The Letters to the Thessalonians
Background and Commendations
I Thessalonians 1:1-10
First and Second Thessalonians were letters written to the Christians of Thessalonica in Macedonia. The primary theme of both letters is the Second Coming of Christ. In First Thessalonians each chapter ends with a reference to the Second Coming. I Thess. 1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:17; 5:23. In the 4th chapter there is a major teaching on the Second Coming in verses 13-18. In Second Thessalonians 18 of the 47 verses of the letter are about the end times and the Second Coming of Christ. This makes the study of these 2 books in our Bible very necessary and timely especially as we live in the end times.
A. Paul was in Thessalonica 3 times. How did Paul, Silas and Timothy happen to go there? It was not chance that led them to preach the gospel to the people of Thessalonica. On Paul’s second missionary journey they were traveling through Asia Minor (now Turkey). They wanted to go to some other areas there, but the Holy Spirit prevented them from going. Acts 16:6-7 Maybe they wondered why they could not go where the gospel needed to be heard. While they were at Troas on the coast Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia who begged him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” They had to cross the Aegean Sea to get there, but they obeyed the vision and went to Macedonia.
B. In Macedonia the first place they went was Philippi. There many believed. Later Paul wrote the letter of Philippians to them. But when Paul drove a demon out of a slave girl, the persecution started. The girl had been able to tell people’s future through the assistance of the demon possessing her. Greedy men were making money from her divinations. They were very angry to lose their source of income, so they dragged Paul and Silas to the marketplace and made many accusations against them. They were thrown into prison, but were released after God sent an earthquake. When they had to leave Philippi, Paul, Silas and Timothy traveled on to Thessalonica.
C. There Paul spoke for 3 Sabbath days in the synagogue, as he usually did when going to a new place. He explained from the Old Testament that the Christ had to suffer, die and rise again, and that Jesus of Nazareth had fulfilled those prophecies. As a result, some of the Jews were persuaded and joined them, as well as a large number of God-fearing Greeks and several prominent women. However, the unbelieving Jews were jealous and started a riot which ended with Paul, Silas and Timothy leaving during the night one night to go on to Berea. We don’t know how long they were in Thessalonica, but probably only a few months. The Thessalonians were converts from paganism and needed encouragement and teaching. Paul wrote this letter for that purpose when he and the others later went on to Corinth. It was probably written in AD 51, one of his first epistles.
II. Thanksgiving for their faith
A. Although Paul was the writer of this letter, he mentions Silas and Timothy as well because they were fellow laborers. They were all together in Corinth at this time. Paul usually mentioned the Persons of the Trinity in the salutations and closings of his letters. Here he says that the church, or the Thessalonian Christians, were in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. The description of God as Father makes us think of security, love, and strength. He described God the Son with His 2 titles and his name. Calling Jesus “the Lord Jesus Christ” told his listeners who Jesus is. He is the Sovereign Lord who is to be obeyed. He is Jesus which means Savior. And He is Christ or Messiah or Anointed One. It’s amazing to me that some people still don’t believe in the Trinity in spite of all the evidence for it in God’s Word. Paul wrote that they were always thanking God for them and mentioning them in their prayers. Paul usually wrote to the various churches that he was praying for them. He was faithful, not only to bring them to Christ, and to establish a church in their place, but also to follow up his ministry with letters and prayers.
B. It seems that Paul revisited Thessalonica twice during his third missionary journey. Acts 20:1-3 Here we find a good example of what we are to do. It is important to win others to Christ, but also to follow up God’s work in their lives by discipling them and praying for them. Evidently, Paul, Silas and Timothy not only prayed for them. They remembered with thanksgiving God’s work in their lives. What was it that they thanked God for in the lives of these Thessalonian converts? First, Paul mentioned “your work produced by faith”. It was not work that would save them, but work that was produced by the same faith that had brought them salvation. Faith was first and work followed, being produced by that faith. James 2:14, 26. They evidently showed the fruit of the Spirit in their lives.
C. Second, Paul remembered “your labor prompted by love”. They didn’t just do what they had to do grudgingly. They were laboring for the Lord, not to gain salvation or rewards, but only because of their love. Their love prompted their labor. Third, Paul was reminded of “your endurance inspired by hope”. They were enduring even through persecution because of their hope. It was their hope that gave them endurance. The living hope mentioned by Peter inspired their hearts to be faithful to Christ. I Pet. 1:3 So we see that all our works of faith, our labor for the Lord and our endurance to the end must spring from our faith, our love and our hope. Otherwise, we are just gritting our teeth, working and enduring out of obligation and fear. Real faith, love and hope lead us far beyond the law to the real essence of Christianity.
A. Paul often addressed fellow Christians as “brothers” regardless of whether they were Jews or Gentiles. He uses this term 22 times in I & II Thessalonians.There was no doubt in Paul’s mind that these brothers in Thessalonica were loved by God and chosen by God. How could Paul know for sure that they were chosen? Of course, he knew that God loved them because of John 3:16. How do we know when someone is chosen by God? Paul mentions 4 things about the Thessalonians:
1.) The gospel penetrated their hearts and changed them. It was not “simply words”.
2.) It reached into their lives with the power to transform them.
3.) This power is not man’s contrived power or “anointing”, as they say today. It is the real power of the Holy Spirit.
4.) When the gospel is proclaimed with power and the Holy Spirit, it brings deep conviction. Conviction and repentance are the response of one who chooses God and is chosen by God.
B. The gospel presented like this produces something. The seed falls on good soil and becomes productive. I believe that the deep conviction shows that God the Holy Spirit has already been working in that life because His foreknowledge tells Him that this person will choose Christ. It is also important to note that Paul and the others didn’t try to win converts by telling them nice stories. They proclaimed the gospel. It is the gospel that is the power of God unto salvation! Rom. 1:16 This is why many believed in Thessalonica and a church was founded in a short period of time. And God’s messengers saw the evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit in these new believers. Because of these things, Paul could say with certainty that the Thessalonian believers were “chosen”.
A. Paul now explains how the gospel spread – and in this description we see God’s method of reproduction. Step 1:“You know how we lived among you for your sake.” Paul points not only to the message, but to the messengers as well. It is the gospel that saves, but the messenger may help or hinder that process. Sometimes the messenger gets in the way of the message and actually defeats it. Step 2: “You became imitators of us and of the Lord”. The converts imitate or follow the ways of the messenger and his Lord. If he is a good example, they will probably be good examples.
B. It was not easy for the Thessalonians to follow. They experienced severe suffering. That’s why Paul had to leave so soon. The Jewish believers had to face the hatred of their unbelieving Jewish brothers; the Gentiles were faced with a majority of Gentiles who were pagans and idolaters; the chief women probably faced anger and opposition in their own homes. But in their suffering these new converts also experienced joy as they welcomed the message. A man who knows he is drowning will always welcome the person who comes to rescue him from sure death. The suffering they went through came from men. The joy came from the Holy Spirit not from their circumstances. It’s important to note that these Thessalonians didn’t just imitate their leaders. That can be dangerous because men are not always good examples to follow. They imitated or followed the Lord as well. He is an absolutely perfect example – always safe to follow. It is God’s program that believers should reproduce believers.
C. So we come to Step 3: “So you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia /Greece.” So the converts became the examples for others to imitate. Paul, Silas and Timothy lived out the gospel, being an example of the Lord Himself. This resulted in converts among the Thessalonians who imitated this example of the messengers and their God. Then that resulted in the Thessalonians becoming examples to the rest of Greece and Macedonia, for others to imitate them and their God. And so the followers become the leaders. And the faith of the Thessalonians became known everywhere. People heard about their faith under persecution and were blessed by their example. In Corinth Paul evidently didn’t have to mention their faith because the word reached there before him. People were talking about the kind of reception they had given Paul and the others. Their reception of the messengers showed the openness of their hearts. Paul also held them up to the Corinthian believers as examples of generosity. II Cor. 8:1-5
D. But then Paul sums up their steps of faith:
1.) “You turned to God from idols”… They left their old ways and their old gods to turn to the true God and His ways.
2.) “to serve the living and true God”…They committed themselves to the service of God in place of their former service to many gods and idols.
3.) “and to wait for His Son from heaven”…Paul had taught them that Jesus, God’s Son, would surely return from heaven where He is now.
4.) “whom He raised from the dead”…Their belief in Jesus’ resurrection gave them the assurance that He is alive and will return!
5.) “Jesus who rescues us from the coming wrath”…They believed in Jesus as Savior, who has risen from the dead, is in heaven, and will come back. He is the One who died to rescue us from hell – the wrath of God. Notice that turning to God and leaving the old life comes first. Then the service of God is next. Finally, we wait for Him. As we wait, we serve. Luke 12:42-43
Paul often told new converts to imitate him. I Cor. 4:15-16 Does this mean that they should pretend to be Paul like an actor pretends to be someone else? NO! Paul describes what he means in Phil. 4:9. Paul was like their father who brought them into the faith, He wanted them to follow what they had learned and received from him. He came with the Truth and the saving gospel. He wanted them to believe and put into practice what they had heard from him. But not only what they had heard. He told them also to put into practice in their lives what they had seen in his life. Can we urge new Christians, or even our children, to imitate us like this? Are our lives so focused on Christ that they will lead others to study His Word, be people of prayer, stand up for the Truth, and boldly proclaim the gospel?
The Letters to the Thessalonians (2)
I Thessalonians 2:1-16
All of chapter 2 is an expansion of I Thess. 1:9-10 which we studied last time: “They themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven…” Paul’s words in this chapter suggest that people outside the church were charging him with unworthy motives and improper conduct. This is serious because doubts about the messenger of the gospel can cause doubts about the message of the gospel. So Paul reminds the Thessalonian Christians how they were eyewitnesses of the kind of men – Paul, Silas and Timothy - who brought them the gospel. He uses “you know” 3 times in this section to remind them that they really knew these men and therefore should not doubt them when others created false criticism.
I. Men approved by God
A. Paul now reminds the Thessalonian believers about the visit of the 3 apostles to their city. He was not afraid to bring out all the facts because he had nothing to hide. Was their visit a failure? NO! It was a great success because they left behind a new church. The changes in the lives of the new Christians showed the value and success of their visit. They knew how Paul and Silas had suffered and been insulted at Philippi – being flogged and put in prison. They knew that the apostles had been followed to Thessalonica by the Philippians who wanted to persecute them. They were not on a vacation trip. In spite of this strong opposition, they dared to preach the gospel in Thessalonica. And when opposition broke out there also, they continued preaching. This is not the reaction of people who are trying to make money or build a following. The missionaries’ boldness amid opposition was the sign of God at work in His servants and was proof of their genuineness.
B. Why were they so determined? What were their motives? The Thessalonians observed their lifestyle and heard their message, but couldn’t see their underlying motives. So Paul explained. He denied 3 lies of the slanderers against them. 1.) Their message was not deceptive. It was truth, not error. 2.) Their motives were not impure, but were clean. 3.) Their method was not to trick, mislead or deceive the people, but was straightforward. Unfortunately, many of the false teachers in the church today are guilty on all three counts. They present error as if it were truth. They have impure, often greedy, motives, and they use trickery. Evidently this was done in Paul’s day, too, because these are the things he mentions.
C. So what were their qualifications? They were men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. Paul used the word “gospel” 5 times in this letter. It is not a light thing to be trusted by God to share His Good News with the lost. These missionaries were veterans who had been tried and tested for years in their service of the Lord. Paul did not choose his work. God selected him for this high calling of proclaiming the gospel. Christian workers either try to please men or God. False teachers and hypocrites try to please men in order to make money, gain a following of people, or attain some kind of status as an important person in the Christian world. True servants of God are always aware that it is God who tests their hearts. A person may fool other people, but he will never fool God.
D. Paul and his fellow workers never used flattery. They didn’t try to make people feel good, but in true and sincere love they presented the hard truth. The Good News of the gospel makes it clear that men are sinners without hope; Christ has died for that sin; but we must repent and turn away from sin to God. Jesus, the Rock, is either our cornerstone or the rock we stumble over to fall eternally. These missionaries did not use a mask to cover up greed. God Himself was their witness that they were speaking sincerely, not with flattery, and that they were not covering a greedy heart behind a mask of kindness and supposed holiness. These messengers were not looking for praise from men. That wasn’t their motive. If praise is our motive, we will fall into all these sins or errors: impure motives, trickery, flattery, and greed. We must be careful so that in all we do, God receives all the praise and glory.
A. As Apostles of Christ, Paul and his companions could have rightfully expected the Thessalonians to take care of them. They could have been a burden to these new believers by expecting them to care for all their physical needs – like parents care for their children. Because of their status, they could have expected the Thessalonians to take care of them and pay their expenses. But instead, Paul reversed the roles. He became like a mother. It seems strange for a strong man to say that he was like a mother gently caring for her little children. In what way was Paul like a mother? A nursing mother must feed herself in order to feed her baby. If she eats certain foods her baby will get sick. So the spiritual diet of a mature Christian is important to the health of the new believer whom he is discipling.
B. Paul’s first responsibility was sharing the gospel with the Thessaloinians, but he didn’t do it in a harsh or threatening way. Paul, Silas and Timothy demonstrated God’s love even in the presentation of the gospel of God’s love. They didn’t just share words. They shared their lives like a mother shares herself with her baby. Why did they do this? Because the Thessalonians had become so dear to them. What is the use of preaching and teaching if the people to whom you are ministering are not dear to you? Our words have a much greater effect on people when they sense that we care about them – that they are precious to us, like our own children. One of the ways that these men demonstrated this was by working night and day, making tents to provide for their needs so that they wouldn’t be a burden to these new believers. This demonstration of hard work gave them the example they needed to be faithful, hard workers themselves. I Thess. 5:14a; II Thess. 3:10
A. What kind of lifestyle did these messengers demonstrate? Paul writes that both they and God were witnesses of how holy, righteous and blameless they were among them. Like children, the new believers needed to see a good example of how to live and how to act so that they could imitate their “mothers” and “fathers” in the faith. I Thess. 1:6 Paul goes on to write that they were not only like mothers tenderly caring for their babies, but like fathers as well in dealing with their children. As a responsible father trains and disciplines his children, so these men of God trained these new Christians. They encouraged and comforted them. Children need a lot of encouragement to help them keep heading the right direction. But they also need comfort when things get hard and they go through suffering. Usually we think of the mother as the one who gives comfort. But then we remember the Holy Spirit who is the Great Comforter. The apostles, like good fathers, urged their spiritual children to live lives worthy of the God who called them into His kingdom and glory.
B. So we learn here about how we should deal with those to whom we witness, preach or teach. Like mothers, we need to gently care for them, feeding them nourishing spiritual food, and sharing our lives with them because they are precious to us. Like fathers, we need to teach and train them as well as discipline them when necessary. Our training should include comforting them in their troubles, encouraging them in their attempts to serve and please God, and urging them to seek the high goal of living a life worthy of the God who has called them. We must live up to our glorious calling, and help others to do the same. Paul sets a pattern for us in our dealing with our own families, and with the family of God – our brothers and sisters in Christ – and especially new believers.
A. The Thessalonians not only received God’s messengers. They also received the message. Paul expressed his thankfulness that when the Thessalonians heard God’s Word that they received it, not as the words or ideas of men, but as the very Word of God passed on by His servants. Someone has said that the gospel is not the kind of message that man would invent if he could, nor is it a message that he could invent if he would. Who would invent a story about God dying on a cross to save people? It is pure foolishness as Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians. I Cor. 1:22-25 However, the Thessalonians sensed the supernatural truthfulness of the gospel Paul preached as the Holy Spirit brought conviction to their hearts. When Christians share their faith, they don’t just give their viewpoint on life as another human theory. They announce the divinely revealed truth of God.
B. The spoken Word of God has within it the power to change. That’s why God’s Word as spoken by the prophets was recognized as being powerful and not falling to the ground as if it could not accomplish its purpose. I Sam. 3:19 One of the evidences that the words spoken were the actual Word of God was that it was at work in those who believed. It is one of the proofs that we have today that the Bible is God’s Word. It changes lives! The word “believe” here means to continue to believe or be committed to. God’s Word is at work in those who believe it or are committed to follow it.
C. Once again Paul brings up the subject of imitators as he did in 1:6. He wrote that the church in Thessalonica imitated God’s churches in Judea. In what way did they imitate them since many of them were not Jews? They were faithful to God in spite of the suffering they went through from their own countrymen. Acts 17:5; II Thess. 1:4 They had to stand up against their own people who persecuted them. The churches in Judea suffered from the Jews – their countrymen – who killed the Lord Jesus, and the prophets of old. Though Paul laid guilt for the death of Christ at the feet of the Jews, he didn’t charge them alone with this crime. The Romans who were involved in Jesus’ trial and execution were also guilty. I Cor. 2:8 In fact, every human being is guilty of Christ’s death for whom He died. Heb. 2:9
D. The Jews in Judea also drove out Paul and Silas. Paul names their sin by saying that they displeased God and were hostile to all men. No doubt these Jews thought that they were pleasing God by what they did just as Paul had thought he was pleasing God when he was persecuting Christians. Why did the Jews do this? They wanted to keep Paul and Silas from speaking to the Gentiles so that they might be saved. They were not only not going into the kingdom themselves. They were doing their best to keep others out as well. What a terrible sin! Some of those saved in Thessalonica were Gentiles. Paul wrote that in that way they had heaped up their sins to the limit – piling sin upon sin until there was no more room. And what was the final outcome? The wrath of God had come upon them. Actually God’s wrath descended on Jerusalem and Judea a few years later when Emperor Titus destroyed them. Of course, a much worse wrath will fall on them in the Tribulation and at the White Throne Judgment. The Father is very angry when people hurt His children and when they prevent others from becoming His children!
Maybe we should use what Paul wrote here as a checklist to examine our service for God.
1.) Do we have courage to share the gospel in spite of insults and suffering?
2.) Are we very careful always to speak only truth with no error?
3.) What are our motives? Are they pure or do we want money, power or fame?
4.) Are we careful about being totally honest so that we don’t trick people?
5.) Are we men and women approved of God to be entrusted with the gospel?
6.) Do we try to please men or only God who is our Judge?
7.) Do we sometimes flatter people to get them to agree with us?
8.) Do we ever hide behind a mask to cover up our hidden greed?
9.) Whose praise are we looking for – God’s or men’s?
May we be honest with God & ourselves and repent if we find that we are not as we should be.
The Letters to the Thessalonians (3)
Our Glory and Joy
I Thessalonians 2:17- 3:13
We learned in our last lesson how deeply Paul and his comrades cared about the new believers in Thessalonica. They were like a mother gently caring for her babies. They were like a father training and encouraging his children. But sometimes we have to be separated from our children when we really want to be with them helping them. I understand how that is. (Illus. I was separated from my children a lot when they were growing up because of God’s calling to me to serve Him in Palau. It often made me sad when I knew they were having problems and I wasn’t there to comfort and encourage them. Sometimes I would be filled with worry about their situations. I had to continually bring them to the Lord in prayer and trust Him to do for them what I could not.) I think this is how Paul felt about his spiritual children in Thessalonica when he had to leave them. This section reflects Paul’s concern for them.
I. Paul’s plans
A. Paul went into a lot of detail to explain why he could not return to Thessalonica. It seems that perhaps some of those who were criticizing him told the Thessalonians that he could have returned but didn’t want to. It’s easy for people on the sidelines to criticize us when they don’t know or don’t understand all the reasons for what we do. (Illus.- My beloved aunt could not understand why my husband and I were taking our children to that God-forsaken place called Micronesia where they would surely get sick and die. She accused me of being a bad mother because she was not a Christian and could not understand how we must answer God’s call to serve Him and trust Him with everything including our children.) I think that Paul was hurt because people were misjudging him and his love for his spiritual children in Thessalonica.
B. I think when we minister to people they can usually tell whether our love for them is sincere or just a sugar coating on the outside to make them feel good. It really disappoints me when I feel that people are pretending concern for me when actually their motives are not right. Paul did not want to have any misunderstandings between the Thessalonians and himself. He describes his departure from Thessalonica as “being torn away from them”. This verb in Greek means to be orphaned. It was as if he was their parent who had to orphan them for awhile. He makes it clear that this separation was in person but not in thought. His thoughts, and obviously his prayers, were still with them. He and his companions had an intense longing to see them and tried again and again to return, but were stopped by Satan.
C. Does this mean that Satan has the power to stop the work of God? NO! Satan is under the overarching supervision of God who is sovereign. Ultimately it was God’s will that Paul not go there at that time. Maybe the Lord wanted to test and develop the Thessalonians to see if they would be faithful without their “father in the faith”. Maybe Timothy needed this opportunity to develop his leadership abilities without the older apostles. 3:2 Maybe Paul was being tested to see if he was willing to give them over into the hands of God when he couldn’t help them. Sometimes we need to release our loved ones into God’s hands when we can’t do anything for them but pray.
D. How precious were these spiritual children to Paul, Silas and Timothy? Paul wrote that they were their hope, their joy, and the crown in which they would glory in the presence of the Lord Jesus when He returns. Phil. 4:1 Here once again Paul reminds them of his theme in this letter – the Second Coming of Christ. Paul said right straight to them, “You are our glory and joy.” These spiritual children were like the crown on Paul’s head or his great reward. I understand a little bit of what Paul is saying here. He had invested his life so that these and many others could come to know Christ. My greatest joy is when I see or hear that one of my spiritual children is growing in faith and standing true to the Lord. How it blesses our souls when we see one for whom we have prayed becoming more and more like Jesus. (Illus. I recently had a wonderful phone call from the mainland from one of my spiritual children whom I helped in the past, and have prayed much for. He had returned from his wandering away from God and wanted to let me know and thank me for what I had done.)
II. Timothy’s visit
A. After Paul, Silas and Timothy left Thessalonica, they continued on to Berea where many Jews and Greek men and women believed. Acts 17:12 The antagonistic Jews in Thessalonica followed them there and stirred up trouble. Paul went on to Athens by himself, leaving Silas and Timothy in Berea. Acts 17:15 They later joined Paul in Athens. Paul couldn’t stand the suspense of not knowing how those new believers in Thessalonica were doing. Silas and he decided to send Timothy back while they stayed in Athens. Would the faith of these new believers fail because of their trials? Paul mentions their faith 5 times in chapter 3. If their faith failed they might wander away. Heb. 6:11
B. Paul gives the young Timothy full recognition. He could have called him his understudy or disciple or son because Paul certainly regarded Timothy as those. But he wanted them to respect Timothy as he did so he called him, “Our brother and God’s fellow worker.” Notice that Paul didn’t even call Timothy his fellow worker. He was God’s fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ. This is the highest calling. What was Timothy’s assignment as God’s fellow worker? He was to strengthen and encourage them in their faith. Why? So that no one would be unsettled by the trials they were going through. Trials are very unsettling, especially to new or weak believers. From Jesus’ parable, the seed that fell on thin soil over rock produced a quick plant that quickly died. Matt. 13:20-21
C. New believers have a hard time when they go through trials because they are not yet mature in their faith. Eph. 4:14 Paul had warned them when he was with them that persecution would come. He had to leave quickly because of the persecution, and they had to live with it. So Timothy’s job was two-fold. He was to help them grow strong in their faith, and to find out for Paul how they were doing. Paul was understandably worried and afraid that the tempter might have tempted these babes in Christ to give up their newfound faith out of fear and worry and doubt. He was worried that they might be tempted beyond their ability to resist. If that happened, the missionaries’ efforts to bring them into God’s kingdom would be useless.
Read I Thess. 3:6-13
III. Timothy’s report
A. During this time Paul was praying for them while ministering in Athens and then Corinth. Then Timothy arrived in Corinth from Thessalonica with his report. What a joy it must have been for Paul to hear the good news about their faith and love. Paul used the same word for this good report as he used elsewhere for the Good News of the gospel. Timothy reported that the Thessalonian Christians had not turned away from him and his message in spite of the persecutions and evil rumors they had endured. In fact, they had pleasant memories of Paul and they longed to see him just as he longed to see them. Paul and his companions were going through distress and persecution in Corinth as well, but they were much encouraged to hear about the faith of the Christians in Thessalonica. It made all their hard work and suffering worthwhile.
B. Paul wrote a very strong statement: “Now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord.” I Cor. 16:13 I can understand this. It gives me life, too, to know that my loved ones are standing firm in the Lord. On the other hand, it gives me great sadness and pain when they are not. It’s a heart-breaking day when a pastor or missionary sees his children in the Lord turn away from their faith back to their old ways and their false gods. This is one of the dangers of the Indigenous Peoples’ Movement. It can destroy the work of God’s faithful servants who led people out of the darkness into the light. Timothy’s report came as sweet relief to the anxious missionaries. They were indeed brethren, bound not only by the bonds of life in Christ, but also by the bonds of love for one another. As the apostles had been sources of encouragement in their persecution, so now the babes in Christ had provided encouragement to their elder brothers who had been suffering from fears about the condition of the new church.
C. Paul’s heart was full of thanksgiving to God for the faith of the Thessalonian believers. He couldn’t find the words to express his thankfulness and joy in the presence of God because of them. I know how that thankfulness and joy feels when I see someone grow in Christ and take new steps of faith. Paul prayed earnestly at nighttime and in the daytime that he might see them again to supply what was lacking in their faith – to continue teaching and training them. He prayed that the Lord would clear the way for them to go again to Thessalonica. God did answer Paul’s prayer, but not as quickly as he might wish. A couple of years later Paul was able to visit twice in Thessalonica on his third missionary journey. So his prayer was answered but not on his timetable. God often answers our prayers that way. We must be patient and trust His timing. Psa. 31:15
IV. Paul’s heart’s desire and prayer
A. Paul now expresses his wish or heart’s desire in the form of a prayer. He calls upon 2 Persons of the Trinity - our God and Father Himself and our Lord Jesus -to clear the way for them to return to Thessalonica. Paul was always pronouncing a blessing or his heart’s desire for the believers in the various churches to whom he wrote. His prayers are good models for us. Sometimes our prayers for people are very shallow. I know that I find myself often asking the Lord to bless people or to have mercy on them. That’s good, but I think we should be more specific when we intercede for them. Maybe we could actually use Paul’s prayers to pray for others if they seem appropriate.
B. For what does Paul pray? He prays that the Lord will make their love increase and overflow, kind of like a glass overflowing with water. Whom should they love? First, they must love each other, bringing harmony and unity in the church body. Then they must also love everyone else, causing them to be witnesses to the unbelievers who were not part of the church. The example they have is the overflowing love that Paul, Silas and Timothy had for them. There is no use talking a lot about love if people don’t see it in us. Next he prays that the Lord will strengthen their hearts so that they will be ready when the Lord Jesus comes. Once again Paul mentions the Second Coming.
C. What would make the Thessalonians ready for Jesus’ coming? Paul did not pray that they would be sinless because that is impossible. He prayed that they would be blameless. 2:10 This means that after they sinned they would deal with it by repentance as God requires so that they would be free from any reasonable charge by their fellowmen. Before God they should be holy, separated to God in their hearts and habits. Paul longed that when Jesus Christ would return He would find them blameless before men and holy before God. I John 2:28 This summarizes what Paul will write in chapter 4. He wants them to be ready to meet the Lord when He comes back with His saints.
What do we consider important when we think about Jesus’ Second Coming? I hope that we long to be ready for His coming so that we will not be ashamed before Him. Being ready, Paul writes, means being blameless because we have repented of our sins and made things right with others. It also means being holy before our God as we live a life separated from the world and unto Christ. I John 3:2- 3 But then we must think beyond ourselves. What about our families and friends? Are they ready too? How can we help them get ready? And then there are the unbelievers around us. Whether they face Jesus at death or at His Second Coming they need to know that He has died for them and can save them. Are we willing to share the gospel message so they can repent and become children of God waiting for Christ’s return?
The Letters to the Thessalonians (4)
Living to Please God
I Thess. 4:1-12
In chapters 1-3 Paul has expressed heartfelt thanksgiving for the faith of the Thessalonians. How grateful he was to see the fruit of the Spirit in their lives. They were like his children and he loved them dearly, even writing that they were his glory and joy. He had gently cared for them as a mother for her little ones. And he had taught and trained them as a father would, encouraging, comforting and urging them to live lives that were worthy of the God who had called them. Paul explained carefully how he had wanted to go to them but could not. Having sent Timothy to help them, he was rejoicing in the good report brought by Timothy to Corinth. They were standing firm in the faith in spite of hardships and persecution. 3:8 Chapters 4 & 5 give further instruction in Christian living.
I. Please God
A. Paul begins by saying “Finally..” This does not mean that he is ending this letter. He is now moving to another subject. Paul wanted to teach them about the next stage in their spiritual development. He reminds them about how Silas, Timothy and he had instructed them how to live in order to please God. Paul had written in 2:4 about how they had set the example before the Thessalonians: “We are not trying to please men but God who tests our hearts.” Someone has said that everyone lives to please someone. Most live to please themselves. Some try to please their husband or wife, their parents or their children. When we are born again we don’t continue to live the same way we used to. A child of God must learn how to please God. Col. 1:10 Paul wrote that correct living is motivated by our love for God. Many people think of the Christian life as a set of rules to be obeyed or a list of things to avoid. Paul considered it the outworking of a loving desire to please the God who loves us. 1:4
B. Paul was able to tell the Thessalonians that they were already living to please God. Why did he mention it? Because he wanted to urge them or encourage them in the Lord Jesus to do it “more and more”. He uses the same expression again in verse10. Paul wants his spiritual children in Thessalonica to grow in the faith and to follow even more faithfully the new life they have begun. Some of the worship songs used today in meetings say, “We want more of Jesus”. But we don’t need more of Jesus. We have all we need for life and godliness. What we need is to be more like Jesus! Loving God so much that we live to please Him will help us to become more like Jesus. Paul and his comrades had given the Thessalonians instructions by the authority of the Lord Jesus. Paul wants them to know that what he is teaching now comes with the same authority. Some people today are looking in the wrong places for new truth. What they need is to practice the old truth more and more. Are we living by what we already know?
A. Paul wrote about 3 aspects of living the Christian life. The first was regarding their morality. Paul didn’t pick his teaching out of the air. He taught from the Old Testament, and especially from the very words of Christ. How do we live in order to please God? We do His will! And what is His will? The will of God is clearly set forth in many places in scripture, but we seem to have a hard time applying it to our lives. I Thess. 5:16-18 gives us a brief outline of some of the things that are God’s will for us. In our study of I Peter we found several things about God’s will. 2:15, 3:17, 4:19 Here in I Thessalonians we have a strong emphasis on the importance of living a holy life. The word holy is used in this section 3 times. What does it mean to be holy? It means to be sanctified – set apart for God and His use and growing closer and closer to Him. Eph. 5:3
B. Paul describes this sanctification with 3 that’s: “…that you should avoid sexual immorality…that each of you should learn to control his own body…that in this matter no one should wrong his brother…” Sexual immorality covers a big area. It includes sex outside of marriage, adultery while married, prostitution, promiscuity, homosexuality, perversion, child abuse and a lot more. It is impossible for us to live in any of these sins and still do God’s will and please God. God’s plan is clearly outlined in both the Old and New Testaments. Gen. 2:24 Jesus reiterated this principle in Matt. 19:4-6. Paul repeated it in Eph. 5:31. This is God’s ordained plan and anything outside of it is sexual immorality. How serious is this kind of sin? Paul tells us here to avoid it. In I Cor. 6:18 he tells us to flee or run away from immorality. To be sanctified means to be set apart for holy use. What is the primary misuse of the body? Sexual immorality!
A. How do we avoid getting hooked into a lifestyle of immorality? We must not only run away, but we must learn to control our own bodies. Christians are not the victims of circumstances or their fleshly passions. Sexual desire can be controlled by the Christian through God’s power. Of course, faithfulness to your marriage is one way of doing that. Whatever method we use to control our bodies, it must be done in a way that is holy and honorable. Every young Christian like the Thessalonians should learn how to deal appropriately with sexual temptation. I Cor. 10:13 We are in the world but not of it, so we can’t follow the ways of the world.
B. People who are unbelievers are called heathen here by Paul. They don’t know God and so live with passionate lust. Paul did not write that they didn’t know about God. Most people in this world know about God but many don’t know God personally. When a person comes to know God by faith in Jesus Christ, his attitudes toward sex change. He also finds that God gives him the ability to conquer sexual temptation. These days we must carefully control what we look at and what we read because the TV, the Internet, books and magazines are full of the lustful things that the heathen enjoy and live for. We cannot avoid temptation if we are always putting it in front of us.
IV. Don’t wrong others
A. Paul has been writing about the importance of sexual purity for the sake of the Christian himself. Now he turns to the sin of wronging others by involving them in forbidden sexual acts. Sexual immorality wrongs the partner in the sexual act by involving him or her in behavior contrary to God’s will and under His judgment. A person who takes advantage of another by fanning the fire of his or her lust has caused him or her to sin. So Paul gives 2 reasons why sexual immorality should be avoided. First, it is clearly a sin and God will judge all sin. Everyone who fears the wrath of God should abstain from immorality because judgment follows sin as surely as day follows night. Rom. 3:23a A second reason to avoid sexual immorality is that it goes against God’s calling for a Christian. God’s plan for us is to purify our lives. A holy life demonstrates God’s supernatural power and it glorifies God. We are to be different from the world around us.
B. So God does not call us to be impure but to live a holy life. Some Christians think they can do what they want. Some people probably objected to this very high standard. I have heard people criticize Paul by saying that because he was a single man he insisted on others following his way. What they don’t seem to understand is that as an unmarried man Paul knew more than most about controlling his body. And he sacrificed his right to have a wife for the sake of his ministry. But what he is writing are not his own ideas. All of scripture is God-breathed. II Tim. 3:16 God the Holy Spirit gave Paul these words. So if people choose to reject them as old-fashioned or legalistic, they are not rejecting man but God. In case some may say that God is expecting too much from us weak humans, Paul reminds us that God has given believers His indwelling Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has power enough to enable any Christian to learn how to control his own body, even in an immoral world like we live in.
Read I Thess. 4:9-12
V. Love the brothers
A. Paul now writes about loving our brothers and sisters in the Lord. This is the opposite of wronging someone sexually in the name of love as some people do. That kind of “love” is not love at all but lust. Love is described in I Cor, 13. Some of the things we read there are: “Love is not self-seeking…Love does not delight in evil…It always protects…” Let us not call something “love” that is actually lust. Paul writes that he really doesn’t need to write to them about brotherly love. They had been taught by God Himself to love each other. The Lord is the best teacher of all. When we learn from Him how to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, it is the real thing, not just imitation. Actually they loved not only the Christians in Thessalonica, but the brothers throughout all of Macedonia. That means that they loved Christians they didn’t even know. So they were doing well, but Paul urged them anyway to love more and more.
B. Next Paul gave them some simple axioms for them to live by. He wrote: “Make it your ambition..” Most people have an ambition to be famous or rich or admired by others. But Paul’s 3 ambitions that he urges on them are very different. First, “lead a quiet life”. This would be a life that is well organized, calm, restrained, free of waste and extra emotional baggage. Quiet means restful or peaceful, undisturbed or settled. I Tim. 2:2 Charles Swindoll gives us good advice in his book, “So, You Want to Be Like Christ?” He writes that we need to unclutter our minds, to slow our pace, and to release our grip. Doing those things will help us to live a quiet life. A Christian who strives to be at peace with himself and God will be a source of peace to his brethren.
C. Secondly, Paul writes, “Mind your own business.” This is good advice. Too often we complicate our lives by sticking our noses into other people’s business which ends up with gossip and criticism. Prov. 25:17 When Peter asked Jesus, “What about John?” Jesus said, “Mind your own business. Your business is to follow Me.” Paul’s third bit of advice is “work with your hands.” This means that we are to take care of our own needs as much as possible and not expect others to take care of us. II Thess. 3:10 We should not be constantly dependent on others. We need to do our part. Paul demonstrated this by making tents and thereby paying for himself rather then depending on the Thessalonians. This also means that we have to be wise in the use of what we have – not wasteful or careless. What are the results of living this way? We win the respect of outsiders through our daily lives. They can see that our Christianity is more than words. Our love for Christ affects our lifestyle. It brings order, peace, calm and productivity to our lives. We should faithfully do our part to live in such a way that we can help others. II Cor. 9:6, 11
We have learned a lot from the Holy Spirit through Paul about how to live in order to please God. The teaching goes all the way from very serious matters like sexual immorality to minding our own business. We are God’s children. He expects us to love and please Him in everything, whether big or small. Sometimes the seemingly small things can cause an offense to unbelievers who are watching us. If our gossip keeps an unbeliever from coming to know Christ it is very serious. Of course we are not perfect. We fail in some ways. But are we getting rid of the things in our lives that don’t belong in the new self? Col. 3:5-10 Do we repent when we have failed? Isa. 55:7 Let us make it our ambition to please God!
The Letters to the Thessalonians (5)
The Coming of the Lord
I Thess. 4:13-5:11
The Holy Spirit has led Paul to write to the Thessalonian Christians about several things regarding their Christian lives. He encouraged them to learn to please God more and more. He wrote that it is God’s will and pleasing to Him that we avoid and run from sexual immorality. We are to learn to control our bodies through the power of God available to us as God’s children. And we must be careful not to wrong others by tempting them or leading them into a sinful lifestyle by our example. We must guard our hearts from lust and instead, love our brothers in Christ with a pure heart. Now Paul turns to another subject about which the Christians in Thessalonica needed more information: Christ’s second coming.
I. Those who have fallen asleep
A. This is a marvelous passage which gives us light in dark times. It is one of the most instructive passages in scripture about Jesus’ Second Coming. God enlightened Paul through the Holy Spirit, and then Paul enlightened the Thessalonians – and us! Evidently they were deeply concerned about what would happen to their loved ones after death. This is one of the great concerns of all mankind. Paul was correct in writing that most men have no hope when it comes to death. Obviously, this causes them to deeply grieve when a loved one dies. Paul wrote to the “brothers in Christ” that they did not have to grieve that way for their loved ones who “fell asleep”, or to be ignorant about their future. The Bible often uses the expression “fall asleep”, when speaking about the death of Christians. It’s used 3 times here. It’s a much more tender and compassionate way to say “die”.
B. Also we know that with Christians it is only death to the body, so it’s as if the body is sleeping while the real person/the spirit goes to be with Christ. It’s as if the body is asleep and waiting to be awakened. This is what happened to Jesus. So Paul reminds the Thessalonians that we believe that Jesus died and rose again. He “fell asleep” for 3 days waiting to rise again. So we also believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have “fallen asleep “ in Him. Their spirits are presently with the Lord in heaven along with those whom Jesus took there after His death. Eph. 4:8-10 Notice that this refers only to those who have fallen asleep in Him!
A. Paul was following “the Lord’s own word” when he described the things that will happen at Jesus’ coming. What he describes here is the resurrection and rapture of Christians.
1. Because Jesus died and arose again, we know that believers who have died in Him will also be raised. I Cor. 15:20
2. God will “bring them with Jesus”.
3. “We who are still alive” – left till His coming – will not go ahead of those who are already “asleep in Him”. Paul was expecting a soon return because he thought he would still be alive.
4. The Lord Himself will come down from heaven. John 14:3
5. When He comes it will be …with a loud command…with the voice of the archangel…with the trumpet call of God. This will be no secret event. It’s going to be loud and breath-taking. Matt. 14:31
6. Then the resurrection will take place in a certain order. First, the dead in Christ will rise. I Cor. 15:23
7. Then, those who are alive will be changed in the twinkling of an eye into our resurrection bodies and join with the resurrected dead. I Cor. 15:51-52
8. The two groups will be caught up together in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.
9. This is the entrance into eternity. We will be with the Lord forever.
B. What a glorious reunion with our Lord and our brothers and sisters in Christ! What a day of triumph! This is our hope and joy for ourselves and our departed loved ones. No wonder Paul wrote that we should encourage one another with these words. We know that no matter how hard life is now, a better day is coming for us and all the beloved ones who are in Christ. This should give us the desire to be faithful to Him, to purify ourselves, and to tell others about Him. I John 3:3
A. Paul here anticipated the question that always comes when we teach about Christ’s return. “When will it be?” Paul wrote that he didn’t have to write to them about times and dates because he had evidently already taught them that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. Jesus said that only the Father knows the day or hour. Matt. 24:36 Jesus had warned us that in the last days many will come claiming to be Christ and will deceive many. Sun Yung Moon is one of those! Jesus said that His elect will be gathered to Him just as Paul has described it here. Matt. 24:30-31
B. What is this Day of the Lord? It is a period of time when God personally intervenes in history. Some say that it refers only to Christ’s return. I think it is much broader that that. In the Old Testament this expression is used sometimes to refer to God’s judgment on a nation or nations. Ezek. 30:3-4 When referring to the endtime, I believe that it may begin with the rapture of the church and continue on to the end of the millennium and the destruction of the heavens and the earth by fire. II Pet. 3:10
C. Why do Jesus and Paul say Christ’s coming is like a thief in the night? Will it be at nighttime? That’s not the point. The point is that it will be unexpected by those who are not ready and waiting. No one expects a thief to try to break into his house at night. Otherwise, he would be awake and guarding it. But not all people will be waiting for and looking forward to Christ’s coming. In fact, the majority will not. People will think that everything’s fine and they have nothing to worry about. The United Nations and the Anti-Christ when he comes will promise to end all wars and solve all the world’s problems. So people will be saying, “Peace and safety”, thinking that their houses are thief-proof and their world is at peace. They will be unconcerned and unprepared to meet their Maker.
D. For them the Lord’s coming means destruction. At that moment destruction will come on them as suddenly as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. Once a pregnant woman has begun her labor pains there is no way out. She must go through to the end. So the joyous and glorious coming of Christ for believers will be at the same time the most terrible thing that ever happened to those who have rejected the Lord. The God whom they have ignored or blasphemed or rejected has come in His terrible anger to face them. Joel 2:11
A. Those who live in the darkness, not looking for or expecting Christ to come will be shocked and horrified when He arrives like a thief in the night with the shocking trumpet call, the loud command of the Father, and the voice of the archangel. Imagine a thief appearing in your house with all this! If you didn’t have a heart attack, you would know you were doomed. However, Christ’s appearance will not scare those who are sons of the light and of the day. I Pet. 2:9
B. We don’t belong to the night and the darkness of this world. A thief can’t surprise someone who is in the light. So then, what should be our attitude? We should not be like those who are asleep and unprepared for Christ’s coming. Rather, we must be alert and self-controlled, not sleepy. Are some Christians asleep in the daytime? We shouldn’t be but maybe sometimes we allow the enemy to put us to sleep so that we are not prepared and not serving. We need to be on our toes, working and waiting, so that when He comes we will not be ashamed before Him. I John 2:28
C. Sleeping and drunkenness are nighttime activities. That’s why those who claim to be “drunk in the spirit” can’t be drunk in the Holy Spirit. They have a different spirit that causes them to be asleep and drunken. Obviously, it must be a spirit of the night and darkness. On the other hand, since we belong to the day we must be self-controlled. This means that we know what we’re doing at all times. We are living an orderly, restrained life, not wasting our time and energy. Since self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit, we see that it includes being Holy Spirit controlled.
A. So Paul tells us here to put on our armor of faith and love as a breastplate. The breastplate protects the vital organs like the heart and lungs. We put on faith in God and love for Him and others to protect ourselves. Faith is a reaching out to God and love is a response to His love and a desire to be obedient to Him. The hope of salvation is a helmet to protect our minds. Eph. 6:14, 17 This hope of salvation does not mean that we hope we are saved. It’s our firm hope and joy as we are looking forward to the coming of our Lord who is our salvation. I Pet. 1:5
B. So here we have the combination of self-control and staying alert as we live in faith, love and hope. God has done and is doing all we need, but at the same time we are responsible to control ourselves and be alert. It is not God’s intention that we lose our salvation. God did not appoint us to suffer wrath and judgment, but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. This verse disproves what some teach that the Lord has elected some for hell or wrath. Those who believe that Jesus will rapture the church before the Tribulation use this verse to prove their point that we won’t go through the suffering of the Tribulation. But there are all kinds of judgment and wrath and the most serious is the eternal condemnation of God from which Jesus saves us.
C. Jesus died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him. This is not referring to sleeping or careless Christians. It’s referring to Christians who are alive or dead – Paul’s subject in 4:13-17. He ends this exposition of Christ’s Second Coming the same way he ended the first part in 4:18. “Encourage one another”. So we encourage one another with the wonderful news that Christ is coming back for us whether we are living or already “sleeping”. This encouragement helps us to build each other up in the faith. Evidently the Thessalonian Christians were already doing that.
Can we know when Christ will come? There have been a lot of discussions and many books written about this subject. Generally, evangelical Christians are pre-millennialists. That means that we believe that there will be a 1000 reign of Christ that hasn’t taken place yet. Within this broad group are those who believe that Christ will come before the Great Tribulation (Pretrib). Others think He will come in the middle of the Tribulation (Midtrib). Still others believe that His coming will be before God’s wrath toward the end of the Tribulation (Prewrath). Finally there are those who think that He will come at the end of the Tribulation (Posttrib). This means that Christians will either escape the Tribulation entirely or go through part or all of it. There are scriptures that support each of these views. We don’t know for sure when Christ will come so we need to be ready for whatever God has decided. We need to be ready if Christ comes before the Tribulation events, but trusting Him to carry us through the hard times if He doesn’t come till the end of the Tribulation. One thing we know for sure: HE WILL COME!
The Letters to the Thessalonians
Guidelines for Christian Living
I Thess. 5:12-28
We can tell from the tone of Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians that he felt very close to them. Of course he was their teacher and mentor, giving them information they needed, especially about the Second Coming of Christ and the Day of the Lord. They were also like his children, as he cared for them gently as a mother would (2:7) and encouraged them as a father would (2:11-12). But Paul also considered them his brothers. He called them “brothers” 16 times in this epistle - 5 times in this last section. Obviously Paul loved these Thessalonian believers.
I. Mutual love and respect in the church
A. Now Paul goes to some final instructions that are very helpful to guide us in our Christian lives. First, he talks about what our attitude should be toward those who are our leaders in the church – pastors, missionaries, deacons, pastors’ wives and deaconesses. We are to respect those who help us in the Lord. We need to support and respect those whom God has placed in our lives and in our churches to help us spiritually. It is our responsibility to our spiritual leaders to recognize their hard work and sacrifice. We are to properly acknowledge their leadership and be willing to accept their reproof. We may not like to be corrected but we need it. So the Holy Spirit here tells us to hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. I think there would be a lot fewer problems in the churches if we loved and respected those in leadership more.
B. How wonderful it would be in our churches if we lived in peace with each other as Paul writes here. Mark 9:50 We need to appreciate one another and try to better understand each other, loving as brothers and sisters in God’s family. And if we are in the leadership in the church, how do we help those under our leadership? We need to warn, encourage, help, and be patient. As good parents we are to guide them into right living while warning them and correcting their errors. In this case, one of the errors is idleness. Idleness does not honor God. He expects us to use the talents and time He has given us, not to bury them. Paul writes more about this in II Thess. 3:6. God has planned for us to be useful in His kingdom.
C. Some Christians are uncertain and insecure. They are timid and afraid to speak out for God. They need our encouragement to feel free to speak up and be a blessing to others. Others are weak. They need special help. Some are physically weak, sickly and suffering. They need a lot of help – our prayers, our gifts, and God’s words of comfort and strength. Others are spiritually weak. We need to look for ways to help them overcome temptation and spend personal time with the Lord. Sometimes we get impatient when we are trying to help people and they don’t seem to appreciate it or to respond the way we would like. We must remember that God has been very patient with us, so we must be the same for others. To help others we need patience, kindness and honesty.
D. There is another way in which we must help our brothers and sisters in the Lord. We need to teach them not to take revenge. Revenge never pleases the Lord, so we have to make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong. I Peter 3:9 One of the ways that Christians get revenge is by gossiping about those who have hurt them. We need to teach forgiveness and grace - and be living examples of grace and forgiveness. People may often wrong us but that doesn’t give us license to wrong them back. Forgiveness and kindness are the way. That’s why Paul writes that we are to be kind to each other in the church, and to those outside of the church as well. The Holy Spirit makes it clear how we are to live with one another – with kindness, forgiveness, patience, helpfulness, encouragement, peace and love.
A. Next Paul summarizes the Christian life in 3 little short sentences. They give us the essence of walking with Christ. They are easy to read and understand but quite difficult to apply to our lives and practice every day. First, he tells us to be joyful always. Phil. 4:4 But how can we be full of joy all the time when things are hard? Life is complicated and uncertain. We may be struggling with sickness or disability. We may be having a hard time paying our bills. We may be living in a frustrating situation with difficult people, not enough privacy and little understanding from those we live with. In order to be joyful always we must put Christ at the center, look to Him for our strength, concentrate on Him instead of ourselves. Nehemiah wrote: “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (8:10b)
B. Secondly, Paul writes that we should pray continually. But can we pray continually? This means that we need to be in the attitude of prayer, aware of the Lord’s presence. He promised to never leave us, so we can talk to Him any time, out loud or in our hearts, as if He were walking or riding beside us, because He is! Eph. 6:18 Thirdly, Paul writes another short but difficult command: “Give thanks in all circumstances.” How can we give thanks when we are going through trials? We can count our blessings which are many even in hard times. But even more than counting the Lord’s blessings, we can just be thankful for Him. He is our wonderful Lord and Savior. How important are these 3 short sentences? They describe God’s will for us in Christ Jesus. Do we want to know and do God’s will? This is the second time God’s will has been specifically described in this letter. (4:3)
III. Test everything
A. Next Paul writes that we must be careful not to quench the Holy Spirit, or put out His fire. To quench a fire we throw water on it or smother it with a rug or something. What do we do when the Holy Spirit speaks to us? Do we obey what He says and do it, or try to silence Him by drowning out or smothering Him? If we refuse to listen to the voice of the Spirit in our hearts or we disobey what He shows us, it’s like telling Him to be quiet – to shut up. That’s a serious and dangerous thing to do to God! Eph. 4:30 But we do need to be sure that the One who is speaking to us is the Holy Spirit, not another spirit.
B. Paul now turns to the subject of prophecy. We must not treat prophecies with contempt. Contempt is considering something vile or worthless. It is despising and dishonoring something. Of course, this refers to true prophecies, not the imaginations of people’s hearts or demonically inspired words. The New Apostolic Reformation has designated certain people as “prophets”. Does that make them prophets? No! They are no more prophets than those who call themselves “apostles” are real apostles. God is the One who calls people to be prophets and He is the One who speaks through them.
C. It’s interesting that right after writing about quenching the Holy Spirit and despising prophecies, Paul gives us his two word command so appropriate to our time: “Test everything.” John emphasized this as well. I John 4:1 Some people think that they are hearing the Holy Spirit when actually they hear another spirit which is not holy! And how can we identify true prophecies? First, there are the prophecies given in God’s Word. They are always true. Second, the preaching of the Word is sometimes referred to as prophesying. Then there is the unusual time when God may give a man or woman of God a prophecy about the future. This is uncommon as it was even in Old Testament times.
D. If what we hear is a true prophecy that fits one of these criteria, we must be careful not to treat it with contempt. If it is a false prophecy which someone has invented from his own mind or received from a demon, we need to ignore it and avoid the one who is speaking false prophecies. If the thing prophesied does not come true then we know the one who spoke it is a false prophet. Deut. 18:22 So how do we test everything? We have to test the spirit who speaks and the prophecies uttered. We always test by the Word of God. That is our ruler. Did Jesus and the apostles say it? Does it agree with the written Word in our Bible? Once we have tested, we must “Hold on to the good” and “Avoid every kind of evil”. We hold firmly to what comes from God and His Word, and throw away and avoid everything that does not originate with God. It doesn’t matter whether it comes from the world or the church. It’s our responsibility to stay away from it and have nothing to do with it!
A. Paul closes this letter with a wonderful benediction that is often used by pastors. He prays that God Himself, the God of peace, will sanctify them through and through. Only God Himself can do that. To sanctify means to make holy or to set apart for holy use. God’s work in us is to save us and then sanctify us – to make us more like Christ. He often does that, as we learned from I Peter, through trials and suffering. Rom. 8:28-29 Some people teach that man is a two-part being: body and soul. But here and in other places we learn clearly that man is 3 parts: spirit, soul and body. Heb. 4:12 Notice that the spirit is mentioned first. Our spirits are the inner part of us only known by God and us. Our spirits are dead and empty until God the Holy Spirit comes to live in them. Eph. 2:1 The Holy Spirit cannot live in our spirits until they are cleansed by the blood of Christ.
B. In a Christian his spirit is supposed to control his soul and body. Our soul is made up of our mind, emotions and will. It is our personality. If our spirit controls our soul and our soul controls our body, then we can be the people God can use – we can be sanctified and set apart for holy use. So Paul’s prayer is that their spirit, soul and body will be kept blameless – without fault – at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul here refers back again to his theme – the Second Coming. But when we are honest about ourselves we wonder how our spirits, our souls and our bodies will be kept blameless. Paul tells us! “The One who calls you is faithful and He will do it.” This doesn’t mean that He will force His will on us. But as we submit to Him and love Him more then anything or anyone, it gives Him the opportunity to do in us what needs to be done.
C. Paul closes his letter by asking for their prayer for Silas, Timothy, and himself as they ministered in Corinth. Did a great prayer warrior like Paul need people to pray for him? Yes! He wasn’t perfect and he was facing many difficulties in his ministry. When he was in prison he asked the Christians in Ephesus to pray for him. Eph. 6:19-20 There must have been some fear in his heart about preaching while in prison. He knew it was dangerous. Even though he was praying for them, he knew that he needed their prayers, too. This is the way in the body of Christ. We pray for each other.
Paul ends his letter with the blessing with which he began it: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” It is by grace we are saved. Eph. 2:8 We are to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior. II Pet. 3:18 We need to obey all the guidance the Holy Spirit has given us in this chapter, and then trust that by God’s grace we will be sanctified and ready for Christ’s coming. How wonderful that we have our great heavenly Helper! “The One who calls you is faithful, and He will do it.”