“Passing the Test (Part 2)”

As I mentioned last week, our system this month is the excretory system. The excretory system is responsible for removing waste from the body – particularly, wastes that are filtered out from the blood.

The kidneys are a crucial part of this system. It is their job to filter the blood in your body. We all know that the blood flows through the heart, but actually all of our blood flows through our kidneys several times per day as well. The filters in the kidneys are called nephrons and it is estimated that each of us has about one million of these filters.

The filters collect any waste which is then removed from the body as urine. But the kidneys also ensure that the levels of salt, water, and minerals (i.e. electrolytes) are in balance. If not, the kidneys work to adjust the balance of those items. (1) Source webmd.com

Again, the filters in the kidneys are called nephrons. The name may not be important to us, but their function is critical. These filters test the blood as it passes through the kidneys and determines if it meets the criteria for the body. In other words, these filters and the kidneys as a whole, perform a test on the same blood several times per day and remove any contaminants that would otherwise affect our health.

The Bible also gives us tests that we should seek to pass repeatedly to ensure we are a healthy part of the body of Christ. These tests are not required for salvation – that is, passing these tests does not provide a key for entry into the kingdom of heaven. However, the tests provide a means of helping us know we are living according to the principles of the kingdom.

If God were only concerned about our salvation, then we do not need any part of the New Testament after the first four books. But God wanted to show us how the church spread (Acts), how to live as a member of the kingdom (Romans thru Jude) and what will happen at the end of time (Revelation).

So, it is important to understand that passing one test is critical, and that test relates to our response to what Jesus has done. But once we pass that test, many other tests remain, including the list of tests provided by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5. And the eleven verses from 1 Thessalonians 5.12-22 contain a minimum of seventeen such tests. We looked at the first seven last week. We will cover the next five today and conclude with the last five next week.

BODY

It is always awkward to start a message in the middle of what has happened before, so let me remind us that in the previous sentence Paul has just charged the Thessalonians to admonish the idle (likely for not laboring for the Lord), to encourage those who were fainthearted, to serve those who needed help, and to be patient with everyone. And then, he gives a direct command on our actions, and potentially our attitudes.

The Test of Justice (1 Thessalonians 5.15)               

When people offend us, the human tendency is to want to get even. That is, it is natural to have a thought of retribution. But Paul says that we are not to act naturally; we are to act supernaturally.

Sometimes the offense is not directly against us, it is just how we perceive what happens. Again, consider the previous sentence in Paul’s writing. Perhaps we think less of people (even thinking they are evil) for not doing their fair share (the idle in v 14). Perhaps we do not understand those who are weary (the fainthearted), or we are frustrated with those who might otherwise give up (the weak). And, in turn, we lose our patience, which causes us to respond negatively.

Specifically, Paul says do not repay evil for evil. And, of course, we should not. Jesus has not repaid our sins (i.e. evil against God) by evil; rather, His response was love. But sometimes if we feel slighted by others, or do not understand them, we can convince ourselves they are evil even if they are not, or do not mean to be, or are unaware of what they are doing to us.

In any event, whether the evil is real, or perceived by us, our response is not to be evil in return. This is the test of justice. And to pass that test, we must trust that God will respond in His way, in His time.

The Test of Grace (1 Thessalonians 5.15)

Within the same sentence commanding not to return evil for evil, Paul provides the correct response – we are to seek to do good to everyone, always! Always.

I have preached on the idea of being nice versus being kind many years ago. Being nice is passive; it is not causing trouble. Being kind requires action; it requires us to do something positive for someone else. A mother might tell a toddler to be nice while playing, but kindness is taking the initiative. In this verse it is the doing good to one another.

The first command in this section was to respect others (this could include niceness) and to esteem others in love (that requires an act of kindness). Niceness could be not talking bad about someone, not because you do not want to do so, but because of some inherent respect. Kindness requires more than avoiding unpleasant actions, it requires acting with a positive intent.

You may have seen an example of this difference this past week. Ellen Degeneres was criticized for sitting next to George W. Bush and sharing a laugh at a football game last weekend. Her response this week went viral, and rightfully so. (I wish that we could show the clip!). She basically said that she is friends with a lot of people who may not agree with her, but civility is important. And then her statement, which is pertinent here is, “When I say be kind to one another, I don’t mean only the people that think the same way that you do, I mean be kind to everyone.” That’s a great statement, and it is almost the exact words that God wanted the Thessalonians to hear nearly 2000 years ago, and which have been read since that time.

The question is: will we pass the kindness test? Not because Ellen said it, but because God did.

The Test of Rejoicing (1 Thessalonians 5.16)

Paul likes this word. Verse 16 has two easily understood words. But living them out is much more difficult. A literal translation from the Greek would say it this way: Be cheerful, every when. I like that. Be cheerful. Every when you can imagine. When life is good. When life is a challenge. When you are well. When you are sick. Every when. Again, much easier said than done.

Why?

Because we are too worried about getting even. We are concerned with being fairness. We are concerned with matters of the world. And so were the people of Thessalonica. Remember, as I said last week, they were concerned that they had missed the return of Jesus. But they had also been heavily persecuted. In fact, Paul left the area because of intense persecution, and likely did so in hopes that the persecution against these new Christians would cease.

But in the midst of all the Thessalonians were facing, Paul says to rejoice – every when. In fact, Paul uses the same two words in Philippians 4.4, but He adds the word for Lord between them. And, let us not forget, he wrote to the church in Phillipi while he was in prison. So he practiced what he preached. Rejoice every when. No matter what, rejoice always!

How can we possibly do that? Well, let us look at the next verse.

The Test of Prayer (1 Thessalonians 5.17)

It is easiest to rejoice when we take God’s perspective as our own. We do that through prayer. (I have mentioned the book a few times earlier this summer, but I highly recommend the book, A Praying Life, by Paul Miller. It is an excellent book on prayer that I recently finished.)

Psalm 37.4 says God will give you the desire of your heart if you delight yourself in the Lord.

Do you know why He will do that? Because if you are delighting yourself in Him, then your thoughts and actions will be in tune with His. God would not deny Himself, so why would He deny those who want what He wants?

Now, of course, Jesus had a special task and certainly He delighted in the Father. And although Jesus asked to be removed from the curse, His delight in the Father included the cross, ultimately, giving Jesus the desire of His heart – the joy of reconciliation with us (Hebrews 12.2).

So, we are to pray – without ceasing. This does not mean that we stop everything we are doing to pray or that we are consciously in a focused moment of prayer every day. What it does mean is that we find ourselves constantly communicating with God. (Again, I encourage you to read Paul Miller’s book, A Praying Life.)

The Test of Thanksgiving (1 Thessalonians 5.18)

The last test for today is the one of giving thanks. It is important to notice the preposition here. Give thanks in everything, not for everything. In everything, means in every circumstance. Even in the worst moments of our lives, we can find reasons for giving thanks. Someone on their deathbed can be thankful for the life s/he lived, for family, friends, something. Someone facing a terminal illness can be thankful that s/he does not have to face it alone or that the medical care being given is helping to manage the process. Someone who loses a job can be thankful for having one in the first place. It might be hard to find an exact something for which to be thankful, but if it is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus to do so, and verse 18 says it is, then we must find a reason for giving thanks. Perhaps the greatest reason is knowing that God hears the prayers of His children! That alone is a great reason to give thanks.

CONCLUSION

As I mentioned last week, each of these tests could be a sermon (or a series) unto themselves. Maybe that will happen in the future, but for now, I am simply highlighting the words of Paul and presenting them as tests that each Christ follower will face throughout the lives.

So, which of these tests do you pass? Which of these tests do you fail? What about this church?

It is estimated that as long as 10% of a kidney is functioning, we may be unaware of any issues with our kidneys. (2)

But how many of us would be comfortable knowing that only 10% of our kidneys is functioning properly? We may be able to function, but how well and for how long? Eventually, the body will not be able to function properly.

Likewise, as we think about being the body of Christ, if 10% of the people are doing the majority of the work, then how well can the church function? For how long? Maybe it is better with 20%? But again, if any one part of your body was only functioning at that level, you would be alarmed. And, if all of your body were only functioning at 20%, hospice would be called.

Are we guilty of accepting less from ourselves and our faith? Are we giving Jesus 10% of our income? Of our time? Of our energy? Should He accept as little as 10% after He gave us His all?

The tests we reviewed last week and today (and will finish next week), are just a part of how we can give back to God. It is a test. And He knew that we would fail that test. Thus, God made a way to filter out the problems and make sure that not only do we not waste our lives, but our lives are not a waste in His eyes.

The filter? Jesus!

And that is why our JOURNEY letter for today is:  JJESUS.

Remember, every ounce of your blood passes through your kidneys multiples times each day. And the kidneys remove what is bad and keeps what is good.

Let’s be thankful that the blood of Jesus covers our sinful blood – our sinful lives. The righteousness of Jesus passes through the filter of God’s judgment on our behalf and makes sure that we are clean and remain a part of the body, after we choose to follow Jesus.

PRINCIPLE:  Humans are constantly evaluating, but we must make sure to evaluate the right things based upon the right criteria for our evaluations to really make a difference.

QUESTION:  Which areas do you need to improve in order to pass the test?

OPPORTUNITY:  Choose one area and begin to focus on passing that part of the test.

NEXT STEP(S)LIVE: Write down one thing different you will do each day this week and then commit to doing it every day. If you do, you will be closer to passing the test.

(1)  webmd.com.

(2)  Ibid.

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