1 Thessalonians 4

The Church struggles with what it should be teaching – particularly new converts. It also struggles with what the whole Church needs to know.

I would submit that the Thessalonian letters provide us with an outline of basic Christian teaching, for in these letters Paul continually reminds these new Christians of what he taught them at the beginning of their walk with God.

Critical to that walk is the notion that our lives should be lived to please God. Paul calls it “being sanctified.” We may understand it as the requirements of holiness.

Paul begins with the idea of sexual purity – something which he mentions in nearly all his letters. Our world, much like Paul’s, would have us believe that sex is innocent behavior that should have no bounds – or at least few of them. It is but a benefit of friendship. And yet, God placed bounds on it and many of the problems we face in society are the result of crossing those boundaries. Illicit sexual behavior is one of two foundations for the AIDS epidemic, for the increase of one parent households, for the increase of unwanted children, for an increase of the poor in society and for the oppression and marginalization of women. As Paul begins to remind his readers of the holy life, he begins with this subject.

He quickly moves to how we treat one another and reminds his readers – and us – that we should live in such a way that will win the respect of those who are not Christians.

The world is watching us. We must be sure that what they see is the life of Christ in our own.

Friday, October 25. 1 Thessalonians 1 – 3

As you read the opening chapters of 1 Thessalonians, I hope you will be struck by Paul’s great feelings for these Christians. He had not been with them a long time, but for Paul, leaving them was heart-breaking.

That’s probably a new thought for many of us. Paul was always on the move. There were always other cities to visit, other churches to establish. Yet, it would appear that Paul’s movement was mostly external – not internal. We can choose to believe these moves were because of persecution alone, or that God was behind them all, relentlessly pushing Paul forward in the spread of the gospel. But however we choose to think about it, Paul seems to have found the whole process quite disconcerting. He knew that those he left behind so quickly were new to the faith, that they had been forced to absorb a new and different way of thinking, counter-cultural to the one they had grown up with. How well would they fare?

Paul continually prays for these people. Among them he was like a mother caring for her children, like a father encouraging and comforting them and urging them on in the faith. He describes having to leave them as being “torn” from them and tells them that he tried to return to them repeatedly and that he persistently asks God to allow him to come back to Thessalonica (2:18 and 3:10) and that while he is away, and alive, he found it hard to get on with his life until he knew they were ok.

Paul’s concern for them is their spiritual well-being. Who are those in your life you feel the same about? Unless, and until, our concern for the salvation of others is this strong, the Church will always languish and be in danger. If Christ gave his life for the Church, and Paul felt this strongly about it, should our concern not be the same?

If that is, we are going to follow Jesus?

Friday, October 26. 1 Thessalonians 4 – 2 Thessalonians 1

    Here’s a reminder in case you missed it: In Thessalonians, Paul’s chief concern is that his readers “live lives worthy of God” (2:12), “please God” (4:1), and “live a holy life” (4:7).

    Neither they, nor we, can do this if we are asleep at the switch, not paying attention to our lives, constantly evaluating them and adjusting them to meet God’s call and Christ’s example.  Chapters four and five speak specifically to many of these requirements.

    Why should we be so vigilant?

    Because Jesus is coming back, and with Him he will bring two things: salvation for the ready, and wrath for those who are not.  It is not God’s intent that we suffer His wrath, but we will, if we do not make our lives ready.

    Two points stand out to me in the last chapter of 1 Thessalonians.

    First, salvation is multi-dimensional.  While the Thessalonians have been “saved” from their past sins, they are looking for another salvation to come.  Salvation is not a “once for all” event.

    Second, God has not left us on our own to accomplish the holy life.  He Himself helps us by making us holy through and through, and keeping us blameless until Jesus comes (5:23-24).

    Good.

    I need all the help I can get.  How about you?

Thursday, October 25. 1 Thessalonians 1 – 3

    As you read chapter two, note the recurring phrase “you know” (and variations on it, “as you know,” and “you remember”).  These are important because they remind us that nothing in this letter is new.  Paul is simply reviewing matters he taught them when he was there – only a few months previously.  Paul was not there very long, however, and that is important as well.

    What we have in Thessalonians is possibly the only sample (outside possibly the gospel of Luke) of what early Christians taught new converts.  As you read it, look for the sort of things Paul reminds them of, and consider that these things were basic to Christian teaching.

    But in chapter two particularly, Paul talks about how he conducted his ministry.  First of all, he was a hard worker.  The people of Paul’s day were accustomed to being asked for donations to support wandering philosophers, but Paul did not do that.  He did not want people to feel like he was “living off” them.  Second, he demonstrated how much he cared for them, treating them like their mother and father.  Third, he was not a “do as I say” kind of preacher.  He was a “do as I do” kind of fellow.  He realized he was an example – the only example of Jesus they had ever seen.

    All Christians are engaged in ministry.  To be as successful at it as Paul, we will have to conduct our ministry as Paul conducted his.

Reading Through the Bible, Monday, December 5. 1 Thessalonians 1 – 3

    Paul’s letters to the Thessalonian Christians, along with his letter to the Galatians, comprise the earliest documents of the New Testament.

    The Thessalonian letters were written on Paul’s second missionary journey.  The second journey was filled with difficulties.  Early on, hindrances in Asia Minor dogged their every move.  Finally, Paul and his companions crossed the Agean Sea and went to Philippi.  A Church was started there, but not without considerable persecution.  The group moved to Thessalonica, the capital city of Macedonia, but again found themselves opposed by both Jewish and gentile authorities.  The opposition was so extreme that some of the new converts were forced to post a bond, obligating them to financial penalties if unrest arose again in the city.  The Christians had no intention of causing trouble, but they could not speak for their opponents who would stop at nothing to persecute the young movement then taking the world by storm.  To avoid trouble for the young church in Thessalonica, Paul and his coworker Silas left town under the cover of night for the quieter refuge of a town off the beaten track to the south, Berea.

    Luke, in Acts is careful to note that all the persecutions came from people who, for a variety of selfish reasons, opposed the gospel of Christ.  But surely it looked to the public as if Paul and his companions were just a group of troublemakers, and the new Christians left behind in those cities would suffer tremendous ridicule.  Additionally, would not the new converts wonder why, if these men were truly emissaries of God, they had to endure so much opposition from sinful men?

    Paul knew how it looked.  And so, not so very long after leaving Thessalonica, Paul wrote the first and then second letter to the Thessalonians.  In the first letter, he reminds them that, unlike so many traveling philosophers of his day, Paul, rather than take support from his converts, instead supported them, caring for them as a mother or a father would care for their child (chapters 1 and 2). In chapter 3 he compliments them on their behavior since he left, and in chapters 4-5 he gives this young church direction for living the Christian life.

    The first letter is important because it gives us insight to how Paul conducted his ministry, and how Christians should conduct their own today.  But also, it is important because Paul reminds his readers of what he taught these new converts when he was with them just a few weeks earlier.  As such, it reveals the basic teaching of Christian missionaries and gives us an outline of what every Christian ought to know.