Many of us have probably been watching the news about the war in Iraq. Maybe some of you are anxious about the possibility of a terrorist retaliation. Others of you may be wondering, if only in passing, whether this war brings us one step closer to the return of Christ.
These concerns should concern us. Most Americans don’t think much about the end times or even our personal death. I was talking to a personal development coach who said, "Everything in life we can choose. The only thing we have no choice in is death."
Yet, many people live in denial, believing that death only happens to someone else. The only times we think much about our own mortality is when we go to a funeral, when we go into the hospital for surgery, or when an aggressor threatens us.
But these events are infrequent. So we give little thought about death. And we are not prepared to die. Like students who have not prepared for their final exam and cannot enjoy their time before the exam, we can never fully enjoy the time we have in life unless we’ve prepared for death.
Last week, someone called to meet with me in case she doesn’t live through her upcoming surgery. She said that her children simply wanted her to get well, but she was ready to die. I told her that I wanted her to get well also, but I was glad that she had peace with God through Jesus Christ and the courage to face her death.
Preparation to die involves more than buying life insurance or a burial plot. Preparation to die involves more than estate planning. One of the responsibilities of the pastor is to prepare people to die well. And those prepared to die well can live fuller lives.
This morning, we will be looking at 2 Thessalonians 2:15-3:18. Paul wrote this letter to encourage the Christians who were suffering and to correct certain false teachings and the actions that follow such false teachings. The passage this morning addresses the incorrect responses to the false teaching that Christ has already returned.
A pastor friend, who is also a professor in practical theology, said, "If I knew that Christ was coming back next month, I would charge everything on my credit cards."
Some of us will know when we are living the last days of our lives. Others of us will die suddenly, or Christ will return before we die. But all of us can learn how to best live the final days of our lives on earth.
Paul gives us four encouragements from this passage in 2 Thessalonians. These encouragements deal with the problems associated with our own death or the upheavals in the end times. The problems include confusion, fear, hopelessness and passivity. Let’s look together.
The first encouragement that Paul gives to us is that we need to reach for biblical truth. Verses 2:15, 3:4, 3:14-15
Paul is encouraging the Christians in Thessalonica stand firm at the end times. After all, Jesus told us that the end times would be filled with wars, immorality, spiritual apathy and natural disasters. How should we respond when these things happen?
When we see evil, suffering or death, it is natural to be confused about what we believe and what we ought to do. We wonder if our beliefs and our behaviors have contributed to the current problem or whether our beliefs and behaviors can provide solutions.
In these times, we need to reach for biblical truths. Even if you don’t believe the Bible is God’s Word, you need to acknowledge that biblical truths have stood the test of time. And for us who believe that the Bible is God’s Word, we have God’s wisdom as our guide. And God’s wisdom is far better than man’s wisdom.
This week, a friend asked what I thought about the war in Iraq. He concluded that the loss of lives makes war morally wrong.
Most people believe that life is the ultimate measure of right and wrong. Other people believe that freedom is the ultimate measure of right and wrong. Still others believe that saving the environment is the ultimate measure of right and wrong. Hedonists believe that personal happiness is the ultimate measure of right and wrong.
But when you’re confused about life and death issues, put away public opinions and turn off the radio or television, if just for a moment, and reach for biblical truths. News offers information that is sometimes accurate and sometimes misleading. But news never offers wisdom. Biblical truths offer wisdom.
The biblical truths that have helped me evaluate the war in Iraq include the truth that war and death are not God’s original intent for mankind, but are the result of sin in mankind. Yet in a fallen world God permits human government to use force to restrain evil. So, war should be entered into only as a last resort and only for the purpose of restraining evil.
The second encouragement that Paul gives to us is that we need to rest in God’s favor. Verses 2:16-17, 3:16
Paul is reminding the Thessalonians not to fear but to put their hope in God’s unconditional love and favor. We can never experience the peace we truly seek by putting our hope in human efforts. We can at best repress evil for a time.
On Friday night, we had a wonderful study on the subject of the kingdom of heaven. And Joseph referred us to read from Revelation 21, where we read about the hope of eternal life with God:
Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true (Revelations 21:3-5)."
Most Christians agree that we need not fear death or evil, because for the Christian, death is not final and evil will not follow us into eternal life. To the Christian, death is like going on vacation. We look forward to the destination, but we don’t look forward to how we get there. In fact, many of us are afraid of the pain and suffering leading to death.
Coach Vince Lombardi put up a sign for the Green Bay Packers that read, "Fatigue makes cowards of all."
When we are emotionally or physically fatigued from life’s trials or illnesses, fear can take over, where faith once resided. In these moments, the encouragement from Paul is not to be more spiritual or to do more for God. In these moments, Paul calls us to rest in God’s love and favor.
Jesus, the Son of God, said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28)." Resting in God’s favor provides the courage, strength and peace to live the best you can in the final days of life.
The third encouragement that Paul gives to us is that we need to refine our priorities. Verses 3:1-2.
Paul is basically saying, "Major on God’s priorities of prayer and evangelism. That’s the best way to be ready to meet God."
On Wednesday night, our Church Council was scheduled to meet at 8 pm. I was tempted to cancel the meeting and simply sit in front of the TV to watch the news. My reasoning was that everyone else was concerned about the war in Iraq; if I insist on the meeting, I would appear to have warped priorities.
But God impressed on me that watching the news for two hours would not change a single happening. He impressed on me that I needed to gather the Council together to pray and to take care of the business of the church so we can help more and more people come to a right and healthy relationship with God and with one another through Jesus Christ.
So the Council met to pray for God’s merciful intervention in the war, and we addressed ministry and missionary concerns that night. The goal of the church is to help the world come to a right and healthy relationship with God. Only the completion of this mission to reconcile mankind to God can bring true world peace.
I’ve sat next to Christians who were bed-ridden and terminally ill. My encouragement to them has always been, pray for God’s work and support God’s work at whatever level you can. As long as you are conscious, pray; pray for God’s work to be done through our church and around the world. Prayer and evangelism are God’s priorities for His people.
The fourth encouragement that Paul gives to us is that we need to respond as contributors. Verses 3:6-13
Paul is addressing passive, fatalistic, busybody Christians who are saying with their lives, "What we do won’t make a difference, so we won’t do anything." Instead, we ought to say with our lives, "I am one and only one. I have limited time. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. What I can do, by the grace of God, I will do."
When injustice, suffering and death overwhelm us, we are prone to give up too soon. Some become depressed and eventually passive in life. Others express their hopelessness in destructive ways. But a Christian need not become hopeless when our hope is in God rather than in any human system or effort.
Christians can share the love of Christ with tense and fearful people. Christians can pray for wisdom and moral integrity for our President. Christians can pray for mercy and safety for the soldiers and all innocent civilians.
Maybe you’ve come across families who have members deployed in this war. I have. I’ve offered to pray for them. I’ve asked if there is anything I can do to help. I’ve given them literatures that foster hope and faith in God.
A contributor is one who is responsible in the place where God has placed him or her. He is a responsible husband and father in the home. She is a responsible wife and mother at home. Contributors are responsible church membership and community membership. Contributors are faithful employees and faithful servants of God.
When St. Francis was digging in his garden, a man asked him, "What would you do if you knew this was the last day of your life?
St. Francis replied, "I would keep on digging in my garden."
How would you respond to the question, "What would you do if you knew this was the last day of your life?" Your answer should be, "Nothing different." But you can only answer in this way if you have reached for biblical truths, rested in God’s favor, refined your priorities and responded as a contributor.