Sunday, January 31, 2010

2 Thessalonians – “As I Was Saying, and I Repeat”

We’re all familiar, I think, with the notion of re-work. Especially in business circles, this phenomenon drives normally sane people into fits of despair, or has the potential to. Especially around the house too, it troubles us. It’s like those times when we’ve done a load of washing and then we’ve forgotten to hang it out. By the time we get to it the next morning it’s gotten a bit smelly in the bowl and we need to start all over again. Re-work costs us individually on a very significant scale and nationally in the order of billions of dollars per year.

The same principle is said to hold for 2 Thessalonians. The church at Thessalonica had attentively catered for many of the issues Paul raised in his first letter. Yet, there were at least two issues they still required reminders on.

These two subjects were: 1) the last things—the end times; and 2) the approach required for those who were “idle”—a growing and distractive concern that Paul alluded to in his first letter. A third theme is common to both 1 and 2 Thessalonians, a theme common to all the epistles, and beyond to the faith itself; that of persecution—and how to deal with it.

It is likely that Paul followed up his first letter with the second only a few weeks (or at most, months) apart while he was still in Corinth with Timothy and Silas (Acts 18f).

This article seeks to explore the first two subjects raised above, even in context together, as well as discussing generally the matter of re-work and the necessity to repeat and reinforce those important things in life, especially in clearing up confusion and misunderstandings common in communication.

The Last Things

Of all the churches Paul evangelised with, the church at Thessalonica was most easily and fervently won to the subject of the ‘day of the Lord.’ This is most probably in response to Paul’s initial teaching in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11, due to the believers of that church’s concern about the fate of their recently deceased. It appears there were the usual sorts of rumours and innuendo rife—and extrapolated assumptions—that sent some of the influential believers there into a tailspin concerning what they felt was a rapidly approaching period of ‘end times.’

Yet, if we were to consider living in 50 C.E. (a.k.a. “A.D. 50”) and so soon—only twenty years—after Christ was crucified, we too might be sorely tempted to believe his second return was rapidly imminent. It’s easy for us, 1,960 years on, to scoff at these early believers’ wrong conception of Paul’s preaching and teaching.

Notwithstanding, Paul systematically defuses the tension with a reasoned argument of how the last things will occur (2:1-17). Certain things must take place and they had not begun yet. And even though Paul does them the courtesy of explaining what is yet to come in great detail it’s really not the point as far as Paul’s agenda is concerned.

He’s much more focused on this next issue—that of idle trouble-making within the church. Always seeking to build up the church in the relevancies of the day, Paul doesn’t really want to tackle things that are taking the church off course, but he does (in the above way) which is a credit to his patience and compassion for the fledgling church.

How Paul tends to the “re-work” in the midst of his ministry is an inspiration to us in how to quietly and patiently go about righting wrongs; in love, God’s grace and his abiding hope.

But now—and not before time—onto the next, most important issue:

Advice Given Regarding the Idle

There is a dire, stern warning here—one that will protect the obedient from the disobedient. The wolves that’ve slipped in with the sheepfold seem intent as ever on diluting and muddying the message of grace by their insolence.

Paul implores the church to re-consider and re-align with his (and his fellow ministers’) example. Paul and his cohort have set the benchmark to follow; it is not the teaching of the idle the church is to adhere to.

Paul’s ministry example was flawless. Even though he fought hard to win the rights for the preacher to be fed and kept for his ministry work alone (1 Cor. 9:14), Paul went beyond his own standard very often working ‘day jobs’ in his craft of tent-making, and preaching as the opportunity arose. He must have been tireless (2 Cor. 6:5; 11:27); working two fulltime jobs. So we can see, of all people, Paul had the qualified right to both deal with and dispense with the idle.

Paul’s advice to the church is to be prepared to expunge the idle and not associate with them; not as an enemy, but warning them as we would any brother or sister (3:15).

Not unlike in his first letter (1 Thess. 4:9b-12; 5:14), he reminds the church, albeit less gently the second time around. Reminders have that about them, don’t they? Reinforcement is often necessarily more direct than initial communications in order to clarify.

To the “Busybody”

It is most interesting that the passive “idle” is actually rendered more literally ‘the disorderly’ in the Greek i.e. τακτως, ataktōs. The conduct of the “idle” is hence by extraction some far more heinous. They are ‘walking idly’ and hence, disorderly—by nature and influence.

What does the busybody look like? Essentially, they “neglect their own business to mind other people’s.” (Bruce).

Archetypically, they loaf about, doing next to nothing, presuming Christ to re-appear in next to no time. In their boredom they begin to meddle in others’ affairs and as a result get involved in gossip. Lastly, they’re existing “off” the good nature of contributions made to the church—‘making merchandise of Christ’—set aside for more genuine believers; actual servants of the church.

It would be bad enough to have a busybody on staff; even worse that they too are a false teacher. (Satan always finds work for idle hands!) And, further, he or she who cannot live the genuine honest-working life cannot in genuine justification, teach. They disqualify themselves by their lack of diligence and integrity, and by virtue of their hypocrisy.

On the contrary, effective ministers do none of the above. They are busy at their ministry of helping others; they work for their bread; they actively obliterate gossip not promoting it and certainly do not buy into it. They do not have either the time or inclination to meddle in others’ affairs, unless it is proving destructive in innocent lives.

Overall Message – 2 Thessalonians

Bringing both speculation of the last things and a rebuke to the idle together, we can say with some justification, that idle waiting and heavenward gazing for signs of Christ’s return are not the preferred activities of the Thessalonians (or today’s Christians for that matter). This is what Paul is saying. Perhaps the heavenward gazing was simply a worn excuse for the idle busybody to lie about and eat food he or she had not worked for? The payment of our bread is the very motive to keep us straight and on path; no one likes to go hungry.

The ‘last things’ are a genuine concern for all Christians, though it’s neither here nor there regarding the second coming of Christ. The timing is rather inconsequential—the matter is we must be alert, watchful and ready (cf. Matt. 24:42).

While we wait we must remain busy and alert for opportunities to serve within Christ’s kingdom, now. We are false in our faith when we allow significant but small details to explode the total view, leaving a compartmentalised approach that tends to only part of the picture.

It is critically important to segregate those who’d come in and disrupt church balance by not living for Christ. There’s cliché upon cliché—e.g. ‘a little yeast works its way through the dough’—that remind us that we are to be wary that their negative influence doesn’t take us off our godly course.

Most of all, we are to “never tire of doing what is right,” which cross-references beautifully with Galatians 6:9—one of my all-time favourite verses of Scripture:

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (NIV)

Like the Thessalonians needed a reminder of slipping in these ways, we too will always need a gentle goad every now and then; to re-focus on Christ; to work diligently; to concern ourselves with today and not tomorrow (Matt. 6:34); to not think eschatologically to the detriment of today’s Christian service of love to our fellows.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.


J. Philip Arthur, Patience of Hope (1 and 2 Thessalonians) – Welwyn Commentary Series (Durham, England: Evangelical Press, 1996), p. 97-148.

G. K. Beale, 1–2 Thessalonians (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2003), p. 181-269.

F. F. Bruce, 1 and 2 Thessalonians – Word Biblical Commentary 45 (Dallas, Texas: Word, Inc., 2002), S. 205.

D. A. Carson & Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1992, 2005), p. 532-53.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Three Tests of True Faith in 1 John 5

“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ [the Messiah] has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”

~1 John 5:1-5 (NRSV).

John wastes no time in his comprehensive and contrastive first letter. In all of life there are convolutions of connections, most of which are truly invisible—but they’re even more real than you and I. The whole of the true faith life is based in these three following principles:


Love is the first test. John already states earlier in the letter (verses 4:8; 4:20) that we cannot truly love God if we don’t love the people around us. If we struggle to forgive, and inevitably choose not to via our unforgiving actions, we cannot actually love God. His love is not in us... yet. We are members of the same human family. We love the parent (God) and we love the child (our fellow human beings—all of them). It doesn’t get any more complicated than that.

This love leads us on, through the notion of obedience—the second test—in explaining the shape of faith—the third test—the lasting finish point that catapults us headlong and resiliently into the world for God’s glory.[1]


In the grips of love, obedience is a golden thrill, an affirmative want in us to do the right thing to positively please our Lord Jesus, our Intercessor to the Father. But, before we get carried away, swept up in ‘warm ‘n’ fuzzy’ visions of this wondrous place, we need to understand obedience is a rubber-hits-the-road thing that is the only basic manifestation of love.

This is the test of love; can the person professing to love truly obey?


How is it that the following can happen?

“Two men looked out through prison bars.

The one saw mud and the other stars.”[2]

Faith is, of course, the difference between the two; joyous faith in the latter—hopelessness of fear and doubt (anti-faith) in the former. Faith is what conquers.

Faith cannot be truly represented without giving due attention to the subject of faithfulness—the outcome and state of faith—and this undying, living and active... to God.

Our “whole outlook upon this world” should be transformed and different, full of light and the truth of hope in God. Though we are already victorious in Christ, we still must fight; faith gives us that ability to fight with the resplendent tools of the Almighty.[3]

What comes first is our relationship with Christ; then necessarily love—for love is action, proof of the holy transformational transaction; then love is proved by our obedience, and this revealing faith.

The New Testament idea of being Christian is summarised very effectively in the one hundred English words in the above five verses at top. We do nothing for our salvation but accept what has already been done. We love each other. We obey his commandments, in joy. In this is faith, and the conquering of the world; all to the glory of God.

Believe in Jesus, truly, and conquer the world that would seek to oppress. In Christ we enjoy an “ennobling dignity... an unshakable and gifted status that is not ours to earn.”[4]

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

[1] Structure taken from: James Montgomery Boice, The Epistles of John – An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1979, 2004), p. 125-29.

[2] Cited in: Martin Lloyd-Jones, Life in Christ – Studies in 1 John (Five Volumes) (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2002), p. 600.

[3] Lloyd-Jones, Ibid, p. 592, 603 (quotation).

[4] C. Clinton Black, The First, Second, and Third Letters of John – Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections (New Interpreter’s Bible – Vol. XII) (Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1998), p. 437.

Friday, January 29, 2010

What Does Getting the Desires of Your Heart Actually Mean?

It’s a question I often asked when the desires of my heart went unanswered. And it occurs to us all. It’s a continual state. What does this oft-misquoted verse below actually mean?

“Take delight in the Lord,

and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

~Psalm 37:4 (NRSV).

Well, for starters—certainly it used to be in my own case—we skip part A (“Take delight in the Lord”) in our haste for the answered prayer and see in it that God is suddenly going to give us the dream outcomes we’ve so wished for. Not so fast. The entire verse, read as a package, is at least conditional.

If we will take true delight in God, and seek first his kingdom and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33), we will get what we want—for we will want what he (a.k.a. God) wants. His will be done and so on. It is alignment with the divine.

When we take a true sense of delight in God we’re actually truly ‘giving over’ to him our desires and he makes us at one with ourselves. This is zero dissonance—pure calm and intrapersonal harmony, at its zenith. This can be easy to do sometimes; at other times it is harder. In the overall balance, however, we’d make a choice for God and give over our desires to him—and these for safe keeping. We’re accepting our lots in life as his will for us, come what may.

We can also find the desires of our hearts realised whilst we even wish for them. God is dynamically faithful in life. He wastes no time attending to our needs even before we’ve thought of them. This is true if we reflect over it.

Some, including Dr. John Piper, have seen Ps. 37:4a as a command.[1] In other words, ‘Take delight in the Lord!’ It is possible to read it this way. Read with Matthew 6:33—Jesus’ positive imperative[2] consistent with Piper’s reading of Ps. 37:4a—we are to positively put God and his affairs first in our lives and everything else will accordingly take care of itself.

Some eminent scholarship on the matter in conclusion:

The “righteous trust in God and receive from God their legitimate desires.”[3] Another would have it similarly: “Such as ‘delight’ in the Lord shall be rewarded with their heart’s desire, i.e., they will draw ever closer to their God.”[4]

This will not satisfy most, especially those who hanker for their very desires in carnal, or even spiritual, form i.e. devoid even a skerrick from the form of God’s will.

It is, however, still very simple. Align with God. Make it a habit to delight in him. Peace will then be yours and so will the desires of your heart.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

[1] John Piper, Desiring God – Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 1986, 1996, 2003), p. 9. Also available now online:

[2] Are Ps. 37:4a and Matt. 6:33 commands? According to R. T. France, Matthew – Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1985), p. 141, the initial word “seek” in Matthew 6:33 is cast in the imperative. This verse should therefore be interpreted as a command. If we take the same rendering for Psalm 37:4a, we deduce it is a command i.e. ‘Take delight in the Lord!’

[3] Peter C. Craigie, Psalms 1–50 – Word Biblical Commentary 19 (Dallas, Texas: Word Inc., 1983), S. 297.

[4] James E. Smith, The Wisdom Literature and Psalms (Joplin, Missouri: College Press Pub. Co., 1996). No page/section number given from Libronix system.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Psalm 116 – A Personal Plea in Desperation Answered with Thanks

Psalm 116 is a very special psalm. Not only was it most assuredly sung by Jesus and the disciples at the last supper as part of the Hallel chain during Passover, it reverently holds the unique name—the covenant title—of LORD (YHWH) high in almost every verse. But it’s the personal nature of this psalm that is most relevant to us.

Rather than spruik about the nature of the deliverance, the psalmist focuses on the very nature of God himself in verse 5 and those following. This seems their total outlook.

In reading verses 5-9 we get a really clear picture of what it means to be a true follower of God. It’s acknowledging, always, the truth of God—he is gracious, righteous, full of compassion—as well as knowing that the simple of heart are always most blessed. It’s recognising God’s goodness, in our patiently waiting, and his answering of our prayers. It’s being assured of his continual Presence with us (whether we feel this or not).

Without superscription the psalm is anonymous. We can’t be certain who wrote many of the psalms although at least we have a few clues as to who was involved when we read below the title, ‘of David,’ or ‘of Asaph’ etc. Still this psalm has an anointed history in association with Passover.

In comparison to God it is a great truth that “all men are liars.” (v. 11) We cannot and must not place our faith in people, but in God alone. Yet, when we do this a strange thing happens. God makes it possible for us to trust people more than ever, simply because with God—in his safety—we can no longer be so easily hurt. Like the Lord Jesus, crushed upon the tree of crucifixion, we’re rejected but the sting is no more. Instant resilience is known and experienced. God is strong in this ultimate healing of the soul and no one can harm us evermore (like they once could).

When we finally realise the fullness of God’s goodness to us (v. 12) we’re swept off our feet—abandoned to him, with fervour and finality. We reach this place—like the psalmist—and we can’t do enough for God. Tempted past a works righteousness, we fulfil our vows (v. 14, 18) with strident pleasure.

If reading this psalm could not fill you with hope for a God-reconciled future I don’t know what could. Reading it is rather like having warmed treacle running down our throats—marvellous.

Arriving at this psalm’s ending calls us back to the start, as we reflect over it. This riveting verse (v. 2) symbolises majestically the psalmist’s heavenly-bent gaze:

“Because he turned his ear to me,

I will call on him as long as I live.”

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Whose Prey?

SOME IMAGES turn our tables totally. They surprise us, especially those found to nature. These images can change the way we think about and see the world.

I often wonder if people realise who or what they’re captive to. We’re all captive to something, notwithstanding our bodies, the trappings of the world, the very causes of nature, and our own psyches.

We make choices too that bring us our very own individualised captivities. Then we’re willingly (or perhaps not so willingly at times) taken as prey. If we watch too much television the advertisements make their groaning or jesting impact on us, affecting decisively and subliminally how we think. This is but a minor, everyday example.

If you’re even half-aware, the mere mention of the word “captivity” will bring on shards of realisation as to your own particular flavour of captivation.

The truth is we hardly ever think about the impacts of ‘whose prey’ we actually are. We simply go about life “amused,” i.e. without much thought, for the most part. This is our habit. The Spiritual breaks through once a day or once a week; big deal. We treat life as a holiday where we get duped more than we like. To work or go through pain or do the uncomfortable brings on complaint. We sometimes don’t see what is.

It needn’t be like this. We have powers of our own destiny, in God. If he is for us nothing could be against us—but, are we for him?

This involves conscious choice. We like that idea. But, do we make it now or put it off?

‘Whose prey am I?’ It’s a reasonable question. What is it about my life that ransoms me to the life instead of having an existence in the Creator of life? What holds me to something that seems like home yet isn’t? What deceit is there that I’m completely oblivious to?

These are all reasonable questions as we go on in our walk of life.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


“To act with common sense, according to the moment, is the best wisdom; and the best philosophy is to do one’s duties, to take the world as it comes, submit respectfully to one’s lot, and bless the goodness that has given us so much happiness with it, whatever it is.”

~Horace Walpole.

Owls: older, wiser, larger, slower. There’s a whole lot of acceptance in that. Yet, I’ve always wondered, ‘What makes owls wise?’ Perhaps it’s that they don’t say much. They don’t appear in many, if any, fights. They sit there at night and intently watch and wait, it seems. We’re scarcely aware of their covert midnight missions.

The wisdom of life and all of learning comes necessarily to the above truth. We could very well picture The Right Honourable, The Earl of Orford, Horace Walpole, dying on his deathbed, reflecting over his 79 years and the life lessons he took in store. Boiling off all the extraneous fume of life, he’s left with a base fluid of philosophy—his very own cherished augury of wisdom—his life way and potion of method.

Enjoying the moment for what it is; doing what needs doing; being honestly happy, whatever. Is this wisdom?

Owls are noted for their perfected ability to fly pitch-darkened flight paths and execute planned tasks at their destinations, returning home safely with a minimum of fuss—and they do this with seemingly perfect, intuitive memory. Not much effort in the planning it seems!

Becoming owl wise is a fundamental shift toward the gentler-on-self-and-others life. It’s life at harmony as our observant nights give way to fresher mornings. It sees us fly straight in life; avoiding the distractions. We resist the fights, sidestepping where we can, not even coming close if at all possible. Self-condemnation debunked, such thoughts resisted. It’s the final corrective shooting us out of the cannon of immaturity to a far better land; one with crops of full grown appreciation and primary adjustment to what “is,” and horizons golden with the quietly confident glow of hope.

This is a worldly wisdom, enhanced—complemented as it were—by spiritual wisdom, a wisdom that sees us safely through the problematic tests of being. It’s skill in life.

We leave as we came. That’s the idea anyway. We respect, and seek not to disrupt, the delicate balance of the world. We protect it; even enhance it in our own invisible, non-contemptible ways.

If we can entertain a conception of God, perhaps we can entertain life and all its necessary possibilities—the limits to which there are none. God at the very centre of wisdom; can we see that? This goodness... it is God; him alone.

Accepting our place. Being here and being happy. Knowing only what we know yet being safely and securely satisfied. Doing a simple job well. No accolades sought and them same, wisely given. Peace pervading.

Owl wise is living agile as we live—a simplistic “liveable” agility in accord with Earl Walpole’s quote. It’s remembering the dark terrain; dealing with it. It’s executing a flight path with precision. It’s a job well done. It’s a process of learning; of living wisely; a lifelong experiment and a legacy left.

Happy in the muck of life: wisdom.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Offer of Life or Death

At the end of any great message comes the crux. It solidifies the foregoing, reinforcing the principles, when the rubber is due to hit the road. Deuteronomy 30 is just that place as Moses cranks up for the Israelites what this law he’s proclaimed for the second time is all about—the consequences of faith and obedience, doubt and rebellion.

“See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.”

~Deuteronomy 30:15 (NIV).

Everything consists of life or death; materially or spiritually. And hardly ever the twain shall meet! There may appear plenty of shades of grey about, but Moses is booming the small-print: “choose life.” (30:19b)

How easy is this life? ‘I’ve heard it’s hard,’ came the underpinning intent.

Moses commences his final refrain (30:11-14) saying that it is not too difficult for us to follow God—it’s easy. We read it with our eyes, we speak it with our tongues and lips, and it enters our hearts. It’s not like we have to “cross the sea to get it.” Yet, many see it much harder, though they’re the ones not likely to be putting their time where their mouth is.

In turn Moses then takes us to the summation of the blessings and cursings: life and death is placed before them. Yes, cause and effect.

People might be tempted erroneously to poo-poo the idea. Blessing and cursing are tantamount to the journey of life. No one is beyond either. To be blessed and to live under the shape of blessing is to exist ‘circumcised of heart’ (30:6) which is a state God brings upon the predestined; those willing to live. They’ll live heartily with God full steam, heart and soul.

The heart is the very seat of the intentions; obedience and rebellion. Crooked or pure, the charge is issued for those who would hear—those who care for life. Their very lives depend upon holding steadfastly, fearfully—with respectful awe—to Yahweh and the entire message they’ve just heard, not turning away to idols.

Reading the passage we can sense the building crescendo. The tom toms are beating more rapidly, more urgently.

The striking of the covenant, the very tenet of relationship that holds the cosmic deal together, is placed before the national throng. The covenant is an enduring motif symbolising life; life in relational unison. The covenant is the alpha and the omega of God’s salvific plan.

It is perhaps weirdly paradoxical, in the context of the eternal, that the rhetorical ‘today’ is foisted upon them time and again. Yet, today is the day. Today can never be released or vanquished. It is never put off, only lived. Today is all we have to obey God. That is how desperate this message was preached.

Life or death; you choose, today. Today is urgent. It is now.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

General Reference: J. G. McConville, Deuteronomy – Apollos Old Testament Commentary (Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 2002), p. 429f.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Hope for Your Peace-Filled Future

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.”

~Jeremiah 29:13-14a (NIV).

This is a theological nugget, especially for the person curious about God. And God himself, from Jeremiah’s prophetic nib, emblazons the simplest principle known to life—the spiritual principle of peace. The very best life imaginable—a life of fearlessly empowered truth and love—is available for anyone who seeks God with all they have. But it’s peace (or a lack thereof) that has our attention.

The word “captivity” had a special relevance to the Israelites living in exile. Yet, from a contemporary viewpoint we too live in exile if we don’t know God and hence can’t experience his peace and grace.

And yet, peace is something we choose to either live with or without.

The Hebraic wellbeing word, shalom, is central to this life that God promises. Our English “peace” is quite poor and linear by comparison. It doesn’t pick up the multidimensional aspects that a concept of shalom is trying to effuse in us by God’s Spirit.

What returns to us, perhaps even for the very first time, is the Promised Land of the heart. Indeed, we might’ve experienced peace before and since those times we’ve hungered for its return. God’s peace, however, is so completely different to anything that a worldly peace can feel like. It’s a peace that defies understanding. That’s why we can claim it as God’s peace alone.

Peace is not normally something we have a mortgage on; as an experience I mean. But, this ‘peace of God’ is a peace that will protect us from all those “captivities” of the past, present and future. That is the lot of those who truly find God.

Anyone can have this peace-filled hope for the future—a hope that rescues us from incarceration to the past and for our present’s too—as we explore what it means to actually know and relate with this transcendent and all-powerful being we call God.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.