Today’s selected reading continues in the first New Testament epistle which the apostle Paul wrote to the saints which were at Thessalonica. More specifically, today’s reading is found in verses twelve through twenty-two of the fifth chapter. With the words and verses that are contained within this particular passage of scripture the first epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the Thessalonian saints comes to a close. After five chapters the apostle Paul has finally reached the end of the message(s) he sought to convey unto these previous saints. Upon reading and examining the words which are contained within this passage of scripture I am completely and utterly struck first and foremost by God the epistle ends as compared to how it begins. It’s worth noting when reading this particular section of scripture that the apostle Paul concludes the epistle along the same lines and with the same train of thought he opened and began the epistle with. If you turn your attention to the final verse of this particular passage—the final verse of the epistle itself—you will find that the apostle Paul concludes this epistle speaking about grace. This is actually quite remarkable and powerful when you consider the fact that the apostle Paul opened and began the epistle speaking about grace. I have to admit what I absolutely love this particular reality, for the message the apostle Paul sought to convey unto these saints would begin with grace and it would thus conclude with the previous reality of grace. What’s more is that it would appear that grace seems to connect everything that was contained within and throughout the epistle, and almost serves as the bookmark for the message that is found therein. We dare not miss or lose sight of this absolutely wonderful and precious reality, for the entire message the apostle Paul sought to convey unto these saints was centered upon the reality of grace and its presence within their hearts and lives.
The more I consider this particular reality the more I can’t help but be struck with a strong reminder of the words which the author of the epistle which was unto the Hebrews wrote. If you turn and direct your attention to the concluding verses of the fourth chapter of this particular epistle you will find the author encouraging their audience to come boldly before the throne of grace to obtain and to receive mercy and help in time of need. I absolutely love the reality of the words which are found in this particular passage of scripture, for when speaking of the throne in heaven upon which all authority, all dominion, all strength and power flows, the author of this epistle spoke of it as a throne of grace. This is actually quite remarkable and powerful when you consider that such a place of authority, such a place of dominion, such a place of power could also be such a place of grace. What’s more, is the author of the epistle unto the Hebrews encouraged their audience to not only approach, but to come boldly to this throne, which is indeed and is in fact a throne of grace. How absolutely wonderful and tremendous this is, for when encouraging their audience to come boldly before this throne of grace the author of this epistle would declare unto them that by coming boldly unto this throne of grace they could not only receive mercy, but also help. What’s more, is that the author of this particular epistle references a very specific time within the lives of those who would come boldly before the throne—a time of need. It was true the author of this epistle encourages their audience to come boldly unto this throne of grace, but they also encouraged their audience to come boldly before this throne of grace in a time of need. How absolutely remarkable and assuring it is to know that during a time of need—during a time of great trouble, a time of great peril, a time amid great affliction, a time of great distress, a time of great conflict we can come boldly unto a throne of grace and receive mercy and help in a time of need. We dare not overlook and pass by this particular reality, for such a reality is by far too wonderful to quickly move past.
The author of the epistle which was written unto the Hebrews wrote concerning the throne of God that it was a throne of grace, and it is absolutely necessary and imperative that we recognize and understand this reality and concept. I have to admit that I absolutely love reading the words within the epistle which the apostle Paul wrote, however, there are times when the instructions he seems to present us with requires something truly deeper than I am capable of giving and offering. If you read the words which the apostle Paul writes in this particular passage of scripture you will find that contained therein is a powerful dissertation concerning Christian living. The words and language we find in this passage of Scripture are in fact words of instruction unto these saints concerning Christian living and how they are to conduct themselves—first among themselves, and then among those they encounter on a daily and regular basis. What we find in this passage of scripture is a wonderful sense of instruction concerning practical Christian living, and while it might look good on the surface, we have to admit that living such realities within and throughout our daily lives is something that does not come easily, nor does it come naturally. We would like to think that we can perform such realities within our Christian lives and that such a reality is the normal experience for us, however, we quickly discover that while the spirit is indeed willing, the flesh is so incredibly week. A powerful example of this reality is found in the twenty-sixth chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew when we read of Jesus in the garden of Gethesemane when he took Peter, as well as James and his brother John into the garden with Him. Consider if you will the words and language that is found in this passage of Scripture beginning with the thirty-sixth verse:
“Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith He unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. And He went a little further, and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. And He cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleepl, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak. He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done. And He came and found them asleep again:for their eyes were heaven. And He left them, and went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. Then cometh He to His disciples, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that doth betray me” (Matthew 26:36-46).
What we find and what we read in this particular passage of Scripture is actually quite remarkable and quite astounding, for when returning to the disciples expecting to find them watching and praying, Jesus returned to find them sleeping. Upon finding them sleeping Jesus specifically spoke to and addressed Peter and declared unto him that the spirit is indeed willing, and that the flesh is weak. I am convinced it is absolutely necessary that we recognize and understand this particular reality, for when speaking of that which we know we ought to do, and when speaking of that which we are called to do we must emphatically and wholeheartedly admit that there are more times than not when our spirit is indeed willing, yet our flesh is continually weak. What’s more, is that if we are honest with ourselves we must admit that each and every day of our lives we are engaged in a constant struggle between our flesh and the Spirit that earnestly desires within us. I can’t help but be reminded of the words which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints of Rome in the eight chapter of the epistle which was written unto him. In order to fully understand and comprehend the weight and reality of that which the apostle Paul seeks to speak unto them, it is imperative that we begin reading with and from the first verse of the chapter. Consider if you will the words which the apostle Paul writes unto the saints which were at Rome in this particular chapter:
“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For they that are after the flesh do m ind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of Christ dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, He is none of His. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwelleth in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if the live after the flesh, the shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together” (Romans 8:1-17).
As I am sitting here right now I can’t help but be stuck with the tremendous reality that we are indeed engaged in an unseen war and conflict that is not visible to the naked and human eye. If we are being honest with ourselves and with the Lord we must emphatically admit that we are essentially caught in a conflict, a struggle and a battle that exists between our flesh and the Spirit that exists within us. The apostle Paul recognized all to well this conflict that existed within himself, and actually voiced and wrote concerning this struggle when writing unto the saints which were at Rome. The more I read the writings and words of the apostle Paul the more I come to admire him—his courage, his boldness, and his willingness to not only come to the end of himself, but also his ability to recognize his weaknesses and his limitations. The more I read the words which the apostle Paul wrote unto the churches, the more I have the utmost respect for him considering the fact that he refused to boast of anything save his own weaknesses and the strength of Christ. The apostle Paul could find absolutely nothing within himself to boast of, and regardless of how hard and how long he searched for, the only thing he could boast of were his infirmities and his weaknesses before Jesus who is both Christ and Lord. When writing to the saints which were at Corinth the apostle Paul continually wrote concerning his weaknesses and his struggles, and admitted that the only thing worth boasting of within his life were his weaknesses, his infirmities, his struggles, his suffering, his conflicts and the daily battles he faced. Consider if you will the words which the apostle Paul first wrote in the eleventh chapter of the second epistle which was written unto the Corinthian saints beginning with the twenty-first verse:
“I speak as concerning reproach, as though we had been weak> howbeit whereinsoever any is bold, ( speak foolishly,) I am bold also. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am i. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am i. Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeying often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watching often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I burn not? If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not” (2 Corinthians 11:21-31).
If you continue reading the second epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were Corinth you will find that he goes on to write and speak openly and candidly concerning his weaknesses. What I so absolutely love about the apostle Paul is that he was neither afraid nor ashamed to be weak, nor was he ashamed or afraid to be vulnerable before the churches. When we think of the apostle Paul we think of this wonderful and powerful ambassador for Christ who established a number of churches, who wrote much of the New Testament, and who had such a powerful revelation from and relationship with Christ. While all of this is true, you won’t ever find the apostle Paul writing and boasting of anything beyond his measure, and anything beyond that which he knew was acceptable in the sight of the Lord. When you come to the twelfth chapter of the same New Testament epistle of Second Corinthians you will find beginning with the first verse the apostle Paul writing concerning revelation, and ultimately bringing it back to the place where he would boast of his weaknesses. It is absolutely necessary and imperative that we recognize and understand this reality, for I am convinced that until and unless we have truly come to the end of ourselves and have come to appreciate, accept, and perhaps even boast of our weaknesses, we cannot and will not truly experience the strength of Christ—if even at all. Consider if you will the words and language which is found in the twelfth chapter of the second epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were in the city of Corinth:
“It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord. I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) how that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities. For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth: but now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me. And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart form me. And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I will take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then I am strong. I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me” ( 2 Corinthians 12:1-11).
When I read each of these statements made by the apostle Paul I can’t help but come to the reality that at the very center and heart of it all is both the strength of Christ, as well as the grace of Christ. The more I read these two realities which are present in this passage of Scripture the more I am convinced that it is only in weakness where the strength and grace of Christ meet and can be found. It is only in infirmities where the strength and grace of Christ can truly be found, for it is only in infirmities where His strength and grace can truly be displayed and manifested. I am convinced that it is only in distresses, in reproaches, and in necessities that the strength and grace of Christ can in fact meet and work in a wonderful and beautiful harmony with each other. Within this particular passage of Scripture we find the apostle Paul writing concerning a declaration that was made unto him by Christ Himself—a declaration which Christians and saints alike have quoted without ceasing throughout the centuries. When the apostle Paul besought the Lord three times for the thorn which was given unto him in his flesh to depart and be removed, the Lord responded—not by removing the thorn which was in his flesh, but by providing him with comfort and assurance. Instead of removing the thorn which was present within the flesh of the apostle Paul Christ Himself declared unto the apostle that His grace was sufficient for him, and that his strength was made perfect in weakness. I have to admit that I absolutely love this reality, for Christ Himself not only declared that His grace was sufficient for the apostle, but Christ also declared His strength was made perfect in weakness. I am convinced that the strength of Christ is available at all times, however, the strength of Christ is made perfect in weakness above anything else. It is in our weakness—it is in our infirmities, our reproaches, our necessities, our persecutions, our distresses—that the strength of Christ can in fact be manifested. I can’t help but be reminded of the words which our Lord proclaimed and declared when He delivered His famous Sermon on the Mount beginning with the third verse in the fifth chapter of the gospel of Matthew: “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew. 5:3). In all reality, what we must consider when reading the words of our Lord in this passage of Scripture is in fact “blessed are those who come to the end of themselves and who recognize their weaknesses and limitations.” I can’t help but be absolutely gripped and captivated with the words of our Lord in this particular passage of Scripture, for it is absolutely necessary and imperative that we learn how to come to the end of ourselves, and are even willing to do so. I would dare say that those who are willing to come to the end of themselves are indeed and are in fact blessed by the Lord, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. In all reality, the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who know how to come to the end of themselves, and who are comfortable living in that place where they are in fact at the end of themselves. The apostle Paul was one who continually and regularly came to the end of himself, and he had absolutely no qualm or quarrel with the reality of coming to the end of himself and recognizing that he had nothing left within, in and of himself.
Taking this even further, I can’t help but be reminded of the words which the apostle Paul wrote in the seventh chapter of the epistle which was delivered unto the saints which were at Rome. If you take the time to truly read the seventh chapter of the epistle written unto these saints, you will find the apostle Paul being incredibly vulnerable with these individuals. Within this particular passage of Scripture we find the apostle Paul writing concerning the tremendous struggle that was present within this earthly tent and within his human flesh. Beginning with the seventh verse of the seventh chapter we find the following words written by the apostle Paul concerning the struggle that existed within his own flesh. Consider if you will the words which are found in this particular passage of Scripture beginning with the fourteenth verse: “For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that I do. IF then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present within me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin” (Romans 7:14-25). With these words the apostle Paul not only comes face to face with the tremendous conflict and struggle that existed within his own flesh, but he also allowed himself to be vulnerable when writing unto the saints which were at Rome. If I am being honest with you who are reading this, and if I am being honest with myself, there is a great need for men and women who are willing to come to the end of themselves—and not only come to the end of themselves, but also admit their struggles and the conflict that exists within themselves. If we are truly honest with ourselves and with the Lord we must admit that there is a constant struggle and conflict that exists within our flesh—a conflict and struggle which we continually seek to run away from, ignore and even reject. If there is one thing the apostle Paul was certain about, it was that there was in fact a struggle that was present within himself—a struggle that existed between the flesh and the Spirit, and that the two were at odds and at enmity with and towards each other.
With all of this being said, I find it absolutely necessary to journey back to the first epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Thessalonica, for the apostle Paul ended and concluded the epistle the same way he began it. Consider if you will the words which the apostle Paul wrote in the twenty-eighth and final verse of the fifth chapter: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” (1 Thessalonians 5:28). Consider these words in direct light and connection with the words which the apostle Paul wrote in the opening verse of the first verse and the epistle itself: “Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 1:1). I absolutely love how the apostle Paul not only opens, but also concludes this epistle writing and speaking of the grace of God which is found in Christ, for the apostle John when writing his gospel account wrote that the law came through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. When asking three times for the thorn which was in his flesh to be removed, our Lord responded and declared unto him that His grace was sufficient for him. The apostle could write concerning the grace of Christ because he knew full well the reality of that grace within his life. What’s more, is that I am convinced the apostle Paul chose to bookend this epistle by writing and speaking of the grace of God, for the apostle Paul knew the only way to flesh out—the only way to live out—that which he had written unto the saints and unto the churches was according to the grace of Jesus Christ working within and through them. There is not a doubt in my mind that the apostle Paul did not believe that the only way the saints of Christ could only fulfill that which they had been called and instructed to do by and according to the grace of Jesus Christ. In fact, what you read within this particular passage of Scripture is not possible to carry out within our lives without and apart from the grace of God in Christ manifested within the lives of those to whom he wrote. Consider if you will the words and language which are found in this particular portion of Scripture—this final section of the epistle which Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Thessalonica:
“And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves. Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feeble-minded, support the weak, be patient toward all men. See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men. Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. IN every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil. And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-24).
The words which we find and the words which we read in this particular passage of Scripture are absolutely necessary for our Christian reality, and for Christian living, yet we must bring everything back to this reality and concept of grace. I would dare say and I would dare suggest that we dare not, we cannot, we must make any attempt to separate any of this from the reality and concept of grace, for it is only the grace of Christ that truly enables us to accomplish that which we have been instructed to do by the very Spirit of Jesus Christ. It is easy to read words such as were written by the apostle Paul, yet if I am being honest with myself I must admit that I am completely incapable and unable to fulfill and carry these words out myself. There is absolutely nothing I can do within and of myself to carry out and fulfill the words which are found in this passage of Scripture, for there is a constant struggle within my being to oppose and vehemently reject that which I know I ought to do. The apostle Paul recognized and understood the tremendous reality of what was was required of him, and he knew and understood that there was absolutely no way he could fulfill anything Christ demanded and required of him without and apart from His grace. It is true that His grace was sufficient for Him in weakness, and that His strength was made perfect in weakness, but we must also recognize and understand the tremendous role of grace that is available to us within and throughout the course of our daily lives. There is absolutely no separation of the grace of God from that which we have been called to do, and even when the apostle Paul wrote and spoke about presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God, he besought the mercies of God, thus connecting this reality with the mercies of God—the same mercies which are new each and every morning. I absolutely love that the apostle Paul wrote concerning the mercies of God—mercies being plural—for I am reminded of the words which the psalmist wrote concerning the mercies of God which are new every morning. We dare not miss or lose sight of this tremendous reality, for if the mercies of God are new each and every morning, than it holds true and it means that those same mercies are available to us each and every day—mercies which work together with the grace of God in Christ to enable us to carry out that which we have been called to do in Christ. The mercies of God are new every morning, which means that each and every morning there are new mercies which are available to enable us to indeed and in fact present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God. What’s more, is that there are new mercies available each and every morning which are available unto us to enable to us to no longer be conformed to the world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, in order that we might prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1-2).