“Satan Blocked Our Way” (1 Thess. 2:18b)

 In 1 Thessalonians 2:18 Paul wrote that Satan hindered the missionary team from going back to visit the new church plant in Thessalonica: For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way (NIV).  There are a few things we could discuss and note about this verse, but it is important to realize that one of Satan’s evil strategies is to keep Christians apart and prevent Christian teaching from happening.  He hates Christian fellowship and he hates it when Truth is taught and preached. There’s much application here!  Below are three different commentaries that I found helpful in thinking about this verse and topic:

Note, Satan is a constant enemy to the work of God and does all he can to obstruct it.  [Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 2340.]

He [Paul] tells the Thessalonians that he tried to return on more than one occasion but that he and the apostolic team could not reach their goal because Satan stopped us. So great was their effort that only Satanic opposition could explain why they did not return! Stopped is a term that comes from the military. In order to stop the advance of enemy armies, soldiers would tear up and destroy the road to hinder their passage. Warfare imagery is embedded in the metaphor, Satan himself being their adversary. The battle was over the souls of the Thessalonian believers whom Satan tempted to commit the sin of apostasy (3:5 and comments; 1 Pet. 5:8). One of his tactics was to bar the way so the apostles could not return to the church. In spite of the opposition, they did manage to send Timothy back (3:1), and the church itself continued on in faith and love (3:5, 6). Sometime later Paul was able to return to Macedonia and Thessalonica (Acts 19:21–22; 20:1–6; 1 Cor. 16:5; 2 Cor. 1:16; 2:13; 7:5; 1 Tim. 1:3). God responded to their fervent prayers (1 Thess. 3:10–11). In this spiritual warfare, Satan is hardly an omnipotent adversary. But he is a real adversary. [Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans Pub.; Apollos, 2002), 152.]

…Would to God that this sentiment were deeply impressed upon the minds of all pious persons: that Satan is continually contriving, by every means, in what way he may hinder or obstruct the edification of the Church! We would assuredly be more careful to resist him; we would take more care to maintain sound doctrine, of which that enemy strives so keenly to deprive us.  [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.]

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

“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

Waiting for Jesus’ Return (Calvin)

 The Christians from the church plant in Thessalonica didn’t have perfectly orthodox views on eschatology (cf. 1 Thes. 4:13ff; 2 Thes. 2:1ff).  That’s one reason Paul and his missionary team wrote them two letters soon after the church was planted.  But the Christians there in Thessalonica did get the basics of eschatology right.  When they came to faith in the living and true God, they began looking forward to Jesus’ return: “...You turned to God…to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead – Jesus, who delivers us from the coming wrath” (1 Thes. 1:9-10 NIV).  Speaking of Christ’s return to bring his people full redemption, here are Calvin’s wonderful comments.  While reading Calvin’s comments, remember this biblical Christian prayer: “Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).

…Waiting for Christ. For unless we are stirred up to the hope of eternal life, the world will quickly draw us to itself. For as it is only confidence in the Divine goodness that induces us to serve God, so it is only the expectation of final redemption that keeps us from giving way. Let every one, therefore, that would persevere in a course of holy life, apply his whole mind to an expectation of Christ’s coming.

It is also worthy of notice, that he uses the expression waiting for Christ, instead of the hope of everlasting salvation. For, unquestionably, without Christ we are ruined and thrown into despair, but when Christ shews himself, life and prosperity do at the same time shine forth upon us. Let us bear in mind, however, that this is said to believers exclusively, for as for the wicked, as he will come to be their Judge, so they can do nothing but tremble in looking for him.

 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), 246.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

Why the Lord’s Supper? (Calvin)

 One of my favorite essays on the Lord’s Supper is John Calvin’s work called “Short Treatise on the Supper of Our Lord, in Which is Shown Its True Institution, Benefit, and Utility.”  This essay is clear, it’s based on Scripture’s truths and principles, it points us to Jesus, and it gives a great summary of the meaning and benefit of Communion.  If you haven’t read it, I very highly recommend it!  Here’s an excerpt I had highlighted some time ago and ran across this morning (I’ve edited it slightly for readability):

Our Lord, therefore, instituted the Supper:

First, in order to sign and seal in our consciences the promises contained in his gospel concerning our being made partakers of his body and blood, and to give us certainty and assurance that therein lies our true spiritual nourishment, and that having such an earnest [pledge], we may entertain a right reliance on salvation.

Secondly, in order to exercise us in recognizing his great goodness toward us, and thus lead us to laud and magnify him more fully.

Thirdly, in order to exhort us to all holiness and innocence, inasmuch as we are members of Jesus Christ; and especially to exhort us to union and brotherly charity, as we are expressly commanded.

When we shall have well-considered these three reasons, to which the Lord had respect in ordaining his Supper, we shall be able to understand, both what benefit accrues to us from it, and what is our duty in order to use it properly.

Calvin, John, and Henry Beveridge. Tracts Relating to the Reformation. Vol. 2. Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1849. p. 167.

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

God’s Speaking About Himself (Luther)

 John Calvin famously said that God “lisps” when he speaks to us (Institutes, I.xii.1).  That is, our infinite God accommodates himself to us in a way that we finite humans can understand.  For example, although God is invisible and does not have a body, in his Word he often mentions his eyes, hands, and ears.  Martin Luther also discussed accommodation in his comments on Genesis 6:6, where the text talks about God “regretting” or “repenting” (נָחַם) that he made man.  Here are a few quotes from Luther’s comments:

 …God himself condescends to the low plane of our understanding and presents himself to us with childlike simplicity in representations, as in a guise, so that he may be made known to us in some way. Thus the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove; not because he is a dove, but in this crude form he desired to be recognized, received and worshiped, for it was really the Holy Spirit. No one, to be sure, will say that the same passage defines God as a voice speaking from heaven, yet under this crude image, a human voice from heaven, he was received and worshiped.

…This is the simplest way of treating such passages, for the nature of God we cannot define; what he is not we can well define—he is not a voice, a dove, water, bread, wine. And yet in these visible forms he presents himself to us and deals with us. These forms he shows to us that we should not become wandering and unsettled spirits which dispute concerning God, but are completely ignorant concerning him, since in his unveiled majesty he can not be apprehended. He sees it to be impossible for us to know him in his own nature. For he lives, as the Scripture says in 1 Timothy 6:16, in an inaccessible light, and what we can apprehend and understand he has declared. They who abide in these things will truly lay hold of him, while those who vaunt and follow visions, revelations and illuminations will either be overwhelmed by his majesty or remain in densest ignorance of God.

Luther, Martin. Luther on Sin and the Flood: Commentary on Genesis. Edited by John Nicholas Lenker. Translated by John Nicholas Lenker. Vol. II. The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther. Minneapolis, MN: The Luther Press, 1910, paragraphs 161-163.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

Calvin on Luther’s “Trumpet Blast” (Gerrish)

 Albert Pighius, a student of Pope Adrian VI,  lived during the Reformation and opposed both Luther and Calvin on their views of the bondage of the will.  Pighius wrote ten books against the slavery of the unregenerate will and strongly defended the freedom of the will in a semi-Pelagian manner.  Of course, this is one of those areas where Calvin and Luther agreed.  B. A. Garrish has a fascinating note about this topic – I like Calvin’s quote defending Luther:

On the problem of the enslaved will Calvin steps forward as Luther’s champion, except that he thinks it necessary to tone down some unguarded and exaggerated language. And he insists that, understood within their historical context, even Luther’s extravagant expressions were justified. Pighius deplored, for instance, the fact that Luther was obliged, as a corollary of his views on the bondage of the will, to regard all human works as sins, and that he pressed this theme with gross exaggeration. Calvin replies:

“I grant it, but still say that there was good reason that drove him to such exaggeration. He saw the world stupefied by a false and pernicious confidence in works, as if by a fatal lethargy. What was needed to awaken it was not voice and words, but the trumpet blast, thunder, and lightning.”

 B. A. Gerrish, The Old Protestantism and the New: Essays on the Reformation Heritage (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2004), 37–38.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

They’ll Hammer Their Swords into Plowtips (Calvin)

Calvin’s commentaries, as many of our readers know, have stood the test of time because of their insight, clarity, faithfulness to the teachings of Scripture, and because they are applicable for the Christain life.  These commentaries are for sure some of my favorites in their category!  I was recently reminded of this when I read Calvin’s remarks on Isaiah 2:1-4 (esp. verse 4).  In these verses, the Prophet said ‘in the last days’ (בְּאַחֲרִ֣ית הַיָּמִ֗ים) people from ‘the nations’ (הַגּוֹיִ֔ם) will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks (NLT).

…Peace exists among us just as far as the kingly power of Christ is acknowledged, and that these two things have a mutual relation. Would that Christ reigned entirely in us! for then would peace also have its perfect influence. But since we are still widely distant from the perfection of that peaceful reign, we must always think of making progress; and it is excessive folly not to consider that the kingdom of Christ here is only beginning. Besides, God did not gather a Church—by which is meant an assembly of godly men—so as to be separate from others; but the good are always mixed with the bad; and not only so, but the good have not yet reached the goal, and are widely distant from that perfection which is required from them. The fulfilment of this prophecy, therefore, in its full extent, must not be looked for on earth. It is enough, if we experience the beginning, and if, being reconciled to God through Christ, we cultivate mutual friendship, and abstain from doing harm to any one.

John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015