Click on the link below to watch the video on Exchanging Our Time for Something That Matters
A Simple Plan!
Simply Christmas, Pt.1
December 8, 2013
Luke 2:16, So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
- The Simple Plan was there at CREATION
Philippians 2:5, Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.
John 1:1, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning. 3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4In him was life, and that life was the light of men… 10He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.
Colossians 1:15, He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
- The Simple Plan was there in the CRADLE
Philippians 2:7, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
Isaiah 9:6, For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.
- The Simple Plan was present on the CROSS
Philippians 2:8, And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!
John 19:25, Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister … 26When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” 27and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. 28Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled … 30 … Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
- The Simple Plan is fulfilled with a CROWN
Philippians 2:9, Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
John 19:1, Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. 2The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe 3and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they struck him in the face.
John 1:11, He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.
Each December, I receive questions about different aspects of Christmas. I am frequently asked if it is biblically wrong to have a Christmas tree. Usually people ask this question because they have either read or heard that scripture speaks against having a Christmas tree, and invariably, when the TREE QUESTION is tracked down in Scripture it usually comes down to Jeremiah 10 which says:
“Hear what the LORD says to you, people of Israel. 2 This is what the LORD says:
“Do not learn the ways of the nations
or be terrified by signs in the heavens,
though the nations are terrified by them.
3 For the practices of the peoples are worthless;
they cut a tree out of the forest,
and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel.
4 They adorn it with silver and gold;
they fasten it with hammer and nails
so it will not totter.
5 Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field,
their idols cannot speak;
they must be carried
because they cannot walk.
Do not fear them;
they can do no harm
nor can they do any good.”
6 No one is like You, LORD;
You are great,
and Your name is mighty in power.
7 Who should not fear You,
King of the nations?
This is Your due.
Among all the wise leaders of the nations
and in all their kingdoms,
there is no one like You.
8 They are all senseless and foolish;
they are taught by worthless wooden idols.
9 Hammered silver is brought from Tarshish
and gold from Uphaz.
What the craftsman and goldsmith have made
is then dressed in blue and purple—
all made by skilled workers.
10 But the LORD is the true God;
He is the living God, the eternal King.
When He is angry, the earth trembles;
the nations cannot endure His wrath.
11 “Tell them this: ‘These gods, who did not make the heavens and the earth, will perish from the earth and from under the heavens.’”
12 But God made the earth by His power;
He founded the world by His wisdom
and stretched out the heavens by His understanding.
13 When He thunders, the waters in the heavens roar;
He makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth.
He sends lightning with the rain
and brings out the wind from his storehouses.
14 Everyone is senseless and without knowledge;
every goldsmith is shamed by his idols.
The images he makes are a fraud;
they have no breath in them.
15 They are worthless, the objects of mockery;
when their judgment comes, they will perish.
16 He who is the Portion of Jacob is not like these,
for He is the Maker of all things,
including Israel, the people of His inheritance—
the LORD Almighty is His name.”(Jeremiah 10:1-16)
So, do these verses condemn the modern Christmas tree? No! Even though some claim Jeremiah is talking about Christmas trees here, it’s just not the case. When you read the full chapter in context, Jeremiah is speaking against foreign people making idols of TREES AND WOOD that are plated with gold and silver and then worshipped. So it is idol worship that is condemned by Jeremiah 10. Isaiah does the same thing in chapter 44, when he scoffs at those idol worshippers who cut down a tree and burn half of the tree in the fire to keep themselves warm and then make the other half into an idol.
Both Jeremiah 10 and Isaiah 44 flow out of the 2nd commandment found in Exodus 20 which states, “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commandments.”(Exodus 20:4-6)
Thus, the Bible does not prohibit Christmas trees unless you are in the habit of treating them as idols and bowing down to them or praying to them. As best I can tell, the modern Christmas tree does NOT have pagan or idol-worshipping origins. The Romans did celebrate the winter solstice and honor Saturnus, their agricultural god, with greenery and other celebratory traditions. Similarly, in the middle ages, the Germans placed evergreen trees inside their homes as they waited for spring to come.
The first Christmas tree was decorated in the sixteenth century by German Protestant Christians. Historically, our modern Christmas tree developed from the traditions of the Germans and not the pagan idol worshippers rebuked by Jeremiah and Isaiah in the Old Testament times.
So, I do not think a Christmas tree that is beautifully decorated for the right reason at the right season is in any way wrong for a Christian. Unless they plan to bow down to the tree, treat it as an idol or pray to it—then again, if your plan is to do those things to the Christmas tree you probably do not understand Christmas anyway.
However, I also know some very good Christians who choose not to have a Christmas tree, and I fully support their decision as well. After all, Paul spoke of this in Romans 14 by writing, “ One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. 6 Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord…” (Romans 14:5-6).
So if you choose not to have a Christmas tree, good for you. However, if you choose to have a Christmas tree–decorate away! Just do it for the right reason. The right reason is this, “…the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).
John Mark Caton
Christmas is so hectic that often times we can’t seem to really enjoy it. Last year, the new Chinese Bullet train set a record for traveling 302mph across the Chinese countryside. If your only purpose in riding a train is to get to your destination as quickly as possible, that would be great. However, if you want a scenic view of some amazing sights, then you need to slow the train down a bit.
I encouraged you to slow down the Christmas train and enjoy the ride. Seven hundred years before Christ birth, Isaiah said these amazingly prophetic words:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)
In doing so, Isaiah was telling us to slow the train down and gaze at the Savior. The Wisemen took his advice; the shepherds took his advice; the early church took his advice…will you? Besides when you look at Christ, Isaiah informed us that we will see some amazing things:
1) Christ is Your Top Advisor—“Wonderful Counselor”
2) Christ is Your Commander-In-Chief—“Might God”
3) Christ is Your Provider Forever—“Eternal Father”
4) Christ is Your Life Calmer—“Prince of Peace”
So slow the train down a bit this Christmas, and make sure you take note of who Christ is and who He should be in your life.
Check out www.cottonwoodcreek.org for upcoming Christmas Events
It is very common for Christians to place a nativity scene somewhere in their houses during the Christmas season. Some nativity scenes are cheap and some can cost into the thousands of dollars. Some people have more than one nativity scene while some barely have the pieces left to accurately represent that first Christmas.
So, is there anything wrong with a Nativity Scene. The answer is yes and no. No, in that I don’t believe it’s wrong to display a nativity scene as long as we understand that it is simply a symbol that should represent the birth of the Savior.
Yes, there is something wrong with most Nativity scenes that I see. Most of the pieces represented in the traditional nativity do represent animals, people and angelic beings who were involved in the Christmas story, but not all of those people were present in one place at the same time.
Joseph, Mary and Jesus were definitely in the stable that night because there was no room for them in the in (Luke 2:7), but nowhere in Scripture are we told if there were animals present at the same time. The shepherds did leave their flocks in the field to go and worship the newborn baby (Luke 2:16). The angels we often see represented in traditional Nativity scenes may well have been present but the Bible mentions them announcing Christ birth to the shepherds while they were still out in the field (Luke 2:8-14). The Magi are also associated with the Traditional Nativity scene; however, Scripture tells us they visited Jesus some time later (Matthew 2:1-11).
So, as I see it, the animals may have been there but we aren’t sure. The angels were in the field but not necessarily at the stable. The Magi and shepherds didn’t show up at the same time. However, despite those small inconsistencies, I do believe a Traditional Nativity scene is a beautiful reminder of that special time we call Christmas.
For a clear picture of the events that did take place and actual biblical details read the two passages below:
Luke 2:1, In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Matthew 2:1, After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
John Mark Caton
I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.”(Ephesians 1:16)
Being a THANKFUL person has always been associated with being a happy person. Granted, no one really knows if thankful people are happier people or if happier people are more thankful. Truthfully, I don’t intend to settle that argument today or even delve into it. What I want to do today is simply express my thankfulness to my church family.
• Thank you for allowing me to be your pastor for over 18 years.
• Thank you for reading my blogs and giving good feedback and thoughts on future topics. www.johnmarkcaton.com
• Thank you for putting up with a lot of bad sermons and hopefully a few good ones sprinkled in there.
• Thank you for being willing to step up and say yes when God asks us to minister in a new way.
• Thank you for liking my Facebook page (John Mark Caton). I hope you enjoy seeing the pictures and comments. I love my family and love sharing glimpses of them with you.
• Thank you for loving my family over the years.
• Thank you for following me on twitter and tweeting and retweeting some of my sarcasm and humor and hopefully a wise word @johnmarkcaton
• Thank you for being a church that reaches people both far and near.
I want you to know today- how thankful I am for you. I am truly blessed to be your pastor at Cottonwood Creek.
“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”(Colossians 3:16)
Solomon, perhaps the wisest and wealthiest man who ever lived on this earth, said this long ago:
A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. (Proverbs 11:25)
Those words are still as true today as they were the day they were penned. How you use your money really does matter. If you have ever purchased anything thinking it would make you happy, then join the club. However, when I think back over my life about my many purchases, there is one irrefutable reality—it did make me happier for a while, a very short while, but every new purchase eventually lost its luster, shine, sheen, gleam, polish or any other word you want to insert here.
The simple truth is this, regardless of cost, every new purchase eventually gets discarded. Just recently a lady traded her wedding ring for tickets to a Kansas City Chiefs game. She posted the trade offer on Craigslist and someone accepted. They met at a jewelry store to confirm the ring’s authenticity. The ring featured a round, brilliant cut .45 carats diamond, in a white gold setting with smaller diamonds equaling another .50 carats. A matching wedding band also featured 10 more small diamonds that added another .50 carats. The total appraisal was $3,100. So here’s the deal—someone got a wedding ring and matching band and someone else got tickets to the Chiefs-Chargers game on November 24 and to the Chiefs-Broncos game on December 1. My guess is that pretty soon both parties will regret the deal.
So, can the way we use our money really make us happier? Yes, it can if you use it wisely. In their book, Smart Money: The Science of Smarter Spending Michael Norton of the Harvard Business School and psychologist Elizabeth Dunn clearly spell out the correlation between money, spending and happiness.
The first thing they looked at in the book was the three biggest misconceptions people have about money. Misconception #1– people believe that “more income” is associated with a lot more happiness, i.e. twice the income equals twice the happiness. The truth spelled out in the book is that the link between income and happiness just is not there. Misconception #2-people believe that “how much money” they have leads to happiness. Again, the book says the correlation just isn’t there between the amount of money you have and your happiness. Misconception #3-people believe that buying new things will make them happier. Again, the correlation just does not exist. So if it is not your income, savings account or new purchases that make you happy, how can money make you happier?
According to the extensive research in the book there are a couple of things that you can do with your money that brings real happiness to people:
1) Save your money! According to their research, saving your money brings long-term happiness down the road. This is probably because when you spend out of savings you enjoy it more than putting it on the credit card.
2) Spend Wisely! Their research shows three clear ways to spend your money wisely that will bring your happiness now and later. Spending wisely, according to the book, is not just buying things; it is investing in others. The three places that this investing brings the most happiness are when people invest in their family, friends and worthy charities or non-profits. The greatest happiness gains were found to be when people invested in charities that were building up their families, friends and community.
So this December don’t just spend your money on a bunch of purchases that will lose their luster in a matter of weeks or months and provide no lasting happiness. Instead, invest your money in your friends, family and church. Not surprisingly, when all the research was completed and the book was finally published, the conclusion turned out to be this: “ A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” (Proverbs 11:25)
Remember- year-end giving…as you think through how you will spend your money this December, don’t just buy stuff, Invest!!! Invest in your family, your friends and your church—now that’s a real bang for your buck!!!
Have you ever entered a conversation about the meaning of B.C. or A.D. or the actual date of the birth of Jesus? It is not uncommon around Christmas and Easter for me to hear people refer to B.C. and A.D. In doing so, many people state that B.C. means Before Christ while A.D. means After Death. These common explanations do tend to flow easily off the tongue and match the accompanying letters, however those explanations are not exactly correct.
So what does B.C. and A.D. Mean? B.C. is the easier of the two—it does in fact stand for “Before Christ.” However, A.D. means “anno domini” and is more accurately translated “in the year of our Lord.” While knowing the actual definition of B.C. and A.D. is important, one must realize that the initial purpose of the designation of B.C. and A.D. was to designate the birth of Jesus as the pivotal point in human history.
A few interesting side notes:
1) The designation or separation between B.C. and A.D. was not instituted for several centuries after the Birth of Christ
2) When the date of Christ’s birth was initially selected a counting error was made. Thus, the real date of Christ birth would be sometime around 5 B.C. and not A.D. 1. However, it should be noted that neither a 7th century designation of B.C. and A.D. nor the fact that the date of Christ birth was actually missed by about 5 years changes the fact that the birth of Christ is in fact the central event in the history of the world.
The Apostle Paul had this central event in history in mind, when he spoke of the Birth of Christ by saying “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5 so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).
So hopefully the next time you enter a discussion about the meaning of B.C. or A.D. or even the actual date of Christ Birth you will have the right answers. However the most important thing to remember about the B.C. and A.D. debate is that the birth of the Savior was, is, and always will be the central event in the history of the world
John Mark Caton, Ph.D
In 1 Thessalonians 5, the apostle Paul concludes his letter to the “Model Church” with a few encouraging words on how to function properly as a New Testament church. If we are not careful, we can deceive ourselves into thinking that all the churches in the New Testament Church were perfect and the church we attend is not. However, the image we often have of the perfect New Testament church was not the reality.
Jesus uses the image of a shepherd and sheep in John 10 to show both who He is as our Lord and who we are as His sheep. In fact, he acknowledged to his audience that day that He had sheep that were not of their first-century Jewish fold, and that we would all be united in one flock someday (see John 10:16). I want to employ this same imagery in the writing of this blog.
In every church there are strong, faithful followers who pursue God’s will for the church to be united, healthy, and growing. However, in every church there are also weaker, unfocused, and sometimes rebellious believers who hinder and frustrate the church. Here is what Paul wrote, “12 Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else”(1 Thessalonians 5:12-15.)
In 1 Thessalonians 5:14-14, Paul gives explicit instructions and warnings about a Christians’ proper reaction to five specific sheep in our flock that can cause problems within the fold. Take these to heart, as this passage addresses the responsibilities of every church member (and almost every main verb directing the people was written in the second-person plural – the Greek equivalent of y’all).
- Dealing with the Wayward Sheep – “Admonish the Unruly” (1 Thess. 5:14a)
Have you ever heard the terms set someone straight and attitude adjustment? Would it surprise you to know that this is not just a southern expression, but the advice is actually commanded in the Bible? The English word “unruly” here comes from a Greek compound word (ἄτακτος) meaning not (á) arranged, drawn up or in line (tássō). In a literal sense, it is referring to believers who were out of line and disorderly in their roles in the church. Based on the context of 1 Thessalonians, these wayward sheep may have been unrepentant in their failure to serve the church with their spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:7; 14:12-13), support the church’s financial well-being (1 Cor. 16:2; 2 Cor. 8:7; 9:6-12), or support the church’s leadership (1 Thess. 5:12-13; 1 Tim. 5:17; Heb. 13:7, 17). The context also implies that they held rebellious attitudes about their disorderly conduct. So how do we address these people biblically, when their out-of-bounds behavior disrupts church unity and hurts the church’s reputation with outsiders?
Paul’s directions for handling these unruly ones comes from another compound word: nouthetéō, meaning “to place” (títhēmi) the “mind” (nous). More literally, for the health of the church we are to set the minds of those who are out of line. For the unruly, we are to set straight, to give an attitude adjustment. Paul warns us strongly here to not sit and tolerate the out-of-line behavior but to address it and set it straight for the good of those individuals as well as the church.
- Dealing with the Worried Sheep – “Encourage the fainthearted” (1 Thess. 5:15b)
Encourage is our English equivalent of Paul’s word, paramythéomai, derived from pará, meaning “from close-beside” and mytheomai, “soothing speaking”. This connotes close, encouraging, and personal interactions in these faint-hearted believers. Faint-hearted is the popular choice of Paul’s Greek word used here oligópsyxos, derived from olígos, “little in quantity” and psyxē, “soul”). Together, this word references those with an undeveloped soul, lacking in personhood (without a healthy identity and developed individuality).
As Christians our identity and confidence to follow Christ, to fulfill our callings, to serve the church, to reach the lost must stem from our identity being rooted in Christ. Paul commissions strong, confident Christians to come alongside these worried sheep – these faint-hearted brothers who doubt and worry – think Piglet from Winnie the Pooh, always throwing up his hands in worry and shuddering, “Ohhh, d-d-d-d-d-dear!” We are not to become frustrated by those who fear and do not have the faith to follow Christ, but rather we are to encourage them in a gentle and brotherly manner.
- Dealing with the Weak Sheep – “Help the weak” (1 Thess. 5:14c)
Asthenḗs is Paul’s word for “the weak,” and is an adjective derived from a (“without”) and sthenos (“vigor, strength”). These weak sheep are likely those of our flocks who are fragile in faith or troubled by doubts. These may not be strong enough in their faith to enjoy their freedom in Christ, and they may be physically sick. This is the same word used to describe the weak or sick in James 5:16, “Is anyone among you asthenḗs (literally, without strength)? Then he must call on the elders of the church and they are to pray over him.” As we will see in again in Paul’s next instruction regarding the weak, James also writes that those who are strong should uplift the weak.
Paul exhorts those who are strong to help (antéxomai) the weak. (from antí, “corresponding to” and éxō, “have”). In simple terms, those of us who are strong should pour out as much as is necessary to help the weak in our churches. We are to help them without growing weary with as much strength to uphold them as they have weakness to weigh them down. This is how the church is to react. When one part of the body hurts – physically or spiritually, we all hurt right alongside them (1 Cor. 12:25-26).
- Dealing with the Wearisome Sheep – “Be patient with everyone” (1 Thess. 5:14d)
Do you remember the toy from a few decades ago called Stretch Armstrong? This body-builder looking goo-filled rubber action figure could be stretched to many times his usual body size and quickly return to normal. Many struggles in the church are contributable to its members. The complacency of the unruly, the wavering faith of the worriers, the emotional and spiritual neediness of the spiritually weak – tax the time, energy, and financial reserves of a church body. Now, what does this have to do with a stretchy children’s toy from the ‘70s?
The Greek word Paul uses here for “be patient” is makrothyméō, which more literally translated to “extending a long time or way”. We are to stretch ourselves a long way and a long time for the wearisome sheep, those brothers and sisters whose struggling faith irritates the church body. We are to clearly be patient with them.
- Dealing with the Wicked Sheep – “See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people” (1 Thess. 5:15).
This last of the exhortations monitoring interpersonal relationships in the church is the longest of the five. This verse is easily translated as “be sure that no one gives evil for evil but pursue good to all an in all.” This exhortation is not so much about watching our own actions, but watching our reactions – we do not look out for wicked sheep (evildoers) necessarily, but against those who would return evil for evil. John MacArthur notes that for Christians, the severest, most painful disappointments come not from the wickedness of the unbelieving world but from other sheep within our churches.
What are we to do, then, when evil occurs in our body? Trusting the spirit, we pursue good to all, and try to see the good in all, and we trust God with justification and vengeance. Revenge has no place amongst God’s people, as He alone is qualified to properly deal it out (see Lev. 19:18; Deut. 32. 35; Ps. 94:1; Prov. 20:22; Nah. 1:2; Rom. 12:19; Heb. 10:30; Rev. 14:9-10, 14-20). To restore unity with the body (which is one thing Jesus prayed specifically for all believers in John 17:20-23) and to preserve a church’s effectiveness and witness in its community, a church must avoid vengeance and spread goodness to all in spite of evil.
So, if we are to sum up how we should act as it relates to the other members of the church, it would be something like this: Straighten some out lovingly, encourage other, help those who need it, be patient with the ones who get on your nerves, and do not ever repay evil for evil. In doing so, we can help build a model church right here and right now.
We see Paul plant the church in Thessalonica in Acts 17; however, one of the most amazing stories in all of Scripture took place in Acts 16. Paul and Silas were in Philippi preaching the gospel and planting a church and eventually ending up in prison.
Acts 16: 16-40:
“Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” 18 She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.
19 When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. 20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”
22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”
29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.
35 When it was daylight, the magistrates sent their officers to the jailer with the order: “Release those men.” 36 The jailer told Paul, “The magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released. Now you can leave. Go in peace.”
37 But Paul said to the officers: “They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.”
38 The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed. 39 They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison, requesting them to leave the city. 40 After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and sisters and encouraged them. Then they left.”
Those last words of verse 40 say a lot! “Then they left.” They left, but they did not quit. Their very next stop along the path was Thessalonica. We find that story in Acts 17:
“When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. 2 As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. 4 Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women.
5 But other Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. 6 But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, 7 and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” 8 When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. 9 Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go. 10 As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea”(Acts 17:1-10).
Notice, that Paul went into the Jewish synagogues and began to preach as soon as he entered the city. Some Jews and Greeks accepted the Gospel, and a church was planted. Many others rejected the gospel and in just a few weeks Paul was forced out of town and headed to Berea. However, the believers that remained, made up of both Jews and Greeks, formed a church that Paul would refer to as a MODEL for other churches and believers to follow (1 Thessalonians 1:7).