Growing in Christ
"He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures." (Luke 24:45)
Links to observations drawn from other books of the Bible
Paul shares with a struggling church the hope that is in Jesus Christ.
Practical and Pastoral Observations on 1 Thessalonians (please read each chapter slowly and meditatively before reading observations below):
Introduction: Thessalonians was only the second church established in Europe, probably in the early 50's AD. Immediately following Paul's persecution in Philippi (Acts 16:13-40) Paul's team travelled 160 km to Thessalonica to share Christ, establish and encourage a new group of disciples (Acts 17:13). This letter was written by Paul to address a range of questions and problems which had arisen since then in the community, mostly due to their isolation from other followers of Christ and the difficultly of breaking free of the pagan values of their context.
I Thessalonians 1
Reason for thanksgiving: The church is called out and distinct from its pagan host city. It is now in the Father and Jesus His anointed One (v.1). This is our core identity and the reason Paul begins his letters with thanksgiving (v.2).
Building blocks: additional building blocks on this foundation are faith, love and hope (v.3) making us steadfast, being already in the presence of our Father.
Divine Calling: Paul reminds the Thessalonians they were chosen (v.4) by the God who loved them before we loved Him. Christ's call to us comes both in the word of Christ and in the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit (v.5).
Imitating Christ in Tribulation: As Paul responded to the call of Christ, the Thessalonians imitated Paul and (v.6) and in turn became an example to many others in the region (v.7), manifesting joy in the Holy Spirit even when experiencing tribulation (v.6).
Till He Comes: Our waiting for Christ's return is an active waiting based on the certainty of His resurrection and promise (v.9-10) and a hopeful waiting looking for His rescue from both evil and from the necessary judgment on evil (v.10). "We wait for His Son from heaven, who God raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come." (v.10)
Personal Response: Others are watching my witness and my faithfulness. Christ enables me to wait actively and with endurance. In tribulation I will joy in the Holy Spirit in hope of Christ's return.
My Prayer: Father,
my eyes are on you. Give me strength to walk in faith, love and hope, following
Christ as a worthy model, also to those who follow behind and
who, like me, need repeatedly to set their
eyes and hearts on You.
I Thessalonians 2
God gives courage to share Christ: Though Paul and Silas had suffered greatly in Phillipi for sharing Christ (Acts 16) God gave courage to do so again in Thessalonica (Acts 17), where persecution again followed. In fact, the new believers in Thessalonica were persecuted by their Gentile countrymen, even as the believers in Judea suffered persecution by their Jewish countrymen (v. 14). In both of these, and in our circumstance, the courage to follow Christ and share the Gospel of Christ comes from God (v.2).
Pleasing God is our motive for sharing Christ: It is not for human praise or reward that we share Christ but because God has entrusted to us the good news of salvation as His messengers (v.4). The glory of God and the salvation for the lost is our constant motive through hardship.
The Word of God: when we speak what God has given us to speak, we too speak the very Word of God (v.13).
Growth in Grace: By God's grace some who hear respond and persevere. To this end Paul's cared for the new believers as a mother (v.7) pleading, encouraging, urging them to live worthy of the grace of God (v.12).
The Joy of Fruitfulness: Paul's yearning to see the fruit of the Gospel is intense (v. 17) even through suffering and hardship. This fruit of growth in grace and righteousness brings reward in two ways: pride and joy now and a future hope and crown when we stand before Christ at His return (v.19).
In summary, our primary work is to share Christ and build up those who respond. This may come with hardship and suffering but God who has called and commissioned us will give courage and the fruit which pleases Him.
Personal Response: I will build up the Body of Christ as a father builds up his own children (v.11), both in private personal interactions and corporately in public settings.
My Prayer: Father, help me build up the Body of Christ with love and encouragement, focusing not primarily on the negative around us, but first on the glory of our calling to His Kingdom in which we are being restored to God's glorious purpose.
I Thessalonians 3
Paul's Yearning: Paul had planted but didn't know if the new church was flourishing or had died. The question was so important Paul could endure it no longer (v.1, 5). He wanted some assurance of fruitfulness in the lives of these new believers. Therefore he sent Timothy from Athens (v.1) to Thessalonica "to find out" about their faith (v.5). Happily, Timothy returned to Athens with good news (v.6); the new church was standing firm (v.8) against the tempter. This assurance brought Paul great fulfillment "now we really live" (v.8) and filled his heart with thanksgiving and rejoicing (v.9)!
Paul's Ongoing Prayer: Paul yearned for in-person time with his spiritual children (v.10). He prayed they would grow in love, both for one other and for the lost round about them (v.12). Paul prayed especially his spiritual children would fully mature to a blameless holiness, full ready to meet Jesus upon His return (v.13).
Personal Response: Sometimes we sow Gospel seeds but do not know whether they've come to new life. However when we know we've led people to Christ, as Paul did, our responsibility for nurture continues to maturity. I will ask the Lord to bring to mind those He has enabled me to lead to the Lord and connect with them to "find out about (their) faith" (v.5), to encourage and strengthen them.
My Prayer: Father, may my joy be increased as I reconnect with these old friends and by Your grace may I lead more people to the Lord Jesus each year, perhaps even each month. Yes Lord, let it be so.
I Thessalonians 4
God's will for us: God's purpose and desire is our restored sanctification and holiness which includes all of life and relationships and in this instance particularly our sexual life (v.3).
Immorality, in contrast, refers to all manner of illicit or unnatural sexual indulgence (Ryrie). Impurity (v.7) is the opposite of sanctification. "Purity of heart is to will one thing" - Soren Kierkegaard
Sexual drives may be expressed appropriately in marriage only (v.4-6). Anything beyond transgresses and defrauds the person(s) involved and calls for God's strong response (v.6).
What then of singles? Singles require godly community benefiting from emotionally-close non-sexual relationships. Vs. 9-10 urge both those married and single to live in community of philos (brotherly affection) and agape (sacrificial love).
Simple ambitions: Paul calls the new believers to stabilize their new lives in the kingdom of God before aiming higher (v.11). This is done by 1.) living a humble, quiet lifestyle characterized by 2.) taking responsibility for ourselves before trying to remove the sliver from a neighbor and 3.) providing for ourselves and our family with honest work. The fruit will be 1.) good relationships with outsiders who may be drawn to the Kingdom by our example and 2.) a financial independence in community which does not require bailouts and may instead provide for the needs of others.
Grieving with hope: The death of a believer may have triggered the question to which Paul now responds with several vital points:
Our hope in life and death lies in the resurrection of Jesus Christ (v.14) and our promise of eternal life with Him (v.17).
The progression begins with death of the body (which sleeps, v.13). The soul however remains awake in the presence of Christ.
Then, at the appointed hour, 1.) Christ will return with a shout of victory, the proclamation of an archangel, and the sounding of a trumpet (v.16), 2.) the bodies of predeceased disciples will rise to meet Christ in the air, 3.) followed by those are alive at that time (v.17).
The Latin translation of "caught up" or "snatched away" of v.17 is the basis of the English word "rapture." The context here does not suggest we will be caught up before the return of Christ. Rather the Greek ama (v.17) "simultaneous, simultaneously," would suggest the rapture at the same time of Christ's return.
What is God's purpose in our knowing these things? It is our focus and comfort (v.18) in days of trouble and in death itself. "Do not grieve as those who have no hope..." (v.13)
Personal Response: I will hope in Christ in life, in tribulation, and when facing death. When learning of evil I will say, "I thank and praise you Jesus that you rose victorious and will come again in the great renewal to put all things right."
My Prayer: Father, help me be satisfied to live a pure and quiet life (v.11) without worldly ambitions in order to give energies to hearing your voice and doing your will. Keep me from being rattled by news of evil but to look to our certain hope in Christ with a peaceful heart.
I Thessalonians 5
Living alertly in our era: We live in the epoch (both chronos - time measured by planetary motion, and kairos - critical time of opportunity, v.1) in which the Day of the Lord will come (v.2). Though long expected, Christ's return will come unexpectedly.
How then shall we live? We live as light bearers (Christopher) (v.4-5), alert and sober (v.6-7), characterized by faith, love and hope as we stand firm against our spiritual foe (v.8). We live in the certain confidence of our salvation from God's wrath against sin (v.9) whereby we live in communion with Christ who is present in heaven and with us, whether we live in our physical bodies or independent of them (v.10). This encouragement helps us stand when assailed (v.11).
Life in community: Christ's followers love and esteem their leaders (v.12-13), value peace (v.13) and patience, discipline and encouragement and are quick to offer a helping hand (v.14). We reject revenge and seek instead to do good, both in the church and the broader community (v.15).
Worship in daily living: We rejoice in the Lord in all circumstances (v.16, note shortest verse in Gk NT), pray continually always giving thanks (v.17-18) and allow the Holy Spirit to direct and flow through us (v.19), including prophetic encouragement filtered through scripture (v.20-21). In these ways we always seek, do and hold fast to the highest good and reject every form of evil (v.22).
God desires to bless us: Paul reflects the Father's heart beautifully in this magnificent expression of speaking good things into the hearts of God's children (v.23-24):
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (ESV)
Paul asks only for prayer and for his loving encouragement to be shared with others.(v.25-27)
Personal Response: I will memorize this benediction (v.23-24) and share it with others in prayer.
My Prayer: Father, thank you for equipping me with everything I need in Christ to live fruitfully, joyfully and confidently, overcoming the wiles of the devil and anticipating the fullness of salvation at Christ's return.