Monday, June 15, 2015

Loving the Truth (Ministry in Thessalonians, #26)

Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to Him, we ask you brothers not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report, or letter supposed to have come from us saying that the day of the Lord has already come. Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man who is doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself above everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming Himself to be God.

Don't  you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? And now you know what is holding him back so that he can be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work, but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of His mouth and destroy by the splendor of His coming. 

The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan, displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs, and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.

- 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12

I've decided that 2 Thessalonians puts to rest any idea of agnosticism. In Paul's theology, there is simply no room for the malaise of apathy. We either love the truth, or we refuse to do so. We either believe the truth or we delight in wickedness. 

Like many of you these words grate against my desire and even, in some ways, my experience. I want to believe that there was a time when I hadn't yet embraced truth, but I didn't really delight in wickedness. I wasn't really all that bad, right? 

Yet apart from the redemptive, transforming power of Christ, the human heart is "deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" (Jeremiah 17:9). And I know I was guilty of things God hates (Proverbs 6:16-19), things like pride, deception, causing division. And those are just the things I'm willing to post publicly! 

Through the pen of Paul, the Holy Spirit doesn't allow me the easy way out that universalism offers. Instead, I am pressed to ask the hard question: How much do I love the truth? Because what this passage teaches is not easy, but it is simple: If anyone wants to believe a lie, God lets them. 

To Paul, salvation is more than praying a prayer or checking off doctrinal beliefs. It's a direction of the heart characterized by LOVING and BELIEVING the truth. The opposite of this is not merely believing a lie, being shrouded in a false belief system against your will. No, the opposite of this is REFUSING to love the truth and DELIGHTING in wickedness. 

Wickedness isn't necessarily blatant, dark evil. The word simply means injustice, unrighteousness, whatever is morally wrong as defined by God's law. Certainly we all fall short - that's what the word "sin" means - but Paul tells us that those who are condemned actually delight in wickedness. They take joy in it. Like the Israelites in the time of the Judges, they call what is evil, good. And by taking truth and refusing to love it, they essentially say that what is good, is evil. 

There is no question this is a hard word from Paul - and yet we must remember, looking at this from a ministry perspective, that he wrote this to ENCOURAGE the church. In the next section he will turn his attention toward encouraging them to hold on to the word of God. But first, he lays groundwork of how important it is for them to not take that word lightly. They are to LOVE it. And when they do, they can have assurance of their salvation.

I see something else encouraging tucked into these words. I see a hint that God looks at the heart of those who might not know the full truth, to see if they are loving the truth they do have. Do they love the truth of God revealed in nature? Do they love the truth they've picked up along the way? Are they prepared to love the full revelation of all God is for us in Christ when they are told of the Gospel message? For those individuals who reject wickedness and love truth, I see a hint of God's words to Ezekiel concerned the shepherds who were leading Israel astray with false teachings:

Ezekiel 34:10 This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.

I've read plenty of miraculous stories of people seeing crosses, hearing words, having visions of Jesus, being told to go some place where a missionary had also been told to go, neither knowing who they would be meeting. We know Jesus said no one can come unless God's Spirit draws him. He draws with the truth. As people see and respond positively to the truth, He gives them more truth ... and more truth ... and more truth ... because they love it. Because they believe it. Because he wants no one to perish. 

And how does He do that? Through His church. Through each and every believer and community of believers. 

Does this passage trouble you? Do you hate to think of anyone perishing? Rejoice, dear friend.  You share the heart of God, who doesn't want anyone to perish. He won't force the affections of the heart. He'll take every inkling that someone loves truth and nourish it with more. And He wants to use you in the process.

Don't let Paul's words confuse you. Let them energize you to find those He wants you to share with, so you can love the truth together.  

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