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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published: August 28, 2020
“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
Welcome y’all to HBS.
I rarely employ this feature of HBS, but when something important needs to be brought to your attention this is where I post the note, as it were. I haven’t taken a “real” vacation in many years, so next week I’m going to do that very thing. I’m not sure how long I’ll be away, but while I’m away please know the HBS website never closes. At present there are almost five hundred Bible lessons so studying those ought to keep you busy and in the Word until I return, unless the Lord comes to take us away before then.
Please open your Bible at 1 Thessalonians 3:1-5.
“Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone; And sent Timotheus (Timothy), our brother, and minister of God, and our fellowlabourer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith: That no man should be moved (to quit the faith) by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto. For verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass, and ye know. For this cause, when I could no longer forbear, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter have tempted you, and our labour be in vain.”
According to the Acts 17 account Paul labored three weeks establishing the church at Thessalonica: “Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures,” (Acts 17:1-2). Many people in the church believe he was in Thessalonica much longer than that; they surmise he stayed in the city 3 to 6 months and perhaps longer. I mention this because churched-people tend to get hung up on minute details such as this. Why a new church might be formed simply because people cannot agree on something this slight. This is why I remind the group from time to time not to major on the minors. The Bible might not always tell us what we “want” to know, but it most certainly tells us what we “need” to know.
Moving on, why was Paul so eager to return to Thessalonica remembering that he was treated discourteously there? Twice in the text above we read he “could no longer forbear,” so he sent Timothy to encourage and strengthen them, and to bring him news about how they were faring under persistent persecution. Yet, as far as the record is concerned, no messenger had come to him with alarming news about the Thessalonian assembly. What had happened to make him so concerned about the state of their faith? The answer is found in Acts 17:5-10. Paul had just been humiliated and run out of town. So, he was concerned this maltreatment at the hands of the Thessalonian Jews might have shaken their faith. Believe me when I say it’s no small thing to witness your spiritual leader being thrown out of town by an angry mob. If that’s how they treated God’s apostle, what’s in store for them? But Paul was no stranger to outraged people and violence in fact he was accustomed to it and not disturbed by it. We see evidence of this truth by the fact that he immediately entered the synagogue at Berea preaching Jesus was the Christ (Messiah):
“And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few”(Acts 17:10-12).
Then we have Paul’s testimony in 1 Thessalonians 2:2 about the similar harrowing event that had brought him to Thessalonica: “…even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention.”
Paul realized the risen Lord’s statement, “how great things he must suffer” carried weight (Acts 9:16), but the Thessalonian Believers had not fully realized this themselves. His shameful expulsion from their city had undoubtedly left them shaken, especially with “all the city in an uproar,” and the house of Jason assaulted merely on suspicion of harboring the fugitive apostle and his companions (Acts 17:5-9). But there was yet another reason for his concern. These same Jews from Thessalonica, when they knew that “the Word of God was preached of Paul at Berea…came thither also, and stirred up the people” (Acts 17:13). At this time Paul was safely out of their reach in Athens, Greece but he knew they had returned to their own city and would now intensify their persecution of the young Thessalonian church he had reluctantly left behind. Little wonder then that he lost no time in dispatching Timothy, his trusted co-worker, to their side, to assure them that “…no man should be moved by these afflictions; for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto. “For verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass, and ye know” (1 Thessalonians 3:3-4).
How well they had come to “know” this first-hand and how they must have welcomed Timothy upon his arrival and rejoiced over Paul’s communication written with a personal touch (1:1-3) because as Paul said, they are “our glory and joy” (2:20).
Finally, Paul wanted them to understand that “these afflictions” (persecutions) came as a result of living for Christ in the Dispensation of God’s Grace,” and not as a result of experiencing God’s wrath in the Tribulation, which some were saying. It is true, says the apostle, that we are appointed to “afflictions,” but know this “…God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9).
God’s in the business of saving people in this dispensation and our apostle Paul is the wise masterbuilder of that organic organization called the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:10-17). It is evident from the context that the “wrath” they were “not” appointed to is the wrath of the Tribulation. Consider this, “God has not appointed us (true Believers) to wrath, but God has appointed us to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.” Since the Thessalonians were already saved, this can only refer to the completion, that is, the fulfillment of their salvation at the Rapture. Paul confirms this point of view by a similar statement in Romans 13:11: “…for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.” What’s more, 1 Thessalonians 5:8 describes the finishing touch, as it were, to our spiritual armor as “the hope of salvation.” What else could this phrase refer to but “that blessed hope” (Titus 2:13), the completion of our salvation? When we trusted Christ, we were immediately saved from the penalty of sin, and we are today being saved from the power of sin. But at the Rapture we shall be saved from the very presence of sin and I expectedly look forward to the day and so should y’all.
Timothy Paul’s Companion and Coworker
Wherefore when we could no longer forbear (to practice patience or self-control), we thought it good to be left at Athens alone; And sent Timotheus (Timothy), our brother, and minister of God, and our fellowlabourer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith:”
Paul’s decision to send Timothy to Thessalonica and to remain alone at Athens was no small tribute to his abilities and his character. According to Acts 17:16-17, the pagan city of Athens was wholly given over to the worship of idols: “Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry. Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him.” The One true living God wasn’t exactly overlooked, for Paul found a synagogue there, but Acts 17:16-17 explains that when Paul “saw the city wholly given to idolatry” he “Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him.”
As we’ve seen, it was Paul’s custom to go first to the Jewish synagogue in city after city, but in this instance there was a greater reason for doing so. The Jews were obviously not interested in evangelizing these pagan idolaters, the proof of this was visible all over the city, so it would appear that they are the prime examples of Paul’s truth in Romans 2:24: “the name of God is blasphemed among the gentiles through you…” Israel’s superior privileges should have produced a corresponding lifestyle, but they did not, so the pagans knew not the One true living God.
But Paul did not merely dispute with the Jews in the synagogue he went out to do for the pagan gentiles what the Jews could not have done, he preached the mystery of God’s grace to them. Acts 17:16-17 clearly says, “(He) disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily…” where the Athenians gathered not only to buy and sell but also to argue their various ideas or earthly philosophies. Think this through. Athens, Greece, the world’s great seat of intellectualism was also the center of idolatry with all its accompanying superstitions and fear, not to mention the excesses of immoral living that accompanied idol worship, stands as a testimony to the folly and futility of “the wisdom of this world.” The apostle James rightly said the wisdom that “descendeth not from above… is earthly, sensual, devilish (James 3:13-18).
With all their vaunted wisdom the Athenians could not even settle on a god to worship. One worshipped this deity and another some other god. So great was the confusion that Pliny said in Nero’s time Athens contained over 3,000 public idols in addition to an untold number of idols in people’s homes. Petronius said (perhaps with tongue in cheek) that it was easier to find a god to worship in Athens then it was to find a man you were looking for. So, to be clear, Athens was overcrowded with idols and altars to false gods, and it was here that Paul, God’s bondservant, a man who loved the Word of God and loathed idolatry, and who lived morally “in all good conscience,” had decided to remain alone (by alone I mean to say absent of his ministerial companions for certain people who had believed his message on Mars Hill had clung to him- Acts 17:34); so that he might send Timothy back to Thessalonica to help and encourage those persecuted saints.
Here I need to point out the fact that the “learned men” of Athens, who could not even agree on which false god to worship, would not listen to Paul’s “word of truth and soberness,” but ridiculed him, while someone there on the platform chided God’s apostle saying, “There, there, that was fine; well hear you again sometime,” inferring that Paul’s behavior resembled that of a child speaking out of turn. So “Paul departed from among them.” But here’s the thing, these men who believed themselves to be “intellectuals” were not interested in that which is most vitally and urgently important, i.e., their present standing before the One true and living God and their eternal state.
In respect to the goings-on in Athens, how different the situation was at Thessalonica. There the people responded to Paul’s gospel (Romans 2:16; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4) in faith and were saved and as a result those Believers were despised and persecuted. Because Paul was concerned that some of these tested Believers might desert the faith he sent Timothy, a well-tested man of God, a “good soldier of Jesus Christ,” and one whom they knew, to encourage them. Paul called him, “our brother, and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ,” sent to “establish you, and to comfort (encourage) you concerning your faith.”
His comforting message was, “no man should be moved by these afflictions; for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto” (3:2-3). Because the Thessalonian saints were spiritually immature and Paul well knew that Satan would seek to discourage them, he sent Timothy back to them lest Satan, the great tempter, tempt them to give up the battle and all Paul’s labors would, “be in vain.” Here we note Satan cannot undo their salvation. Once saved, always saved unless you believed in vain (1 Corinthians 15:2). Paul’s thinking was that “a great multitude” had come to know Christ Jesus as their Savior and rejoiced in the fact, and he didn’t want this grace movement to come to naught because they feared persecution.
Before we move on let’s not fail to learn the lesson God has for the Believer, in Christ. Paul had forewarned the Thessalonian saints of persecution because he knew that, “…all who that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). To be clear, “all” might not suffer physical persecution, for Satan uses various means to discourage us. Sometimes it is physical in nature and we’re seeing this in more than a few countries around the world today, China and North Korea come immediately to mind, but I’m not leaving out the USA because numerous people have been killed while attending worship in Christian and Jewish assemblies, if that’s not physical persecution then what is. But more often than not those who live godly lives will encounter an icy stare, a cold shoulder, the silent treatment, ridicule, rude gossip, slander, and so on. Which is more difficult to bear physical suffering or emotional abuse? That depends on who you’re asking, I think.
In Closing, let’s look back a 1 Thessalonians 3:3-4: “That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto. For verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass, and ye know.”
Paul’s message is applicable for every true Believer today. He gloried in the Thessalonian assembly “for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure” (2 Thessalonians 1:4). The Body of Christ, a.k.a. God’s Church is hated by the world. Persecutions and tribulations go hand-in-hand with the Body of Christ living in enemy territory (2 Timothy 3:12). Make no mistake Believers will suffer tribulations and trials during the Dispensation of God’s Grace (3:4), but we will not go through the seven-year Tribulation (1:10, 5:9).
As a result of the Thessalonians reacting to adversity with “patience and faith,” Paul wrote: “…we ourselves glory in you in the (grace) churches of God…” (2 Thessalonians 1:4). Let’s be clear, Paul did not glory in the outward accomplishments and successes of that church, but instead in what the Lord of glory was doing in and through them. How so? Paul gloried in their “patience,” or steadfastness and cheerful endurance. They patiently and bravely endured persecution for their faith. In short, their “hope” had not been extinguished. They were still looking ahead and looking up for the Lord’s glorious return in the clouds. They refused to bow to the pressure and desert their faith in Christ Jesus. What’s more, they faithfully took a stand for the truth of God’s Word. So then, the Thessalonian church was a church to glory in and be thankful for. It was not the kind of church that is popular with the world or that wins the favor of the world by its glitz (the ability to entertain), compromise, and size. It was a church that was maturing in faith and knowledge of Christ, abounded in the love of Christ, and endured the world’s persecution with courage and conviction (assurance) that the Lord of glory would indeed keep His promises. In that sense, it was a God-honoring church, to be sure, as such a church would be today.
(To be continued)
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