a desire within us to please the Lord. Because we love Christ, we desire to please Him by the way we live. When we fail Him, we should be filled with grief. Sanctification involves a dying to self and a desire to live for Christ, that is glorifying Christ in everything we do — “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31).

How do we please God? At the highest level, we please God by loving and obeying Him. When we love Him, we will desire to obey Him, and when we do so, God is pleased. In the verses that follow, we are given specific instructions as to how we can please God (vs. 2-8).

Loving Father, my desire is to please You in everything that I do. I confess (and You already know) that I do not always honor You as I should. Forgive me when I fail to please You. I love You and want to obey You. I cannot do this in my own strength, but I know that You can and will strengthen me to do Your will. May I seek to please You more and more by my actions, attitudes, and choices.

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BLAMELESS HEARTS

Scripture Reading: I Thessalonians 3:11-13

“So that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.” (I Thessalonians 3:13)

You and I know that our hearts are not blameless. We sin many times a day. We fail to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and we fail to love our neighbors as ourselves. So what was Paul speaking of in this passage?

We must remember that we are justified sinners. Through justification, we have been forgiven of all our sins on the basis of the substitutionary atonement done on our behalf by the Lord Jesus. And we have been made blameless and righteous through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness freely given to us when we were justified.

We have been reconciled to God by the saving work of our Lord Jesus Christ — “He has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him” (Colossians 1:22). It is Christ alone who can establish our hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father. We can add nothing to what He has already done for us. Because of our justification, God sees us in the same way He sees His own Son — holy, blameless and above reproach.

We are justified by grace through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, but we have also been called to live out our justification in our sanctification. God has called us to live holy lives that honor Him. We cannot do so in our own strength. We must have faith that the Holy Spirit will empower us to deny ourselves and to live for Christ. The Holy Spirit is essential in our sanctification. He gives us the motivation and the desire to glorify God by the way we live. He grants us power to choose holiness. Let me say it again, we can never do this in our own strength. We must rely upon Him to establish our hearts blameless in holiness, and to give us the power to live a life of holiness.

O Spirit of God, I know that I am called to live a holy life. I struggle every day because of my sinful heart. I desire to honor God by living a life of obedience; but I often fail to do so. Fill me fresh and give me the strength to resist my sinful ways and to live a life of holiness. I am so thankful that through justification Christ has established my heart blameless in holiness before my God and Father.

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PRAYER FOR LOVE TO ABOUND

Scripture Reading: I Thessalonians 3:6-13

“Now may our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all the saints.” (I Thesalonians 3:11-13)

Paul was greatly relieved when he received a report from Timothy regarding the Thessalonians. He was especially pleased to hear about their faith and love (vs. 6-8). He replied, “For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy we feel for your sake before our God?” (v. 9)

Paul then wrote a prayer for them. He prayed that our God and Father and our Lord Jesus would make a way for him to visit them again. Then he prayed that God would enable the Thessalonians to increase and abound in their love for each other and for all. I really don’t think about praying a prayer like this very often for the members of my family and for those in my church.

Because we are broken and sinful people, we often do not love one another as we should. We become impatient and unkind. We can be rude and selfish, irritable and resentful. All these attitudes and actions are the exact opposite of what I Corinthians 13:4-8 teaches us about the kind of love God wants us to have toward one another.

It is amazing how much conflict exists in churches. So much of this conflict comes from a lack of love. I’ve seen dysfunction among church staff, among lay leaders and among congregants. People who should know better fail in applying gospel-centered love toward one another.

It is understandable why Paul prayed that the Lord would cause these early believers to increase and abound in their love for one another. And today we need to be praying this same prayer for those in our families and in our churches.

Lord Jesus, Your love for me is sacrificial, unconditional, and unending. I know that You want me to love others with Your love. I cannot do it in my own power. There are some people who are especially hard for me to love. May Your love flow through me and out of me into the lives others so that You will be glorified and the world we see how we Christians love one another.

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STANDING FIRM DURING TIMES OF TEMPTATION

Scripture Reading: I Thessalonians 3:1-5

“For this reason when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.” (I Thessalonians 3:5)

Paul knew the reality of temptation. He faced it daily and so do we. Paul was very concerned about the Thessalonians. He was afraid that the tempter had deceived them and that they had turned away from their new found faith.

We all face temptation. How can we stand firm when we are being tempted? First, we must be aware of Satan’s schemes — “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). Satan has a huge bag of tricks. He uses many means to tempt us. Therefore, we must be aware that we are in a spiritual struggle — “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

Second, we must be armed for the spiritual battles we will face — “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:18). God has provided the armor we need to face the battles we will experience (Ephesians 6:14-17).

Third, we must constantly be on guard — “Be sober-minded, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (I Peter 5:8). Satan is a formidable enemy. We must keep our eyes open to his attacks. Some are severe and some are very subtle. Thus, we must resist him — “Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experience by your brotherhood throughout the world” (I Peter 5:9).

Finally, we must remember that Satan has already been defeated by Christ. As Martin Luther put it in his hymn A Mighty Fortress, “his doom is sure!” Jesus disarmed Satan and his host when He conquered death — “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Him” (Colossians 2:15). In the end, Christ Jesus will give us the victory. We have to rely upon His presence and strength always, especially during times of temptation.

Lord Jesus, I know that I will face temptation today and everyday. Give me wisdom to identify the schemes of Satan. Arm me for the battles I will face. Empower me to resist the devil, for I know that he has already been defeated by You. Let me rely upon Your presence and strength and grant me victory over the temptations I will face.

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AFFLICTIONS

Scripture Reading: I Thessalonians 3:1-5

“For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know.” (I Thessalonians 3:4)

We must face the reality that we live in a fallen, broken world. Because of this we should expect times of affliction, tribulation, pain and suffering. Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The good news is that Jesus is with us during our times of trouble. He will give us the strength to persevere through trials.

Christians are not exempt from the consequences of living in this fallen world. We will face difficulties, sicknesses, disappointments, and perhaps tragedies. The difference between us and unbelievers is that we have Jesus with us in our sufferings. In fact, we are in the palm of His hand and He will not let us go. He said, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:28).

We will all go through times of difficulty but we are never alone — “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you. When you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you, for I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:2,3a). I have claimed this verse many times during my most difficult struggles.

God is with us in our struggles and He will deliver us from them one day. He made this promise to us — “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you. To Him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (I Peter 5:10,11).

Lord Jesus, I know that I am in the palm of Your hand. I know that You are with me always. When I face difficulties, sicknesses, disappointments, and trials, You will give me the strength to persevere. I know I cannot do this alone in my own power, but I can do all things through You who strengthens me. And I know that one day You will deliver me from all my struggles, for I am destined to be in glory with You.

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HINDERED BY SATAN

Scripture Reading: I Thessalonians 2:17-20

“But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you — I, Paul, again and again — but Satan hindered us.” (I Thessalonians 2:17,18)

When Paul and Silas visited the believers in Thessalonica, they met much opposition. In fact they had to be sent away by night (Acts 17:10). After they left, some of their opponents tried to convince these new believers that the missionaries did not have a genuine concern for them. Paul wrote this letter to assure them how much he cared for them and longed to see them face to face, but Satan hindered him from returning.

I’m afraid that we don’t fully realize how hostile Satan is towards the gospel. He wants to do anything he can to prevent the gospel from having an impact on people. He is like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour (I Peter 5:8). He accuses us, tempts us, and seeks to convince us that we aren’t loved and accepted by God. He discourages and hinders those who are serious about their faith. He throws his fiery darts at us (Ephesians 6:16). We must remember that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

Satan has his evil schemes that divide, cause us to doubt, hinder us from effective ministry and discourage us. We must heed the warning about him — “Be sober-minded, be watchful…Resist him, firm in your faith” (I Peter 5:8,9).

Lord Jesus Christ, I know that You have already ultimately defeated Satan. I pray that You give me strength to resist him when he temps me and hinders me from bringing glory to You. I know the battle is great, but I know that You will protect me and strengthen me against the schemes of the evil one.

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REWARDS OF MINISTRY

Scripture Reading: I Thessalonians 2:17-20

“For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy.” (I Thessalonians 2:19,20)

Having served in pastoral ministry for over forty years, I have seen God do some great things in the lives of many of the people of whom I have been privileged to serve. I have seen people come to the Lord. I have seen people go into missionary service and pastoral ministry. I have seen people be set free from addictions and sinful lifestyles. I have seen broken relationships restored and marriages saved. I have been with people when they died in peace. Seeing the change in people’s lives because of the gospel is a great reward for pastors.

The rewards of ministry are great. Of course, first and foremost, our greatest reward would be if Jesus says to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I hope to hear those words one day. Nothing is greater than pleasing Jesus. No reward comes close to bringing glory to our Savior.

But people are a reward also. Paul loved the Thessalonians. He was so grateful for them. He had seen the fruit of his labors among them. He wanted to hold them up before the Lord and acknowledge the spiritual fruit he had seen in them. He said, “You are our glory and joy.” He was not boasting in his efforts; he was boasting about Christ’s work in them.

But let me also be honest. I have also experienced great disappointments and hurt by some I have ministered to. Paul had those same experiences. However, he didn’t focus on the failures, he rejoiced in the successes he and seen — lives being transformed by the power of the gospel!

I am so grateful that God has given me the opportunity to be a pastor. I am grateful for the people God has brought into my life and for the encouragement of seeing many grow in their faith. As I write this my mind goes back over the years from Centreville, Mississippi to Brookhaven, Mississippi, to Rock Hill, South Carolina, and now in Greenville, South Carolina. I fondly remember the lives of many who remain my joy.

Lord Jesus, thank You for the privilege of serving as a pastor for these many years. Thank You for the people you have brought into my life and for the fruit of my labors as a pastor. I have been blessed and encouraged by them as I have seen You work in their lives.

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SUFFERING FOR THE SAKE OF THE GOSPEL

Scripture Reading: I Thessalonians 2:14-16

“For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews.” (I Thessalonians 2:14)

The churches in Judea were the first authentic churches and the mother churches of all those planted by Paul. They set the standard by which all other churches might measure themselves in the first century. We know the great opposition believers faced in Judea. Many believers had to disperse because of the severe nature of the persecution they faced.

Paul reminded the Thessalonians that just as the believers in Judea suffered, so the Thessalonians were likewise being persecuted and opposed by their own countrymen. This opposition was primarily stirred up by the unbelieving Jews who wanted to stamp out the Christian movement.

Paul pointed out that it was the unbelieving Jews, led by the scribes and pharisees, who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets (v. 15). Those religious leaders drove Paul and his fellow workers out as well (v. 15). They sought to hinder them from speaking to the Gentiles about salvation through Jesus Christ. This is how Paul described them — “(they) displease God and oppose all mankind” (v. 15).

Let’s not forget that many of our brothers and sisters today are facing similar opposition and persecution. Many suffer greatly because of their witness to Jesus. While this is true, the church continues to grow among nations where Christians are being persecuted. We should not be surprised at this. Remember what Jesus said about His church — “I will build My church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).

Let’s thank God for the tremendous freedom we have to worship God in our country. We cannot relate to the suffering that some of our brothers and sisters are experiencing. However, we should be prepared for opposition. It may well come upon us as we are faithful in our calling to be witnesses of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Lord Jesus, thank You that You are building Your church. I pray for my brothers and sisters in places where there is much opposition to the gospel. I pray for those who are being persecuted and harassed because of their faith in You. I give You thanks for the freedom we have in this country to worship You.

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THE WORD OF GOD

Scripture Reading: I Thessalonians 2:13-15

“And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.” (I Thessalonians 2:13)

When the people in Thessalonica heard the Word of God, they accepted it for what is truly is — the Word of God. The Bible is the Word of God because it is inspired by God Himself — “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (II Timothy 3:16,17).

The word “inspired” comes from the Greek word theopneustos, which is a compound word meaning “God-breathed.” The Scriptures came from the creative work of God, not man. God inspired the writers of the Scripture as the Holy Spirit breathed the words to them, so that what they wrote was exactly what God intended. Therefore, the Bible has divine authority because God is its Author.

When we read the Bible, we are to receive its message and accept it for what is truly is — the Word of God. We must also remember how powerful the Word of God is. Paul reminded the Thessalonians that God’s Word was at work in them — “For the Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

Reading and meditating upon the Word of God is essential for our spiritual growth. It teaches, reproves, corrects and trains us. It is God’s sword that penetrates our hearts.

O Holy Spirit, thank You for the Bible. I know that You are the Author of it. The Word is a lamp unto my feet. Let me be faithful in reading and meditating upon it. Please open my heart to grasp its truths and let me submit to its teaching.

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A MODEL FOR MINISTRY (Part 2)

Scripture Reading: I Thessalonians 2:5-12

“You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. 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.” (I Thessalonians 2:10-12)

Paul continues to develop an explanation for his ministry. In this passage, he describes how he did ministry. He realized how important it was for him to set a godly example . He sought to live out the gospel before those to whom he ministered. He himself sought to live a holy, righteous and blameless life. Of course, he did not always do this. He was a sinner like all of us are, but it was his desire to live his life out in the fruit of the justification he had received by grace through faith. Paul was a justified sinner who was made holy, righteous, and blameless through the atoning work of his Savior, Jesus Christ. Now he desired that his sanctification would be empowered by his justification. He knew he could not live a blameless life without the power of Christ living in him.

His mode of ministry was like that of a father. He dealt with those who believed as a father would deal with his own children. He sought to encourage them. He commended them and expressed his thanksgiving for them. He expressed his love and appreciation for the spiritual growth of the Thessalonians.

Paul sought to comfort the Thessalonians during their times of difficulty, pain and suffering. The Thessalonians had gone through some hard times. They faced opposition and hostility. He came along side of them and showed empathy to them and he expressed his love for them.

But at times he also had to admonish them, to correct them. But he did so as a father would discipline his children out of love. He urged them to live lives worthy of God and reminded them of their calling into God’s kingdom and glory.

Remember that all believers are called to be ministers. We minister to our own families; we have ministry opportunities with our friends, neighbors and work associates. Paul demonstrated how we are to minister to others. Look for ways to apply what we have learned from Paul as we minister to those God brings into our lives.

Lord Jesus, I pray that You grant me the power to live my life this day to Your glory. Enable me by Your grace to live a holy, righteous and blameless life before You and before those whom I serve. Give me wisdom as I minister. Enable me to encourage, comfort and urge those to whom I have the privilege of ministering to live lives worthy of You.

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