Why Read 1-2 Thessalonians?

How is this new church doing? How are these Christians coming along?

Those were Paul’s concerns about this little church he planted in Thessalonica. After being run out of town, he heard news of their growing faith, hope, and love. He heard about their steadfastness in the midst of suffering. He heard about their firm convictions in a pluralistic society. He also heard about their weaknesses, some moral problems, and a few theological gaps, especially regarding the return of Christ.

Sounds like us.

There are differences, sure. Two thousand years changes much. But we also have much in common with this church plant. Paul’s words to them then are also God’s words to us now.

Here are three themes in these letters, corresponding to three expectations for reading.

Endurance Through Suffering

Paul took up his pen to encourage Christians living in discouraging times. These Christians suffered as a result of their faith from the beginning. The Apostle Paul was even run out of town shortly after bringing the gospel to them. Paul heard of their continued social and cultural difficulties. He also heard about their hopeful endurance, and he writes to give them more strength. We are also living in a pluralistic culture, with increasing trends of marginalization for Christians. The Thessalonians’ faith, hope, and love are encouraging examples for us today.

But where do we get the hope we need?

The Return of the King

These are future-oriented letters. Over and over, we hear of Jesus’ “coming (1 Thess. 2:19; 3:13; 4:15-17; 5:23; 2 Thess. 1:7-10; 2:1, 8). Paul wrote to clear up several misunderstandings about what to expect in the future in order to encourage more faithful living in the meantime. In the end, our hope is not merely in a series of events, an unfolding timeline, or an abstract idea of salvation. It’s in a person. We are those who are “waiting for his Son” (1 Thess. 1:10).

But what do we do until he comes?

Pleasing God 

We seek to please God in all of life. “As you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as your are doing, that you do so more and more” (1 Thess. 4:1). These letters call us to a certain kind of faithful, earnest, diligent, active, loving lifestyle. We are waiting for Jesus to come, but this is not a passive waiting. It is active. A final expectation for reading these letters, then, is that we might more fully lean into this diligent pursuit of Christ-likeness. That we would take our personal growth in Christ seriously and that we would intentionally seek to help other Christians grow as disciples of Jesus.

This is an opportunity to be transformed by the grace of God in Christ. As John Stott put it: “He shows how the gospel creates the church and the church spreads the gospel, and how the gospel shapes the church, as the church seeks to live a life that is worthy of the gospel” (Stott, The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 20).

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Dawning Light of Our Salvation

What do Isaiah’s beautiful gospel-expectations sound like when sung?

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Long in darkness Israel wandered;
Long in mortal shadows, we
Walked in bondage and self-pity,
Trod in paths of sin and grief.
In the prophets’ words He told us,
Long the God of Israel spoke;
He alone in strength would save us
From the hands of all our foes.

He shall raise a mighty Savior;
Born of David’s lineage, He
Comes in cov’nant love to claim us
From our sins to set us free.
Light to those who dwell in darkness
Life to those from death who flee
Joy unto the earth, and gladness,
To your pathways dawning peace!
Every valley be exalted!
Every mountain be made plane!
Crooked ways repent and straighten;
All creation bend in praise!

Jesus, Lord, and mighty Savior,
David’s Son and yet his King,
Dawning light of our salvation,
Of your saving pow’r we sing!
Stand, Oh lame, and dance ye broken,
Know the Savior’s healing grace;
Come, Oh deaf and hear him singing;
Turn, Oh blind, behold his face!

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A Better Way of Coming at Christ’s Heart

Benjamin Grosvenor, a little-known English pastor in the 1700s, preached a sermon titled, “The Temper of Jesus.” It is a reflection on the words of Jesus when he said “that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). William Symington later considered it to be “one of the most touching discourses ever composed.” This section, and especially the final paragraph, move me to agree with this sentiment.

“It is very affecting, that the first offers of grace should be made to those… who least deserved it. They of all people had most deserved the contrary! That they who had abused Christ to a degree beyond the most pitiful description, should lie uppermost in his care, and stand foremost in his pity, and find so much mercy from one to whom they showed none at all!

“One would rather have expected the apostles should have received another kind of charge; and that Christ should have said, ‘Let repentance and remission of sins be preached, but carry it not to Jerusalem, that wicked city… let not the Gospel enter those gates, through which they led me, it’s author, to crucifixion…”

“But Gods thoughts are not as ours… our way is, to make the chief of offenders examples of justice; to avenge ourselves upon those who have done us personal injury or wrong; but Christ chooses out these, to make examples of mercy, and commands the first offer of eternal life to be made to them, and all the world are to wait.”

“Tell them, you have seen the prints of the nails upon my hands and feet, and the wounds of the spear in my side; and that those marks are so far from giving me vindictive thoughts, if they will but repent, that every wound they have given me speaks in their behalf, pleads with the Father for forgiveness of their sins…”

“If you meet that poor wretch that thrust the spear into my side, tell him there is another way, a better way, of coming at my heart, if he will repent, and look upon whom he has pierced and will mourn. I will cherish him in that very bosom he has wounded; he shall find the blood he shed an ample atonement for the sin of shedding it. And tell him from me, he will put me to more pain and displeasure by refusing this offer of my blood, then when he drew it forth.”

Even if you’re not sure Jesus is the savior and king of the world, wouldn’t this be exactly the kind of savior-king you would want? I hope that ‘poor wretch’ found the better way to Christ’s heart. I know the wretch typing this right now was directed to the way. And the way is still open to all.

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At the beginning of 2016, a reminder of what it is all about

Excellent reminder of the supremacy of Christ above all things. Not one of these 18 minutes gets old.

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Colossians 1:15-20: He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (ESV)

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The 2OT-2NT No Checkbox Bible Reading Plan for 2016

I confess I haven’t checked the boxes on my last daily Bible-reading plan in a few years. In fact, I don’t know where it is. I think I threw it away. I have also missed a lot of days, many more than my old plan allotted for, which I think was zero. But in these years since using a standard Bible-reading plan I have read the Bible more often, more consistently, and more properly motivated than ever before.

It is a clear plan, but it doesn’t involve check boxes. For some, checkbox-oriented plans are ideal. But it’s not the only way to have a plan. Positively, they can be used for tracking progress and maintaining a regular rhythm for reading. Negatively, they could be used for motivation-by-list-completion. The “build-up” of make-up reading for missed days can also lead to motivation-by-low-grade-guilt. After missing too many days, many have abandoned not only that plan but any plan until the following New Year.

The 2OT-2NT Plan

If you have found that standard Bible-reading plans haven’t quite worked out for you, consider this one. It’s a no checkbox, no guilt Bible reading plan. And it’s not just for 2016; it’s for life.

It’s not complicated: Read two chapters of the Old Testament and two chapters of the New Testament every day. When you finish a book in either Testament, pick another one. Perhaps it will usually be the next one in line, but it could be the same one again, or one that is of particular interest at the time. When you miss a day, forget about it, pick up where where you left off, and continue the plan, two OT and two NT. We might simply call this the 2OT-2NT Plan.

I’m currently reading through Deuteronomy in the Old Testament, and Romans in the New Testament. When I get done with Deuteronomy, I will probably move right into Joshua. I will decide what to read after Romans when I finish.

Five Benefits of the 2OT-2NT Plan

  1. By reading a total of four chapters each day, the same amount of Biblical text is covered as yearly read-through-the-Bible plans. Most plans that cover the Bible in a year require a pace of about 4 chapters per day. I wanted that same pace, but without the necessity of making it through the Bible in a year. This plan maintains the same amount of reading, but covers the text in a more flexible manner. By reading two chapters in the OT and two chapters in the NT, and since there is built in flexibility to read certain books multiple times or others not at all in a given year, every page of the Bible won’t be read in the year.
  1. Without checkboxes for completion and the build-up of makeup reading, I’m motivated more naturally and biblically. I used to be partially motivated by the carrot of checked boxes and the pitchfork of feeling behind. I don’t miss that. Without those motivations, I’m forced to deal more immediately with my own heart. I need God’s word like I need food, why would I not want to read? If I miss a day, my sadness is that I’ve missed hearing from God through his word in this particularly focused way.
  1. Since I pick the next book to read each time I finish one, I am always reading what I am most interested in reading at the time. This doesn’t mean that I give myself a pass from reading parts of the Bible that don’t “interest” me as much as others. I have a sense of what I am prone to neglect so that I get back to them. It also doesn’t mean I’m always flipping around to different parts of the Bible; I do often follow in Canonical order to continue the flow of the story. Yet this flexibility allows me to read some books multiple times in a year.
  1. There is no need to ‘make-up’ reading for missed days. If a day was missed, it was missed. Press on. A potential downside compared with other plans is that without the fear “getting behind,” you might miss a lot of days. But I haven’t found that to be the case. In fact, when I used to “get behind,” it would keep me away from the Bible more than draw me in. I knew that when I missed two days the next time I read would take three times as long. If I didn’t have time for that, it would discourage me from reading.
  1. There are two additional benefits to reading from one Old Testament book and one New Testament book at the same time. First, it keeps me focused on just a couple places. I was never able to learn well when I followed a plan that had me reading one chapter from four different places in the Bible every day. Reading two chapters from two places keeps me focused. Second, by having one reading in the Old Testament and one in the New Testament, I am always keeping the whole story of Scripture in mind. If I’m having a hard time seeing the connection of the Old Testament text to Christ, the New Testament text does it for me much more easily. I still want to work at the OT text, but if I’m short on time, I know that I can walk away having seen Christ clearly from the NT text. Each day and over time I’m growing in seeing the coherence of the whole Bible.

Reading the Word to Know the Word

Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). We need God’s word like we need a meal.

Interestingly, Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 8:3 here. Why is that significant? It means that Jesus was meditating on Scripture. Jesus isn’t just encouraging us to meditate on God’s word with this statement; He’s modeling it for us. He relied on Scripture, he memorized it, and he quoted it here in his time of temptation.

Whatever plan you use, make sure you have one. If you prefer check-box plans, I encourage you to check out Trent Hunter’s plan, Bible Eater. He’s my brother, and the plan is awesome. My favorite of it’s kind.

We read God’s word to know the Word, Jesus Christ, the Word-made-flesh.

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Spiritual Adultery and Being Allured by the Beauty of Christ


One of the reasons the Book of Hosea exists is to help us see our relationship with God from a different angle. He gives us a new perspective on our own hearts and God’s.

One of the reasons we perhaps don’t take God seriously is because we don’t take sin seriously (and vice versa). In order to remedy this, we may take our current view of sin and raise our voices a bit. But if we view our problem as fundamentally that of violating standards, we will miss the point. Our deepest problem isn’t that we transgress a standard, but that we violate a relationship. Hosea shows us that sin, as others have noted before, is not just breaking God’s rules, but breaking God’s heart. Likewise, salvation is not just tweaking our behaviors, but winning our hearts.

The Problem of Spiritual Adultery 

Israel’s deepest problem is spiritual adultery. Just several words in and repeated throughout, Hosea announces that Israel “commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord” (Hos. 1:2). There is plenty of sexual unfaithfulness among Israel, but that’s not primarily what is in view. They are committing adultery – not first against one another (though that may be true) – but against God. He is the husband, Israel the wife. God is faithful, she is sleeping around. This is idolatry and spiritual adultery.

Their problem runs deep. “A spirit of whoredom” has entered into their hearts and led them astray (4:12; 5:4). This is a mindset. An ethos. A pervasive attitude. And this mindset is deep within them. It is this attitude and ethos that is driving their actions. Their deepest problem is a mindset that is opposed to valuing God above all things. Their spiritual mindset is like the mindset of an unfaithful and adulterous spouse. The mind is set against the husband; no longer loving the husband; sneaking around the husband; living a double-life.

Hosea’s language is provocative and personally offensive. Why? To wake them up to see who they are. Hosea is written so that we would acknowledge that we have a husband in heaven lavishing blessings on us, and yet we have too often found our true satisfaction in other things. We have gone after other lovers.

We often think of sin primarily as breaking rules, and that it is. But here sin is redefined as not just breaking God’s rules, but breaking God’s heart. It is not just disobeying God; it is betraying God. Hosea redefines sin as spiritual adultery. This is a new perspective on sin for us.

When we pursue “other lovers” it actually isn’t even fitting with reality. This is because the very things we think we are receiving from our “other lovers” – our idols – we are actually receiving from God: “she did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal” (2:8). Spiritual adultery is receiving gifts from God and giving thanks to something or someone else. It fails to acknowledge God as our provider. It is continuing to receive what only God can give and attributing the success to other things. This is like a child ignoring his parent and thanking stuffed animals for his meals. He thanks a gift of the parents for the gifts of the parents but without giving thanks to the parents and loving the parents above the gifts.

The Hope of Spiritual Allurement 

The scandal of spiritual adultery leads us to see God’s love as a scandal of its own. What does he do? He wins us back, and he does so in the most surprising way (Hosea 2:14, “Therefore, look!”). He allures us: “I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.” The English Puritan, Jeremiah Burroughs, summarizes what God says in this allurement: “I will unfold the beauty and excellency of the infiniteness of my goodness and lovingkindness, and set in array before their souls the exceeding glory of the riches of my grace” (Burroughs, The Prophecy of Hosea, 130). God will become artful in the way he shows his love. He will strategize to win our hearts.

And it will work. His people will call him “my husband” instead of “my baal” (2:16). God will turn them away from pursuing their other lovers. He will turn them away from spiritual adultery. She will no longer have divided loyalties. She will be truly repentant, and truly turn to him. It will be like a marriage because it will be a marriage: “I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteous and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness and you shall know the Lord” (2:18-20). To “know the Lord” is a pretty innocent phrase on its own. But it in contexts of marriage it refers to sexual intercourse (cf., Gen. 4:1). Sex is about more than physical union; it is the consummation of a whole-life union – physical, spiritual, and emotional. This knowing and being known is applied to our relationship with God. Not in a physical way; but in a deeply intimate way. The highest end of salvation is knowing and communing with the Triune God. Knowing Christ and being known by him.

And he goes to the greatest lengths to win us to himself. The cross is where Jesus Christ, a faithful husband, dies for spiritual whores to make them his bride. If the Christian life is about being allured to Jesus, let’s be ok with being allured.

Captivated By His Beauty 

Here is a hymn by Ora Rowan titled, Hast Thou Heard Him, Seen Him, Known Him?, which expresses the hope of being captivated by Christ’s beauty. The music below is by Indelible Grace (and the song can also be sung to the tune of Tis So Sweet).


Hast thou heard Him, seen Him, known Him?
Is not thine a captured heart?
Chief among ten thousand own Him,
Joyful choose the better part.

Captivated by His beauty,
Worthy tribute haste to bring.
Let His peerless worth constrain thee,
Crown Him now unrivaled King.

What can strip the seeming beauty,
From the idols of the earth?
Not a sense of right or duty,
But the sight of peerless worth.

‘Tis that look that melted Peter,
’Tis that face that Stephen saw,
‘Tis that heart that wept with Mary,
Can alone from idols draw.

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Why Read Hosea?

Hosea is a book about the love of God and the treachery of our wrongdoing. It is about the character of God and the character of you and I, and how the gap between the two magnifies his love for us.


There is a pattern that the book of Hosea follows. Seeing the pattern helps us see the point of the book. The content is deep, but the pattern is simple. It’s a two-beat rhythm of judgment and grace.

This pattern repeats itself several times through the book. The majority of each section is about Israel’s wrongdoing and judgment, and then grace comes in. And when grace comes in, it often does so as a surprise. It has a startling, intruding entrance. The judgment is so complete and just; and then grace shows up.

The image is of a storm coming. Dark, ominous clouds are brewing. Each section is dark and gets darker. But then, by the end of each section, there is a break in the clouds. A shaft of light pierces through. That is the heart of God, the love of God, and the grace of God breaking in. And this grace is always future-oriented;  it is in the form of a promise. These promises were made in the 8th century BC, and they pointed forward to a day when grace would shine brighter than ever. And that day came in Jesus.


But this pattern isn’t very unique to Hosea. This is how all the prophets speak. They speak against the wrongdoing of God’s people and the judgment they deserve, and then they give hope for the future. The pattern in all the minor prophets is sin, judgment, and salvation.

But Hosea is unique because he overlays this pattern with the image of marital love. He uses the marriage metaphor to give us a perspective on our human condition and on the nature of God’s love.

G. Campbell Morgan, a pastor at Westminster Chapel in London in the early 1900s, wrote, “We have in the book of Hosea one of the most arresting revelations of the real nature of sin, and one of the clearest interpretations of the strength of Divine love” (Morgan, Hosea: The Heart and Holiness of God, 13). This is because of the image of marital love.

Regarding the real nature of sin, Hosea helps us see it from a new angle. He shows us the pervasiveness of it in our hearts, and he shows us the offense it is to God. He equates it with spiritual adultery.

And regarding the strength of divine love, as we see our wrongs more clearly, we see his love more brightly. Everyone talks about God’s love, but we don’t know it. Not like we could. There is a continual rediscovery of the wonder of God’s love that is supposed to happen in the Christian life. And it is this continual rediscovery that animates us to grow.


Now, we may think, “this sounds pretty basic: The real nature of sin, and the real strength of divine love.” That is gospel 101. That is Christianity 101. Hosea isn’t for me; I know those things.

But Hosea tells us who he is writing for, and it isn’t only those who don’t grasp these matters.

The last verse in the book is telling. Hosea 14:9, “Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the Lord are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.”

This is wisdom literature. Hosea is writing for those who are already wise and discerning, and he is making an appeal to them. He is saying, “listen to these things, understand these things, and know these things so that you would live in a way that pleases God.” Hosea isn’t just writing that those who reject God would trust him; he is writing that those who wisely follow Christ would know him more truly and live for him more consistently.

One of the greatest dangers of the Christian life is thinking we’re wiser than we are; thinking that we’re more holy than we are. A great danger is thinking that we already know the nature of sin in our lives and we don’t have much more to repent of. A great danger is assuming we know God’s love, and we can move on beyond that.

We all need to grow, and grasping what Hosea says about the human condition and the heart of God are primary ways in which we grow. We don’t move beyond these central realities in the Christian life; we move deeper into them. Our growth in the Christian life is marked by a continual rediscovery of the wonder of God’s love for us in Christ. Hosea uniquely awakens us to that wonder.

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