“Boasting” in 1 Thessalonians 2:19

 1 Thessalonians is an ancient letter from the missionary team of Paul, Silas, and Timothy to the newly planted church in Thessalonica.  The missionary team and the church plant had a deep bond of Christian love.  Paul and his team wanted so badly to get back to the church plant to be with the brothers and sisters there.  And the missionary team was, in a biblical way, proud of these new Christians.  For example, in 2:19 the missionary team asks the church plant a rhetorical question – and answers it themselves: “For who is our hope or joy or crown to boast of before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not of course you? For you are our glory and joy!” (NET). 

What does it mean that the Thessalonian church plant is the missionary team’s boast and glory?  Aren’t we to only boast in the Lord and in the cross of Christ?  I appreciate how F.F. Bruce explained this:

And how did glorying in his converts relate to Paul’s resolve not “to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal 6:14)? His glorying in his converts, as he saw the grace of God manifested in them, was but a phase of his paramount glorying in the cross. They were the fruit of the preaching of the cross: Christ crucified was demonstrated afresh by their faith to be the power and wisdom of God.

F. F. Bruce, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, vol. 45, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1982), 58.

I also appreciate Calvin’s comments on this:

When he [Paul] calls them his hope and the crown of his glory, we must not understand this as meaning that he gloried in anyone but God alone, but because we are allowed to glory in all God’s favors [blessings], in their own place, in such a manner that he is always our object of aim…. We must, however, infer from this, that Christ’s ministers will, on the last day, according as they have individually promoted his kingdom, be partakers of glory and triumph. Let them therefore now learn to rejoice and glory in nothing but the prosperous issue of their labors, when they see that the glory of Christ is promoted by their instrumentality.

John Calvin and John Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 263–264.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Subjection to the Governing Authorities

 Romans 13 was one of those parts of Scripture that were formative for me in my later teenage years.  I had to think about it quite a bit since I served in the U.S. Army (Reserves).  And it’s still a text that I think about quite a bit since submitting to the civil government is part of God’s good and acceptable will for us (Rom 12:2). Speaking of being “subject to the governing authorities” (Rom 13:1 NIV), here are some reflections on that theme from various helpful commentaries.

Chrysostom (d. 407 AD) wrote this – and I appreciate how he said that a Christian’s submission to the governing authorities will “stop the mouths of those that malign us”:

For lest the believers should say, You are making us very cheap and despicable, when you put us, who are to enjoy the Kingdom of Heaven, under subjection to rulers, he shows that it is not to rulers, but to God again that he makes them subject in doing this. For it is to Him, that he who subjects himself to authorities is obedient. Yet he does not say this—for instance that it is God to Whom a man who listens to authorities is obedient—but he uses the opposite case to awe them, and gives it a more precise form by saying, that he who listeneth not thereto is fighting with God, Who framed these laws.

…When then you show our common Master giving this in charge to all His, you will at once stop the mouths of those that malign us as revolutionists, and with great boldness will speak for the doctrines of truth. Be not then ashamed, he says, at such subjection.

 John Chrysostom, “Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans,” in Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistle to the Romans,  (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1889), 512.

John Stott mentions cooperation rather than subversion:

That church and state have different roles, and that Christians have duties to both God and the state was clearly implied in Jesus’ enigmatic epigram, ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.’ Now Paul enlarges on the state’s God-appointed role and on the role of Christian people in relation to it, although his emphasis is on personal citizenship rather than on any particular theory of church—state relations. What he writes is specially remarkable when we recall that at that time there were no Christian authorities (global, regional or local). On the contrary, they were Roman or Jewish, and were therefore largely unfriendly and even hostile to the church. Yet Paul regarded them as having been established by God, who required Christians to submit to them and cooperate with them.

…The state is a divine institution with divine authority. Christians are not anarchists or subversives.

 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 339–340.

Here’s F.F. Bruce, who also notes the role of conscience that Paul mentions in Rom. 13:5:

Christians of all people, then, ought to obey the laws, pay their taxes and respect the authorities—not because it will be the worse for them if they do not, but because this is one way of serving God.

The Christian has a higher motive for obeying the ruler than the unpleasantness of the consequences of disobedience; the Christian knows that such obedience is in accordance with God’s will, and by rendering it will preserve a good conscience in relation to God.

 F. F. Bruce, Romans: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 6, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 237.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Resources on Acts

Sacra Pagina - The Gospel of Luke (Hardcover) Earlier this week I mentioned that I was preaching/teaching through the book of Acts.  Here is a list of resources that I’ve found helpful.  You might notice I don’t have any online resources to suggest; you’ll have to do that work on your own.  I have to admit I do very little online research since I don’t have time to research much beyond my own library.  And, it’s easy to waste time on internet rabbit trails.  If you get a handful of commentaries you won’t need to go online much (unless you use scholarly journals there).  Anyway, here is a list of the main resources I’m using/recommending for Acts.  (Note: you’ll also want a good Bible atlas to keep track of all the cities and regions found in Acts.)

Luke Timothy Johnson’s The Acts of the Apostles in the “Sacra Pagina” series.  This is probably my favorite.  He gives a translation, talks about exegesis, and then comments on each section.

Dennis Johnson’s The Message of Acts. You’ll need this one to get a great redemptive historical focus on Acts – how the OT is found all over in Acts.  Johnson also focuses well on the gospel and how the apostles preached the good news.

William Willimon’s Acts in the “Interpretation” series.  This commentary is an exciting read.  I don’t always agree, but Willimon pushes and prods and pokes.  Get this one.

F. F. Bruce’s The Book of Acts in the NICNT series.  This is a standard commentary.  It is pretty dry, but a good starting point.

Zondervan’s “Acts” Biblical Backgrounds Commentary.  I really like this to get a cultural/historical background of the 1st century.  If you don’t get this background commentary, I’d suggest getting something to help consider the 1st century culture.

J. Fitzmyer’s The Acts of the Apostles in the Anchor Bible Commentary series.  I haven’t used this as much as I would like, but it is good.

John Calvin’s Commentary on Acts. It’s Calvin!

Clinton Arnold’s Powers of Darkness. This is a helpful resource for those stories in Acts where the apostles face sorcery and magic.

There are tons of commentaries on Acts.  I had a tough time choosing!  Here’s my advice: don’t get more than one or two Reformed/evangelical commentaries. In my experience they all sound roughly the same.  Instead, save some of your money to get commentaries from other traditions (even liberal and critical)this will really force you to engage the text itself.  Don’t stress out about the commentaries you could have, just get what you can afford and use them well.

Finally, don’t put too much hope in commentaries.  They are very helpful sometimes; other times they are quite disappointing.  Treat them like a tool.  Of course, study the Greek and consult other resources like Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology.  Pray much and do the hard work yourself!

Feel free to comment on Acts resources that you’ve found helpful.

shane lems

If You Confess With Your Mouth…

Tyndale New Testament Commentaries #6: Romans Cover Here’s a great section of FF Bruce’s commentary on Romans 10:6-13.  I love how Bruce just says it clearly, succinctly, and plainly, doing his best to simply reflect what Paul said. 

“This is the gist of his commentary: God has brought his salvation near to us, in Christ.  We do not have to ‘climb the heavenly steeps’ to procure it, for Christ has come down with it; we do not need to ‘plumb the lowest deeps’ for it, for Christ has risen from the dead to make it secure to us.  It is here, present and available; what we are called upon to do is to accept it by inward faith – believing in our hearts that God raise him from the dead – and to acknowledge him aloud as Lord.  The saving faith is resurrection faith: ‘if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain.’ (2 Cor. xv.17).  And the confession of Christ is public confession: ‘Jesus is Lord’ is the earliest, as it remains the sufficient, Christian creed.”

“Those who put their faith in Christ for salvation have as their encouragement the assurance of Isaiah xxviii.16 (already quoted in ix.33): those who commit themselves to Christ will never be ‘let down.'”

“This righteousness which God imparts is open without distinction to all men and women of faith, whether they are Jews or Gentiles.  His saving mercy is lavished without discrimination or restriction: all who call on him will receive it.  At an earlier stage in Paul’s argument the words ‘There is no difference’ had a grim sound, because they convicted Jew and Gentile together of sin against God and incapacity to win his acceptance by personal effort or desert; now the same words have a joyful sound, because they proclaim to Jew and Gentile together that the gates of God’s mercy stand wide open for their entrance, that his free pardon is assured in Christ to all who claim it by faith.”

These quotes can be found on page 202 of Bruce’s excellent Romans commentary (in the Tyndale series).  If you don’t have this one, get it!  I’d even recommend it for laypeople who want to do their own study of Romans.  You can find older copies of it used on Amazon for less than $5 shipped to your door.

F. F. Bruce on Justification

Tyndale New Testament Commentaries

Bruce really sounds close to Luther here. 

“God pronounces a man righteous at the beginning of his course, not at the end of it.  If he pronounces him righteous at the beginning of his course, it cannot be on the basis of works which he has not yet done; such justification is, on the contrary, ‘an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight’ (Westminster Shorter Catechism).

And when it comes to the question of our acceptance by God, how much more satisfying it is to know oneself ‘justified freely by his grace’ than to hope to be justified by ‘the deeds of the law.’  In the latter case, I can never be really satisfied that I have ‘made the grade,’ that my behaviour has been sufficiently meritorious to win the divine approval.  Even if I do the best I can (and the trouble is, I do not always do that), how can I be certain that my best comes within measurable distance of God’s requirement?  I may hope, but I can never be sure.  But if God in sheer grace assures me of his acceptance in advance, and I gladly embrace his assurance, then I can go on to do his will without always worrying whether I am doing it adequately or not.  In fact, to the end of the chapter I shall be an ‘unprofitable servant,’ but I know whom I have believed: ‘He owns me for his child; I can no longer fear.'”

F. F. Bruce, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963), 102-3.


sunnyside wa