We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing.2 Thessalonians 1:3 (NIV)
This morning as I read the reasons Paul gave for being thankful for the Jesus followers in Thessalonica I suddenly saw it through my vocational lens. “What is the behavioral criteria that points to doing a good job in my faith?” Paul gives two:
Faith that continues to grow
Love that continues to increase
This morning, I’m asking myself some hard questions. What evidence is there that my faith has grown over the past week, month, or year? In what ways has my active love of others tangibly increased during those same periods of time? To what can I point for substantiation of measurable growth?
I’m not sure I like the answers to my questions. Lord, have mercy on me. Some days I look at the path and realize just how far I have to go.
Don’t be so easily shaken or alarmed by those who say that the day of the Lord has already begun. Don’t believe them, even if they claim to have had a spiritual vision, a revelation, or a letter supposedly from us. 2 Thessalonians 2:2 (NLT)
Throughout the journey I’ve had some very interesting experiences in which I know God has impressed something upon me. There are times when God has clearly spoken to my spirit regarding something I should know or do. When I was younger I admit that I was quick to hear my own will and slap a “God told me” sticker on it. Over time I learned to be much more careful with what I say. When I believe God has spoken something clearly to me I treat it like a priceless treasure. I keep it, I test it, I guard it, and I share it with relatively few people whom I trust with something so valuable.
Along the way I’ve met several people who play fast and loose with the phrase “God told me….” I generally don’t have a problem when a person says that God told them this or that if it only affects the person speaking. Fine. Who am I to judge? If what they say is true and I see the eventual evidence of it then I think that’s pretty cool. I always wonder about times when people tell me that God told them that this or that was His will for them, and then it clearly does not come to pass. I can remember only one occasion in my entire life in which someone told me, “I thought for sure God was telling me that, but man was I ever wrong. I was completely mistaken!” More often than not, when someone was clearly wrong they will not say a word. I’m generally left wondering if the person thinks God changed His mind or if they realize how foolish they look to have so boldly spoken something that was false.
For me, the larger problem occurs when people claim that God has given them a special word, a vision, or a discernment concerning me. It’s not that I don’t believe it can happen, but once again – what happens if they are wrong? When we journeyed through the books of the Old Testament law I remember the law prescribing death by stoning for those who claimed to have received a word of prophecy that proved false. I’m not advocating the resurrection of such a draconian rule. Nevertheless, I observe no real accountability for those who regularly use “God told me” or “I have a word of discernment from the Lord” to justify their own will and/or get what they want from others.
Of course, the more things change the more they stay the same. It is clear from today’s chapter that Paul was dealing with similar frustrations in the early church. People were playing fast and loose, telling those in the church that Jesus had already come back and they’d missed it. Some were even telling outright lies, writing letters about it and claiming it was from Paul.
I have learned along the way to heed the advice of the verse above. I don’t allow myself to be easily shaken when someone tells me “God told me…” or “God gave me a vision.” I quietly pray for God to reveal Truth in my heart and in the matter at hand. I wait. I watch. I let time and events test the truth of what they say. I press on, trying to obediently live out what I know God’s will to be. There’s not a lot of sense in getting bent out of shape about it. If that person is right, then what they say will come to pass. If they are wrong, then it will simple pass away.
I confess that I’d still like to stone a few people, though.
The religion scholars and Pharisees had their eye on Jesus to see if he would heal the man, hoping to catch him in a Sabbath infraction.Luke 6:7 (MSG)
A professor of mine once showed our class a videotape of a locally televised theological debate between himself and another scholar. Both men were from mainstream Christian denominations, but held different views on particular doctrines. The debate became an argument as my professor smugly baited the other scholar, then went on the attack which was subtly personal. The other scholar was shocked, then angry, then became increasingly unglued. After clicking the stop button, my professor chided his opponent for losing his cool and defended his own arrogant attacks on the other scholar. He dismissed his opponent, explaining that the other scholar’s differing theological views made the man’s faith and salvation questionable. My professor’s actions told me that he believed the other scholar was undeserving of his love and respect.
Twenty-five years later I can still remember that class vividly, but I don’t think the lesson I learned was what my professor intended. My professor had a test, a theological checklist, by which he judged others. If you didn’t agree with every minor theological item on his checklist you failed the test, and he felt justified in quickly dismissing you. It seems to parallel the religious scholars who watched for Jesus to fail their own test of appropriate theological behavior. If Jesus failed their test, they could dismiss him and did not feel any obligation to love or respect him.
I’d like to think that I don’t have a test (or tests) of my own. This morning I find myself searching my heart. Jesus didn’t tell me to love only those who pass my test for political correctness, theological correctness or behavioral appropriateness. He makes it pretty clear that those who fail whatever test I might have are to be on the top of my “to love” priority list.
Today, I’m asking God to love everyone well – especially those I might easily dismiss.