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September 15, 2012 - Promise to the Persecuted



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Lesson 11   15 September, 2012
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Promise to the Persecuted

Verses: 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12

Leading Question: If someone sends a well-intentioned message that is misunderstood, what steps should one take to put things right?

1. Second Coming instruction, second edition.  Apparently Paul’s comments about the return of Jesus in 1 Thessalonians 4 did not solve all the problems in the church.  Some have even suggested that his first letter may have compounded the difficulties, at least in some respects. What is the best way to provide a corrective to a misunderstood message.  Does Paul give us a good model that is safe for us to follow?

2. More persecutions.  Paul seeks to encourage the Thessalonians who are continuing to have difficulty with persecution.  His counsel raise two important questions:

  1. The value and inevitability of persecution.  In his second letter to Timothy, Paul declares that all who seek to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3:12). Is that counsel that only applies to those who are being persecuted?  Isn’t it more difficult to live a joyful life in Christ if one is in fear of coming troubles?
     
  2. Judgment on the persecutors. While Paul’s words about the coming judgment on those who persecute is strong, it still doesn’t hold a candle to some of the strong cries for revenge in the Old Testament. Here are two, one from Jeremiah and one from Psalms:

Jeremiah 18:19-23, CEV

19   Please, LORD, answer my prayer
Make my enemies stop accusing me of evil.

20   I tried to help them, but they are paying me back
by digging a pit to trap me.
I even begged you not to punish them.

21   But now I am asking you to let their children starve
or be killed in war.
Let women lose their husbands and sons
to disease or violence.

22   These people have dug pits and set traps for me, LORD.
Make them scream in fer when you send enemy troops
to attack their homes.

23   You know they plan to kill me.
So get angry and punish them!
Don’t ever forgive their terrible crimes.

Psalm 139:21-22, NRSV

21   Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?

22   I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies.

How does one square these calls for vengeance with Jesus’ words on the cross (“Father, forgive them,” Luke 23:34) and his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (“Love your enemies,” Matt. 5:44)?  Jesus does speak some hard words. But how does all this guide our lives and how we should speak and think about those who make life difficult for us?

3. Reality of judgment. While we may have serious questions about how to deal with our enemies, Scripture is clear that there is a judgment and 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10 certainly affirms that perspective. How should we present this reality of Judgment in a world that often cringes at judgment messages, even while it is destroying the poor and the needy? 

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