1 Thessalonians 4
Paul was also concerned with the continued need for righteousness in the life of the Christian. Although we are not saved by the Law we are still obligated to obey the 10 commandments and God’s moral law as such obedience is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit at work in us. One of the major areas of concern for those in Thessalonica was that of sexual purity. This was hard to maintain because sexual immorality and marital infidelity were the norm and they pervaded all of society. Paul prescribes one antidote to sexual temptation: marriage in which fidelity is paramount. Another antidote is doing the works of the Lord in society and at work as well as in the Church.
Another apparent cause for the doubts of some of the saints was the delayed return of the Lord. A few of the brethren had died something which the rest did not expect. They grieved for them and were sad. They wondered what had happened to them. Paul sets out to comfort them in their grief by relating some theological truths concerning the Lord’s return. He uses images and prophetic language that should not be pressed as literal details but figures of the truth. All those who have died and all those still alive when Jesus returns will be reunited at His coming. All will have resurrected bodies.
The words of Paul give us great comfort and the encouragement we need to carry on in this sinful world. We know that despite what happens in our lives, those in Christ have the glorious hope of our resurrection as an assurance that all our suffering will be taken away for eternity. Those who do not know Jesus, you do not have faith in Him can have no such comfort in the face of pain, suffering and death. Though we rejoice in our assurance, we are saddened for such people. We pray and work for their salvation.
1 Thessalonians 3
Another concern for Paul and his companions was that, although the saints at Thessalonica had persevered in trials, some of them seemed to be getting discouraged. Paul expresses his deep compassion for the brethren for he wishes to be present with them but cannot. His presence might make matters worse since his opponents had forced him to leave there in the first place. Yet he does wish to address the problem as some saints were turning away from the gospel and from Christ. Paul reminds them that suffering and persecution should not surprise them as they are part of the normal Christian life.
This should come as no surprise to us either, despite what the proponents of the health and wealth gospel maintain. If we are committed to the Lord, to living a life of righteousness and avoiding sin, we will suffer. First of all we will not compromise with the world or follow its ways and values. That will often mean lost opportunities for advancement, higher earnings, or fame. That will mean missing out on the “American dream” as we give “our” money to those who are in need. ‘
Commitment to righteousness and the values of the Kingdom of God will also invite persecution primarily in the form of the criticism and scorn from those who want to live in the world. Our lives will shame them by pointing out their sinfulness. Finally, our stand for the integrity of the gospel as the truth will antagonize those who believe in political correctness and the equality of all religions. Yet if we are not experiencing trials and setbacks in our life, if we are living on top of the world, then something is be lacking in our Christian witness.
1 Thessalonians 2
Although the saints at Thessalonica provided a great witness, Paul did have some concerns about their behavior. For one thing, some of the brethren were being carried away by the lies of Paul’s critics who sought to discredit the gospel by discrediting the apostle. The main antagonists to the gospel were the Jewish residents of Thessalonica whose violent opposition had forced Paul and Silas to leave the city so abruptly. Paul reminded the brethren of all that he did and all that he endured on their behalf. He always preached out of selfless concern. He did not seek to exalt himself in any way. He did not manipulate people with flattering or enticing words. He lived and worked among them like a father and a mother, filled with compassion, driven by love and the desire to give his spiritual children what was best for them, that they may grow strong in the Lord. The best testimony to Paul’s integrity was their perseverance in trials, their profession of faith, and their lives of righteousness.
Paul also reminds the saints that his opponents were the same people who were responsible for the crucifixion of Christ. In our age of political correctness we cringe at such a statement as it may be deemed anti-Semitic. But for Paul it is a clear statement of fact. The Jews stand condemned by God because they rejected the Messiah and continue to reject Him by their efforts to suppress the gospel. This is not an excuse for us to act with violence, malice or ill-will towards the Jews. After all they are condemned and should be viewed with compassion and sadness for they do not know what they are doing. The same is true of all those who oppose the gospel for without Christ, they are all under the wrath of God. We in Christ must seek always to present the truth of the gospel of salvation in Jesus alone despite the anger and opposition of those who would disagree.
1 Thessalonians 1
Paul, Silas and Timothy begin this epistle with some words of encouragement for the saints in the church at Thessalonica. These believers were faithful and zealous for the kingdom of God though they were in the midst of trials and persecution brought on by their neighbors, both Jews and pagans. Nevertheless, their reputation and witness had spread throughout Greece. Although their perseverance was exemplary they were also wonderful examples of the changes Christ can make in the life of even the vilest of sinners. These saints had been deeply and hopelessly enslaved by idolatry and its accompanying sexual immorality. Yet now, in the Lord, they had completely changed and were on fire with righteousness and zeal to advance the cause of the Kingdom of God.
The saints at Thessalonica serve as an excellent example to us of the new life in Christ. They made a clean break with their past and their idolatry. They did not compromise with these evils but turned completely away from them even though they had been deeply ingrained and embedded in their culture.
We need to do the same with our idols and our past. Even though our idols are as deeply embedded in our culture as were those of the Thessalonians, it is difficult for us to properly discern them for they are not found in statues and temples of stone but rather in values, traditions, philosophies, attitudes and ideas that promote self- fulfillment, individual achievement, and personal strength. We are so accustomed to these idols that we accept them as a normal part of life, even to the point of confusing them with and incorporating them into the ways and morals of God’s Kingdom.
The standards of kingdom living extend to the relationship of marriage and the family. Paul calls for respect and mutual submission, cooperation and obedience for all believers. This would have been a strong contrast to the standards of the pagan world of the Roman Empire in which there was little respect and a great deal of abuse. Slaves were treated as less than human, as property. Women and children fared little better. The Kingdom of God elevates the dignity of all human beings for all are made in the image of God. Therefore Paul urges all to accept their social standings in a way that imitates Christ and glorifies God: self-sacrifice. This means I surrender my agenda and rights for the benefit and edification of others.
Unfortunately this passage has been often misinterpreted in a way that has focuses on the demands and authority of the husband and gives him license to abuse his wife by demanding absolute compliance and unquestioning obedience to his wants and whims. Wives are to submit to their husbands as they submit to the Lord, that is, with loving obedience designed to build him up. This is her free choice made in the Lord and cannot be forced by anyone. For then it is slavery, not love.
And so the husband has a great responsibility toward his wife: to love her as Christ loves the Church. That means he gives up his rights and agenda to build up her in the Lord. As Jesus set aside the glory of heaven and died for the redemption of helpless humanity, so the husband must surrender his needs, desires and wants to promote the spiritual growth and well-being of his wife and his children. These standards would work well for all society but are really possible only for believers because only they are filled with the Spirit of the Lord and must submit to His will.
As we manifest the fruit of the spirit we will treat our brethren differently. We will not gossip about their sins, mistakes, quirks or burdens, nor we ridicule them in any way or boast in ourselves as if we were better or more spiritual than they. In fact, as Paul points out, we are not better than they. We are equal in Christ and none of us is perfect. We all sin and fall. We all have our own unique ways about us and our preferences, good bad and neutral. We cannot be smug. We are to treat others as we want to be treated: with mercy, understanding and love. And so we will bear the burdens or our brethren. We will pray for them. We will bring them to repentance. We will edify and teach them the right way to go with words and deeds. In this way we grow in to the likeness of Christ.
As Paul closes his letter he focuses on the centrality of the cross. Because of the cross none of us can boast in ourselves. He sees that selfish boasting as the underlying motive of his legalistic opponents who teach circumcision and law keeping as essential to the faith. They only want to be proved right and so seem righteous and exalted. Not so with Paul. He glories in the cross because in Christ alone do we find righteousness and freedom.
Perhaps when we look at those preachers we admire so much we should listen carefully to they way they present the gospel. Many are given to boasting and self-promotion and are adept in telling others what to do to improve their lives. Those who preach the true gospel of salvation will promote Christ and the way of sacrificial living and giving. They will truly follow the way of Christ in their lives and pray that we do the same.
Paul continues to expound upon the folly of living under the Law. The Law was like a tutor that we needed to keep us in line. Yet it also kept us in bondage because we were slaves to it and we were slaves to sin. He extends this metaphor to include all the pagan religious beliefs that many of the Galatians had subscribed to before they came to Christ. They too were in bondage to them. So are we. We are all slaves to laws of our own making, superstitions, religious taboos and false gods as well as laws enforced upon us by others.
Thus Paul points out once again that those Jews who still follow the law are slaves, they are not sons of God at all. That is why those who are in Christ need no longer come under the Law for they are sons, they have their inheritance already, the fullness of life and the absolute guarantee of salvation as proclaimed in us by the Holy Spirit.
The whole idea of law is to enforce obedience, promote order and protect others from harm. It does this by threatening punishments which engenders fear. Such fear is supposed to produce the desired effects of cooperation and tolerance. We Christians love such laws because we think that by keeping them we are doing the will of God, that we are righteous. Fear of punishment is a motive for obedience. Yet such fear when applied to the human relationship to God ought to lead people to Him. In Him we find love. God does not want us to obey out of fear but rather out of love and thanksgiving for what He has done because those in Christ are sons of God, not slaves. Those who are in Christ, who live by the Spirit need not fear God’s wrath anymore Christ enables us to walk in loving obedience in accordance to God’s will.