Be Encouraged!

Death of a fellow-believer brings great sorrow for the rest of the church family. And if the church is uninformed about the hope that it has in Jesus Christ, this sorrow could overwhelm them. This was happening in the Church at Thessalonica. They were waiting for Jesus to come back soon (1 Thess. 1:9-10) but in the midst of their waiting some of them died, causing the rest of the church to be hopeless about their eternal destiny. In this passage, Paul is teaching them why they should stop grieving hopelessly (1 Thess. 1:4:13) and be encouraged in this situation (1 Thess. 4:18).

Be encouraged because Jesus died and rose again (v. 13-14): Paul acknowledges the fact that the church was “uninformed” (1 Thess. 4:13) about the hope of resurrection from the dead at the Second Coming of Jesus. Therefore, Paul begins to teach them on the subject by saying in v. 14, “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus” (NASB version).

The first part of the statement sets a condition “if we believe that Jesus died and rose again”. Christians believe that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the death on the third day. By believing this they enter in to a relationship with Jesus and the Bible refers to this relationship as being “in Jesus”.

Paul concludes in the second part of the statement, that all the believers who have died (referred to as “fallen asleep in Jesus”) will receive a bodily resurrection at the Second Coming of Jesus. It means that there is a direct relationship between the confession that ‘Jesus died (for our sins) and rose again’ and the resurrection from the dead of all those who make that confession. And the Bible makes this connection again and again (Rom. 6:5; 1 Cor. 15:22; 2 Tim. 2:11). In fact, this connection is so strong that, Paul says in 1 Cor. 15:13, 16 that if anyone denies the resurrection of the believers, he is essentially denying that Christ rose from the dead. Our hope is as sure as the resurrection of Jesus. The death and resurrection of Jesus is the reason for our hope. In the face of death, this truth is the wellspring of our encouragement today and our hope for tomorrow.

Be encouraged by the word of the resurrected Lord (v. 15-18): Many Gurus have taught about after-life but all of them have died. And that casts a shadow of doubt over their teachings. But that is not the case with Jesus because He died and rose again. That is why Paul basis his teaching on resurrection on “a word from the Lord (Jesus)” (1 Thess. 4:15). In the following verses (1 Thess. 4:15-17) Paul does not quote Jesus verbatim but draws his conclusion from the teachings of Jesus (recorded in Mk. 13; and especially Matt. 24).

With the intention to encourage the Thessalonians who believed that their dead in Christ will lose out on the opportunity to meet Jesus when he comes back, he begins to talk about the circumstances that accompany Jesus’ Second Coming. “A cry of command” from Jesus (cf. Jn. 5:25-29) which will come in the form of a “voice of the archangel” and “the sound of the trumpet of God” (1 Thess. 4:16). We see reflections of these in Jesus’ teachings in Matt. 24:30-31. But Paul puts his emphasis on the fact that when these things happen, the living believers “will not precede those who have fallen asleep” rather “the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thess. 4:15-16).

He makes this emphasis to teach the Thessalonians that contrary to their belief that their dead have lost out in some way, the dead will in fact have a ‘place of honor’ in the order of events. They will rise first and only after that they will be “caught up together” with those “who are alive” in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:17). It means that the living and dead believers will once again be re-united and they will be with the Lord forever. This would have been a reassuring hope for the Thessalonians, as it is for all of us who have lost loved ones or when we face our own death. And this encouragement has been flowing from the “word of the Lord” through the “words” of the apostles (1 Thess. 4:18) in to the lives of many generations of believers, sustaining them in their faith and hope.

Application: Therefore, let us be encouraged, encourage other believers and also share this word of hope with all those who are yet to believe in Jesus!

Tested by God, Tempted by Evil!

So far one major theme in James’ epistle has been the testing of our faith (Jas. 1:2-3, 12). Last week he spoke to us about the test of poverty and the need to endure through it. But the question that arises in the mind of the reader is that, if one fails the test and falls for a temptation to go after the things of this world, who will be responsible for it? Isn’t God who allowed the testing, at least partially responsible for it? James answers by saying:

God cannot be tempted and God does not tempt (v. 13): James says “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God””. And he gives two reasons for it. First reason is that “God cannot be tempted with evil”. James, in talking about ‘being tempted’, is referring to an internal weakness which causes us to surrender in a moment of testing. This is clear from the context when he talks about our ‘desire’ as the source of temptation (Jas. 1:14). In that sense, ‘God is without temptation of evil’. His conscience is not scarred. It could also be said that it is beyond the power of any evil force to effectively tempt God. The basic point that James makes here is that there is no common point where God and evil meet. Then how can we blame God for our temptations?

The second defense that James offers in favour of God is that, “he himself tempts no one”. But there are places in scripture where God tests and his people Israel end up falling for a temptation (for e.g. Judg. 3:1, 4, 5-6). In that case isn’t God responsible for the temptation? How can we reconcile these facts? The answer lies in knowing that: God gives the test of faith with only one good intention i.e. the person(s) being tested should pass the test of faith. There are no other evil intentions in him. But because man is unlike God and is born with inherent evil (Ps. 51:5), the test which God intended for ‘good’ becomes an ‘evil’ temptation in the hands of men. Therefore, God is not to be blamed for our surrender to temptations.

Rather, we are responsible for it (v. 14-15): The buck stops with us because it all begins with our ‘own desire’. By itself, no desire is ‘good’ or ‘evil’ rather it is dependent on the object of one’s desire. Here it talks about the ‘evil desire’ that is resident in us (Jas. 1:14). It tempts us by ‘dragging or carrying us away’ despite any resistance from our conscience. It also ‘entices us’ i.e. the use of some clever means to arouse our interest. The word entice has the connotation of ‘hooking a fish with a bait’. So, our evil desire forcefully drags us away from God during a moment of trial and entices us to surrender to the temptation.

It reminds us of the adulterous woman in Proverbs who literally ‘seizes’ her victim (Prov. 7:13) and ‘seduces’ him with her speech (Prov. 7:21). That is why James pictures ‘our desire’ as a feminine character in Jas. 1:15. When we give in to her force and seduction, she ‘conceives/ becomes pregnant’ and gives birth to ‘sin’. And even as we nurture this daughter called ‘sin’, she eventually goes on to give birth to ‘death’. James is making a comparison between two ways of life. If one endures the trial and passes the test of faith, we become ‘perfect and complete’ (Jas. 1:4) and eventually receive the crown of life (Jas. 1:12). On the other hand, if we give in to a temptation and fail the test of faith, we will live a life of ‘sin’ that culminates in eternal death (Rom. 5:12).

Application: Having seen the hopelessness of our own wretchedness, James wants us to run to Jesus, who became the propitiation for our sins (Rom. 3:25; 1 Jn. 4:10) and rescued us from the consequence of death (Rom. 6:23), a curse of God (Gal. 3:13). Because it is through him that we find mercy and grace in times of failure and renewed strength to pass the test of faith (Heb. 4:15-16).

Let the poor brother boast!

James writes his letter to Jewish Christians who fled to Northern Palestine/ Syria in order to escape persecution. Living as refugees in an alien land, they faced severe economic distress and also oppression from people living around them, especially from the rich. It would have been easy for these Jewish Christians to become disillusioned about their faith on account of their poverty. So, James addresses them in this passage by telling them to:

Boast in your exaltation (v. 9, 12): James says, “Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation” (Jas. 1:9). The word ‘lowly’ refers to their ‘low social status’ on account of their poverty. And the word ‘brother’ shows us that he is referring to a Christian who shares his faith in Christ (Jas. 2:1). James’ exhortation to boast in their ‘exaltation’ is puzzling unless you understand what he means by it. ‘Exaltation’ means ‘high position’. The same word is used in two other places, in Lk. 24:49 as ‘high’ and in Eph. 4:8 as ‘high’, to refer to ‘heaven’. James is asking them to boast about the eternal life (Eph. 2:5; Jn. 5:24; 1 Jn. 3:14a) and their ‘heavenly citizenship’ (Eph. 2:6), which they now possess through faith in Jesus Christ. So, they don’t need to be ashamed of their earthly ‘poverty’ rather they must boast about their ‘heavenly status’.

James emphasizes this point in Jas. 1:12. ‘Poverty’ is a test of our faith and a true believer will overcome this test. They know that through faith in Jesus Christ they have received the greatest treasure i.e. the ‘Kingdom of God’ (Matt. 13:44). Therefore, they will continue to trust in Jesus even if they have to endure through a life of poverty. That is why James, like Jesus (Lk. 6:20), calls such people ‘blessed’ because they will receive the ‘crown of life’. It will be an eternal reward for their endurance and they should ‘boast in it’.

Let the rich man boast in his humiliation (v. 10, 11): James asks the rich man to boast ‘in his humiliation’ (Jas. 1:10). Who is this rich man? I don’t think James is talking to a believer here because unlike the poor man he does not call him a ‘brother’. More than that, the rich are generally seen in a very negative light through the epistle of James. In Jas. 2:6-7 the rich are shown to be ‘oppressing Christians and dragging them in to courts’ and ‘blaspheming the name of Jesus Christ’. He seems to be an unbeliever.

Using a biblical metaphor (Is. 40:6-8; Ps. 103:15-16) to explain the rich man’s way of life, James says that, “like a flower of the grass he will pass away…” (Jas. 1:10-11). This metaphor shows the world to be a field and humanity to be the ‘wild grass’ that grows in it. But in a field full of wild grass there are also ‘flowers’, the rich people. But like any human being, the lives of the rich people are also ‘fragile’ and ‘temporary’. They are here today, gone tomorrow. James says, “the rich man fades away in the midst of his pursuits”. In other words, ‘he will fade away as he goes about his business’. The flower at its full bloom exceeds in beauty compared to everything around it. But suddenly the sun comes out, sucks away all the moisture and it dries up. Similarly, the rich man at the peak of his achievements looks invincible but suddenly events/ circumstances bring his life to an almost abrupt end. He is left with nothing, yet James ‘ironically’ asks the rich man to boast in this humiliation. In God’s eyes the way of the unbelieving rich man is laughable.

Application: Compared to eternity, human life is ‘temporary’ and it is very important that we look at poverty/ riches with this perspective in mind. Therefore, let us not give up our faith in the face of any economic distress. Poverty or material wealth will not last forever but what we have in Jesus Christ will last forever.

Ask in Faith

Bible Passage: James 1:5-8

In v. 2-4 James taught us how trials produce endurance and how continued endurance leads to maturity. It is a heavenly logic which requires heavenly ‘wisdom’ in order to implement it in one’s life. And probably that is why James continues by saying that if we lack that wisdom then we should ask God. But having started with the subject of wisdom, this passage goes beyond it and talks more about God’s willingness to give and the need to ‘ask in faith’. Here are three important points that we learn from this passage:

God gives single-mindedly and without finding fault (v. 5): James makes two important claims about God in this verse. That he ‘gives generously’ and ‘without reproach’. The word ‘generous’ hints at God’s attitude towards giving. That he is absolutely ‘sincere’ about the task of giving. He never has second thoughts about giving i.e. ‘should I give or not give’. He is ‘single-minded’ about giving (notice the underlying word play when you compare it with Jas. 1:8, ‘double-minded’). No wonder another translation says ‘he is always ready to give’ (Living Bible). James’ second claim is that he gives ‘without reproach’ i.e. ‘without finding fault’. He does not ‘revile or mock or insult’ the one who is asking. Based on the testimony of other scriptures, this certainly does not mean that the one who is asking is ‘faultless’ but that God gives despite our faults (Ps. 130:3; 143:2; Prov. 20:9).

To those who ask in faith (v. 6a): But how is that in sync with God’s perfect nature? Will he always keep giving to sinners? No! And that is why James reveals a condition, according to which, the one who asks must ‘ask in faith’. Here James goes beyond the Jewish faith to ‘faith in Jesus Christ’ because that is the common faith shared by him and his readers (Jas. 2:1). James’ confidence about God’s ‘single-mindedness’ or ‘sincerity’ in giving is based on the fact that God did not hold back his beloved Son in order to save us from the consequences of sin (Rom. 6:23). This is in sync with how Paul argues in Rom. 8:32 that if God gave us His Son, ‘will he not also with him graciously give us all things?’. And James’ confidence that God gives ‘without reproach’ is also based on the fact that He gave us His Son, ‘while we were still sinners’ (Rom. 5:8). And that is how God continues to give to His people because now all our sins have been taken away by Jesus and we are now ‘righteous’ before God (2 Cor. 5:21).

But not to the doubter (v. 6b-8): Our asking is further qualified by James, that we should ask ‘with no doubting’. Just as he is talking about ‘faith’ in Jesus Christ, the doubting also is with regard to Jesus Christ, who is mentioned as ‘the Lord’ in Jas. 1:7 (cf. Jas. 1:1). There are people who claim to believe in Jesus but their loyalty towards him is not consistent. It changes with every new circumstance ‘like a wave of the sea’ (v. 6b), they are ‘unstable’ in all their ways (v. 8b). In other words, the doubter is split in his heart between Jesus and other things (like ‘money’ Matt. 6:24 or ‘self-righteousness’ Lk. 18:9-14). He is experiencing a ‘spiritual schizophrenia’ and therefore called ‘double-minded’ (v. 8a). Such people, according to James, will have a fruitless prayer life (v. 7).

Application: Hold fast to the unchanging truth that God gives single-mindedly without finding fault. That should give us the confidence to pray much more than what we are doing right now. And this confidence is not based on anything else but what Jesus has done for us on the Cross. In Jesus all God’s promises are ‘Yes’ and it is through Him that we utter our ‘Amen’ (2 Cor. 1:20).

The Lord’s Supper

Bible Passage: Mark 14:22-25

In this passage Jesus and his disciples are celebrating the Passover, the most important festival on the Jewish Calendar, which commemorates God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt after many years in slavery. But in doing this Jesus gives new meaning to various elements of the celebration and institutes the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is about:

1. Remembering Jesus’ suffering for our salvation (v. 22): Like any Jewish household, where the head of the house would take the bread, bless it, break it and distribute it among those eating at the table with him on a Passover night, Jesus also keeps the tradition. The bread represented the ‘suffering’ that the Israelites endured during their hasty exodus from Egypt. That is why God designated the Passover bread as ‘the bread of affliction’ (Deut. 16:3), but its ultimate purpose was to remind them of their salvation from Egypt.

But Jesus renews the meaning of the bread when he says, “Take; this is my body” (v. 22). The giving of his body amounted to the ‘Giving of his life as a ransom for many’ (Mk. 10:45). A ransom paid to God to release those who stood under his wrath on account of their slavery to Sin and Satan. Through the suffering endured by Jesus on the Cross, we have received salvation and therefore the ‘bread’, reminds us of the ‘sorrow in Jesus’ suffering’ and the ‘joy of our salvation’.

2. Thanking Jesus for the benefits of the New Covenant (v. 23-24): Jesus then continues the tradition of taking the cup of wine, giving thanks and passing it to those at the table with him (v. 23). Just as he renewed the meaning of the ‘bread’, he renewed the meaning of the ‘wine’. He says in v. 24, “This is my blood of the covenant”. On the original Passover night, God symbolically made a covenant with Israel by shedding the blood of an innocent lamb. Its blood smeared on their door posts ensured God’s favor on Israel, even as HE poured out his wrath on Egypt. In the same way God sealed/ initiated a New Covenant with us through the blood of Jesus Christ, our Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7). Under this New Covenant, God poured out his favor/ Grace on us in the form of ‘forgiveness of sins, His steadfast love and the granting of a believing and persevering heart empowered by the Holy-Spirit’ (Jer. 31:31-34; 32:40; Ezek. 36:26-27). So, we thank Jesus for all these sanctifying benefits that we enjoy today which were bought by the precious blood of Jesus.

3. Looking forward to Jesus’ Second Coming (v. 25): In this verse Jesus predicts that this will be his last Passover celebration before he renews it again at His second coming i.e. at the establishment of the Kingdom of God. Therefore, the Lord’s Supper is also a looking forward to the fulfillment of this great promise made by Jesus. On that day we will be joined at the table by people from all nations, tribes, peoples and languages (Matt. 8:11; Rev. 7:9-10). And all those who participate in it are called blessed (Lk. 14:15) because it will be a much greater experience of being both the ‘privileged guest’ and ‘the righteous bride’ at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:6-9). An eternal existence with Christ, when every tear from our eyes will be wiped away, death shall be no more, no mourning or crying or pain (Rev. 21:3-4). So, the Lord’s Supper is an occasion for the church to look forward with great hope because it points to the consummation of all these promises.

Experiencing Joy in Trials

Bible Passage: James 1:1-4

Immediately after greeting his readers (v. 1), apostle James (ref. Gal. 1:19), in his epistle to Jewish Christians who had fled the persecution in Palestine and were now living in desperate economic conditions in the Diaspora, says “Count it all joy, when you meet trials of various kinds” (v. 2). The word ‘Count’ means to ‘think or consider’. He was calling them to alter their thinking about ‘the trials they were suffering’. He was asking them to be not surprised or sorrowful when they ‘fall in to’ trials, rather to consider it is an occasion for ‘All or Great or Complete or Unadulterated Joy’. He has two reasons to say so:

(1) The testing of our faith produces endurance (v. 2-3): The word ‘trials’ in v. 2 refers to ‘an attempt to test the nature or character of something’. That is why he equates ‘trials’ with the ‘testing of faith’ in v. 3. Just as Gold or Silver is tested by the furnace fire (Prov. 27:21), our faith is tested by the trials of life (1 Pet. 1:6-7). And as Gold and Silver come out ‘purer’ from the furnace (Ps. 12:6), faith comes out ‘stronger’ from trials because it produces ‘endurance or perseverance or steadfastness’. The word endurance is literally the ability to ‘stay under’ a heavy load for a long time. Like strong men who are able to carry heavy weights because their muscles were made strong by the heavy lifting in gyms every morning, our faith is made strong by undergoing the trials of life. In order to strengthen our faith in Jesus, God sends trials in to our lives. In this way we are prepared to face the continuous and greater trials in the journey of faith.

(2) Consistent endurance will lead to perfection (v. 4): Life is a long journey consisting of many trials. Many people could stop enduring through trials after some time. They can begin to question God and confess their lack of faith. Therefore, James asks us to “let endurance have its full effect”. He calls us to consistently endure the trials. And James adds that when we continue to endure under trials, it makes us “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing”. Perfect and complete in what? James is talking about ‘Christian maturity’ or ‘formation of Christian Character’. That is how Paul also sees it in Rom. 5:3-4. Through consistent endurance, God wants us to ‘mature’ or develop ‘Christian character’ so that we are made ready for the purpose that God has for us. After setting a very high standard for Christian ethics, Jesus says in Matt. 5:48, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect”. Although we cannot be perfect till we see Jesus (1 Jn. 3:2), we certainly need to aspire for it. By continuing to endure through trials we will come very close to that ideal.

Application: We must consider or think about every trial as an occasion for ‘Great Joy’ rather than being surprised (1 Pet. 4:12) or complaining or murmuring about it. In doing this we will find our inspiration in Jesus Christ who for the ‘joy’ that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, so that we might not grow weary or fainthearted (Heb. 12:1-4).

Church near Delhi University, North Campus

In this blog I want to introduce myself and the new church we are planting near Delhi University (DU), North Campus. My name is Navin Thomas and I will be pastoring this new church. My family, which includes my wife Blessy and our three children, shifted near the Delhi University in April 2018 to plant this new church. We came to Delhi in 2015 and for the last three years I was pastoring another church in Delhi. Before Delhi we were in Bangalore, where I did my Masters in Divinity (M. Div.) from South Asia Institute of Advanced Christian Studies (SAIACS). Continue reading “Church near Delhi University, North Campus”

Homosexuality: A Christian response

Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, a so-called ‘archaic British law’, was scrapped by the Supreme Court last week, legalizing Homosexuality in India. The Supreme Court ruled that, “Sex between consenting adults of the same gender is no longer an offense”. Even as parts of the media and society celebrated this decision, many others including large parts of the Church in India denounced this move. But many young Christians don’t know where to take a stand. I say ‘young Christians’ because I feel the younger generation is much more sensitized to the questions of ‘Personal liberty and rights’ than many of their predecessors. And the testimony of the Bible against the practice of Homosexuality pulls them in another direction. We Christians, especially our young people, need a convincing answer from the Bible, an answer which can also engage our peers in the world. Continue reading “Homosexuality: A Christian response”

God and the floods

When natural calamities come with unprecedented force, which brings along with it death and widespread destruction, it is natural for the human mind to probe the reasons behind it. The rational mind tries to probe the natural factors behind it but a spiritual mind can make sense of it only with reference to spiritual activity. Silently or otherwise, the spiritual man asks, “God! Did you send this calamity on us? If yes, why?”

The Kerala floods which we all witnessed in these days is still fresh in our minds. With hundreds of lives lost, thousands of people displaced from their homes and billions of dollars lost in damages, that too in a place where Christians have a dominant presence, questions regarding God’s role in all of this is not far from the lips. I heard two Christian leaders proposing two contradicting assessments of the same situation. One said, God has sent it as a judgment upon us due to the increasing sin within the church. Therefore, we need to repent and turn to God. While another asked, how can God do this to a people who have served Him faithfully in this nation? Continue reading “God and the floods”

The Lord Leads Us on Our Way

Last Sunday I preached from Psalm 1 and I titled the sermon, ‘The Way of the Righteous Man’. But a dominant theme within this Psalm is that ‘The Lord leads the Righteous Man on his Way’. When you look at the Psalms it is easy to admire the habits and lifestyle of the righteous man while missing the important fact that it is the Lord who leads him on his righteous path. Psalm 1 is a creative way of teaching the truth found in Phil. 2:12-13 that while we have a responsibility to work out our salvation, yet it is God who works in us to both desire it and to carry it out.

The Lord keeps us away from the way of the evil
The righteous man, who is also called ‘Blessed’ in v. 1, not only keeps away from the way of the wicked, the sinners and the scoffers, rather he marches in the opposite direction of making God’s Law, the delight (v. 2) of his life. The word ‘law’ normally refers to the Torah, the Mosaic Law, contained in Genesis to Deuteronomy but here it refers to its more generic meaning i.e. ‘the instructions of God’, found all over the scriptures. Continue reading “The Lord Leads Us on Our Way”