11. What Everyone Needs to Know About the Second Coming (2 Thessalonians 1:1-4)Related Media
The manuscript version of this article is unavailable. This is a lightly edited transcript of Bob Deffinbaugh’s preached message (available in the related media). Appreciation for the transcription work goes to Marilyn Fine.
II Thessalonians 1:1-4
Good morning. This is lesson 11 in our study. It is the first lesson that we are endeavoring to deal with II Thessalonians. I already have a confession to you. As you know, I am known to change not only titles but lengths of passages. People have encouraged me to slow down and I have. So, we will be dealing with verses 1-4 rather than verses 1-12 this morning.
If you see on your screen a couple of pictures taken a few years ago, as you will in just a second, we made a trip to Alaska with Bill and Marilyn McRae. That was one of our happy stops and I am sure some of you have done the same. Then, there is a shot there, I think, of the mountains that everybody who has been on cruise has seen. It is a wonderful thing. It is for us probably the trip of a lifetime and, undoubtedly, we will probably never do it again. I will tell you one thing it is not reality. A cruise ship is not reality, folks. If you have not gotten that down, then you better come to terms with it.
One year later, we went on our vacation and went to Washington State and it was within days that my father had a major stroke. Then, I spent more than a week sitting at his side in the hospital. I have to tell you that is closer to reality than a cruise ship. I know it is wonderful to have all those people around who pick up after you. You do not have to take your trays anywhere. They would almost feed you if you let them. But, that is not real. I want to tell you something else. It is not even a picture of heaven. It is not really what heaven will be like. We will not be sitting down with everybody serving us. As I understand heaven, heaven is a place where we will be delightfully serving God. So, all I am saying is, join us. Take your cruise. Just do not let it warp your life, folks. Accept it for what it is in terms of the exception to what life is like.
I think many Christians in America view the Christian life as a cruise. I think that we, because of our circumstances, because of our affluence, because of the ease of life that we have had, have been on a cruise. I have to tell you that it takes a book like I or II Thessalonians to wake me up to the reality of what real Christian living is like.
Now, I do not begrudge the fact that we have not been living under persecution, but I am simply telling you it is not the norm. Many people around the world, when they would read I and II Thessalonians and when they would read of the adversity and the persecution and the suffering, they would nod their heads because they know what it means. They have experienced it in their life. We read this like we are reading a book about a foreign land. It just really does not resonate the way it would to certain people. So, when we come to the book of II Thessalonians, I really want to press that button. We need a reality check and Thessalonians does it for us. It tells us what the real world is like and it probably tells us what our future is like— perhaps in the near term.
So, let us look at some of the things. I might as well tell you right now about this message. I cut it in half this morning. That was for starters. I took my Power Point and stopped it at halfway through the Power Point presentation. The reason is I had a choice to make.
Now, if I were in India, people would be rebuking me for stopping when I will this morning. In fact, I have been rebuked for preaching too short a message. Brothers would say to me, “Listen, these people drove for two hours to get here. They did not come for a 40-minute message.” People here, you know, hit 40 minutes and they are looking at their watch and thinking about the roast in the oven and they are just all itchy. A good sermon takes two hours. I am convinced, and I have never been convinced otherwise. So the difficulty that I have is how do you get away with that? In America, it is very, very difficult to pull it off. My way of preaching is to try to connect dots. Other people in their preaching may do their work and come to their conclusions. Then they basically just give you the conclusions and do not show you the process. That does not seem right to me. It seems to me that preaching ought to tell people how to study God’s Word and not just give all the results. Everybody ought to become a better student.
If you listen to preaching long enough, hopefully if you listen to mine long enough, you will say “you know that guy is not so good” –Well, you knew that early on, but— “he is not so good. If I studied that long and studied that way, I would come up with the same stuff.” That is exactly the way it ought to be.
My dilemma is that when you take a message like this it takes a certain amount of time to deal with the details, to show the particular dots, and then to follow those dots in terms of “here is the argument of the author.” Then say, “this is the message that Paul has.” Then look at other texts and illustrate it or exemplify it and then say “here is where that takes us. Here is the kind of application that ought to flow from that.” You cannot do it in 40 minutes. So, you have a dilemma to face.
The way I have faced this text was that I was ready early this morning. I was ready to say, “all right, I am going to connect the dots this week and next week I will get to the point of saying what is the impact when Paul has us walk away from this text. Besides just connecting the dots and having some intellectual things take place, how does he want this message to hit us between the eyes? How does he want us to emotionally connect with this message? How does he want us to think differently and act differently because of this message?” Usually what I do is I hustle my way through the text and then I am short on time. Then I crunch up the application. That is not probably ideal. Thus, this morning I have not found the solution other than this: I decided it would be better to take a short text of scripture and to deal more with the impact of that text than it would be to take a longer portion of scripture and somehow stretch out the application. So bear with me. I confess to you, folks, that is my way of resolving the preacher’s problem. You will have to tell me whether it worked or not.
Now let us look at the question. Is II Thessalonians a rerun? Did you ever notice some of those TV programs? it seems like they have 10 programs and they replay them about four times a piece all through the year. So, one of the things you want to do is look and say “is this the first time I have seen this or is this fourth time…and I am not going to look at it again.” When you start with II Thessalonians 1, you almost feel like you are reading I Thessalonians 1 all over again. Don’t you? You say to yourself “whoa, is this a rerun?” I would like to suggest to you that it is not. Let us just review for a moment where we have come from in I Thessalonians and also Acts 17 (which is the account of the birth of the church at Thessalonica).
You remember that this was the second missionary journey. Paul and Timothy and Silvanus were there traveling. Remember also the dilemma in Acts 16 of the Philippian jail and the persecution and suffering Paul bore there. Then, the jailer came to faith. Paul left and eventually ended up in Thessalonica preaching in the synagogue. A number of people came to faith and a number did not— and hardened against the gospel. That led to persecution and Paul had to be suddenly escorted out of town, leaving the church and not yet being able to return to it.
The Thessalonians, as he describes in I Thessalonians 1, received the message from Paul and his associates with great joy. He told them they would suffer. They did suffer, but in the midst of that affliction they, nevertheless, rejoiced because of the salvation they had in the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul reminds them of his conduct amongst them.
One manner of conduct was that he labored hard in their midst— which will play a lot in terms of II Thessalonians 3 when he talks to the freeloaders that are there in the church. Paul worked hard. He was, he said, like a father to them in instruction. He was like a mother, as well, in the gentleness with which he dealt with them.
He also says in Chapter 2 that these Gentile believers have a new bond. It is a bond with their Judean Jewish brothers and sisters who have faced persecution from those who do not want the gospel preached to Gentiles. So, here are Gentiles who are now in kinship with believing Jews because of this persecution they both had in receiving persecution from their own brethren.
Paul wanted to return to Thessalonica. He wanted to discern how they were doing. He wanted to teach things that he had not yet taught them. But, that was not possible and Paul tells us the reason is that Satan had thwarted those efforts to return up to that point in time. Because of his concern, because of his awareness of the tribulation and persecution that the Thessalonians had endured, Paul decided that he would send Timothy. He would have Timothy go up and see how the church was doing and bring the report back. You remember that in I Thessalonians, Paul joyfully responds with his associates to the news that the church is doing well. The work, the effort, the sacrifice have not been for naught. It has been successful and they are thriving and continuing to grow in their walk with the Lord Jesus. Paul prays that they would continue to do that.
In Chapter 4, Paul moves into his section on sanctification and he says that they ought to be living (and we, too) very different lives. So, he talks about sanctification in this very immoral city, in the area of sexual morality. That is what sanctification will look like in this dimension of their life. It is a new kind of sexual morality.
Then, he also talks about the social ethic, if you would. Those who have been sanctified are those who begin to contribute to, as it were, their environment, their society— not take from it. This is a bit of a variation of the theme from Ephesians 4:28,
“The one who steals must steal no longer; rather he must labor, doing good with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with the one who has need.”
There is a sense in which a lazy person is stealing money from others— if he lives off their effort and has the ability to provide for himself. So, he deals with that issue and then he moves to the whole matter of the second coming in 1 Thessalonians 4:13. In 4:13-18, he is dealing with the second coming as it relates to dead Christians. Some have already died, apparently, in Thessalonica. They expected the return of the Lord to come soon. So, when people began to die and the Lord had not come, the issue was “what becomes of those people?” “Are they somehow second class citizens?” “Are they left out of the blessings that will come when our Lord returns?” His answer is no. Actually, they are first in line. When our Lord returns, He will raise those who are dead in Him to new life and they will be rejoined— they will be joined I should say— with our Lord Jesus Christ and they will be rejoined with their fellow believers. Then they will live forever in the presence of our Lord.
When you come to 1 Thessaloninas 5:1-11, now you are talking about the second coming as it relates to those saints who are alive at the time or may be alive at the time of our Lord’s return. At least they are alive now. They are not those who have died, but those who are living. He says those saints ought to be watchful. They ought not to be like unbelievers who are drunken, who are living in darkness, who have a false sense of security that all is going well and the judgment will not befall them. Christians ought to be watchful and waiting for the time of our Lord’s return and eagerly anticipating it so that it does not catch them off guard. Then, the rest of Chapter 5 has to do with his final instructions of appointing leadership— as I understand it, formally acknowledging leadership, stepping up to the plate and being leaders in their own right as individuals. Then there are the concluding instructions that are given to the church--rejoice, pray without ceasing, and so on. So, that is I Thessalonians.
What is new when we come to II Thessalonians? Why the need for a second epistle? I think you can assume that everything was not going blissfully well. It would be like I Corinthians as it relates to II Corinthians, would it not? Paul wrote I Corinthians. He said there were certain problems, divisions. “I am of Paul.” “I am of Apollos.” There was immorality and Christians taking each other to court. That first letter had some effect, but it did not totally deal with all the problems. So, II Corinthians comes along and you have to say there is a little more teeth in II Corinthians than I Corinthians. Paul calls some of those who have been gathering a following after themselves, “false apostles,” “messengers of Satan” and so on. Now it is clear that there are people there within the church who are unbelievers and leading saints astray.
What has changed in II Thessalonians? We really do not know how much time has passed, but, obviously, enough time for Paul to have a feel for things. It seems to me that Timothy made several trips. I am not quite sure, but I think he was kind of huffing and puffing in the sense that he had to make the trip in Chapter 1, where he went to find out about the saints, and he came back with a report. That is trip one. I take it that he is probably the one who takes I Thessalonians to them and returns again. So, you have Timothy going back and forth and Paul getting information and intelligence about that. One of the things that I think we see is the whole area of persecution. It seems to me, and this is somewhat inferential, we would say at least for certain it has not ceased and it certainly does not appear to have diminished. My sense is that persecution against the church and believers has intensified over time, not lessened. Now, that raises some questions. If you were listening to certain television preachers today and you were suffering in the way these Thessalonians saints were suffering, or if you had Job’s friends sitting at your side, they would be saying to you that something must be wrong. God wants His people to be happy and prosperous and everything to be going well. What is wrong with your spiritual life? If these Thessalonian saints are enduring this persecution, they may begin to ask themselves “is there something wrong with me? Is there something wrong with this picture? Why does this continue? This does not look like heaven!” And, of course, it does not.
II Thessalonians 1, I believe, is Paul’s addressing this in a way that he has not yet done. Frankly, it is what he deals with in the most core verses that we are saving for next week. In verses 5-10, what he is going to say is you need to understand your present persecution in the light of the second coming because your persecution is directly related to the second coming of Christ and its results.
I am going to cheat and tell you a little bit to think about before next week. In the first place, your persecution at the hand of other people is the evidence that judgment is going to come. Judgment needs to come and judgment is just upon those who are persecuting saints. Their present persecution shows that unbelievers are not just neutrally passive. They will actually begin to be abusive to Christians and, for that, our Lord is going to come and deal with them and repay to them what they have done.
Now, we live in an era of political correctness and all the politeness and “niceyness” and whatever. I have got to tell you, folks, when push comes to shove and real difficulty comes, you will find that there will be a bonding of true believers together. Some falling off at that point will occur as Jesus says in Matthew 24, but a bonding of true believers will happen. There will be a stepping aside of unbelievers. I want to tell you that unbelievers at that point in time will not be your friends. They will be your enemies and they will be actively and aggressively bringing about persecution. So, I see unbelief and persecution being persecutors as being closely tied together in II Thessalonians 1.
There is good news for the believer in that God is not only going to give them relief from their suffering, He is going to bring justice to them (Revelation 16). Remember it talks about how the judgment of God is poured out upon the earth and they praised God and they say they deserve it. There is a sense in which the Christian is relieved and, in a sense, it feels right that justice has finally been done.
Listen, if there was not a hell, there are a lot of wrongs in this world that would never have been made right. What Paul is talking about is when Christ comes again, things will be made right. That ought to be good news to the Christian. The other side of it is that when our Lord comes, He is going to come to be with His saints and to be glorified in and among His saints. That is good news, as well. So, the second coming is brought to bear on a suffering, persecuted church. That is why you have Chapter 1 devoted, I believe, to the whole issue of persecution as it relates to the second coming.
Secondly, because Paul has already spoken a great deal about the return of our Lord Jesus Christ (Would you not agree in Chapter 1? I think eight times it is referred to there.) something has changed. What has changed is that people, certain ones, have come along and they have come along with a modification of his teaching. Now, it is interesting, (remember he talked about not despising prophetic utterances) when Paul comes to describe what he does about the second coming, it may be that somebody says they have a revelation from God— that the day of the Lord has already come. It may be that somebody claims “I received an epistle from Paul and he said the day of the Lord has come.” Or somebody else just has Paul’s words about that in I Thessalonians and says “I know how that is supposed to be interpreted.” The end game is there were people saying the day of the Lord had come. So, Chapter 2 is addressing that area of false teaching pertaining to the day of the Lord and what has been done with it and how Paul will show that it, indeed, is false.
Thirdly, Paul has made it clear in I Thessalonians that he has worked hard in their midst. He has made it clear to them in Chapter 4 that they also ought to be working hard and, in a sense, being self-sustaining. He is not rebuking people who are unable to care for themselves, unable to work, he is talking to those who are able to work but unwilling to work. In that sense they were going along, hitching themselves to the support of other believers, in a way that really is not right. Apparently, his words did not go far enough because now in II Thessalonians 3, he has to come back to that issue. He has to say, in effect, the church needs to take a form of discipline in dealing with those people. They need to feel the bite of Paul’s rebuke and understand that what they are doing is wrong. So, things have changed between I Thessalonians and II Thessalonians. As I understand it then, we need to look at those subjects in the light of what he has already said and what has transpired in the interim between I and II Thessalonians.
So, let us look at verses 1-4 in Paul’s greeting, thanksgiving, and boasting. Notice some changes. Even though the words are similar to what we find in I Thessalonians 1 and following, notice the changes in his words in his greeting. In I Thessalonians, Paul was clear to give thanks for their salvation, for their perseverance and endurance in the midst of persecution, but he is also very clear to exhort them to grow even more. He does that in Chapter 4 and he prays for the Thessalonians that God would bring about growth and progress. In particular we could say he wants them to grow in the areas of faith, love and hope that they would continue to abound in these ways.
What is interesting is when you come to II Thessalonians 1, he is now praising God and giving thanks for the fact that they have progressed and they have grown. If you can put it on short terms, Paul is giving evidence to the fact that his prayers have been answered, at least in part. God has already been working in the Thessalonians and the reports that he has received affirm the fact that these believers, in the midst of all their difficulties, are continuing to grow. That is, indeed, good news.
You also see that in I Thessalonians, he praises God, but when you look at the same basic subject in II Thessalonians, he adds an element. We ought, we are obligated, he says, to praise God and this is rightly so— our text says. So, now there is this element of the need or necessity to do so. Why would that be? Well, we have already seen that they have grown. We know that their growth is the work of God working in the lives of the Thessalonians and so it is only right to acknowledge and to praise God for what He has done in the lives of these people. So, there is the necessity, I think, of knowing the lives of people, seeing that God is moving them along, and I think when we read what Paul says, we tend to put Paul in this separate capacity and say, well, he is an apostle. He is responsible for that. Now, we need to bear in mind that when Paul is talking here about how the Thessalonians have progressed, this is his secondary missionary journey. There are a number of other churches where Paul has been; some that he has started. So, what Paul is saying and doing here is not just true of the Thessalonica church, it is true of churches where he has been, it is true of churches where he has not yet been, like the church in Rome. Paul is one who feels an obligation to know how the saints are doing in various churches in various parts of the world. I would suggest to you we as Christians are isolationists. I understand the political kind of isolationism that says we cannot be the world’s policemen and blah, blah, blah, and we could go down that trail for a long way. Set that one aside. The question is, are Christians to be isolationists which regard to fellow believers in their own church and to fellow believers around the world? Do we have an obligation to know about the persecuted church? Do we have an obligation to know that our brothers and sisters are facing certain difficulties? Do we have an obligation like Paul did to pray for them and their spiritual growth? Do we have an obligation to know how it is going in their lives and to praise God for those who are standing fast? I contend we do. I contend we do and we are not doing very well at it. We are not doing very well at knowing how brothers and sisters are doing in their faith. I will come back to that in a little bit because it has something to do with the way in which we do church or ecclesiology.
Fourthly, in I Thessalonians, do you remember he says that these Thessalonians have embraced the gospel and are in the midst of their tribulation. Tet their faith is thriving and they are rejoicing. Paul says “where we go, the places that I go, I hear reports about you. They tell me about you so that I do not have to tell them about you, they already know.” He says, therefore, there was no need (I Thessalonians), no need for me to tell them about you.
In II Thessalonians, he says it is only right I ought not only to know, I ought to share what is going on in your church, your Thessalonican church. I ought to share that with others. So, why the change? Why the change between I do not need to then share it and I ought to share it? I would suggest it is this. How Christians do in their spiritual walk impacts other believers. How Christians are doing in their spiritual walk, in particular when they are living under duress, has a great deal to do with how others will respond to it.
Two examples: first of all, Psalm 73. Remember Asaph is psalmist is looking around and he is moaning and groaning about how the bad guys are living so well and how he is doing so poorly. Then he says, in effect, you know, that I really began to wonder whether I should just chuck it all. He says my feet were near to slipping. Then he makes this statement, “if I” (and I think the essence of it--this is a paraphrase) I think the essence of what he says is “if I had gone public with the thoughts and temptations in my mind; that is, to just give up. If I had done that, I would have betrayed this generation of your children.” He says to God, “If I would have failed in the midst of what I considered my adversity, my failure would have impacted other believers and that would have been a terrible sin, would it not?”
So, there is this whole matter and I think that is why when you look at Paul in Philippians 2 where he has already talked about the humility of our Lord Jesus Christ and then he basically says it is my privilege, as it were, to be...he talks about the sort of libation, the drink offering that is poured over the sacrifice, and maybe that makes sense to us or not...but, let us just say Paul is saying, “I get to be the icing on your cake.” The icing on Paul’s cake, so to speak, is to be able to sacrifice himself for their growth so that others will be benefitted.
Now, go with me to Philippians 1 in your mind. Paul is in prison. His outcome is uncertain. The word of his imprisonment has drifted out amongst the believers. Some believers have sought to capitalize on Paul’s persecution and say, in effect, “see, God must not be pleased with Paul. He is not being blessed. He is being punished.” Paul said, “I don’t care. They are still preaching Christ. I’ll take the heat.” Then, he goes on to say, “other people because of my experience and my endurance in the gospel have been greatly encouraged and emboldened in their faith.” So, it seems to me that Paul finds it necessary to boast because it praises God and, secondly, because it encourages the saints who are facing similar circumstances. Or, if you will, it encourages them to maintain their steadfastness in terms of their walk with God.
So, how should Paul’s words affect us? I think I may rearrange my order here and I am going to deal with persecution first. The reality is life is not a cruise. We know this is true when we read I and II Thessalonians, when we read Paul in Acts 14:22 “through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God,” or II Timothy 3:2, “All who would live Godly lives will suffer persecution.”
Friend, the norm of Christian living is to take the heat for being a Christian and you and I have not even begun to experience what that means. But, there are people today who literally are meeting in places in the darkness and whatever because of their faith in Jesus Christ. They will be meeting in places and in ways we cannot conceive of. A few years ago, there was a family from Romania that was in our body and somebody had come from Romania that was a visitor. I happened to be standing with them when they got together and they had not seen each other for years since they had been together in Romania. They said to each other, “Do you remember the last time we were in church? Do you remember the secret police were standing out in front and they were taking our names.” Have we ever, ever seen anything like that?
We need to understand the reality is that persecution is the norm. I believe, and I think most of you sense, it is coming our way, folks. It is coming our way because unbelief in Jesus is just a kissing cousin to persecuting those who do believe. It is just going to come and it is going to come more strongly, I fear, I sense, than we have ever known. Yet, that persecution is a blessing. It is part of God’s work in our lives to sanctify us. It is part of God’s work to show that certain people are worthy of condemnation and other people are worthy of the kingdom, not in the sense that their works have done that, but that God’s work through them has shown them to have the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Eschatology. That is a fancy five-dollar seminary word for prophecy and things to come. I have a confession to make and it is Thessalonians that has really put me to the wall on this. I really have kind of a negative fetish about prophecy. I will tell you for several reasons: (1) I am sick and tired of seeing evangelicals throw rocks at each other and deal with each other like they were heretics because they do not have the same exact view of how the end is going to come. I am tired of that and I really do not want to get onboard that whole train. But, having said that, when I come to Thessalonians, do you notice that virtually everything Paul is talking about is related to the second coming? He relates persecution to the second coming. He relates sanctification to the second coming. What that says is...in fact, when I started reading again in Paul’s other epistles, it is all pointing forward. Even that word, “calling,” and I am going to get to that later because it is not here, but calling, if I see it correctly, has its past tense, “we have been called.” There is a sense in which the present tense verbiage use, “he calls,” and I think then in Philippians he talks about the “upward call.” I think that everything in the calling of our Lord is pointing us forward so that, in a sense, the finish line is the second coming. Whenever you are reading in Hebrews about the race (whatever it is), the finish line is the second coming. The goal is that we would be found faithful. Is that not true? So, in that sense you may not need to be rebuked. I do. That is, the second coming and prophecy is vitally important to our spiritual lives. Not all the nitpicky little details and arguments, but the grand picture is there. It is put before us over and over again. We better get, in that sense, we better get a prophetic mindset that everything we are doing now we ought to see in the light of what God is doing in the future.
Prayer. Wow, you know, I read Paul’s epistles and he is praying all the time. He is praying for their growth. He is praising God for how they are doing. He is really informed. Now, you look, he does not have Twitter or Tweet. Whatever he has, he does not have any of the stuff. It takes months for letters to get from one place to another. He knows far more about the believers in any one city than we know about the believer sitting next to us. That ought to say something to us, should it not? Paul is saying to me, at least, I need to be sensitive to my brother and sister in this body and outside of this body— how they are doing and whether they are growing. If they are growing, I need to be praising God. If they are under duress, I need to be praying and petitioning that God would be working. Here is another thing. Paul not only prays for people, he tells them he is praying for them. How many times, I must ask myself, how many times have I come up to one of you and said, “You know what? I have been praying for you and here is what it is. Boy, that can get spooky sometimes, I might add. Sometimes people are praying for the wrong things and, thank goodness, God does not have to hear it. But, most of us ought to be saying things like, you know, I am praising God for the way in which you have responded to this adversity in your life. I know that these are difficult times. I am praying that God would give you faith and courage and boldness in that situation. I want you to know I am praying for you. As Paul says, I am praying for you all the time, not once a month he gets to them on the list. Constantly praying for them.
Well, I saved the best part for last. Ecclesiology. How we do church. I believe that the way in which we do church is vital. I would say that in many churches, not all, in many churches their ecclesiology is built on the cruise ship model. You have a shopping mall in a cruise ship (at least ours did). You have 15 jillion different places to eat. You have all of these wonderful choices and it is just sort of a warm and fuzzy kind of thing. Everybody is taking care of you— cruise ship mentality. I was thinking about during the hurricane as Earl was beginning to barrel down on the East Coast and I noticed in the news an article, a note, that said that they have redirected 15 cruise ships, or whatever it was, some number and I suspect there is a batch of them out there, but they are all heading from the storm. Suppose that we are not a cruise ship but a Coast Guard ship. See, you have to build that ship a little differently, would you not? Would the model for a Coast Guard ship not be different, I suspect, you would not have a swimming pool on the deck and, you know, all 15,000 restaurants and whatever. You are probably going to build that ship to handle rough seas. I must confess it is getting away from the rescue ship. I am thinking is the church a cruise ship or a battleship. Is the church a cruise ship or a battleship? I fear that the way in which we are tempted to go is the cruise ship mentality and that our cruise ship offers more restaurants and shopping malls than yours does. I just have to say to you I do not think it works that way.
I will say this. The way the New Testament Church was to operate is the only way I know of that works everywhere in the world in every culture in any period of time. Only the New Testament model will do that. Others come and go, depending on where you are and how rich you are and a few other things. The New Testament church is the best model and the New Testament church is by far the superior model for the persecuted church. When you go to China or you go somewhere else where the church is outlawed, you will find a church that is very much like the church Paul describes, or the New Testament describes, the church that is in our house. Now, do not misunderstand me, in Acts 2:46, the Christians met in the temple, big meeting, and from house to house, right? When it comes to times of persecution, do not plan on meeting at the temple. It is not going to happen. You are going to find yourself meeting in house to house.
I would also say this. When you are being responsible to know what is going on in the life of your fellow believer, that will not be done in a huge auditorium looking at the back of somebody else’s neck. Now, teaching can happen that way and I am not saying there is no occasion where that will take place. I am saying even the mega churches understand that real ministry takes place in small groups. So, I am going to beat the drum for just a moment about ministry groups, what we do here. Even though we are not a huge church and even though our meeting as we gather together is an opportunity— and most of us know at least something about one another— it is not good enough. If you want to be able to do the things that Paul says Christians ought to do, then there is no other way to do that than to do it in a context of a small group of people who knows each other intimately, who prays and exhorts and does all of the things that the scriptures say we ought to do. Yes, you know, I am hot on New Testament church order, but I am hot on it because it is right and I am hot on it because it is the only system that works.
I think I already mentioned this but just think about, for example, the persecuted church in some portion of the world. if you had a mega church with one dynamic leader in North Korea, how long would it take them to put that church under? One bullet. One bullet. It is done. When you have a church with multiple leaders and multiple gifted people ministering to one another, you are going to have a hard time putting the church down, folks, because the church is all of us. In politics everybody has been talking about we the people. Folks, we are the body. We are the body. The church is us. Thessalonians is addressed to us to start thinking differently about persecution, about prayer, about the way we do church and about the future. May God grant us the grace to do it.
Father, thank you for these epistles. May we take them to heart. May You challenge us. Help us not to be a cruise ship. Help us to be a battleship, a hospital ship, ones who are serving you. Help us all to do our part. Give us grace. Give us perseverance as difficult days come upon us. In Jesus’ name, amen.