2 Peter 1: an invitation to participate

The introduction of 2 Peter seems to wrestle with ideas that can cause confusion within the church. In fact, it probably has been seen in a number of the large theological debates since the death of Jesus. It is this: how much of our salvation and sanctification depends on us and how much depends on God. I’m not going to make an effort to delve into these deep topics and the history of such debates, but here is my rather simple and probably flawed interpretation of the matter.

We are told first that God has given us everything we need to live a godly life. This puts the power into God’s hands: he provides. It goes on to say that he has called us, again making the impetus God’s. Furthermore, he has given us promises for us to cling onto and to receive. Then it goes on to say that this is so we can “participate in the divine nature” of God. First, before I analyse it to death, let me just say what a beautiful statement that is. Through our salvation, we get to live in the holiness of God. That sounds crazy and wonderful and strange. But, going back to my first point, “participate” tells us that we get a role to play.

God does all the ground-work and all the hard stuff. He sent his son to die so that we may live. He saves us. He has the absolute power and authority in this. But, he still invites us to join in with him. He invites us to use our mind, hearts, strength and soul in what he is doing. I get the picture of a father doing a job and letting his young son or daughter “help”. Their child imitates their father but doesn’t really do anything particularly constructive in the effort. The father could have easily done the task on his own. Instead, it’s about the participation and the communion between father and child. That is what our Heavenly Father daily invites us into: a participation and a communion with him as he builds his kingdom. It really does not depend on me. I’m just to join in and enjoy the relationship I have with God.

We are also invited to participate in our own spiritual growth and development. We are to add goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual-affection and love to our faith. This, again, seems to be something for us to do as well. A metaphor perhaps for this could be a patient following the exercises to allow them to recover effectively after an operation. The surgeon does the hard work to fix the problem and oversees the recovery afterwards; the patient makes sure that they live in a way that enables them to take the best advantage of the operation and new lease of life they have been given.

So, how do we participate? Well, it seems that we do it through constantly reminding ourselves of the grace we have received and the cross. We look to Jesus. This inspires us to participate and to make the most of the freedom and salvation we have received.

1 Timothy 4

This chapter of 1 Timothy starts with the warning about false teachers and liars, those that give meaningless advice and myths. Then it talks about training yourself to be Godly. This is quite an interesting concept. I’m currently reading Your Future Self Will Thank You, which is about self-control and discipline. Dyck writes that the modern church is often resistant to the idea of exerting effort to obtain Godliness and “there have been whole movements in church history defined by their belief that we progress in the Christian life only as passive recipients.” (pp. 141-142) But this verse, with the use of the word “train” definitely makes it sound something more intentional and strenuous.

1 Timothy is also helpful in reminding us the why of the training. It’s very clear about the reason for our efforts:

That is why we labour and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, and especially of those who believe.

(Verse 10)

Paul compares it to physical training, which is helpful. In order to become physically fit, it takes effort over a period of time, which is focused on the type and area of fitness or ability you wish to obtain. These are things I’m not very good at, it seems, so I have to be better at

  • focus,
  • prolonged perseverance,
  • effort.

(If you’ve surmised I’m unfocused, easily waylaid and lazy, you might not be too wrong.) Paul doesn’t stop there either, and encourages Timothy to set an example in speech, love, faith, purity, to devote himself to Scripture, teaching and preaching, to be diligent and to watch his life carefully. It’s quite a task, it seems. I could easily dismiss it as instructions for Timothy, but it would be lazy and silly. God wants us to devote ourselves to the gifts he’s given us and to consider our lives carefully.

There is also a lot riding on this: the final statement extolls Timothy to persevere so that he will save both himself and his hearers. I think I too often forget the task that I’ve been given and the significance of this. Often, you think, “Oh, it’s not a case of life and death” when deciding on whether to follow through with the task or not. Which is sort of right. It’s a case of eternal life and death, for both yourself and for those you are called to serve. That’s very sobering.

Dyck, Drew. Your Future Self Will Thank You. Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

2 Thessalonians 2

This chapter is about what will happen before Jesus comes again and gathers us to him. This is about a subject called eschatology or the study of end times. This is not a subject I’m very knowledgeable about. But according to this passage the following things will happen before Jesus comes again.

  • There will be a rebellion.
  • The man of lawlessness will be revealed.
  • He will defy every god and tear down every place of worship; he will set up an altar for himself.
  • This will be in accordance with Satan’s ways.
  • It will be accompanied by signs and wonders.
  • People will perish as they refuse to believe the truth.
  • Those believing in the deception will revel in their sin and wickedness.
  • God will turn them over to their sin and the judgment of their sin.

Then when Jesus returns he will destroy this man of lawlessness.

This sounds all a bit scary and makes us wonder when this will happen, how and whether we will be caught up in the great deception. However, there are words of reassurance to come.

But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.  He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Thessalonians 2:13-14

We need to remember our security does not come from ourselves but from being chosen by God. We have been called and we have been saved, not through our works but by the work of the Holy Spirit. We are sanctified and being sanctified by these works and because of this we have confidence in the truth. We will share in the glory of our saviour, Jesus Christ.

Because of this confidence, we can stand firm. We need to hold fast to the teachings given to us: not just listening but in full obedience.

The chapter ends with a final pray that God may encourage us:

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

Amen

2 Thessalonians 1

Obviously, the second of Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians, and apparently (at least according to the NIV version on the YouVersion Bible App on my phone), it wasn’t written that much longer after the first.

Again, this starts off with thanksgiving for the recipients. Then it goes into the somewhat messy topic of divine justice. It talks about God being just, but a good who also pays back that causes other people’s suffering and the destruction of those who do not know God and do not know the gospel of Jesus. The terms of it are somewhat absolute.

Therefore, Paul continues to pray that God will make the Thessalonians worthy of God’s calling, and that their desires for goodness are realised. Again, it reminds me that God is sanctifying me and that I should desire goodness in accordance with God’s will and he will make me worthy of his calling.

1 Thessalonians 3

1 Thessalonians 3 talks about how Paul and Timothy were forced to leave Thessalonica due to persecution. This is timely because many friends and colleagues are leaving Phnom Penh, not because of persecution though, but because of COVID-19. Despite the obstacles and difficulties being difficult, it’s helpful to hear from the thoughts of Paul as he had to leave people he loved in a time of uncertainty.

Paul was worried about the faith of the Thessalonians; he feared the oppression would be too much and the believers there would fall away. So that is something to pray for in the uncertainty of coronavirus; that people do not fall away. Rather, we pray that believers across the world can be “standing firm in the Lord” as the Thessalonians did.

We can also pray this prayer for believers, the same one Paul prayed for the Thessalonians:

“May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.”

So, during this time, lets pray for

  • strength
  • joy
  • holiness.

1 Thessalonians 1

This letter to the Thessalonians is full of warmth and encouragement. Again, Paul starts out with a similar greeting to before: he is thankful for the believers in that city and he remembers them in his prayers.

The context of this letter is oppression, persecution and difficulty. But the first chapter seems overwhelmingly positive. Yes, there are mentions of “endurance” and “severe suffering”, but those phrases are surrounded by words such as “joy”, “love” and “hope”. It seems relevant that in complex and difficult times, with the COVID-19 spreading all around, that such words about suffering can be found in the mist of words about joy, faith, love and hope. They are not mutual exclusive and in fact I wonder in the positive was made more evident because of the difficulties.

I really enjoyed verse 5 that the gospel “came to [them] not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction.” It reminds me of Colossians 1, where it speaks of the fruit of the gospel. The gospel is a message with its own inherent power. It also shows the importance of the role of the Holy Spirit in belief. I think this power, the Holy Spirit and conviction are all intertwined to make believers who endure.

The Thessalonians’ reputation had spread, and their “faith in God has become known everywhere.” It would be amazing to have a faith that is known everywhere. I wish to be a man of that kind of reputation: faith in severe suffering; endurance in troubles; joy-filled and hopeful in difficulties.

Amos 7-9

I have been keeping up with my Bible reading, but not with the blogging. Although the most important aspect is, of course, reading the Word, writing about it can really help me consolidate and concentrate on what I’m reading. Over the last few days, my internet has been intermittent in the evenings, so blogging was a bit harder.

In Amos 7, the prophet begged the Lord not to show his wrath against Israel. However, God finally told Amos enough was enough. He had measured the people of Israel and the results showed that they were left wanting. They did not measure up. God, the God of justice, needs to correct this.

Obviously, Amos’ prophecies upset a few people and in this chapter, he was told to leave. However, Amos told them that it was God who had told him to say these things and the consequences for Israel’s disobedience would be dire.

Amos 8 again shows the sin of the people of Israel. Their dishonest economic practises have disadvantaged and oppressed the poor. The people have cheated or sold short their goods. They “trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land”.

As a result, God will destroy them. Not only this, but he will hide his face from them. This is perhaps more terrifying, that though they seek for the word of God, they will not find it. Amos 9 reiterates how total the destruction of Israel will be. It seems utterly hopeless.

However, the book of Amos ends with Israel’s restoration. Despite this destruction, he will lift Israel again. There will be redemption. There will be rebuilding. There will be hope. Is this the time we live in, when Jesus is restoring and redeeming this world? Sometimes it’s hard to know which. But we can have hope, that God is restoring his people back to him; that Jesus will come again and Jerusalem will once and for all be made new.

These are the questions that Amos 7-9, and indeed the whole book, have made me ponder:

  • What current political or economic practises are happening that are detestable to the Lord?
  • How are we complicit in the trampling and oppression of the poor?
  • What will the consequences for us?
  • How do we let justice flow like a river?
  • How do we show are we a people of hope of a new heaven and new earth?
  • How do we usher in God’s holy and just kingdom to where we are?

Amos 6

There seems to be two themes in this chapter: pride and complacency. We see that the people of Israel are enjoying life. The drink wine, have beautifully furnished homes, eat delicious food, listen to music, relax and have fun. It all seems great.

But this wealth and status has made them arrogant. They look down on the poor; they have stopped caring about them. It also means they’ve forgotten about God and his desires. Their worldly gain has been their spiritual loss. It’s stopped them doing what is right and good.

And the result we be destruction. The big mansions will be destroyed. Israel will be oppressed. The Lord detests their ways.

Amos 5

God calls the people of Israel to repentance. He tells them again and again “Seek me and live.” This is what we are to do. We too are sinners; like Israel we turn astray. Although our idols are not the gods of foreign nations, we have idols. But we are to seek God and live.

He is particularly condemnatory of those who “turn justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground”; “hate the one who upholds justice” and “detest the one who tells the truth”. Those who levy unfair taxes will see their wealth and homes destroyed. Those “who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts” are to experience God’s wrath. Again, it feels like these accusations can be about many people we see today in the media, people in very influential positions.

It’s interesting what it says in verse 13. It says, “Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times, for the times are evil.” It makes me wonder if this too is a moral judgment against the “prudent”. It seems a bit like cowardice here. It also makes me ask, “Are these evil times?”

Verse 14-15 set some ways to please God and live: seek good, love good, maintain justice and hate evil.

The end of Amos 5 is pretty famous. It mentions religious ceremonies. They are doing what is seen to be right. Here, perhaps, is the emphasise on the word seen. These offerings, festivals and assemblies are outward displays of righteousness. However, they are just window-dressing; they are glitter on a turd. You can still smell the stench, no matter how much you put on.

For it is the lack of justice, the oppression, the hatred of truth that is what angers God and is what needs to change.

And the more I read Amos, the more I feel it was written for now. For the times are evil.

Amos 3

Amos 3 speaks of God’s special relationship with the people of Israel. He has chosen them and they have rejected him. Therefore, they will be punished. This punishment is presented as a sure thing. This is done through a series of rhetorical questions that seem to state the obvious. Therefore, this retribution is just as obvious.

Verse 7 tells us that God uses his prophets to reveal his plans. This is so his people can know about it.

The plan is that the people of Israel will be overrun by its enemies and will be destroyed.

Amos uses some farming similes, that reflect his status. Israel will be like the remains of a lamb pulled from a lion’s mouth. There will only be scraps left.

At the end of the chapter you get an idea of Israel’s wealth. There are winter palaces and summer palaces and houses adorned with ivory. This isn’t a poor pitiful nation. They are rich and they are well off. And they have abandoned the Lord.

This, like Amos 2, is scary. Symbols of wealth are all around us: holiday homes, big houses, lavish decor. These thing are pointless if you do not follow the Lord; these things can’t save you and these things will be gone when judgment comes.