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.

Joel 3

This chapter concludes the book and ends with the judgment of the enemies of Israel and justice for God’s people.

All the nations seem to come together at the Lord’s command at the Valley of Jehoshaphat. Jehoshaphat means “the Lord judges”, so therefore suggests that this about when everyone is finally judged at end times. God will judge the nations for what they did to Israel and his people.

God almost taunts the nations in this passage to come fight him. He tells them to bring everyone, even the weakest, to attack him in battle. And then he says that he will sit to judge them. He doesn’t even attack back, he just sits. Then he plucks them like a ripe harvest. It’s not the image of an epic battle; it’s a picture of God just harvesting them like crops. There’s no resistance, no power to fight back. He tramples them like grapes in the winepress.

The whole of heaven and earth will tremble at God’s judgment, but the people of Israel will find refuge in him.

At this, Jerusalem will never be threatened again. She will always be holy and blameless; full of wine and milk. The other nations will be desolate and empty, but Jerusalem and Judah will live forever.

I think this chapter just goes to prove the awesome judgment of God. His judgment is right and holy but also mighty and powerful. We often turn God into Santa Claus, who merely gives good things and if you’re really bad, you might get cross off the list. But that’s it. However, this chapter speaks of a God who is so powerful, he does not need to defend himself against all the nations. They’re a joke to him. He just destroys them like grapes underfoot.

Proverbs 9:10 tells us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Joel 3 perhaps goes to show why.

Ephesians 6

The start of Ephesians 6 follows the idea of family relationships that chapter 5 ends with. However, this time it is the relationship between children and their parents. It begins with what is stated in the Ten Commandments, that children are to obey their parents.

Now, when we think of this commandment, we probably think mainly of Sunday school children learning to listen to and obey their parents as little kids ought to. However, when we have grown up, it seems we feel that as if that commandment is obsolete and we don’t have to fulfil it anymore. This isn’t the case. In Mark 7, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for the way their practices fail to honour their mother and father. Those Pharisees were adults being rebuked. This commandment is for adults too.

Maybe in society, we think that it’s automatic and if you did a good job when they were little, they will do it when they are older. But then the command should be “teach children to honour your father and mother”. Also, there aren’t commands in the Bible for things that are genuinely automatic, such as “Breathe.” The Bible, authored by God, speaks into the hearts of humans. Our bent is to be independent, stubborn and self-serving and honouring others often gets in the way of that. Honouring our parents requires consideration, thoughtfulness and care. I know I often fail to do it; it isn’t as habitual as it ought to be.

The next part also balances the relationship. Parents need to be good to their kids too.

The next part of Ephesians 6 feels a little off for our times. It’s about slaves serving masters well. However, in the Romans Empire, slaves made up a huge percentage of the population. Paul is simply speaking into the genuine reality of his day. He’s not turning a blind eye to it.

Paul also reminds slave owners that both they and the slaves are actually under the ultimate authority of God and it would be wise to remember that.

In all the relationships mentioned from the end of chapter 5 to chapter 6, Paul shows how there is a balance. Wives, honour your husbands; husbands, lay down your life for your wife. Children, honour your parents; parents, be patient and kind to your children. Slaves, obey your masters; masters, be kind to your slaves. In relationships that are often imbalanced and hierarchical (especially historically), Paul reminds us that God rules over us all and that his love, grace, mercy but also his power, might and wrath is the ultimate equaliser in all this.

Lastly, Ephesians has the famous Sunday school favourite, the armour of God. It makes a nice visual metaphor. However, sometimes this section can be delivered in a way that makes us seem like we are at the helpless mercy of the devil’s schemes and we need to hide and cower away. This isn’t the whole truth. Of course, on our own, we are helpless. But we’re not on our own. For the passage tells us this:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.

Ephesians 6:10.

We have nothing to fear because we have God and his mighty power on our side. However, we need to make the most of it and not forget to use it!

So, I pray that I continue to go on in the Lord’s prayer.

Bible in One Year: Day 13

I’m still snotty and ill, but trying to persevere nonetheless. However, until this cold goes away, my reflections may be a little shorter.

The psalms seem to contain so much opposition, I feel like I must be doing something wrong. At the moment, my life seems to be pretty much opposition free. It also makes me wonder when my time for opposition will come. God has faithfully protected me from discord so far. I pray he continues to do so.

Matthew also suggests that Jesus came to stir up trouble. It tells us that Jesus didn’t come to bring peace. Again, that is somewhat alien to the prevalent image of the serene, hippy-like Jesus that is always viewed through some Gaussian blur. Jesus is a trouble-maker.

The passage also addresses our priorities. Jesus is to be above any human relationship we have. We are to bear a cross and we are to lose our life.

The Genesis passages show us the soap opera that is Isaac’s family. It is interesting how God uses even the most colourful and messed up families and people.