Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Is Jesus Returning Soon or not?

2013 New Testament Challenge – Day 20 (Reflections on 1 & 2 Thessalonians)
Every year I participate in a special effort called the New Testament Challenge sponsored by a priest of the Orthodox Church in America. He encourages Christians to spend the Christmas Fast, also known as Advent) reading the entire New Testament as a preparation for Christmas. Each year I have done this, it has been blessing to me and I pray this year will be no different. As part of the New Testament Challenge, I endeavor to blog a bit about the reading for that particular day. I may miss a few, but I pray for those who follow this blog (NOW ALSO ON FACEBOOK) it will be a blessing.

Two things, though interrelated, struck me as worthy of today’s blog while I was reading for the New Testament Challenge. The first, though not very profound, is that it seems Christians have ALWAYS struggled to live free of sin.
Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God  for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified. For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit. (1 Thessalonians 4.1-8)

But while it may be true that Christians seem to have ALWAYS struggled with sins, especially sexual immorality, that does not mean that the early Church, and especially Saint Paul, did not consider these sins to worthy of stopping. In other words, just because everyone did it, didn’t mean the Church accepted it as “ok” or acceptable for the Christian life. To make this point extremely clear, Saint Paul said,
But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good. And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. (2 Thessalonians 3.13-15)

If the early Church had considered certain behaviors, such as sexual immorality and greed, as acceptable “just because” everyone struggled with those sins, There wouldn’t be as bold a warning against those who “didn’t obey” Saint Paul’s teaching. Of course we can’t ignore that the overall teaching of Saint Paul didn’t include perfection. He knew well that many would fall short. Rather, he emphasized the importance of the EFFORT and acknowledgment that certain behaviors were not appropriate for Christians.

This practice extended into the later centuries of the Church when Holy Canons were written to forbid Christians from pursuing certain professions because, by association, certain professions (acting for example) exalted a lifestyle not keeping true to Christian morals. We could, and I might suggest we will again soon, begin enforcing such prohibitions in the near future. How difficult is it to maintain Orthodox Christian morals WHILE being a Hollywood actor or Nashville, singer. There have always been, and will most likely be, professions in which Christians shouldn’t participate.

I find many contemporary Christians “endorsing” certain behaviors as non-sinful just because they have always existed. For a Christian to embrace sin because there has always been sin, would be suggesting that Christ did not call us to a higher moral standard, albeit when we fall along the climb.

The second thing that struck me today was the emphasis on the end times. It would seem that the Thessalonians were a bit preoccupied with the return of Christ, to the point of anxiety.
Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. (2 Thessalonians 2.1-4)

We know the early Church believed Christ would return within their lifetime, but here Saint Paul is reminding them that certain things must occur first. For me the most disturbing element is the, “falling away” that must come before Christ returns. The Church spends much energy in growing the Church, both personal spiritual growth as well as corporate Church growth. And yet, there is growing evidence that many Churches, and Orthodox Church are not exempt from this either, are declining in attendance and participation. Does that mean we are “in the falling away” and that Christ will return soon?

If it does mean that Jesus is coming quickly, at least maybe we will once again, as the early Church, live as if we will witness His return. Then, maybe, just maybe, we will take seriously our need for repentance and FINALLY get ready for Him.

Until tomorrow…..take an inventory of your moral compass and ask yourself, “Is my life what Saint Paul would approve?” If it isn’t, consider what you might put into action to correct it before it’s too late.

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