Reframing the Wrath of God (@OfficialSeedbed)

The idea of God’s wrath is troubling to many. We’d rather think about God’s love than his anger. But what if we were to consider what scripture says about God’s wrath in light of his love? Would that change anything? This excerpt from my recent book on The Letters to the Thessalonians aims to do just that. The passage under consideration is 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10. Read the whole chapter for free, or check out the book and accompanying videos over at the Seedbed Store.

There’s something we need to admit up front. A lot of people struggle with the Bible’s talk of God’s wrath. We find the idea of an angry deity uncomfortable and off-putting. Who wants to worship a God like that? We’d much rather hear about God’s love than God’s wrath. So, what do we do with passages like this?

What if I told you God’s wrath is necessary because of God’s love? Think about it this way. Love is at the heart of God’s character. God loves the world. He made it; it’s his. And God loves human beings. He made us to embody the beauty of the glory of his image and he has graciously called us to represent him to the world. But there’s an enemy out there. And that enemy is committed to destroying God’s beautiful creation. The enemy is sin. It’s a cancer that corrupts human life. It moves people to vanity, to strive for selfish gain, to manipulate the world, and to use God’s good creation for their own evil ends. Now if God is committed to his creation, and if there’s an enemy bent on destroying that creation, what posture do you think God will take toward that enemy? The answer should be clear: he’ll go after it with everything he’s got; he’ll show that enemy no mercy. And he’ll do it because he loves his world. He’ll do it because he loves us.

That’s what Paul means by the wrath of God. We’re uncomfortable with that language because we’ve all seen or experienced unholy human wrath: an abusive husband or father, a vicious colleague, oppressive dictators, merciless terrorists. When we hear of divine wrath, we take those wicked examples and maximize them by infinite proportion. But that isn’t what Paul means. God’s wrath is not the fury of an angry father or the mad aspirations of a power hungry tyrant. God’s wrath is his opposition to anything that harms his good creation. It’s measured and intentional. It’s right and just—holy and good. And it’s the result of his love. God loves us. That’s why he turns his wrath on sin, because sin attempts to destroy everything God loves.

The problem is that people dig in their heels and refuse to break their alliance with sin. They are committed to the corrupting cancerous power of sin. They don’t want to be free from it. They give themselves to it. And they love it. Paul preached that Jesus died and was raised to set us free from sin. Jesus gave everything to disentangle us from that which seeks to destroy us. God will put everything right. That’s what we’re waiting for.

But waiting doesn’t mean passivity. Paul doesn’t expect believers to hang out and do nothing until God wraps up the project. Waiting for Jesus means actively working to advance his kingdom, engaging in mission, proclaiming the good news, and opposing evil in every form. That’s what Paul calls the Thessalonians to do. That’s what Jesus calls us all to do.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is Lead Pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary.  He is the author of Paul and the Resurrected Body: Social Identity and Ethical Practice and The Letters to the Thessalonians.

Leighton Flowers Live Review of “Why Calvinism Gets Romans 9-11 Wrong”

Dr. Leighton Flowers recently offered a live review of my video “Why Calvinism Gets Romans 9-11 Wrong (Election and Mission).  The review is posted on his Soteriology 101 YouTube Channel. It includes the original video with Dr. Flowers’ comments interspersed along the way. He had some very helpful points to make, and I learned a few things listening to his reflections. I’m very grateful for this honor and hope you’ll take a look at the video and subscribe to his YouTube Channel. And if you haven’t subscribed to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, be sure to click over and check it out.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is Lead Pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary.  He is the author of Paul and the Resurrected Body: Social Identity and Ethical Practice (SBL Press).

For more from Matt, be sure to subscribe to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, listen to SermonCast, connect on Facebook, and follow @mporeilly.

New Video: Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh (2 Corinthians 12)

We don’t know what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was. In this video, Dr. Matt O’Reilly explains why it was necessary – and how our weaknesses can be a theater Jesus’ power.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary

For more from Matt, be sure to subscribe to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, listen to SermonCast, connect on Facebook, and follow @mporeilly.

 

3 Reasons to Reject the Rapture (1 Thess 4)

Arguments in favor of the rapture depend heavily on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. In this video, Dr. Matt O’Reilly provides three reasons we should not read the rapture into this key text.

Watch this to find out why it’s good to be left behind.

For more on problems with the rapture, read You WANT to be ‘Left Behind’ by JM Smith:

Read Matt’s research on bodily resurrection for free.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary.

For more from Matt, be sure to subscribe to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, listen to SermonCast, connect on Facebook, and follow @mporeilly.

Can Suffering Be a Gift? | Understanding Philippians

It’s easy to blame other people when we suffer. Sometimes we even blame God. That’s why the apostle Paul’s attitude toward suffering in Philippians 1:29 is so surprising. He sees some suffering as a gift of God’s grace. But how can that be? In this video, Dr. Matt O’Reilly walks us through this tough passage in the Bible and points to how suffering can sometimes be redemptive.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary.

For more from Matt, be sure to subscribe to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, listen to SermonCast, connect on Facebook, and follow @mporeilly.

When Christians Suffer and Fight

Understanding Philippians means understanding the problems the church in Philippi faced. In this video, Dr. Matt O’Reilly walks us through the two major challenges that Paul had to deal with and shows how they apply to the contemporary church.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary.

For more from Matt, be sure to subscribe to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, listen to SermonCast, connect on Facebook, and follow @mporeilly.

N.T. Wright on Authentic Church Unity #UMC

Anyone who’s spent much time in church will know that disagreements happen. If those disagreements aren’t resolved quickly, they may soon become full-on conflict. Factions form. And the long term unity of the church is jeopardized. This can happen on different levels, whether it’s a local church or a whole denomination, as is presently the case in my own United Methodist Church. However a particular conflict plays out, the cultivation and maintenance of authentic church unity requires robust reflection on what constitutes authentic church unity, which brings me to N. T. Wright.

I’ve been reading through Wright’s little book, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters, as part of my sermon prep for a series I’m preaching called Live Worthy: Paul’s Letter to the Philippians.  One of the key contextual issues in Philippians is what appears to be a budding conflict that centers around two leaders in the local church (see Phil 4:2), and much of what Paul says throughout the letter is aimed at reconciling that conflict and maintaining the unity of the Philippian community. Reflecting on that situation, Wright says

Unity by itself can’t be the final aim. After all, unity is possible among thieves, adulterers and many other types. Those who commit genocide need to do so with huge corporate single-mindedness, as the Nazis showed when killing millions of Jews, gypsies and others.

No: what matters is that Christians…should focus completely on the divine drama that has unfolded before their eyes in Jesus the king, and is continuing now into its final act with themselves as the characters. Bringing their thinking into line with each other wouldn’t be any good if they were all thinking something that was out of line with the gospel. The love that they must have is the love that the gospel generates and sustains. Their inner lives, which are to be bonded together, must be the inner lives that reflect the gospel. The ‘same object’ which they must fix their minds on must be the facts about Jesus the Messiah,  and on the meaning which emerges from them (98-99, italics original).

It should be clear that authentic Christian unity is never unity in name only. Authentic Christian unity can only be had when it is gospel-oriented unity. And that unity is bound together by love – but not just any love – gospel-motivated and gospel-oriented love. All that, of course, means that unity is only possible among those who have the same understanding of the gospel. And that further means that unity is achieved not primarily by talking about unity but by talking about the gospel. Only when we are deeply and passionately committed to the same gospel will we be able to  work toward authentic Christian unity.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary.

For more from Matt, be sure to subscribe to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, listen to SermonCast, connect on Facebook, and follow @mporeilly.

Click here to get a copy of N.T. Wright’s Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters.