Monday, July 30, 2012

"The Apostolic Example (1 Thess. 2:1-12)"

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic 
1 and 2 Thessalonians
Lesson 5: "The Apostolic Example (1 Thess. 2:1-12)"

Jesus spoke the well-known words that have become the most loved verse of the entire Bible: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16, NKJV). These words of healing were spoken to Nicodemus. But how can believing or appreciating God's act of loving and giving do anything to change sinful hearts?
One of Christ's followers made it clear how it worked for him. He expresses it as a principle that operates in everyone who will look and say, "Thank You," for what He accomplished. The apostle Paul was defending himself against the charge that his all-out devotion to Christ was virtual insanity. He was going through incredible hardships and persecutions for Christ's sake, but almost, unbelievably, he sang for joy as he went along.
The idea that he was sacrificing anything seems not to have crossed his mind. On and on he went through scourgings (and one lethal stoning!), imprisonments, fastings, cold and nakedness, shipwrecks, hunger, weariness. His career as a missionary went on for decades, even into old age. Why not restrain his self-sacrificing devotion, and settle down and enjoy a well-earned retirement? Wasn't it time for Paul to begin looking out for "number one"?
No, not for him. He says, "If we are beside ourselves, it is for God; or if we are of sound mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ constrains us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died [that is, all would be dead of He had not died for them; and so closely are we identified with Christ that when He died, we died too]; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again" (2 Cor. 5: 13-15).
Here we see what has seemed impossible to understand. Paul was not a better person than we are, nor more heroic. He simply saw something that made all his sacrifices easy: (1) he saw that he would be in a hopeless grave if that "One" had not died in his place; (2) he saw that even his next breath he owed to Christ's sacrifice on the cross; (3) he saw that he himself was a slave bought by love, responding to the blood shed there; (4) he saw that nothing he possessed he could count as really his.
As easily as the believing Israelites were healed of their fatal snake bites, so easily does the new birth occur in the heart of anyone who "sees" the cross like Paul saw it. Of course, he did not see it literally--he was not one of the original Twelve. He saw it by faith, and his experience is therefore an encouragement to us who also have never seen it literally. What he saw by faith seems to have made a more profound impression on him than the actual event made on those apostles who did see it. None of them seems to have caught its meaning as vividly as Paul did. That means something special for us who never saw the physical happening as did the Eleven. We are especially fortunate because that same faith-inspired devotion can be ours. Faith has far sharper discernment than our physical eyes.
There is a little phrase in Paul's Letter to the Galatians that opens a door into a room filled with light: "the hearing of faith" (3:2, 5). These people were worldly, hard to reach, materialistic, probably given to sensuality; they were Gentiles. But Paul's ministry had captured their attention, and their conversion was phenomenal. They gladly suffered persecution for their faith; their heart gratitude to Paul was so great that he says they would gladly have torn out their eyes to give to him if they could (4:14, 15).
What sort of truth-presentation accomplished this wonder? In Galatians 3:1 Paul lets us catch a glimpse of it: the Holy Spirit enabled him to tell the story of the cross so vividly that the people forgot who they were or where they were--they saw Christ portrayed so graphically that He was crucified in their midst.
Ellet J. Waggoner, one of the 1888 "messengers," had a similar experience. Ron Duffield, in the Foreword to Waggoner's The Everlasting Covenant writes: "At twenty seven years of age, the young physician had an experience that he would later describe as the turning point of his life. As he sat under a campmeeting tent listening to the gospel presented, suddenly a light shone about him, and the tent seemed illumined, as though the sun were shining. He describes the incident thus:
'I saw Christ crucified for me, and to me was revealed for the first time in my life the fact that God loved me, and that Christ gave Himself for me personally. It was all for me.' The light that shone upon him that day from the cross of Christ became the guide in all his Bible study. He resolved that the rest of his life would be devoted to discovering the message of God's love for individual sinners found in the pages of Scripture, and making that message plain to others."
Paul wrote, "If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" (Rom. 8:31, 32). How can we who appreciate such love not also freely give Him all things? Wouldn't such devotion include keeping all of His commandments, including the Lord's true Sabbath, even if the world disregards it? Any vestige of a self-caring truth cancels out faith. For one who accepts God's Good News, obedience that once may have seemed impossible becomes now a joyous principle.
God wins us by learning our language. God became Immanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. In Christ, God became man, one of us; came close to us; reconciles us to Himself, wins our heart, not with terrifying threats, but as Psalm 18:35 says, "Your gentleness has made me great." Paul says to the Thessalonians, "We were gentle among you" (1 Thess. 2:7). The church on earth is to represent Christ to the world; if we were to understand sinners, we could win more of them. The Good News is that it's our privilege to share the joy of the Lord in winning them!
--From the writings of Robert J. Wieland,
unless otherwise cited

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