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.

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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.