Monday, July 23, 2012

“Joyous and Thankful”

Third Quarter 2012 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
“Joyous and 
For the week of July 28, 2012

Joyous and Thankful
We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. 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.  I Thessalonians 1: 2,3  NIV

For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.  The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, your faith in God has become known everywhere.  1  Thessalonians 1: 4-8 ( NKJV).

The Thessalonians occupied a major city in the Roman Empire. It was located on the road Via Egnatia that connected Rome with the crucial ports and cities of the Aegean region and into Turkey. When Paul came preaching, the Thessalonians turned from their idols to the living God, because they received the gospel as the Word of God that effectually worked in them.  See 1 Thessalonians 2:13.

In beholding the goodness of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ, gratitude and appreciation sprang forth.  It led them to such repentance that in turning to Him and his great agape in faith, they turned away from this world and its three-fold conspiracy of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.  Crucified with Christ, they then became examples embodying the faith of Jesus.

Dwelling in the presence of God means being in fullness of joy. The irony is that sometimes this joy is in the midst of suffering.  And yet this joy is our strength. Paul even prays that ”the God of hope [may] fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost,” Romans 15:13. This joy and peace are rooted in every element of the gospel – its historical facts in time and eternity, its fruit, and its hope.

 As we examine First and Second Thessalonians, it is well to consider that Paul stands out not only as apostle, but as the inspired theologian, especially to us today. Grappling with issues of the everlasting gospel in the covenants – the history, the sanctuary, all the Old Testament Scriptures, Judaism, and the revealed mystery of the gospel to the Gentiles – the cross becomes his lens through which he brings into focus and meaning all of these issues. Paul stands at the transition of the church (the called-out ones) to a true mission orientation, but always the cross of Jesus goes on before Him.

The thirteen books of the Bible, epistles [letters] written by him, speak for themselves. But Paul was even more concerned about living epistles. This is why he commends the Thessalonians. They are not mere expositors or debaters of the gospel, but their lives exemplify the working of the risen Christ through the sweet fruit of the Holy Spirit. Paul’s theology directly undergirded his missiological work, showing that practical theology informs, infuses with power, and guides the fulfillment of the gospel commission.

The Urban Strategy 
For the Apostle, the gospel of Jesus Christ was both theology and mission, but always embodied the end goal of transformation of life.  Paul’s ministry embarked upon an intense and focused urban strategy which challenges us even today. While the difficult times and persecutions ahead encourage us to prepare for a country-living orientation, the present reality is that the greatest populations of the world are increasingly found in urban areas. Thus Paul’s work in Thessalonica, as in Corinth, Athens, Ephesus, and other cities, evidences that the Spirit led him to seek to reach the Empire of his day through its cities, along the routes of commerce and culture.

What does this mean for us in the 21st century?  Today, over 80% of the population of the United States, South Korea, Argentina, and Brazil are in urban areas.  As a whole, the population of the world is now over 50% in urban areas. This is a long way from 4% in 1800, 14% in 1900, and 30% in 1950. An urban gospel strategy, therefore, is not an option, it is a necessity.

Paul’s efforts established churches with strong Christians whose faith embraced the mission of the cross of Christ, because they experienced the transforming, empowering agape of God in Christ. This self-crucifying love liberated men and women to labor in joy and with praise that they could be part of such an awesome mission to the world.

Confidence in His love, the experience of righteousness by faith of Christ and in Christ, and the knowledge of His sustaining, sanctifying work as high priest combined with their hope of His Second coming, inspired within the hearts and minds of the Thessalonians an assurance in Christ that could not be shaken. The blessed hope generated within them endurance to face whatever might come to them, and the determination to continue laboring in faith and with joy. 

The cities await us, with their multitudes who will one day be lightened with His glory, the only sure Way of dispelling the darkness surrounding them. This will happen with His power as our authority, and His love our motivation. Christ must, and will, do this for us today.                                                                                                 
-Michael Horton