Month: October 2017
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep… (vs13)
In their short time in Thessalonica, despite having covered many questions about life and faith, it appears as though questions regarding death and life after death were either not covered in Paul’s preaching while in person with them and so much of the remainder of 1 Thessalonians 4-5 focusses on what is commonly regarded as Paul answering questions that had been asked probably via Timothy who returned to Paul and the team.
When someone dies we as believers can be faced with the struggle of reconciling;
- our faith and our emotions,
- our faith and the loss of a loved one,
- our faith and the likelihood that some of the things we prayed for weren’t answered as we wished they would be,
- our faith and some of that which is unknown concerning this loved one and life after death.
Paul said to the Thessalonians, “we do not want you to be uninformed”(vs13). We do not want you to not know what we ought to know. As believers, although there is mystery still regarding death we do know many things from Scripture, and knowing helps grieving.
…that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.(vs13)
Grief is our multifaceted response to loss. Grief is unpredictable and can be full of conflicting emotions ranging from deep desperate sadness through to the relief that the person who died is no longer suffering, or even relief as the load of caring lifts and yet the pain of guilt that you feel relieved or are doing ok after their death…
Scripture doesn’t say that we as Christ followers won’t grieve.
To not grieve would be to deny our common human experience post-the-fall of humankind. Rather, what this verse teaches is that we don’t grieve in the same way, as those who ‘have no hope’.
Our grieving is transformed by hope. This life is not the end, death is not the end but rather a transition from this life to the next as Jesus Himself said;
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:24)
Believing in Jesus transforms us so radically that death becomes the doorway to eternal life! And in that moment death is swallowed up in victory (1 Corinthians 15:55), in life that’s imperishable.
This is why believers in Jesus don’t grieve the death of a fellow believer in the same way, as those with no hope, yes they grieve – because there is loss, a break in relationship for the present time, but that loss is informed, is transformed by the knowledge that this loved one if they believed in Jesus Christ has nothing but glorious suffering free imperishable life in their eternal trajectory with Jesus!
For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.(vs14)
Jesus who died and rose again, will resurrect us who believe, will resurrect those who have died having believed in Him in this life. And this knowledge, that believers in Jesus will be resurrected by Jesus on the day of His glorious second coming transforms our grief, doesn’t take it away, but fills it with unshakeable hope.
When the Gospel is preached there are normally a whole range of responses from even within a smallish group of people. Reading between the lines of this letter we can surmise already by this stage in the letter that in response to the Gospel being preached;
- Some could be applauded for their wholehearted response to the Gospel (1:6-9 & 2:13)
- Some could be applauded for their faith and love & their desire to please God (3:6&4:1)
- Some needed to be urged to not continue in their sexual sin or living like unbelievers (4:3-5)
- Some were applauded for their love for one another and for all the brothers in Macedonia (4:9-10)
- And some were exhorted to keeping working so as not to have to depend on others finances (4:11-12)
All different responses from the same Gospel shared with them. And so pastorally different things were needing to be encouraged in different groups of individuals in this young church.
What would you be applauded for in terms of your Gospel response?
What might you need to be exhorted in?
When the Gospel is preached, a faith community of Christ followers that hadn’t previously existed forms (the church), and Jesus clearly expected that these new faith communities would be primarily characterised by a deep love that looks like family.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
Churches are not about programmes or meetings, they are all about people who have been joined to one another because they have been joined to Jesus Christ. Paul could write about the Thessalonians that he didn’t need to teach them about ‘brotherly love’ because clearly God had been teaching them how to love one another (vs9). What an accolade for a church to receive!
God had promised hundreds of years before that one day He would make a new covenant (which He did through Jesus) and in that era God said;
“I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:33-34)
And that’s what God did with the Thessalonians, after just a short time of preaching God taught them, God wrote on their hearts His way for loving one another, for loving even ‘all the brothers throughout Macedonia’(vs10)!
God the Holy Spirit will teach us, will lead us how to love like He loves so that we will reflect who God is to one another and to the world at large. There is no greater hallmark of holiness than sacrificial love for others, and especially love for those whom we can’t realistically expect anything from in return.
How is God teaching you to be more loving to those in the church?
How is God leading you to love those in the wider community?
[If you didn’t read yesterday’s devotional I would urge you to look first at part (1)…]
When you think about your salvation, God’s having chosen to save you from your sins, have you ever paused to think ‘why’? Why did God save you? What was God wanting?
We know that God went to extreme lengths in order to rescue us from our sin, but why did God do it. Our salvation cost Jesus His life as He chose to lay it down for us, our salvation cost the Father immensely too as the Father willingly punished His one and only beloved Son in our place and for our sin – so why did God do it?
Every person who has believed in Jesus was called by God out of darkness and into Jesus’ marvellous light (1 Peter 2:9). But what did God have in mind when He called each one of us?
We know already from 1 Thessalonians 4:3 that God’s will for each one of us is that we be pure/holy like God Himself is. Now in 1 Thessalonians 4:7 we learn that;
“For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.”
When the God considered our sin-state, our brokeness and considered His great love for us and His desire to have us with Him forever…
When God determined to save us, to redeem us by giving Himself to save us from Himself and His righteous holy wrath against sin…
We know from these two verses (vs3&7) of 1 Thessalonians that what was in God’s heart, in God’s mind for us whom He was choosing to save at great cost, was that God wanted us to be holy/pure.
God called us not to be impure but rather to be pure/holy like He is holy. He wanted this so much, He sent His own Son, Jesus wanted this so much He endured the cross scorning its shame!
So, brothers and sisters, when we live impure, unholy, sin-stained, compromised lives we are grieving God, trampling on Jesus’s costly life-sacrifice. We are not just doing something small and meaningless we are grieving God and are choosing to live against the will of God.
And this is why this passage contains some strong warning language;
8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.
Whoever disregards what God wants from those He chose and called to save, those Jesus chose to die for makes a big error of judgement. Such a person is not merely disregarding human traditions or ethical standards or expectations but is in fact disregarding God who not only gave us Jesus but also gave us His indwelling Holy Spirit to help us to be holy as He desires us to be.
So, let’s not take sin lightly. Let’s not ignore what God wants from those He called, those He chose and those He paid the price for. Let’s respond to God’s incredible kindness and mercy towards us who believe by living lives worthy of the calling we have received (Ephesians 4:1).
Is your will & God’s will aligned?
What might need to change when you consider what God wants?
Speak to God now about those things.
What does God want from you and I as believers? There are times in our lives when we are not always certain of the answer to that question. Maybe you’re in a place of needing to make decisions and you’ve asked God for Him to reveal His specific will to you and at the moment you honestly could say that you don’t know what God’s will is in this thing that’s before you…
And yet here in today’s passage, Scripture affirms with absolute conviction and clarity what God’s general will is for all of us.
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification.”
The direct translation of the last word translated as ‘sanctification’ can also be translated as ‘holiness or purity’. God wants everyone of us to be pure, to be holy, to be more and more like He is. Note how this is an absolute and unqualified statement, it is always God’s will for all of us, it is not relative, it does not change.
In the passage, Paul zero’s in on an issue that many in Thessalonica seemingly battled to be pure in and an issue that many today still battle to be pure/holy in – sex.
Our world is awash with loose morals, the prevailing sexual ethic of our day is something like ‘everything is permissible as long as there are two or more consenting adults!’
Sadly, God’s moral law found throughout Scripture which makes it clear that there ought to be no sex outside of the covenant of marriage is disregarded by many both in and outside of the church.
The whole realm of sexual purity is one of those areas in which so often many of us could not be described as being pure or holy. But this is not God’s will for us.
Rather, God wants us to;
“…abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God”
And what is meant when the bible says God wants us to abstain from sexual immorality?
The Greek word used here is broad and so includes all sex before marriage and or outside of the marriage covenant between a husband and his wife.
Brothers and sisters, we need to be re-sensitised! We often see sex as a personal choice, and in one sense it is and yet God through Scripture warns us abundantly clearly that to engage in any sex outside of marriage is against God’s will for you.
More than that, the passage goes on to warn us saying;
“the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.” (vs6)
God is not unmoved by our ‘personal choices’, rather we grieve and anger God when we live as the unsaved person does, when we do not keep ourselves sexually pure before Him. This is a solemn warning, and warnings are of no use unless we take note of them and adjust accordingly.
So let’s not be like those who do not even know God, let’s not be guided by passions and lust but rather let’s be those who desire to please God and because we do want to please God, let’s be those who control our own bodies (vs4) and keep our bodies pure and honourable before God who sees everything.
What does God want? He wants His children to be sexually pure.
And what if we haven’t been?
The good news is that we have been given the most amazing gift by Jesus – we can always repent and He will forgive us because He died in our place for our sin. But, repentance requires that we change, that as Jesus said once to a woman caught up in sexual sin we are to; “go and sin no more.”
Do you need to repent? You can! You will be forgiven!
But then you need to make changes with the help of the Holy Spirit.
And if you need help, speak to someone in leadership you can trust.
What does God want?
He wants us to be sanctified, to be transformed more and more into the perfect holiness of our Saviour Jesus.
“Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 4:1-2)
These verses are the ‘hinge verses’ in this letter. Up until now, the apostle Paul has been referring back this whole time, looking back at their visit to the Thessalonians, taking them back to the Gospel that was preached amongst them.
From this point onwards, Paul suddenly switches looking to the present and future addressing certain practical ethical problems of Christian conduct which were evidently troubling the Thessalonians or were ethical life-issues that Timothy had observed and felt needed correction. So, Paul switches from explanations regarding his own behaviour to instructions regarding theirs because of their faith in God.
One of the great weaknesses of contemporary evangelical Christianity is our comparative neglect of Christian ethics, in both our teaching and our practice.
– John Stott
Paul presents a striking contrast when compared to our current neglect of ethics in our day. For the rest of this letter, he gives detailed instruction in Christian moral behaviour. Contrary to much of the thinking in our day and contrary to so much of the emphasis in our churches teaching, how we live really matters!
‘you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God’ (vs1)
Paul can say that these Thessalonian believers had received something from Paul and his team, they had left a deposit of how to live SO AS to please God. He could say that the Thessalonians knew the instructions they had been given on what gospel life should look like in practice.
Living to please God is an overarching guiding principle of all Christian behaviour. John Stott says the following about living to please God;
“First, it is a radical concept, for it strikes at the roots of our discipleship and challenges the reality of our profession. How can we claim to know and to love God if we do not seek to please him? Disobedience is ruled out.
Secondly, it is a flexible principle. It will rescue us from the rigidities of a Christian Pharisaism which tries to reduce morality to a list of do’s and don’ts. True, we still need to be instructed … how to live in order to please God (1), and this for us will necessitate the developing of a Christian perspective through biblical meditation. Nevertheless, our incentive will be not so much to obey the law as thereby to please the Law-giver, and this will become increasingly a matter of Christian instinct as the Holy Spirit trains Christ’s sheep to discern their Shepherd’s voice.
Thirdly, this principle is progressive. If our goal is to be perfectly pleasing to God, we shall never be able to claim that we have arrived. Instead, we are summoned to please him more and more.” (extract from “The Message of Thessalonians” – J.Stott)
May we, make it our life ambition to live in such a way that pleases God. After all, if we truly love God we will want to live in such a way that will please God. And so as we read on in this letter which focusses on ethical teaching regarding how we should live, let’s remember that to do so is not legalism but rather practical help to those who want to please God.
And finally, lets remember that pleasing God is something which is never complete but rather something we want to do ‘more and more’.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for so radically giving Your life in order to sacrificially save my life. I worship You and am so grateful to You.
Thank you for the gift of repentance and the offer of forgiveness because of your life lived in my place and your death died for my sins.
Today Lord I re-commit myself to living in such a way that will please you, finding out what does please you and then making changes to what I do and do not do, how I think, and how I speak and act towards others. Holy Spirit, I invite you to challenge and change me more and more so that I might live in such a way that pleases You. Amen.
What we pray for reveals what we value. In 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 we get a little insight into some of Paul’s prayer time for the believers he had to leave behind in Thessalonica. Let’s do a quick survey of the things Paul and his team were praying for and see what we can learn from what it was they were praying for…
- Paul and his team gave thanks for the Thessalonians response to the Gospel (1:2-3)
- Prayed that God might enable his team to help the Thessalonians to grow up in their faith through good teaching and leadership (3:10)
- Prayed that God would make a way through the devil’s hindering (2:18) so that they could be re-united with the Thessalonians again for their mutual encouragement (3:11)
- Prayed that the Thessalonians love would abound towards one another in the church & also about for all people (3:12)
- Prayed that the Thessalonians might be blameless on the day of Jesus’ second coming (3:13)
Prayed that they might become more and more like God (sanctified) and that they be kept blameless until the day Jesus returns (5:23-24)
In summary, incidentally through this letter we discover some of the things that really mattered to the apostle Paul when he prayed for others.
- He gave thanks to God!
- He prayed for enabling power to accomplish that which God had called him to do.
- He prayed for God’s breakthrough where things felt stuck/hindered
- He prayed for these believers to be like God, to be abounding in love
- He prayed that God would keep them safe through trials to the very end of the age.
Think about your prayers for a moment.
What things are your prayers typically characterised by if you were to do an audit?
How could you pray through some of these things that were the apostle’s prayer focus in your life and over the lives of others?
Real life is full of ups and downs. Good days and tough moments or even seasons when life can feel like an incredibly hard uphill battle. It’s been said that its not a matter of when you and I will face hardship, sorrow or trials but rather just when.
And yet so often we are knocked off our balance entirely by hardships and or suffering as believers. Why is this?
In part I believe that there is an unhelpful belief/teaching that makes out as if the Christian life is just victorious, just joy, just plain sailing… And when real life isn’t like this, such teaching/belief leads to a potential crisis of faith (God’s not faithful, loving or sovereign) or unhelpful spiritual introspection or even depression believing that the root cause must be lack of faith or an underlying sin issue that’s not been dealt with.
However, a simple reading of the New Testament letters reveals a different picture for us regarding suffering/hardships. Paul expected affliction/hardship, as did the Thessalonian believers because Paul had warned them in those first three weeks of their faith that hardship would come as a result of their faith in Christ. Paul says to them;
“For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction just as it has come to pass, and just as you know.” (1 Thessalonians 3:3-4)
Paul wanted “no one (to) be moved by these afflictions” (vs3) that’s why he had warned them before the time that they would come.
I don’t believe Paul was morbid, negative, stoic or resigned to just enduring suffering and letting people walk all over him like a ‘welcome mat at the door’… I believe Paul was REAL, he knew that the enemy although defeated on the cross and having ultimately destiny with destruction at the Lord’s second coming was still the enemy and able to inflict pain and hardship, able to hinder the Gospel and able to hinder believers.
So, he anticipated hardship so was not shocked by it, not knocked off balance by it, but rather he and those he lead could be fortified in it and know how to respond to it with faith.