1 Thessalonians 5:6 | Awake and Sober

When I am driving in storms or heavy traffic on unfamiliar roads, I have intensity and focus. For the minutes, hours, or however long that drive might take I am so focused that I will be exhausted when I arrive at the destination. What things in this life command that kind of attention? I have never been in war however I imagine this kind of focus would be required. Focus and intensity becomes acute I imagine in anything that is life altering or involves trauma? Maybe a fight in the court system if unjustly accused? Or someone who is assaulted might become focused and aware of the surroundings if ever in a similar situation. Strangely enough Paul asked for that kind of attention of his Churches.

6 So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. 1 Thessalonians 5:6 ESV

Be awake, focused, and in control of oneself. Be aware and observant. Be intentional about life is what Paul is telling us. But that is not how most approach life. For example would you describe life as leisurely drive in sunny weather or is it an intense battle in traffic on a dark rainy night? Or how many of us might describe our life as someone who called Uber while we stare into our phones oblivious to the direction being taken? Social media scrolling, games on our phones, binge watching entertainment, and the like are distractions that allow us to ignore real life right at our feet. Do not sleep through life it is short and dangerous. Paul in asking the church to be awake is pointing to the example of Jesus right before his arrest. Jesus was in high anxiety and he asked that Peter and John be awake to pray with him.

38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” … 40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:38;40-41 ESV

What is it that keeps one on alert? It is an anticipation that something might happen and there is a need to be prepared for something at an unknown time. That focus and dedication is not easy. Paul wants the Church to be ready but ready for what? Paul’s reason for asking the church to be awake and prepared is an echo of what Jesus has already taught.

32 [Jesus speaking] “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. Mark 13:32-33 ESV

3 [Paul speaking] While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4 But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. 1 Thessalonians 5:3-4 ESV

Christ will return at an inconvenient time. Many, in fact most, will not be ready. Everything will not continue as it has since the beginning. Be alert and be aware that the world promotes distraction and avoidance of conversations about Christ. Remain focused on living a life directed by Christ. And if you have not already turned your life over to Christ for salvation on that day when he returns now is that moment before it is too late.

16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 ESV

1 Thessalonians 4:7 | Impurity vs Holiness

Holy is a word very specific to religious imagery especially in the Christian church. I wrote about this word and that is means to be set apart, here. Anywhere in scripture where the word holy appears one may rightly substitute the words “set apart” to get a better understanding of what the author is communicating. In my previous post’s example, I looked at Peter’s command for Christians to be holy.

but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:15-16 ESV

Then everywhere Peter used the word holy I replaced it with “set apart”

but as he who called you is set apart, you also be set apart in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be set apart, for I am set apart.” 1 Peter 1:15-16

The full implication begins to emerge that God is apart from the creation. He is not held to the same constraints as creation and he does not participate in conduct, sin, that is contrary to the original purpose of creation. In the same way God is Holy he has made a way in Christ for his people to not be like or act like what is normal in this world. He has called Christians to be holy and apart from the way the world acts (He has not called Christians to separate themselves from the world). Paul makes a similar statement about being holy.

7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. 8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. 1 Thessalonians 4:7-8 ESV

While Peter tells us to be Holy, set apart, in all our conduct Paul here tells us the same but he adds a contrast. Paul tells us we were called to be holy as opposed to being called to be impure. The Greek word here ἀκαθαρσία (akatharsia) means unclean and impure in both the physical and moral sense. God did not call us as Christians to remain impure in the physical or the moral sense. When Paul tells the church that they were not called to be impure he means they were not called to think or act in the same way as the world. Christians were not called, saved, by God to lust and chase after the power of this world. Or to live lives of entertainment and distraction. Christians were called by God to be Holy, set apart, focusing on things like self-control, hard work, compassion, and putting others before our own needs. What God has called Christians to be is not an easy task. For example, in these same verses Paul targets something in this early church that our own culture struggles with.

3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you 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 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 ESV

To abstain from the current sexual ethic and live a life of measured self-control will set one apart. I took my family to the beach. We dressed in current fashion but modestly. An older gentleman approached me at the pool area and asked if I and my family were Christian. When I responded yes, he said he could tell based on how my family interacts and by how we were not dressed. When you are living a life set apart it does not go unnoticed. God ordained sex as part of marriage. The world says live with abandon without self-control. In my early years I struggled with self-control and realizing my weakness in this area I had to put some personal rules in place regarding dating. I did this to remain set apart as God impressed on my heart. It was not easy. Now that I am married, I have personal rules in place in how I interact with members of the opposite sex so that I limit the opportunity to live life out of control. In what ways might the Holy Spirit be speaking to you about being called way from impurity to holiness?

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you 1 Peter 1:3-4 ESV

1 Thessalonians 1:5 | Full Assurance

Jesus saves. It is not just a slogan. It is a truth. I want to look at Jesus saving and what is involved. Paul in his letter to the Thessalonian church tells them he knows they are saved by Jesus.

because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. 1 Thessalonians 1:5a ESV

There are four components of this salvation and truly all four need to be in place for a Jesus saves moment to be real and meaningful.

First the gospel came to them in “word”. λόγος (logos) is the Greek word that is loaded with meaning (I have written more here). Essentially the good news of Jesus is communicated by word. The reason that people share their faith, the reason we have preachers, the reason the Bible is the best-selling book of all time is that the gospel, the good news that Jesus saves, must be communicated. Paul had previously traveled to this city and had preached the good news to them. They heard the word of Jesus as spoken through other Christians. If you are saved and you never tell anyone about Jesus then the primary role as a Christian you have in saving others will not be accomplished.

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18 ESV

Second is the word of the gospel also comes with “power”. δύναμις (dynamis) is the Greek word that is defined by Strong’s dictionary as “force (literally or figuratively); specially, miraculous power (usually by implication, a miracle itself)”. Paul knows the Thessalonian church contains people saved by Jesus because God himself has intervened in a miraculous way. We know in the early church there were miraculous events described as healing, raising from the dead, jails opened up, and more. Are all salvation events where Jesus saves as evident as these? No, however when God intervenes there is something miraculous happening. When the word comes with God’s intervention it comes with power. My own salvation was a miraculous event. Some may have spectacular stories in their testimony where God altered their lives in profound ways. My salvation happened at young age but it came with power. God stepped in and called me to accept that Jesus died to save me. Every salvation event is by definition miraculous and we should be able to recognize the very hand of God in our lives.

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 2 Timothy 3:1-5 ESV

Third, the word of God comes with power by way of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told his disciples that he had to go away so that a helper could come. Jesus may be God in the form of a man but God in the form of a man is limited in time and space. The Holy Spirit is God in the Spirit and the Holy Spirit is able to transcend time and space. This means the Holy Spirit can be with all those saved by Christ at the same time anywhere in the created universe. The Holy Spirit is God’s way of residing with our spirit. The Holy Spirit is our guide and the Holy Spirit is the messenger with a direct connection to God the father.  Even more than all that the Holy Spirit is the down payment on being saved by Jesus proving that we will be able to enter the presence of God in heaven.

13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:13-14 ESV

Fourth and final in knowing where we stand in salvation is conviction or assurance.  πληροφορία (plērophoria) the Greek word means assurance or confidence. Paul knows the members of this church are saved because they heard the word of God preached, he witnessed the miraculous intervention of God in their lives, Paul has seen his spirit testify with the same spirit living in them and he has seen them stand with conviction and assurance in their faith through pain and suffering. Being saved by Christ does not mean happiness or being “blessed” (although some people do seem to be happy and blessed in Christ) being saved means that come heaven or hell one will not waiver but have conviction to trust God no matter what (that is called faith).

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you … 2 that [your] hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ. Colossians 1:1-2 ESV

Those saved by Jesus are new creations. Saved from the death of their souls rotting away in selfish ambitions and godlessness. Jesus has accomplished what he set out to do. He died on the Cross for your sins and my sins. He died so that I might be a new creation marked and sealed with the Holy Spirit. It is a real transformation. I am not who I was before or who I might have become apart from God. Dear reader you are at this moment reading the word of God. The gospel of good news. Lift your eyes toward heaven and tell God that through Christ you want to be saved.

1 Thessalonians 2:4 | Desires are Trouble

bulb-close-up-crack-40889.jpg

Action is a physical act of manipulating something within time and space. Taking a step forward is a manipulation of muscle and bone to move the leg and this represents an action. Desire however is an idea in the mind and is the act of manipulating the spirit. Desire is not a manipulation of time and space however desire can and often does lead to action. Some actions are reflexive but many actions are deliberate and are the direct result of desire that has built up over time.

If I desire to steal but never act upon that desire is it a sin before God? If I desire to steal but never have opportunity because of some constraint (like fear of getting caught) is it a sin before God?

Moses arguably the greatest leader and judge of Israel was told by God that he would not be allowed to lead Israel into the promised land because of one time where he did not “uphold [God] as holy”

10 Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. 12 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” Numbers 20:10-12 ESV

Now Moses was told by God to bring water from a rock to allow the people to drink while in the dessert and Moses did that. God through Moses brought the water out of the rock, but Moses failed to represent God as holy in the situation. The standards God has set for our desires and our actions is beyond what any person can follow. Moses who has seen the physical holy representation of God whose very hand carved into stone the 10 commandments is being held to an even higher standard than the average person. Moses failed to keep God holy before the people and Moses knew better. His actions in time and space brought forth water out of a rock but his desires, his anger with the people for being such awful whiny complainers had made him angry. Maybe his anger with the people or something as priest like he failed to give thanks to God resulted in God calling out his desire as a sin.

Paul talks about desire to the early church and keeping Moses in mind read what Paul states about leadership and where desire should be focused.

3 For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. 1 Thessalonians 2:3-4 ESV

Many people I talk with about God will state something along the lines of “God will see I am a good person and will see that my good outweighs my bad. What more can I do?” This is the wrong perspective because it follows the worlds obsession with the physical actions. Notice the focus on actions of good and bad results. “I am not as bad as that person my actions are much better.”

Just like when I move a foot to take a step forward I must first desire in my heart and spirit to move that foot forward. How many times have I thought I should take a step forward and failed to do so? I will be accountable to God for those desires that were never even acted on.

Do not think God will only see our actions and our actions are those of a good person. Know that God will judge our heart and our desires. He knows the hate I have had for others even if I did not act out the violence in my heart. He knows that I have desired the money of my neighbor even though I never robbed him. He knows that I have lusted for the physical comforts of this world to satisfy my own selfish desires to the detriment of brothers and sisters. What a wretched heart that lives in me. Forgive me father for my sins of both action and desire. Thank you for Jesus who has taken those sins from me that I may humbly sit before you as a child restored to his father.

1 Thessalonians 4:1 | Self Help

more43

Growth and maturity are aspirations of the self help and be all that you can be motivational speakers. With education and wealth that most in free societies have in abundance, growth and maturity would seem to be a waste if not taken advantage of even in small measure. Within this space some pastors write books or sermons themed on how to have the best life. Even more motivational speakers outside of religion will focus on the power of positive thinking. If you can dream it you can do it they preach. None of this is wrong within limits, but when taken to selfish extremes self help and achieving dreams are a trap. Paul in his letter to the church in Thessalonica did not have much to correct in their behavior. The reports he received must have been glowing, compared to some of the other early churches at least. Paul challenges this church asking them to have growth and maturity in two key areas. If one is looking for self help and big dreams then Paul’s words are the God inspired way to approach life. For the contemporary church that means following the teaching of the Bible which is a record of what the apostles taught to the early church.

First Paul challenges the church to grow more and more in their sexual ethic. To please God one must recognize right and wrong in this area. This challenge from Paul is not some rule that men have made up to stop people from loving or having fun as they see fit but it is an expectation from God himself and will save many from a life of loneliness and regret.

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. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you 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; 6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. 8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. 1 Thessalonians 4:1; 3-8 ESV

The sexual liberation of current society is nothing new. Lust fulfilled through pornography, affairs, and a hookup culture are a hollow gratification that is championed by those who are dead inside. You want a better you? You want to please God? Then submit your body to Christ. Stop polluting your heart, soul, and mind with dishonor and impurity. God is holy and pure so we should at least acknowledge what is right even if doing right is near impossible. What we know is impossible is pleasing God when selfish desires rule every waking moment. Paul put these words into another form in his letter to the Roman church.

6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Romans 8:6-8 ESV

If your life is self-centered and self-accommodating you are living in the “flesh”. This is death because our flesh leads us away from God. Much of God’s law is in place to confirm to us that our selfish fleshly desires should not rule over our lives.

Second Paul challenges the church to grow more and more in how we live our daily lives as citizens in a country and community.

9 Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, 10 for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, 11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 ESV

For the woke brothers and sisters (both white and black) and for the conservative evangelical brothers and sisters this challenge from Paul needs to be front and center at all times. Where is our brotherly love? Paul found no need to write to the Thessalonians on this topic because they had love for others. They served others without judgment. But Paul wanted them to grow more and more. So if you think you have this kind of love in place then Paul says go further. Seek the welfare of others over self. Seek not to be dependent on the government. Seek not to be so concerned with the affairs of others. I can’t change someone else any more than the government can force people to change. True change only comes from the Spirit given to us by Christ. And why does Paul want more and more of this? So that we would walk properly before outsiders for God’s glory. Sadly, at this moment much of the outside world sees sides pitted against each other competing for worldly influence apart from Christ.

Finally, some of you reading this will reject it all. This post is not the typical kind of self help because Paul wants yourself to be put aside. The best help one could ever provide to self is to let self-die and be made alive in Christ.

Some of you reading will agree but are afraid of what putting away the self will mean when it comes to your job, your friends, and your community. It is true you may lose all of those things but God is so much more important than anything else.

42 Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in [Jesus], but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. John 4:42-43 ESV

*original photo by Scott Webb from Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/colorful-plant-pot-rocks-395676/

You really like me!

stage

Sally Field when she won an Oscar for best actress gave what may be the most memorable, and misquoted, line of any awards speech. “You like me, you really like me”. That line is not a direct quote but it is the impression many remembered and has since been referenced and copied in so many other places. The quote highlights the vanity of awards shows in general but it expresses a truth that most people want to be recognized and loved. What better way to be loved than recognition? Paul opens his letter to Thessalonica telling them that he remembers them before God for all their faithful works.

3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thessalonians 1:3 ESV

If an Apostle wrote a letter to my church letting us know that we are in his prayer and that he appreciates the hard work I would be ecstatic. What an encouragement this letter must have been. Actors work hard and so few of them achieve the kind of success that comes with an Oscar win. There are many people who have toiled long nights, put in hours of practice, and have spent personal wealth all at a shot of becoming a star. Yet how many of them receive the recognition that is due? I think it is the case in all professions that recognition is hard to come by. If we all desire recognition for earthly temporary things what about recognition for the things heavenly eternal things? We do not generally take that kind of recognition well. Worse yet many want to avoid spiritual conversations altogether. But Paul wanted the church to know that he saw their works in Christ. In the second letter to this same church he made the point again but provides a little more detail on what he is praising them for.

4 Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. 2 Thessalonians 1:4 ESV

Now this kind of recognition is not the kind that comes with positive press, overnight success, or financial gain. Paul is using words like work, labor, and steadfastness in the presence of persecution and afflictions. This sound an awful lot like drudgery, sorrow, opposition, and operating far away from the world’s approval. In fact, this sounds like a people who might rightly say of the world “you hate me, you really hate me!”. Paul is recognizing them for the fact that they have endured the awfulness of life for the sake of Christ. Jesus points to a future time before he returns where Christians will be persecuted and one can see where Paul sources his comments on the glory of one enduring under harsh conditions.

22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. Matthew 10:22 ESV

The apostles are gone and they have left only the words inspired by God and a historical legacy. They cannot write an encouraging letter directly to me or my church today. However, these words of encouragement that have been left speak of recognition that no Oscar winner could ever dream for. The Bible tells us that God himself will recognize the endurance and the labor that is done in His name.

10 For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. Hebrews 6:10 ESV

The kind of works and love that God is looking to recognize is an unselfish work that gains glory not for the servant but for God himself and sadly that is where the Oscars and most recognition go wrong.

3 For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. 1 Thessalonians 2:3-4 ESV