This is an end-of-the-letter salutation from Paul to the church at Thessalonica. Paul began and ended most all of his letters by talking about the “grace and peace” of our Lord, and his hope that it would remain with those to whom he was writing. This theme of peace is one that is woven throughout the Bible. The word “peace” (or some form of it, like “peacemaker”, “peaceful”, etc.) is found in 266 verses in the HCSB. We’re not going to look at the other 265 verses, but we’ll look at a few of them.
Peace was used as a greeting to Gideon…
23But the Lord said to him, “Peace to you. Don’t be afraid, for you will not die.”
In these four verses, we see a common theme - the source of peace is God, through His Son Jesus. But how to we get this peace? Ask God for it! According to Peter, the disciple of Jesus who went on to lead the early church…
10For the one who wants to love life and to see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit, 11and he must turn away from evil and do good. He must seek peace and pursue it, 12because the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are open to their request. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.
We’ve all heard certain phrases throughout our lives. “History repeats itself.” “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” (This seems to also be a warning to high school students everywhere.) “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” These phrases all point to the phenomenon of people doing the same thing over and over, regardless of the outcome.
In today’s Scripture, the author of Hebrews reminds us that it was the people who knew the truth and even experienced it - the Jews - who rebelled against God. And rebel they did! In three straight chapters in Exodus, the children of Israel complained and rebelled against Moses.
23They came to Marah, but they could not drink the water at Marah because it was bitter - that is why it was named Marah. 24The people grumbled to Moses, “What are we going to drink?” 25So he cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree. When he threw it into the water, the water became drinkable.
He made a statute and ordinance for them at Marah and He tested them there.
2The entire Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by pots of meat and ate all the bread we wanted. Instead, you brought us into this wilderness to make this whole assembly die of hunger!”
4Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. This way I will test them to see whether or not they will follow My instructions.”
2So the people complained to Moses: “Give us water to drink.”
“Why are you complaining to me?” Moses replied to them. “Why are you testing the Lord”
3But the people thirsted there for water, and grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you ever bring us out of Egypt to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”
4Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What should I do with these people? In a little while they will stone me!”
5The Lord answered Moses, “Go on ahead of the people and take some of the elders of Israel with you. Take the rod you struck the Nile with in your hand and go. 6I am going to stand there in front of you on the rock at Horeb; when you hit the rock, water will come out of it and the people will drink.” Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel.
But, surely, once they get to the promised land, the Israelites will remember God’s provision, right? Well…
1Then the whole community broke into loud cries, and the people wept that night. 2All the Israelites complained about Moses and Aaron, and the whole community told them, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or if only we had died in this wilderness! 3Why is the Lord bringing us into this land to die by the sword? Our wives and little children will become plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4So they said to one another, “Let’s appoint a leader and go back to Egypt.”
5Then Moses and Aaron fell down with their faces [to the ground] in front of the whole assembly of the Israelite community. 6Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who scouted out the land, tore their clothes 7and said to the entire Israelite community: “The land we passed through and explored is an extremely good land. 8If the Lord is pleased with us, He will bring us into this land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and give it to us.”
It’s easy to look back at the failings of the Israelites, and point fingers at them. But, aren’t we the same? Don’t we do the same foolish things over and over again? It’s easy to see how other people don’t learn from their mistakes, but it’s often more difficult to see our own. Even if we are aware of our failings, though, we still have the inner conflict between the old, selfish nature and our new holy one. Paul expressed this sentiment in Romans 7…
14For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am made out of flesh, sold into sin’s power. 15For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate. 16And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17So now I am no longer the one doing it, but it is sin living in me. 18For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it. 19For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do. 20Now if I do what I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but it is the sin that lives in me. 21So I discover this principle: when I want to do good, evil is with me. 22For in my inner self I joyfully agree with God’s law. 23But I see a different law in the parts of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and taking me prisoner to the law of sin in the parts of my body.
So what is the solution? Later in Romans, Paul gives us the answer.
1Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. 2Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.
As gold is refined, it is heated to the melting point, and its flaws are literally burned out. I’m pretty sure that if the gold could talk, it would tell us that it doesn’t particularly enjoy this process. However, the result is a more pure precious metal. This is how God works in a Christian’s life; He brings challenges into our lives to mold us into His image. Some of these challenges are external, but some are internal. We must give this to God, and trust Him to work His will in our lives. Will we fail at times? Of course. Does that mean would shouldn’t try? Not at all!
We have been entrusted with the truth. May we surrender our lives to it, and trust God to use the circumstances in our lives to mold us into His image. May we learn through each of our mistakes, and may God give us the power not to repeat them.
16He speaks about these things in all his letters, in which there are some matters that are hard to understand. The untaught and unstable twist them to their own destruction, as they also do with the rest of the Scriptures.
The “he” in the beginning of the verse is Paul, who wrote many of the letters that are now books in the New Testament. This is a good recommendation from a fellow minister, but it comes with a couple of warnings.
First, Peter warns the church that some of the things which Paul has written to them are difficult to understand. This is certainly true - even today, there is often spirited debate over the meaning of some of the things Paul wrote. Of course, rather than just listening to debate, and deciding which side is more convincing, it is important to search the Scriptures and allow the Holy Spirit to reveal its interpretation. And, knowledge without application is useless - once you have determined what the Scripture says, that knowledge needs to be put into action.
The second warning Peter has for the church is that the “untaught and unstable” will try to twist what the Bible says. Man has been doing this since, quite literally, just after Creation. Let’s look at the first recorded twisting of God’s Word. God gave Adam and Eve specific instructions regarding the Garden of Eden.
16And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, 17but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.”
But when Eve is talking to the serpent a few verses later, she gets it… well, not quite right.
2The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit from the trees in the garden. 3But about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God said, ‘You must not eat it or touch it, or you will die.’”
Now, we don’t know whether it was Eve who got it wrong here, or if it was Adam who amplified God’s warning when he was telling Eve what God had said. But either way, what God said is not faithfully represented in Eve’s answer to the serpent. And, just as the Bible begins with this story illustrating (among other things) twisting God’s words, it ends with a warning as well.
18I testify to everyone who hears the prophetic words of this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book. 19And if anyone takes away from the words of this prophetic book, God will take away his share of the tree of life and the holy city, written in this book.
I don’t know if you’ve read the book of Revelation all the way through or not; if you have, you know that you certainly don’t want all the plagues of that book added to you!
Another application of these warnings applies to selecting a version of the Bible to use for study. Before making assumptions, research the translation philosophy, and whether the version is a literal translation or a paraphrase. Using more than one version can help you understand a tough passage.
The key in interpreting the Scripture is to be sure that you know what It says. Don’t rely on what other people say about It - what does It say? I pray that we will all study the Scriptures, and allow God to reveal His interpretation of it to us.
(Note - we’ll discuss more on Bible study when we get to 2 Timothy 3:16.)
It isn’t actually circular reasoning - I believe that there are two different things we can take from this. The first of these reminds us of Jesus’ words, when asked what the greatest commandment was.
34When the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they came together in the same place. 35And one of them, an expert in the law, asked a question to test Him: 36"Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?"
37He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38This is the greatest and most important commandment. 39The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. 40All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.”
Both parts of the greatest two commandments, according to our Lord, deal with love. This is the second principle we can see in this passage. Even looking back at the Ten Commandments, we can see this.
2I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery.
3Do not have other gods besides Me.
4Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. 5You must not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the fathers’ sin, to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6but showing faithful love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commands.
7Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God, because the Lord will punish anyone who misuses His name.
8Remember to dedicate the Sabbath day: 9 You are to labor six days and do all your work, 10but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. You must not do any work - you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the foreigner who is within your gates. 11For the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything in them in six days; then He rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and declared it holy.
12Honor your father and your mother so that you may have a long life in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
13Do not murder.
14Do not commit adultery.
15Do not steal.
16Do not give false testimony against your neighbor.
17Do not covet your neighbor’s house. Do not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female slave, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
Think about it - if you love the Lord, you won’t have other gods, you won’t worship idols, you won’t misuse His name, and you’ll set aside a day to remember what He has done for you. By the same token, if you love your fellow man, you’ll honor your parents by recognizing what they’ve done for you; you won’t murder your fellow man; you won’t steal from them, whether their spouse or an earthly good; you won’t lie about them; and you won’t be jealous of the blessings they have received from God.
So, you see, it’s not really circular at all. Love is the command, and the command is love. May God grow in us His love, both for Him, and our fellow man.
The book of 3 John is a letter written from John to Gaius, a believer who was doing good things. A group of believers, led by Demetrius, was visiting in his area, and John wrote this letter to commend Gaius on how he was helping them. Helping other people, especially those you don’t know and those doing God’s work, is a recurring theme throughout the Bible.
When Jesus was sending out His disciples, He proclaimed a blessing for those who would welcome then and support them.
40"The one who welcomes you welcomes Me, and the one who welcomes Me welcomes Him who sent Me. 41Anyone who welcomes a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward. And anyone who welcomes a righteous person because he’s righteous will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42And whoever gives just a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple - I assure you: He will never lose his reward!"
Would you give an angel a hand if you could? By helping others and being hospitable, you may actually have the ability to help an angel! And, even if you never come into contact with one (and I’m not really sure how you would know even if you did), by being hospitable to others, you can do the work of an angel for them.
Finally, let’s look at an Old Testament example of hospitality.
8Then the word of the Lord came to him: 9"Get up, go to Zarephath that belongs to Sidon, and stay there. Look, I have commanded a woman who is a widow to provide for you there." 10So Elijah got up and went to Zarephath. When he arrived at the city gate, there was a widow woman gathering wood. Elijah called to her and said, “Please bring me a little water in a cup and let me drink.” 11As she went to get it, he called to her and said, “Please bring me a piece of bread in your hand.”
12But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I don’t have anything baked - only a handful of flour in the jar and a bit of oil in the jug. Just now, I am gathering a couple of sticks in order to go prepare it for myself and my son so we can eat it and die.”
13Then Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid; go and do as you have said. Only make me a small loaf from it and bring it out to me. Afterwards, you may make some for yourself and your son, 14for this is what the Lord God of Israel says: ‘The flour jar will not become empty and the oil jug will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the surface of the land.’”
15So she proceeded to do according to the word of Elijah. She and he and her household ate for many days. 16The flour jar did not become empty, and the oil jug did not run dry, according to the word of the Lord He had spoken through Elijah.
This kind lady was willing to give up nearly all the food she had in her house to help Elijah; yet, her kindness was rewarded by God’s provision over many, many days. And, in the remainder of this chapter, 1 Kings 17:17-24, her son dies, but is then raised by God through Elijah! That’s quite a reward, just for the simple act of giving up a little food.
“Random acts of kindness” is the idea that you do something nice for someone else, with the hope that someone else will do something nice for you. Mysticism has the idea of “karma,” where the things you do (for good or bad) determine how the rest of the world treats you. Neither of these come from the Bible - we should do nice things for other people “just because,” not to get a reward; and blessings from doing good come from God, not some nebulous “spiritual balance” that we can manipulate.
However, the prevalence of this theme, both in the Bible and outside It, show us that God blesses those who bless others in His name. Look for opportunities to bless others - you never know who you may be helping!
It is very easy to get discouraged in life. We may try our hardest to do something that we think is good and right, and yet we feel like we’re just spinning our wheels. Then, we may look at others who are not following God, and they seem to be doing well. This quandry is not unique to the Christian of the 21st century; even Jeremiah the prophet asked God, “Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do the treacherous live at ease?” (Jeremiah 12:1)
The Jews had forgotten the promise made to their father Abraham; “He took him outside and said, ‘Look at the sky and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ Then He said to him, ‘Your offspring will be that numerous.’” (Genesis 15:5) Isaiah reminds them of this in verse 26, that not only did God create the stars, He knows each one by name. Then, in verse 27, he asks them “why do you assert: ‘My way is hidden from the Lord…?’”
In verses 28 and 29, Isaiah continues to remind them of the absolute power (omnipotence) of God. It is He Who gives “strength to the weary and strengthens the powerless.” (v. 29) These words also speak to our need of yielding to Him. If we try to do everything within our own power, we will not be able to use His power through us. Remember that Jesus said, “You can do nothing without Me.” (John 15:5) When we admit that we are powerless on our own, we can allow God to use us as an instrument of His power. And, once we let go of the controls, we can also let go of worrying about the results - how liberating!
In verse 30, Isaiah reminds us that even young people fade. If you have been around toddlers, you have seen this for yourself. They have a seemingly endless supply of energy; yet, at some point, they crash and have to sleep. I’ve often wished I had that much energy! But even that falls far short of the power that God gives to His children, as verse 31 tells us.
This last verse is the most well-known verse in this passage. It does encourage us that we will be able to continue our Christian life without growing weary or tired. But the picture of an eagle is quite intriguing. We’ve all heard the saying “you can’t see the forest for the trees.” Eagles fly very high and smooth, and from their vantage point, they can see more than just where they are now. Seeing the “big picture” is one way that God uses to keep us encouraged, and to reveal to us His plan for our lives. Proverbs 29:18 says “Without revelation, the people run wild.” Instead of running around in circles, we can follow God’s direction.
Be encouraged. No matter what is going on in your life, it is not happening unnoticed to God. He is in control of everything in your life, and “all things work together for the good of those who love God…” (Romans 8:28) Pray that He will give you the strength to endure, and that He will reveal His will for your life and His purpose in your circumstances.
Daniel is a man who wants to be used of God however He sees fit.