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I THESSALONIANS

A MESSAGE TO NEW BELIEVERS

by LARRY CORY

 

A SUMMARY OF THE MESSAGE OF
I THESSALONIANS

 

SALUTATION (1:1)

REFLECT ON THE POWERFUL WORK THAT GOD HAS DONE IN YOU
(1:2-2:16)

1. He reminds them that their conversion was genuine (1:1-10)

a. Their genuine labor in faith, love, and hope demonstrates that their

conversion was genuine (1:2,3)

b. Their supernatural reception of the Gospel demonstrates that their

conversion was genuine (1:4,5)

c. Their willingness to follow Christ, Paul and the others, even though it

meant “severe suffering,” demonstrates that their conversion was genuine (1:6)

d. Their unusually compelling testimony demonstrates that their

conversion was genuine (1:7-10)

2. He reminds them that his ministry to them was genuine (2:1-12)

a. Answer to charge #1: Paul had failed (2:1)
b. Answer to charge #2: Paul was a criminal (2:2)
c. Answer to charge #3: Paul was a con artist (2:3,4a)
d. Answer to charge #4: Paul was a man-pleaser (2:4b)
e. Answer to charge #5: Paul was a flatterer (2:5)
f. Answer to charge #6: Paul was a praise-seeker (2:6a)
g. Answer to charge #7: Paul was a people-user (a heavy-handed

dictator and a free-loader) (2:6b-12)

3. He reminds them that their Christianity is also genuine (2:13-16)

a. They believe that the Word of God is from God (2:13)
b. They had genuine faith in God even though there was strong

opposition against them (2:14-16)

REFLECT ON THE LOVE GOD HAS GIVEN US FOR YOU (2:17-3:10)
1. Our hearts are longing to come and see you, but Satan stands in The way

(2:17-20)

2. We could not stand it any longer, so we sent Timothy to you (3:1-5)
3. Timothy's good news about their faith and love brought great joy to Paul

(3:6-9)

4. Timothy's good news motivated Paul to pray fervently night and day that

he might return to them (3:10)

LOOK TO GOD FOR THE STRENGTH TO LIVE A HOLY LIFE (3:11-4:12)
1. Look to God for the strength in preparation for the Lord's Second Coming

(3:11-13)

2. Seek to live a morally pure life (4:1-8)
3. Grow in love toward your Christian brothers (4:9,10)
4. Live a quiet and respectful life so that you will win the respect of those

outside the church (4:11,12)

LOOK TO THE FUTURE FOR ENCOURAGEMENT (4:13-5:11)
1. The dead in Christ will not be without hope at Christ's Second Coming

(4:13-15)

2. The dead in Christ and the alive in Christ will both be there at the glorious

return of Christ (4:16-18)

3. The Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night (5:1-11)

a. It will take the world by surprise (5:1-3)
b. It will not take the Sons of Light by surprise (5:4-11)

FINAL INSTRUCTIONS TO THE CHURCH (5:12-22)
1. Hold your leaders in high regard (5:12,13)
2. Patiently minister to each person according to each one's specific type of

need (5:14)

3. Do not retaliate, but be kind to all (5:15)

a. In your personal life (5:16-19)
b. In your church life (5:19-22)

CLOSING WORDS (5:23-28)
1. May God thoroughly prepare you for the coming of Jesus (5:23,24)
2. Pray for us (5:25)
3. Greet each other with a holy kiss (5:26)
4. Read this letter to all the brothers (5:27)
5. Final blessing (5:28)

 

INTRODUCTORY INFORMATION ABOUT I THESSALONIANS

1. The city of Thessalonica:  Barclay's comments introduce us to the important city to which Paul was writing in this letter:  "Its original name was Thermai, which means The Hot Springs, and it gave its name to the Thermaic Gulf on which it stood.  Six hundred years ago Herodotus had described it as a great city.  It has always been a famous harbor.  It was there that Xerxes the Persian had his naval base when he invaded Europe; and even in Roman times it was one of the world's great dockyards.  In 315 B.C. Cassander had rebuilt the city and renamed it Thessalonica, the name of his wife, who was a daughter of Philip of Macedon, and a half-sister of Alexander the Great.  It was a free city; that is to say that it never suffered the indignity of having Roman troops quartered within it.  Its population rose to 200,000 and for a time it was a question whether it or Constantinople would be recognized as the capital of the world.  Even today, under the name Salonika, it has 70,000 inhabitants."  "Taken from The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians by William Barclay.  Copyright 1975 by Westminster Press.”

2. The church in Thessalonica: We can read how the church began in Thessalonica in Acts 17:1-9.  Paul and his companions Timothy and Silas went from Philippi in Macedonia to Thessalonica in Macedonia (Macedonia is part of modern-day Greece) (a 100 mile trip).  There, in Thessalonica, he went into the Synagogue and for three Sabbath days argued that Jesus was the Messiah and that He "had suffered and rose from the dead." (Acts 17:3)  Some Jews and God-fearing Greeks became Christians through Paul's words.  But, the Jews who chose not to believe what he said about Jesus, stirred up such opposition to Paul and the Gospel that he was forced to leave Thessalonica and go to Berea, another city in Macedonia (Act 17:5-10)

3. The letter: Paul learned that the Thessalonian Christians' faith was real.  "For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit, and with deep conviction." (1:5)  In three short weeks, because of how God had powerfully worked in their lives, Paul learned that these new Christians in Thessalonica were dramatically changed people.  They were persevering in their faith, even though they were experiencing persecution.  "For you, brothers, became imitators of God's churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews" (2:14)

But, they were doing some new unhelpful things also:  (1) They were getting so focused on the second coming of Jesus Christ that they were drifting into idleness (4:11,12).  (2) They were becoming preoccupied with what had happened to those Christians who had died (4:13-15).  (3) They were in danger of going back to their old immoral ways (4:3-8).  (4) They needed to be encouraged to be thankful and joyful (5:16-18).  (5) They needed to be encouraged to submit to authority (5:12-14).

 

THE MESSAGE OF I THESSALONIANS

     Paul spent just three weeks in Thessalonica before opposition to him from the Jews who rejected his message about Jesus forced him to leave.  Had those who professed to become Christians among the Jews and the Greeks made real decisions?  Had the persecution they faced discouraged them from continuing on in their faith?  ("I was afraid that in some way the tempter might have tempted you and our efforts might have been useless." 3:5)
From Athens, Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to find out.  When Paul reached Corinth, he heard that their faith was real and persevering.  I Thess-alonians is Paul's letter to build up these new believers.  He sent this letter from the Greek city of Corinth.  It is a letter that can help us to know how we can build up and encourage new believers.  This letter from the great Apostle can also build up and encourage us in our faith.

SALUTATION (1:1)

"To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you."  Simply, this is a letter from Paul, Silas, and Timothy to the Christians in Thessalonica.  The foundation of the Christian life is simply expressed here: God's grace through Jesus Christ provides each Christian with peace with God.

REFLECT ON THE POWERFUL WORK THAT GOD HAS DONE IN YOU
(1:2-2:16)

The church is not a product of man's efforts.  The true church has come into existence only as God's power has worked inside of men and women producing the supernatural births of a new people called Christians.  Though God can enable people to become Christians as they simply read the Gospel message; people most often become Christians when the Gospel is powerfully presented to them by Christian men and women.  The Thessalonian church and our churches today are a result of God's power.  Paul reminds them of what God did to start the church at Thessalonica.  As you read these words you can also remember what God powerfully did in your life to make you a part of His church.

1. He reminds them that their conversion was genuine (1:1-10)

How can we know if someone is a genuinely born-again-by-God Christian?  The assurance that Paul gave to these Thessalonian believers can also be a test for whether or not we have eternally entered into God's family.

a. Their genuine labor in faith, love, and hope demonstrated that their

conversion was genuine (1:2,3)
"We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers.  We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ."

Thought Question #1:  How do you believe Paul knew that the Thessalonian Christians' labors were motivated by faith, love, and hope?  What could be seen in their lives that would give him this confidence?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  How can you tell if your Christian labors are motivated by faith, love, and hope?

 

 

Gene Getz in his book, The Measure of the Church uses these three qualities as a way to measure a church.  These are three motivators that should be behind all genuine labor by Christians in the church.  There are other motivators, but they are wrong and impure motives for church work.  How can we know that we are Christians?  For one thing, we will enjoy God's work.  Our work, like these first Thessalonian Christians' work, will be motivated by faith, love, and hope.

(1) Faith begins it all.  Our motivation begins with faith in God's love for us.  With the eyes of faith (given to us also by God), we see that God loves us so much that He sent His Son to die to pay the penalty for our sin.  And He did this so that we could become part of His eternal family.  With the eyes of faith, we see that though we are totally undeserving, God has taken care of us completely for eternity.  Paul saw himself as obligated and as a debtor to God because God had rescued him from the just condemnation and damnation that he so well deserved.  See Romans 1:14-17  If we believe that has totally taken care of us forever, all that is left is for us to help others to find what we have received.

(2) Love sees the needs of others and cares about them.  The Thessalonian Christians' labor was "prompted by love."  Genuine Christian labor is motivated by genuine concern for others.  There are all kinds of impure reasons for being involved in the work of God's church, but love for God and for others is the one pure motive.

(3) Hope, according to Paul in these verses, inspires us to persevere in God's work.  Listen to Paul's words in II Corinthians 4:16-18:  "Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting  away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is unseen is eternal."  What keeps us going in God's work?  We can keep going because we have the hope that it will one day be worth it all!

Paul thanked God that they were motivated in God's work by faith, love, and hope.  And we can be thankful for all those down through the ages and today who are busy in God's work; motivated also by faith, love, and hope.

b. Their supernatural reception of the Gospel demonstrated that their

conversion was genuine (1:4,5)
"For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.  You know how we lived among you for your sake."

Thought Question:  How did God powerfully work in your life when you heard the gospel message and became a Christian?

 

 

Paul knew these Thessalonian Christians were chosen by God.  How did he know it?  How do we know if we or others are chosen by God?  Paul knew that they were chosen by God because when he presented the gospel to them, he was not just presenting words to them, but God's power accompanied his presentation of the gospel.  They were deeply convicted of their sin and convinced that Jesus died for them.  They were dynamited by God into the Christian way of life.  "As they spoke the preachers were keenly conscious of the presence of this supernatural power behind their words producing supernatural persuasiveness and penetrating conviction."  "Taken from The Thessalonian Epistles by D. Edmund Hiebert.  Copyright 1971 by Moody Press."  Also, God had empowered Paul and the others to live a godly testimony before them. 

When you think back on your conversion, do you not remember much the same type of experience happening to you?  God caused you to see that you were a sinner, and God made it real to you that Jesus died for you.  You were convicted of your sin, and you were willing to receive Jesus as your Savior and Lord.  Were you also aware that those who were already Christians had a quality of life that you were not yet experiencing?  And, so through the ages, men and women have became Christians in the same way as these Thessalonian Christians.

c. Their willingness to follow Christ, Paul, and the others even though it

meant "severe suffering," demonstrated that their conversion was genuine. (1:6)
"You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit."

Thought Question:  What opposition and obstacles have made it difficult for you to continue in your faith?

 

 

We hear that in China the church is growing in spite of extreme persecution by the communist Chinese government.  We could easily understand the church growing in China if the government were very favorable to Christianity.  But, how can we explain why people are becoming Christians when it means certain persecution?  The explanation is given in this verse.    The Thessalonian Christians "welcomed the message with joy given by the Holy Spirit."  A sign that our conversions are genuine is that we can be joyful in our relationship with God even though there is great opposition to our being a Christian (from our family, our friends, our co-workers, the government, etc.).  What brought joy to Paul's heart was that these Thessalonian Christians, after he had spent just a few weeks with them, were still following Paul's pattern of life and were following Jesus Christ even though it was not the socially "in" thing to do.  In fact, their society was rejecting and persecuting them. 

Paul was so pleased with the Thessalonian believers that he declares that they provided a "model" (1:7) for other believers.  Their response to the gospel is what Paul had hoped for when he evangelized the people of his time.  The Apostle John said these words to one of his followers:  "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth." (III John 4)

d. Their unusually compelling testimony demonstrates that their conversion

was genuine (1:7-10)
"And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.  The Lord's message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia---your faith in God has become known everywhere.  Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us.  They tell how you turned from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead---Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath."

Thought Question:  When you became a Christian, from what did your turn?

 

 

Another reason Paul was confident that they had genuinely become Christians is that the world of their time had heard about how dramatically their lives had changed after they embraced Jesus Christ.  They were raised as idolaters.  But, when they heard the message about Jesus Christ, they turned to God from their idols.  This is repentance, "Metanoia."  A change in thinking about Jesus Christ (meta = change and noia = mind, a change of mind or thinking).  They had changed and had come to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.  That new outlook had led them to see that idols are worthless and empty.  Their mind or way of thinking dramatically changed; they turned to God whom they saw as real and away from idols that they now saw as worthless.  They turned to the "living and true God and to wait for his Son from heaven." 

Hendricksen points out one reason why the conversion of these Thessalonians to Christianity and away from idolatry was particularly significant:  "It must be borne in mind that Mt. Olympus, whose celebrated summit was considered the home of the gods, was close by, only about fifty miles to the S.W.  And according to tradition, when Zeus shook his ambrosial curls, that mighty mount trembled!"  "Taken from New Testament Commentary I-II Thessalonians by William Hendricksen.  Copyright 1955 by Baker Book House."

The news about the Thessalonians' dramatic turning to God spread easily to other parts of the world, for Thessalonica was a port town that was on the Egnation Way, one of the main thoroughfares in the ancient world.

Notice that at the very end of each chapter or near the end of each chapter is an emphasis which is an important theme of the book.  In verse ten we find this theme:  "and wait for his Son from heaven….who rescues us from the coming wrath."  When God's wrath comes, their persecutors will experience His anger because of their sins; but the Thessalonian Christians will be rescued.

2. He reminds them that his ministry to them was genuine (2:1-12)

Paul's ministry to them was being attacked by those who were opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Paul needed to defend his ministry against every single attack Satan's forces made on him, so that the gospel message would not become discredited.  Below are the charges his enemies were making against him:

a. Answer to charge #1:  Paul had failed (2:1)

"You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure."

Thought Question:  Paul's enemies were saying that his visit to Thessalonica was a failure.  Why do you believe that they said he was a failure?  Why was it not a failure?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  Is there a situation your life where someone has said that you were a failure in serving God when you believed that you were actually a success?  Why did that person(s) say that you were a failure?  Why were you a success?

 

 

Paul's enemies undoubtedly felt they had succeeded and that Paul had failed; for they had successfully chased him out of town.  Paul reminds them, though, that God had enabled him to be a success.  As he will say in 2:19: "For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of the Lord Jesus when he comes?  Is it not you?  Indeed, you are our glory and joy"?  He did not fail, for what God had done in their lives is proof that he had succeeded.  "You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure."  So, Paul was not a failure as his enemies had charged.

b. Answer to charge #2: Paul was a criminal (2:2)

"We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition."

Thought Question:  Paul's enemies had certainly told the Thessalonians of his time in jail in Philippi.  What has happened in your past that someone has used against you?  What is there in Paul's words that are helpful to you, when someone seeks to use your past against you?

 

 

Paul's accusers probably pointed out to the Thessalonian Christians that Paul had been publicly beaten and put in jail in Philippi.  See Acts 16:22-24  Were they going to listen to a jail bird, a criminal on the run?  "We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition."  Paul's answer is that there has been strong resistance to him and his message, so he had to present the gospel to them "in spite of strong opposition."  He had "been insulted" or shamed at Philippi.  Instead of the city welcoming the Apostle and his message, they had publicly humiliated Silas and him.  But, Paul was willing to endure all of the unfair charges against him so that he could continue to share the gospel.  If he were a criminal, it was because those who hated the gospel made him a criminal because he preached the gospel.  Should we be ashamed and shrink back because the gospel message we believe is not politically correct in our society?

c. Answer to charge #3: Paul was a con artist (2:3,4a)

"For the appeal that we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you.  On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel."

Thought Question:  Paul's enemies were saying that his motives were selfish.  Has anyone questioned your motives in your ministry?  How do Paul's words help you when your motives are challenged?

 

 

Paul's enemies were saying that Paul was a fast-talking charlatan who was trying to trick them for his own personal gain.  They were saying that Paul was just another of the many traveling teachers of that time who were smooth-talking con artists. "For the appeal that we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you.  On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel."  Paul answers this charge by saying that his appeal to them did "not spring from error or impure motives."  In fact, he came to them not as a self-appointed charlatan, but as someone who had been approved and entrusted by God with the gospel.  (The Antichrist, however, will be a smooth-talking con artist. See II Thessalonians 2:9)

d. Answer to charged #4: Paul was a man-pleaser (2:4b)

"We are not trying to please men, but God, who tests our hearts."

Thought Question:  What can you learn from Paul's words in this partial verse that will help you in the ministry?

 

 

Paul's accusers were saying that Paul was spineless and would say whatever men wanted him to say.  But, Paul shares what he is really doing.  "We are not trying to please men, but God, who tests our hearts."  He realizes that God constantly checks our heart attitudes.  It was Paul's goal to continually please God who constantly examined his heart.

e. Answer to charge #5:  Paul was a flatterer (2:5)

"You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed--God is our witness."

Thought Question:  From this verse, what is the difference between flattery and genuine encouragement?

 

 

A flatterer is someone who says nice things about you and to you, not to encourage you and build you up, but to get something from you.  But, Paul says that God is his witness that greed was not his motive when he shared the gospel with them.  "You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed--God is our witness."  In verse 11, he says, "you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children."  Paul can use his own testimony about what he was like when he was with them to answer the charges against him.  Timothy, while he was pastoring in Ephesus, was charged with being too young to pastor a church.  Paul exhorted him to show by the quality of his life that he is qualified to lead that church.  See I Timothy 4:12  Paul was able to refute the charges of his attackers because of the type of life he lived while he was with them.

f. Answer to charge #6:  Paul was a praise-seeker (2:6a)

"We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else."

Thought Question:  Why do you believe that Paul was able to minister to others without seeking their praise?

 

 

Again, his accusers charge him with doing what he did so he will be esteemed by men.  But, Paul answers that he was not seeking praise from them or from anyone else.  "We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else."  Paul was like a violin player that was playing before a great master.  There was only one person in the audience that he wanted to please.  So, there is only One in our audience that we need to please.  There was only One in Paul's audience that he wanted to please.

g. Answer to charge #7:  Paul was a people user (a heavy-handed dictator

and a free-loader) (2:6b-12)
"As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children.  We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.  Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.  You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed.  For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory."

Thought Question #1:  Find as many reasons as you can why you would enjoy having Paul as your spiritual leader.

 

 

Thought Question #2:  Which one of Paul's ministry patterns described in these verses is a pattern that you particularly want to develop, so that your ministry to others will be more effective?  Why did you choose that particular ministry pattern?

 

 

Paul could have been a burden to them; but instead, he labored to not be a burden to them.  A boss can be a burden to his or her employees.  You may have experienced a boss who hovers over you looking for faults, a boss who wields his or her authority in an intimidating and impatient manner.  This type of boss is a dictator.  Paul and his associates were not this type of leader, at all.  They were servant-leaders.  The Thessalonian Christians could remember that Paul and the others were the complete opposite of dictators when they were with them.  "As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children."

In these verses we find a model for leadership in the church.  Leaders in a cult are often like little generals who have learned how to rule people through guilt and intimidation.  Unfortunately, Christian pastors can also use manipulative methods like these to get those under them to do their will.  Paul was the very opposite of this type of leader.  First, he told them, "we were gentle among you like a mother caring for her little children."  Apart from God's love and Christian love, what is the best illustration we can use to describe love?  Certainly, it is a mother's love and gentleness toward the children who were within her own body for nine months.  Paul had this type of love and concern for these new Christians in Thessalonica.  He and the others had not been harsh or insensitive with them; but they had been gentle with them.

Also, Paul was clearly being accused of using the Thessalonian Christians for his own selfish purposes.  Some of us question and become uncomfortable when a television preacher begins to make appeals for money.  How sincere is he or she?  We know that there have been television preachers who have misused the funds that have been given to them.  Undoubtedly, Paul was being accused of having some type of scheme.  In the end, these Thessalonian Christians would learn that Paul was really a shyster who was only out to get money from them.  Paul needed to somehow convince the Thessalonian Christians who only saw him for a short time that he was sincere and could be trusted. 

How did he answer all of these types of charges against him?  He answered these charges by reminding them that when he had been with them he had been the very opposite of a selfish, manipulative person.  "We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.  Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you."  They not only gave them the gospel, he and the others worked night and day so they would not need to ask them for anything.  He provided for his own food and other needs, and he did not expect anything from them.  The Thessalonian Christians had seen Paul and the fellow missionaries work until they were exhausted so that they would not be a burden to them.  "Ramsay concluded from Paul's expression that they began their work long before dawn in order to be able to give part of their day to preaching."  "Taken from the The Thessalonian Epistles by D. Edmund Hiebert.  Copyright 1971 by Moody Press."  See also Acts 18:2,3, 20:33-35; II Thessalonians 3:7,8

Paul did accept money from churches outside of the region he was ministering to so that he could minister to the church that he was working with.  In fact, he had received money from the church at Philippi so he could minister to the church at Thessalonica.  See Philippians 4:10-20, especially 4:16  It is very acceptable to God for some who are called by God  to the ministry to receive pay for their work.  See I Corinthians 9:6-15  But, Paul did not receive money from those he was ministering to for the first time, so that they would not get the impression that they had to pay for the gospel, or that Paul and the others were after their money.

Paul and the others were not like the silver-tongued scoundrels who use religion to fleece people; but instead they were like their own fathers.  They were pure in their love and concern for the Thessalonian Christians.  These verses also show that Paul did not gain a following just by mesmerizing people with mass oratory.  Instead, Paul's ministry included a ministry to individuals and small groups; where he encouraged them, comforted them, and urged them to live godly lives.  This is missing from many of our ministries today.  We have become experts at moving the masses, but in too many cases we have lost interest in ministering to and discipling individuals.  Jesus' primary ministry was to the twelve Apostles, Lazarus, Martha, Mary, and a few others.  Paul's primary ministry was to Timothy, Titus, and some of the other individuals that he names in his letters.

When we see someone caring for individuals, working to pay for his own needs, and caring for others like only their own mother and father cares for them, we can be fairly certain that they are sincere in their work for God.

3. He reminds them that their Christianity is also genuine (2:13-16)

Paul first proves to them that he and the others who shared the Gospel with them were messengers sent from God.  Now, he will also show them that their lives have been genuinely changed by God.

"And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.  For you, brothers, became imitators of God's churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus.  You suffered from your own countrymen the same thing those churches suffered from the Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out.  They displease God and are hostile to all men in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved.  In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit.  The wrath of God has come upon them at last."

Thought Question:  What is there in these verses that will help you to know that someone has become a Christian?

 

 

a. They believed that the Word of God is from God (2:13)

A characteristic of all those who truly come to believe in God is their belief that the Bible is the Word of God.  That was Paul's joy when he preached to the Thessalonians.  Some believed that what Paul was preaching were words from God.  The world is divided into two groups; those who believe the Bible is God's book and those who reject it.  Paul's followers at Thessalonica were in the first group.

b. They had genuine faith in God, even though there was strong opposition

against them. (2:14-16)
They showed that their faith was real by continuing to believe even though it meant that they would be persecuted by the same type of people who hated Jesus, the prophets, and the early Christians in Israel.  There will always be those who actively oppose the sharing of the Gospel.  We see them on modern-day television talk shows as they get red in the face the minute anything about God or Christianity is mentioned.  They use words such as Fundamentalists, extreme right wingers, and proselytizers.  When they say these words there is venom on their tongues.  Even when they smile, it looks more like a leer.  True Christians will always have those who hate them.  But, true Christians, like these Thessalonian Christians of years ago, will persevere, even when they are persecuted by those who hate God and His ways.

Notice that Paul states that these Thessalonian Christians were suffering in the same way as the early Jewish church in Israel had suffered.  Why does Paul compare their sufferings to the sufferings of the Jewish church?  Listen to the opinion of Calvin, the famous Christian, as it is quoted by Hiebert:  He believed that "the Jews at Thessalonica were insinuating that the new faith which Paul's converts had accepted must be a false religion since the Jews, the only people who worshipped the true God, were constrained to oppose it.  To remove any doubts that they might have had, Paul reminded his readers that the first churches, started in Judea, had been made to suffer by the Jews who thus showed themselves the determined enemies of God and all sound doctrine."  But Hiebert himself believes that Paul compares their suffering with the suffering of the Jewish churches to "show them that from the beginning, Christians have been suffering for their faith, so they were not alone in being persecuted.."  "Taken from The Thessalonian Epistles by D. Edmund Hiebert.  Copyright 1971 by Moody Press."

Paul has very strong words for his countrymen the Jews in verses 15 and 16.  He blames them for killing Jesus and the prophets.  And he also blames them for the constant opposition to the presenting of the gospel to the Gentiles.  "You suffered from your own countrymen the same thing those churches suffered from the Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out.  They displease God and are hostile to all men in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved.  In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit.  The wrath of God has come upon them at last."  Jesus also had strong words for the Jews.  See Luke 11:47,48; Matthew 23:31,37

The Thessalonian Christians should not be surprised that their countrymen were persecuting them, since even God's own people, the Jews, were capable of killing God's prophets and the Son of God Himself.  But the persecution by the Jews and others of that time and by people today has resulted in and will result in the wrath of God coming down on these who choose to oppose God and His people.  See also II Thessalonians 1, where Paul continues to encourage the Thessalonian Christians that those who were persecuting them would one day face the full fury of God's wrath!

 

REFLECT ON THE LOVE GOD HAS GIVEN US FOR YOU
(2:17-3:10)
We will get many insights into Paul's ministry in these verses. We will also see what our ministries to others should be like.

1. Our hearts are longing to come and see you, but Satan stands in the way

(2:17-20)
"But, brothers, when we were torn away from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you.  For we wanted to come to you---certainly I, Paul, did, again and again---but Satan stopped us.  For what is our hope, our joy or our crown, in which we glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes.  Is it not you?  Indeed, you are our glory and joy."

Thought Question #1:  What do these verses tell us about what the Christian ministry should be like?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  What do these verses tell us about what our rewards in heaven will be like?

 

 

Thought Question #3:  How do you believe "Satan stopped" Paul from returning to them?

 

 

Thought Question #4:  Can you think of any ways that Satan has stopped you from ministering to someone?

 

 

When Paul and the others were "torn away" from them, they felt like parents who had their children suddenly torn away from them.  The word "torn away" means to be orphaned.  Paul, their spiritual father, did not stop trying to see them.  He tried again and again, but Satan prevented him from going to them.

What do these verses tell us about what the Christian ministry should be like?  Paul had been with them just for a short time, yet he had a very intense desire to be with them and to minister to them.  According to Paul's example, what type of attitude should you have toward those who visit your church?  Paul knew these people just a couple of weeks, yet he longed to be with them like a parent separated from his children.  Should we not have this type of desire for those in our churches?  Should we not have this type of concern even for our new attenders?

How did Satan prevent Paul and the others from being with the Thessalonian Christians?  Paul did not leave them voluntarily.  Certainly, if Paul had his choice, he would have stayed with them until they were firmly grounded in the Word of God.  But, instead, because of the persecutions instigated by Satan himself, he was forced to leave. And because of this Satanic opposition, he was unable to return to Thessalonica where he wanted to be.

Now, consider what these Thessalonian Christians that Paul had known for such a short time, meant to him:  "For what is our hope, our joy or our crown, in which we glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes.  Is it not you?  Indeed, you are our glory and joy."  For what reason could Paul look forward to the return of Jesus Christ?  One of the reasons that Paul could anticipate that wonderful day is that he had been a faithful servant and he will be able to show that he used the hours of his life well by those who became Christians through him and by those who grew in the Christian life because of him.  When Jesus returns it will be Paul's joy and reward to stand before Jesus with those He reached with the Gospel message.  What will be our joy and reward?  Will not our greatest joy at that time be seeing those we have reached out to and ministered to standing there with us?  Is this not the primary motivation for Christian ministry?  It is when we stand before Jesus and see that our efforts were not just so much wood, hay, and weeds that are worthless before God; but our joy will be if we see that our efforts have been precious in Jesus' eyes.  Paul looked to that future day and saw that these Thessalonian Christians would be his joy and crown when he would stand before Jesus Christ.

When someone won a race in an Olympic type of athletic event in Paul's day, he became the focus of attention at a victory celebration.  At that victory celebration he would stand before the local government leader and have a laurel wreath put on his head.  Paul's laurel wreath or crown will be those who will stand with him before Jesus Christ; those he personally reached out to in his life of ministry.

When we are with Christ, we will see which of our efforts in God's work were of value and which of our efforts were of no value before Jesus Christ.  Those we have genuinely influenced to become Christians or to grow as Christians will be of the greatest value to us on that day.

2. We could not stand it any longer, so we sent Timothy to you (3:1-5)

"So when he could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens.  We sent Timothy who is our brother and God's fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials.  You know quite well that we were destined for them.  In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted.  And it turned out that way, as you well know.  For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith.  I was afraid that in some way the tempter might have tempted you and our efforts might have been useless."

Thought Question #1:  What do you learn about Paul from these verses?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  According to these verses, what can we expect in the Christian life?

 

 

Thought Question #3:  What do we learn from these verses about what baby Christians need?

 

 

We see here one of the frustrations of the ministry.  In God's work, in a sinful and imperfect world, it rarely goes ideally as we want it to go.  Paul did not want to be alone and without Timothy while he was ministering in Athens, but he also did not want the Thessalonians Christians to be without the type of guidance and encouragement they needed.  So, "when he could stand it no longer," he chose to give up the companionship with Timothy that he so enjoyed and he sent Timothy to Thessalonica to help the new Christians there.  See Acts 17:15,16, 18:5 for additional details of Paul's travels with and without his companions Silas and Timothy.

We learn in these verses what baby Christians need:  (1) They need to be strengthened and encouraged in their faith so that they will not become confused and discouraged when they encounter trials.  Listen to Paul's words: he sent Timothy to them "so that no one would be unsettled by these trials."    Many new Christians believe that when they become Christians, it will be smooth sailing from then on in their lives.  But, God does not promise us an end to trials, but an end to going through trials alone.  "You know quite well that we were destined for them."  (2) They need to learn about Satan's tactics and about how to resist his temptations. Listen again to Paul's words: "I was afraid that in some way the tempter might have tempted you and our efforts might have been useless."  Paul knew that after he left them, that Satan would use his people to seek to draw the Christians away from God.  Paul did not know until Timothy returned that these Christians were continuing to trust God.  We have all heard people who are able, in a very convincing way, to ridicule Christianity.  (3) They need to learn that trials are and always will be a part of the Christian life.  When Paul returned to those who had become Christians on his first missionary journey, he had the following to say to these new converts.  "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God." (Acts 14:21,22)  See also II Timothy 3:12  Paul warned these Thessalonian Christians when he was first with them that there would be trials ahead for them.  Sure enough, Paul was persecuted and they also encountered strong opposition to their faith as well.  "In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you we would be persecuted.  And it turned out that way, as you well know." 
(4) New Christians need a Timothy-type person to be there for them, to encourage them, to warn them of Satan's tactics, and to prepare them for the certainty of trials.


Finally, we learn from these verses that it is a very real possibility that if new Christians are not strengthened, encouraged, and warned about Satan and about trials; they can fall away.  Paul was concerned that his efforts may have been useless.  Christian evangelism must go beyond presenting the gospel.  It requires that we, if we are to see lasting fruit, continue to take care of the garden after we have planted the seed.  Just as a garden can become weed-infested and useless if we do not take care of it, so will new believers become infested by all of Satan's tactics if we do not take care of them.  Because of temptations, sin, guilt, legalism, false teaching, and for many other reasons; new believers can be drawn away from their walk with God.  When Paul heard Timothy's good report of their continuing walk with God, in spite of persecution and opposition, he became convinced that they were indeed chosen by God.

3. Timothy's good news about their faith and love brought great joy to Paul

(3:6-9)
"But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love.  He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you.  Therefore , brothers, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith.  For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord.  How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of God because of you?"

Thought Question #1:  What do we learn here about Christian ministry?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  What do we learn from these verses about Christian happiness?

 

 

In these few verses we read of one of the greatest joys of the ministry.  Paul goes from being anguished and concerned for these new Christians, to having great joy.  The joy began when Paul learned from Timothy that they were longing to see him and were concerned about him as he was concerned for them.  If you have ever led anyone to the Lord and that person is growing as a Christian and is appreciative of how you have helped them, then you have some idea of the joy that Paul was feeling when he got the news from Timothy.  "He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us." 

As I was busy editing this study, I received a phone call.  I learned that a friend was in the hospital and had been given just six months to live.  My wife Shirley and I immediately called him in the hospital.  He was obviously weak, but he nevertheless expressed appreciation for our ministry to him, and he encouraged us to persevere in our ministry to others – particularly to the lost.  Years ago, his wife and he were in Bible study with Shirley and me.  During that Bible study, Jim and Mary became Christians.  After we called Jim, we called Mary.  Again, as we sought to comfort her, Mary shared how much she appreciated our ministry to them.  I know the joy that Paul felt as he got the good news that his ministry to the Thessalonian Christians was well received.  For along with my concern for Jim and Mary, I am also experiencing that joy at this very moment! 

John the Apostle knew this joy:  "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth." (III John 4)  Paul is excited about their "faith and love"; which is primarily what our hope is for our fellow Christians.  "Faith" indicates that their relationship with God is right, and "love" indicates that their relationship with others is right.  The good news about these new Christians' perseverance was just what Paul needed to hear.  For Paul had been pressed down by all the concern and persecution he was experiencing.  This was not the only time Paul was pressed down by pressures and concerns.  See II Corinthians 1:8-11, 7:5-7

If Paul had these times when he was overwhelmed by the pressures of life and ministry, we should not be too hard on ourselves when we also need encouragement from God and from others to help us keep going and to pick up our spirits.  Certainly, each of us have experienced the joy of an encouragement from God and others just as Paul did: "For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord.  How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of God because of you?"

Paul ends this section with an explanation to them of how his concern for them and the joy he is experiencing because of their walk with God has motivated him in his prayer life.  It has led him to be so thankful to God and joyful before God that words cannot express it.  What is happiness, true happiness?  Here we see it described.  The happiness that is overflowing and beyond any other happiness is the joy and happiness before God when you know that God is blessing your efforts and people's lives are being changed forever because of your work of love.  What could be better happiness than what Paul is experiencing here?  Paul thanks the One who has brought him this joy!

4. Timothy's good news motivated Paul to pray fervently night and day that

he might return to them (3:10)
"Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith."

Thought Question:  What does this verse tell us about what our ministry to others should be like (especially, our ministry to new Christians)?

 

 

Next, we see one of the great costs of the ministry.  Paul prayed earnestly night and day for them.  When Paul became aware of an open door for ministry, he obviously became possessed with the desire to minister to them and build them up in the faith.  So, he prayed night and day that he would be able to go to them and minister to them.

Notice Paul's type of praying:  First, he "Prayed night and day."  It would appear that Paul had three primary parts of life that are described in this book:  (1) He worked to exhaustion to meet his own needs.  (2) He spent an important part of his time ministering to these new Christians, encouraging them and building them up.  (3) He spent much of whatever time was left over, praying for them and others.

Second, he prayed "most earnestly."  The Greek word translated "most earnestly" is also found in Ephesians 3:20; "now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine."  God is able to do way beyond, even overflowingly beyond, what we think He can do for us.  So, Paul's prayer for them was a great overflowing of concern for them.  This is one of the great costs of the ministry.  We become so concerned for those we are ministering to that we find ourselves continually praying for them.

What was Paul praying continually for with this type of prayer?  He was praying that he would be able to see them and minister to them.  And he was praying that he would be able to supply the missing pieces in their faith.  There are some who love fixing things.  When a friend's car is not working, he can hardly wait to replace the faulty part with a new functioning part.  Paul could hardly wait until he could provide the functioning part to replace the faulty part in their faith.  We must remember that shortly before they had been pagans.  There was a great need for them to be built up by Paul's ministry.

This letter contains some of the areas where their faith needed to be repaired: they were concerned about what was to happen to those who had already died (4:13), they needed to clean up and purify their sex lives (4:3-8), and they needed repairs in other areas that he mentions in this letter and his second letter to them.

LOOK TO GOD FOR THE STRENGTH TO LIVE A HOLY LIFE (3:11-4:12)

1. Grow in love and strength in preparation for the Lord's Second Coming

(3:11-13)
"Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you.  May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.  May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones."

Thought Question:  What is there in these verses that will help us in know what to do for the new Christians in our church?

 

 

We see in these verses three ways that we can encourage Christians to grow in their walk with God:  First, he asks God to "clear the way" so that he will be able to go to them.  What does this have to do with helping new Christians to grow in their walk with God?  A second question will help us to see what these words have to do with Christian growth.  Why does he want to go to them?  He wants to go to them so he can build them up; so he can help them to grow in their Christian walk.  He told the Roman Christians: "I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong." (Romans 1:11)  Paul desired to go to these Christians at Thessalonica so that he could help them to grow.  So, the first way we can encourage new Christians to grow in holiness is to be available to them to build them up spiritually.  Early day Christians looked for Christian leaders who could help them to grow as Christians.  Men and woman like Timothy and others began to travel with men like Paul so they could learn from them and grow in their Christian lives.  We, also, need to seek to follow Christian leaders who will help us to grow in our Christian lives.  And we also need to seek those who will benefit from our counsel and encouragement.

Second, we need God to give us and those we encourage in the Lord the strength so that we will all become able to live holy and loving lives.  "May the Lord make your love increase…May He strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy…"  Only God is holy and only He can give us the ability to live holy lives.  Paul prayed for his fellow Christians that they would receive God's strength so that they could increase in holiness.  We need to pray for our Christian brothers and sisters so that they will grow in holiness; and we also need to pray for ourselves so that we will grow in holiness. 

Third and finally, looking to Jesus the Holy One to return "with all his holy ones," motivates us to live godly lives.  "Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure." (I John 3:4)  We often clean our house because we are going to have a visitor.  Likewise, we should clean up our lives because we are going to have a Visitor!  Paul's concern is that they would have the type of holiness that will stand God's inspection; when they (and we) will stand in His presence.

The Lord Jesus comes with "all his holy ones" or saints.  Who are the holy ones?  In II Thessalonians 1:7 we are told he will come with "his powerful angels."  See also Matthew 25:31 and Mark 8:38  Because Paul uses the term "holy ones" or "saints" to refer to Christians, he appears to be referring here also to Christians who will be with Jesus when He comes.  In I Thessalonians 4:13-17, Paul says that the Christians who have already died will be taken up to be with the Lord before the living Christians will be taken up in the Rapture to be with the Lord.  This subject will be discussed in detail when we get to these verses.

Before we leave this section of verses, there are a few not so obvious portions of these verses that are important for us to notice.  First of all, notice that Paul not only asks God the Father to open up the way so he can come to them, but he also asks Jesus to open the way.  If Jesus were just a mere man, could He do anything for Paul?  Notice also in verse 12, that Paul says, "May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other."  The "Lord" here appears to also refer to Jesus Christ.  Again, only an infinite God can work through men to make their love increase.  We can conclude, then, that Paul must have believed that Jesus was and is God.

Next, notice that Paul wants their love to "increase and overflow."  Paul already acknowledged that they loved each other.  See I Thessalonians 1:3, 3:6  The love that God gives us, Divine love, is more than just the human type of love that we are able to muster up; it is a love from Him that drenches our lives and overflows out to others.   Notice also that Paul wanted God's love to overflow in them "for each other and for everyone else."  God's love is not a cliquish type of love that cares only for those in our little circle of friends; it will lead us to care for anyone and everyone.  Finally, he says, "just as ours does for you."  They had already seen God's type of love expressed toward them through Paul and his friends.  Human love falls far short of Divine love.  We love those who love us.  We love those who treat us right.  We love the loveable.  We love those who do not offend us.  God's type of love cares when there is no reason to keep on caring.  We cannot love with this type of love.  We need for God to give us His type of love for everyone around us.  We need His type of love to overflow in our lives, until we love everyone!

2. Seek to live a morally pure life (4:1-8)

"Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living.  Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.  For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.  It is God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him.  The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you.  For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.  Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit."

Thought Question:  What is there in these verses that will help you to not want to sin and to live a morally pure life?

 

 

What is the purpose of the human body?  There is a principle that is being taught today, that if it feels good do it; as long as it does not hurt anyone else.  This has been called the new morality, but it really is the old immorality.  For this reason the Bible is very up-to-date.  In Paul's time there was a viewpoint that sex should be treated just like our hunger for food.  See I Corinthinas 6:13-20  The argument goes like this.  If we are hungry, we eat.  Therefore, if we have a sexual urge, we should also immediately fulfill that desire.  The argument is fallacious for at least two obvious reasons:  (1) It is very obvious today there is a need to control even when, what, and how much we eat.  So, even in eating we have found that it is not wise to be completely controlled by our urges and desires for food.  (2) No one would say that it is okay for someone to give in to their sexual desires in every situation.  We call some who give in to their sexual desires - rapists, sexual predators, sexual perverts, exhibitionists, and child molesters.  So, it is clear and obvious that it is not simply a matter of it being okay to do what you have a desire to do. 

Paul brings up the most compelling reason that we should not be controlled by our sexual desires:  We should live "in order to please God."  And it is God's will that we should live holy lives, which means that we are to "avoid sexual immorality."  This further means that we are to control our bodies "in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen who do not know God."  See also Ephesians 4:12-24

The world of Paul's time was very much like the world of today: faithfulness and marriage were of little importance.  But, in Paul's time unfaithfulness went even further than in modern-day America.  Listen to what Demosthenes wrote:  "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 faithful guardianship of our homes."  "Taken from The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians by William Barclay.  Copyright 1975 by the Westminster Press."

Notice that Paul is saying that they have been living to please God, and have been avoiding "sexual immorality."  But, he is also encouraging them to do it "more and more."  See 4:1  It tells us that we should never be content with where we are in our Christians lives, but we should be seeking to please God more and more!  Sanctification is a process by which we more and more give our lives to God's holy motives, thoughts, and actions.

Paul shows us here that when we do not control our sexual passions, an ultimate result is that a brother or sister (or more than one brother or sister) is wronged.  Who is wronged?  In our society we see all of the time how people are wronged by sexual immorality.  Incest, rape, adultery, promiscuity, sexually transmitted diseases and pornography are just a few of the ways people are wronged when the fires of sexual passions burn out of control. 

Some scholars believe that verses 6-8 introduce a new subject, the subject of not wronging a brother; for example, wronging a brother in the area of business.  But, it is more likely that the wronging of a brother referred to in these verses is a continuation of his words prohibiting sexual immorality.  For the theme of holiness---the absence of sexual immorality---is found throughout these verses.  Therefore, they were not to wrong a Christian brother through the effects of sexual immorality.

Today, there is a popular viewpoint that sex outside of marriage does no harm to anyone.   There is little question, though, that adultery is harmful to all those who choose to be involved in it or are affected by it.  Most everyone knows of a family that was devastated by one partner in the marriage committing adultery.  Sex before marriage robs those involved in it from knowing that their sexual intimacy was shared only between them and their life-long partner. 

The most serious consequence of sexual impurity is that "the Lord will punish men for all such sins."  Because sin does not often have immediate consequences, it is easy for those who are sinning (in this case, in the area of sexual sin) to think that they are getting by with it.  But, all sin will be punished (unless, of course, one turns to God for forgiveness through Jesus Christ).  Paul warned them of the very ultimate consequence of sin: men will face God and His just wrath for their sin.  Apparently, Paul had strongly warned them of God's judgment when he spent his time with them.  Hiebert quotes these very powerful words by Calvin, followed by his own comments:  " 'Man's dullness is such that unless they are struck forcefully they have no sense of divine judgment.'  Today, we Christians have been intimidated so that we are often afraid to even mention the word hell, and we are even much less likely to speak of the consequences of sin and God's punishment in hell in a forceful way."  "Taken from The Thessalonian Epistles by D. Edmund Hiebert.  Copyright 1971 by Moody Press."

The second reason we should live morally pure sexual lives is because this is the type of life to which God has called us.  Obviously, God did not send His Son to die for us so we could live sexually immoral lives.  Instead, God has called us, as His children, to be pure as He is pure.

Finally, in verse eight, Paul says if you reject this teaching about sexual impurity, you are rejecting God.  And God has given us His Holy Spirit.  How do we fellowship with God in the power of the Holy Spirit?  We are seeking Him who is pure when we are seeking after purity, and we are rejecting Him who is holy when we do that which is impure and sinful.  What is always characteristic of the Christian life?  The answer, of course, is holiness!

So Paul continues to call and warn these new Thessalonian believers to leave their old pagan immoral ways and now, as children of an absolutely holy God, to live in holiness.

3. Grow in love toward your Christian brothers (4:9,10)

"Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.  And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia.   Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more."

Thought Question #1:  What can we learn from Paul's words that give us wisdom on how we should go about encouraging someone in some area in his or her life?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  In what ways can our love for others grow "more and more"?

 

 

Sometimes when we seek to produce change we are not as tactful as Paul is in these verses.  Notice, that he does not immediately jump to what he would like to see changed.  He desires that they would grow in love.  But, he first wants to encourage them that they are already going in the right direction.  They already have a good reputation because of the love they are presently showing toward the Christians in their area - which was called Macedonia then and is part of northern Greece today.  He does not stop with encouragement, however, for he urges them that their love will grow more and more.

How can our love grow more and more?  We can love those we find hard to love.  We can be more patient, sensitive, kind, and giving to those we already love.  And we can love more people.  Do we ever reach a point where we love as much as we can love?  It is obvious that we can always grow in love.

Paul does not take credit for their growth in love for each other; even though they had believed the gospel through him.  He gives full credit to God for their new loving lifestyle.  Hiebert makes this observation: "only those who are taught of God keep on loving one another."  "Taken from The Thessalonian Epistles by D. Edmund Hiebert.  Copyright 1971 by Moody Press."

4. Live a quiet respectful life so that you will win the respect of those outside

the church (4:11,12)
"Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody."

 

 

Thought Question:  How can excitement about prophecy have a negative influence on someone?  Do you see anything in these verses that is a protection against these negative influences?

 

 

It is possible that some of the Thessalonian Christians were so caught up with the teaching about the second coming that they had lost interest in the ordinary routines of life.  Many of us have known Christians who were so excited about prophecy that they did not think that it was necessary for them to be busy with the ordinaray responsibilities of life.  After all, Jesus could come at any minute.  But Paul urges the Thessalonian Christians that they should be even more busy leading a "quiet life," minding their "own business," and working with their "hands."

It is possible that Paul here is giving the solution to their three improper responses to the second coming:  (1) Emotional excitement should be replaced by the "ambition to lead a quiet life."  (2) Their talking about the second coming was leading to them to become busybodies.  Paul gives the solution to being busybodies and "it is to mind your own business."  (3) And they were becoming idle.  The solution was for them to work with their hands.

Notice that Paul tells them to make it their ambition to "lead a quiet life," or to make it their ambition to be quiet.  That seems like the very opposite of ambition.  For when we normally think of someone being ambitious, we think of them being ambitious to be in a place of prominence.  The word for "ambition" is in the verb tense that indicates being in a constant pursuit of something.  So, here Paul is saying, be constantly in pursuit of living a quiet, calm life.

This, of course, is the very opposite of a fanaticism that can result when people become excited about prophecy and the future.  Instead of being quiet, they can become very loud and outspoken, even obnoxious.  Basically, Paul is saying, "calm down and focus on the work that you need to do to get through each day."  An improper response to prophecy is for us to get so involved in and excited about prophecy that our whole lives become focused on the future.  But, Paul says here that we still need to keep our focus on today, and we still need to pursue doing well at the tasks that we face each day.

Notice also that Paul's teaching in these verses was not a knee-jerk reaction to what he had heard from Timothy about what was happening among the Thessalonian Christians.  For he says in verse 11, "just as we told you."  What he is teaching in this letter is a repetition of what he had already taught them.  Good teaching is always repetitive teaching.  The whole Bible is full of repetitive teaching.  Those who were not interested in hearing a teaching the first time will usually like it even less when they hear it taught the second time.  Those who listened and read the words of Isaiah the Old Testament prophet grew tired of his repetitive teaching.  Listen to their sarcastic response to his teaching in Isaiah 28:10:  "Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule, a little here, a little there."   They resented being taught over and over again Isaiah's rules and teachings.  But, those who wanted to understand and wanted to remember the principles and teachings in God's Word appreciated the repetition; for the repetition helped them to better understand his teaching and remember it.

In verse 12, Paul gives two reasons why we Christians should seek to live quietly, not be busybodies, and work with our own hands:  (1) This is the type of lifestyle that will win the respect of those who are outside the church.  Idleness would bring disrespect to Jesus Christ and to Christians.  Hard work by Christians leads to those outside the church respecting Christians.   (2) The second reason we should do what Paul has instructed us to do is that it will result in us not needing anyone else to support us.  It is proper for Christians to help those who are in need.  In fact, the Bible is quite strong and says that if we say we love someone, we will show that we love them by loving them in word and in deed.  See I John 3:16-18; James 3:15,16  But, as Paul says here, though we are to love each other as Christians, it is also true that we are not be expect others to take care of us nor are we to become dependent on them. See also II Thessalonians 3:11-13

LOOK TO THE FUTURE FOR ENCOURAGEMENT (4:13-5:11)
A partial definition of worldliness is living our life as if there is nothing after the grave.  It is living as if there will be no eternal consequences for what we do in this life.  It is also living as if there is no hope after the grave.  So, "eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die."  But, Paul reveals in these verses that Christians do have hope after the grave; and he also reveals in these verses that some Christians will have an incredible and heavenly hope before the grave.

Introduction to the RAPTURE:
One of the most exciting passages in the Bible is I Thessalonians 4:13-18.  These verses describe something that is completely out of the ordinary; for these verses describe the miraculous Rapture or catching up of the church by Jesus Christ.  This short section of verses tells us that at some time in the future the church that is alive at that time will immediately be taken up to meet Jesus Christ in the air.  Now, there is something that does not happen every day!  But, there is an issue today within Christianity about when the Rapture will occur.  Normally, there are three positions on when the Rapture will occur: the Pre-trib position - the view that the Rapture will occur before the 7-year Tribulation period; the Mid-trib position - the view that the Rapture will occur at the half-way period of the 7-year Tribulation period, and the Post-trib position - the view that the Rapture will occur at the end of the Tribulation.  The following is a summary of these three positions:

(1) The Pre-tribulation Rapture:

It is important to know that the 7-year period, which is described only in Daniel 9:27, is never once called the "Tribulation" in the Bible.  It is a theological term, not a term found in the Bible.  In fact, the only time when the term "Tribulation" is used, it refers to the time of great tribulation that occurs in the last 3 ½ years before Jesus' return.  Nevertheless, because the seven year period of Daniel 9:27 has become so well known by the term "the Tribulation," I will be calling it by that name in this study of I Thessalonians.

Those who hold the Pre-trib position believe that the church will be raptured prior to the seven year tribulation period.  According to Daniel 9:27, a peace treaty initiated and accomplished by the Antichrist will usher in a 3 ½ year period of peace.  The 3 ½ years of peace will be followed by 3 ½ year period that is called in Matthew 24 a time of "great distress." During this period, the Antichrist will rule on earth with an iron fist.  In short, those who hold the Pre-trib position believe the Rapture of the church will occur before the 7 year period they call the tribulation that will include 3 ½ years of peace and  3 ½ years of the hellish rule of the Antichrist.  Any Christian in his right mind prefers that this position on the timing of the Rapture is the time when the Rapture will occur.  All of us who know the Lord want to be gone when the Antichrist starts persecuting, torturing, and murdering believers.

One of the primary beliefs of those who hold the Pre-trib position is that Jesus' coming is imminent.  That means that He can come at any time.  They believe that because He will come before the Tribulation period, that none of the events described as occurring in the Tribulation period, such as the peace treaty and the rise of the Antichrist (See Revelation 13), need to happen before the Rapture.  So, according to their belief about the timing of the Rapture, He can come at any time.  They believe, for example, that Paul would not have given the Thessalonian Christians the words of encouragement about Jesus' coming to Rapture the church that he did in I Thessalonians 4:18 if they needed to go through a time of persecution before they could be raptured.  And early Christians could not have been "eager" for Jesus to return if they would have needed to go through a horrible time of persecution preceding His coming (I Corinthians 1:7; Philippians 3:20)  The following are additional verses that are believed to teach the imminency of Jesus' return: John 14:2,3; I Thessalonians 1:9,10, 4:16; Titus 2:13; James 5:8,9; Revelation 3:10, 22:17-22

The Pre-trib position is the most popular position among Christians today.  A number of novels that are best-sellers at the time that this study is being written are based on this view of prophecy.  This view has been particularly championed by Dallas Theological Seminary.  John Walvoord was a past president of this seminary.  His book The Rapture Question ends with fifty arguments for the Pre-trib position.  So, the majority of Christians today believe that the Bible teaches that the church will be raptured before the seven year period described in Daniel 9:27.

(2) The Mid-tribulation Rapture:

Those who hold this position believe that the church will be taken up at the seventh trumpet described in Revelation 11:15-19.  It is their conviction that this seventh trumpet is the last trumpet described in I Corinthian 15:51,52:  "Listen, I  tell you a mystery:  We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed-- In a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will all be changed."  Because Mid-tribulationionists believe that only the last 3 ½ years is truly the Tribulation period and because they believe that the seventh trumpet will begin this great Tribulation period, they prefer to be called Pre-tribulationists.  (These last 3 ½ years are called a time of "great distress" or great tribulation in Matthew 24:21.)  But, with regard to the 7-year Tribulation period they are Mid-tribulationists.

(3) The Post-tribulation Rapture:

They believe that when Jesus comes to judge the world at the end of the Tribulation, at that time He will also rapture the church.  Many Post-tribulationists believe that Jesus' Second Coming will be like what happened when a king entered a city.  The people of the city would go out of the city and meet the king and then follow him back to the city.  Those who hold the Post-trib position believe that at the Second Coming, Jesus' followers will first be taken up in the Rapture to be with Him in the air, and then they will accompany Him as He immediately comes to the earth to judge the world.  Those who hold this position believe that the church will go through the whole Tribulation period.  Post-tribulationists, though, have different views about the Tribulation period.  Some believe the tribulation period was completed at some time in the past, others believe that the tribulation period is the troubles or tribulations that Christians have been experiencing throughout the whole period of the church (this would mean that we are in the Tribulation right now), and other Post-tribbers believe in a future seven year tribulation period. 

The Post-tribulation position is a view held mostly by those who are Amillennialists.  Amillennialists believe that the church has replaced Israel; it is the spiritual Israel.  According to their view-point there will not be a millennium or 1,000-year period when God will fulfill His promises to Israel (A = no; therefore, no millennium).  They believe that the promises to Israel are being fulfilled right now to the church, the spiritual Israel.  Presbyterian and Reformed churches are some of those who are Amillennialists.

(4) Pre-wrath Rapture:

This fourth position is a more recent position, but there is some evidence that it was the belief of many of the early Christians immediately following the Apostles.  It was also the viewpoint held by the famous Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon.  According to I Thessalonians 1:10 and 5:9, we are promised that we will be rescued "from the coming wrath."  If the wrath begins after the sixth seal, Christians need to be rescued before the wrath described in the rest of the book of Revelation takes place.  This eliminates one Rapture position, the Post-trib Rapture position, for according to this (the Post-trib) position, Christians will still be on earth during the period of wrath.

My Conclusion:  First of all, If the first six seals described in Revelation 6 are also described by Jesus in Matthew 24:4-29, there is also a high likelihood that what happens next in Matthew 24 will also be what happens next in the book of Revelation.  What does take place next in Matthew 24 (Matthew 24:30 and following)?  Matthew 24:29 and Revelation 6:12-14, appear to be describing the same event - an ominous darkness over the whole earth.  So, what takes place in Matthew 24:30 and following would very likely be the next event after the sixth seal.  What is found in the next verses in Matthew 24?  Jesus appears to be describing the Rapture in these verses:  "At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn.  They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.  And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other."  That sounds like the Rapture.  See also Matthew 24:36-44.  That would mean that if the book of Revelation has been following and continues to follow the order of events in Matthew 24, then the next event in the book of Revelation will be the Rapture of the church.  So, in Revelation 7 we should then find the Rapture of the church.  What is found in Revelation 7 will be discussed later.

1. The dead in Christ will not be without hope at Christ's Second Coming

(4:13-18)

a. As Jesus rose from the dead, so those who die in Christ will be raised

from the dead (4:13,14)
"Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.  We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him."

Thought Question #1:  What can you tell from these verses about why Paul was writing this letter?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  What is there in these verses that would have been helpful to these early Christians?

 

 

Thought Questions #3:  What do you find in these verses that is personally helpful to you?

 

 

The Thessalonian Christians were concerned about those who were already dead (and surely they were also concerned about what would happen to them if they died before Jesus returned).  In these verses we read of how Paul comforted them by explaining to them that Jesus would first resurrect their brothers and sisters who had fallen asleep in Christ, and then He would rapture the church.  Paul's words in these verses (4:13-18) are the premiere teaching in the Bible on the "Rapture" or the catching up of the church.  Actually, the word "rapture" is not found in the Bible, but the word comes from the Latin word "rapturo."  The words "caught up" in the Latin translation of the Bible is this word, "rapturo."

"We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.  According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep."  Paul seeks to bring an end to their grieving and worrying about their Christian family members who have died.  He comforts them in two ways:  (1) A Christian's death is like sleep.  Jesus used this term for death when He spoke of Lazarus' death.  "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going to wake him up."  See John 11:1-11  He also said that the daughter of Jairus, who was going to be raised from the dead, was asleep. See Mark 5:39  Saying that Christians who have died have "fallen asleep" is a figure of speech called a euphemism.  It is a softening of the word "dead."  It is true for the Christian, though, that dying is more like falling asleep than like dying; for immediately after we die, we will wake up in the presence of God.

(2) Next, he comforts them by assuring them that there is no uncertainty about what will happen to Christians after they die; for, as Jesus rose from the dead, so all Christians will rise from the dead.  The pagans of Paul's time (and our time) had no hope for life after death.  Barclay quotes what some ancient writers had to say about their lack of hope:  "Aeshylus wrote, 'Once a man dies there is no resurrection.'  Theocritus wrote, 'There is no hope for those who are alive, but those who have died are without hope.'  Catullus wrote, 'When once our brief light sets, there is one perpetual night throughout which we must sleep.'"  "Taken from The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians by William Barclay.  Copyright 1975 by Westminster Press."

We are not to grieve for the dead in Christ like the non-Christian world, who have no hope, grieve for their dead.  Why should it be different at death for those who are in Christ Jesus?  It as if Jesus is like an engine leading a train.  If the engine goes through a tunnel and comes out of the darkness into the light on the other side, what happens to the rest of the train that follows the engine?  Of course, the rest of the train will also go into the darkness and then it will return once more to the light.  So, because Jesus went into the darkness of death and burst out into the light of life, so we who are in Christ (in the train behind Him) will also conquer the grave!

b. The dead in Christ and the alive in Christ will both be there at the

glorious return of Christ (4:15-18)
"According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.   And so we will be with the Lord forever.  Therefore encourage each other with these words."

Thought Question #1:  What can you learn from these verses about what the rapture will be like? (Will it be quiet?  Will it be invisible?  Will it be sudden?  Will it be dramatic?)

 

 

Thought Question #2:  What will happen at the Rapture to those who die before us?

 

 

Thought Question #3:  What will it be like for those who die in Christ during the time between when they die and the rapture?

 

 

Now, Paul describes what will occur at what has come to be called the "Rapture"; when Jesus will rapture or catch up the church.  Let's look at what Paul says will occur when the true church is caught up or is raptured to be with Jesus Christ.  First of all, we are told that believers who are alive and those who have died will be caught up together with the Lord.  But, we learn here more specifically that the dead in Christ will come up to be with the Lord first and then those who are still alive will be caught up to be with Him.  In the New International Version, Paul's words are translated as follows: we who are alive at the coming of the Lord "will certainly not" come before those who have died in Christ.  Hiebert translates the King James Version of these words as follows:  "'Shall in no wise' translates a strong double negative 'by no means, not at all.'  It offers the sorrowing Thessalonians unquestionable assurance that the living will not 'precede those who have fallen asleep.'  The living will not precede; come before, get a head start on those who have died."  "Taken from The Thessalonian Epistles by D. Edmund Hiebert.  Copyright 1971 by Moody Press."

 

(1) How Jesus will return (4:16a)

First of all, the Jesus Christ who left the disciples by ascending into the air until He was hidden by a cloud (see Acts 1:9), will "come down from heaven . . . "  See also Acts 1:10,11  And we see what it will be like when He comes down from Heaven:  First of all, there will be "a loud command:"  "The noun rendered, shout means a 'shout of command' and implies authority and urgency.  It was variously used of a general shouting orders to his troops, a driver shouting to excite his horses to greater speed, a hunter encouraging his hounds to the pursuit of the prey, or a captain of rowers exciting them to more vigorous rowing.  The shout is left undefined, . . . It may be a shout of Christ Himself, the mighty conqueror over death, awakening the bodies of the dead in Christ to immortal life (Jn. 5:28-29, 11:43,44)."  "Taken from The Thessalonian Epistles by D. Edmund Hiebert.  Copyright 1971 by Moody Press."  He, of course, is saying that it will be a shout that is similar to John 11:43,44, when Jesus shouted to Lazarus in the grave and Lazarus was resurrected from the grave.  This time Jesus will shout and believers from all ages will be resurrected!

Next, there will be the "voice of the archangel."  Shouts are not quiet, nor are trumpets quiet.  It becomes clear, as Hiebert observed, that the Lord's return will not be quiet.  When the Lord returns to "catch up" the church, it will not be a silent time when the church suddenly disappears.  For there will be a loud shout followed by two or more loud sounds: "the voice of the archangel" and "the trumpet call of God."  See John 12:28-30; Acts 9:7, 22:9

It is unclear from the Bible how many archangels there are.  Michael is the only archangel named in the Bible.  See Jude 9  In Daniel 10:13, Michael is described as one the "chief princes."  It could be that "chief princes" is another name for archangels.  Then, there would be more than one archangel.  But, if Michael is the only archangel, then this is the voice of Michael which is heard when Jesus returns.

The last of the four noises which will accompany the Lord's return is the "Trumpet call of God."  This is not the only passage that associates a trumpet with the Lord's coming.  In Matthew 24:30,32, we read these words:  "At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn.  They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.  And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other."  Though these verses appear to be describing the very same event described in the verses we are covering in I Thessalonians, those who believe in the Pre-tribulation Rapture say that the Matthew account refers to another coming of the Lord; Jesus' coming when He will come to judge the world.  They distinguish the Matthew account from the Thessalonian account primarily by saying that the Matthew account was written to Jewish believers and, therefore, describes a coming of Jesus Christ to rescue the believing Jews and those who have become believers during the Tribulation period.

There is yet another place where the "trumpet call of God" is associated with the coming of Jesus.  Listen to Paul's words in I Corinthians 15:51,52:  "Listen, I tell you a mystery:  We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed----In a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will all be changed."  The pre-tribulationist would say that these verses do describe the coming of Jesus Christ as described in I Thessalonians 4.

But, these are not the only verses in the Bible which talk about trumpets.  When God appeared to the people of Israel at Mt. Sinai, there was a "very loud trumpet blast."  And the "sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder" until God spoke with Israel.  See Exodus 19:16-19  The Year of Jubilee, a special year that came after seven sevens of years (the fiftieth year after 49 years) was to begin with trumpets.  See Leviticus 25:8-12  There was a Feast of Trumpets. See Leviticus 23:23-25  This Feast occurred on the first day of Israel's seventh month.  It was followed by the Day of Atonement (the tenth day of this seventh month) and the Day of Atonement was followed by the Feast of Tabernacles (15th - 21rst of the same month).  The festivals in this month may symbolize the Rapture (Feast of Trumpets), Jesus' return in judgment (Day of Atonement), and the millennial reign of Jesus Christ (Feast of Tabernacles).

Remember, that what preceded the walls of Jericho crumbling was a blast of trumpets; also accompanied as in I Thessalonians 4, with a loud shout. See Joshua 6:1-21  Also, we recall that Gideon's battle against the Midianites was begun with trumpets being blown.  Notice that these trumpet blasts were once again accompanied with a shout. See Judges 7:16-22  In Joel 2:1, Joel records these words from God:  "Blow the trumpet in Zion, sound the alarm on my holy hill.  Let all who live in the land tremble, for the Day of the Lord is coming."  And in Joel 2:15:  "Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly."  And in Zephaniah 1:14-16 the trumpet is part of God pouring out His wrath on the world.  Also, in Zechariah 9:14:  "Then the Lord will appear over them; his arrow will flash like lightning.  The Sovereign Lord will sound the trumpet; he will march in the storms of the south, and the Lord Almighty will shield them."

What can we learn from of these verses about trumpets?  We can clearly see that God uses trumpets to loudly and powerfully signal both the gathering of His people and His going out in war against His enemies.  And in the New Testament descriptions of the gathering or Rapture of the church there is a trumpet blast: I Thessalonians 4:16; I Corinthians 15:51,52; and Matthew 24:31.  There are also the seven trumpets in Revelation that signal God going out in judgment against the world that has rejected His rule.  Revelation 8:6-10:2, 11:15-19

(2) What will happen when Jesus returns (4:16b-17)

Paul gives us the order of events that will occur when Jesus returns.  First of all, "the dead in Christ will rise first."  They are those whom he referred to in verse fourteen who had "fallen asleep in him."  In other words, Christians who have died will be the first to rise to be with Jesus Christ.

This brings up an issue that is much debated.  What happens to the Christian who dies before Jesus returns?  The Seventh Day Adventists believe that he or she is in a state of soul sleep.  Others believe that they have spiritual bodies, but do not yet have their resurrection bodies.  Still others believe that they are in disembodied states.  Hiebert holds this position.  He believes that Christians who are dead will be without their bodies until they receive them at the Rapture.  The Seventh Day Adventist position is not supported by the Bible, for Jesus told the thief on the cross that he would be with Him in paradise on that very day.  See also II Corinthians 5:1-4 and Philippians 1:21-23   Ray Stedman believed that everyone will appear at the resurrection at the very same time.  That would mean that Peter, Paul and all Christians of all times would enter timeless eternity at the same time.  He knows whether or not he was right, for he is now with the Lord.  Still others believe that the dead in Christ will have temporary bodies until they receive their resurrection bodies at the Rapture.  A highly esteemed past president of an evangelical seminary, Dr. Earl Radmacher, was present at an ordination council of which I was part.  He said that no one can be certain about what this intermediate state will be like; for the Bible is not clear on this subject.

Next, in the order of events at Jesus' return is the rapture of the living Christians:  "After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air."  As was explained earlier, the words "caught up" in the Latin translation is "rapturo" from which we get our word "rapture."  "The verb caught up denotes a sudden and forcible seizure, an irresistible act of catching away, due to divine activity.  It might also be rendered 'snatch up, sweep up, carry off by force."  "Taken from The Thessalonian Epistles by D. Edmund Hiebert.  Copyright 1971 by Moody Press."

We are told here that those Christians who are alive at Jesus' return will be snatched up to the clouds to meet Jesus in the air!  In Acts 1:9,10 we read about Jesus' ascension into the clouds: "he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.  They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.  'Men of Galilee,' they said, 'why do you stand here looking into the sky? [I once heard a speaker, I believe it was Stuart Briscoe, say that this was the most unfair question that was ever asked.]  This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.'"  Those who are alive when he returns will see Him once more in the clouds, and they will suddenly be taken up to be with Him!

And there we will "meet the Lord in the air."  In John 14:2,3, Jesus said these words to His disciples: "In my father's house are many rooms…I go there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am."  The fulfillment of Jesus' promise will begin at the Rapture when the Christians of that time will "meet the Lord in the air." 

"And so we will ever be with the Lord."  What can we most look forward to about Heaven?  The answer to that question is right here in this verse: "we will be with the Lord forever!"  See Exodus 19:16; Daniel 7:13; Matthew; and Revelation 1:7 for other examples of clouds being associated with God's presence.

There is a teaching by those who hold the Pre-tribulation rapture position that teaches that Jesus will return twice: once in a secret way like a thief who secretly comes to a house and leaves without waking anyone, and, secondly, in a public way to judge the world.  But, consider the following verses:  His coming will be visible:  "Look, he is coming with clouds and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him."  (Revelation 1:7)  His coming will be loud (as we read in I Thessalonians 4:16).

(3) What effect Jesus' coming should have on us (4:18)

The final verses of chapter four is as follows: "Therefore encourage each other with these words."  Each of us have had times of deep sorrow, concern and/or discouragement.  Many of us also have experienced God using someone to comfort or encourage us with just the right words.  That is what Paul did here.  The Thessalonians were worried about beloved Christians who had already died.  What would become of them?  Would they miss out on the blessing of receiving new bodies and being with Jesus when He comes?  Paul's wise and gentle words were just what they needed to hear.

2. The Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night (5:1-11)

Paul shifts from encouraging his readers that believers who have died and those are alive will be with Jesus at the Rapture, to showing how different it will be for the unprepared world than it will be for the prepared Christian when Jesus returns in judgment.

Paul did not divide his letter into a chapter four and a chapter five, so Jesus' return to rapture the church and His return to judge the world are one unbroken line of reasoning in Paul's letter.  What Paul appears to be doing in these verses is describing one single event; one event when Jesus both comes to rapture the church and to judge the world.  One single event!  Paul also appears to be saying the very same thing in II Thessalonians:  "This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.  He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people…."  (II Thessalonians 1:7-10)  "Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed….saying that the day of the Lord has already come."  (II Thessalonian 2:1,2)

The pre-tribulation position is that the Lord will come twice, once to rapture the church, and seven years later to judge the world.  These verses in
I Thessalonians and II Thessalonians appear to be describing these two comings of the pre-tribulationists as a single event.  If it is one single event, it means that Jesus will rapture the church, and immediately begin judging the world---just as God rescued Noah's family and immediately began judging the world, and just as God rescued Lot's family and then immediately began judging Sodom and Gomorrah.  See Luke 17:22-36

a. It will take the world by surprise (5:1-3)

"Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.  While people are saying, 'Peace and safety,' destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape."

Thought Question #1:  What do we learn from these verses about what it will be like just before the day of the Lord?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  What do we learn from these verses about what the "day of the Lord" will be like?

 

 

A "thief" does not send a warning letter, but he comes suddenly and unexpectedly!  He comes when he thinks he is not expected.  Jesus said that His return will also be like the days of Noah right before the worldwide flood.  The people of that time were not building boats as Noah was.  Instead, they were living normal lives, as if nothing out of the ordinary was going to happen to them.  See Matthew 24:37-39  The same thing happened to Lot's world.  See Luke 17:28-30 

The world today is living in the same way.  They are not expecting that there will be anything out of the ordinary that will happen to them.  Just asthe flood surprised the people of Noah's time and the judgment of Sodom surprised the people of Lot's time; so the second coming of Jesus Christ will surprise the people in that coming time. 

Paul also compares it to the birth pains of an expectant mother which comes on her suddenly without any warning:  "While people are saying, 'Peace and safety,' destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape."  A "thief in the night" comes unexpectedly.  Birth pains come on an expectant mother suddenly.  Jesus' coming will be both unexpected and sudden!

These people will believe that they are living in a time when nothing will disturb their "peace and safety."  They will be completely surprised by God's judgment.

One might ask, "how could they feel that there is 'peace and safety' while they are in the middle of the time when the Antichrist is ruling the world and the four horsemen of the Apocalypse of Revelation six have come upon the world?  Listen to what it will be like during this time: "men worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast and asked, 'Who is like the beast?  Who can make war against him?' " (Revelation 13:4)  Just asthe people of Nazi Germany felt safe and secure during the time when the Jews were being murdered by the thousands, so the people at the end of time will feel safe and secure under the rule of the Antichrist; even though the forces of the Antichrist will be murdering thousands of God's people. See also II Thessalonians 2:8-12

When will the Day of the Lord take place?  From Isaiah 13:8-11 and Joel 2:30,31, we learn that the Day of the Lord will begin when God suddenly darkens the skies.  Then, God will pour out His wrath on the world.  According to the book of Revelation, the Day of the Lord begins after the sixth seal, as described in Revelation 6:12,13:  "I watched as he opened the sixth seal.  There was a great earthquake.  The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth…"  "I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke.  The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord." (Joel 2:30,31)  The Day of the Lord, when it comes, will include the seven trumpets, the seven bowls of God's wrath, and the battle of Armageddon.  It will take place somewhere in the middle of the last 3 ½ years of what is called the Great Tribulation period. See also Matthew 24:29 and Isaiah 34:1-4

Jesus coming like a thief in the night is found in six verses:  Matthew 24:43; Luke 12:39; II Peter 3:10; Revelation 3:3; 16:15; and in this verse.  Notice that in at least four of these verses, Jesus coming as a thief in the night is not about Jesus coming for a secret rapture, but they are about Jesus coming in a very public way to judge the world.  For example, in II Peter 3:10, Peter says these words:  "But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.  The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare."  There is nothing at all in this verse about a secret rapture, but it is all about a very public judgment of God.

b. It will not take the Sons of Light by surprise (5:4-11)

"But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief.  You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.  So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled.  For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night.  But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.  For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.  He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.  Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing."

Thought Question #1:  According to these verses, how should we who are "sons of the light and sons of the day" act differently than those who are "in darkness"

 

 

Thought Question #2:  Why should we act differently than those who are in darkness?

 

 

Who we are determines how we should act.  If there is a policeman and someone yells, "The bank in the next block is being robbed!"  How should that policeman act?  Should he run away or hide under a car?  He could, but should he?  Because he is a policeman, he should go to the bank, seek to stop the robbery, and seek to catch the robbers.  We see in chapter five, verse four and five who we are; we are children of light.  What does it mean to be children of light and children of the day?  It means that though the world is in the dark about what is morally right and wrong, and about the judgment of God on sinners, we are not in the dark.

It is very interesting that the Thessalonian Christians were very young in the Lord and from a pagan background, yet Paul says, you are all sons of light."  Every Christian has been illuminated by God.  We were blind, but now we see!

Notice that Paul makes a subtle change in 5:5.  He goes from talking about them to including himself and the other missionaries with them:  "We do not belong to the night or to the darkness."  Now, how should we act because we are children of light?  Our imaginary policeman should not go and hide when he is told the bank is being robbed.  Because we are children of light, how should we act?  The answer to this question is found in verses six through eight.  There are two typical activities that people do during the night: sleep and get drunk.  But, we are not children of the night, so we should not get drunk or go to sleep.  Instead, we should stay alert like a sentry who is ever watching.

How do we stay alert?  Paul also answers this question as well.  We stay alert by "putting on faith and love as a breastplate and the hope of salvation as a helmet."  Faith, love, and hope protect us from the darkness.  The world is darkened to God and without faith.  The world is self-centered and without God's kind of love.  The world has no hope beyond the grave.  When we put on faith, love and hope we are putting on armor to protect us from this dark faithless, loveless, and hopeless world.

We are not only to be alert, but we are also to be self-controlled or sober.  Hendricksen defines sober as "being neither overly excited on the one hand, nor indifferent on the other, but calm, steady, and sane.., doing one's duty and fulfilling one's ministry."  "Taken from New Testament Commentary – I and II Thessalonians by William Hendricksen.  Copyright 1955 by Baker Book House."  There are often two responses to prophecy.  One response is to become a totally passive spectator (the Greek word for sleep in verse six pictures a laxness or a passivity), and the second response is to get overly excited.  But, these two responses are both wrong, for we are to be alert and watchful rather than passive.  And we are to be sober and self-controlled rather than excitable. 

The putting on of armor pictures us as being in a constant battle with darkness.  We have the armor, though, to continually protect us from this darkness.  If we do not put on the armor, what will happen?  We will soon be swallowed up by the darkness. 

What is our "hope of salvation"?  All Christians are saved.  But, we are now only experiencing part of our salvation: freedom from guilt and condemnation because of the cross of Jesus Christ, and freedom from the control of sin through the power of the Holy Spirit.  We have still another salvation that is coming to us in the future: freedom from the presence of sin. Though we are not yet experiencing this salvation, we do now have the hope of this coming/complete salvation from sin.  In I John 3:2,3, John tells us that when we see Jesus at some sure time in the future, we will be like Him!

As Paul continues, he next emphasizes in verse eight, "God did not appoint us to suffer wrath."  There are some who are appointed or predestined to suffer wrath: Satan, the Antichrist, and the hardened.  But, His plans for us, who have believed in Jesus Christ and His death on the cross for us, do not include His wrath being poured out on us.

When does God's wrath begin?  In Revelation 6:17, we find these words:  "For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?"  Those who hold the Pre-tribulation Rapture position say that God's wrath will begin immediately after the Rapture of the church, at the beginning of the 7-year tribulation period.  So, they would begin God's period of wrath at the first seal in the book of Revelation that is described in Revelation 6:1.  How do they interpret Revelation 6:17, that says that "the great day of their wrath has come"?  They interpret these words as saying that the description of the first six seals in Revelation 6 are descriptions of God's wrath, and that this wrath of God is still in progress in Revelation 6:17 when the people who are experiencing God's wrath cry out, "the great day of their wrath has come."

Another way of interpreting these words in Revelation 6:17, "the great day of their wrath has come," is that these words mean exactly what they say---that God's wrath will begin right after the sixth seal.  Look at what will happen just before what is described in 6:17:  "I watched as he opened the sixth seal.  There was a great earthquake.  The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind.  The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place……..For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?"  Remember what Joel said, that was mentioned earlier:  "I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke.  The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord." (Joel 2:30,31)  When will God's wrath begin?  I believe that God's wrath will begin right after the sixth seal in Revelation 6:17, and that the Rapture of the church will take place just before God's wrath comes on the earth (the pre-wrath view).  I believe, therefore, that God's wrath will take place after the Antichrist has begun to persecute and murder Christians, but before God steps in and pours out His wrath on the Anti-christ honoring world.

God's wrath, then, will begin with the horrible trumpet judgments described in Revelation eight and nine; after the 144,000 are sealed and the Great Multitude is present in heaven in Revelation 7.  How did the Great Multitude get to heaven?  I personally believe that Revelation 7:9-17 is a description of what occurs immediately after the Rapture of the church.  The wrath of God will occur at some time during the final 3 ½ years, which is called the time of great distress or Great Tribulation.  The Antichrist will exalt himself above God, and the world will follow him in his abomination.  Then, in God's perfect timing, God's anger will be filled up, and His wrath will suddenly be poured out on the world!   This verse is clear; we will not be there when His wrath is poured out.

Now, we come to one of the most controversial issues among evangelical Christians, which has been already described at the beginning of the section on 4:13-18.  When will the Rapture take place?  These verses are very clear about one thing.  We will be raptured before God pours out His wrath on the world.  If you take this whole section on prophecy as one continuous thought, then Paul could be talking about something which will take place at the same time.  In this case, Jesus will rapture His church and immediately God will pour out His wrath on the world.  Lot and his family were taken out of Sodom and immediately God's wrath was poured out on the world.  Noah and his family went in the safety of the Ark and in seven days God poured out His wrath on the world. 

Notice that 4:13-18 and 5:1-11 end in a very similar way.  Both sections end with "encourage one another."  Also, in 5:10, Paul tells the Thessalonian Christians that "whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him."  This verse appears to be a description of the Rapture.  Those who are "asleep" are the dead in Christ.  Those who are "awake" are those who will be alive when He comes.  "May live together with him" describes being with "the Lord forever." (4:17) 

Now, how does what is taught in these two chapters fit together?  The Rapture will take place as described in 4:13-17; then the Day of the Lord will begin as described in 5:1-11.  If the Day of the Lord occurs immediately after the sixth seal in Revelation 6:12-17, God's wrath will begin right after Christians are raptured off the earth and with the first of the seven trumpets.  Revelation 6:17 says precisely what has just been described:  "For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?"  In Matthew 24, the sun is darkened in 24:29, and listen to what is described in 24:30:  "At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn.  They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.  And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds from one end of heaven to the other." 

Why will we be rescued from God's wrath?  The only place in I Thess-alonians which explains why we will escape God's wrath is found in verse ten of chapter five:  "He died for us so that…..we may live together with him"…..and escape God's wrath!  Here is the gospel: Jesus took Gods' wrath on Himself so that we who believe in Jesus' death for our sins will escape God's wrath.

The Thessalonians should have been encouraged and built up when Paul told them that their Christian brothers and sisters who had died would be with them when Jesus returns.  Of course, though, these Thessalonian Christians died long ago.  What if we who live today are the Christians who will be raptured?  We can be encouraged that they will meet us in the air when we are raptured up to be with Jesus Christ.  They and we should be further encouraged that we will escape God's wrath.  Now, they were to encourage and build up each other.  Notice that Paul further encourages them by acknowledging that they were already encouraging and building each other up.

Paul provides a pattern for us.  Just as the Thessalonian Christians needed to be built up and encouraged, so the Christians of our time need to be built up and encouraged.  May we also be eager to search out the down-hearted and build them up and encourage them.

FINAL INSTRUCTIONS TO THE CHURCH (5:12-22)
In these verses, Paul will exhort them to keep the fire of God's Spirit burning in their lives.  Each of the directions in these verses will help keep the fire of God's Spirit burning in our lives.  Also, if we do not follow these instructions we will find that the fire of God's Spirit will begin to go out in our lives.

1. Hold your leaders in high regard (5:12,13)

"Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you.  Hold them in the
highest regard in love because of their work.  Live in peace with each
other."

Thought Question #1:  What are some reasons why we might not respect leaders who are doing their job well?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  What are some reasons why we should respect our leaders who are doing their job well?

 

 

Certainly, a cause for the fire of God's Spirit going out in a church is a grumbling attitude about the leaders in the church.  To keep God's fire going in the church, we must have the attitude toward our leaders that Paul describes in these two verses.

a. Appreciate their hard work (5:12)

Leaders in the church are to work hard, oversee the church and admonish the church.  The human fleshly response is to be jealous of those who work harder for good than we do, to resist and rebel against those who are over us, and to resent those who admonish us.  But, Paul gently requests ("we ask you, brothers") the Thessalonian Christians to appreciate these leaders who are doing their job well.  We can resent the policeman rather than recognize that he is doing an essential and difficult job in our society.  We can also not appreciate the leaders in the church, even when they are doing their job well.

The Greek word translated "work hard" in the NIV translation is a word which describes working to the point of weariness.  Some, today, think that working to point of weariness in God's work means that you are a workaholic and that you need to become part of a 12-Step program to deal with your addictive-type of behavior.  Certainly, there are those who work to weariness trying without success to meet some inner need for security and fulfillment.  But, it is also true that those who have found that their deepest needs have already been met through a relationship with Jesus can also work to the point of weariness.  In fact, working to the point of weariness in serving God is a characteristic of God's servants; and particularly it is a characteristic of leaders in the church.

To "admonish" means to point out someone's fault by an appeal to that person's conscience.

Since Paul is writing to a very young church, it is possible that they had not yet appointed official elders in their church.  But, if they had official elders or only had hard-working leaders, there were, nevertheless, those who occupied the position of leadership in this new church.  And, they needed to be respected and appreciated.  In our modern-day church "those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you" can also apply to other leaders in the church such as, for example, a Bible study leader or a women's ministry leader.

 b. Esteem them (5:13)

The words translated "Hold them in the highest regard" in the NIV translates two Greek words that together have the meaning, recognize the worth of your leaders and esteem them superabundantly.  It is the same word which is used in Ephesians 3:20 where Paul says that God is able to do "Immeasurably more than we ask or think."  So, we are to hold our leaders in Christian ministry in this type of very high regard.  And, it is our love for God and for them that is to motivate us to hold them in this high regard.

And, when we who are Christians hold our leaders lovingly in this type of high regard, the result is stated at the end of verse thirteen: "Live in peace with each other."  When Christians are constantly complaining about the leadership in the church, there is a constant state of discontent, grumbling, and strife.  But, the proper attitude toward leaders as described here will help lead to a state of peace in the church.  The words "live at peace" are in the "present imperative."  The imperative is a command and the present tense describes continuous action.  So, we are commanded to live in a constant state of peace with other Christians.

2. Patiently minister to each person according to each one's specifictype of

need (5:14)
"And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone."

Thought Question:  Think about one person you have known who fits in each of the three categories that are mentioned.  Did you warn the person who was idle, encourage the person who was timid, and help the one who was weak?

 

 

Again, the instruction in this verse is necessary to maintain the fire of God's Spirit in the church.  We must be careful to minister to others based on their unique needs.  Paul describes three different categories of Christians who had totally different needs: the idle, the timid, and the weak.  If we say nothing to the idle, are strong with the timid, and do not assist the weak, we will witness the fire of the Spirit leave the church.  But, Paul gives us instructions on the proper way to deal with each of these types of people.

We will describe each group and then we will look at the proper ministry to those in that group.  First, who are the "idle"?  Barclay has the following to say about what the Greek word translated "idle" meant:  "The word used for lazy ["idle" in the NIV] originally described a soldier who had left the ranks"  "Taken from  The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians by William Barclay.  Copyright 1975 The Westminster Press."  In the church there are those who are not doing their part of the work to support their family.  He was speaking to the "idle" in 4:11-12:  "Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody."  And in his second letter to these Thessalonians, he has this to say about idleness:  "For even when we were with you we gave you this rule:  'If a man will not work, he shall not eat.'  We hear that some among you are idle.  They are not busy; they are busybodies.  Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat." (II Thessalonians 3:10-12) 

Next, he gives instruction about the "timid."  The "timid" are those who are easily discouraged, easily intimidated and those who can easily be caused to fear the worst.  Paul gives instructions to them in 4:13-5:11.  There were fearful that they or their friends would miss out when Jesus returns.  Paul encouraged them (4:18), and then he encouraged them to encourage one another.  Too often, the fainthearted are rebuked strongly.  One reason they can be treated in this way is that they are so fainthearted that they can be bullied around.  Also, rather than warning them and rebuking them as we are to do to the idle, we are to encourage them, hoping that they will be emboldened by our encouragement. See Matthew 12:20

Finally, Paul gives instruction about how to respond to the "weak."  The weak are those without the strength to keep on trusting and obeying Jesus Christ.  Christians can be weak for a number of reasons.  They may be young Christians.  They may be weak because they are weak in their understanding of the Bible (no or little spiritual food weakens us).  Or, they may be weak for a number of other reasons: such as poor health, past emotional trauma, exhaustion, guilt, anxiety, etc.  They, the "weak," need those who are strong to help them to keep going (the strong in God's Word, the strong in faith, the strong in character, . . .)

And so we see that there is always the need to be discerning and wise about how to deal with different people in the church.  It is appropriate, as we can see from this verse, to treat different people in different ways.  Jesus dealt with Peter differently than He dealt with John.  God dealt with everyone in the Bible in different ways; and we are to minister to our fellow Christians in the unique way that will be of most benefit to them.

Paul closes this very rich verse with these words: "be patient with everyone."  Be patient with people who constantly fall into idleness; be patient with the "timid," and be patient with those who are continually weak and despondent.  Hiebert defines the Greek word that is translated "patient" "longsuffering" as follows:  "Longsuffering is that admirable quality which refuses readily to yield to anger or retaliation in the face of provocation or irritation."  "Taken from The Thessalonian Epistles.  Copyright 1971 by Moody Press."  It is necessary for us to maintain this "patience" or "longsuffering" within our local churches.  For, if we do not, all types of ugly chaos can develop such as retaliation, grudges, misunderstanding, and many more. See James 3:13-18

3. Do not retaliate, but be kind to all (5:15)

"Make sure that that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else."

Thought Question:  Think of someone you know who has wronged you.  According to this verse, what is the proper response you are to make to this person?

 

 

Nothing stops the moving of God's Spirit more than when love dies, and nothing kills love more than hurts followed by retaliation.  The natural response when someone wrongs us is to retaliate.  God's response when we wrong Him is to be patient and kind.  We also are to conquer evil with kindness. See Matthew 5:38-48; Romans 12:17-21; I Peter 3:9 

Notice that Paul says, "Make sure" that there is no retaliation.  Again we have the imperative present form of the Greek verb.  We are, then, commanded to continually "make sure" that we do not return evil with evil.  We must be ever vigilant and on the alert that we do not do that which comes most easily to us.  Instead of actively returning evil, we are to actively return kindness.  Notice also that we are not only to return evil with kindness to our fellow Christians, but we are to act in this way toward everyone!

4. Do not put out the Spirit's fire (5:16-22)

Now, Paul quickly summarizes how we keep the fire of God's Spirit burning in our personal lives and in the church.  In verse 19, he says, "Do not put out the Spirit's fire."  This verse has also been translated, "Do not quench the Spirit."  The flame of God lit the lives of the new Christians at Pentecost.  But, we can put out the fire of God's Spirit by not doing what Paul instructs us to do in these verses.  In summary, we put out the fire of God's Spirit when we do things which are contrary to God's Spirit within us.  For example, if we are bitter and complaining, that is contrary to God's Spirit Who is inside of us.  Our bitter and grumbling Spirit quenches God's Spirit.

a. In your personal life (5:16-19)

"Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.  Do not put out the Spirit's fire;"

Thought Question #1:  If we obey the commands in these verses, how will our Christian life be different than the life that we would normally have had?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  What, in your life right now, is making it difficult for you to obey these verses?  What is the proper way, according to these verses, to respond to this difficulty that you are facing?

 

 

(1) "Be joyful always" or "rejoice all the time" (5:16)

Each of the three instructions that Paul gives in verses 16-18 are in the verb form which commands us to continually rejoice, continually pray, and continually give thanks.  Instead of the typical and natural responses which are to complain and feel self-pity, we are to respond in the power, life, and fire of God's Spirit.

Our normal human response to trials is to get angry, resentful, discouraged, depressed, and/or frustrated.  But, Paul, throughout this letter that he wrote so many years ago, urges us to not only refrain from giving up during trials, but, instead, we are to rejoice when it is tough.  Without faith in God, we can only rejoice when we are experiencing happy times.  But, as Christians who believe that God is using all that happens in our life for good, we can rejoice even in painful times.  So, when suffering comes into our lives, we can rejoice even when we can see nothing about which to be happy about.

Notice that our rejoicing is a choice.  We are always to rejoice.  But, one might ask, what do we always have to rejoice about?  The answer is that we always have much to rejoice about.  We are always forgiven by God, going to heaven, loved by God, taken care of by God, and if we will rejoice in our trials, He is always changing us on the inside to be more like Him.  The Thessalonian Christians were suffering when they received this letter, but God also was using their trials to mature and change them to be more like Christ. See 1:6, 2;14, and II Thessalonians 1:4-7

(2) "pray continually" (5:17)

Hiebert makes this observation about what is meant by "praying continually."  "The adverb does not mean uninterrupted prayer but rather constantly recurring prayer.  But the command means more than 'never give up praying'….in the sense that they must not give up the practice of prayer.  Rather, he is asking for a life that is pervaded with the spirit of unceasing prayer.  The practical demands of life make it impossible for them to give themselves to constant praying, but they are to live in a spirit of constant communion with God.  In the Christian life the act of prayer is intermittent but the spirit of prayer should be incessant." "Taken from The Thessalonian Epistles by D. Edmund Hiebert.  Copyright 1971 by Moody Press."

One test of whether we are praying "continually" is whether we are always ready to pray.  We learn of some need.  Are we immediately ready to pray for that need?  Also, is there a constant communion with God and a constant sense of our need for God's help?  Are we eager to pray with others?  Do those who know us, also know that we are continually aware of our dependence on God?

(3) "give thanks in all circumstances" (5:18a)

"In all circumstances" obviously goes beyond being thankful when everything is going well.  Paul is clearly presenting a Christian principle which states emphatically that each of us who is in a relationship with God through faith in Jesus' death on the cross should continually be thankful.  Because God used the circumstances in each of our lives before we were Christians to lead us to become a Christian, we can be thankful continually (Romans 8:28).  We have seen that He was in charge of all that led up to our salvation; and we can believe that He is in charge of all that occurs, including the hard times, now that we are Christians.  So, Paul's principle for Christian living is right: we should "give thanks in all circumstances."  Paul, himself, followed and obeyed this principle when he and Silas worshiped God after they had been beaten and were thrown into jail in Philippi. See Acts 16:22-26  See also Romans 1:8; I Corinthians 1:4; Ephesians 1:16; Philippians 1:3,12; Colossians 1:3,12, 3:17 for examples of Paul's continual thankfulness during his life.

(4) For being continually joyful, prayerful, and thankful are God's will for

you (5:18b)
"for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."  These three attitudes are together to be the Christian's continual choice and experience.  This is God's will for each of His children.  When we are depressed, prayerless, and ungrateful, we are being…what??  We are being disobedient to what God desires that we be experiencing.  He did not give us our relationship with Jesus Christ so we would end up hopeless, helpless, and thankless, but so that we could be people of faith and joy.

b. In your church life (5:19-22)

"Do not put out the Spirit's fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt.  Test everything.  Hold on to the good.  Avoid every kind of evil. "

Thought Question:  If someone says that they believe that they have a message from God for us, how do these verses tell us we should respond to what that person says to us?

 

 

Paul instructs the Thessalonian Christians to neither be narrow nor naïve in response to what is said to be a prophetic utterance from God.  Because the Bible was not yet complete in its 66 book form at the time that Paul wrote this letter, as it is today, God was still speaking to the people of this time by using prophets and prophetic utterances.  And through these prophets, God gave the early church instructions on Christian living (See I Corinthians 14:3,4) as well as special messages (See Act 21:10,11).  But, how could they tell whether or not these were actual messages from God or deceptions of the Devil?  Paul instructs them first of all not to treat these supposed "prophecies with contempt."  In other words, do not be so narrow that your mind is closed to even the possibility that it could be a message from God.  The easy way to handle anything that claims to be coming from God is to quickly reject it.  The problem with this is that we may be so narrow, closed, and contemptuous that we may miss something that is actually coming from God.

So, first of all we are not to be narrow, but always open to the possibility that something may be coming from God.  But, we are also not to be naïve.  We are to "test everything."  Then, we are to hold on to that which is "good."  How do we "test everything"?  Listen to Moses' instructions to the people of Israel in Deuteronomy 13:1-5.  In these verses, Moses tells them that if a prophet performs miracles, but draws them away to other gods, they were to kill that prophet.  In Deuteronomy 18:22, Moses tells them if a prophet predicts that something is going to happen in the future and it does not take place, then this message is not from God.  See also I John 2:20-27, 4:1-6 for additional instructions on how we are to test whether or not something came from God.

What we have here is the attitude which disdainfully says, "We have never done that before" or "We have already tried that and it did not work."  God may be leading people in the church to do something new and fresh, but those who are narrow immediately and vocally reject this new thing.  They are closed; in this case, to what God wants to say to them and to what God wants to do.  They despise and show contempt for anything which is new.  Certainly, there must have been those among the Thessalonian Christians who despised or showed contempt for anyone who claimed to have prophetic messages from God to give to them.  As a result, they missed out on messages to them which did come from God.

But, we are to be neither narrow nor naïve. Though, we should be open to the possibility that some message is from God, we should also not naively believe everyone who says that they have a message from God.  For, we are also to "test everything."  The verb form indicates that this is to be a continual testing.  So, we are to continually "test everything."  As John says in I John 4:1, "do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God."

Then, when we do find that which is good, we are to "hold on to the good."  If we tested to see if something was made of gold, and it turned out to be gold, what would we do?  Obviously, we would hold on to it.

But, if we find that something is not good, but evil, we are to avoid it.  This last part of verse 22 has been mistranslated.  The King James Version of the Bible says we are to "abstain from all appearance of evil."  Some have taken this to mean that if we do something which is not sinful, but if it appears to be evil to some on-looker, we should avoid doing it.  Jesus, when he ate with sinners, appeared to be joining in on their sinning.  A Christian businessman may be attending a conference in a hotel that has a bar.  Someone from his church could see him in this hotel and think that he was a heavy drinker who just came out of the bar.  So, according to this way of thinking, he needs to avoid this conference so that he can avoid even the appearance of evil.  But, all of this is based on the King James' poor translation of this verse.  The proper translation of this verse is found in the NIV translation: "Avoid every kind of evil."  They were to avoid every form or every kind of evil.

And, so we are to "test everything."  Then, we are commanded to hold on to the good and to avoid every type of evil.  We must be careful not to miss anything which is from God, but we are to be careful not to allow anything into the church or into our lives which is not from God and which is, therefore, evil.

CLOSING WORDS (5:23-28)
1. May God thoroughly prepare you for the coming of Jesus (5:23,24)

"May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.  May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it."

Thought Question #1:  Is Paul saying here that it is possible for a Christian to become sinless during our present life?  Please explain why you answered the way that you did.

 

 

Thought Question #2:  Do you believe that you are made up of three parts (body, soul, and spirit) or two parts (body - the material part of you, and the non-material side of you)?  Please explain why you answered the way that you did?

 

 

What does Paul mean here?  Does he expect them to be holy in every part of their body, soul, and spirit?  Because the Greek verb translated "sanctify" is in the aorist tense indicating something which will happen at a specific point in time, some believe that Paul is describing a second dramatic experience after salvation.  Those who hold this position believe that after a person is saved "a believer receives from the Holy Spirit a new crisis experience.  Instantaneously the old nature is eradicated and perfect freedom from sin is enjoyed.  The sanctified enjoy perfect love and complete freedom from fear.  They do not commit any known sins." "Taken from Decide for Yourself by Gordon R. Lewis.  Copyright 1970 by Intervarsity Press."

This was the position held by John Wesley.  The Nazarene church holds this viewpoint today.  They believe that a Christian can come to a place where he or she no longer sins.  They base this view of theirs partly on this verse in
I Thessalonians. 

However, our observations about ourselves and others and what it says in other parts of the Bible tell us that no one can come to the place where they no longer sin.  Paul tells us in Philippians 3:12-14 that even after he had been a Christian for over 30 years, that he still needed to press on in seeking after maturity in Christ.  And in I John 1:8, John tells us if "we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us."

Instead, Paul is teaching here about seeking after holiness---the process of sanctification---which will only reach its completion when Jesus Christ returns.  "But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him." (I John 3:2).  For, then, we will be sanctified "through and through," and our "whole spirit, soul, and body will be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."

What appears to be pictured here by Paul is his desire that the Thessalonian Christians will be prevented from falling backwards, but will grow in holiness until they reach blamelessness and holiness at the return of Jesus Christ.  It would also be Paul's desire for us: that we also will be preserved from falling backwards, but will be preserved in a growing state as we move toward holiness.  This holiness we are to be moving toward will be completely realized when we will be made holy at the coming of Christ.  How can this happen to us who fall so far short of being holy?  The answer is given in 5:24:  "The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it."  As Paul says in Philippians 1:6: "he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."

In these verses, Paul brings up an issue about which Christians have two different viewpoints:  Is a man made up of two parts--body and soul---or three parts---body, soul, and spirit?  Most or all Christians agree that man is made up of a material side---the body---and a non-material side.  The debate is over whether or not the non-material part of man is one part with two names given to it or two actual parts---the soul and the spirit.  The arguments that we are two parts (the body and the nonmaterial part which is called both soul and spirit) are as follows:  (1) Man was created in two steps.  The body was formed of the dust of the earth and then God breathed into this body the "breath of life." (Genesis 2:7)  (2) The terms "soul" and "spirit" are used interchangeably in the Bible (James 2:26; II Corinthians 7:1 and Matthew 10:28, 11:29).  (3) There are many places in the Bible where man is described as being two parts (Romans 8:10; I Corinthians 5:5, 7:34; II Corinthians 7:1; Colossians 2:3)

The arguments that we are made up three distinct parts are as follows: (1) There are places such as these verses, where body, soul and spirit are mentioned all at the same time.  (2) Hebrews 4:12 appears to indicate that it is possible to somehow distinguish between soul and spirit.  "For the word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to the dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."

So, is it possible to come to a conclusion about whether we are two parts or three parts?  We may not be able to come to a conclusion about which is the Biblical position.  Even respected Evangelical Bible scholars disagree on this subject.  But, I believe we can conclude that there is some distinction between soul and spirit; whether they are two different expression of our immaterial self or two completely different parts of us.  Hendricksen has this very helpful observation about the soul and the spirit: This distinction between the soul and spirit "amounts to this, that when pneuma (spirit) is used mental activity comes into the prominence, psuche (soul) frequently point in the direction of emotional activity.  It is the spirit (pneuma) which perceives (Mark 2:8), plans (Acts 19:21), and knows (I Cor. 2:11).  It is the soul (psuche) that is sorrowful (Matt. 26:38).  The spirit (pneuma) prays (I cor 14:14), the psuche loves (Mark 12:30).  Also psuche is often more general, broader in scope, indicating the sum total of life which rises above the physical, while pneuma is more restricted, indicating the human spirit in its relation to God, man's self-consciousness or personality viewed as the subject in acts of worship or in activities related to worship, such as praying, bearing witness, serving the Lord." "Taken from New Testament Commentary I-II Thessalonians by William Hendricksen.  Copyright 1955 by Baker Book House."

It is interesting that Paul, here in verse 23, lists the "spirit" first.   "May your whole [1] spirit, [2] soul and [3] body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."  If the spirit is that part of us that relates to God, then it is first the spirit that needs to be pure to receive the pure life from God.  Jesus said that God is Spirit and desires that we worship Him in spirit and in truth. (John 4:24)  Then, it is from God's Spirit through our spirit where the holiness begins to invade our whole personality as we seek to grow in holiness.  Paul prays for them that they will grow in holiness and not fall backwards at all until, through God's transforming power, they are made holy "through and through."

2. Pray for us (5:25)

"Brothers, pray for us."

Thought Question #1:  Notice where this request from Paul comes in this letter.  What does that tell us about Paul?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  What does this verse tell us about how and when we should ask others to pray for us?

 

 

Paul was continually aware of his need for God's empowering and God's blessing of his ministry.  It is the prayers of others that God has chosen to use as the means by which He blesses and strengthens us. See II Corinthians 1:8-11  So, Paul asks them to pray for him!

We see an example of Paul's awareness of his need for God's help in Acts 18:9-11:  "One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision:  'Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.  For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.'  So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God."  This vision came to Paul while he was beginning his ministry in Corinth.  It was during this same time in Corinth that Paul wrote the letter that we now call "I Thessalonians."  His request for them to pray for him and those with him was not a quaint way to end his letter.  He really desired and needed them to pray for him.  Paul makes other requests for prayer in II Thessalonians 3:1; Romans 15:30-32; Ephesians 6:19 and Colossians 4:3.  Notice where these prayer requests come in each letter.

Paul enlisted Christians to pray for him.  If he made requests for people to pray for him in his letters, he certainly also requested them to pray for him when he was with them.  If we desire to have success in God's work, we should also enlist Christians to pray for us.  Those who go on the mission field often say that what they most desire are our prayers.

Paul begins his prayer request with the word, "Brothers."  He request prayer from his family members.  When we ask for people to pray for us, we are asking fellow members of Christ's body to pray for us.  Paul had only known them for a short time, but since they had also believed in Jesus Christ, they were eternal members of the same family.  Our fellow Christians are also eternal members of our family. We also can feel free to ask members of our eternal family to pray for us. 

3. Greet each other with a holy kiss (5:26)

"Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss."

Thought Question #1:  Is what Paul urges the Thessalonian Christians to do, something that we should be doing in the church today?  Please explain your answer to this question.

 

 

Thought Question #2:  Do you see anything significant about his command that they "Greet all the brothers"?

 

 

Kissing is rarely part of a church's fellowship today.  In other parts of the world, however, kissing is similar to our holy hugs.  It was a holy kiss because it was to be a kiss of Christian fellowship, free from any sexual expression.

This is the type of cultural practice that someone who is determined to be thoroughly Biblical can feel that the church today must practice.  In other words, if we are not doing this today, then we are not being Biblical.  It, however, was a cultural practice in Paul's time to greet each other with a kiss.  It was natural for Paul to use their common form of expressing friendship at that time as a way in which they could expression Christian warmth to one another.  Today, in our society, kissing would not be received as a warm expression of Christian love by most in our churches.  A handshake or, in many churches, a hug is received as an acceptable expression of warmth and love from other Christians.

In this short verse, we learn from Paul, and therefore from God, that it is important that we who are Christians express warmth toward our fellow Christians in some physical way.  For many of us who are emotionally reserved, this can be threatening.  Many of us have come from families where there was little or no physical expression of love and affection.  This absence of an expression of warmth is not to be part of our church fellowship.  We need to have some form of holy-physical expression of love in our churches today, even if it is not holy kissing.

Notice also that he says, "Greet all the brothers."  They were to greet even those whom he rebukes in this letter. See 4:11,12  We are to greet all the members of God's family.  The typical human pattern is to warmly greet those we get along with easily, and avoid those we do not get along with so well.  The Christian way, though, is that we love warmly all those whom God loves.  God is in us, and we are to warmly express our love for each person that God loves, our brothers and sisters in Christ.

4. Read this letter to all the brothers (5:27)

"I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers."

Thought Question:  Can you think of any ways that Paul's "charge" in this verse is practiced or should be practiced in the church today?

 

 

The meaning of the Greek word that is translated "charge" in the NIV translation is a strong word that puts them under oath to read this letter to all the Christians in Thessalonica.  They all needed to be, as we say in our society today, "on the same page."  We read and teach from the Bible in our services when we are all gathered together.  These meetings unite us around the statements in God's book.  The Thessalonian Christians needed this type of unity, a type of unity that we can take for granted.  They and we need to believe the same truths, to be encouraged by the same exhortations, strengthened by the same eternal truths, and comforted by the same hope.

There was a need for the majority of the church to be submissive and obedient to Paul's words.  Then, they were to hold accountable any who might be rebellious and unwilling to do what Paul tells them to do in this letter.  We also need to hold each other accountable to God's teaching as well.  What Paul asked them to do back in the time that this new church in Thessalonica existed continues to be a critical part of church life up to our day.

5. Final blessing (5:28)

"The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you."

Thought Question:  Why do you think that Paul ends this letter with these words? See Romans 5:1,2

 

 

A greeting or closing which offers grace to his readers is a regular part of the beginning and end of Paul's letters.  The Christian life begins with and continues to be totally dependent on God's grace.  So, he closes by expressing his desire that they experience God's grace.  What is essential for our Christian lives?  We needed God's grace to become a Christian.  We need God's grace to get through this day and this week.  And we will need God's grace for all the days of our lives.  "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you!"

Like the Thessalonian Christians we have an enemy who wants us to not grow as Christians.  He desires that we stagnate and go backwards in our Christian lives.  Consider, though, all that God has done for you in the past.  Remember those who faithfully ministered to you.  Next, think of what God is doing for you right now.  Do you enjoy your church and the fellowship you have?  Are you pleased with those who teach you and build you up spiritually?  Finally, consider what God promises will be yours in the future through His grace.  Can we not also be encouraged by looking at the past, looking at the present, and looking to the future?

 

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. ®   NIV ®   Copyright ©  1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission.  All Rights reserved.

Studies in Thessalonians