PAUL's FIRST LETTER TO THE THESSALONIANS
~A Devotional Commentary by Nate Wilson
With Quotations from
The 1901 American Standard Bible
and from Jay Green's Interlinear Bible.
According to Spiros Zhodiates, Paul planted a church in Thessalonica around A.D. 50, but had to leave prematurely. He sent Timothy back to his first successful church plant to see how it was doing and was encouraged by the report. He then wrote this letter to them, and in it, addresses some ethical problems and eschatological problems. Robert Gundry places the letter around A.D. 51. Martin Franzmann notes that Paul was very relieved that the church had carried on after he was ousted by the Jews and rabble-rousers there (who went on to stir up Bereans to also drive Paul out--Acts 17: 1-15). He was only one little-known philosopher in a time when all sorts of charlatans were trying to raise a following. This relief of hearing that the church still existed shows in his thanksgiving at the beginning of the book. Franzmann also notes that purity was unheard-of in this vile port-city, and it is understandable that the Thessalonians had trouble with it!
1:1 Paul, and Silvanus, and Timothy, unto the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.
This is a team letter by Paul, Sylvanus, and Timothy--did they sit around, talking about what they'd say? Was Sylvanus the scribe? Paul certainly did not run a one-man show; he is constantly discipling young men who are living with him, building friendships with new people, and greeting and blessing them in letters from out-of-town.
1:2 We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers;
God, please give me some people that I could rejoice over, just as Paul does. Here's what makes Paul's heart glad! This is a good example to follow.
1:3 remembering without ceasing your work of faith and labor of love and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, before our God and Father;
1:4 knowing, brethren beloved of God, your election,
Why the term "election?" I believe that supports my view that we do not choose to be saved by God; He chooses/elects us and changes our hearts so that our will to love God follows.
Dear God, I don't measure up! I find myself wondering if I am really of Your elect. I think I am, but sometimes, because of the hardness of my heart, I have cause to question it. I'm not working in faith; I'm coasting. Lord help me grow in faith and go after You with great desire! I'm not laboring in love, either; it's all I can do to put in a good day's work and go through the motions of eating, putting the boys to bed, and preparing for another day's work without being crabby. I have not labored in love to my wife--I haven't gone out of my way to show her how much I appreciate her. When is there TIME for this? Oh God, please help me!
I don't know how patient I'm being about it, but I sure do look forward to Your return! Probably more to escape all the sinfulness in me and in the world than anything else. Sometimes I'm kinda reluctant to come to You in prayer because I know I take advantage of Your blood and forgiveness more often than a righteous man should, and I wonder where is the point at which You will get fed up with me...
1:5 how that our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance; even as ye know what manner of men we showed ourselves toward you for your sake.
God, if I am to continue in ministry, I really need to be doing more than ministering in words, but in power. That's not really up to me. It's up to You, Lord. would You please show YOUR POWER through the ministry I do? I don't see that You have shown much power through me so far. Is there something I need to change? I shouldn't get hung up on the power part, because Paul emphasises the Holy Spirit and much assurance as also being important beyond words as proving the veracity of their message.
1:6-8And ye became imitators of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit; 7 so that ye became an ensample to all that believe in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For from you hath sounded forth the word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith to God-ward is gone forth; so that we need not to speak anything.
God, how I long to see real fruit rather than just grabbing at straws to prove somehow that my ministry is doing something! How awesome it would be to see people imitating us (provided we were doing right!) and starting a real church as a result of our ministry, and becoming examples to all the neighboring cities! You know, that's what's really important; that would be the most fulfilling thing in the world to me. And to think this only happened within the space of a year or two for Paul with the Thessalonians.
1:9-10For they themselves report concerning us what manner of entering in we had unto you; and how ye turned unto God from idols, to serve a living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, who delivereth us from the wrath to come.
The good report from other people is that the Thessalonians turned from idols to serve God and that they eagerly were awaiting Jesus' return, Who would deliver them from the wrath to come. God if someone could say that truthfully of me, I'd consider it the greatest compliment. If You were to say that of me, it would make my whole life worthwhile right now! But it cannot be truthfully said of me because I do not turn away from every idol and serve only God and wait eagerly and single-mindedly for Jesus' return. Oh God, I get so distracted from You--by "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life." How, God, do I live with this dialectic? On the one hand I am regenerated spiritually and I desire to please You, yet at the same time, I also have fleshly desires to sin and the world catches my eye. Am I schizophrenic? It seems so--sometimes I care nothing for You, other times there is a battle raging between my will to righteousness and my will to unrighteousness, and other times I am consumed with God and care nothing for the world. I guess that I am in the latter category more often than not, but I wish that I would never be in the former categories even briefly! I know that it is not something entirely up to You; I can't sit back and wait for You to do all the work. You make me able to be righteous and You justify me in God's court, but I must work in partnership with your prevenient act of regeneration and justification and Your continuing work of sanctification to chose with my own will to turn from idols , serve God, and wait for Christ's return. God, please do everything You can for me to enable me to turn from the idols of this age, turn to You and serve You, and eagerly await Your son from heaven! And may I choose with my will, too, at every juncture today to do these things.
Does waiting on Christ's return mean doing nothing while you wait? No. Remember that a "waiter" in a restaurant is a good waiter only if he is actively anticipating your desires and quickly and excellently doing what you want. That's the Biblical meaning of waiting on God--and there is certainly part of waiting that looks forward to what will come also.
FIRST Thessalonians CHAPTER 2
2: 1 For yourselves, brethren, know our entering in unto you, that it hath not been found vain: 2 but having suffered before and been shamefully treated, as ye know, at Philippi, we waxed bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God in much conflict. 3 For our exhortation is not of error, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile: 4 but even as we have been approved of God to be intrusted with the gospel, so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God who proveth our hearts. 5 For neither at any time were we found using words of flattery, as ye know, nor a cloak of covetousness, God is witness;
In Philippi, Paul and Timothy had been publicly flogged and then put into a dank prison. They experienced pain and humiliation and disgusting conditions for preaching the Gospel. It WOULD have taken real boldness to then go to Thessalonica and try the same thing! No one could accuse them of being money-hungry charlatans who were getting rich off ignorant people--no, they were working for their own living in Thessalonica, and only a commission from God would have given them the courage to preach in Thessalonica and risk another flogging!
God if Your commission of Matthew 28:18 is for ALL Christians, why isn't it enough to get me off my duff and preach the Gospel like Paul did? Is this not the most important thing? Yet, for me personally, my lack of witnessing indicates that I have demoted it to the least important part of my faith. What shall I do, Lord?
God, when I speak, I SHOULD do so only to please You, not to please men, even as Paul said He did. But I fail in this area, too. Am I right in being friendly and conciliatory, or should I be more bold to tell others about You? God please give me the boldness You gave Paul, the discipline to say only what pleases You rather than trying to just please men, and the opportunities and fruitfulness You gave Paul.
More points on Paul's qualities: he and Timothy were "approved" by God to be entrusted with the Gospel. What does that mean? Is he referring to their calling out at Antioch for this work? How would I know of God's approval? Would I have to have a supernatural sign? Or would I have to do the work first and see if God blessed it? What about the approval of godly church elders teaching you and sending you out?
2: 6 nor seeking glory of men, neither from you nor from others, when we might have claimed authority as apostles of Christ. 7 But we were gentle in the midst of you, as when a nurse cherisheth her own children: 8 even so, being affectionately desirous of you, we were well pleased to impart unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were become very dear to us.
And another thing, Paul had "heaviness" - power and authority from God (not only Paul, but also Sylvanus and Timothy - "apostles" is plural). They could have come in power and really used their authority, but they were gentle, treating them with the "TLC" that a mom uses with a nursing baby. They really got emotionally and mentally involved in caring for these people in Thessalonica, longing over their spiritual growth and pouring out their hearts to them. They didn't just preach, they carefully discipled people. They worked hard--they weren't like ordinary charlatans who talked big smack and didn't work for or love the people.
2: 9 For ye remember, brethren, our labor and travail: working night and day, that we might not burden any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.
Does this mean that Paul and company worked for their living? Maybe, maybe not; the last half of that sentence is talking about proclaiming the Gospel.
kopon(Strong's # 2873) "labor" is used to designate weariness from exertion and our rendering to the Lord in ministry (I Thess. 3:6)
mocqon(Strong's # 3449) "toil" us used three times, each time following kopos in the same sentence. Everyday word for labor-the lot of all Adam's race. (II Cor. 11:27, I Thess. 2:9, II Thess. 3:8)
ergaxomenoi(Strong's # 2038) "while/in working" as in a task or occupation. Also used in the ministry context.
epibarew(Strong's # 1912) literally "upon a burden," to be heavy upon, expensive to, severe towards, to be chargeable to, overcharge.
From the context of II Thess. 3:8, we see that Paul and co. did, in fact, work for a living as well as minister the Gospel, not because they had to, but because it was best for the Thessalonians. They had authority to be supported, but they did not burden them with it. Rather, they provided a much-needed example of how to be a hard worker in the secular world. This also validated them as not just another band of quack philosophers our for a buck.
2:10 Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and righteously and unblameably we behaved ourselves toward you that believe: 11 as ye know how we dealt with each one of you, as a father with his own children, exhorting you, and encouraging you, and testifying, 12 to the end that ye should walk worthily of God, who calleth you into his own kingdom and glory.
So, how exactly did the great missionary go about ministry? He lived a very holy and righteous life in a wicked place. In his relationship with the people there, he was very good and blameless, setting an example of godliness before them and simply living the way he should. He also taught them like a father teaches his children:
He wanted them to walk in a way that is worthy of God (Excellent, holy, beautiful, consistent), the God who had called them out of the world into His kingdom (or kingship--God is our ruler now, not ourselves, and not satan) and into His glory (we should bring glory to God and emit His glory ourselves through righteous acts and through our attitudes of love, joy peace, and hope. And we will be fully glorified in heaven when we die!)
Dear God, if I can't be patient and holy with my own children, how can I be a good minister or missionary? I feel like I don't walk in a way that is worthy of You, so how can I get others to do what I have not attained to? God, You have called me out of this world and into Your kingdom, but I so often wriggle out and try to jump back into the world, indulging worldly thoughts and looking wistfully at what You declare to be wrong. God, would You please help me to walk more and more in Your righteousness, hating sin like You do and living the kind of life that would be worthy of You and exemplary to my children and to those to whom I minister? God, may Your glory be seen in me now!
2: 13 And for this cause we also thank God without ceasing, that, when ye received from us the word of the message, even the word of God, ye accepted it not as the word of men, but, as it is in truth, the word of God, which also worketh in you that believe.
Paul rejoices that the Thessalonians received the Gospel as really from God rather than the ideas of a philosopher. Was there a Greek translation of the O.T. at this time? I don't know--there is debate as to whether or not the Septuagint had been made by then. For some of these Gentile new Christians, all they had to go on is what Paul and others taught them verbally--hence the Gospel is called the "word of hearing." Whatever the case, Paul's firm conviction about the origin of the Old Testament (God) is encouraging to me and should bolster the faith of any Christian! Not only is it true and authoritative, being from God, it is also powerful and "works in" the lives of those believing in it, as Paul says. The Holy Spirit uses the Bible as a vehicle of His operation in teaching us, convicting us, and bringing us to Christ-likeness. If we don't read it, how can we expect to grow in godliness? If we expect a church preacher to do all the reading for us, and we only hear it once or twice a week, what a waste of opportunities we have, if we leave our own Bibles on the shelf! Can you imagine what it must be like to someone hearing the Bible for the first time and believing it? Especially if the Bible is not translated in their own language--how eager they would be to hear it, how they would mull passages over in their mind all day and all night? Dear God, please renew my love for Your holy Word day by day; please give me continuing faith to believe it in the teeth of the rampant godlessness of this age, and please use it to work in me the full knowledge of You and Your truth, along with the outflow of that knowledge into action- righteousness, holiness, and all the fruits of the Spirit!
2:14 For ye, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judaea in Christ Jesus: for ye also suffered the same things of your own countrymen, even as they did of the Jews; 15 who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove out us, and pleased not God, and are contrary to all men; 16 forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved; to fill up their sins always: but the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.
Just as the Christians in Judea suffered persecution from the Jews (many of them under Paul/Saul, himself), so also the Christians in Thessalonica suffered persecution from the Jews. Paul has some harsh words for the Jews, probably because of how personally their animosity had affected him. He had been on their side of the fence at one time, but now that he has turned from that and abhorred the thoughts he himself once had, he is being kicked out of town and has had death wishes put on him by those Jews. Not only that, but it must have grieved him to see what they were doing to the little church in Thessalonica. Just as I would get extremely angry at someone beating up one of my children, so too, Paul felt this way with his spiritual children. This is a righteous kind of anger. It is righteous as long as we do not become bitter and unforgiving, and as long as we have God's desires in mind that the wicked bring glory to His Name by either suffering His just punishment or by being saved.
2:17 But we, brethren, being bereaved of you for a short season, in presence not in heart, endeavored the more exceedingly to see your face with great desire: 18 because we would fain have come unto you, I Paul once and again; and Satan hindered us.
How did Paul know it was satan who hindered him from visiting the Thessalonians? Perhaps he's referring to the trouble the Thessalonian Jews caused for him in Berea... who knows what all else!
2:19 For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of glorying? Are not even ye, before our Lord Jesus at his coming? 20 For ye are our glory and our joy.
What really got Paul excited? His supreme glory and joy was to see people believe in Jesus. The successes he was most happy about were places where he could point to a church he started where he knew those souls would "be before Jesus at His coming." God, I wish I could say that was the most important thing in my life; if there's one thing in my Christian walk that I don't do well, it is witnessing. How sad. Opportunities never seem to be readily available to me, but I shouldn't use that as an excuse. Lord, please help me to see souls reconciled to You as my highest priority and take opportunities to do this! Please be gracious to me and make it easy to get started by letting some opportunities fall into my lap.
I Thessalonians CHAPTER 3
1 Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left behind at Athens alone;
"no longer enduring" - Paul was impatient to see how the Thessalonians were doing after having had to leave so abruptly and travel all the way out to Athens. He sent Timothy to check on them and was overjoyed to hear how well they were enduring in the faith.
3:2 and sent Timothy, our brother and God’s minister in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith;
It's interesting how Paul always gives recommendations on his co-workers. Timothy is commended as a brother and a minister of God and a fellow-worker in the Gospel of Christ.
3:3 that no man be moved by these afflictions; for yourselves know that hereunto we are appointed. 4 For verily, when we were with you, we told you beforehand that we are to suffer affliction; even as it came to pass, and ye know. 5 For this cause I also, when I could no longer forbear, sent that I might know your faith, lest by any means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor should be in vain.
The devil is called the "tempting one" here. What a good description! Satan has been tempting man to disobey God ever since that awful incident in the garden of Eden! God, please "lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil" (also could be faithfully translated "the evil one").
3:6 But when Timothy came even now unto us from you, and brought us glad tidings of your faith and love, and that ye have good remembrance of us always, longing to see us, even as we also to see you; 7 for this cause, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our distress and affliction through your faith: 8 for now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord.
The marks of faith that reassured Paul in Timothy's report on the Thessalonians were LOVE, FAITH, and RESPECT for their spiritual leaders. Are these marks found in me? What evidence do I have of these things?
Was it right for Paul to worry so much about the Thessalonians? Was it good for him to be so relieved that they remembered him fondly and wanted him to return? In accordance with the characteristics of love outlined in I Cor. 13, we should think the best of Paul and learn a lesson from him. There is a distinction between desiring men to think well of you and desiring young Christians to track well in their new faith. Paul was probably anxious for the latter reason, but in ministry, the former reason is a great temptation! How much I like to be respected and loved by people! It's very fulfilling when I minister to a person or a group and find that they really like me and want me back. But that kind of thing is not what should drive a minister, because people can be fickle and rebellious toward God, and all leaders have the temptation to usurp the honor of God by substituting ourselves for the place of honor that should be reserved solely for Him. What should drive a minister is that the people love God. If they refuse, our heart should not break because we were personally snubbed, but because God was not given His due. And when people receive our message eagerly, we should be pointing the glory to God and be zealous that the people track well in loving God.
3:9 For what thanksgiving can we render again unto God for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God; 10 night and day praying exceedingly that we may see your face, and may perfect that which is lacking in your faith?
11 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way unto you: 12 and the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we also do toward you; 3:13 to the end he may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
Paul wants so badly to see the Thessalonians, and he is praying to God for the opportunity rather than just making human plans. Maybe I should be praying for the opportunity to see my desires fulfilled rather than trying to do it in my human effort! Paul's prayer is also for the Thessalonians, that they abound in LOVE toward each other and toward the world.
Paul sees two things necessary to establish the Thessalonian church: 1) A second visit from his apostolic band and 2) a divine work in their hearts to make them abound in love. It is interesting that holiness--obedience to God--is a result of love! Lord, please let Your love abound in me!
I Thessalonians CHAPTER 4
4:1 Finally then, brethren, we beseech and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that, as ye received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, even as ye do walk, — that ye abound more and more.
Although this is hard to understand, I think it means that Paul is "exhorting and begging" the Thessalonians to "abound more" in "receiving how to walk and to please God." Paul takes position as both superior and inferior by both exhorting and begging--he's not all lording it over them with exhortations, but also humbly begging them.
4:2 For ye know what charge we gave you through the Lord Jesus.
I wonder what exactly Paul taught during his first visit to Thessalonica; what "injunctions" he gave them in how to walk and please God. Dr. Dwight Zeller says that Paul later wrote down his basic core of teaching in the book of Romans.
4:3 For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye abstain from fornication; 4 that each one of you know how to possess himself of his own vessel in sanctification and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust, even as the Gentiles who know not God;
Paul recaps one important principle: sexual purity. "This is God's will, your sanctification." By abstaining from fornication, we do God's will and are sanctified. Lord, in a culture where women and men are so openly promiscuous in dress and in fornication/adultery, it is hard to "possess my vessel (body) in sanctification and honor" in that regard. It is a matter of the mind and will, as Paul goes on to say not to have the "passion of lust." God, Your will is for me to abstain from fornication, be sanctified in my body and honorable, not making room for lust--that is what a child of God must do, for lustful passion and fornication are characteristics of the pagans. God, help me; I want to do Your will, to be self-disciplined, to abhor sexual sin, and to be sanctified and honorable!
4:6 that no man transgress, and wrong his brother in the matter: because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as also we forewarned you and testified.
Sexual sin affects not only you, but the partner as well. Not only should we abstain from this sin to keep ourselves holy, but also so as not to defraud others. Yet another reason is given: God avenges these sins! In a society where promiscuity and adultery go unpunished by human government, God takes the responsibility upon Himself to punish. Lately, He has used AIDS and Hepatitis to be a consequence of sexual immorality, not to mention the terrible negative impact of broken families upon society.
4:7 For God called us not for uncleanness, but in sanctification.
God, You have called me to be sanctified out of uncleanness. Oh God, please remove all uncleanness and all desires for uncleanness from me! I want to be pure and holy, like You are!
4:8 Therefore he that rejecteth, rejecteth not man, but God, who giveth his Holy Spirit unto you.
When I give in to lust, I am despising God's command and thus despising the God who indwells me and has given me the Holy Spirit... How could I do this? God, I love You, please transform me so that I will not even momentarily despise You!
4:9 But concerning love of the brethren ye have no need that one write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another; 10 for indeed ye do it toward all the brethren that are in all Macedonia. But we exhort you, brethren, that ye abound more and more;
It is impossible to have too much brotherly love! Even though the Thessalonians were showing great love, Paul exhorts them to abound still more in love! God, I may not measure up to being as good at loving my neighbor as the Thessalonians were, so I ask that You would make that fruit of Your Spirit abound in me, that I may be more characterized by love and thus reflect You better.
What does it mean that GOD was teaching the Thessalonians to love to that Paul didn't need to teach them? Perhaps it was through prophecy, perhaps it was through the Old Testament scriptures, or maybe it was simply through circumstances in which they learned to be more loving.
4:11 and that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your hands, even as we charged you; 12 that ye may walk becomingly toward them that are without, and may have need of nothing.
Any group of Christians who are truly sold-out to Jesus in the middle of a pagan culture will raise the hackles of those around them without trying, simply because those in rebellion to God cannot stand to see a reflection of Him. Those who practice sin are condemned when they see someone practicing righteousness. Perhaps for this reason, Paul is exhorting the Thessalonians to be low-key so as not to attract persecution. Perhaps also it was (and is still!) a temptation to generate cosmetic government reforms without building a solid base of Christians committed to obeying God and discipling their children in God's way. Contentious Christians invite criticism and are odious to everyone, but the world may have at least a measure of respect for Christians who live a consistent, righteous life and who are discipling people in God's ways with integrity.
It also sounds like there were people in the Thessalonian church who lived off welfare and who did not work with their own hands. Paul exhorts them to WORK for a living and, as we see in his second letter, he even worked for his own living while he was there, to provide a good example to them. When we work, we eat--God provides for us so that we have need of nothing. Welfare, such as that practiced by the United States lately is not exactly in keeping with Scriptural principles.
4:13 But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them that fall asleep; that ye sorrow not, even as the rest, who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also that are fallen asleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we that are alive, that are left unto the coming of the Lord, shall in no wise precede them that are fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven, with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first; 17 then we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
"Sleep" is a euphemism for death. A Christian funeral should be different from pagan ones. It is appropriate to grieve, but the difference is that we have hope and pagans do not. We believe in heaven! It is hard to know exactly what happens at death. The Bible speaks of it as "the grave," "Sheol," and "sleep" as though it were a kind of limbo for souls until Jesus returns. Yet we know, especially from Paul's writing, that at death our soul is more present with God than it was in life. Those who are dead are present with God, but it is not as it will be when Jesus returns, for when He comes, He will reunite the body and soul as a glorified body that will be in heaven. There is something significant about the dead being the first to rise, but I'm not sure what it is--when Jesus returns, the dead shall rise first, then those living at that time will be "caught up together with them to a meeting with the Lord in the air." Then, through the rest of eternity, we will be together with the Lord in a VERY present way!
I understand this verse to be the major text supporting what Pre-Millennial people call "the rapture." However, I do not see in the scripture here any statement to the effect that this will be a separate event from the Second and final coming of Christ, so I believe that this is speaking of a resurrection and translation of all believers, which will happen at the time of Christ's Second coming.
Oh God, I can't wait to hear that shout and trumpet blast!! That will be so awesome! And that is the hope that we should comfort grieving ones with.
I Thessalonians CHAPTER 5
1 But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that aught be written unto you. 2 For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. 3 When they are saying, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall in no wise escape. 4 But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief:
Seems like every year some new guy says he has the date of Jesus' return pinned down, and every year they are proven wrong. Jesus' return will take everyone by surprise--there is no predictability of a thief in the night. The connotation of a thief in the night is that it is not only unexpected, but also dreadful. No one will escape.
Obviously there are signs we can read to know the time is coming closer--for instance, I believe that the Christian mission strategists are on to something in their emphasis on all peoples being reached first. We Christians should be prepared for the DAY and be always looking with expectation for Christ to return at any time. Those who walk in the light of God will not be taken off guard or frightened by Jesus' return, for He will not be like a thief in the night to us! (v.4). It will be the world which has been lulled to sleep and spiritual laziness by human structures offering peace and safety.
Why is the Day of the Lord likened to the labour of a pregnant woman for the world? I guess there is some measure of unpredictability in labour, dread, an out-of-the-ordinary experience, discomfort, and transition.
5:5 for ye are all sons of light, and sons of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness;
We are sons of light and of day. Non-christians are sleepers and night-dwellers. Night is a time of sleep and drunkenness, but we are of day, and we should be characterized by alertness and life and action!
5:6 so then let us not sleep, as do the rest, but let us watch and be sober. 7 For they that sleep sleep in the night: and they that are drunken are drunken in the night.
We are instructed to "watch and be calm." Remember that this is in the context of Christ's sudden return. We should be watching for Him. Watching to see the works God is presently doing on the earth to praise Him, watching the world around us to make Christ known to it while staying clear of its wickedness, and watching with anticipation for Jesus to return.
And we should be "calm." The Greek word used herenhfwmen is translated "sober" in the older English versions and has the connotation of being careful, watchful, abstaining from drunkenness, not confused, circumspect, discreet. So, this is the kind of calm that comes from knowing your circumstances. It is not the kind of blissful ignorance that produces sleep, and not the kind of calm that is found when there is no trouble. We know through faith that God exists, that His word is true, that we have salvation through Jesus Christ, and that Jesus will return to judge the wicked and bring us to the blessing of heaven and His presence forever. This kind of knowledge puts an awesome perspective on life and can give us calm and stability and purpose even in the midst of tumultuous times!
5:8 But let us, since we are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for a helmet, the hope of salvation. 9 For God appointed us not into wrath, but unto the obtaining of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,
Have I put on the breastplate of faith and love? (Faith being BELIEVING God and His word and love being RESPONDING to God by loving and obeying Him.)
"the hope of salvation," the hope may be speaking of the future event that is referred to in v.9, where Christ judges the earth. There is a sense in which we are already saved right now--we are already Christians in Christ's kingdom, no longer under the dominion of satan and sin--but the future salvation comes when our sin is exposed at the final judgement and we are pronounced guilty and worthy of hell, but Jesus claims us and we claim Him, and instead of being put in hell on that day, we will go to be with God in heaven. So there is a sense in which our salvation is both past and future.
Now that's worth "comforting" and "building up" other Christians about! Remind your fellow-Christians that this stuff is true and that Jesus will return and bring all acts to judgement and turn our fate from hell to heaven!
5:10 who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. 11 Wherefore exhort one another, and build each other up, even as also ye do.
Those who "watch" are those Christians alive at the time Christ returns, and those who "sleep" are Christians from all history whose bodies are dead, yet who will be resurrected on that day.
5:12 But we beseech you, brethren, to know them that labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; 13 and to esteem them exceeding highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves.
Paul begs the Thessalonians to esteem the Christian workers among them who take the spiritual leadership and warn them of wrongdoing. This kind of respect is not the same as what we give to God--it is not adoration; it is love. I have seen how it is when people's opinions are divided over a spiritual leader, and Paul knew that, although spiritual leaders can be difficult to respect sometimes, it promotes unity (and peace) in the body of Christ when the leaders are esteemed by the people.
Notice also there is only one little church in Thessalonica, but the leadership is PLURAL. The one-man-show church is a foreign concept here in the New Testament.
But our love and honor of elders in the church should be true love that will not let them stray from what is right without a loving rebuke. It is not "esteeming in love" to let an elder do something wrong or harmful to the church and to ignore it, saying that you love him anyway and think the best of him. Anyone who does not bother to confront a brother in sin certainly has no right to complain about him to someone else! (O.K. I'm preaching to myself... but please let me know, Lord, if I just need to change my attitude toward my pastor or if I need to rebuke him somehow, or if I need to find another fellowship!)
5:14 And we exhort you, brethren, admonish the disorderly, encourage the fainthearted, support the weak, be longsuffering toward all. 15 See that none render unto any one evil for evil; but always follow after that which is good, one toward another, and toward all.
WARN THE UNRULY: This wordataktoV is apparently peculiar to 1 & 2 Thess., and makes me wonder if Paul is speaking to a special heresy or cult. I assume this means Christians who don't obey rules or keep things in order. (WE get the English word "attack" from this root.)
COMFORT THE FAINT-HEARTED:oligoyucoV - "literally "small-mind" or "little-soul." This is the only occurrence of this word in the Bible. Who in our congregation is mentally slow or easily overwhelmed? How can I comfort them mentally and spiritually?
SUSTAIN THE WEAK:asqeneV- In classical Greek, this word always refers to physical weakness and means "sickly," or "without ability." In the Bible, it is used in reference to women ("weaker vessel") in I Peter, and Matthew, Mark and Paul also use the word to denote spiritual weakness. So, I guess that the application of this principle would include holding doors for a lady or anyone else who needs help and carrying heavy items for them. We can also apply this by helping sick people--maybe preparing a meal for them-- or helping handicapped people. It may also be extended to include helping spiritually weak people--new Christians or people who struggle with the Faith--through discipleship. Note that this is not just helping once, but SUSTAINING them.
BE PATIENT TOWARDS ALL: Not just toward family members but toward the jerks you encounter while driving on the freeway too!
DO NOT RETURN EVIL FOR EVIL, BUT ALWAYS PURSUE THE GOOD: again, for Christians as well as non- (c.f. I Peter 3:8ff)
5:16 Rejoice always; 17 pray without ceasing;
Rejoicing and prayer should be continuous disciplines in the Christian life. Yes, rejoicing is a discipline, not a feeling! These are attitudinal things--We should be always looking for things to be thankful about and always casting all the concerns that cross our minds upon Jesus. This is part of fleshing out the fact that Jesus is our constant companion and our best friend!
5:18 in everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus to you-ward.
It's not hard to be thankful for good things, but if we are to be thankful in EVERYTHING, how can we be thankful for bad things? We can be thankful for the fact that God is sovereign in them and know that He has allowed it for good. What better way to deny satan's pleasure in doing us ill? Also, most hardships sent upon us result in new opportunities to witness; if we have a thankful attitude, it will make our witness attractive.
5:19 Quench not the Spirit; 20 despise not prophesyings; 21 prove all things; hold fast that which is good;
We must be open to God's supernatural work, even encouraging it--we must not discourage the exercise of the gift of prophecy, but we are not to be indiscriminate; we must carefully test prophets and their prophecies. There is still a lot of false prophecy out there today. Yet, inasmuch as the words of a prophet conform to scripture, we should embrace it.
5:22 abstain from every form of evil.
Restraint is so foreign to the flesh! Lord, help me to run far away from every kind of sin!!!
5:23 And the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Faithful is he that calleth you, who will also do it.
It is good to bless people, reminding them of God's truth and encouraging them. Usually the word "peace" is connected with Jesus Christ, but here it is the "peace of God." He is the only One in whom we can have true peace. Trust placed in anyone less than the ultimate King of the Universe will lad to anxiety over what can't be controlled!
"May He fully sanctify you" (agiasai-make holy) Sanctification is a process by which we grow more like Jesus in obedience to God. However, this verb is in the Aorist tense, which generally indicates an instantaneous action rather than a process, so it could be referring to that future event when Christians are instantaneously saved from hell in the judgement and instantaneously made perfect when Christ returns. Whatever the case, God is the actor in sanctification--it's not our own will that brings Christ-likeness. Does this mean that God will so sanctify someone that they will become perfect on earth? No, Jesus' work on the cross fully justifies all His people so that when He returns and judges the earth, we will be found blameless because Jesus swapped His perfect record for our sinful one, and God will see only Jesus' perfection when He calls up our record at the Judgement.
v.24 leads me to believe that it is God ("He who calls you") who keep our soul, mind, and body blameless rather than diligence on our part. This whole thing of salvation is entirely a work of God! And this blessing Paul writes in v.23 is not a hopeful wish but a sure reality that he is simply encouraging the Thessalonians with. God is faithful to His word and to His children, and He will sanctify us and see to it that we are not condemned in the judgement! This is especially comforting to the Thessalonians, who had some concern about eschatological matters, and I'm sure it will be of great comfort to all of us when the awful reality of Christ's final judgement happens before our eyes! What a great cause for peace!
One last thought: Even though God is the sole agent in perfecting us on that last day, God is obviously not the sole agent in the process of our sanctification on earth. It is not done without our cooperation. Let no Christian fall into the lazy attitude of expecting God to do all the work and taking no care to learn God's word, obey it, and diligently guard against sin and teach and preach God's word to others. We MUST do these things if we are Christians. We have reason to question the faith of anyone who takes no voluntary initiative in these things!
5:25 Brethren, pray for us.
That's pretty straight-forward. How much time to I spend praying for others? I just pray for my family and friends for a few minutes in the morning, then there's Caleb Project staff prayer in which we pray for missions for a good half-hour. Then in the evenings, when we have our family devotion time, we'll read a missionary friend's letter and pray for them. I also pray for others throughout the day as they come to mind or as I read email from them. Writing that down may look good, but I don't think I really pray that much for others...
5:26 Salute all the brethren with a holy kiss.
What do we Americans do with this verse? Is it appropriate to kiss as a greeting because the Bible says so--even if it is culturally inappropriate? Since it just says to greet the "brethren," then you could do it in a context where those in your church fellowship are all familiar with the verse and you decide to practice it together (as I've seen it done in an exclusive Brethren assembly). The reason for this exhortation is probably Paul's earlier point in this book about abounding in love for other believers. A warm greeting is important in showing love and promoting fellowship.
Now, it's possible that this is a CORRRECTIONAL exhortation:
However, I have my doubts that either of those is the case. Is this just a culturally limited exhortation which should be applied as the Living Bible translates it: "Shake hands for me with all the brothers there." But why would Paul have to exhort them to do this if it were already the cultural norm? Perhaps we should allow Scripture to supercede cultural norms and just start kissing people in church (I know, I know, it makes me nervous, too.)!
5:27 I adjure you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the brethren.
Just as the Thessalonians should read the letter aloud to each other, so might we! Perhaps this was because not everyone could read due to the cost of making copies, illiteracy and/or to the fact that eyeglasses were not available. But, so what? Let's read it aloud anyway today!
This also probably helps establish the canonicity of this letter. A command for others to hear it is well-fulfilled by including this letter in the Bible.
Greek Manuscripts are divided on whether or not the brethren are "holy" in this verse. There is good support for both the ASV reading ("all the brethren") and the KJV reading ("all the holy brethren"). The Vaticanus, which is one of the older manuscripts, was not available to the translators of the King James, and although a larger number of later manuscripts have the word "holy" in them, the Vaticanus doesn't have this word, and that appears to be the reason why the modern translations (which follow the critical-text methods) omit the word. Whether or not the word "holy" was in Paul's original letter, Christians ARE holy (special, set-apart) in God's eyes!
5:28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
Grace (cariV) is joy, favor, acceptance, kindness, benefit, thanks, gratitude. These things are conferred without expectation of return; they are absolutely free and unearned. Amen!
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