This morning, one of the hardest things to determine sometimes is if we are going in the right way. With so many influences on a daily basis, we may get to the point of doubting and second-guessing our actions, decisions, and motives. After all, as the old saying goes, "To err is human." However, something else that requires just as much effort as knowing if what we are doing is right is to continue doing what we know to be right regardless of influences or the winds of change. This attitude of determination to follow after righteousness and goodness is harder and harder to find in the world. When the world becomes faster, changes more often, and keeps short attention spans, the idea of wholeheartedly pursuing something for prolonged periods of time becomes a very foreign concept. It is this lack of determination to follow after goodness that leads to a rise in divorce rates, lack of church attendance, and very slack Bible reading and study. However, determined effort to prolong godly behavior yields amazing results that cannot be had otherwise.
As Paul heads to the close of his second epistle to the Thessalonians, we see very fitting closing remarks that a man would make to a beloved group. This church – much like the Philippian church – was quite dear to Paul. Looking at the general scope of his language to them over two epistles, they were much closer to the Philippians' crown and joy than the Corinthians' headache. During Paul's first epistle, he comforts them about a great many things, but one of the most prominent comforts that they received as the promise of the 2nd coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. This detailed discussion of that blessed event and comforting promise had likely yielded some undesirable fruits in the Thessalonian church. For, in the 2nd chapter of the 2nd epistle, Paul encourages them not to think of it imminently – thereby implying that perhaps some or many of them had begun to do so.
As we reach the dawn of a new year, what would your year look like if you firmly believed the Lord would return this year? How many things would seem not worth our time, and how many others would seem worth infinitely more. Doubtless, our jobs and natural inclinations would lose some of their shine, and the Lord's house and His word would seem exponentially more important. If such were the case, the problems of life would also seem much more bearable. How many worries would we have if we knew that the Lord's return was coming imminently in the near future? Paul encourages the brethren to maintain their vigil and not let honourable things slide since the day of the Lord would not be as immediate as they had initially thought after his first letter.
For us today, some 2,000 years later, we see Paul's words ring just as true and clearly as they ever have. We know not when the Lord's return will be, but we do know that it will come. If God has promised it, rest assured it will come to pass. Therefore, let us not be weary in well doing. Finding the right path and staying in it seems to prove difficult for the disciple of Christ when the world pulls him in six different directions at once. No doubt, many are now embarked in the early journey of new-found resolutions, and more than likely, the next few weeks will see many of those goals fizzle out. However, serving the Lord in well doing never "goes out of style," regardless of what the world says. No matter what winds of change and mindset may blow, His commandments are still worthy.
As Paul encouraged the Galatian brethren in the same mindset (Galatians 6:9), we see that this manner of life will have the susceptibility to faint. Since labouring takes effort, there is always the opportunity to faint (get discouraged) by the way. When the world tries to make the child of God feel foolish for believing in creation, going to church, faithfully reading the Bible, etc., there is pressure to faint and fail to pursue these godly goals. However, there are many things that Paul enumerates that we can expect just as assuredly today as the brethren did then for faithfully following this pattern of life.
If someone picks something and stays in it for a prolonged period of time, there is a sense of familiarity that grows from it. Consider marriage. As a couple stays together for many years, they begin to understand one another like no one else. Although I am relatively young on the marriage chart – currently 8.5 years – I believe that I know my wife better than anyone else alive. Even her parents do not have the familiarity with her that I do, and this is due to pursuing a "togetherness" that cannot be found otherwise. When we faithfully read God's word and faithfully attend His house, we gain familiarity with God that we would not have otherwise. The more we read the Bible and listen to the gospel, the more real and familiar God's promises and blessings become to us.
Another point of faithfully continuing in a path is that the knowledge level is going to predictably increase. I am always amazed today to hear the mindset that someone believes they can learn as much outside of church or outside the Bible about God and His ways as they can in it. That would be like me going into engineering and saying that I could learn as much on my own about the trade without ever reading the source material and listening and learning from the experts in the field. No one would hire me with such credentials, and one should expect the "credentials" of the disciple of Christ to be no less.
Besides the knowledge growth and familiarity with godly service, a prolonged pattern or righteous living also yields sweet peace and comfort. By considering the above examples of marriage and credentialed work, we see that comfort and peace comes from knowing and understanding your place. My marriage is sweeter now than it was 8.5 years ago in the early stage. The reason is simply because by knowing my wife as well as I do and learning more about her, there is sweetness that stems from it. Used to, I might misread a reaction and get disturbed by it. Now, I see certain things and know what they mean, and that knowledge and understanding is far better than those dubious moments of wondering what was going on. Likewise, my professional life as an engineer is much better now than it was when I was in college worrying about passing tests and wondering "if I would ever get it." Since I know the material and can read different situations, I am comforted that I know what to do based on my prolonged service in the field. This particular peace and comfort of place is where we will spend the remainder of our thoughts on this verse.
When we spend many, many hours in God's Book it seems more real and vibrant with each passing moment. When I first started reading the Bible, there were a lot of concepts that I did not understand and some that I understood a little bit about. However, after more and more time in it, I found that subjects like "grace" were not just words on the page but very real and meaningful things that had "taste" to them. (I Peter 2:1-3) I learned and understood that "sacrifice" was not just a word but had a "feel" to it. As the gospel has sounded in my ears over the years, it has steadily grown from heralded words to deep and impacting concepts that are quite relevant in my life.
As I have grown older, seen more, and experienced more, I have grown to realize that God's Book and His associated gospel bring real-world answers to real-world problems. 15 years ago, I was one of the biggest "worry warts" the world had ever seen. As God becomes more familiar through His word and church, worry seems so unprofitable. 15 years ago,
I was quite hot-tempered, but now from tasting grace and mercy, there seems to be so little value in it. When Satan comes calling, there is a great peace and comfort of knowing how to deal with him. When the problems of life knock upon our door, there is something sublime in the knowledge of God's blessings in the midst and face of trials and tribulations.
When the songwriter penned the words to "Thus Far the Lord has Led Me On," he knew and understood the value of faithfulness in well doing and the curses in failure to do it. When we fail in the pursuit of godliness, we find "much of my time has run to waste, and I perhaps am near my home." However, experiencing His mercy yields "but He forgives my follies past, and gives me strength for days to come." That peace of knowing and understanding stays with us through "in vain the sons of earth or hell, tell me a thousand frightful things." That knowledge of the vanity of their actions is because "my God in safety makes me dwell, beneath the shadow of His wings." As the song goes on, we see the ultimate benefit of this righteous conduct "faith in His name forbids my fear, oh may His presence ne'er depart," and this is based on the promise "and in the morning, let me hear, the love and kindness of His heart."
As we go through life, no matter what is thrown in our path, nothing is worthy of keeping us from well doing. While the road is long and wearisome at times, we can draw strength and comfort from familiarity with God and His ways. Has He ever let us down even when life seemed too hard to handle? Has He ever changed? Familiarity with Him yields an immediate answer of "no He does not, has not, nor will not." Though the world may boldly promote the failures or total non-existence of God, we can take comfort in our "walk with Him" that we know and understand Him. (Jeremiah 9:23-24) And though we do not know when He will return, the knowledge that He has never failed on a promise gives strength and comfort to know that He will not fail on that one either.
Getting back to the thought of His return, I have absolutely no idea whether it will occur this year or not. However, what if it did? What should I do in the meantime? Everything just like I would should His return not be this year. Be faithful. Be faithful in all things. As the last verse of the hymn states "thus when the night of death shall come, my flesh shall rest beneath the ground." What if I die this year and do not live to see that glorious time? I can enter death in well doing (walking faithfully) with the sweet comfort and familiarity with God to finish the song "and wait Thy voice to rend my tomb, with sweet salvation in the sound." Brethren, whatever the years holds – life, death, pain, suffering, blessings, curses, joyous seasons, etc. – be not weary in well doing. Resolutions come and go. Years pass and fade. God never changes. Instead of walking with the resolutions and thinking so much of the years of our travail, may we walk with God this year and faithfully stand with our hand in His. In so doing, what joys and comforts will be ours. May we learn and understand more about Him and His ways.