If we are a Christian trying to comfort and encourage a grieving brother or sister in Christ, we can say so much more than this. We can speak of the comfort we have in Jesus. We can speak of our future hope with no more crying or mourning or pain. In other words, we can point people to Jesus, not just express empathy to them.
What do you think it means to encourage someone? My immediate thought was that it meant to say something nice to someone. Perhaps that would be compliment their clothes or thank them for something. Perhaps it would be cheering on a child in a sporting match. While those are indeed good things to do, Christian encouragement is different to and deeper than this. If we know Jesus and what He has done for us, we have so much more content with which to encourage others.
Near the end of 1 Thessalonians, Paul writes this:
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
(1 Thess. 5:11 ESV)
Our immediate reaction is to think he only means to be nice to one another, but Paul is saying far more than this. V11 starts with the word “therefore” which means he is continuing on from what he was writing about earlier. Paul had just been writing about the certain hope for the future that Christians have because of the work of Jesus. This means that v11 is telling the Thessalonian Christians that their certain future is a source of encouragement; when things are difficult, they can encourage one another by reminding themselves of the truth of the gospel.
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By Timon Cline — 1 week ago
When you descend from lofty rhetoric about “Traditions” and “Values,” it becomes apparent that a huge number of the actual practices and social institutions which built those virtues have disintegrated, not because of Progressivism or Socialism but because of the new environment and political economy generated by technology.
Two recent articles are well worth your time and thought. The first is a piece at The Federalist by John Davidson. He argues that “conservatives” should drop that label in favor of something more descriptive of their position in, and posture toward, predominant liberal society:
[A]ny honest appraisal of our situation today renders [the label] absurd. After all, what have conservatives succeeded in conserving? In just my lifetime, they have lost much: marriage as it has been understood for thousands of years, the First Amendment, any semblance of control over our borders, a fundamental distinction between men and women, and, especially of late, the basic rule of law. Calling oneself a conservative in today’s political climate would be like saying one is a conservative because one wants to preserve the medieval European traditions of arranged marriage and trial by combat. Whatever the merits of those practices, you cannot preserve or defend something that is dead. Perhaps you can retain a memory of it or knowledge of it. But that is not what conservatism was purportedly about. It was about maintaining traditions and preserving Western civilization as a living and vibrant thing.
Radicals, restorationists, or counterrevolutionaries are all suggested as alternative monikers for what is typically now called the “New Right.” I find the invocation of Thomas Jefferson’s brand of radicalism distasteful as a model—albeit there is something to it—but Davidson’s nod toward the Puritan settlers of Massachusetts is one I’ve offered as well. The enduring conservative impulse here is to look to the past for inspiration, an impulse that someone like Yoram Hazony makes definitionally definitive for conservatism. That hasn’t changed with the New Right, though a creative, often eclectic approach now animates that exercise.
Much of the New Right, reactionary energy is fueled by critiques of what has passed for conservatism for the past several generations. Such conservatives, as Davidson justifiably argues, have conserved precious little. Chief among the old conservative defects in the dead consensus was an allergy to state power.
By Bruce Ashford — 1 year ago
A truly good political leader, [Augustine] argues, is one who views himself as a repentant sinner and who prefers to see God praised instead of himself. Similarly, a truly good citizen is one who refuses to flatter his political leaders or treat them as gods. Thus, both political leaders and citizens should lean heavily on God’s grace if they wish to cultivate true political virtue and true patriotism.
The early church forged its thinking about politics from Scripture and in the context of a decadent pagan Roman Empire. It grappled with how best to further the Christian mission in such a context. Should it withdraw from the political sphere, given its persecuted minority status within the empire? Conversely, should it expend the majority of its energies to political activism? Or, is it best to make a third way between these two extreme ends of the “religion and politics” spectrum?
As the early church grappled with this tangle of questions, it began to form some conclusions. Those conclusions found their fruition in the writings of Augustine of Hippo, especially from his book, City of God. Thus, given the fact that Bible-believing Americans inhabit a minority position in our own increasingly pagan nation, it is helpful for us to reflect on Augustin’s conclusions.
Augustine’s writings are the last flowering of the ancient period and the first blossoming of the medieval era. During this transitional era, Augustine wrote often about politics and public life. Early on, he embraced a Platonic view in which society was hierarchically ordered and in which individuals could attain “the good” through their own moral striving. Eventually, and especially in the wake of the Pelagian controversy, he rejected this view and revised his view of politics. No longer was social order meant to embody an overarching cosmic order, thus leading the good citizen on an ascent to the good life. Instead, it was meant, more minimally, to minimize disruptive forces and keep society from disintegrating. His mature political theology stressed the havoc that sin and idolatry wreaks on the individual and on society. Fallen individuals are possessed of inordinate love—they worship created goods rather than the God who created those goods. Moreover, the individual idolatries of a society coalesce at the political level to corrupt and misdirect the political realm.
Indeed, the backdrop for Augustine’s most significant treatment of politics—City of God—is not only the sacking of Rome but also Augustine’s emphasis on depravity and corresponding rejection of the Pelagian view. In the aftermath of Rome’s sacking, certain pagan intellectuals blamed Rome’s fall on its adoption of Christianity and its subsequent rejection of the Roman religion, politics, and philosophy. In City of God, Augustine responded to the religious objection by arguing that the Roman gods were immoral and even laughable; not even the famous historian of religion, Marcus Varro, believed in their divinity. He responded to the political objection by showing that Rome’s boasting about its political justice was a mask for its real love which was raw power and domination. Third, he responded to the philosophical objection by arguing that Rome’s philosophers, brilliant as they were, were inhibited by their pride from believing in Christ’s incarnation and resurrection, and thus were incapable of understanding the deepest truths of the world. Thus, if Roman society wished to be healthy politically, it should more fully embrace Christ and more fully reject the pagan founding narrative along with its gods and philosophies. In embracing Christ rather than idols, a person becomes a member of the eternal city of God rather than the city of man, and thus engages in the political realm with his affection set on God rather than on idols.
By Mark Horne — 11 months ago
Jesus both provoked the world to the ultimate sin and then stepped in the path of that wrath. He came at the right time just when the priestly people who had been given the covenant law had become the worst offenders. He literally came on Judgment Day. And the only reason there is a world of human beings today is because that judgment fell on him instead of the ones who deserved it.
Paul writes to the Romans in what may seem almost an off-hand comment: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6 ESV; emphasis added).
This verse starkly shows that Paul, at times, can refer to the flow of human history as a collective pronoun. “We” were weak in the beginning of the first century, and then Christ died for us. Many Christians have conversion stories whereby they learned what Jesus did for them, repented and entrusted themselves to Him, and were empowered by the Holy Spirit to walk in newness of life. That is a fruitful analogy, but Paul obviously isn’t talking about what happened in all Christian biographies. He is talking about what God and Jesus Christ did in human history at the crucifixion.
And this passage tells us not only that Christ died in human history but that he did so “at the right time” in human history.
What was it about what we now know as the First Century AD (which is also the common era, but that designation remain dependent on the work of Our Lord) that made it appropriate for Christ to be born, live, die, rise, ascend to the throne, and pour out the Holy Spirit?
Paul repeatedly makes this claim about the timing of redemption is Christ:
“In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:3-5 ESV).
“…making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:9–10 ESV).
“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Timothy 2:5–6 ESV).
“Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior” (Titus 1:1–3 ESV).
So there are many reasons to ask the question: What was so important about the timing of Jesus’ mission? What made that point in human history “the fullness of time” and “the proper time”?
Perhaps it might help us to answer that question if we developed curiosity about another question. Maybe the real question should be: What delayed Jesus so long in human history? Maybe we ought to expect that there must have been something proper about the time of the incarnation and the work of Christ. Or rather, that there must have been some good reason for the delay. Without an explanation for the thousands of years between Genesis 3 and the Gospels, John 3:16 becomes rather confusing. “For God so loved the world, that” thousands of years later “he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Why the wait?
Consider the synoptic Gospels.
Jesus declared that the sins of Israel were reaching a climax in his own death. In the parable of the tenants and the vineyard (Matthew 21:33–46; Mark 12:1–12; Luke 20:9–19), Jesus described his impending murder as the final climactic sin in Israel’s history, the one that will mean “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits” (Matthew 21:41). Of course, this death is, in fact, the action that will provide for a New Covenant that involves forgiveness of many, as Jesus signified in the establishment of the Lord’s supper (Matthew 26:28). So this murder, while bringing wrath on those who remain in unbelief, also provides the salvation for all who believe.
Again, this isn’t presented as a simple one-time sin. It is presented in the parable as the climactic sin that builds on a repeated history. In Matthew 23, the point is a bit more obscure because Jesus includes the persecution of his followers along with his own suffering at the hands of the unbelieving rulers in Jerusalem. But nevertheless, Jesus is again warning them that they are culminating a historic pattern of sin.
Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation (Matthew 23:32–36 ESV).
The plain reading of these texts is that the rejection of Christ (and his followers) was not an isolated incident. It was a climactic sin that fulfilled a practice that Israel had long engage in. And this sin was serious not only because of who Jesus was, but because it showed they were doubling down on their worst behavior. “Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours’” (Luke 20:13–14 ESV). They were presuming on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness was meant to lead them to repentance. Because of their hard and impenitent heart they were storing up wrath for themselves on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment would be revealed.
God Meant It for Good
This might be a good place to briefly consider the mystery of predestination. God was repeatedly merciful to Israel. Though he slew the Exodus generation in the wilderness, that was a mere chastisement. When he was really angry he wiped out entire family lines. In this case, he saved all their children.
He constantly forgave Israel in the time of the Judges. When the sins of Eli and his sons caused the ark to be taken into captivity, damaging Tabernacle worship beyond repair, He gave them a new place of worship and a new system of government (Temple and the Monarchy).
And when they sinned to the point that the Temple was destroyed and God sent them into exile, seventy years later God brought them back to their land in a greater way. They had a new Temple and new international influence as a people both in the Promised Land and throughout the empires. Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.
But when Jesus began his ministry, Israel, having sinned against the grace of restoration from exile, was now more debauched than ever. The prophet Zachariah was shown a vision of Israel being cleansed of demonic possession at the return from exile in a kind of inversion of Ezekiel’s glory cloud (Ezekiel 1) involving an anti-ark of the Covenant:
Then the angel who talked with me came forward and said to me, “Lift your eyes and see what this is that is going out.” And I said, “What is it?” He said, “This is the basket that is going out.” And he said, “This is their iniquity in all the land.” And behold, the leaden cover was lifted, and there was a woman sitting in the basket! And he said, “This is Wickedness.” And he thrust her back into the basket, and thrust down the leaden weight on its opening. Then I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, two women coming forward! The wind was in their wings. They had wings like the wings of a stork, and they lifted up the basket between earth and heaven. Then I said to the angel who talked with me, “Where are they taking the basket?” He said to me, “To the land of Shinar, to build a house for it. And when this is prepared, they will set the basket down there on its base.”Zechariah 5:5–11 ESV