Some of you have stopped by today because of this tweet I made last week:
Bookmark this:buff.ly/YFJOAh the idiots at Newsweek are in for a merciless beating next week.
— Frank Turk (@Frank_Turk) February 20, 2013
the full audio here)
The last time I blogged a Sunday School lesson, we thought about the ordinary nature of the 1st letter to the Thessalonians. We looked at Paul’s vision for the ordinary church, God’s Ordinary Means for delivering the Gospel to the world. The list was simple – Pastoral Care, Personal Affection, Proclaiming the Gospel, and Perfecting the Gospel. I also said back then that it’s understandable why most pastors don’t want to linger on the letters to the Thessalonians because they deal broadly in the doctrines of the second coming of Jesus, and that threading the eye of that needle can cause us a lot of trouble.
So God in his good humor and providence gave me this passage to teach from – which is explicitly about the return of Christ, and the final Judgment of God. I guess I get to thread the eye of the needle today.
2Thes 1. The Apostle Paul wrote (starting in verse 5):
We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.
This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.
This is an interesting turn of phrase in Paul – and it only occurs twice in the New Testament: here, and in Romans 16. The other place in English where it turns up in the Bible is 1Pet 4, but the Greek there is different – Peter uses a different word there. It interests me because, it seems to me, we get a lot of teaching about “the Gospel,” meaning what God has done for us. That is: the Gospel is something we receive, not something we obey. Somehow we believe it, or we hear it, and it’s the declaration of what God has done. Professor Michael Horton has written:
we often hear calls to "live the Gospel," and yet, nowhere in Scripture are we called to "live the Gospel." Instead, we are told to believe the Gospel and obey the Law, receiving God's favor from the one and God's guidance from the other. The Gospel--or Good News--is not that God will help us achieve his favor with his help, but that someone else lived the Law in our place and fulfilled all righteousness.This seems true enough. The work of Christ is certainly the keystone of the Gospel as Paul preached it. But here in this letter, Paul has put in contrast those who do not obey the Gospel over against those he is writing to in Thessalonica – those who we assume do obey the Gospel. Because of this, and the consequences Paul says lay stored up for each side in the end time, I think we need a minute or two to think about what Paul means to say when he pointing out those who do or do not obey the Gospel.
The first thing to say is this: Paul is not confusing the Law and the Gospel. That is, we cannot simply substitute the word “Law” here and suppose that what Paul really meant was that sinful men – men who disobey the law of God – are the ones who will receive the final consequences Paul describes here. Paul says it is the Gospel – the good news of God – that these people do not obey.
MacArthur deals with this issue by saying that in some sense the Gospel contains the call the repent and believe. He says it this way:
This gospel is a command. It is not a suggestion, it is a command. That is why God will come in vengeance, because you who disobey the command have flaunted yourself against His authority. … So when the gospel is preached, it is a command. When is the last time you said to somebody, "I command you to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? God commands you." John the Baptist or Jesus didn't come along and say, "It would certainly be wonderful if you would repent," he said, "Repent, or else."This seems to eliminate the tension in the phrase “obey the Gospel,” because it is meant to be obeyed the way any command ought to be. It eliminates the contrast between what we usually understand as the Law which convicts us and the Gospel which saves us. But when it is said this way, it seems to me that it also eliminates the reason the Gospel is a relief when compared to the demands of the Law. Since it is Paul we are talking about, we have to remember that he was the one who makes it clear what that contrast ought to be in Romans 8, and again in Romans 10
Reducing the Gospel down to a mere command, then, is probably not as helpful as it looks on the first pass – because the command to repent is itself part of the Law. Martin Luther put it this way:
The law is a light that illumines and shows, not the grace of God or righteousness and life, but the wrath of God, sin, death, our damnation in the sight of God, and hell. Such an awareness of divine judgment, which brought knowledge of oneself through the revelation of the law of God, is the basis of authentic repentance.When Paul is talking about whether or not one “obeys the Gospel,” he is talking about the true dividing line between faith and unbelief. We'll discuss it further next week.