Judges 4

This post follows the Bible reading plan available at oaktreechurch.com/soap.

Chapter four tells the story of Deborah and Barak and their defeat of Sisera and the Canaanites. There is nothing in the text that tells when Deborah became a judge or why she was chosen instead of a man, like the other judges. Given her rebuke of Barak’s apparent unwillingness to lead, it is possible that there were no men willing and able at that time. 1

For twenty years, the Canaanites, under the direction of General Sisera, had persecuted the Israelites (Judges 4:1-5). At some point, God had directed Barak to go against them with an army of 10,000 men, but he had not done so (Judges 4:6-11). When Deborah called him out on it, he agreed to lead the charge, but only if she went with him. She agreed, noting that his lack of leadership would be punished by the victory going to a woman rather than to him.

When Sisera saw the army coming out against him, he gathered his troops and chariots and rode out to rout them (Judges 4:12-16). However, Jehovah fought for Israel, and Sisera’s army was destroyed. Sisera got away on foot, looking for refuge with friends. Coming to his friend’s tent, Sisera saw the wife, Jael, and asked for shelter (Judges 4:17-24). She hid him in her tent, gave him warm milk, and lulled him to sleep. When he was fast asleep, she drove a tent peg through his temples, killing him immediately. When Barak arrived, she showed him Sisera’s body. That was the beginning of the end of the Canaanite power over Israel.

Notes:

  1. This should not be taken, as some have done, to prove that women can lead a church if there are no qualified men. Paul is clear on the qualifications of elders and deacons, that they are to be men (1 Timothy 2:8 – 3:13; Titus 1:5-9).

1 Thessalonians 4

Chapters four and five each divide into two sections. As Paul began to wrap up his letter, he shifted from reminiscing and loving to instruction and commands. He addressed four areas in these final two chapters: practical Christian living, the Rapture of the Church, the Day of the Lord, and congregational living.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12, Paul focused on some very practical, in-your-face teaching about how to live a Christian life. He said he had told them that certain things were necessary to live in a way pleasing to God, urging them to follow through with what he had taught them even more than they were already doing. The first area was their sanctification 1, especially in reference to sexual immorality (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8). He gave them both a negative and positive command to help them live properly: stay away from it and get control of their bodies. The second area was their brotherly love (1 Thessalonians 4:9-10). He had already praised them for how well they were doing it, so he simply praised them again followed by an encouragement to keep it up and do even more.

The third area had to do with their relation to the unbelieving world around them, and it had three parts to it (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12). First, they were “to aspire to lead a quiet life.” Christians should not be the ones causing trouble, starting arguments, or making a public spectacle (Romans 12:18). Second, Paul told them to “attend to your own business.” The opposite of this would be a busybody. While leading a quiet life, we are to keep busy in Christian service. Third, Paul commanded them to “work with your hands.” Second Thessalonians 3:10-12 explains this further. Apparently, some had quit their jobs and were relying on personal charity and the congregation to support them, as they waited for Jesus’ soon return. Paul said, “Get a job and stop mooching!” Paul’s reason for these specific commands was that unbelievers are watching. Immoral, busybodies, moochers, and troublemakers hurt our cause. Unbelievers do not like them any more than other Christians do, and they especially do not like it when they are doing these things while talking about Jesus.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul addressed a serious concern from his friends. He had apparently taught them that Jesus would return before the day of the Lord (see 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2). However, some of the congregation had died in the intervening months, and the survivors were genuinely concerned their loved ones would miss Jesus’ coming. Since the details about the Rapture were new to them, it is conceivable that they were the first ones to ever hear this revelation (1 Thessalonians 4:15). 2

Paul told them that they had no reason to grieve as if there were no hope, because Jesus’ return is the substance of our confident hope (1 Thessalonians 1:3; cf. Titus 2:13). In fact, rather than missing out on the event, Paul insisted that “those who are asleep through Jesus” (literally) will come back with him. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, death itself has changed (1 Corinthians 15:54-55).

The Rapture event actually includes five parts, only one of which is the actual “rapture.” 3 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 reveal that there will be an announcement, Jesus’ arrival into the clouds, the resurrection of dead saints, the rapture of living saints, and the eternal presence of the Savior. The last part was Paul’s emphasis. Rather than just “going to heaven,” whenever he thought of eternity, he could think of only one thing: being with Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Philippians 1:21-23). This is why he commanded his readers to “encourage one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18). 4

Notes:

  1. The key word of verses 3-8 is “holy.” It appears in some form four times in these six verses. In Paul’s letters, “sanctification” means “to set apart as holy.”
  2. Paul continued to receive new revelation from God throughout the course of his ministry. Some of this was probably for specific ministry but much of it was recorded in the Scriptures for our instruction and benefit as well as the original readers’.
  3. The word “rapture” means “to catch or seize” and comes from the Latin word behind “will be caught up” in verse seventeen. (The Greek word that Paul used, ἁρπάζω, harpazo, means the same as the Latin word.)
  4. The Rapture of the Church is such an important truth that some believe it should form the foundation for all Christian counseling.

Romans 12

Chapter twelve begins the final section of Paul’s letter, in which he took the immense doctrine taught in the first eleven chapters and provided several principles and commands that should drive the Christian lifestyle. The first step of true discipleship after initial saving faith is for a Christian to make the declaration that he is “all-in” (Romans 12:1-2) In chapter six Paul taught that the believer has been freed from the power of sin, so he should live as if this were true. Before getting to the rest of his application, Paul stated how this is done. It is a willful decision to submit one’s entire body to God like a sacrifice (“present…your members to God as instruments to be used for righteousness,” Romans 6:13). This will keep us from being shaped by the world system, and instead we will be able to discern and understand God’s good will, so we can live wisely.

As we begin to know and obey God and his Word better, we will begin to think like him, which will result in thinking of ourselves and others properly, which displays itself in three ways. The first has to do with spiritual giftedness (Romans 12:3-8). Outside of 1 Corinthians 12, this chapter contains the most compact teaching on the Church as the Body of Christ. Paul emphasized the truth that the members belong to each other and that we are to serve each other in the unique ways God has enabled us. The list of gifts mentioned here focuses primarily on the task or serving gifts (as opposed to the fuller list in 1 Corinthians). The gifts are manifestations of God’s grace given to us, and ten years later Peter would write that God considers us managers of that grace (1 Peter 4:10).

Second, we are to focus on the growth of our fellow believers in our general interactions (Romans 12:9-16). This is essentially a series of “proverbs,” short principles that stand on their own. They can be memorized as “sound bites” that we can take with us into every situation. Although our English translations do not always reflect it, verses 9-13 comprise one long sentence describing what sincere love (“without hypocrisy”) looks like (similar to 1 Corinthians 13:4-7). It looks for opportunities to bless others, empathize with them, and “live in harmony” with them.

The third change in our thinking about ourselves and others is displayed in our interaction with unbelievers in the world around us (Romans 12:16-21). In these final verses Paul changed his language from “one another” to “anyone” and “all people,” not just fellow believers. Whereas Christians are commanded to “live in harmony with one another,” Paul understood that was not always possible with unbelievers, so he added the caveat, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people.” It is impossible to completely “live in harmony” with those who have opposing worldviews (this would be a kind of partnership, 2 Corinthians 6:14-18), but we can strive to live in peace with them, a theme common in the apostles’ letters (see 1 Thessalonians 4:12; Colossians 4:12; Galatians 6:10; Titus 3:1-2; 1 Peter 2:11-12). This kind of living peaceably involves not taking personal vengeance and not letting the world’s evil overcome us so that we stop living out our new godly nature.