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Diocese of Charleston Bible Study + November 30, 2016

I Thessalonians 4:1-12
Luke 20:1-8

I Thessalonians 4:1-12 (NKJV) -

Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God; for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified. For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit. But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do so toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more; that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing.

Luke 20:1-8 (NKJV)
Now it happened on one of those days, as Jesus taught the people in the temple and preached the gospel, that the chief priests and the scribes, together with the elders, confronted Him and spoke to Him, saying, "Tell us, by what authority are You doing these things? Or who is he who gave You this authority?" But He answered and said to them, "I also will ask you one thing, and answer Me: The baptism of John—was it from heaven or from men?" And they reasoned among themselves, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' He will say, 'Why then did you not believe him?' But if we say, 'From men,' all the people will stone us, for they are persuaded that John was a prophet." So they answered that they did not know where it was from. And Jesus said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things."

Commentary 

One of the most spiritually destructive delusions that afflicts human beings is the belief that life in this world is all that there is, and that nothing comes after. On one hand, such a belief makes people aggressive and ambitious to achieve glory, honor, power, and wealth in this world, often at the expense of authors. On the other, it allows people to have the false impression that whatever of themselves and their actions may go undiscovered in this life will remain so forever; that there is no ultimate accountability for our actions in this world. Much of what the Scriptures teach us, again and again, is that this is, indeed, a delusion, and foolishness. The wise person knows better.

In today's epistle reading, St. Paul speaks to us about the lusts of the flesh, and our desires to gratify them. If we once accept that lie that this life, and this material world, are all that there is, then the only reasonable pursuit or goal becomes satisfying our desires, and pleasing ourselves, as much as possible during the short period of our existence. To this end, people throughout time have sought out wealth, power, control, and fame that would let them enjoy the pleasures of this world as much as possible while they were alive. Likewise, they have sought to do everything possible to minimize or remove the consequences of their pleasure-seeking, so that it can always continue uninterrupted. If others have to be used in for my desires to be gratified, then so be it. If someone else must starve in order that I might be gluttonous, then so be it. If many must live in poverty so that I can live in opulence, then so be it. This was, in general terms, the belief of the Roman citizenry, and they justified it to themselves by believing themselves to be simply a better and more worthy class of human being than those who had to suffer in order for themselves to continue in the lifestyle to which they had become accustomed.

Over against this way of viewing the world and our lives within it, St. Paul juxtaposes a very different way of life for which Christians should aspire. Over against using those around us to fulfill our own desires, each competing with the other to gain advantage and to wield power, he posits the image of Christians as a family, as brother and sisters in the family of God the Father. This is a very different kind of love than that in the surrounding world, a protective and sacrificial love rather than the gratification of desire and fulfilling of passion. Further, the Apostle depicts a life that does not seek fame and fortune, but rather is content to be quiet and peaceable, as people perform honest work with their hands and provide for their basic needs, without seeking anything at the expense of others. This is a life that is content, and not continuously driven by one desire or want after another. Finally, this is a way of life that is holy, that seeks primarily to move through this life in this world uncontaminated by the evil and wickedness of this world, because it is a life lived in pursuit of something greater that exists beyond this life. Because of this, the things which this world values most highly and holds most dear are considered by Christians to be distractions at best, and more likely impediments to making progress toward life in the world to come.

And it is concerning this life of the world to come that Christ points his hearers in today's Gospel reading, in particularly strident and dire terms. While it may seem that there is no purpose in this life but to gratify ones' desires, even at the expense of others, and while it may seem that if one manages to escape negative consequences for one's actions in this life, there will be no such consequences, the truth is that in the end there will be a reckoning. In the end, every one of us will stand before his or her creator and judge to give an account, and all that which has not been corrected, has not been restored, or has not seen justice done in this life will see justice in the next. Those who have received good things in this life at the expense of others will face the loss of everything. Those who wasted their lives chasing after those things which pass away will have nothing to show for themselves. Those who thought they had an unlimited time to repent and make things right will discover, to their sorrow, that their time is up.

As Christians, we are given the gift of being able to live this life truly free. We know that Christ our God has defeated death on our behalf, and that regardless of what we might suffer in this world, a reward awaits us in the next. We know that all of the temporary pleasures of this life, as well as all of its pains, are nothing compared to the joy that awaits us in Jesus Christ. Therefore, let us not be fooled into thinking that the value of our life is measured by wealth, success, or fame in this world such that we are pulled off of our course. Nor let us be fooled into thinking that our time in this world is anything but short, such that we might fail to repent. Rather, let us live quiet and peaceful lives in all godliness and sanctity, awaiting with love the day of the glorious appearing of our Lord.

Questions to Ponder

  1. The Pharisees in today's Gospel reading are not seeking the truth, about either St. John the Forerunner or Christ. They use their words, and the questions they ask Jesus in an attempt to trap him, as a weapon, only to have their trap sprung upon themselves. Are you more concerned about the truth, or about being confirmed in your own opinion? Do you have the humility to admit that you do not have all the answers? Do you ask honest questions of those more experienced in the faith than yourself, to learn from them, or do you use questions to start debates that you believe you can win?
  2. St. Paul tells us in today's epistle reading that we should aspire to lead a quiet life in peace. The picture he gives of a simple life, working with one's hands, is not one that, at least in our modern era, would go naturally with 'aspiration'. In the face of a culture that aspires to fame, to wealth, to renown, to vanity and personal glory, we are called by God to humbly aspire to just the contrary, to contentment with what we have, and living a small, quiet life. Do you prayerfully seek to be content with the life and the things that you have, or are you always pursuing more? When you get something that you've worked for, are you thankful, or do you immediately move on to chasing after the next thing? Do you find happiness in your faith in Christ, or do you continually think that you'll be happy once you have some other job, or living situation, or amount of money in the bank?

Questions or Comments? FrStephen@stgeorgecharleston.org

Note from the Author – No rights reserved. If you find anything good, or helpful, or worthwhile in these Bible studies from week to week, feel free to take and use it as you see fit. I do not need credit.


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