Introduction: Are we tempted to give up in the Christian life as we face another daunting New Year? This is a common concern which we will address in these Bible notes for the second week of 2012. In short, may this be our goal in the coming year, as we all await Hebrews 12:11’s “harvest of righteousness and peace” – that we would be encouraged by the exhortation of Hebrews 12:12: “Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.” This is, after all, our Father’s world – and as hymn # 111 reminds us: “Though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.” We have a right to look for the fruit of our labors, and answers to our prayers in 2012, since God Himself promises us that our labor will be worthwhile!
Monday/Tuesday: read 1 Thessalonians 1:8-2:1. If our goal for 2012 is to “not grow weary in well-going” but instead to increasingly “turn from sin to serve the living God” (1 Thess. 1:9), then we must know who to depend upon for the kind of persistent support that we will need. Do we dare trust our own or others strength for the resiliency and strength our faith will need?
Paul would say to us and the Thessalonians: “Don’t depend upon me! Persecution tore me away from you (1 Thess. 2:17) before I could say and do all that I thought necessary for your establishment in the faith!” In fact, Paul’s absence from Thessalonica when they were most sorely tested by persecution may be a reason why Paul “does not say anything” in 1 Thess. 1:8 in terms of publicizing their faith. He doesn’t want anyone thinking he was taking credit for the Thessalonians’ perseverance in their Christian walk. To the contrary, Paul always insists, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord!” This, then, is how the Holy Spirit worked among the Thessalonians – immature, vulnerable, leaderless and persecuted though they were: He planted within each of the Thessalonian believers the full presence and potency of the Holy Spirit so that their faith would not fail. Why? Because the Holy Spirit within them would not and could not fail! How did we put it last week? Even the youngest believer who is claimed by Christ has the full potency of the indwelling Holy Spirit from the earliest moments of their new life! This is why Paul could only stand back and marvel at what the Lord had accomplished in these young Thessalonian believers’ lives!
Mediate and Pray: What a sense of peace and rest should fill our “Spirit-filled” Christian lives! We are not to live restless, fatiguing lives of faith, as if our success were up to our own self-effort. Let us heed William Still’s reassuring advice about how to rest in the full presence of the Holy Spirit within us. Speaking of the Holy Spirit given to each believer in the entirety of His person and the impact this should have on each of us, Mr. Still says:
I have found over many years now that when people realize the Spirit is a person who cannot be divided into bits and pieces, it almost at once gives them a new stability as a Christian. They no longer claw, scrape, stretch or search for something more from outside themselves. God has given us all He has in potential. It is ours to realize what we have; that is the important thing.
Is this not, after all, what hymn # 707 in our Trinity Hymnal, urges us to do?
Jesus, I my cross have taken, all to leave and follow Thee.
Destitute, despised, forsaken, Thou from hence my all shall be.
Perish every fond ambition, all I’ve sought or hoped or known.
Yet how rich is my condition! God and Heaven are still mine own.
Take, my soul, thy full salvation; rise o’er sin, and fear, and care;
Joy to find in every station something still to do or bear:
Think what Spirit dwells within thee; what a Father’s smile is thine;
What a Savior died to win thee, child of heaven, shouldst thou repine?
Haste then on from grace to glory, armed by faith, and winged by prayer,
Heaven’s eternal day’s before thee, God’s own hand shall guide thee there.
Soon shall close thy earthly mission, swift shall pass thy pilgrim days;
Hope soon change to glad fruition, faith to sight, and prayer to praise.
Wednesday: read 1 Thessalonians 2:1-2; 3:5 & Galatians 6:9. 1 Thessalonians 2 opens with Paul’s reassuring himself and his readers that his visit to Thessalonica was not “in vain.” This “fear of failure” in Gospel work is a frequent temptation. Paul struggled mightily with his fears about the condition of the Thessalonian church – until he was driven to send Timothy to them to find out “if his efforts had been useless” in 1 Thess. 3:5. In like manner, out of concern that the Galatians were growing discouraged and “weary in well-doing,” Paul promises that their labors would not be in vain and that they would reap a harvest “if they did not give up” (Galatians 6:9).
Meditate and Pray: Lord, forgive us that we are so easily unsettled and discouraged in the work which you have given us to do, and in the relationships which you have given us with loved ones and neighbors in this world. While many churches in our day are tempted to tout their “more dramatic” gifts and “flashy” programs to draw people in, please give us the Holy Spirit’s quiet grace of perseverance and strength to maintain the “unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3), even in the face of a world which pressures us to give up. We pray this in the Name of Jesus Christ, the Author and Finisher of our faith, who never gives up. Amen.
Thursday/Friday: read 1 Thessalonians 2:1-2 and Acts 16:22-24. We prayed yesterday for help to overcome our fears that our work is in vain, and learned how it is the Holy Spirit’s job to apply His potent support when we feel we can’t go on. In Paul’s life also, it is the Holy Spirit who is the unseen Agent that prepares the way for Paul’s fruitful service in both Philippi and Thessalonica in 1 Thess. 2:1-2. He it is who would encourage Paul to keep declaring the Good News in 1 Thess. 2:2 “in spite of strong opposition.” He is the determined Comforter who persists in working through us in discouraging and daunting situations. We know this when we consider that it is the Holy Spirit’s assigned task on earth to carry forward the work which Christ left for the church on earth to do – against all opposition! For example –
- While we see the massive opposition which threatened to shut down the Apostle’s work in Philippi in Acts 16:22-24’s beating and imprisonment, we also see that in prison, the Apostle and his fellow-worker Silas were moved to sing hymns of praise. Who is it who moves believers to sing in such extreme circumstances? Answer: The Holy Spirit, who in Ephesians 5:18-19 fills believers so they can “sing and make music to the Lord” even in a prison cell! Sustained by this joy-giving Holy Spirit, Paul could go on to Thessalonica, daring to proclaim the Gospel again!
- While we see the hard-heartedness of the city officials, who sanctioned the beating of Paul and then tragically begged him to leave Philippi in the darkness of unbelief in Acts 16:39, we also see that in Acts 16:40, there was a baby church, a “lampstand” for the Gospel which Paul left behind as proof that his work there was not in vain. Who is it who plants the seed of a living body of new Christians in such inhospitable ground? Answer: The Holy Spirit, through Whom Christ builds His church.
- While we see the great weakness of Paul as he and Silas were driven out of Philippi and arrived at Thessalonica – only to face persecution from the same enemies of the Gospel in Acts 17:5, we also see the very joy which filled Paul’s jail cell also fill the hearts of new believers in Thessalonica in 1 Thess. 1:6 – despite their sharing in severe suffering for their new-found faith! Who is it who gives such joy in the midst of affliction – a joy which enables even new believers to persevere in the Narrow Way, no matter how rough and thorny it may be? Answer: The Holy Spirit, whom God pours into our hearts so that we can “rejoice” even in our sufferings – Romans 5:3-5!
Meditate and Pray: For all these reasons Paul was able to finish his Gospel work in Philippi and then travel to Thessalonica in 1 Thess. 2:2. The Holy Spirit was for Paul and is for us God’s indispensable and always successful Worker to build Christ’s church. Even when we ourselves fear the waste of our efforts, God’s Spirit moves unfalteringly on – conquering and to conquer! No word of Scripture, deed of mercy or prayer of intercession inspired by Him will fall to the ground! Thank the Holy Spirit right now for being the unfailing fountainhead of all Christian blessings, from God to us, and of all Christian duties, from us to God! As hymn # 336 in our Trinity Hymnal puts it:
Spirit, strength of all the weak,
Spirit, Fount of faith and joy,
Source of love and light divine,
Saturday/Sunday: Here is a great hymn by Frederick William Faber to provide encouragement for us when we are tempted to give up, thinking our labor for the Lord is in vain:
Workman of God! O lose not heart,
Thrice blest is he to whom is giv’n
Blest too is he who can divine
Then learn to scorn the praise of men,
For right is right, since God is God,