The Survival of the Faithful, Part 1

We are at Day 37 of the state-mandated quarantine. Who would ever have imagined such a sudden and sweeping shut-down of the world in the wake of pestilence and death (Mat 24:7)? When will it end? What be will the outcome? What’s really going on? How ought Christians behave in light of it all? That’s a lot to unpack in one little article! Nevertheless, the simple answer is: we need to continue doing what we ought always to have been doing as Heavenly-Minded Christians!

You might say, “Pray-tell, what is that?” The short answer is, “Live out the New Testament!” ...That’s the short answer? Yup! The New Testament is a history, a prophecy and a handbook on how the believer should live in the time period between the first and second comings of Christ. It’s The Insiders Report on how the Christian can obey Jesus Christ who said, “Occupy until I come!” (Lk 19:13). “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8).

We just celebrated Resurrection Sunday in a manner very similar to that original terrifying day of the first fruit[1] of Christ’s resurrection. The disciples were all huddling in their homes “for fear of the Jews” (Jn 20:19)… and so were we, in fear of the virus! How fitting it is that we take some time to reflect on what really matters as Christians in this Post-Resurrection era! In a few words, we ought to be full of joy (as in filled with the Spirit), untroubled (as in not deceived or caught-up in a frenzy), walking in love and unity (not broken up into hostile little sectarian pockets of end-time viewpoints), and occupying until He comes (as in unwaveringly doing the Lord’s work)! That’s easy enough to say, but not so easy to follow! It’s a difficult mission to avoid the pitfalls of fear, deceit and pride! As the scripture says in Revelation, our testimony must be in word and faith: authentic Christians are over-comers!

Paul addressed a dangerous end-time error of the Thessalonian church which we would do well to study. While he reserves some of the highest praise for their testimony (2Th 1:3-4), he warns them not to be soon shaken in their faith by listening to rabid extremists who are declaring that the Day of the Lord was at hand (2 Th 2:2). He praises them for their faith, love and patience in all their persecutions and tribulations that they endured. I believe that Paul’s advice to them is a model for contemporary Christians to follow. He outlines characteristics that mark the overcoming believer in every age. This month we will look at 1 Thessalonians.

It is evident that today's quarantine situation has many people posting information and giving advice. My reason for writing this article is partly to remind us of our need not to be deceived nor troubled in mind, and partly to remind us of what “Overcoming” looks like for contemporary believers. 1st and 2nd Thessalonians[2] best reflect the teachings of Jesus about end-times in Matthew 24. I am not trying to present a comprehensive eschatology, but practically focus on our need to be sober citizens of the day in a darkening night.

A quick back-story is necessary. The disciples who walked with Jesus had very certain, comprehensive, and well-formed opinions regarding the first coming of the Messiah: they never imagined two comings. They were so deeply entrenched in their own trusted belief and expectations that 100% of them got it wrong. Furthermore, the depth of their confidence in their erroneous interpretation was directly related to the huge negative impact on their faith during Jesus’s crucifixion and burial. Their disappointment was so deep that Jesus's resurrection took a while to sink in. Even after forty days, when Jesus had revealed himself to the disciples in various settings, they were still trying to process everything according to their deeply held doctrinal beliefs... and they still got it wrong! I hope we let that impact our own end-time theories!

There’re many dearly-held viewpoints that theologians have constructed in an attempt to have a cohesive eschatology. Every one of them filters prophecies through a certain grid that gives weight to different priorities above others: Premillennialism, Postmillennialism, and Amillennialism to name three major viewpoints. All three can’t be right, but the danger of these views will come more from a die-hard loyalty to them than a die-hard loyalty to Scripture and to the Father, who alone has all the details. That was Israel’s error when Jesus was born. They knew many of the prophecies but they got the narrative wrong.

The disciples were expecting Jesus to set up a physical kingdom at that time. They were expecting to rule and reign with him immediately. They wanted to know when it would happen because that was their focus (Mat. 24:3). One evidence of their pressing expectations was how they repeatedly vied for the highest positions in the kingdom (Luke 9:46, 22:24). And when the sorrow of the crucifixion was over, they were at it again, saying, “Lord, will you at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Don’t misunderstand, they were devout and serious followers of Jesus! They weren’t flippant — they just put too much confidence in their own understanding of how things would work out—a very dangerous fault. (Note that once they received the Holy Spirit, they finally got it right!)

I point this out because we are similarly at risk today just as the disciples were in Jesus’s day. Many scripture passages on the last days seem to contradict others and require interpretation. However, in drawing our conclusions, we can force an overly comprehensive or strict outline onto our eschatology, and run the risk of going beyond what the scripture actually reveals. Thus, we put ourselves in danger of raising hopes and expectations on a false premise or incomplete paradigm. False hopes can shake the faith of many in a devastating way! That is the danger of which Jesus warned concerning widespread deception in the last days. Deception is our biggest enemy!

Now for some of those characteristics that mark the overcoming believer in every age... The first is sexual holiness: the sanctification or preserving of our bodies for marriage as God designed (1 Th 4:1-10). Clearly, this is a giant battleground in our day. How many professing Christians indulge themselves in every form of unholy sex that is so widespread in our culture today — and as it says in Proverbs about the adulterous woman, “She eats and wipes her mouth, and says, 'I have done nothing wrong'” (Pr 30:20). God is not mocked, what a man sows, he reaps. “Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.” (Heb 13:4) The biggest hook that drags professing Christians into the world’s mindset is sexual profligacy. I once counted 54 chapters in the New Testament that warns Christians against sexual sin; “to not walk in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God” (1Th 4:5).

Two: An overcoming believer ambitiously maintains a quiet, godly work ethic that is a testimony to unbelievers and prevents the believer from being dependent on anyone (1Th 4:11-12). Frustrating, hard work is the foundation of earthly life ever since the Fall of Adam and Eve (Gen 3:15-19). Simply put, a proper eschatology demands that we live in this present world while we wait for the Lord’s coming. Yes! Working with our hands to provide for the matters of this life is that important. Beware! An overzealous view of when the Lord will return can make a Christian unproductive and dependent on others because their expectation is unbalanced as they are trying to be biblically “Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God” (2Pe 3:12).

Paul addressed a false teaching that arose among the Thessalonians causing some believers to become unproductive busybodies. Paul commanded them that, “If any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.” (2Th 3:10-12)

A fairly recent false teacher[3] taught that he had carefully calculated the coming of the Lord (the rapture) to be May 21, 2011. As the day approached, thousands of his world-wide followers quit their jobs, sold their businesses and houses, invested the proceeds in broadcasting their beliefs on radio, billboards, tracts and other means. The rapture did not happen and the gospel was profaned around the world. The Lord never encourages believers to disengage from the daily responsibility to provide for themselves. We are commanded to be found as faithful stewards until the Lord comes. Disorderly Christians are a disgrace, they deny the faith and make themselves worse than infidels (1Ti 5:8).

Three: We have comfort in the death of believers (1Th 4:13-18). The believer has tangible evidence of eternal life in the first-fruit reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Therefore, we aren’t easily moved by the fear of death as the non-believer, who has no such hope. That eternal hope impacts every earthly circumstance. We are not moved by the things that shake the world! (See He 12:26-27.) We have a clear promise of being gathered to the Lord at the end of the age, whether by resurrection or translation directly into heaven. Having no fear, we engage in productive, life-giving activities in the world with the purpose and the perspective of our eternal destiny. In this sense of the word, Christians are invincible.

Fourth: Sober-minded watchfulness. It is not for us to know the times and the seasons. That’s why Paul wrote, “But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.” (1Th 5:1-2). The times and seasons are determined by the Father, we don’t need to keep guessing, “When?” Walk in the light and you will be ready for anything when the time comes. For the world, the end is coming on the earth like a thief in the night, but we are of the day and not of the night (see vv 1-5). This is significant: we cannot afford to be caught up in a guessing game. So said Christ as he corrected the disciples one last time before He ascended into heaven. “It’s not for you to know the times and the seasons” (Acts 1:6-8). The Father has put those details under His own power and authority. Our power and authority is to preach the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit. We may not know the times and the seasons, but we can see the signs as they develop along the way. Watchfulness keeps us on track to the urgency of living in the light every day! Remember that Jesus said that the beginnings of sorrows (persecution) is upon us now, but the end is not yet (Mat 24:8, 14). Watch and pray!

Just as the world is without the hope of eternal life, so the world is as asleep as if it were night. Watchful believers are of the Day, we are not in darkness. “Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober” (1Th 5:6). This implies that we are working, doing the master’s bidding until he comes; but we are clearly looking for his coming. A proper reading of Matthew 25 will bear this out. We’re not on earth to amass a fortune and a happy heritage here! No! “Our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Ph 3:20 KJV) We have Kingdom work to do now, everyday. We are destined to salvation, not to wrath, so we walk by faith and not in fear. Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me. (Pro 30:8 KJV)

Seeing that we have a Kingdom Destiny, we do not have a worldly agenda, but an eternal focus. This means that we engage (ie. work) in the world as “they that use this world, not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away” (1Co 7:31). “But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” (1Th 5:8-9).

Fifth: Highly esteem your spiritual leaders (1Th 5:12-13). “And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you” (v 12). Give careful attention to the laboring overseers who admonish you (ie. pastors, parents, teachers etc). The word for “know” here is εἴδω eido. It means: to turn the eyes, the mind, the attention to anything; to pay attention, observe. The post-resurrection believer is teachable, giving full focus and attention to God’s appointed leaders in his life. Highly esteeming is not an approval of cult-leader worship; but rather an admonition to believers who know how to “test every spirit to see if they are of God” (1Jn 4:1); and who are also able to engage in meaningful interaction regarding the personal application of the Word of God in their daily life. Would you have been able to handle Paul’s exhortation to follow him as he followed Christ? Being a spiritual leader is a hard lot. It means a great deal to a leader when he is properly esteemed in a godly manner. (See also Heb 13:7).

Often, the root of disrespect for spiritual shepherds begins in the lack of faith of the sheep. Study how the children of Israel disrespected and distrusted Moses and Aaron at every new trial (See Numbers and Ro 15:4; 1Co 10:1-12). Hardship stirs up fear and doubt and troubles the unstable Christian (Ja 1:2-8). The first target attacked by Satan is the spiritual leader who is blamed for the difficulty. If you are grumbling against your spiritual leader because of a difficult circumstance, you will either rebel against the leader for the difficulty, or you will look to your heavenly Father in faith and in prayer appeal to Him for help. “The king's heart [is] in the hand of the LORD, [as] the rivers of water: he turns it whithersoever he will” (Pro 21:1). “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to [his] purpose” (Rom 8:28). This call to esteem spiritual leaders is a check-valve against deception, it aids us in focusing on God’s sovereignty in a situation, not the obvious shortcoming of the spiritual leader. “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God” (Rom 13:1).

Is it any wonder that first commandment with promise was, “Honor your father and mother that your days may be long upon the earth”? “Knowing” those who labor and have the oversight and admonish us begins in the cradle and does not end until the grave!

Six: Embrace vigorous spiritual community (1Th 5.14-28). This is a longer topic that I don’t have the space to elaborate on; however suffice it to say that the focus is on the full spectrum building up and edifying of the Body of Christ. “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.” (v 14). It is impossible to be a watchful believer of the day who is not fully engaging in the spiritual resources extended to us through the local church.

“See that no one renders evil for evil unto any [man]; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all [men]. Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesying. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil. And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and [I pray God] your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful [is] he that calls you, who also will do [it]. Brethren, pray for us. Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss. I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ [be] with you. Amen.” (1Th 5:15-28 KJV)

In conclusion, the sober, watchful Christian is a New Testament Christian. There is not some special watchfulness that we must attain to at the end, we must attain to it now. It is the end times right this minute. (Actually, you could say that we’re just two days into it, using Peter’s measures that unto the Lord, a thousand years is as one day (2Pe 3:8).) The only reason Jesus has not come yet is because God is long-suffering, not willing that anyone should perish. It is after the gospel has been preached to the whole world, that the end will come (Mat 24:14). Can we predict that? No, but we can continue in the things that we have learned and been assured of, knowing of whom we have received them. We can teach faithful men and women who will be able to teach others also. Are you being watchful?

[1] The Resurrection of Christ is referred to as a first fruit. See Acts 26:23, 1 Corinthians 15:29-23.

[2] I understand that my presentation may not fully line up with certain interpretations of eschatology. However, the timing is not so much my focus, but the application of clearly established principles for how Christians ought to live in light of the promise of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

[3]The late Harold Camping, an owner and host of Family Radio.

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