Be Worthy of God?

25 11 2009

This article is adapted from the one I wrote for the church newsletter:

As you read through the New Testament, certainly you will come across some verses that are difficult to understand, particularly in the writing of Paul. (You can breathe a great big sigh of relief since this was Peter’s assessment of Paul’s writings as well [2 Pet. 3:16]!) Every once in a while, however, you come across passages in the Bible that make you do a double take and say, “What?!” 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12 is one of those passages. Paul writes, “[11] For you know how, like a father with his children, [12] we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” Yes, he said “worthy of God.” The Greek word for worthy is axiōs and is derived from the idea of balancing something in a scale. But certainly Paul isn’t telling the Thessalonians that if God were on one side of a scale, they were to live as though they could balance out the other side! Who could live up to such a demand? Borrowing from the Old Testament idea of glory (Heb. kabōd; “weightiness”), no one is heavier than God!

Interestingly, the word axiōs is used throughout Scripture and is translated in a few different ways. The first (and expected) translation of the word is “worthy.” It is this sense of the word that one would typically understand the idea of worthiness. John the Baptist said that he was not worthy even of untying Jesus’ sandal (John 1:27). The prodigal son confessed that he was no longer worthy to be called a son (Luke 15:19). In the Book of Revelation, again as one would expect, the term is used to speak of God’s worthiness of worship (Rev. 4:11; cf. 5:12 where it is used of Christ).

The second translation of the word is “deserving” and it is translated thus frequently in texts dealing with deserving judgment or punishment (cf. Luke 12:48; 23:15; Acts 23:29; Rom. 1:32). In Luke 23:41, for example, the thief on the cross confesses that, unlike Christ, they were receiving what they deserved because of their deeds. It is not exclusively used in that context, though. For instance, in Luke 10:7 when Jesus is commissioning the seventy to preach about the kingdom of God, He says that the laborer is deserving, or worthy, of his wages. Paul also argues that elders are deserving of double honor (1 Tim. 5:17).

A third use of the word is where it is translated “worthy” in the sense of comparison. In Romans 8:18, Paul writes that the sufferings of this world are not “worth comparing” with the glory to come.

The fourth and final way this word is translated is the way it should be understood in 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12. It is the idea of “fitness” or “appropriateness.” In 2 Thessalonians 1:3, Paul says that he should give thanks to God for the church because it would be fitting given the way they had grown in faith and love. In Matthew 3:8, John the Baptist rebukes the Pharisees and Sadducees and tells them to bear fruit in keeping with repentance (cf. Luke 3:8). The fruit would be consistent with true repentance. By the absence of fruit in the Pharisees’ lives, their lack of repentance was made evident. This was the same message of repentance that Paul preached to the Gentiles (Acts 26:20).

So, when Paul tells the Thessalonian church to live in a manner worthy of God. He is not saying that they need to balance out the scales. Praise God for that! What seems to be the best way to understand this passage is that if a person confesses that they have God in their life, there is a manner of living that is fitting with that confession. There should be a different look to that person because of the awesome fact that God is with them. This is the same idea behind Philippians 1:27 where Paul tells the church to let their manner of life be worthy of the gospel. He isn’t teaching salvation by human merit. That would go completely contradictory to his understanding that salvation is by faith alone and not by works (Eph. 2:8-9). What Paul is saying is that if a person really understands the truth of the gospel (i.e., God has opened their eyes and illumined their hearts to see) so that they are saved, there is a lifestyle that comes with that saving truth and “salvific” understanding. It affects you so that you do not continue living for the world of the things of this world.

The same question should be asked of each of us: Are you walking in a manner worthy of God? Is your life fitting with the faith you profess? Are your choices in line with the truth that God has saved you by His grace? This sort of thinking and living is concomitant with Christ’s living in us (Gal. 2:20). We cannot accomplish this without His enablement. Still, we must not neglect our responsibility to walk circumspectly in this world. Paul understood this necessity to the extent that he would write it in the most provocative way: “Christian, be worthy of God.” Together, let us strive to look different, think differently, speak differently, and live differently.

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One response

13 12 2009
tia

preach it, pastor! :]

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