Hope Personified

WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE TV DAD?  WHY?

Who are your favorite TV dads? Here are those TV dads that bring me fond memories (not ranked in any order):

  1. Jim Anderson, “Father Knows Best” (Robert Young):Jim always had a solution for things when his wife and kids needed him. Everything got solved in 30 minutes! This show started on network radio on NBC and when television started growing, Young and his partner Gene Rodney took it to Columbia Pictures’ TV division and the show ran from 1953 to 1963, first on CBS and later NBC. Also ran in reruns in daytime on ABC.
  2. Ward Cleaver, “Leave It To Beaver” (Hugh Beaumont):Ward was a great father to Wally and The Beaver but you sure didn’t want to cross him! Beaumont in real life was a Methodist minister and a movie actor in the 1940s playing the role of Detective Michael Shayne. The Beaver show started on CBS in 1957 but moved to ABC and stayed there until 1963. Has been in syndication since!
  3. Cliff Huxtable, “The Cosby Show” (Bill Cosby): Nothing more needs to be said… remains one of the most successful shows in television history. Big hit when it ran on NBC and later in syndication.
  4. Ben Cartwright, “Bonanza” (Lorne Greene): Ben would do anything for Hoss, Little Joe, and Adam…. all born with different mothers that were married to Ben… ostensibly the women died giving childbirth. Airing on TV since 1959.
  5. Tim Taylor, “Home Improvement” (Tim Allen): In the 1990s, it was one of the most watched sitcoms in the American market, winning many awards. The series launched Tim Allen’s acting career and also was the start of the television career ofPamela Anderson, who was part of the recurring cast for the first two seasons.
  6. Charles Ingalls, “Little House On The Prairie” (Michael Landon):Father to four daughters, three adopted kids, and husband to Caroline, making a living during the 1800s. Based on books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Ran on NBC from 1974-1983.
  7. Andy Taylor, “The Andy Griffith Show” (Andy Griffith):This show was a spin off from “Make Room For Daddy” starring Danny Thomas. Thomas and Sheldon Leonard who were the producers created the Griffith show and as we all know this show became iconic with millions of Americans. After 50 years, the show still can be seen and in some areas of the country it is scheduled around local TV newcasts. Ran on CBS from 1961-1968.
  8. Mike Brady, “The Brady Bunch” (Robert Reed):Great TV father and husband. In real life, Reed clashed with the show’s producer Sherwood Schwartz over creative issues. Reed was a Shakespearean trained actor and thought that some of the stuff on “The Brady Bunch” was hokey, but Schwartz would have nothing to do with it. Ran on ABC from 1969-1974 and still airing today.
  9. Jed Clampett, “The Beverly Hillbillies” (Buddy Ebsen):Ebsen was a dancer by training and appeared in movies during the 1930s and 1940s. Television revived his career when producer Paul Henning cast him as the head of the Clampett family who strikes oil in the Ozarks and goes from rags to riches while trying to fit in Beverly Hills, California.
  10. Steve Douglas, “My Three Sons” (Fred MacMurray):MacMurray was a Hollywood movie actor starting in the 1930s, usually cast as a tough guy (“Double Indemnity”) but later was cast in movies produced by Disney in softer, comedic roles. MacMurray was one of the richest actors in Hollywood in his day, known around town as a tightwad! He was a great TV father on “My Three Sons,” but on the set he would come and do his part and leave, not very personable with the kids. Show ran on CBS from 1960-1972.

 

Everyone’s perception of God is colored to some degree by their attitude and relationship with their father.  Even those who never knew their father might see God as an absentee God or they will paint God as the type of father they wish they had.  Throughout the Bible, God is referred to as our Father.  Jesus used an illustration of a father to help us grasp the depth of God the Father’s love for us.

READ Luke 15:11-12

During this time, the religious leaders criticized Jesus, not because the tax collectors and sinners were coming to Him, but because he was welcoming them.  Jesus told three parables to illustrate lostness and the importance God places on recovering those who are lost.  The third one, His parable about the prodigal son, illustrates how a loving father welcomes any sinner who comes to Him. It increased the percentage loss from 1 out of 100 sheep to 1 out of 10 coins to 1 out of 2 sons.  However, the loss of a son rather than sheep or silver ramps up the devastation.  So the third parable clarified and complemented Jesus’ instruction concerning the rescue of a sinner through the gospel.  Each of the three stories shows the sinner’s repentance and return to God.

The Pharisees repeatedly failed to realize what brings God contentment, satisfaction and joy.  The Pharisees and scribes grumbled about Jesus’ welcoming tax collectors and sinners in the first two verses of this chapter.  Dining with the crowd gave a silent affirmation and approval to them as persons, outraging the Pharisees and scribes who would never have socialized with such people.

WHO WAS THIS PARABLE REALLY ABOUT?  The father – not the prodigal son

Jesus began the parable with, “A man had two sons”.  The father symbolized God the Father.  The younger son typified a repentant sinner and the older son represented the self-righteous Pharisees.  The younger son demanded his share of the estate from his father to try to find a happy life in a distant country.  Judaism advised against granting such a request, but it could happen.  A son asking for his share of the estate showed disrespect by suggesting he could not wait for his father to die.  The demand communicated that his father no longer fit into his plans.  By demanding his inheritance, the son sowed seeds of discord in the family.

By the way, this (sowing discord) is one of the things God hates:

READ Proverbs 6:16-19

#1 – He had the freedom to choose

His actions harmed the father’s reputation, jeopardized his family’s financial security and fractured the family. The father, who did not refuse the son’s outrageous request, distributed the assets (to both sons).

DID THIS COST THE FATHER?  WHY DID HE DO IT?

READ Luke 15:13-19

After cashing in his share of the estate to bankroll his rebellion, the younger son headed off to a distant country.  Jesus reported ever so briefly that the son wasted all he had through poor choices.  All the money he could have could not provide what he was really looking for.  Having tried everything he could do on his own, he then chose to return to where he had all he needed to start with.

DOES THIS SOUND LIKE DOROTHY AFTER SHE WAKES UP IN THE WIZARD OF OZ?

Coming to his senses (you might too if you couldn’t even get the leftovers from pig’s food) and remembering how his father’s servants lived, he had to go back home.  His actions, more important than any emotional feelings of remorse, show the appropriate changes in thinking and behavior.  He accepted full responsibility for destroying the relationship with his father and sought reconciliation. BUT…

No respectable father in that time would have greeted a rebellious son if he would return.  It would break all Middle Eastern protocol.  The son’s outrageous and rebellious actions had brought dishonor upon his father and tarnished his family’s name.  The Pharisees and scribes would have expected the father to have refused to meet him, or to have forced him to sit outside the family gate in public view so the whole town could browbeat him with shame.  Furthermore, the son could expect to wait out certain period of time thoroughly humbling himself before his father.  Only then, would the father tell him with a measure of indifference how long the son would have to work to restore what had been squandered.  Only after the son had squared everything through the penances dictated by his father could he possibly hope to find some measure of favor again with his father.

OH, HOW IT IS WITH US – THIS IS OUR REACTION, NOT THAT OF OUR FATHER.

#2 God has the love that embraces

IT IS POSSIBLE TO GO HOME AGAIN?  IS IT YOU, SOMEONE YOU LOVE, OR KNOW? God yearns for us to return to Him, even if we have not rebelled like this.  How do I know this?  Check out the father’s response to seeing his son:

READ Luke 15:20-21

Jesus’ story blindsided His audience.  While the son was still a long way off, his father saw him.  At best, he could hope for a half-hearted welcome and perhaps some menial job working for his father.  Oh, but consider this father!  He must have waited daily; yearning to see his son return.  Finally, he caught a glimpse of his dejected and emaciated boy – and it melted his heart in compassion.  Throwing aside conventions of dignity, the father RAN with exuberance.  He went beyond normal forgiveness and cascaded his son with incredible love!

Even before the disgraced son could butter up his father with his well-rehearsed confession, his father threw his arms around the boy’s neck and kissed him.  Everything he did signaled his absolute affection and complete reconciliation.

The father’s demonstration of love and acceptance without the son paying for his transgressions shocked the scribes and the Pharisees.  Even today, many people have adopted a similar view of spiritual economy – making works the means of salvation rather than God’s free gift of grace through faith.

#3 God has the grace that restores

This picture reveals God’s attitude and activity toward sinners:

READ Luke 15:7

While He longs to embrace and keep close those who rebel, just like the father in this parable, God will not force anyone to stay home.  The father, like our Heavenly Father, had a love that remained constant despite the hurt caused by the son’s departure.  His love did not stop at an embrace:

Read Luke 15:22-24

Despite the son’s actions, the father lavished on him the best gifts imaginable (still boggling the minds of the audience).

Bring out the best robe – either the master’s or the son’s to denote his place of love and honor in the family.

Put a ring on his finger – confirming the son’s return to a place of authority in the household

Put sandals on his feet – only the sons and the master wore shoes – full sonship

To completely restore a son who had shamed his father and blown through a third of the family’s assets (the older son was due a double portion according to the Jewish tradition) did not line up with their theology.  They would have demanded at least a waiting period or reentry time with limitations on family privileges.  NO – that is not the way our Heavenly Father works.  He waits – even searches – for us to come home to Him.

READ Luke 19:10 – Jesus came to SEEK and save the lost

When we repent from our sinfulness and turn to Him, like the father in the parable, He absorbs the hurt and the loss and He lavishes us with the blessing of a full relationship with Him.

By linking the three parables in this chapter – the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son – Jesus gave a higher profile to the celebratory nature of the son’s return.  The shepherd and the woman invited their friends to rejoice with them, but when the father did it – it was the biggest deal anyone could imagine.

Did the son earn it? No!  Do WE deserve it? No! How great the love of our Father!

READ 1 John 3:1

We don’t have to hit rock bottom to decide to go home to our Father or to someone else.  Instead we can make the decision now.

What now?

  1. We can go home – if you have been keeping your distance from God, return to Him. Begin praying daily and reading your Bible.  God will show you the way back and looking for you to return.
  2. We can forgive generously – when was the last time you ran to forgive someone? Forgive even if it seems strange and shocking to everyone else around.  Forgive as God as forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32).  Let that someone know you’ve forgiven them. Don’t be like the older son (remember he was the picture of the Pharisees) – vs. 25-32.
  3. We can invite someone home – engage in honest, but loving, conversation with a “prodigal” in your life. Patiently walk with the person as he or she finds the way to the Father.

Get a grip on grace

I have been intrigued with pearls. So this past week I did some research on how a pearl becomes a pearl. A beautiful pearl begins as a fragment of broken shell, a sand grain, or even a parasite. Such an object enters an oyster’s shell and irritates its soft tissue. The irritant then gets covered and strengthened with layers of mother-of-pearl or nacre (NAY-ker). Over the course of time, a beautiful pearl develops. Similarly, the Bible teaches that every human starts out as an irritant. We are enemies of God, dead in our trespasses and sins. Yet, by God’s amazing grace, those of us who believe in Christ are declared positionally righteous. Slowly but surely, God then envelops us in Himself and practically transforms us into beautiful followers who reflect His beauty.

Paul closes 1 Thessalonians the same way that he began, by emphasizing God’s grace and the need to be prepared for Christ’s coming. In view of these important themes, Paul urges us to, “Get a grip on grace.” In 1 Thess 5:23-28, Paul provides two instructions to strengthen our grip.

 

  1. Pray for spiritual dependence (5:23-24).

In this first section, Paul prepares to wrap up his book with a closing prayer affirming our security in Christ. In 5:23 he prays, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Interestingly, the first word in the Greek text of 5:23 is the word “Himself” (autos). This is a significant point because Paul is emphasizing that the peaceful qualities of life that he discussed earlier in 5:13 come from God and God alone. Here is the truth: Only God can make you better. Think about that for a moment. Exercise improves your body, therapy helps your soul, a friend lifts your spirit, good fortune improves your circumstances, but only God can make you better. God is the author and source of all spiritual progress. It is impossible to overstate the importance of this fundamental truth. In contrast to all our feeble efforts at moral betterment and self-improvement, Paul simply says, “God Himself, the God of peace.” The “God of peace” is the only one capable of sanctifying us.

This word “sanctify” simply means “set apart for God’s exclusive use.”

 

There are at least three different ways this term is used in the New Testament.

 

First, there is positional sanctification. When you believed in Christ as your Savior, you were instantaneously, once-for-all set apart for God (Heb 10:10).

Second, there is progressive sanctification. This refers to your daily growth in holiness (2 Cor 7:1).

Third, there is perfective sanctification. This takes place when you see Christ and become eternally like Him (1 John 3:2).

It is this last meaning of sanctification that Paul has in mind here. He prays that God will “entirely” sanctify the Thessalonians. He prays that their entire person will be preserved. The phrase “spirit and soul and body” has generated a great deal of controversy in theological circles over the concepts of dichotomy versus trichotomy. That’s basically a debate over whether man is basic two-part or three-part in his essential nature. 1 Thess 5:23 is a key verse for those who favor the trichotomy point of view. Yet, I doubt that Paul intended to give us some kind of definitive treatment of human psychology. I think the reference to spirit, soul, and body simply means “the whole person in all his parts.” Beale favors the dichotomist position and suggests that 5:23 “clearly restates and develops 3:13, where God is said to strengthen their hearts, which is either a reference to the entire person, or more likely, an allusion to the noncorporeal aspect of the believer (equivalent to spirit and soul in 5:23).”

 

The word translated “preserved” (tereo) is a word that typically means “to watch over, keep.” God Himself will ensure your salvation and Christian growth. It is God who does this work! This morning, I noticed that before going to bed last night I forgot to lock the back door of our house. A thief could have easily walked in. I immediately said, “Lord, thank you that You always protect my family and me, even when I fail to be wise or faithful.” The word translated “without blame” comes from the legal arena. It means to be acquitted in a court of law. You are “blameless” if no one can bring any charge against you. That’s not true of most of us now. Those who know us best know our weaknesses and could testify against us. God’s goal, however, is that when we stand before Him, He will say, “Does anyone in the whole universe know any reason why this person should not enter heaven?” At that point there will be a loud silence as no one in the entire universe will be able to bring any charge against God’s elect. Interestingly, archaeologists have discovered tombstones from Thessalonica marked with the inscription “blameless.” This indicates the impact God’s Word had upon the early church in the first century. I can’t think of a better way to die than to be able to place on our tombstone “blameless.”

 

Perhaps you’ve heard the expression “good enough for government work.” That’s a sarcastic way of saying, “Don’t worry about the details. The joints don’t have to fit, the margins can be crooked, and we don’t need to worry about the budget. We don’t have to be perfect; we don’t even have to be close.” Mark it down plainly: God does not do government work. Everything He does is perfect. But many of us feel like our lives are “government work.” We look inside and see lots of good and bad mixed together, a whole bunch of loose connections, and a lot of parts that don’t seem to work right. That’s the way it is in a fallen world. We’re stuck with what seems to be “government work” in this life. But it won’t be that way forever. God has promised that when Jesus Christ returns, we will be sanctified through and through.

 

Paul concludes this first section in 5:24 by esteeming God further: “Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.” The adjective “faithful” (pistos) is the first word in the Greek text. The NASB is the one English version I could find that reflects the emphatic position. Paul is saying, “Above all else, God is faithful. You can trust Him. You can depend upon Him.” This is confirmed by the fact that God “calls” believers. The present tense verb “calls” stresses that God does not merely call Christians once and then leave them on their own. Instead, God continues to call the followers of Christ. God’s call mirrors the assertion in 1:4—God has chosen me. How do I know God has chosen me? First and foremost, His Word tells me so. Second, He is experientially calling me with His still small voice. His Spirit is at work in me all the time, prompting me to an increase in faith, love, and hope.

 

You understand this. We hear cell phones all around us: at work, at church, at the mall, and at home. There’s no escape. Someone always seems to be trying to track us down. This is also true of God. When you hear a cell phone, let it be a reminder to yourself that God is calling you. He wants to have a dynamic relationship with you. But you must answer His call. Don’t screen His call and let it go to voicemail. Instead, respond to God’s call upon your life for continual growth and intimacy in Him.

Paul continues to emphasize God’s preservation of the believer by stating: “He also will bring it to pass.” Think of those seven words: “He also will bring it to pass.” They are simple and direct. No qualification, no hesitation, no doubt of any kind. Not “He may bring it to pass,” “He could bring it to pass,” or “He’ll bring it to pass if He feels like it.” Not even “He will bring it to pass if we do our part.” There is just a simple declarative statement—“He also will bring it to pass.” When everything is said and done, it is not our grip on grace but God’s grip on us (John 10:28-29). Salvation is assured because it begins and ends with God (Rom 8:28-39).

 

Let me suggest six ways these verses should affect us:

 

First, God’s grace should give us enormous confidence in God. If you have doubted God, doubt no longer. He is faithful to keep His promises. He has ordained that someday you will be like the Lord Jesus inside and out. And He is working even now to make you a better person. Don’t doubt His purposes, even though you can’t always see His hand at work.

 

  • Second, God’s grace ought to give you assurance of salvation.Sometimes believers struggle with assurance because we don’t “feel” saved. But feelings have nothing to do with it. If you feel saved that’s good, and you should be grateful. But if you don’t “feel” saved, trust God to keep His word anyway. Salvation rests not on your fickle feelings but on the unchanging promises of a God who cannot lie.

 

  • Third, God’s grace ought to give you motivation to grow.After all, if God has said He is going to sanctify you, you can rest assured that you will be sanctified—whether you want to be or not! Your only choice is whether or not you will cooperate with God. Some of us get better slower than necessary because we fight against God’s purposes. We harbor wrong attitudes—lust, bitterness, pride, sloth, envy, and all the rest—and then we wonder why it’s taking us so long to get better. A little cooperation goes a long way in the area of sanctification.

 

  • Fourth, God’s grace ought to give us perseverance in prayer.Sometimes I think we stop praying two days before the answer is about to come from heaven. I know many Christians who have struggled for years with certain behavior patterns and then given up simply because they were so discouraged. But Paul tells us that God is always at work, moving us toward a time when we will be perfect in every respect. Even in this life we can make huge progress as Christians. It’s just that the progress often comes slowly and in small increments. So we ought to keep on praying precisely because we believe God is at work in us even when we don’t see it.

 

  • Fifth, God’s grace ought to develop patience toward others.After all, if God is not finished with you yet, He’s not finished with them either. And if you want them to be patient with your weaknesses, they should expect the same in return from you.

 

  • Finally, God’s grace ought to teach us gratitude for every tiny step in the right direction.Some people want to fly before they run, run before they walk, and walk before they crawl. But that’s rarely what happens. More often, our spiritual progress comes in one tiny baby step after another. It’s “little by little, day by day” that we grow into the image of Jesus. Therefore, let us take heart in every tiny step we take and in every tiny bit of progress our friends and loved ones make. For each baby step forward comes directly from the hands of a loving Father who is at work in ways we cannot see and probably couldn’t even imagine.

 

In order to maintain spiritual health we must remember where our spiritual strength lies. We cannot work out our salvation on our own (Phil 2:12-13). We cannot make ourselves holy by our own strength. The only way to develop and maintain spiritual strength is to depend entirely on the power of God’s Spirit at work in our lives. Today, will you prepare for Christ’s coming by getting a grip on grace? Will you rest in the promises of God?

 

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) noted that our problem isn’t trusting God; it’s in trusting God only.

Will you completely trust in your faithful God?

[We are called to pray for spiritual dependence. This is especially important because our Christian growth ultimately depends upon God’s work in and through us.]

  1. Respond for spiritual growth (5:25-28).

In this second section, Paul concludes 1 Thessalonians with three requests and a final prayer.

  • Request #1: “Brethren, pray for us” (5:25).Paul asks the church to pray for him and his coworkers. The present tense verb “pray” indicates that Paul wants the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing” (5:17). This means throughout the day, Paul yearns for the church to remember him in prayer. Interestingly, Paul seldom focuses on his own needs; however, he always acknowledges his need for prayer. Typically, Paul’s prayer requests focus on the need to be faithful to the Lord in sharing the gospel (e.g., Eph 6:19-20). The fact that Paul requests prayer demonstrates his humility and dependency upon the Lord. Paul rightly believes that prayer releases the power of God for effective ministry. Of course, we believe this as well, but it is often difficult to intentionally apply our knowledge. So allow me to share three opportunities.

First, consider making a priority of our prayer list. In my busyness, it is all too easy to put my need for personal prayer last on my to-do list.

Second, consider becoming one of our Watchman on the Wall prayer warriors. One of our pressing needs is to recruit prayer warriors who will pray during the week and on Sunday mornings. I believe that this is an incredibly fruitful ministry. “The Prince of Preachers,” Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892), had hundreds of faithful people pray in his church’s basement boiler room before he preached. He used to say, “This is where the power falls!” He was so right! Great preaching and a great response to preaching is the result of great prayer. Whenever someone asked Spurgeon the secret to his ministry his reply was simple: “My people pray for me.” Would you be willing to sign up today to serve in the Watchman on the wall prayer ministry?

How strong is your supportive tie to those in your church? Can they depend on your prevailing prayer for them? We fulfill God’s purpose in our lives through the prayers of our fellow Christians. Living the Christian life depends on teamwork. If we play on a team, we depend on our teammates to fulfill their role. Soldiers depend heavily on other soldiers in their company. Their lives are at stake if others fail to fulfill their function. Every area of life needs teamwork. This is no less true in the church. Part of our teamwork is praying for one another. This is something that everyone can do. Get a grip on grace means you pray for other believers.

 

  • Request #2: “Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss” (5:26).This is one of five such exhortations in the New Testament. The “holy kiss” was not a sensual thing. The kiss was intended to break down potential barriers of gender, race, and social rank. It was meant to be a symbolic expression of love, support, unity, and community. The holy kiss acknowledges our spiritual oneness. Christians have come into the family of God, which knows even closer ties than those of any human family (Matt 12:46-50).

 

A proper understanding of our Christian oneness requires understanding that fellowship is a part of worship. This means you shouldn’t make a mad dash for the door at the close of the service. I know we joke about this, but after (or during) the closing prayer, some members escape like rats leaving a sinking ship. This isn’t God’s will. Rather, He wants us to intentionally and strategically seek people out for the purpose of encouragement. This means I must look for ways to express affection to my fellow brothers and sisters. The Phillips paraphrase “Americanizes” this verse with this rendering, “Give a handshake all around among the brotherhood.” I don’t think this catches Paul’s intent. It is more than that. Although several people (including one complete stranger in Hawaii) have given me a holy kiss, there are other ways to express love. You can give a hug. You can put your arm around someone’s shoulder. You can give someone a double-handed shake, expressing warmth. The method is not that important, but the motive certainly is. Getting a grip on grace means you love your brothers and sisters in Christ.

 

Request #3: “I adjure you by the Lord to have this letter read to all the brethren” (5:27). The word translated “adjure” is a little strange since we rarely use the word. “Adjure” occurs only here in the New Testament and means “to put someone under an oath.” Paul is saying in effect, “I obligate you with an oath before the Lord.” The “you” refers to the leadership of the church (see 5:12-13). Paul puts them under a solemn oath to have the Word read and explained. He calls them to do so by the authority of the Lord. The written Scriptures must be read and explained. Without God’s Word, the church falters. There is a buzz right now that is downplaying the role of preaching. Some would suggest it is enough to have community and do outreach. That is fallacious! The church apart from the Word is anemic.

 

Today, as your teacher, I commit myself to reading and teaching God’s Word. Will you commit yourself to responding to God’s Word as we worship the Lord? Will you also make it your practice to come to church prepared to hear from God? You can do this by reflecting on the passage you know is scheduled to be preached. You can ask the Lord to clear your mind and help you to focus on His Word. Getting a grip on grace means you take God’s Word seriously.

 

Paul closes the book of 1 Thessalonians with a final prayer: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” (5:28). The epistle began with the note of grace (1:1) and ends with the same note. Paul begins and ends all of his thirteen letters with a mention of grace. The reason for this repetitious emphasis is Paul wants us to know that we cannot live apart from God’s grace. The life-changing grace of God saves us. It also sustains us and never fails to strengthen us. Paul’s longing is that the unmerited favor of God would continue to be his readers’ experience and source of joy. It is the grace of the Lord Jesus that makes our salvation and sanctification possible from start to finish.

This natural lead-in begs the question, “Have you received God’s grace in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ?” If you haven’t, would you please do so today?

Living in peace

“Practice makes perfect!” How many times have you heard this expression? No doubt, countless times. Yet, we all know too well that “practice doesn’t make perfect!” I wish it did, but it doesn’t. The hope is that practice makes permanent. Nowhere is this more critical than in the Christian faith. Christianity is nothing if it is not practical. Or, perhaps I should say, “The Christian faith is no faith at all if it is not practiced.”

In 1 Thess 5:12-22, we come to one of the most practical passages on how to do church in the entire New Testament. Perhaps you have wondered, “What are the essentials for a happy, thriving church family? How can I make my local church a more spiritual place?” These eleven verses flesh out what it means to live soberly (5:6, 8). Paul provides four “checkpoints” that will enable us to function wisely in the body of Christ.

 

  1. Honor church leaders (5:12-13).

In this first section, Paul gives three specific exhortations on how to honor those in spiritual leadership.

  • Respect your leaders (5:12).Paul writes, “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction.” The word translated “appreciate” (oida) ordinarily means “know.” However, in this context it means “recognize, respect, or honor.” The notion of appreciation is found in the second request in 5:13, so it seems best to understand this word to refer to respect. There is the need in every congregation to recognize and respect those God has raised up to lead, particularly those pastors and elders who “diligently labor” and provide “instruction.”

Someone has suggested five ways to get rid of your pastor:

(1) Sit up front, smile, and say “amen” every time he says something good. He will preach himself to death.

(2) Pat him on the back and tell him what good work he is doing in the church and community. He will work himself to death.

(3) Increase your offering in the church. He will suffer from shock.

(4) Tell him you’ve decided to share your faith and win souls for Christ. He will probably suffer a heart attack.

(5) Get the whole church to band together and pray for him. He will get so efficient that some other church will hear about him and give him a call. That will take him off your hands.

 

  • Esteem your leaders (5:13a).Paul urges the Thessalonians to “esteem them [their leaders] very highly in love because of their work.” The word translated “very highly” (huperekperissos) is a triple compound, which means abundant to the point of being excessive. You may say, “That’s laying it on a little thick, don’t you think? It’s one thing to esteem my leaders, I don’t know about holding them so high that it goes beyond all measure. That’s ridiculous!” Oh, really? I can tell you that to ignore this word is to ignore God’s Word to you. I have had so many people try to temper their encouragement because they are fearful that if they say something too positive it might “go to my head.” We frequently run the risk of taking our leaders for granted. Yet, Paul says we are to “esteem” our leaders because of their work. In both 5:12 and 13, he emphasizes recognizing and esteeming work.

It’s not easy to serve as a pastor, elder, deacon, or spiritual leader. The battles and burdens are many, and sometimes the encouragements are few. It is dangerous when a church family takes their leaders for granted and fails to pray for them, work with them, and encourage them. Practice makes permanent.

 

  • These verses should not be restricted to pastors only. They apply to anyonewho has a leadership position in the local church.

Do you know who is teaching your children in Sunday school?

Do you know your teenager’s youth leaders?

Have you ever tried to find the names of the leaders of the ministries that touch your family? You need to know them by name. You need to respect these spiritual leaders who freely and sacrificially serve the body.

Unless we are actively involved in volunteer service, we will never understand the great sacrifices that many of our fellow believers make. Today, will you look for a leader that you can encourage? Write an email or a hand-written card. Bring a gift to this leader. Verbally affirm this leader. Ask how you can pray for this person. Offer to help this person in their ministry or in their home. Practice makes permanent.

  • Live in peace with your leaders (5:13b). Paul closes this section by commanding the Thessalonians to “Live in peace with one another.” I think living in peace with your spiritual leaders means you speak highly of them and refuse to criticize them. I find it rather interesting that very few people will criticize leaders to their face, but they will shred them behind their back. I don’t think that it is because people are intimidated by most leaders, rather they know what they are saying is not honoring to God. Yet in churches throughout America, gossip and slander continue to be the most prevalent sins committed. In fact, more churches have been split by malicious gossip than by all the doctrinal heresies that have ever been invented. Thus, we should take this sin seriously. If you hear another brother or sister ripping on a leader, rebuke that person. Don’t tolerate this sin or you are an accomplice who will be held guilty. If someone is talking about my wife, I’m not going to listen in and remain quiet. I’m not going to worry about hurting that person’s feelings. Instead, I’m going to rebuke that person. Too many Christians are afraid of offending someone so we let a leader be run into the ground. This is sin! Perhaps today you need to make a commitment that you will not criticize a spiritual leader. Or maybe you need to commit to not listening in while others criticize your leaders. If there was more praise coming from God’s people, there would be more power in our ministries. Tragically, many members have never said a kind word to those who are in leadership. Today, commit to a ministry of encouragement.

[We should esteem church leaders. Why? Because this showcases the unity of the church.]

  1. Shepherd church members (5:14-15).

Having stated the responsibilities of the church to its leaders, Paul now considers the responsibilities of the church to each other. In 5:14, he urges church members to follow a four-fold job description.

  • Admonish the unruly (5:14a).“Unruly” (ataktous) is a military expression that means “to break ranks, to get out of line.” It refers to soldiers who are undisciplined, irresponsible, and idle. In the church there are unruly soldiers who are disrespectful, slanderous, and lazy. When a brother or sister becomes unruly Paul says we are to “admonish them.” Paul did this very thing with those who refused to work in 2 Thess 3:6-15.

The word translated “admonish” is an exceedingly strong Greek word that literally means to “put into the mind” (cf. 5:12). You might say we are to talk some sense into them. It implies a face-to-face confrontation, precisely the kind of situation most of us want to avoid at all costs. It is painful, difficult work. It is very scary. To lighten the severity of this responsibility, I always think of walking up to an unruly person, knocking on their head, and saying, “Hello, hello? Is anyone home?” Upon hearing a reply, I would cram God’s truth into their heads. Obviously, it is never this easy, yet it is often necessary to admonish a fellow believer. The key, however, is to do so with grace. Someone has that said for every negative statement people need at least five or six positive comments to overcome the discouragement that results from negative feedback. Generally speaking, any negative input should always be preceded by a few positive words and then followed up with a few more positive comments. Will you make a commitment to admonish unruly people in your life? Don’t call on a pastor. This verse is your responsibility. Practice makes permanent.

 

  • Encourage the fainthearted (5:14b).The word translated “fainthearted” (oligopsuchos) literally means to be “small-souled.” In the Greek Old Testament this word refers to discouragement due to trials. Paul, then, could be referring either to those who were shaken by the persecutions that the church had to endure (2:14; 3:1-5) or to those who were anxious about various aspects of Christ’s return (4:13-5:11). In the church, the fainthearted can describe those who are overwhelmed with problems. It especially includes those who shrink before persecution, who fall under great temptation, who face trials at home, at work, at school, who find the Christian life one continual struggle. Paul says we are to “encourage” such people. That is, we are to put courage into them. We are to verbally affirm hurting people. We are to use our words to breathe hope into them. A word of encouragement can make the difference between giving up and going on. We must teach the “small-souled” that the trials of life will help to enlarge them and make them stronger in the faith. Who do you know that you can encourage today? Practice makes permanent.

 

  • Help the weak (5:14c).The word “weak” can refer to physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual weakness. This third group of people is a step beyond being fainthearted. They have completely run out of gas. They are the ones who are exhausted, burned out, wrung out, and worn out. They are morally, spiritually, and physically drained. They feel as if they cannot go on. Often, these are most easily overlooked. The weak drift in and then drift out and a growing church never sees them. They slip in late, sit toward the back, and slip out as soon as the service is over. They are on the periphery, looking, searching, and hurting. The greatest way that you can help the weak is by praying for them. Practice makes permanent.

 

  • Be patient with everyone (5:14d).If we get involved with others, patience is our greatest need. Remember what Charlie Brown said: “I love the world. It’s people I can’t stand.” It’s easy to feel that way, so we need a great deal of patience. Who are the children or teens that are driving you crazy right now? They may be our future pastors and missionaries. When my brother and I were growing up, we were the wild hellions at our church. My next door neighbors predicted that my brother and I would end up in Juvie! Who would have guessed I would become a pastor? No one but God, I’m sure! A simple rule is: Be as patient with others as God is with you.

 

Paul closes this second section in 5:15 with a very relevant verse: “See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people.” This verse is speaking of Christian relations in both the local and universal church. The phrases “one another” and “all people” are used elsewhere in 1 Thessalonians of fellow believers in the local church and surrounding region. The idea is if we can graciously forgive and bless our spiritual family members, we can live in peace with unbelievers as well. Thus, when others reject you and even oppose you, continue to serve in love and be ready to forgive. We show our love for God by making a conscious decision to love His children. Of course, this requires divine enablement. We tend to want to bury the hatchet in our brother or sister’s back! Yet, to return evil for good is natural; to return good for evil is supernatural.

Who is really getting on your nerves: a boss, a neighbor, a classmate? Maybe it is a spouse, a parent, or a sibling? How can you be especially kind to this person? What tangible acts of blessing can you pass on to this person? Will you do so today? This will free you from a root of bitterness (cf. Heb 12:15).

[We should shepherd church members because this is how we express love for God.]

  1. Discover God’s Will (5:16-18).

The age-old question that pastors are frequently asked is: “How can I find God’s will for my life?” Paul says that we don’t need to worry about finding God’s will, we merely need to find God and then His will finds us. Paul puts it like this: “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” In these three verses are three commands that will help us to discover God’s will.

 

  • Be joyful (5:16).This is one of approximately 70 New Testament commands to rejoice. This ought to remind us that choosing joy is a decision of the will. While happiness depends on what is happening around us, joy is independent of happenings. This means we must remember that nothing merely happens by chance. God is working out His sovereign plan in our lives, therefore we must rejoice. This doesn’t mean life won’t hurt, but even in the midst of the hurts we can rejoice, because we know that God is at work and in control. Consistent rejoicing is only possible if we remember three principles. First, we must remember who God is (Phil 3:1). Nehemiah 8:10states, “the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Joy has its roots in a deep thankfulness for who God is. If we focus on God’s character and attributes (e.g., sovereign, merciful, faithful, loving), we will always have plenty of cause to rejoice. Second, rejoicing is possible if we then begin to recall what God has done, is doing, and will do. We can especially rejoice in what God has given us in Christ (John 4:36; Acts 13:48; Phil 4:4). As we focus on our Lord, we will exude joy. Someone once said, “A coffee break is good; a prayer break is better; a praise break is best.” Can you rejoice in the Lord today? Finally, we can also rejoice in what God is doing in and through other believers. Paul only uses the word “joy” one other time in 1 Thessalonians and he uses it of his own joy for the spiritual maturity of the Thessalonians (3:9; cf. 2:19-20). As we begin to keep our finger on the spiritual pulse of God’s kingdom program, we will observe that He is doing great things throughout our country and world. Even though you may not feel like God is at work in your life, can you take your eyes off of yourself and see how He is at work elsewhere?

 

  • Be prayerful (5:17).Praying without ceasing means praying repeatedly and often. The idea of the present tense imperative is not that believers should pray every minute of the day, but that we should offer prayers to God repeatedly. We should make it our habit to be in the presence of God. The Greek adverb translated “without ceasing” (adialeiptos) is used outside of the New Testament of a hacking cough. Have you had a cold recently? Then you know what it’s like to cough spontaneously, right? There are times you just can’t stop yourself. The same ought to be true of prayer. We should be continuously offering up prayers to the Lord because we just can’t help ourselves. We often go through life in such a hurry and so overwhelmed by our problems that we think we don’t have time to pray. That sense of hurriedness can be spiritually devastating.

Carl Jung said, “Hurry is not of the devil; it IS the devil.”

When you pray, you are forced to slow down. You are forced to shift the focus of your thoughts from yourself to God. You stop thinking of how impossible everything is for you, and you start thinking of how possible everything is for God. You stop thinking of how weak you are, and you start thinking of how powerful God is. If you’re a stay-at-home mom, this may mean that you pray when you’re getting ready in the morning, when you’re home-schooling your kids or driving them to school, when you’re cleaning the house or doing the dishes. If you’re a career man or woman, you can pray during your commute, when you stretch at your desk, during your lunch break, before you return home for the day. Practice makes permanent.

 

  • Be thankful (5:18). The apostle Paul didn’t say to give thanks “for” all circumstances, but “in” all circumstances. Thanksgiving was the fuel of Paul’s prayers. Note: the Greek word eucharisteite(“give thanks”) is an active, present tense imperative. This means that thanksgiving is not an option or a suggestion; it is a command! If we are to be properly devoted and alert in prayer, we must consciously focus on expressing gratitude to God. All of life’s circumstances are not good, but there will always be something in those circumstances for which to give thanks. Paul uses the word “thanks” only one other time in 1 Thess 2:13, where he thanks God for the Thessalonians receiving the Word. This demonstrates that there are many things that we can be thankful for. What are you thankful for today? Will you express gratitude to God and others? Gratitude is likely the greatest evidence that you and I are filled with the Holy Spirit. God has blessed you and me, but He expects us to respond with hearts full of gratitude.

 

These three verses are God’s will for you.” Most of us want to know what God’s specific will is for our lives—who we’re supposed to marry, where we’re supposed to live, what job we should have. Yet God tends to give us freedom in these areas. But if He does want to reveal Himself more specifically to you, He isn’t about to do so until you first obey His general will. His general will is that you be joyful, prayerful, and thankful. Do you want specific direction? Do you want to know the will of God? It is found in 5:16-18. Be joyful, prayerful, and grateful. If you’re not obeying these commands, you’re not walking in the Spirit. You’re out of the will of God, no matter how many gifts of the Spirit you might be exhibiting in your life. You may say, “Well, I don’t like that.” I don’t like it much either, but I didn’t say it. God said it. The Bible is not only a sword, it is a hammer. Have you been hammered by the Word of God? Will you seek to obey these three commands so that God can reveal more of Himself to you?

[We must discover God’s will. How can we do this? By pursuing God and seeking to discover Him.]

  1. Worship with wisdom (5:19-22).

In this fourth and final section, Paul tells us how to worship in spirit and truth (cf. John 4:23-24). He writes, “Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.” Paul uses “quench” metaphorically to speak of hindering the operations of the Holy Spirit. People who refuse to submit to the above commands “quench” the Spirit. Those who usurp the ministry of the Spirit in the local church throw cold water on God’s work in the congregation. Do you know what it means to quench the Holy Spirit? What do you do when you quench your thirst? You drink some water and the thirst is put away. When you quench a fire, you put it out—you smother it. How do you quench the Spirit of God? You quench the Holy Spirit by not doing something He tells you to do.

Paul now relates this specifically to prophecies. The gift of prophecy is when a man or woman of God speaks a word to build up the body of Christ. Paul says, “Don’t despise prophecies.” Yet, he also commands us to examine every prophecy. This can be done by asking four questions: (1) Does the prophecy agree with Scripture? (2) Does the prophecy edify those who hear it? (3) Do other believers agree that the prophecy is from God? (4) Does the person with the prophecy present it humbly?

 

Paul is saying, basically, look before you leap. You don’t have to be cynical, but it doesn’t hurt to be a little skeptical. Investigate. Test things. Don’t allow yourself to be spoon-fed. When you hear a sermon or read a book about spiritual matters, think it through. Compare it with Scripture. Don’t be gullible. Reason it out. Test everything, Paul says, and hold on to that which is good, reject that which isn’t good. It’s not always easy to think things through, but it’s necessary. The more you practice discernment, the stronger you become spiritually.

Paul has said, “Practice makes permanent!” Will you make it your goal to practice Christianity? Will you live out your faith so that your life makes a difference in your world?

Hope for a hopeless world

Early Edition was a popular television program in the 1990s that featured a young man who received the next day’s newspaper a day ahead of time. Because he always knew the future, this man’s task in each episode was to save people from a tragedy or problem he had read about in tomorrow’s paper. So if he knew a building was going to burn, he tried to keep people from entering it. Or if someone was going to be hurt by an act of violence or an accident he tried to prevent the encounter from taking place.

If you own a Bible, you have an “early edition” of future events. By reading God’s prophetic Word, you can know God’s plan for all eternity. It is worth noting that for every prophecy on the first coming of Christ when He was born as a babe in Bethlehem, there are eight prophecies on the second coming of Christ. This truth is central to the Word of God. Statisticians tell us there are 1,845 OT references to Christ’s return. A total of 17 books out of a possible 39 give it prominence. When we move across to the NT, the figures are no less impressive. Of the 260 chapters in the NT, there is a minimum of 318 references to Christ’s return. That comes out to about one verse for every 30 verses in the whole NT.

Perhaps you’re thinking, “I’m not interested in prophecy and all that end times gobblygook.” To which I would reply, “Do you long to have hope?” By hope I mean absolute confidence and peace in your present and future circumstances. Hope is one of the great characteristics of Christian reality. At the start of the letter (1:3), Paul tells us that hope produces perseverance. If there is no hope in the church, there will be no perseverance, and no perseverance will mean the demise of local churches. Fortunately, there is good news: God provides hope in a hopeless world. In 1 Thess 4:13-18, Paul shares two convictions that we can count on.
1. Hope in your resurrection (4:13-16).
In this first section, Paul promises us that if we have placed our faith in Christ, we will one day be resurrected. In 4:13 Paul reveals a problem: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.” The word “but” introduces a new subject but also connects to the previous paragraph. The restlessness of disorderly believers (4:11-12) was, in part, caused by an incomplete understanding of the resurrection of the body. The Thessalonians rightly understood that Christ was going to return; however, they had not considered the possibility that some of their loved ones and friends would die before it occurred. They, therefore, plunged into deep grief. Doubts filled their minds as to the status of these prematurely deceased believers. All sorts of questions were going through their minds: “What will happen to our loved ones who die before Christ returns? Will they miss out on the resurrection? What about those of us who are alive when Christ returns? Will we receive our resurrection bodies then or later?”

In light of these questions, Paul educates these believers about the status of their brothers and sisters who have passed away. In 4:13, he states the purpose of this entire passage with the phrase “so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.” Is Paul being cruel and heartless here? No! It is not wrong to grieve over the death of a loved one. Jesus Himself grieved over the death of Lazarus (John 11:35) and He knew full well He was going to bring him back to life. Paul merely says that when death comes we should not grieve hopelessly but mourn with hope. Our attitude toward death is a distinguishing feature that witnesses to the reality of the gospel. This is yet another example of leading a “quiet life” (cf. 4:11).

We have lost a lot of family members in the past 15 years. There is a stark contrast in the difference between the way the world grieves and the way followers of Jesus grieve. As far as some of us know, some of us have family members in hell because they rejected Christ. On the other hand, I am confident that many of my family members are at home in heaven and will come back with Jesus someday.

For you see, when believers die it is not “goodbye,” but only “good night.” We will see them again when Jesus returns. God provides hope in a hopeless world.
Now I recognize that you may not want to think about death today. One of the things that Christians and non-Christians have in common is that we don’t like to think about death. 52% of unchurched adults say they never wonder if they will go to heaven after they die. Death is usually the last thing we want to talk about; it makes us squirm and feel uncomfortable. And yet, life being what it is, we cannot walk away from it. Where is your hope found? If it’s not found in Jesus Christ, you are without hope. You may have happiness, but you do not have hope. There is no hope apart from Christ. If you put your hope in your church, you will be disappointed. If you put your hope in your friends and family, they will fail you. If you place your hope in your job or your money, you will be disillusioned. Only Christ offers permanent, eternal hope. Today, at this very moment, will you believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior from sin? Will you stop trying to be “good enough” to please God? Instead, will you trust in the only One who can meet God’s expectations? The Lord Jesus Christ offers you eternal life as a free gift if you will simply ask Him for it. God provides hope in a hopeless world.

In 4:14, Paul gives his first reason why we can have hope. He writes, “For if [since] we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.”

The death and resurrection of Jesus is the irreducible minimum of the gospel. A person cannot become a Christian without believing these two great truths (see Acts 2:23-24; 3:14-15; 5:30; Rom 4:25; 8:34; 14:9; 2 Cor 5:14-15; and Rev 1:8). The inevitable result of believing that Jesus died and rose is the hope that He will return. In other words, the return of Christ is as certain as His death and resurrection. Our hope for the future is grounded in the certainty of the past. This verse is also clear that those who have “fallen asleep in Jesus” will return with Him.

Paul has just said that dead believers are asleep. If they were simply buried in the ground awaiting the resurrection, how could Christ bring them back from heaven with Him when He returns? You can’t come back with someone unless you’re already with him. But Paul clearly said that sleeping things will come back with Jesus when He returns. The term “asleep” is a euphemism for death (4:13, 14, and 15). The Bible never uses the term “asleep” or “sleep” when referring to unbelievers—only the passing of believers. “Sleep” explains what happens to a Christian’s body at death, NOT his spirit or soul. The Bible never teaches that a Christian’s soul goes to sleep upon death. Soul-sleep is a false doctrine that is taught by Jehovah Witnesses or Seventh-day Adventists. The soul of the dead is unconscious in reference to this world but wide awake and fully conscious of the world to come. Stephen’s spirit went to be with the Lord, but his body fell asleep (Acts 7:60). After death, the thief on the cross was with Jesus in Paradise (Luke 23:43). When a believer dies, his or her spirit goes immediately into the presence of Christ. Paul wrote in 2 Cor 5:8 that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” The moment a Christian dies, that person’s spirit leaves the body and is immediately with the Lord. The body, not the soul, sleeps in death. This is why the New Testament writers use the term “sleep” or “asleep” for believers. If you are a Christian, you will not taste death for even a nanosecond. Before the doctor has a chance to pronounce you dead, you will be in the Lord’s presence. God provides hope in a hopeless world.

In 4:15-16, Paul shares the second reason why we can have hope. In 4:15 he writes, “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.” Most likely this “word of the Lord” was given in one of Christ’s appearances to Paul (cf. Acts 18:9-10). Paul states that those believers who make up the church of Jesus Christ will rise together when Jesus returns. Those who are asleep will meet up with their spirits, while those who are alive will rise and be given a new glorified body. The bottom line is this: We all are simultaneously given new bodies. I like to think of it like this: Those who are asleep in Jesus have caught an earlier train to their final destination of glory. Today we are standing on the station platform, and who knows, we may be on the next one!

Paul explains himself further in 4:16 where he discloses the details of Christ’s return: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.” The return of Jesus will occur with three sounds: Christ’s shout, the archangel’s voice, and the trumpet of God. The word “shout” is a military expression and it indicates a command or an order that is given. It is as if the troops are standing at ease and the command issued is, “Come to attention!” This voice will wake the dead. We don’t know the specific content of the command; however, in biblical times whenever the king was coming to a village, the town crier ran ahead and shouted, “The king is coming! The king is coming!” In the same way, the King of Kings will make His entrance known to the entire world.

The second sound is the archangel’s voice. Daniel 10:13 implies several archangels, but the Bible only mentions one, Michael (Jude 9). Michael is most likely the leader of the holy angels. Since he and the other angels have been commissioned to protect God’s people (Dan 12:1; Heb 1:14), it may be that he is present to protect God’s people from Satan and his forces as they pass through his domain.

The final sound is the trumpet of God. The archangel and trumpet of God are united by the conjunction “and” so that the archangel is represented as sounding God’s trumpet. Since the days when Israel was camped down at Mount Sinai, trumpets were used to call God’s people together for assembly (Num 10:2). This trumpet blast summons the church to gather in heaven (cf. 1 Cor 15:52).

There are two different views regarding these sounds: One is that these sounds are only heard by believers; another view suggests that these sounds are heard by everyone. I prefer the latter view because I think this makes it more difficult for Oprah and others to explain away the rapture. Seriously, these three descriptions sound rather public, don’t they? It is likely that unbelievers will be aware that something unique, supernatural, and amazing is taking place; however, they will not understand its meaning and significance.

Paul is clear that dead believers will rise before living believers (cf. 1 Cor 15:52). Yet, not just any person will rise from the dead but only those who are “in Christ.” The Bible never claims that Old Testament saints are “in Christ.” The “dead in Christ” refers only to those believers who have died since the ascension of Christ. Paul is addressing Christians who have died in the church age. Dan 12:1-2 predicts the resurrection of the righteous dead of OT times as well as the righteous martyrs of the Tribulation at the second coming of Christ (Rev 20:4-6). Believers of the church age will already have been changed and raised at the Rapture. The unsaved dead are left in their graves. They will be raised at the Great White Throne judgment 1000 years later, see Rev. 20:5).He was comforting those Thessalonians who had lost loved ones by saying, “Death is not as final as it seems. Your loved ones have not missed out on the coming of the Lord. In fact, they will be the first ones to receive their brand-new bodies.” This answers the Thessalonians’ concerns. No one who has placed his or her faith in Jesus Christ will in any way miss out on His return. God provides hope in a hopeless world.
[Why should you hope in your resurrection? Why should you have confidence that God will raise your loved ones who have believed in Christ? God’s Word authoritatively says so!]
2. Hope in your reunion (4:17-18).
In this second section, Paul says we can be certain that Christ will come for us and we will be reunited with Him and our fellow believers. In 4:17 he writes, “Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.” This verse teaches there is a Christian generation that will not experience death. Like Enoch and Elijah in the Old Testament, some believers will bypass death and be taken directly to heaven. The phrase “caught up” comes from the Greek verb harpazo, which means “to grab or seize suddenly.” This word is used of Paul being taken into heaven (2 Cor 12:2, 4). It is also used of Phillip being snatched after baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:39). This word is also where we get the term “rapture.” When the New Testament was translated into Latin (i.e., the Vulgate), the scholars rendered harpazo as the Latin verb rapturo. It is just a short step then from the noun form raptura to the English word “rapture.” While the word “rapture” does not occur in our English translations of the Bible, the sense of the word is surely there. The word “Trinity” does not appear in the Bible either, yet no informed Christian denies its truth.

Paul writes that we will be raptured or “caught up” with the Lord and His people in the clouds. This is one of the primary differences between the rapture and the Second Coming. At the rapture, Christ never sets foot on the earth; at the second coming, “His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east” (Zech 14:4).When you look up into the sky and see the clouds, what do you think of? If you’re like me, you instantaneously think of the fact that Jesus could crack the sky and return at any moment. Whenever we look up into the sky and see clouds, we should be reminded of the reality of Christ’s return. Interestingly, “clouds” are often used figuratively in the Bible to refer to the presence and glory of God. It is best in this passage to understand the clouds as referring to the visible presence and glory of the Lord. Thus, at the rapture, it is the glorious Lord Jesus who appears and brings the saints into the presence of His glory. God provides hope in a hopeless world.
How will the rapture happen? 1 Cor 15:51 teaches that the rapture will take place “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.” The Greek word for moment is the word from which we get the English word “atom.” For years, the atom was thought to be the smallest, most irreducible part of matter. They’ve now split the atom, but the point is still made that the time it will take for Christ to rapture His church is infinitesimally small.
The twinkling of an eye is the time it takes for your eye to catch light, which is a lot faster than a blink. We will be changed and given our new bodies instantly. Stop for just a moment and blink your eyelid. The return of Christ will be quicker than that! One moment you’re baking cookies, the next moment you’re flying like Superman. One second you’re eating pizza, the next you’re in the air. One minute you’re in the shower, the next you’re being blown dry at 30,000 feet. Just like that. We will be here one moment and gone the next. Paul then says we shall be with the Lord forever…and ever…and ever. God provides hope in a hopeless world.

As I have implied, this passage suggests that Paul believes Christ could return at any moment. Theologians call this the doctrine of the imminent return of Christ. “Imminent” means that it can happen at any moment. As Christians, we do not look for signs, nor must any special events transpire before the Lord can return. In other words, there are no other signs that need to be fulfilled before Christ returns. This view is often called the pre-tribulation rapture (i.e., before the tribulation). In brief summary, the pre-tribulation position believes that Jesus Christ could rapture His church into heaven at any time. Immediately following this event, the judgment seat of Christ will take place. While this is going on in heaven, the tribulation will begin on earth. This will last for a period of seven years. At the conclusion of the seven years, Christ will return in power and glory and set up His kingdom in Jerusalem for a thousand years (i.e., the millennium).

During this time He will fulfill the Old Testament promises He made to Israel. Once this is complete, the eternal state will be ushered in. This view is certainly not held by all Christians, yet at this time in my study, I believe this view is the best position. Although there are problems with the pre-trib position and every other position, I believe the pre-trib position has the least amount of problems. Practically speaking, the pre-trib position allows me to expect Jesus Christ to return at any moment. This motivates me to be holy because I never know when my Master will return. However, I am also humble enough to recognize that I could easily be wrong in my interpretation of Scripture. The longer I teach this subject, the more I realize how little I know. The danger with the end times is many people know just enough to be dangerous. Thus, we must all be careful not to become proud and divisive in our understanding of the end times. We must hold our eschatological views loosely.

As Yogi Berra once said, “Predictions are tricky—especially when they involve the future.” Even though I am pre-trib, I am preparing to endure tribulation. You could say that this is playing the end against the middle, but I see it as the wisest way to live the Christian life. Expect Jesus Christ to return at any moment, but be prepared to suffer greatly before He comes.

Verse 18 is the main point of this passage. Paul concludes this passage with this command: “Therefore comfort one another with these words.” Notice what Paul doesn’t say:
He doesn’t say, “Therefore, make charts based on these words,” or
“Write theology books based on these words.”
He doesn’t say, “Set dates, sell your possessions, run to the hills, and form a Christian militia.”
Nor does he suggest that we should go our merry way without paying any further regard to these future events.
God didn’t reveal these things to satisfy our curiosity to solve puzzles, but to help us follow Jesus confidently. The important thing is that we should be ready when Jesus comes. Rather, Paul commands us to “encourage one another.” Most English versions prefer the translation “encourage” (NET, ESV, HSB, NIV) over “comfort” (NASB, NKJV). I opt for this rendering as well. “Comfort” is an aspect of the overarching word “encourage.” We are to encourage one another with the reality of our future resurrection and reunion.

So how can we encourage one another today?
o Encourage believers in the face of death. When you interact with believers who are fearful of death, reassure them that the moment their heart stops beating they will be in the presence of Jesus. In the midst of sin, suffering and grief, encourage one another. Don’t give pat theological answers. Feel the other person’s pain. Wrestle with their questions and doubt. But in the end, encourage them with the return of Christ.
o Encourage biblical stewardship. When a fellow believer makes sacrifices for the kingdom, seek to affirm this brother or sister. Let this person know how much you respect his or her decisions. Affirm their sacrificial use of time, talents, and treasure. When a believer gives of his or her finances, encourage that person that they are laying up treasure in heaven (Matt 6:19-21). If a believer prioritizes serving in the local church, remind that person that their labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Cor 15:58).
o Encourage reaching out to the lost. If time is short and hell is hot, we have a responsibility to share Jesus Christ with those who need Him. When you see or hear about a brother or sister sharing Christ, build up that believer. Remind that person that there are only two things that are eternal: God’s Word and people’s souls. Let them know that they may be used by God to bring an eternal soul to glory.
o Encourage worship. Many Christians assume that a lifestyle of worship is only for those who are the sensitive, sappy types. Yet, the truth is believers will be worshiping Christ for all eternity. Therefore, it is wise for us to start practicing now. Those that worship God NOW will be more at home in eternity. And those who worship God now will find that all of these other activities naturally take care of themselves.

The return of Jesus Christ is sure, it’s wonderful, and it could happen anytime. It’s like a telephone answering machine that tells you, “I’m not home now, but when I return I will call you.” If the person we have called is reliable, we can expect a return call even though we don’t know whether it will be five minutes or five hours before it comes. Jesus is coming back! It could happen at any moment. Whatever you are going through right now, as painful as it may be, it is only temporary. In a very short while, you and I will be resurrected and reunited with Christ and our loved ones. In the midst of battles with sin, suffering, and Satan, God provides hope in a hopeless world. May we hope in this promise because it is our only hope.

Walk His way

One day, Frederick the Great of Prussia was walking on the outskirts of Berlin when he encountered a very old man walking in the opposite direction. “Who are you?” Frederick asked his subject. “I am a king,” replied the old man. “A king!” laughed Frederick. “Over what kingdom do you reign?” “Over myself,” was the proud old man’s reply. This old man was on to something. Each of us is “monarch” over our own lives. By that I mean we are responsible for ruling our actions and decisions. To make consistently good decisions, to take the right action at the right time, and to refrain from the wrong actions requires character and self-discipline. To do otherwise is to lose control of ourselves—to potentially destroy our witness or disqualify ourselves from ministry. When we are foolish, we want to conquer the world. When we are wise, we want to conquer ourselves. This begins when we do what we should, no matter how we feel about it.
Today, in 1 Thess 4:1-12 we will learn how to do what we should. It is important to recognize that we have arrived at the center of the book of 1 Thessalonians. To clearly see this, it will be helpful to return to the theme of the letter found in 1:9-10. In these two verses, Paul summarizes the three components of the argument of his book. He writes, “(1) For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols (2) to serve a living and true God, and (3) to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.” The first section entails 2:1-3:13; the second section deals with our present text (4:1-12); and the third and final section encompasses the remainder of the book (4:13-5:28). The structure of the theme verses in 1:9-10 point readers to the center of the letter: “to serve the living and true God.” Or as I shall suggest, “walk His way.” In the twelve verses of 1 Thess 4:1-12, Paul exhorts us to walk His way by being sexually pure, loving other believers, and working not meddling.

1. Serve God by being sexually pure (4:1-8).
In these first eight verses, Paul explains that God’s will is for us to become holy (“sanctified”) like Jesus. In 4:1-2 he writes, “Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.” Paul begins this chapter with the word “finally.” Have you heard the latest definition of an optimist? It is someone who believes the preacher is almost finished when he says “finally.” From a purely statistical point of view, it is interesting to note that in chapters 1-3 there is a total of 43 verses, and in chapters 4-5 there are a whopping 46 verses to add to the total! So the question is, “What does Paul mean when he says ‘finally?’” I would suggest it is almost like a change of gears as he moves into overdrive. He ups the ante. He raises the stakes. The word “finally” serves as the punch line. In chapters 4-5, Paul moves from the theological to the practical. Paul continually affirms believers in their position and encourages them in their practice. In 1 Thessalonians, he affirms that the Thessalonian believers are positionally chosen (1:4), yet he exhorts them to practically live out this positional truth by walking in obedience (2:12). In this passage, he encourages the Thessalonians with their present “walk”—their lifestyle of faith. The Christian life begins with a step of faith, but that step leads to a walk of faith. Christianity is not a sprint; it is a walk of perseverance along the way marked out for us by Jesus Christ. The biblical metaphor “walk” is an appropriate term that most likely came into use because Christianity was originally called “The Way” in Acts. What is of particular interest here is that Paul uses the word “walk” to bookend this section. The Greek word peripateo (“walk”) is used twice in 4:1 and again in 4:12 where the NASB renders it “behave.” Hence, the thrust of this passage is that you and I would walk with God, which entails seeking to please Him by receiving His instruction and obeying His commandments. Will you make a conscious decision to walk His way? It will be difficult, if not impossible, to continue to work through this passage unless you choose as an act of your will that you are going to obey God, whether you like it or not and whether you feel like it or not. I urge you with all that I am to walk His way.
Now the $6 million question is, “How do we please the Lord and walk His way?” There’s a simple answer—by doing the will of God. In 4:3-8, Paul insists that Christians must maintain their sexual purity. In 4:3-6a, Paul gives three specific instructions.
o Abstain from sexual immorality (4:3b).Paul bluntly states, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality.” The word “abstain” means “to keep as far away from as possible, to have nothing to do with.” As believers we should never ask how far we can go and not step over the line. Instead, we should attempt to do everything to stay as far away from the line as we possibly can. This leads to an obvious question: What does Paul mean when he uses the phrase “sexual immorality?” In brief, the answer is everything immoral! Sorry about that! I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that’s what the Bible says. The phrase “sexual immorality” comes from the Greek word porneia, which is a broad word that includes premarital sex, extramarital sex, homosexuality, and every form of pornography. This term covers sins of the mind, body, eyes, ears, and lips. Paul forbids all expressions of porneia because he is concerned with our “sanctification.” The word “sanctification” means “to be separate to God, to be distinct.” This word occurs in its various forms four times in 4:3-7. Sanctification does not mean saying “no” to anything that is fun; it means progressively growing to be more like the Lord who said, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” In 4:3, Paul clarifies a very important aspect of God’s will: Christians are to avoid sexual immorality like the plague. Certain things in the Christian life are not open to debate. Many Christians ask, “What is God’s will for my life?” in the midst of practicing sexual immorality. I would dare say that God will not clearly reveal His will to those who are practicing sexual sin. If we want to walk His way, we will abstain from sexual immorality.
o Control your own body (4:4-5). Paul writes, “[The will of God is] that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God.” Paul states that it is God’s will for us to be able to sexually control ourselves—to “gird up our loins.” In our flesh, our natural tendency is to say, “I just can’t help myself” or “I’m a guy or I’m a gal” or “I am in love.” Do you know what I find so interesting about these justifications? In the most intense heat of the moment, any one of us could bring our passion to a screeching halt. If a police officer walks up to your parked car and knocks on your steamed-over window, I bet you could stop. If an angry husband armed with a shotgun walked in on you with his wife, I would guess you could stop in a hurry. We can always stop what we are doing…the issue is one of motivation. Paul expects us to live in “sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God.” Many of us have been far too hard on those who do not know God and too light on those who do know God. I don’t know about you, but I expect pagans to live sexually immoral lives. Sinners are supposed to sin, it’s a part of their job description. What’s unacceptable is when saints live sexually immoral lives. Our problem is not with our society; our problem is with our church and the church of Jesus Christ throughout our country. Many believers need to be told, “Either be pure…or stop calling yourself a Christian!” If we want to walk His way, we will learn to control our own body.
o Protect other men and women (4:6a).Paul writes, “[The will of God is] that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter.” The word “brother” in this context indicates any person. The point is, God cares for people. He doesn’t want us to take advantage of any of His creations. Sexual sin steals from others. It steals both from the person and from their present or future mate, parents and other family members, and present or future children. This is no different than stealing someone’s property. We have no more right to have sex with someone’s spouse because they are attractive to us than we have a right to steal their car because it appeals to us. This phrase is a sign saying, “Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted.” If we want to walk His way, we will protect other men and women.

Young people and singles are thinking, “What kind of sick humor is this? God puts this sex drive in us then says, ‘Oh, but you have to wait.’ It’s cruel.” This is kind of like buying your 16-year-old son a brand new Lamborghini, parking it outside, and then saying, “It’s yours. It’s paid for, but there are no keys, and you can’t drive it.” So every day he has to walk by and look at it, sit in it, but cannot drive it. He has the car but nowhere to go. Is God crazy? No, He is very smart. God understands there are consequences to premature oneness. His design is for you and me to have this beautiful thing called intimacy and oneness in marriage, where two become one for life. When we choose to ignore God’s design, there are consequences.
[Tear off a single piece of scotch tape, and begin sticking the tape to different people’s pants, shirts, and foreheads.] Each time I stick this tape on someone, when I pull it off, pieces of that person’s clothing stick to the tape. The more people I stick the tape to, the more adhesive was lost. This piece of tape is designed to stick things together, yet the more I use it on people’s clothing, the less sticky it becomes. The same thing happens with our sexuality. Sexuality is who we are. We want to be able to stick together through thick and thin so that we can enjoy the oneness waiting for us. When we go outside God’s principles, our stick-ability in marriage is diminished. Many of us are married and wonder why we don’t have the ability to have a cohesive relationship. This may be the reason why. God is not a killjoy. He’s just smart. He said oneness is what we are to pursue.

In 4:6b-8, Paul shares three incentives to pursue sexual purity.
o Avoid God’s judgment (4:6b). Paul writes, “[Abstain from sexual immorality] because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you.” In the course of his ministry in Thessalonica, Paul has warned these new believers that they must be men and women of purity. For those believers who choose to be sexually immoral, Paul warns that “the Lord is the avenger.” The word “avenger” (ekdikos) is only used here and in Rom 13:4, where it refers to the governing authorities that bear the sword and will pour out wrath on the one who sins. The leading Greek dictionary defines this term as “one who punishes.” This is a very scary word! Paul probably has in mind the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10) when Jesus Himself will elevate our sexual purity or lack thereof. It is also likely that God “gives us over” (Rom 1:24, 26, 28) to the consequences of our sin in this life. Believers who cheat are often cheated upon by someone else. What goes around comes around! An immoral Christian teenager may learn the hard way that condoms fail 20-30% of the time. In today’s culture, this is playing Russian roulette with our lives. A gun will give you one in six. A condom will give you one in five, or less. Gals, you may get pregnant and guys you may get a venereal disease. Another severe consequence can be the memories that will stay with you for the rest of your life. There is a chemical called epinephrine in your brain. It is released during physical contact, and what happens is people get married to a wonderful person and all of a sudden the memories of previous encounters come flooding back. There is a term for this called “sex ghosts.” Can we get over some of these consequences? Yes, with God’s grace we can; however, in Gal 6:7 Paul writes, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” God is an ethical God. He keeps books on sexual issues and He is a very good accountant. These are all the laws of the harvest. If we want to walk His way, we will take the avenger dead serious.
o Fulfill God’s call (4:7). Paul writes, “[Abstain from sexual immorality] for God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification.” God “calls” us to both salvation and sanctification. He takes the initiative in both our everlasting life and our spiritual growth. We simply respond to His work in us. Throughout the course of our Christian experience, God issues an upward calling, a high calling, a calling to sanctification, to ministry, and to heavenly reward. We fulfill our destiny by heeding His call and walking His way.
o Honor the Scriptures and the Spirit (4:8). In the final verse of this first section, Paul issues a warning: “So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.” Paul says, “If you don’t like what I’ve written, please understand that your “beef” is with God. You are rejecting Him and His authority. Likewise, if you do not like what I have said, your problem is not with me, it is with God. I am just the mailman…I deliver the mail. I am the doctor, I give the prescription.” Before you complain too much, please understand that sexual immorality was even more prevalent in Paul’s day. In the first place Thessalonica was a seaport, which meant that people from all over the Mediterranean world stopped there in transit from one place to another. The sailors and visiting merchants brought with them the usual desires for sexual gratification. More importantly, the Greek religions of that day practiced sacred prostitution. That involved hiring a prostitute at a pagan temple as part of your acts of worship. The famed orator Demosthenes described the moral climate of ancient Greece this way: “We keep prostitutes for pleasure, we keep mistresses for day to day needs of the body, we keep wives for the begetting of children and for the faithful guarding of the home.” So long as a man supported his wife and family there was no shame whatsoever in extra-marital relationships. Given the moral atmosphere of the day, there must have been enormous pressure on those young Christians to lower their standards to conform to the world around them. But Paul will have none of it. He orders them to abstain from every form of sexual immorality. Fortunately, 4:8 ends with a very hopeful phrase. It mentions “God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.” The word “gives” is a present tense verb. In this case it means that God gives and keeps on giving the Spirit to you. You have the Holy Spirit always within you. Therefore, when God commands you to abstain, He also gives you the power to obey. What a wonderful thought. You are not in this battle alone! Your weakness is His strength. Do you need help? You’ve got it!
Perhaps, you’ve found yourself lost in the above instructions and incentives. If so, here are some other suggestions that may be helpful to you.
o Recognize your position in Christ. You are a “saint” who is dead to sin.
o Ask God for grace and mercy. Acknowledge “it” could happen to you. Plead the blood of Jesus.
o Saturate yourself with Scripture. Read God’s Word to shore up your strength.
o Pray when you are tempted. Satan flees when we pray.
o Have an accountability partner. Make sure he or she asks you brutal purity questions.
o Beware of raunchy music. Research proves that teens who listen to music with sexually graphic or degrading lyrics are far more likely to be sexually active (51% vs. 29%).
o Exercise with a vengeance. Cardiovascular workouts will so tire you out that your drive can be diminished.
o Refuse to live together before marriage. Data from Rutgers University now suggests that 90% of couples who live together before marriage will end in divorce.
o Invest in your marriage. Pour your time and energy into your spouse. This is the best distraction.
Before we move on, I really want you to hear that it is never too late to walk with God. Many of you have already sinned sexually. It is God’s will that you move on. God makes it clear that He will welcome you back and restore you to fellowship. As we trusted the finished work of Christ for salvation, so we trust His finished work on the cross for our sin (1 John 1:9-2:2). What Paul is saying in this section is that through our relationship with God, we can have the power and the discipline to stay sexually pure; or if we have already messed up, we can begin right now. God is simply waiting for you to confess your sin, receive His forgiveness, and go and sin no more. Or, if you prefer, walk His way.
[Why should you serve God by being sexually pure? For the simple reason that God loves you and wants the best for you.]
2. Serve God by loving other believers (4:9-10).
The transition from holiness to love is not a difficult one (cf. 3:11-13). God’s love is a holy love, so our love for God and for one another ought to motivate us to holy living. The more we live like God, the more we will love one another. If a Christian really loves his brother, he will not sin against him (4:6). Paul writes, “Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more.” In these two verses, Paul reminds the Thessalonians that they should demonstrate “the love of the brethren.” The Greek word behind this phrase is philadelphia, which means “brotherly love.” In the New Testament it is used exclusively of the love Christians are to show to each other. Outside of the New Testament philadelphia is used only of love for blood brothers or sisters. The idea seems to be that believers should have a fondness for one another. This only occurs when the agapelove of 4:10 is first implemented. The word “love” (agapao) in 4:10 is a different word for love than in the first phrase of 4:9. The word here is a self-sacrificing love produced by the Holy Spirit. This requires believers making a conscious decision of their wills to love and forgive one another. Paul reveals that the Thessalonians are exuding love for not only one another but all the brethren in their entire region. They are a model church, yet Paul urges these believers to “excel still more.” How can we accomplish this? First, it is important to recognize that the church is made up of individuals and families. Therefore, it is essential to love believers closest to you. If you don’t love those people closest to you, you won’t love the body of Christ at large. So if you are married, the most important person in your life is your spouse. You need to love your husband or wife with every fiber of your being. Obviously, you can do this by being sexually pure. But you can also listen to your spouse, verbally affirm your spouse, and support his or her dreams. If you have children or grandchildren, you must love those precious souls with unconditional love. One way I have found of doing this is adopting an area of their interest. If they like a sport, a type of music, or a particular hobby, do that with them—even if you don’t like it. If you are a student or a single, you are called to first and foremost love other believers in Christ. This means prioritizing your friendships with those in youth or college groups above those of your coworkers or friends. As a church, we are called to love people within our body. One of the most tangible ways you can do this is by simply reaching out to people on Sunday morning. This is as simple as greeting someone who looks new or lonely and seeking to befriend that person. Additionally, we are expected to love those believers outside of our church walls.

What does it mean that our love should “excel still more?” It means that we should increase in our sympathy for those in need, patience for those who are struggling, and tolerance toward those with whom we disagree. We can’t be satisfied with our past performance. We must excel still more in our love for others. Research shows that when the unchurched are asked what they are looking for in a church, the answer is always the same: They are looking for a caring church. Not just a friendly church, a relevant church, or a church with plenty of programs for the kids. As good and essential as those things are, they don’t touch the deepest heart cry of this generation, which is for a place where they can be loved truly and deeply. When the people of the world find such a place they stand in line to get in. This was the primary attraction of the early church. They had no buildings, no fancy programs, no large budgets, no radio, no TV. They had none of the things that we consider essential for success. Yet nothing could stop them. In just three centuries, Christianity conquered the Roman Empire. How did this happen? It was said of the early Christians, “Behold, how they love one another.” If we want to walk His way, we will love other believers.
[Why should you serve God by loving other believers? It pleases God and serves as a witness to the world.]
3. Serve God by working not meddling (4:11-12).
In this third and final section, Paul argues that our work is a witness. People are watching. We are witnesses! He puts it like this: “And to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave [“walk”] properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.” These challenging words should be understood in the context of 4:13-5:11, which teaches Christ’s return. Furthermore, in 5:14 there is yet another warning against slackness.
o Lead a quiet life. Paul states “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.” It is a life that does its best to avoid unnecessary contention and to be at peace with all men insofar as it is humanly possible. The word translated “make it your ambition” (philotimeomai) can also be rendered “aspire.” Paul’s point is: There is a time to share Christ, but more often than not, it is better to listen and draw others out. Don’t have pat answers for all the suffering in the world. Seek to learn from others. Have a pleasant demeanor. Do not have fits of anger or jealousy.
o Mind your own business. Do not be a busybody. Don’t meddle in other people’s affairs. Say no to gossip and slander. You don’t need to know the latest and greatest news on someone else. You have enough to be concerned about yourself.
o Work with your hands. The upper classes of Rome and Greece despised manual labor. That’s why they owned so many slaves. They hated to work with their hands. But Christianity brought in a new ethic based on personal responsibility and hard work. Jesus was a carpenter and Paul himself was a tentmaker! It’s important to understand that Paul isn’t being metaphorical here. He literally worked with his hands as a tentmaker whenever he could so that he could support himself while he preached the gospel. Even though he was highly educated, he didn’t mind hard work in the least and he didn’t find manual labor embarrassing. So Paul says “work with your hands” so that you can provide for the needs of your own family and not give the gospel a black eye. If you’re looking for true welfare reform, it begins right here.
The point is this: God longs for us to use our work as a witness. He wants us to represent Him in our thoughts, attitudes, and actions. As we do so, we will see others drawn to Christ.
Let me say it again: Walk His way. When you walk His way life is not usually easier but God is glorified in and through you, and eventually the world sits up and takes notice. Will you be a Christian who is characterized by sexual purity, love for the brethren, and a godly work ethic? If so, you can change your world. For when you learn to conquer yourself and allow God’s Spirit to reign in and through you, your life and the lives of others will be changed for eternity. Walk His way.

Building your faith

In this day of increasing gas prices, drivers are looking for every advantage. One of the most overlooked strategies is keeping tires properly inflated. A group of Carnegie Mellon University students determined that the average driver could save $432 annually (when gas is $3 per gallon) by keeping tires at the recommended pressure. Tires usually lose air pressure v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y. If your car’s engine has a problem, you notice it immediately. But you can still drive on under-inflated tires—just not very efficiently. Likewise, we lose “efficiency” in the Christian life the same way tires lose air pressure: very slowly. When we finally are stopped dead in our tracks by sin or failure, it’s not because of a blowout. It’s because we failed to perform daily spiritual maintenance: prayer, worship, Bible study, self-denial, service, and obedience. Over months or years we can grow so spiritually inefficient that we fail to notice. Have you checked your spiritual air pressure lately? Are you operating for the Lord at peak efficiency? Be warned: Failing to perform daily maintenance can ultimately leave you stranded.

 

So how can we ensure that our faith won’t leave us stranded? How can we have a “pumped-up” faith that will go the distance? How can we help other believers grow spiritually? These questions are answered in 1 Thessalonians 3 where Paul states, “Afflictions are not accidents—they are appointments.” In these thirteen verses, Paul shares two strategies to build ourselves and others up in the faith.

 

  1. Prepare God’s people to endure trials (3:1-8).

In this first section, we discover that the way to prepare others to endure trials is to strengthen them in the faith. Paul begins with these words: “Therefore when we could endure it no longer, we thought it best to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith” (3:1-2). Now this passage presupposes that we understand the circumstances surrounding Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica, so allow me to summarize those circumstances. Paul arrived in the Greek city of Thessalonica after he and his coworker Silas had received a terrible beating and been imprisoned in the city of Philippi. During their short time in Thessalonica, Paul, Silas, and Timothy led several of the Thessalonians to faith in Jesus and this new nucleus of believers formed a church. But soon trouble started, and Paul, Silas, and Timothy were forced to run for their lives and Paul and Silas were forbidden from entering Thessalonica again. So the three ministers traveled to the cities of Berea and Athens. It was while they were in Athens that Paul’s concern for the Thessalonian Christians reached its peak, so he sent Timothy back to the city to find out how things were. For some reason the city ban against Paul and Silas didn’t apply to Timothy. Timothy had a Greek father and probably looked Greek. He would, therefore, have attracted no special attention in a Greek city, whereas Paul was immediately recognizable as a Jew (cf. Acts 16:20). It is also likely that because of his youth the authorities didn’t notice him.

 

Now, let’s get into the text. The word “therefore” that opens this chapter refers back to 2:17-20, where Paul expressed his great love for the Thessalonian believers. It is because of this love that he cannot abandon them when they need spiritual help. The verb translated “left behind” (kataleipo) is an intense and picturesque term that is used of a child leaving his parents (Eph 5:31) or the death of one’s spouse (Mark 12:19). In 2:17, Paul said that he felt “orphaned” from his friends in Thessalonica, and the Greek word can also mean “bereaved.” To leave these new believers was like an experience of bereavement. This is a good lesson for us today. Paul so loved the Thessalonian believers that he would have risked his own life to return to them. Paul so loved the saints at Philippi that he was willing to stay out of heaven in order to encourage them (Phil 1:22-26). He wanted to give of himself and his resources for them, as a parent provides for his or her children. Paul had a passion for these new believers.

 

Do you have this type of earnest desire for new believers? Do you long to see other believers and help them grow in their faith? What new believers have you recently invested in?

 

In 3:2, we find two keys to this chapter. The first key word in this chapter is “faith” (3:2, 5, 6, 7, 10). Another key word is “strengthen/establish” (sterizo, 3:2, 13). Paul’s problem is that he is separated from the Thessalonian Christians by distance and circumstances. He is in Athens with no phone, FAX, email, or teleconferencing, incapable of meeting the spiritual needs of his Thessalonian friends. So he empowered Timothy with the confidence to minister. Notice how Paul describes young Timothy in 3:2: “our brother and God’s fellow worker.” Timothy is a brother in Christ, a follower of Jesus, related to every other Christian, as a brother. But he’s also called “God’s fellow worker.” This is a remarkable phrase—that any person besides Jesus Himself could be described as God’s fellow worker. Now some Bible versions have the phrase “God’s minister” (KJV) instead of “God’s fellow worker” or “God’s coworker,” because some scholars found the idea of God having coworkers a far too bold word to be applied to Timothy.

 

But the original word here is sunergos, where we get our English word synergy from. Paul seems to be saying that God’s partnership with Timothy provides synergy. What’s even more amazing is that it’s likely that Timothy was in his early to mid 20s when Paul wrote this. Most scholars take this to mean Timothy was in his 30s, and it’s likely that 1 Timothy was written somewhere around 67 AD. This puts Timothy in his early to mid 20s during his mission in Thessalonica.

 

Timothy was a young and inexperienced ministry intern, yet here Paul empowers him to be an extension of God to the Thessalonians. Timothy’s mission is to strengthen and encourage the Thessalonians in their faith. Notice again that word “faith.” Paul is most interested in the faith of these believers, not their comfort, welfare, or prosperity. The word “strengthen” is a building term that means to cause a structure to become more secure. Think of retrofitting a freeway overpass, that’s what this word describes. When used to describe our faith it means “to cause someone to become stronger in the sense of firmer and unchanging in attitude or belief.” The word “encourage” here basically describes a coach who comes alongside a person to help them take the next step. Paul wanted Timothy to strengthen and encourage the Thessalonians so they wouldn’t waver when problems and suffering came upon them.

 

Verse 2 should be an encouragement to all college students and young adults. If God can use Timothy to affect an entire church, he can use you as well.

 

In 3:3-4, Paul reveals his purpose in sending Timothy to strengthen and encourage the Thessalonian believers: “so that no one would be disturbed by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this. For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass, as you know.” Several insights on affliction and trials come directly out of these two verses:

 

  • Trials will come. No sooner had the Thessalonians trusted in Jesus when the bottom seemed to fall out of their lives. This is true in the life of every Christian. The truth is, if you aren’t presently in a trial you are either headed out of a trial or right now preparing to head into a trial. The word “afflictions” (thlipsis) has the idea of being “under the thumb” because of pressure from above. The “afflictions” that Paul is referring to are the sufferings the Thessalonians experienced at the hands of their countrymen because of their faith and stand for the Lord Jesus as mentioned back in 2:14. Some of us will face this type of affliction from our family members, coworkers, neighbors, and classmates. We may also face other trials such as terminal illness, loss of job, robbery, imprisonment, death of a loved one, or divorce. This is a part of life. Regardless of how we may try, we can’t avoid afflictions. We can’t play hide-and-go-seek or peek-a-boo. They are part and parcel of every believer’s experience. Afflictions are not accidents—they are appointments.

 

  • Trials can rock Christians. Many believers turn their back on God as a result of trials. One of the chief reasons for this is that many new believers have not been told the truth about Christianity. Instead, they have been told that being a Christian is all about health, wealth, and prosperity. However, the truth is that the Christian life is not one big spiritual Disneyland. At times it is difficult and disappointing. This is why Paul told these brand new Christians time and time again that they would face trials. When I was growing up, my dad would always tell me, “Growing up is no fun.” At the time I didn’t really believe him, nor could I really understand, but I sure do now! In the same way, we must warn new believers that Christianity is not for wimps. We must tell them that “every rose has its thorn.” I respect people who will tell me the “straight-up” truth. I don’t want others to pull the punch and try to be mamsy-pamsy. I don’t want to have reality sugarcoated. I want to be adequately prepared so that when trials come I will stand firm. Yet, I also want to have a heart of compassion, concern, and care so that when (not if) trials do come upon others, I come alongside them to provide comfort. Afflictions are not accidents—they are appointments.

 

  • Trials come from God. Paul says that we have been “destined” for afflictions. The phrase “we were destined” comes from a verb that means “to put or to place.” The verb is a perfect tense and passive voice, which is a very strong way of saying “these hard times were placed here by God.” Paul wants to reassure his friends that the troubles they’re going through aren’t arbitrary accidents, blind acts of fate, or the result of bad karma, but that suffering is the crown of being a follower of Jesus.

 

These trials didn’t happen by accident. In fact, this is the opposite of chance or circumstance. Affliction is God’s appointment for us. God places affliction strategically in our lives for our personal growth. This is God’s destiny for us and comes by His divine design. You may say, “I don’t like these side-effects of Christianity.” Sorry, this is just one of the by-products of being a believer. A disciple is someone under discipline. God appoints trials into our lives so that we will become more disciplined in the things of God. Although God is with us through all of our trials, He is not always in a hurry to pull us out of our tribulations. The reason is because suffering is the quickest path to spiritual maturity. Afflictions are not accidents—they are appointments.

 

In 3:5, Paul explains the reason behind the reason he sent Timothy to strengthen and encourage the Thessalonian church: “For this reason, when I could endure it no longer, I also sent to find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter might have tempted you, and our labor would be in vain.” In this verse, Paul once again demonstrates his pastoral heart. He is concerned about the Thessalonians and desperately wants to hear how they are doing in their faith. The reason that he is so anxious to learn of their spiritual progress is because he is all too aware of “the tempter.” Did you know that Satan has a “ministry?” That’s right…he’s a step up on many Christians. Satan’s special “ministry” is to attack Christians. Satan loves to attack new Christians. If he can sidetrack or defeat new believers from the get-go, he has won. Even though he can’t take away a believer’s salvation, he can render Christians ineffective. And he has done this countless times. This is one of his specialties! Satan also loves to tempt mature believers to fall away during hard times. How does the devil tempt us in hard times?

First, he tempts us to doubt God’s goodness. He whispers in our ear that God has forgotten us, that He doesn’t care, and that He isn’t good.

Second, Satan tempts us to retaliate against others with anger and resentment. This is one of his favorite tools when the hard times involve problems with friends and family members.

Third, Satan tempts us to give in to despair and discouragement. Satan will tempt us to say, do, or think anything that will get us off track spiritually.

 

Remember this simple principle: Satan tempts us to get the worst out of us; God tests us to get the best of us. In this context, Paul is fearful that Satan may cause his labor to be “in vain.” Paul knew that no labor in the Lord is in vain (1 Cor 15:58). We have the Lord’s promise that He will reward us for faithful labors. But Paul also knew, because of the workings of Satan, some of his labor could be annulled or tarnished as to its effect on the lives of others. This is why he was so concerned about their faith and took steps to protect his labor.

 

In 3:6-8, Paul rejoices when he hears that the Thessalonians are withstanding persecution. He shares his reaction to this news with them to encourage them to persevere as their afflictions continued. “But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you, for this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith; for now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord.” The phrase translated “brought us good news” (euaggelizo) is the exact equivalent of “preaching the good news of the gospel.” In fact, this is the only place in the New Testament where this verb is used in the general sense of bringing good news rather than of preaching the gospel.

 

Paul’s use of this verb here shows his depth of feeling on hearing news of the Thessalonian Christians. The report from Timothy was, to Paul, like hearing the gospel. Paul most likely uses this word because through our lives we have the opportunity to influence unbelievers favorably on behalf of the gospel (cf. 1:6; 2:13). Timothy reported that the new believers were manifesting “faith and love.” There’s that word “faith” again. It is “faith” and “love” in that order. You cannot have “love” unless you first have “faith.” It is one thing to believe in Jesus as Savior, but in order for there to be fruitfulness, there needs to be ongoing persistent faith.

 

Paul also exclaims that the church is standing firm in spite of persecution. They did not believe the lies that Satan had told about Paul, but they still held him in the highest esteem in love. Furthermore, their lives brought comfort to the apostles. This leads Paul to say “now we really live.” We often use the phrase “Get a life!” when we regard someone’s pursuits as insignificant. Yet, here Paul discusses “getting a life” in an unusual way.” Spiritually speaking, Paul is given a new lease on life…a new surge of energy, a new zest for living the Christian life. Afflictions are not accidents—they are appointments.

[How can we help other believers grow spiritually? First, prepare God’s people to endure trials. A second way to help others grow spiritually is…]

  1. Pray God’s people prepare for future judgment (3:9-13).

In these remaining five verses, we will learn how to pray that God’s people have a good showing at the judgment seat of Christ. These verses disclose three specific requests that we can pray today for other believers.

 

  • Pray for God’s passionate heart (3:9-10).In 3:9-10 Paul writes, “For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account, as we night and day keep praying most earnestly that we may see your face, and may complete what is lacking in your faith?”

 

As always, Paul is vertically focused. He wants to express thanks to God for “all the joy” that the Thessalonians have brought him. This gratitude and joy motivated Paul to pray “night and day,” a phrase that reflects the Jewish reckoning of time where the day begins at dusk. It simply means that Paul prayed consistently at various times of the day. Verse 10 also says that he prayed “most earnestly”…blood, sweat, and tears type of prayer. He did so because he wanted to see these believers again and “complete” what was lacking in their faith.

 

The word “complete” (katartizo) is a Greek word that means “to fit together, restore, repair, equip.” It was used of setting bones and repairing fishing nets. The phrase “complete what is lacking in your faith” refers to “things still needed.” The rest of 1 Thessalonians tells us what Paul found lacking in their faith. Some of the issues related to moral concerns (4:1-8), others to doctrinal issues (4:13-5:11), and still others touched the daily life of the church (5:12-22).

 

This brings up an important truth: We never arrive in our Christian lives. Room for improvement is the largest room in the world. Even the apostle Paul continually sought to press on in his spiritual growth. In Rom 1:17 he explains that as believers we must grow from “faith to faith.” In other words, the whole of the Christian life is built upon faith. Are you living the adventuresome life of faith? Have you grown complacent and satisfied with where you are in your growth? If so, why not ask the Lord to give you an earnest desire to mature? And as you pray, recognize that afflictions are not accidents—they are appointments.

 

Pray for God’s sovereign direction (3:11). Paul prays, “Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord direct our way to you.” Paul may have been reflecting on Prov 16:9: “The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.” In 2:18, Paul describes how Satan “hindered” his path so he now intentionally prays for God’s direction. Who sets your ministry direction? Do you go to God with what you want to do for Him or do you ask Him what He wants you to do? Do you pray for the Lord’s clear and specific direction in your ministry? Do you pray for the Lord’s direction in our church? Do you pray that the Lord will speak to the leadership? Do you invite the Lord to give direction to every area of your life? Or, if you’re honest, would you have to admit that there are some areas that you do not invite the Lord to direct?

 

  • Pray for God’s supernatural love (3:12). Paul’s second request is, “May the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you.” Times of suffering can be times of selfishness. Persecuted people often become very self-centered and demanding.

 

What life does to us depends on what life finds in us; and nothing reveals the true inner man like the furnace of affliction. Some people build walls in times of trial and shut themselves off. Others build bridges and draw closer to the Lord and His people. Our growing faith in God ought to result in a growing love for others (cf. 1 Pet 4:8). You cannot grow to maturity in Christ unless you learn how to love other Christians. And this requires a supernatural love from God. He alone must give us love for one another.

 

The most spiritual people are not those who know the Word the best; the most spiritual people are those who love God and others the best. We need to change how we esteem Christians. God intends that the love Christians have for one another be a witness to the world (John 13:34-35; 17:23).

 

The goal and purpose of these three prayers is given in 3:13: “…so that He [i.e., the Holy Spirit]may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints [i.e., believers who have died and gone to be with Christ in spirit form, whose bodies will be resurrected when He comes (see 4:16)]. Earlier Paul has made ‘our Lord Jesus’ the judge at this scene (1Thess 2:19). This is no contradiction.

 

The unity of the Father and Son, just seen in v. 11, allows a joint judgeship. The bema of Christ (2Cor 5:10) is also the bema of God (Rom 14:10), because Christ in his present session is with the Father in his heavenly throne (Rev 3:21; cf. Rom 8:34; Heb 1:3; 10:12). This hearing will take place at the future ‘visit’ (en te parousia, “in the coming”) of the Lord Jesus (cf. 2:19). For the Thessalonians Paul prays for a favorable verdict at that time. Again, Paul anticipates the judgment seat of Christ (cf. 2:19; 5:23). He says that submission to God’s passion, direction, and love gets us ready for the judgment seat of Christ! Paul wants us to be prepared to stand before Jesus Christ one day, with confidence. He yearns for the Lord to “establish” us as practically righteous, before Christ returns. This should be our heart cry and our deep desire for every believer.

 

I don’t know if you’ve noticed but very few Christians have a passionate longing for Christ’s return. We may yearn for it when overwhelmed by pain, sorrow, or disappointment, but once life returns to normal we are quite happy to remain on planet earth.

 

There is a new exercise routine that calls for 3 cardio workouts a week of 15 minutes. The workout routine consists of intervals of 2 minutes of intensity and 1 minute of ease. This workout shocks your body and burns fat. It is intense and effective. I have tried it several times and it is flat-out brutal!

This metaphor is also true in the spiritual realm. If you and I want to build a rock-hard faith we will have to increase our intensity. Faith is like a muscle—you’ve got to use it or you’ll lose it. Sometimes you’ve got to push yourself to the limit. You’ve got to work those muscles to failure. You’ve got to shock your body into growth. If I sincerely believed that Jesus was going to return today (heart, soul, mind, and will), I would work out with a renewed intensity. I would also stop and enjoy the breaks that God gives. I would understand that God has a purpose in all of the afflictions I face and I must depend upon Him.

Preparing for tomorrow, today

3 Tomorrow’s World (1 Thessalonians 2:13-20)
It’s been said, “Only two things in this world are eternal—the Bible and people.” If this is true (and it is), it only makes sense to build your life around those things that will last forever. Think about it: God’s Word will last forever…people last forever…everything else disappears. In light of this sobering reality, how should we live? We should live our life backwards from the judgment seat of Christ and ask, “What difference will my life make in 10,000 years?” Most of the things we work for or worry about won’t matter in three weeks, let alone three months or three years. We focus on the trivial and forget to pursue the eternal. But 10,000 times 10,000 years from now, you’ll still be glad you invested your life for Jesus Christ. In 1 Thess 2:13-20 Paul says, “You can shape tomorrow by starting today.” In these eight verses, we are challenged to give thanks for two of God’s blessings.
1. Thank God for the work of His Word (2:13-16).
1 Thess 2:13-16 serves a transitional role in this letter. In 2:12, Paul’s focus shifted from the behavior of the missionaries (the primary subject of 2:1-12) to that of the Thessalonians. Now, still focusing on the Thessalonians, he picks up and develops further a point touched on in 1:6: the Thessalonians’ acceptance of the gospel in spite of severe suffering (2:13-14). This reference to suffering in turn sets up what he will say in 2:17-20 (where his focus again shifts from the Thessalonians back to the missionaries).
In this first section, Paul thanks God for the response of the church to Scripture. In 2:13, Paul pens a lengthy but potent verse: “For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.” Paul states that he and his coworkers “constantly” thank God for the way the Thessalonians responded after they preached the gospel to them. The word “constantly” (adialeipto) is an adverb which means “without interruption, continually, regularly.” It is used in 1 Thess 1:5; 2:13; 5:17; and Rom 1:9. In each passage it has to do with some aspect of prayer. He thanks God that they “received” God’s Word. The word “received” is an objective external response that refers to “the hearing of the ear.” It’s like signing a receipt at the post office so you can accept a package. Paul means that the Thessalonians listened intently to the message he preached because they knew it came from God. The word translated “accepted” is a subjective internal response that refers to “the hearing of the heart.” This word is used of welcoming a guest into your home. It is a picture of warm hospitality. The point is: it’s very possible to listen to preaching and not be changed by it. It’s something else to welcome God’s message into your heart and let it transform your life. “Performs its work” is energeo from which we get our word energy or energize.
How frequently do you thank God for people who have received and accepted the gospel? During this past week, I have been reminded to thank God for how He is constantly touching people and reaching people with His Word. Do you need to express thanks for some people you know who have trusted in Jesus? Why not write down several names on a 3×5 card or a Post-it-Note and then daily thank the Lord for these individuals and pray that they continue to grow?
Before we move on to 2:14, we need to further apply 2:13. As a church family, how can we grow in our response to God’s Word?
o Pray for a deeper appreciation for the Word. Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) once said, “The Bible is God’s best gift to man.” It is easy to nod our head at this statement, but it is harder to live out its truth. It’s been said, “There is little difference in people, but that little difference makes a big difference.” The little difference is attitude. If you’re not really excited about the Word, pray that God will deepen your appreciation. Specifically, pray that you will treasure God’s Word like Job who said it was worth more than his daily food, or David who said it was more valuable than fine gold, or even the Psalmist who said it was more valuable than sleep. If the preaching of the Word bores you and you can’t seem to stay awake and engaged, don’t just keep sleeping through sermons and devotional times. Pray that the Lord will give you an insatiable hunger and zeal for His Word.
o Work hard in your study of the Word. James 1:21 tells us that the Word is implanted in us the moment we believe in Christ. Yet, we still bear a responsibility to read and study God’s Word. We can’t pawn this responsibility off on busyness or any other excuse. Have you ever played chess? If I really wanted to learn how to play chess, I could ask a pro to teach me. I could also check out Chess for Dummies at the local library. Easier still, I could go online and study various websites on how to be a chess champion. So why don’t I? I haven’t made the decision to do so. Perhaps you have never chosen to read and study the Word. If so, you are without excuse. (I say this with love and compassion.) We have every opportunity in this day and age to learn the Bible for ourselves. Today, ask a fellow believer to study the Bible with you. Plug into a Sunday class or small group where the Bible is taught. Visit a website that will teach you more about the Bible. I recommend http://www.biblegateway.com. But do something today! You can shape tomorrow by starting today.
o Apply what you hear and learn in the Word. It is not enough to appreciate the teaching of God’s Word; we must apply it in our experience to make it fully effective in our lives. After all, what makes the Bible unique from all other books is its inherent ability to transform lives. Those who read and apply the Bible will see their lives transformed like a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. Think of it this way: What if you took food into your mouth, chewed it up, and never swallowed it? The food would be of no benefit to you. It might taste good, but its nutrients would not be absorbed into your system. If you do not digest your recommended daily intake of food you will eventually die.
This principle is also true in the spiritual realm. Are you on spiritual life support? Do you have a head full of Bible knowledge and feet empty of Bible obedience? If so, get your feet in gear and obey what you read. One of your goals ought to be to consistently model Christ in everything you say and do. Personally, I find that one of my most challenging ambitions is that my wife, Karen, would be able to honestly say that I am the godliest man that she knows. If the one who knows me best can say that, I know I am making progress in applying the Scriptures and modeling Christ to others.
In 2:14, Paul further explains that he is thankful for the Thessalonians because they willingly accepted persecution for the sake of Christ. He writes, “For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews.” The Christian life is no manicured bed of perfumed roses. It’s not all plain sailing into an orange sunset. The church at Thessalonica became “imitators” of other churches by undergoing suffering. The exact nature of the persecution is not stated. It may have been persecution by the local government. Perhaps it consisted largely of persecution from former friends, discrimination in the marketplace, and even violence that went unnoticed by the magistrates. Regardless, belief in Christ and God’s Word attracts persecution. The term “countrymen” refers to fellow Thessalonian Gentiles.
In our context, it could mean the people closest to you. If you decide to believe the Bible is the Word of God, many people who are close to you will not share your faith. If your spouse, your siblings, your parents, your children, or your friends reject your faith, how will you respond? Will you boldly carry on even though you may not please them? It is very difficult to live a dynamic Christian life when we are constantly trying to please people. Bill Cosby once said, “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” If those closest to you criticize you, will you take it on the chin like a spiritual man or woman? People constantly hurt by what others say about them are usually distracted and ineffective. It is very difficult to live a dynamic Christian life when wearing a thin skin.
If you struggle with being a people pleaser and having thin skin, I have two suggestions for you.
(1) Seek to hang out with bold believers. When you observe a brother or sister that is fearless, you will become emboldened. It is nearly impossible to spend time with a bold believer and not have some of their courage rub off on you. If you don’t know any bold believers, get to know some bold unbelievers and learn how they share their message with others.
(2) Study the persecuted church. When you read about our brothers and sisters in Christ who are being tortured and killed for their faith in Christ, you will find yourself challenged and inspired to be bold for Christ. I would encourage you to get on the mailing list of Voice of the Martyrs. They have a very helpful weekly e-mail called “VOM—USA News & Prayer Update.”. These tools will help you to be bold for Christ. You can shape tomorrow by starting today.
In 2:15-16, Paul pens two very controversial verses directed toward Jews. Although the purpose of these words is illustrative, these verses have caused some to insist that Paul is anti-Semitic. However, before arriving at a decision, read Paul’s words for yourself: “[The unbelieving Jews who persecuted the churches in Judea] who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost.” Paul says that some first-century Jews were responsible for instigating the death of Jesus. Furthermore, the nation of Israel has a long history of rejecting the prophets God sent to them. Finally, it was the Jewish religious leaders in Thessalonica who instigated the riot that led to Paul, Silas, and Timothy being run out of town. It was also the Jewish religious leaders who resisted Paul’s efforts to share God’s good news about Jesus with the non-Jewish people.
So in these verses Paul is not talking about all Jewish people of all time, or even all Jewish people of his time. This passage is a condemnation of some of the Jewish people of a particular time in a particular place, specifically the religious leaders who rejected Jesus and opposed the early church in the first century. What Paul is saying here is that those Jewish people who were engaged in the activities he lists here are under God’s judgment. He’s not talking about all Jewish people everywhere, because Paul himself is Jewish, and the Christians living in Judea who were suffering were also Jewish.
Tragically, horrible evils have been justified toward Jews from a misinterpretation of this passage. This is not God’s heart, for God loves the Jewish people—they are His chosen people. Nevertheless, we can’t exonerate those who reject Christ. Paul makes it clear that the Jews who are hostile to Jesus are heaping judgment on themselves and their hostility will one day be answered by God. It is important to understand that God’s wrath isn’t referring to God losing His temper and flying off the handle in anger. Paul is talking about God’s justice to those who oppose His work in the world. Paul’s anger is the anger of a man with his own nation, his own people. He is very much part of them, and he sorrows at their faith. He is not gleefully invoking dire disasters on them, but grieving over the effects of their misdeeds. We must thank God for the work of His Word. Why? Because God’s Word changes lives!]
2. Thank God for the work of His followers (2:17-20).
In this second section, Paul specifically expresses his joy over the Thessalonians. In 2:17 he writes, “But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short while—in person, not in spirit—were all the more eager with great desire to see your face.” Paul fervently loved his Thessalonian converts, but persecution forced him to leave. The words “taken away” (orphanizo) means to make an orphan of someone. Paul viewed himself as an orphan separated from his family. Perhaps you have observed on film some of the horrible scenes from World War II when Jewish fathers and mothers were “torn away” from their children and sent off to different locations, sometimes never to see each other again. Imagine the inner pain! Paul’s pain is comparable to these families. Consequently, he is “eager” and possesses “great desire.” The term “desire” is the word used for lust in the New Testament. It almost always has a negative sense. The point being, this is a strong word to describe Paul’s love for this church.
Do you have this type of love for your church? It has been said, “If absence makes the heart grow fonder, some Christians must really love the church.” Seriously, do you love God’s people? When you are separated from this body, do you ache or do you breathe a sigh of relief? Are you attending church to merely fulfill your religious obligation or do you truly love God’s people? If this church family was taken away from you, what would you do? How would you feel? Would you even care? Pray that God increases your love and commitment to His church.
In 2:18, Paul shares a very intriguing verse. He writes, “For we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, more than once—and yet Satan hindered us.” Exactly what did Paul mean and how did Satan stop him? It is likely that Paul is referring to some kind of ongoing problem that kept him from returning to Thessalonica. We can’t be sure of the precise details, but we know that Jewish opponents followed him from city to city openly opposing him and spreading lies about his ministry. This verse informs us that not all of Paul’s plans worked out.
One of the primary reasons for this is that Satan “hindered” him. The word “hindered” is a military term used for the destruction of roads and bridges in the face of the enemy’s advance. That’s right, Satan hindered Paul and he can hinder you and me. However, we must recognize that God permits satanic opposition. In fact, Satan can’t touch our lives or our ministries apart from God’s permission. Constable writes, “How can we tell if Satan is opposing us or if the Spirit is directing us? It seems to me that the New Testament writers viewed God’s sovereign control of all things on different levels at different times.
Sometimes, as in Acts, they spoke of the One who is in ultimate charge and focused on His direction. At other times, as here, they spoke of the instruments that God uses. God permitted Satan to oppose Paul’s return to Thessalonica, but this was all part of God’s sovereign will. In Acts the emphasis is on the One responsible for the expansion of the church, but here the emphasis is on the instrument God used in this situation. Satan can only oppose us as God gives him permission to do so (Job 1-2) If Satan cuts up one road, then God will create another. If the devil closes a door, God will open a window. We must always recognize that wherever God is at work, Satan and his demons are surely present.
Elsewhere, Paul says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers…powers…world forces of this darkness…spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12).Yet, instead of being frustrated by this, we need to be complemented because we are a threat to hell. If we aren’t doing much for the Lord, Satan will leave us alone. You may face opposition at work or from a critical colleague or from a classmate, a friend, a teacher, a neighbor, a relative, or even from your children or your spouse. Satan’s primary strategy against the church is to discourage us by stirring up opposition so that we will stop spreading the gospel. We must always recognize that our battle is not against flesh and blood but against satanic rulers, principalities, and powers (Eph 6:12).
Paul concludes in 2:19-20 by explaining (“for”) why he is so eager to see the Thessalonians: “For who [not “what”] is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.” Every new parent understands what Paul means. What happens when a baby is born? You can’t wait to tell the good news. You have pictures and statistics and stories about how he has his daddy’s chin and his mother’s eyes and how smart he is and how it doesn’t matter what the doctor says, you know he smiled at you. He’s the smartest, best-looking, cutest baby ever born. And you’ve got pictures to prove it!
Paul uses boasting or exultation to describe the Christian’s delight in being commended for faithful service by the Lord at his return.” The Thessalonians are the crown, and the result at the Bema will be rejoicing or exultation. But what did he mean by this? In view of Paul’s use of “crown” (stephanos, the victor’s crown) in other places, and the fact believers will cast their crowns before the Lord (Rev 4:10), Paul undoubtedly had in mind a personal crown or reward that believers will receive because of their presence at the return of the Lord for faithful ministry. Though, in this passage the apostle does not say he would receive a crown, this is suggested, if not here certainly in other passages.
In these two verses, Paul and his coworkers call the church at Thessalonica our “joy.” Paul concludes this passage the way he began, with thanksgiving. These new believers are Paul’s hope. He is confident in their faith and obedience. The Thessalonians are also a source of joy and spiritual delight, not only in the present time but in the future, at the return of the Lord. Paul also calls these believers his “crown of exultation.” Paul did not say that he would receive a crown, though this is suggested. He said that the saints themselves would be his crown when he met them at the judgment seat. To be sure, some of the believers in the church were not living as they should, and some were a burden to Paul. But when he looked ahead and saw them in glory, they brought joy to his heart.
In his letters, Paul often pictured these rewards as “crowns.” It is the word stephanos from which we get the names Stephen and Stephanie. The word refers to a wreath of leaves given to the winner of a race in the Isthmian Games. One of Paul’s rewards in heaven would be the pleasure of seeing all those new Christians standing with him.
In 2:20 Paul declares, “For you are our glory and joy.” The word “you” is emphatic in the Greek—“you and especially you are our glory and joy.” The word “glory” (doxa) means “fame” or “renown” that a person receives when honored by others. Paul is saying, “Whatever honor is ascribed to me has its source in you Thessalonians.” It is Paul’s honor to introduce his converts to the Lord Jesus Christ. When he sees the Lord, he will know that his team’s glory will be people in heaven because of their witness. This is legitimate pride because it is based on what God did through them. Our reputation in eternity will be based, in part, on winning people to Christ. “On that day, believers and holy angels alike will be glad to see those who have come to know the Lord Jesus, but those who have had a part in the spiritual birth of individuals will experience an even greater joy. A woman may be pleased that have a major of joy when her sister has her baby, but nothing rivals the joy that is hers when she becomes the mother of her own baby. There will be an incredible fullness of joy at the judgment seat for those who are spiritual parents.” Do you have a part in building up Christ’s Kingdom? Will people point to you that you had a part in bringing them into the Kingdom?
This leads to a very fascinating question: Does it make any difference what local church you attend? I would argue that it makes an eternal difference because of the biblical significance of team ministry and corporate rewards. In the West, we are consumed with individual performance, but in the Scriptures, God makes it clear that He cares about the church.
By way of analogy, the National Football League each year “crowns” a team the Super Bowl Champions.
All team members receive, among other things, a ring commemorating their participation on the championship team. Whether or not they actually played in the last game (or any game), all are rewarded. All that matters is that each player was on the team. Of course, it is hard to imagine a player who does not contribute in some way to a championship team, especially as the whole group embraces its quest together. Corporate rewards, as a possibility at the judgment seat of Christ, will mean that some of the believer’s rewards (or loss of rewards) will be based on the corporate faithfulness and works they all accomplished (or neglected) together. This in no way compromises individual responsibility. Indeed, a “most valuable player” exists in the Super Bowl analogy. Individuals can be rewarded for both his/her own efforts and the entire team’s results.
So both individual and corporate rewards are significant. We need to impact people individually and corporately with the gospel. You may be serving in a ministry next week. As an individual, you have served behind the scenes, invited your neighbors, prayed, and prepared for your responsibilities. Next week though, you will also be teaming up with the one of the greatest groups of people ever assembled. You will be a part of what God is going to do simply because you’re a part of the MBC family. And you will reap whatever rewards come from this next week because of your partnership with this church.
This principle is applicable for youth, college, and adult ministries as well. It matters what your church believes. It matters how faithful your pastors are. It matters how zealous your ministry partners are. It matters how unified your body. It matters in this life and it will matter for all eternity.
What difference will your life make in 10,000 years? How will you wish you had spent your few years on this earth? Live your life backwards from the judgment seat of Christ. You can shape tomorrow by starting today.