THE TITLE: 1 Thessalonians is the first of two canonical letters written to the church at Thessalonica. Thessalonica was a busy seaport town on a major road (i.e., the Egnatian Way) in northern Greece. In the time of Paul it was the chief city of Macedonia.
THE PURPOSE: To communicate thanksgiving, exhortation, and instruction to new believers in the midst of persecution. The intended result, then, is that the saints at Thessalonica (and in the ages to come) might (1) excel still more (1 Thess 4:1, 10) and (2) be blameless at Christ’s coming (3:13; 5:23).
THE THEME: The return of Jesus Christ should spiritually affect our individual lives and churches. Every chapter in 1 Thessalonians ends with reference to the return of Jesus Christ, and each reference relates the doctrine to a practical aspect of Christian living. Here is a summary: 1:10 (salvation and assurance); 2:19-20 (soul-winning and service); 3:11-13 (stability in Christian living); 4:13-18 (strength in sorrow); and 5:23-24 (sanctification of life). Furthermore, over a quarter of 1 Thessalonians deals with problems and issues regarding the return of Christ.1
THE AUTHOR: The apostle Paul identifies himself twice as the author of 1 Thessalonians (1:1; 2:18). The inclusion of Silvanus and Timothy in the greeting does not mean that they were coauthors. Rather, these men were with Paul in Corinth (Acts 17:10, 16; 18:1) as he was writing the letter (Acts 18:5; 2 Cor 1:19) and played a strategic role in assisting him in the building up of the Thessalonian church (Acts 16:1-3; 17:4, 10, 14).
THE AUDIENCE: The church at Thessalonica consists of recent converts, mostly from a Gentile background (1 Thess 1:9). This would account for the reason Paul never quotes directly from the Old Testament.
THE TIMES: When Paul founded the Thessalonian church, he and his companions were driven out of Thessalonica by jealous Jews (Acts 17:1-10). Paul sent Silvanus and Timothy back to Thessalonica to see how the young Christians were doing (1 Thess 3:1-6). 1 Thessalonians is either the first or second oldest book in the New Testament, depending on the dating of Galatians. Scholars date 1 Thessalonians at approximately 50-51 A.D., meaning that it was written only 18 years after Jesus’ life and death. As such it is one of the earliest pictures we have of the Christian church. Paul becomes the first Christian missionary to set foot in Europe and thus 1 Thessalonians is our earliest missionary document.
1 Thessalonians 3:12-13: “And may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we do for you, so that your hearts are strengthened in holiness to be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”
CHRIST IN 1 THESSALONIANS: Christ is seen as the believer’s hope of salvation, both now and at His coming. When He returns, He will deliver (1:10; 5:4-11), reward (2:19), perfect (3:13), resurrect (4:13-18), and sanctify (5:23) all who trust Him.4
1. Looking back (1:1-3:13)
2. Looking forward (4:1-5:28)5
What manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols
To serve the living and true God
And to wait for His Son from heaven
1 Robert L. Thomas, “1 Thessalonians,” In Ephesians-Philemon. Vol. 11 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. 12 vols. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein and J. D. Douglas. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), Electronic ed.
2 Only 1 Corinthians uses the term “brethren” (adelphoi) more frequently than 1 Thessalonians, however, it is three times longer.
3 In all of Paul’s letters, the highest concentration of the technical vocabulary for encouragement or exhortation is found in 1 Thessalonians. Parakaleo (“encourage, exhort”) appears eight times, eratao (“ask”) twice, noutheto (“admonish”), and paramytheomai (“console”) twice. See Frank Thielman, Theology of the New Testament: A Canonical and Synthetic Approach (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 237.
4 Bruce Wilkinson & Kenneth Boa, Talk Thru the Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983), 419.
5 Ibid., 419.
Do you have a favorite sports team? If so, I want you to lock that team into your mind for just a moment. Perhaps you graduated from the UW or WSU, so you are a die-hard Husky or Cougar. If so, God bless you. What happens when your favorite team wins a big game? You respond like this: “WE DID IT! WE WON!” You may run around the living room high-fiving, chest-bumping, and doing a little jig. Now my question is: What role did you play in this victory? Maybe you bought a jersey or a cap, but the truth is you didn’t do anything that contributed to your team’s success. Yet, you feel intense ownership because this is YOUR team.
If you and I can feel this strongly about our favorite sports team, how much more intense should our feelings be for our local church? We need to think of the church as “we,” not “they.” Although churches are made up of individuals, when you and I speak of the church we must never say “they.” Instead we should say “we”…for we are the church!8 In the book of 1 Thessalonians, we will learn about a church that we can get excited about. Although there are no “perfect” churches, the church in Thessalonica is a model church. As we study this church, we will learn how we can be a church that glorifies God and leads the world to Him. Specifically, in 1 Thess 1:1-10, we will see that God uses the church to encourage leaders. Encouragement is found in the lives that we live.
In this first section, we discover that even godly and competent leaders need encouragement. Even though many leaders look confident and secure on the outside, on the inside they can be discouraged and insecure. God’s leaders are constantly under attack from Satan and need to be encouraged. In 1:1, Paul introduces his letter with these words: “Paul10 and Silvanus11 and Timothy,12 to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father13 and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.”14 Paul has written 13 New Testament books, yet this is the shortest of any of Paul’s greetings. He is obviously fond of this church15 and they are familiar with Paul and his traveling companions.16 Paul does not include his official title “apostle” in either 1 or 2 Thessalonians. This is also true of Philippians and Philemon. In Paul’s other nine epistles he uses his title, most likely because he is “under fire” from others. The reason for its omission in every case appears to have been the intimate and affectionate character of his relations with the parties addressed.17 Paul includes “Silvanus and Timothy” because they were with him in Corinth when he wrote this letter,18 and these men had also assisted him in the building up of the Thessalonian church.19 More importantly, Paul seems to be affirming team leadership as the basic New Testament pattern.20 Paul was a team player that shared ministry and trained others to do ministry.21 In your area of ministry, are you seeking to build a team? Have you sought to train others for ministry? Do you seek to train others so well that they surpass you in your ministry? Our staff and elders have adopted a team ministry philosophy. We are all co-equals who simply fulfill different responsibilities. When Billy Graham received his Congressional Medal of Honor, the first thing he is reported to have said upon receiving the award is, “This has been a team effort from the very beginning,” and he proceeded to name the people who had ministered unto him through the years. In closing he said, “We did this together.”22 What a humble and God-honoring attitude!
It is worth noting that the phrase “in God” is as unusual as the phrase “in Christ” is familiar. The Thessalonians needed to be reminded that their sphere of protection and provision was “in God.”23 In the midst of tribulation and suffering it is easy to forget this. Still, in the greeting, Paul accords Jesus Christ equality with God the Father.24 Furthermore, he uses the full title of our Savior: “Lord Jesus Christ.” “Lord” refers to Yahweh—the God of the Old Testament.25 As “Lord,” Christ is God and the supreme Creator and Sustainer of the universe.26 “Jesus” means “Yahweh saves.” This is His earthly name and points to His humanity. Yet, Jesus is not just an exalted man but the eternal God who became man that He might die for our sin. “Christ” refers to the long promised Messiah who is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies.
The final words of Paul’s greeting are “grace and peace.” “Grace” was a common Greek salutation that meant “greeting” or “rejoice.” “Peace” is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew shalom meaning “favor,” “well-being,” and “prosperity in the widest sense,” especially prosperity in spiritual matters. Paul used both words when he greeted the recipients of his epistles. God’s grace is the basis for and leads to our peace.27 When you trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, He gives you grace that leads to peace with God.
Paul now launches into the longest thanksgiving section in the entire New Testament.28 He is pumped about this church!29 Although Paul is quite pleased with this church, there is another reason he spends so much time expressing thanks. It is fairly certain that this congregation lacks confidence in their salvation.30 Consequently, Paul spends time affirming them. In 1:2-3 he writes, “We31 give thanks32 to God always for all of you,33 making mention of you in our prayers;34 constantly bearing in mind your35 work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father.” It’s been said, “You can tell a man’s values by what he appreciates.” In these verses, Paul expresses his deep appreciation for the spiritual maturity of the Thessalonians. The words “always”36 and “constantly”37 don’t indicate an uninterrupted task of incessant praying, but rather a faithful, regular pattern of prayer and thanksgiving. Nevertheless, these verses are challenging. They call you and me to pray for our church, specifically. Not just a generic, “Lord, bless our church,” but specific expressions of gratitude for individuals in our church. Start with your small group, Sunday school class, or youth or college group. Cry out to God for individuals in your ministry. Paul had a prayer list. Do you? Use a prayer list, a prayer diary, a prayer card. Stick a photo on the fridge, on the bathroom mirror, or on the steering wheel of your car. Whatever it takes!
In 1:3, Paul shares three characteristics he appreciates about the Thessalonian believers.38 First, he mentions their “work of faith.” Salvation is God’s gift. Faith rests upon the work of God, not our work. Yet, when we rest on God’s work, God produces His work in us.39 Paul blesses these believers because of the works that followed their faith. Encouragement is found in the lives that we live.
Second, Paul refers to their “labor of love.” The word “labor”40 denotes wearying toil involving sweat and fatigue to the point of exhaustion. It is a love of blood, sweat, and tears. When I was in Bible College and seminary, I worked for Neptune Swimming Pool Co. in Clackamas, OR. During the summers, I was responsible for unloading several palettes with 100-pound sand bags. I can remember these days of mid-90’s heat, unloading these bags of filter sand. It was hard work. I labored because I had to, but I also labored because I wanted to. You see, I was saving money for my honeymoon and upcoming marriage. This was a labor of love. I know many individuals in our church who work their tails off. Like most people, these folks have a spouse, children, and work responsibilities. Nevertheless, they refuse to say, “I don’t have time to serve the Lord. I have family responsibilities, I have work responsibilities, and I need my free time.” These choice people are concerned about all of these responsibilities, but they are equally concerned about their obligation to their Lord. Interestingly, it is those people in our church who serve the most that also tend to have the best marriages and families. They are also the most successful in their careers. God is no man’s debtor. If you labor for Him, He will multiply your time and bless you to boot! It is really a question of love.
Lastly, Paul refers to their “steadfastness of hope.” Our English word “steadfastness” seems soft and passive. Yet, the Greek term behind this translation is tenacious and aggressive.41 Similarly, the English word “hope” transmits the idea of wishful thinking. We say, “I hope it is sunny tomorrow.” We mean by that, “I wish for another warm day tomorrow.” Biblical hope, however, is not wishful thinking. No, hope has the idea that we have assurance in the future because of who God is. Hope helps us claim the promises of God. In other words, the problems we currently face do not daunt us because we see beyond the moment. We possess a holy stick-to-it-iveness that enables us to remain steadfast in the midst of trials and difficulties.
Our dog, Jerome, lives out the biblical definition of steadfast hope. Jerome has a stuffed cat that he loves to play with. He puts it in his mouth and begs us to come outside and throw it. I always fall for this ploy. Call me a sucker. Instead of gleefully dropping the stuffed cat out of his mouth, Jerome refuses to let me get close to him. Instead, he runs away from me! He has a 75-foot dog lead so he can go quite a ways. If I want to play catch, when he comes close to me I have to step on his dog lead and pull him to me. When I do finally get a hold of Jerome and try to take the stuffed cat out of his mouth, do you think he lets me? Not on your life! When I go after the cat, our basset hound turns into a bulldog. To get the cat from him, I practically have to yank his fangs out of his mouth. What used to annoy me now reminds me of steadfastness of hope. Do you have this type of tenacity? If God calls you to a task, do you refuse to let go? Those who want to advance the cause of Christ in the world cannot give up.
These three characteristics can only be lived out by noting the last phrase of 1:3: “in the Lord Jesus Christ.” When we abide in Christ and live in Him, supernatural living occurs. This is what is really exciting! As a pastor, I have to ask the question, “What do I give thanks for?” Am I especially grateful for an increase in our attendance or weekly offering? Would I be really impressed with new programs and a new facility, or am I most thankful for expressions of faith, hope, and love I see in you? Encouragement is found in the lives that we live.
Paul continues his thought in 1:4 and explains why the Thessalonians are able to live such godly lives. The short and sweet phrase he pens is: “knowing, brethren42 beloved by God, His choice43 of you.”44 With the word “choice,” we are confronted with the doctrine of election, a doctrine that has different effects on various people.45 It can be a frightening, confusing, and maddening doctrine, for in election man’s finite mind meets head-on with the infinite mind of God. But this issue doesn’t have to be as hard as we like to make it. Scripture teaches both God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.46 How does all this work together? I’m not sure. But I know this: We will never understand the total concept of election this side of heaven. But we should not ignore this important doctrine that is taught throughout the Bible. In the end, we must recognize that the doctrine of election is an antinomy—two irreconcilable truths that are nonetheless true. It is sufficient to ask this question: Do you understand how a brown cow can eat green grass and give white milk and yellow butter? Of course not! Yet, we enjoy the products. In the same way, even though we can’t completely understand or explain election, we should still enjoy it because the Bible teaches it.47
Since Paul doesn’t elaborate on the doctrine of election neither will I.48 I will just quickly break down this phrase. First of all, Paul is confident that the Thessalonians are elect so he uses the word “know.”49 There are no doubts, no ifs, no maybes, and no buts. We can know that we are elect, if we have believed in Christ. Works give further human or visible confirmation of one’s election (Jas 2:14-26). Paul affirms the Thessalonians in three expressions: (1) brethren, (2) beloved by God,50 and (3) chosen of God.
When it comes to election, all you need to know is this: (1) Salvation begins with God.51 (2) Salvation involves God’s love.52 (3) Salvation requires faith.53 God chose you to be saved. 54 If He had not chosen you, you would not be saved today. Sometimes we speak of “finding” the Lord, but if He had not found us first, we would never have found Him at all. Salvation begins with God, not with us. He chooses us and then we believe. Salvation is all by grace, all of God, all the time. If you have placed your faith in Jesus Christ, this should give you incredible confidence. The assurance of your salvation does not depend upon you; it rests on God’s choice of you. Many godly people try to explain away election and in doing so remove one of the strongest arguments for assurance and the security of the believer. The truth is: Nothing gives security to salvation like the concept of election. God is the creator, sustainer, and preserver of your salvation. Even if you are faithless, He remains faithful (2 Tim 2:13) because He has chosen you and adopted you into His family. You may choose to fall away from God, yet He will not choose to cast you out of His family (John 6:37-40). He loves you and will remain loyal in His commitment to you.
Paul is confident of the Thessalonians’ election because of the evidence of God’s grace at work in them and the gospel that he delivered. He concludes this section in 1:5 with a “triple whammy:” “for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know55 what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.” (1) God’s election is effective because it is the Word of God. The gospel is based upon the promise of God who says, “Whosoever will believe in Christ can have eternal life.” (2) God’s election is effective because it comes in the power of the Holy Spirit. Even when we have done our best as preachers, it will count for nothing without the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the hearers. God must prepare hearts and make them receptive to His Word. (3) God’s election is effective because it produces deep conviction in the hearts of the hearers. This means people are so deeply convicted of their sin and their need for a savior that they run to the cross and embrace Jesus as their only hope of heaven. The phrase “full conviction” also means that the preacher and the hearers can be confident that the Word of God has been preached.
Paul closes this section by saying, “The gospel is not word only, for talk is cheap. We proved to be godly men among you.” The gospel will be most effective when Christians live a life worthy of their calling. This means cultivating the fruit of the Spirit and godly character. John Wooden, the former basketball coach at UCLA said, “Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.” Will you work on your character this week? Will you strive to become a contagious Christian? Will you become a person of faith, love, and hope? Encouragement is found in the lives that we live.
[Leaders need encouragement in ministry because it is easy to become discouraged. In our next section we will clearly see that…]
In this section, Paul shares the specific reasons why he is so excited about the Thessalonians. Before we jump into these reasons, we must remember that this church is not typical of many churches today. It was not even typical of churches in Paul’s day. (Read about the church at Corinth that Paul planted.) Nevertheless, the church at Thessalonica is God’s ideal—it is the type of church that He wants every church to become. Sometimes you see a label on a bottle of powerful cleaner that says, “Do not use at full strength. Dilute with water first,” because the liquid is too strong in its undiluted form. In this section we see Christianity in its earliest, undiluted form. No wonder the first Christians turned the world upside down.56 We need to work through this section and pray for undiluted Christianity. In the paragraphs that follow, Paul provides several reasons why he is particularly excited about the faith of the Thessalonian believers.
The church followed their spiritual leaders (1:6a). Paul writes, “You also became imitators of us and of the Lord.” The word translated “imitators” comes from the word mimos meaning “a mimic.” Throughout his letters, Paul urges believers to “mimic” him as he mimics Christ.57 It is important that young Christians respect spiritual leadership and learn from mature believers. Just as a newborn baby needs a family, so a newborn Christian needs the local church and the leaders there. It is equally important that leaders give believers something to look up to and mimic. Fortunately, many of you are worthy of imitation. You are an inspiration to me in every area of your lives.
The church received the Word (1:6b). The Thessalonian Christians “received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” Paul does not use the typical word for “received,” instead he uses an unusual word that refers to the warm welcome of a guest (as in Luke 10:8, 10; Heb 11:31). The Thessalonians seized the gospel with joy even in the midst of suffering. They received the Word with gladness. They could not get enough of it. What a congregation! A dream for every preacher! They were hungry for the Word; they were drinking in every word that was spoken; they were sitting on the edge of their seat. And they kept coming back for more.58 Does this describe you? Do you look forward to coming to church to hear God’s Word? Do you look for opportunities throughout the week to get into the Word?
Please note that the Thessalonian believers received the Word “in much tribulation.” The word “tribulation” means “to press.”59 Do you ever feel like the world, your flesh, and Satan are pressing in on you? Trusting in Christ does not guarantee a life free from tension. These believers experienced rejection from family members, loss of employment, and social disgust.60 Today, many believers experience physical persecution and even martyrdom.61 Yet, we must recognize that God may bring suffering for the sake of an effective corporate witness.62 Persecution can be the fastest way to grow a church in health and number. I know some of you willingly suffer for Christ. You’re willing to be an outcast at school and work. You don’t always fit in with your family and friends because of your faith. But you continue to persevere in Christ. I can assure you that God will honor you in the life to come.
The church encouraged other churches (1:7). By following their leaders and receiving the Word in much tribulation, yet with joy, the Thessalonians “became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.” This verse is the only place in the New Testament where a whole congregation is viewed as an example for other churches. And notice the word “example” is singular. Paul is referring to the whole church, not just a few standout members. The word “example” refers not merely to being an example which others are to follow, but also a pattern which influences them.63 It’s not enough to passively live our lives before other Christians. Sometimes we must be more direct in our influence. Lori and our kids occasionally make cookies using different molds. Perhaps you have seen star- shaped cookies.64 Those cookies were prepared using a mold. But it isn’t enough to show off the mold, one must press the dough into the mold and onto the baking sheet. This is what Paul is talking about—intentionally influencing Christians for Christ. When we do this, we will be able to lead the world.
The church spread the Word (1:8). The Thessalonian believers were both “receivers” (1:5) and “transmitters”—the Word went out from them. Paul writes, “For the word of the Lord65 has sounded forth66 from you,67 not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth,68 so that we have no need to say anything.” The verb “sounded out” is not used anywhere else in the New Testament. Outside of the NT, it is used of a clap of thunder or the sound of a trumpet. It means “to reverberate like an echo.” Wherever Paul went, the people told him about the faith of the Thessalonian believers. It is interesting to note that the town of Thessalonica was the capital of Macedonia.69 Similarly, Emmanuel resides in the state capital of the most unchurched state in the nation. If we showcase godly lives and sound forth the Word, we are capable of impacting our entire state. But this must involve you.70 In my pastoral experience, I have discovered that most people will not respond to a pastor’s public invitation. For most people to believe in Christ for the first time, the personal touch is required. This means that we have folks into our home or take them out to a meal or talk to them in the foyer about a faith relationship with Jesus Christ. I can recall several times when people have told me that one of our regular attendees has believed the gospel. Consequently, I have been asked why this person didn’t believe in Christ through my gospel invitations. The answer is simple: Most people require a personal invitation in a one-on-one context. This is the responsibility of the church. We all bear the privilege and responsibility to share Christ with others. The Word must sound forth from YOU!
When I was in 6th grade, I started playing the guitar. I idolized my 16-year-old cousin who lived in San Jose and was in a heavy metal band. I wanted to follow in his footsteps. I even wanted acne and braces just like Duane. (God gave me the desires of my heart and I had both.) Anyway, I started playing the guitar because I wanted to play loud and proud. I had an electric guitar, but I knew I needed an amplifier. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the money to buy one and my parents weren’t going to buy me one for me. They were afraid of the damage I would do when the house started quaking with volume. They also didn’t want their ears or my ears turned to prunes. Unfortunately, I gave up the guitar and never purchased my amp. I never did learn how to rock. I believe there are some Christians out there who want to rock. They want to “sound forth” God’s Word but have never learned how and have struggled to be faithful in this task. God doesn’t want you to give up; He wants you to persist until He makes our church what He wants it to be. Encouragement is found in the lives that we live.
The people throughout Thessalonica and Macedonia saw a change in the Thessalonian saints and they talked up the church. This is the best form of advertising there is! What made this church “the talk of the town?” They turned73 to God from idols and immediately began serving the Lord. Note the order of words here. We would normally think in terms of turning from idols to God but here Paul’s argument is that they first turned to God and then away from idols. The Thessalonians didn’t leave their idols and then go out to find God. They turned to God and then left their idols.74 Conversion is not only turning from something but it is a turning to Someone. Don’t worry about cleaning yourself up first. Let God do this. Now not everyone turns immediately or sufficiently, but this is God’s business. He is more interested in the growth and health of His children than we are. Let Him work in His time and in His way.
The church waited for Jesus’ return (1:10).75 Paul writes that these believers who converted to Christ responded by “wait[ing] for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues76 us from the wrath to come.” The word “wait” is only used here in the New Testament,77 but it is used in the Greek Old Testament to describe a servant’s eager waiting for his wages (Job 7:2). It is also used to describe the longing of an afflicted person for his deliverance (Isa 59:11). The word means literally, to wait up. The Thessalonians were waiting up for the Lord’s return. The “coming wrath” could refer to a couple of significant events. (1) It could speak of the frightening eternal judgment of God. (2) It could refer to the tribulation period when God pours out His wrath on earth for a period of seven years. It seems to me that “the coming wrath” of 1:10 is best understood to refer to a particular wrath, the wrath of the Tribulation.78 Chronologically, the next great expression of God’s wrath is the Tribulation, which is a time of God’s wrath poured out on a Christ-rejecting world. The judgment of the Great White Throne (see Rev 20:11-15)—a judgment of all the unbelieving of all generations—does not occur until after the millennial reign of Christ, which occurs after the Tribulation and the events of Revelation 6-19. In this book, the resurrection of believers and the deliverance of believers are closely related or tied together (see 1 Thess 4:13f). Thus, the implication is that deliverance comes through the rapture.
This past weekend, my family and I went to Bremerton to officiate a wedding and celebrate my dad’s 70th birthday. My parents prepared for several days prior to our arrival. They cleaned the house, prepared bedrooms, and made desserts. They were ready for us when we arrived at the door. They anticipated our arrival. When you schedule a family vacation, likely you count down the days until you can “take off.” If you are engaged, you count down to your wedding day! If you have a husband in the military and he goes away for a year, do you and the kids count the days until he returns? Looking for the Lord to return at any moment will change our lives. It will transform our way of doing things. It will change the way we deal with temptations. It will alter our priorities. It will lead us to do something about broken relationships. Many of you are living this type of life and I thank God for you. Encouragement is found in the lives that we live. You have encouraged me. You bless me on a daily basis whenever I think of you.
1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1
1. The book of 1 Thessalonians covers some controversial topics. This can make for an uncomfortable study. With this in mind, reflect on the words of the great Southern Baptist pastor, Adrian Rogers (1931-2005), who said, “It is better to be divided by truth than to be united in error. It is better to speak the truth that hurts, and then heals, than falsehood that comforts, then kills. It is not love, and it is not friendship, if we fail do declare the whole counsel of God. It is better to be hated for telling the truth than to be loved for telling a lie. It is impossible to find anyone in the Bible who was a power for God who did not have enemies and was not hated. It’s better to stand alone with the truth than to be wrong with a multitude. It is better ultimately to succeed with truth than to temporarily succeed with a lie.” Do I agree with this quote? Why or why not? How can our church live this quote out? How can I apply this quote in my own life? In what ways can I support preachers and Christians who are speaking God’s truth in love?
2. Am I sincerely thankful for my church (1:2-10)? How do I express my gratitude to my leaders and fellow members? Read about other examples of Paul’s thankfulness in Romans 1:8; 1 Corinthians 1:4; 2 Corinthians 1:11; Ephesians 1:15-16; Philippians 1:3-5; Colossians 1:3-4; and 2 Thessalonians 1:3. What is Paul thankful for in these passages? How can I learn to share his heart of gratitude?
3. Do I have a prayer list (1:2-3)? If so, who is on my list? If not, will I begin one today? Who will I include in this prayer list? Will I include some people from Emmanuel? If so, who? How will I faithfully carry out the task of praying for others? In what ways can our church grow in prayer? How can I be involved?
4. Why are faith, love, and hope mentioned so frequently in the New Testament (1:3; 5:8)? See Romans 5:2-5; 1 Corinthians 13:13; Galatians 5:5-6; Colossians 1:3-4; Hebrews 6:10-12; 10:22-24; and 1 Peter 1:21-22. How can our church grow in our understanding and application of each of these areas? How can I apply these characteristics in my life?
5. How well do I exude joy in the midst of tribulation (1:6)? What was my response to the last trial I experienced? How can I improve both my perspective and my response? How can I imitate godly Christian leaders and become a spiritual model worthy of imitation (1:6-7)? Do I faithfully spread God’s Word to others (1:8)? If so, how do I go about doing this and with whom? Do I anxiously anticipate the return of Christ (1:10)?
7 Copyright © 2008 Keith R. Krell. All rights reserved.Permissions: Feel free to reproduce and distribute any articles written by Keith Krell, in part or in whole, in any format, provided that you do not alter the wording in any way or charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. It is our desire to spread this information, not protect or restrict it. Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: by Keith Krell, Timeless Word Ministries, 2508 State Ave NE Olympia, WA 98506, 360-352-9044, www.timelessword.com
8 This is not to disregard the importance of the individual, for individual persons make up each local church. Thus, if individuals have spiritual characteristics our churches will become what God wants them to be.
10 The name “Paul” occurs 158x’s in then NT (128 of them in Acts).
11 “Silvanus” whom Paul mentions elsewhere (2 Cor 1:19; 2 Thess 1:1) is the same person as the “Silas” mentioned in Acts (see Acts 15:22-40; 16:19-29; 17:4-15; 18:5) and probably the person mentioned in 1 Peter 5:12. Either he had (like Paul) two names, one Semitic and one Latin, or “Silvanus” and “Silas” represent Latin and Greek forms, respectively, of a Semitic name. Michael W. Holmes, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 35.
12 Silas and Timothy were Paul’s primary associates on his second missionary journey during which the church at Thessalonica came into existence (Acts 15:40). We know more about Timothy’s background than we do about Silas’. Paul may have led Timothy to faith in Christ on the first missionary journey (1 Tim 1:2; Acts 13-14). Timothy had recently returned to Paul in Corinth. He had come from Thessalonica bearing news of conditions in the church there (3:1-2, 6). The Thessalonians knew all three men personally. Thomas L. Constable, “Notes on 1 Thessalonians” (http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/1thessalonians.pdf, 2007 ed.), 5
13 The phrase “in God the Father” is an unusual expression. Morris writes, “It is Paul’s usual habit to speak about being ‘in Christ,’ though ‘in God’ does occur (Col 3:3; cf. Eph 3:9). But throughout these two epistles he constantly associates the Father and the Son in the closest of fashions (cf. v3; 3:11-13; 5:18; 2 Thess 1:1,2,8,12; 2:16-17; 3:5...). No higher view can possibly be taken of the Person of Christ. God is occasionally called ‘Father’ in the Old Testament, but Jesus taught his followers to see God as Father and it is a characteristic designation among the Christians.” Leon Morris, The Epistles of Paul to the Thessalonians. Tyndale New Testament Commentary series (London: Tyndale, 1984), 41.
14 The absence of any reference to Paul’s apostleship in any of his inspired writings to the Macedonian churches, namely, those in Thessalonica and Philippi, is noteworthy. He mentioned his apostleship in all his other epistles and sometimes had to defend it vigorously (e.g., in 2 Corinthians). Evidently the Macedonian churches never questioned
Paul’s apostleship as did the churches elsewhere (e.g., in Galatia and Corinth). Constable, “Notes on 1 Thessalonians,” 5.
15 Of all of Paul’s churches, Thessalonica and Philippi were the most supportive.
16 1-2 Thessalonians are the only Pauline Epistles in which Paul did not elaborate on his name or the names of his fellow writers. This probably implies that his relationship with the Thessalonians was stable. D. Michael Martin, 1, 2 Thessalonians. The New American Commentary series. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1995), 47.
17 Contra Holmes, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 39, who doesn’t see any significance to this omission.
20 Holmes, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 39.
22 Sam Gordon, Hope and Glory. Truth for Today (Greenville, SC: Ambassador International, 2005), 13.
23 For further explanation see Keathley III, “Christian Greetings, The Salutation.”
25 Kurios is the Septuagint representation of the Hebrew Yahweh of the Old Testament. “Jesus is Lord” seems to have been a very early Christian credal confession, especially in Gentile churches.
27 Constable, “Notes on 1 Thessalonians,” 5.
28 Paul’s thanksgiving extends from 1 Thess 1:2 to 2:12 and is formally picked up again in 2:13 and 3:9. G.K. Beale, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. IVP New Testament Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003), 44.
29 At least three times in 1 Thess, Paul gave thanks for the church and the way it responded to his ministry (1:2; 2:13; 3:9). He usually begins his letters with thanksgiving. Galatians is the one exception to this rule. Weima writes, “The Pauline thanksgiving possesses at least three important functions. First, it has a pastoral function: The thanksgiving reestablishes the apostle’s relationship with his readers by means of a positive expression of gratitude to God for their faith and work. This is important if Paul wants his letters to be accepted and his exhortations to be obeyed by his readers. Second, it has a paraenetic function: There is an implicit (or even, at times, explicit) challenge for the readers to live up to the praise that the apostle is giving them in his words of thanksgiving. Third, the thanksgiving has a foreshadowing function: It anticipates the main themes to be developed in the body of the letter.” Jeffrey A.D. Weima, “1 Thessalonians,” Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 411.
30 Beale, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 44.
31 Paul uses the plural pronoun “we” (humon) more in 1 Thessalonians than in any other NT letter. Bob Utley 87.
32 The verb eucharistoumen “we give thanks” is related to the noun charis (“grace”). Paul and his companions thank God for the fruits of grace (i.e., the Thessalonians).
33 In giving thanks and praying for the Thessalonians (1:2), Paul models behavior he will later exhort them to practice (5:17-18).
34 Paul introduces the subject of prayer at lease thirteen times in 1 and 2 Thessalonians. On four occasions, he reminds his flock that he has and is praying for them (1:2-4; 3:9-10; 2 Thess 1:3; 2:13). Most frequently (six times), Paul is found praying for his beloved flock (3:11-13; 5:23, 28; 2 Thess 1:11-12; 2:16-1). Twice Paul’s need for the church to pray for him surfaces (5:25; 2 Thess 3:1-2). Only once does the pastor instruct his people on how to pray (5:16-18). Richard Mayhue, First and Second Thessalonians. Focus on the Bible (Great Britain: Christian Focus, 1999), 43.
35 The word humon (“your”) is placed emphatically at the head of the three phrases.
41 The Greek word hupomone is defined by BDAG as “the capacity to hold out or bear up in the face of difficulty, patience, endurance, fortitude, steadfastness, perseverance.”
42 The Greek word translated “brethren” (adelphoi) should be rendered “brothers and sisters” or “fellow Christians” Cf. BDAG 18 s.v. adelphos 1, where considerable nonbiblical evidence for the plural adelphoi (meaning “brothers and sisters”) is cited. The word is used 15 times in 1 Thess (1:4; 2:1, 9, 14, 17; 3:7; 4:1, 10, 13; 5:1, 4, 12, 14, 25, 26, 27; cf. 2 Thess. 1:3; 2:1, 13, 15; 3:1, 6, 13).
44 Whenever you read about a call in the Bible, it indicates divine election—God is calling out a people from this world (Acts 15:13-18). Seven times in John 17, Jesus referred to believers as those whom the Father gave to Him out of the world (John 17:2, 6, 9, 11, 12, 24).
45 Witherington notes, “The Pauline documents which have the highest proportion of the terminology of election and calling are not Romans and Ephesians but 1 an 2 Thessalonians where we find some eight instances (election in 1 Thess 1:4; 5:9; 2 Thess 2:13; calling 1 Thess 2:12; 4:7; 5:23-24; 2 Thess 1:11; 2:14).” Ben Witherington III, 1 and 2 Thessalonians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 64.
46 Election and evangelism go together. The person who says, “God will save those He wants to save and He doesn’t need my help!” understands neither election nor evangelism. In the Bible, election always involves responsibility. God chose Israel and made them an elect nation so that they might witness to the Gentiles.
47 Gordon, Hope and Glory, 26-27.
48 Weima suggests, “The fact that the apostle uses the term election without any accompanying explanation suggests that this subject must have been an integral part of his original preaching in the Thessalonian church.” Weima, “1 Thessalonians,” 412.
49 If God chooses individuals for salvation, why should I bother being a witness? After all, those whom God chooses will be saved one way or another. I would simply say this: The doctrine of election is not an excuse to not share Christ; it is one of the greatest encouragements for sharing Jesus, for it means that there will be those who will trust in Christ! If salvation was solely a matter of the effectiveness of the witness or humankind choosing God, we would have every right to be discouraged and quit because no one would believe in Christ. But since God takes the initiative with people and salvation is God’s work, we can be sure that there will be some who believe our message. Paul’s experience at Corinth (Acts 18:1-11) is a perfect illustration of this truth. Corinth was a wicked city, and it was not easy to start a church there. The people were godless sinners (1 Cor 6:9-11), but Paul preached the Word faithfully. When persecution arose from the Jewish unbelievers, Paul moved from the synagogue into the house of Justus. Then the Lord encouraged Paul: “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:9-10). The fact that God had His elect in Corinth encouraged Paul to remain there for a year and a half.
50 The phrase “beloved by God” was a phrase which the Jews applied only to supremely great men like Moses and Solomon, and to the nation of Israel itself. Now the greatest privilege of the greatest men of God’s chosen people has been extended to the humblest of the Gentiles. Furthermore, the adjective “beloved” (agapetos) is usually used of God’s love for Jesus (Matt 3:17; 12:18; 17:5; Eph 1:6).
51 Paul writes, “God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation” (2 Thess 2:13). Jesus declared, “You did not choose Me but I chose you” (John 15:16a). Again, Paul states, “He [the Father] chose us in Him before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4). The entire plan of salvation was born in the heart of God long before man was created or the universe formed.
52 Paul called these saints “brethren beloved”—not only beloved by Paul (see 1 Thess 2:17), but also beloved by God. God’s love made Calvary possible (Rom 5:8), and there Jesus Christ died for our sins. But it is not God’s love that saves the sinner; it is God’s grace. God in His grace gives us what we do not deserve, and God in His mercy does not give us what we do deserve. This explains why Paul often opened his letters with, “Grace to you and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess 1:1).
53 Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith” (Eph 2:8a). Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy brought the Gospel to Thessalonica and preached in the power of God (1 Thess 1:5). Some people who heard the message believed and turned from their vain idols to the true and living God (1 Thess 1:9). The Spirit of God used the Word of God to generate faith (Rom 10:17). Paul called this “sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth” (2 Thess 2:13).
54 Cf. Eph 1:4-5: “…just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.”
55 Beale writes, “The second person plural of know (oida) is always used to underscore a reminder for assurance of a truth in the Thessalonian epistles (ten times).” Beale, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 52.
58 Gordon, Hope and Glory, 39.
60 Weima, “1 Thessalonians,” 412 writes, “The reference here and elsewhere to the suffering experienced by the Thessalonian church does not likely refer to physical persecution but to social harassment. There is virtually no evidence that Christians anywhere in the Roman empire during the 50s suffered from any organized opposition or physical oppression. Many sources do indicate, however, the offense, even disgust, felt by non-Christian neighbors and fellow citizens when converts to Christianity declined to take part in normal social and cultic activities.”
62 Beale, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 59.
63 I. Howard Marshall, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. New Century Bible Commentary series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans and London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott Pub. Ltd., 1983), 55.
64 This idea came from Beale, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 58.
65 “The word of the Lord” is a technical expression in OT literature, often referring to a divine prophetic utterance (e.g., Gen 15:1; Isa 1:10; Jonah 1:1). In the NT it occurs 15 times: 3 times as rhema tou kuriou (Luke 22:61; Acts 11:16; 1 Pet 1:25) and 12 times as logos tou kuriou (1 Thess 1:8; 4:15; 2 Thess 3:1; Acts 8:25; 13:44, 48, 49; 15:35, 36; 16:32; 19:10, 20). As in the OT, this phrase focuses on the prophetic nature and divine origin of what has been said. See NET study notes.
66 The verb exechetai is found only here in the NT. It is where we get our English word “echo” from. Morris writes, “It is a vivid word, and expositors from Chrysostom on have often thought the imagery to have been derived from the sounding out of a trumpet, though some prefer to think of the rolling of thunder. Either way there is nothing apologetic about it! The perfect denotes the continuing activity, as does the use of en rather than eis (though this cannot be pressed). The word is pictured as still sounding forth.” Morris, The Epistles of Paul to the Thessalonians, 46.
67 The words “from you” (aph humon) are placed first in the Greek text for emphasis. Gordon writes, “The ‘you’ is personal—it is as individual as they can be, and at the same time, it is corporate, for none are left out. There is no exclusion clause. There was no way any of them could opt out if they did not feel like it or feel up to it.” Gordon, Hope and Glory, 42.
68 Literally, the Greek text has, “the faith of you, the one toward God (he pistis humon he pros ton theon).” The article is repeated to emphatically call attention to the new object of their faith.
69 When the Thessalonians came to know Jesus, God’s message of salvation seemed to reverberate through all the hills and valleys of Greece. John R.W. Stott, The Gospel and the End of Time: The Message of 1 and 2 Thessalonians (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1991), 35.
Your work of faith
You turned to God from idols
Your labor of love
You served the living and true God
Your steadfastness of hope
You wait for His Son from heaven
72 The closest parallel to 1 Thess 1:9-10 is Jer 10:10: “But the LORD is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King. At His wrath the earth quakes, and the nations cannot endure His indignation.” See Marshall, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 57 and Beale, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 61. It is also worth noting that this is the only place in the NT where the phrase “living and true God” is used. Cf. John 1:9; 7:28; 15:1; 17:3; Exod 34:6; Ps 86:15; Isa 65:16. Ernest Best, A Commentary on the First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians. Black’s New Testament Commentaries series. 2nd ed. (London: Black, 1977), 82-83.
73 Keathley writes, “The verb epistrepho ‘to turn, return’ and was used of a change of mind or course of action. Idolatry in any of its forms is the product of those who have turned away from God (see Rom. 1:18f). Faith in Christ is the first step in returning to God. In keeping with 1:8, turning to God involves faith in God through Christ, as the whole of the New Testament teaches. It is in essence the concept of repentance; it means turning from former sources of trust (whatever that might be) to trust in God’s plan of salvation and life through Christ. This also fits with 1:6 which shows the change in their lives was the product of welcoming the gospel in faith.” Hampton Keathley III, “The Commendation and Thanksgiving” (1 Thess 1:2-10): An Exegetical and Devotional Commentary on First Thessalonians (www.bible.org).
74 An idol is anything that we worship, anything that takes the place of God in our lives. Many people worship money, sex, family, work, leisure, etc.
75 Christians are waiting for Jesus Christ, and He may return at any time. We are not waiting for any “signs”; we are waiting for the Savior. That is one of the primary differences between the rapture and the Second Coming (cf. Rev 19:11-21).
76 Paul rarely refers to Jesus as the “Deliverer,” but we find this term in Rom 11:26, which draws on the LXX rendering of Isa 59:20 where the participle is used as a divine title. F. F. Bruce, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Word Biblical Commentary series (Waco, TX: Word, 1982), 20.
77 The word anameno (“wait for”) only occurs here in the NT. However, a related word occurs in Acts 1:4 where Luke writes, “Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait [perimenein] for what the Father had promised, ‘Which,’ He said, ‘you heard of from Me.’”
78 Some reasons are as follows: “Wrath” has the definite article, actually, it is a restrictive attributive, “the wrath, the coming one,” and this suggests something very specific which was on the minds of the Thessalonians as seen later in this epistle (5:1f). Jesus will deliver Christians “from the wrath to come.” Thessalonian Christians do not have to be delivered from Hell sometime in the future. For them the deliverance is past (John 5:24). This “wrath” is the wrath of the Tribulation just before the Millennium (Revelation 6:17). Jesus delivers believers from this period of Tribulation. First Thessalonians deals with the coming of Christ in every chapter (1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:13-18; 5:23). Each chapter ends with a reference to this event. The present tense of “wait” suggests that “wrath” here is the Tribulation. They expected His return at any moment and it is His imminent return that delivers them and all believers. Keathley III, “The Commendation and Thanksgiving.”
What makes a model ministry? How can we be the church that God wants us to be? [Think about these questions for just a moment.] At EBF, we have four strategies: learn the Word, live the life, love the body, and lead the world.80 We believe these four strategies are what God has called us to fulfill. We have come a long way in this endeavor but we still have even further to go. Interestingly, these strategies are addressed rather nicely in 1 Thess 2:1-12. In this passage, we will learn from Paul and his coworkers how to work toward a model ministry. We will see that a model ministry is dependent upon each and every individual doing his or her part. Paul tells us that this can happen when we serve Christ with pure and parental hearts. In these verses, Paul says, “A little example can have a big influence.”
In this section, we will see that Christian ministry can be fruitful when it is carried out with a pure heart that desires to please God. In 2:1-2, Paul explains that God blessed his ministry because of his willingness to preach Christ amidst persecution. He writes, “For81 you yourselves82 know,83 brethren,84 that our coming85 to you was not in vain,86 but after we had already suffered and been mistreated87 in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness88 in our God to speak to you the gospel of89 God90 amid much opposition.” The word “for” that begins 2:191 indicates that the material in this chapter is the basis for the preceding material in chapter 1.92 The main point of chapter 1 was Paul’s thanksgiving for the Thessalonians’ faith and dynamic witness. The ironic climax of 1:6-10 was that Paul and his coworkers did not need to preach Christ as much in the areas where the Thessalonians faith had spread (1:8).93 Consequently, his visit was “not in vain.” On the contrary, it was quite fruitful! Verse 2, then, gives the reason (not a contrast)94 for Paul’s claim in 2:1. Paul’s coworkers were fruitful because they proclaimed the gospel even in the face of persecution. In 2:2, Paul states that they had “suffered and been mistreated” in Philippi. That is a bit of an understatement. In Philippi Paul and Silas had been stripped, beaten, thrown into prison, and their feet fastened in stocks. It had not only been an extremely painful experience but humiliating as well, since they were flogged naked in public, without trial, and in spite of their Roman citizenship. After this, most of us would have taken a vacation or found an excuse not to minister ever again. But Paul and his coworkers headed to Thessalonica where they met up with more strong opposition.95 Yet, they didn’t say, “We better pull the punch in our preaching so that we don’t offend anyone.” Instead, they preached the Word with no-holds-barred! These guys were animals! But before we get too excited about Paul and his men, we must note that Paul declares they had boldness “in our God.” It was not their own boldness—it was “in God.”96 He gave them their boldness.
It is also worth noting that the term “opposition” is the Greek word agon—from which we derive our English word agony. Agon is an athletic term that suggests intense effort and strenuous exertion in the face of hostility and conflict.97 This reminds us that ministry to others, the work of leading people to Christ and helping them grow in Christ, is a contest, a spiritual struggle.98 It is not an easy job—it is physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually demanding and draining.99 Nevertheless, it has been said, “The door of opportunity swings on the hinges of opposition.”100 So what are we to do in the face of opposition or indifference? (1) Refuse to be intimidated. One of the reasons Christianity is so ineffective in our culture is that we are easily intimidated. In other words, we are more scared of people than we are Jesus. Today, will you pray for “holy boldness?” Will you ask the Lord to help you to boldly proclaim at work or school this week? (2) Rely on prayer. Persevere in prayer despite discouraging circumstances. Will you write down two names this week—one unsaved and one saved—and then begin praying for these two people? (3) Stay the course. Don’t stop sharing Christ and living the Christian life because people reject you. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to keep on doing what you are already doing, whether anyone pays attention or not. If you keep serving with a pure heart long enough, sooner or later it will pay off. Our Christian lives and ministry are all about perseverance. A little example can have a big influence.
In 2:3-6, Paul details how to serve with a pure heart. Since Paul was being grouped in with religious charlatans and hucksters he responds to personal attacks against his own ministry. Interestingly, these attacks have continued to be levied against Christianity for the last 2,000 years….sometimes legitimately and other times illegitimately. He writes, “For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit” (2:3). In this verse, Paul debunks three accusations surrounding his ministry. First, Paul’s ministry did not come from error; rather, it was grounded in God’s Word. This is how you can judge a ministry: is it grounded in the truth of God’s Word? An effective ministry is not based upon preferences, opinions, or musings…it is based on God’s truth. The one great advantage that Christians have is that our holy book is accurate. Even though people attempt to find contradictions and errors in the Bible, their attempts are always foiled. In fact, many of Christianity’s greatest detractors have become believers during their quest to disprove Christ or His resurrection.
Second, Paul’s ministry did not come from impurity for he was a man of purity. In this context, the word “impurity” is broader than sexual immorality (cf. 4:7). The NIV is probably right to render the word “impure motives,” alluding to such evils as “ambition, pride, greed, and popularity.”101 Paul is saying, “I am ‘above reproach’ in every area of my life and ministry.” We can measure the impact of God’s Word upon any group of people by the spiritual caliber of the spokesman. Water flows through pipes. If the pipe is rusty, the water may flow but there will be discoloration and sediment in the water. It will taste of the pipe. Often God’s Word will not taste right if the messenger is unclean.102
Third, Paul’s ministry did not come from deceit for he was an honest man. The word “deceit” was originally used of a fisherman who deceives a fish with a lure. Secular Greek literature also used “deceit” for a tavern keeper of the ancient world who would water down the wine of an inebriated person. There are those who also water down the Word.103 Paul didn’t use trickery or slick salesmanship to sell the gospel, assuring people of things that the gospel never promises.104 Sometimes, in an effort to get people to receive Christ, we tell them how Christ will solve all their problems, but we don’t tell them the hardships and cost of following Christ. So they come to Christ under false pretenses. When their problems don’t go away, or grow even worse, they grow bitter and fall away.105
Paul’s words in 2:4 mark a stark contrast: “but106 just as we have been approved107 by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men,108 but God who examines109 our110 hearts.”111 Paul and his coworkers have been “approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel.” Therefore, they are responsible to proclaim Christ to anyone and everyone who will listen, regardless of what others think or say. The contrast Paul makes is between pleasing men and pleasing God, who examines the heart. In making this claim, Paul is not saying that he did not care how he lived in front of people or what they thought about his way of life, but that he just answered to God. Sometimes you hear men say, “I don’t have to answer to people; I just answer to God” as an excuse for not being accountable. That’s not what Paul meant. In fact, he repeatedly appeals to their knowledge of his blameless life.112 He simply argues that the dominant goal in his life and preaching is pleasing God above all else.
Let’s suppose that you have been feeling sick lately. When you go to the doctor, he administers a test. The results are not good. The outlook is grim, but the disease is treatable if you get started now. What do you want the doctor to do? If he tells you truth, you’ll be devastated. If he doesn’t, you’ll be dead. Would you rather have him sugarcoat the truth or even lie to you? Or do you want to know the whole truth about your condition? I know the answer for me. When I go to the doctor I want to know the whole truth, even if it hurts. But what if he says, “I want to spare you pain?” I would tell him, “Doc, tell that to my wife and children at my funeral.” When life and death issues are at stake only the truth will do. When it comes to the gospel of Jesus Christ, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Therefore, Christians must be people who hold to the highest possible standards of truth and integrity.113 A little example can have a big influence. When you and I live for Christ with our lives and our lips, the world can be changed.
In 2:5, Paul continues to detail how to serve with a pure heart. He writes, “For we never came with flattering114 speech.” Dale Carnegie once said, “Flattery is telling the other person precisely what he thinks about himself.”115 In preaching and ministry many leaders want to tell people what they want to hear. It is easy to say, “You’re a victor, a child of the king, and God wants you healthy, wealthy, and wise.” That’s a popular message and one that many people want to hear. But it is flattery and it is not the gospel. Recently, I was talking to a nurse at St. Pete’s Hospital and noticed that she had a gorgeous 2- carat wedding ring. I complimented her on her beautiful ring. I then had the audacity to ask her if it was real. She acknowledged that it wasn’t. It was a cubic zirconium. Cubic zirconium is a mineral that is hard, optically flawless, and cheap. It resembles a diamond so closely that sometimes only a trained eye can tell the difference. But it isn’t a diamond—and that’s the point. A similar comparison exists between true compliments and flattering words. They may look alike, but one is sincere and precious; the other is insincere and cheap. We must ensure that we tell the truth when we minister in God’s name.
Paul also says in 2:5 that he never came with “pretext for greed—God is witness.” Always remember, if the apostle Paul was accused of greed we must expect that we will be as well. When I was working at Target as an 18-year-old, I boldly shared my faith with my coworkers. As a result, they accused me of being like Jimmy Swaggart or Jim Bakker, which was bizarre because I was not dating anyone and was living with my parents and making $4.25 an hour. These words were spoken to shut me up, but they only riled me up. I don’t want a couple of fallen pastors representing my faith.
Paul concludes this section in 2:6 with these powerful words: “nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles116 of Christ we might have asserted our authority.” For the second time in three verses, Paul brings up pleasing men. Here he says we did not “seek glory from men.” Recently, I was really tested in this area. In May, I was asked to preach at my alma mater’s (Multnomah Bible College) graduation banquet. Lori and I were seated next to the president at his table. We were greeted by the vice president and assistant academic dean. And then, fear of all fears, my Greek professor approached me. Honestly, I was nervous. I also felt incredible pressure to impress the faculty and administration and the 300 people I didn’t know. I haven’t felt that nervous in a long time. This forced me to ask myself the question, “Keith, who are you preaching for? Are you preaching to impress others and please yourself? Or are you preaching for God’s glory and pleasure?” Our aim must always be to glorify God and please Him. If people are pleased in this process, praise God! But this is not a criterion by which we are to judge our ministry (cf. Gal 1:10).
[Paul’s exhortation has been serving Christ with a pure heart. Why is this so important? Because only when we please God will we see lasting results.]
In this second section Paul explains what an effective ministry is. To draw this out, he uses paternal metaphors. This is important because some believers have lost family relationships for believing in Christ.117 In this light, Paul’s extensive use of parental and family images is significant. Through the use of such language he essentially portrays the congregation as a new family, whose relationships substitute for those that have been broken or lost. In 2:7, he compares his pastoral work to that of a nursing mother. Paul writes, “But we proved to be gentle118 among you, as a nursing mother119 tenderly cares120 for her own children.”121 One of the distinguishing characteristics of mothers is that they are gentle. This is a lovely image that goes against the grain of our mental picture of the apostle Paul. Of all the words we might use to describe him, somehow the word “gentle” doesn’t come to mind. Strong, determined, zealous, and impassioned—yes. But gentle? Nonetheless, there it is. Gentleness is not a quality often respected today. We tend to value tough, strong, assertive leaders. But none of us likes to be bullied; we’d all rather be loved.122 Thus, Paul illustrates his relationship with the Thessalonians by describing the bond between a nursing mother and her child. Just as a mother nourishes her child through her own body, so Paul as a spiritual parent nourishes his children in the faith with the Word of God.
In 2:8 Paul writes, “Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased123 to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives,124 because you had become very dear125 to us.” The word “affection” (homeiromai) is only used here in the NT; however, in Greek literature it was a strong term of affection related to parents longing for children who have passed away.126 We need to have a heart of compassion and tenderness for others. It takes the gospel, plus us. People will listen to our message when they know we care about them. In my pastoral experience, I have discovered that most people will not respond to a pastor’s public invitation. For most people to believe in Christ for the first time, the personal touch is required. This means that we have folks into our home or take them out to a meal or talk to them in the foyer about a faith relationship with Jesus Christ. I can recall several times when people have told me that one of our regular attendees has believed the gospel. Consequently, I have been asked why this person didn’t believe in Christ through my gospel invitations. The answer is simple: Most people require a personal invitation in a one-on-one context. This is the responsibility of the church. We all bear the privilege and responsibility to share Christ with others. We then share a responsibility to share our lives with new Christians.127
In 2:9 Paul writes, “For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship,128 how working night and day so as not to be a burden129 to any of you,130 we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.” If you read 1 Corinthians 9, Paul makes it clear in that passage that he doesn’t consider it wrong for a man to live off the preaching of the gospel. And in 1 Timothy 5 he says that an elder who both rules and teaches is worthy of “double honor,” which presumes that elders would in fact be paid for their work. But he himself apparently worked in secular jobs wherever he went so that he would be free of any accusations about his motives. His work ethic was exemplary. Tragically, many Christians give Christianity a black-eye because of their poor work performance. This is a crying shame, since work is an expression of worship and it also serves as a powerful witness. This week, will you go to your cubicle or your classroom or home and work as unto the Lord? As you work your daily grind for the glory of God the mundane and monotonous nature of your work can become extraordinary in its kingdom impact. A little example can have a big influence.
In 2:10 Paul writes, “You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly131 and uprightly132 and blamelessly133 we behaved toward you believers.”134 The word “devoutly” speaks of inward affections toward both God and man; the word “uprightly” refers to their outward behavior toward God and man; and the word “blamelessly” is the overarching result of being holy and righteous.135 Paul means to say that no one could make an accusation against him and make it stick. No one could say, “Aha! I gotcha!” To be “blameless” means to live in such a way that no one can successfully make a serious charge against you. It means living in such a way that anyone who finds fault with you would have to tell a lie to do it!
Paul continues his train of thought in 2:11 where he writes, “just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you136 as a father137 would his own children.”138 Paul says that he behaved with the Thessalonians as a father with his children. “Exhorting” speaks of pressing upon God’s people the need to live a life of godliness. Often, this takes the form of a rebuke. “Encouraging” points to progress where a spiritual father might say, “I see your growth. I am watching your steps of faith beyond your comfort zone. You are moving toward your potential. I believe in you. I am proud of you.”
“Imploring” is the strongest of the three since it suggests the idea of insisting or requiring that a certain course of action be adopted.139 This is where we challenge people to cross the line of faith or press on in the faith. We urge people to make a decision once they have been exhorted and encouraged.
Not long ago, I read an interesting statement about the difference between mothers and fathers. Mothers tend to worry about their children’s safety and security; fathers focus on their children’s success. A mother frets over things like tender loving care while fathers push their children hard because they know we live in a world where failure is easy and success difficult. Both are absolutely necessary—in raising children and in serving the Lord.140
The purpose of this entire section comes to a crescendo in 2:12b: “so that you would walk141 in a manner worthy of the God142 who calls143 you into His own kingdom and glory”144 (cf. 4:1). Paul exhorts the church to walk in a worthy manner. Spiritually speaking, this is putting one foot in front of the other and taking steps of forward progress. For this, Paul doesn’t give them a list of rules, rituals, and regulations. Instead, he urges them to become like Jesus in their character and conduct. This is simply responding to God’s call upon our lives. Paul refers to “His own kingdom.” We must temper and tune our lives to this calling. We adjust ourselves to God; He does not adapt Himself to us. We could accept a call to many kingdoms. Those kingdoms would compete for our commitment and these false allegiances will lure us away from our ultimate purpose. Many philosophies will pander to our baser motives. God designed us for the highest calling.145 The chief end of Paul’s ministry is a church that is obeying God. Fascinatingly, the word translated “glory” (doxa) here is used in 2:6. In this way, the theme is repeated. If I know that it is God’s kingdom of glory I am being called into, then I will not be so worried about the praise of men. It is the eternal kingdom of the glory of God that I’m being called to, and therefore I want to live a life worthy of Him. This type of life is not a means of earning God’s favor. On the contrary, it is clearly a response to God who calls us to Himself.146 Paul’s prayer is that we would express our gratitude to God for who He is and all He has done, in the form of a thank you card.
Spiritually, you may be nursing, crawling, walking, or running. The important thing is that you’re moving forward in your maturity. If you are growing, God is pleased. He wants the best for you. He yearns for you to be conformed to the image of Jesus. He will not stop until He accomplishes this in you. Today, will you respond to Him? Will you take small steps that will help you grow as a spouse, a parent, a worker, a church member? You can be used by God to make an eternal difference in your home, work, and church. A little example can have a big influence.
1. How would I have defined a fruitful ministry before studying this passage? In what ways has my understanding changed since working through this passage? What roles do boldness and perseverance play in my new understanding of a fruitful ministry? How can I see these qualities intensify and grow in my own life and ministry?
2. In his book, Leading from Within, Parker Palmer writes, “Leadership and spirituality are probably two of the vaguest words you can find in our language, and when you put them together you get something even more vague” (p. 201). Do I agree with this quote? Why or why not? How would I define the individual terms “leadership” and “spirituality?” How would I define the phrase “spiritual leadership?” To what degree do I live out my understanding of these definitions? Read Luke 22:24-27. How does this passage help me define these terms?
3. Are there any legitimate accusations that the world or church could bring against my character (2:3-4)? Am I a man or woman who is above reproach in every area of my life? How do I measure up to the character lists in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 2? What specific area(s) do I need the most work in? Is there someone I look up to as an example who can help me grow spiritually? Will I contact this person today?
4. Am I a God-pleaser or a man-pleaser? How would someone who knows me well characterize my life? What would be included in my obituary? In what areas do I find it most difficult to strive to please God? Why are these areas so difficult? What am I afraid of? Read Matthew 10:24-32 (especially 10:28) for encouragement. How should this passage change my thoughts and actions?
5. Am I a good father or mother (2:7, 11)? What would my children say? In what areas do I excel as a parent? How can I apply my paternal instincts and convictions in raising up mature believers? To what degree do I long to see my fellow believers grow in Christ (2:12)? Have I become busy and selfish with my time and energy? If so, how can I correct this trend? What will I do this week to help another believer grow in Christ?
79 Copyright © 2008 Keith R. Krell. All rights reserved. Permissions: Feel free to reproduce and distribute any articles written by Keith Krell, in part or in whole, in any format, provided that you do not alter the wording in any way or charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. It is our desire to spread this information, not protect or restrict it. Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: by Keith Krell, Timeless Word Ministries, 2508 State Ave NE Olympia, WA 98506, 360-352-9044, www.timelessword.com
80 For more information see http://www.emmanuelbiblefellowship.com/aboutuslist.html#statement.
81 There is no clear or obvious structure to 1 Thess 2:1-12, except for the repeated use of “for” (gar) at the beginning of 2:1, 3, 5, and 9. Michael W. Holmes, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 60.
82 The “you” (autoi) is emphatic and is thus translated by the NASB as “you yourselves.”
83 Paul appeals to the Thessalonians experience so often that the phrase “you know” becomes characteristic of this book (see 1 Thess 1:5; 2:1, 2, 5, 11; cf. 2:9 “you recall” and 2:10 “you are witnesses”).
84 The word adelphoi is more accurately translated “brothers and sisters.” See BDAG s.v. adelphos 1, where considerable nonbiblical evidence for the plural adelphoi meaning “brothers and sisters” is cited.
85 Morris writes, “By repeating the term eisodos (“coming”) the thoughts here are linked back with 1:9. ‘You’ here corresponds to ‘they themselves’ in 1:9. There Paul cited outsiders as witnesses; here he says that the Thessalonians needed no one else to bear witness, for they themselves knew what had happened.” Leon Morris, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Tyndale New Testament Commentary series (London: Tyndale, 1984), 50.
86 Paul uses the word kenos (“vain”) 12 times (1 Cor 15:10, 14 [2x], 58; 2 Cor 6:1; Gal 2:2; Eph 5:6; Phil 2:16 [2x]; Col 2:8; 1 Thess 2:1; 3:5), but his use in 1 Thess 3:5 seems to parallel his use of the word in 2:1. Green writes, “The theme of 2:1-12 is the character of the messengers’ mission and not the results of their labors. But while the primary emphasis seems to be on the apostolic mission, the missionary character was bound up with the results of the mission…Character and results could not be separated. Sound character produced credible results. Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians. Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 115. See also Michael Eaton, 1 & 2 Thessalonians. Preaching Through the Bible (Kent, England: Sovereign World, 1997), 27. G.K. Beale, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. IVP New Testament Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003), 63. With this said, it should be noted that Paul could be using this word in reference to the content and character of their preaching and ministry. Since he dealt with the results in the lives of the Thessalonians in chapter 1, and in view of the context that follows here in chapter 2, he is using this word with regard to the essential character, earnestness, and sincerity of their entrance and coming to proclaim God’s truth to the Thessalonians. What follows will set forth Paul’s proof that their coming was full of authentic earnestness and substance. It was not empty and without power or prompted by vain methods, motives, and means.
88 Morris writes, “It denotes a state of mind when the words flow freely, the attitude of feeling quite at home with no sense of stress or strain, an attitude that includes both boldness and confidence (in fact the corresponding noun is sometimes translated “boldness,” sometimes “confidence”). When it is used in the New Testament the verb always has to do with the proclamation of the gospel.” Morris, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 51. In the NT this verb is always used with reference to proclaiming the gospel (Acts 9:27, 29; 13:46; 14:3). But because of the animosity that often comes with preaching the gospel, it came to mean “to have courage, venture boldly” but always, it seems, in connection with the word. There are many reasons Christians do not witness or share their faith, but no doubt, fear is the underlying issue—fear of failure, fear of ridicule, fear of hostility, and so on.
89 The genitive in the phrase to euanggelion tou theou (“the gospel of God”) could be translated as either a subjective genitive (“the gospel which God brings”) or an objective genitive (“the gospel about God”). Either is grammatically possible. This is possibly an instance of a plenary genitive (see ExSyn 119–21; M. Zerwick, Biblical Greek, §§36–39). If so, an interplay between the two concepts is intended: The gospel which God brings is in fact the gospel about himself. This same phrase occurs in 1:8 and 9 as well. See NET Study Notes.
90 Paul refers to the “gospel” (euaggelion) four times (2:2, 4, 8, 9; cf. 1:5) and three of those times he refers to it as “the gospel of God.” The phrase underscores the fact that the gospel originates with God; Paul didn’t think it up himself. The gospel isn’t the best thinking of the religious minds of the day. It comes from God who revealed it to us by sending His Son as the sacrifice for our sins. If God had not revealed it, we would not have it.
91 The word gar (“for”) is left untranslated in the NIV.
92 Charles A. Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians. New International Greek Testament Commentary series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans/Exeter, England: Paternoster, 1990), 92. Beale, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 63-64. Specifically, 1 Thess 2:1 is a striking parallel with 1:9 and gives the basis for 1:8.
93 Beale provides the following paraphrase: “The reason that your witness was so effective and we apostles did not have to witness as much as we would have (1:8) is not only because those whom you witness to became witnesses (1:9) but also because our witness to you was not ineffective.” Beale, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 64.
95 In Thessalonica, the attacks were probably coming mostly from without. The Jews, who were jealous of Paul’s success and opposed to his message, stirred up a bunch of rabble rousers and the city authorities against Paul, so that he had to leave town. They even followed him to Berea, 50 miles away, to stir up opposition there. Acts 17:4 reports that a number of leading women in the city had believed after hearing Paul preach. Perhaps the husbands of these women were saying, “Paul is just another religious huckster like we see come through here all the time. How could you be so dumb as to fall for what he said? He’s just out to make a buck or to con women into sleeping with him. Don’t be so gullible!” To answer these charges, Paul asserts and defends his own integrity with the aim of defending the gospel and of urging the new Christians to walk worthy of God. Steven J. Cole, “Becoming Men of Integrity” (1 Thess 2:1-12): 3-4.
97 The Greek world was familiar with athletic contests, and Paul often used this idea to illustrate spiritual truths (see 1 Cor 9:27; Phil 3:13-14; 2 Tim 4:7). Paul used this same word in Phil 1:30 where he pictured the Christian life as an athletic contest that demanded dedication and energy. It had not been easy to start a church in Philippi, and it was not easy to start one in Thessalonica. Cf. Col 1:29 where the verb (agonizomai) is used in much the same way.
98 Morris writes, “The use of [this] ... word [agon] here reminds the Thessalonians that the opposition that Paul had met had been intense, and his preaching had not been easy. How, in the face of this, could it be urged that he preached only for what he could get out of it.” Morris, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 52.
99 Undoubtedly, by the use of this word, Paul has in mind both inward and outward conflict that believers often face in ministry if they are faithful to God’s calling and purpose. But there were also inward battles perhaps like the temptation to throw in the towel in the face of discouraging conditions. There were the spiritual battles with spiritual opposition, and there was his deep concern for the churches which he rated right alongside with his physical sufferings. Note in particular 1 Cor 2:3; 2 Cor 6:4-10; 7:5; 11:23-28. Hampton Keathley III, “An Example for Ministry” (1 Thess 2:1-12): An Exegetical and Devotional Commentary on First Thessalonians (www.bible.org).
101 Ernest Best, A Commentary on the First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians. Black’s New Testament Commentaries series, 2nd ed. (London: Black, 1977), 94; John R.W. Stott, The Gospel and the End of Time: The Message of 1 and 2 Thessalonians (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1991), 48. It is possible to preach the right message with the wrong motives (Phil 1:14-19).
Richison, 1 Thessalonians, 45.
103 Richison, 1 Thessalonians, 45.
104 Getz comments, “Here’s where we are dealing with a delicate balance. Jesus stated that we are to be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Matt 10:16). He also taught His followers how to be ‘fishers of men’ (Matt 4:19). But this in no way gives us license to be cunning, crafty, and tricky.” Gene A. Getz, Standing Firm When You’d Rather Retreat: Based on 1 Thessalonians (Ventura, CA: Regal, 1986), 51.
105 Cole, “Becoming Men of Integrity,” 6.
106 The strong adversative alla (“but,” “on the contrary”) is used to make a sharp contrast between 2:3 and 2:4.
107 The word dedokimasmetha (“approved”) is in the perfect tense, which suggests not only past approval but one that continues into the present—“we stand approved.”
109 Mayhue suggests that Paul may be alluding to Jer 11:20 here: “But, O LORD of hosts, who judges righteously, Who tries the feelings and the heart, Let me see Your vengeance on them, for to You have I committed my cause.” Richard Mayhue, First and Second Thessalonians. Focus on the Bible (Great Britain: Christian Focus, 1999), 68.
110 Morris writes, “Here the meaning is that God searches out the whole of our inner life. Nothing is hidden from him. In passing we might note that the plural, ‘our hearts,’ is unlikely to be an editorial plural. It associates Silas and Timothy closely with Paul in this great affirmation.” Morris, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 54.
111 See 2 Pet 2:14, 18-19: These false teachers have “eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children…For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved.” Cf. Jude 7-8, 16; Rev 2:14, 20.
112 See “you know,” “knowing,” “you recall,” “you are witnesses” (1:5; 2:1, 2, 5, 9, 10, 11).
113 Pritchard, “Five Words on a Tombstone.”
114 The word kolakia (“flattery”) occurs only here in the NT. Morris writes, “We can use this English term of remarks that, although insincere, are directed to the pleasure of the person being flattered. The Greek term has rather the idea of using fair words as a means of gaining one’s own ends. It is a matter of using insincerity as an instrument of policy, as a means of persuading another to do one’s will.” Morris, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 54.
115 This idea came from David Jeremiah, “Cubic Zirconium,” Today’s Turning Point, 7/1/08.
116 In this context, “apostles” is used in a rather general sense meaning “as Christ’s messengers” rather than in the more technical sense of the Twelve and of Paul due to the special revelation given to him. F. F. Bruce, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Word Biblical Commentary series (Waco, TX: Word, 1982), 31.
119 Paul may have applied the maternal image of a nursing mother to himself because he represented the true God (1 Thess 1:9), whose relationship with Israel was sometimes portrayed as a mother caring for her young (Isa 49:15; 66:12-13; Hos 11:1, 3-4). Beale, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 73. Mayhue proposes that Paul’s imagery might have come from Moses’ leadership of Israel. The liberator of the Jews from Egypt pictures himself as a guardian carrying a nursing child (Num 11:2). It is the picture of one who unselfishly cherishes her own children just as a mother bird does for her young (Deut 22:6). Mayhue, First and Second Thessalonians, 72. Weima notes, “Instead of the common word for “mother” (meter), Paul employs a term with the specialized meaning of “wet nurse” (trophos), someone who suckles children. The use of wet nurses was widespread in the Greco-Roman world, and ancient writers typically portrayed the wet nurse as an important and beloved figure. Since the original text refers to this woman nursing her own children, Paul has in view here the natural mother rather than the hired wet nurse. Yet he uses the unusual term trophos because this metaphor of a nursing mother underscores his sincere love for the Thessalonian Christians. A hired nurse competently cares for the children in her charge, but she cherishes her own children even more.” Jeffrey A.D. Weima, “1 Thessalonians,” Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 414.
121 There is a textual variant here between nepios (“babes”) and npios (“gentle”). It is difficult to determine which of the two is the original reading. The UBS text favors nepioi but Metzger and Wikgren dissent, arguing that npioi alone suits the context.
122 John Watson (1812-1872), a Scottish preacher wrote these words on the flyleaf of his Bible: “Be kind, you don’t know what battles people are fighting.” Quoted in Gordon, Hope and Glory, 76.
123 The imperfect tense of “we were well pleased” (eudokoumen) expresses that this was the apostles’ habitual style.
127 Eaton writes, “Paul was not too shy or too proud to be an affectionate person. Although he had only recently got to know these Thessalonians he had taken them into his heart, and wanted them to know how much he loved them. They were foreigners to him. He was Jewish and they were Macedonians. But Paul did not let any kind of cultural differences bother him. He is a citizen of God’s worldwide church, and so are they. He loves them with the love of Jesus.” Eaton, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 34.
131 The word hosios (“devoutly”) is only used here in the NT.
133 The adverb amemptos (“blamelessly”) is also used in 1 Thess 5:23. Its adjectival form is used at 3:13 in the context of the return of Jesus; that is, no charge can be brought against him when he is examined by God.
134 Bruce writes, “The Christian minister is expected to give practical instruction to his fellow Christians, but not by way of dictation. Since he cannot rule by decree if he is to be true to the spirit of Christ, he must guide by.” Bruce, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 39.
135 Mayhue, First and Second Thessalonians, 75. Some commentators see the word “devoutly” as referring to our attitudes and actions toward God and “uprightly” referring to our attitudes and actions toward man. However, it seems more likely that both of these terms are applicable to both God and man.
136 Paul’s ministry among them was not marked by favoritism or partiality but by a fatherly care for “each one of you” (hena hekaston humon).
138 The construction of the verse is difficult, lacking a main verb.
140 Ray Pritchard, “How to Turn the Word Upside Down (1 Thess 2:1-12): http://www.keepbelieving.com/sermon/1994-09-25-How-to-Turn-the-World-Upside-Down/.
143 It is important to notice the present tense verb “calls.” The Thessalonians have been called to salvation. Now God is calling them to a life of obedience and holiness.
144 Holmes notes, “Paul links “glory” closely with “kingdom” (they share a single preposition and article, and a single “his” governs both words). The two terms together indicate a believer’s ultimate goal: to live under the dominion and in the presence of God.” Holmes, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 68.
145 Richison, 1 Thessalonians, 58.
It’s been said, “Only two things in this world are eternal—the Bible and people.” If this is true (and it is), it only makes sense to build your life around those things that will last forever. Think about it: God’s Word will last forever…people last forever…everything else disappears. In light of this sobering reality, how should we live? We should live our life backwards from the judgment seat of Christ and ask, “What difference will my life make in 10,000 years?” Most of the things we work for or worry about won’t matter in three weeks, let alone three months or three years. We focus on the trivial and forget to pursue the eternal. But 10,000 times 10,000 years from now, you’ll still be glad you invested your life for Jesus Christ. In 1 Thess 2:13-20 Paul says, “You can shape tomorrow by starting today.” In these eight verses, we are challenged to give thanks for two of God’s blessings.
In this first section, Paul thanks God for the response of the church to Scripture.149 In 2:13, Paul pens a lengthy but potent verse: “For this reason150 we also constantly151 thank God that when you received152 the word of God153 which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which154 also performs its work155 in you who believe.”156Paul states that he and his coworkers “constantly” thank God for the way the Thessalonians responded after they preached the gospel to them. He thanks God that they “received” God’s Word. The word “received” is an objective external response that refers to “the hearing of the ear.” It’s like signing a receipt at the post office so you can accept a package. Paul means that the Thessalonians listened intently to the message he preached because they knew it came from God. The word translated “accepted” is a subjective internal response that refers to “the hearing of the heart.”157 This word is used of welcoming a guest into your home. It is a picture of warm hospitality. The point is: it’s very possible to listen to preaching and not be changed by it. It’s something else to welcome God’s message into your heart and let it transform your life.158
How frequently do you thank God for people who have received and accepted the gospel? This past Sunday I met a wonderful first-time couple. After church my family and I went to the Mayan restaurant and ran into this same couple. We asked them to join us and we learned that the wife believed the gospel within the last year. Furthermore, she came from a Muslim home in South Africa! After hearing her testimony, I couldn’t help but express thanks to God! I was overwhelmed by how He reached this young woman who vowed that she would never become a Christian with the gospel of Jesus Christ. During this past week, I have been reminded to thank God for how He is constantly touching people and reaching people with His Word. Do you need to express thanks for some people you know who have trusted in Jesus? Why not write down several names on a 3x5 card or a Post-it-Note and then daily thank the Lord for these individuals and pray that they continue to grow?
Before we move on to 2:14, we need to further apply 2:13. As a church family, how can we grow in our response to God’s Word?
In 2:14, Paul further explains that he is thankful for the Thessalonians because they willingly accepted persecution for the sake of Christ. He writes, “For you, brethren, became imitators161 of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews.” The Christian life is no manicured bed of perfumed roses. It’s not all plain sailing into an orange sunset.162 The church at Thessalonica became “imitators” of other churches by undergoing suffering. The exact nature of the persecution is not stated. It may have been persecution by the local government. Perhaps it consisted largely of persecution from former friends, discrimination in the marketplace, and even violence that went unnoticed by the magistrates. Regardless, belief in Christ and God’s Word attracts persecution. The term “countrymen” refers to fellow Thessalonian Gentiles.163 In our context, it could mean the people closest to you. If you decide to believe the Bible is the Word of God, many people who are close to you will not share your faith. If your spouse, your siblings, your parents, your children, or your friends reject your faith, how will you respond? Will you boldly carry on even though you may not please them? It is very difficult to live a dynamic Christian life when we are constantly trying to please people. I like what Bill Cosby once said, “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”164 If those closest to you criticize you, will you take it on the chin like a spiritual man or woman? People constantly hurt by what others say about them are usually distracted and ineffective. It is very difficult to live a dynamic Christian life when wearing a thin skin.165
If you struggle with being a people pleaser and having thin skin, I have two suggestions for you. (1) Seek to hang out with bold believers. When you observe a brother or sister that is fearless, you will become emboldened. It is nearly impossible to spend time with a bold believer and not have some of their courage rub off on you. If you don’t know any bold believers, get to know some bold unbelievers and learn how they share their message with others. (2) Study the persecuted church. When you read about our brothers and sisters in Christ who are being tortured and killed for their faith in Christ, you will find yourself challenged and inspired to be bold for Christ. I would encourage you to get on the mailing list of Voice of the Martyrs. Their website can be found at www.persecution.com. They have a very helpful weekly e-mail called “VOM—USA News & Prayer Update.” This helps me to stay current on the suffering of my spiritual family members. I also subscribe to a VOM monthly magazine, along with various resources for my children, available from their website. These tools will help you to be bold for Christ. You can shape tomorrow by starting today.
In 2:15-16, Paul pens two very controversial verses directed toward Jews. Although the purpose of these words is illustrative, these verses have caused some to insist that Paul is anti-Semitic. However, before arriving at a decision, read Paul’s words for yourself: “[The unbelieving Jews who persecuted the churches in Judea] who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out.166 They are not pleasing to God, but hostile167 to all men, hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved;168 with the result that they always fill up169 the measure of their sins.170 But wrath has171 come upon them to the utmost.”172 Paul says that some first-century Jews were responsible for instigating the death of Jesus. Furthermore, the nation of Israel has a long history of rejecting the prophets God sent to them. Finally, it was the Jewish religious leaders in Thessalonica who instigated the riot that led to Paul, Silas, and Timothy being run out of town. It was also the Jewish religious leaders who resisted Paul’s efforts to share God’s good news about Jesus with the non-Jewish people. So in these verses Paul is not talking about all Jewish people of all time, or even all Jewish people of his time.173 This passage is a condemnation of some of the Jewish people of a particular time in a particular place, specifically the religious leaders who rejected Jesus and opposed the early church in the first century. What Paul is saying here is that those Jewish people who were engaged in the activities he lists here are under God’s judgment. He’s not talking about all Jewish people everywhere, because Paul himself is Jewish, and the Christians living in Judea who were suffering were also Jewish.
Tragically, horrible evils have been justified toward Jews from a misinterpretation of this passage. This is not God’s heart, for God loves the Jewish people—they are His chosen people. Nevertheless, we can’t exonerate those who reject Christ. Paul makes it clear that the Jews who are hostile to Jesus are heaping judgment on themselves and their hostility will one day be answered by God.174 It is important to understand that God’s wrath isn’t referring to God losing His temper and flying off the handle in anger. Paul is talking about God’s justice to those who oppose His work in the world.175
[We must thank God for the work of His Word. Why? Because God’s Word changes lives!]
In this second section, Paul specifically expresses his joy over the Thessalonians. In 2:17 he writes, “But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short while—in person, not in spirit—were all the more eager with great desire to see your face.” Paul fervently loved his Thessalonian converts, but persecution forced him to leave. The words “taken away” (orphanizo) means to make an orphan of someone.176 Paul viewed himself as an orphan separated from his family. Perhaps you have observed on film some of the horrible scenes from World War II when Jewish fathers and mothers were “torn away” from their children and sent off to different locations, sometimes never to see each other again. Imagine the inner pain!177 Paul’s pain is comparable to these families. Consequently, he is “eager” and possesses “great desire.” The term “desire” is the word used for lust in the New Testament. It almost always has a negative sense. The point being, this is a strong word to describe Paul’s love for this church.
Do you have this type of love for your church? It has been said, “If absence makes the heart grow fonder, some Christians must really love the church.” Seriously, do you love God’s people? When you are separated from this body, do you ache or do you breathe a sigh of relief? Are you attending church to merely fulfill your religious obligation or do you truly love God’s people? If this church family was taken away from you, what would you do? How would you feel? Would you even care? Pray that God increases your love and commitment to His church. You can shape tomorrow by starting today.
In 2:18, Paul shares a very intriguing verse. He writes, “For we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, more than once—and yet Satan hindered us.”178 This verse informs us that not all of Paul’s plans worked out.179 One of the primary reasons for this is that Satan “hindered” him. The word “hindered” is a military term used for the destruction of roads and bridges in the face of the enemy’s advance. That’s right, Satan hindered Paul and he can hinder you and me. However, we must recognize that God permits satanic opposition. In fact, Satan can’t touch our lives or our ministries apart from God’s permission.180 If Satan cuts up one road, then God will create another. If the devil closes a door, God will open a window. We must always recognize that wherever God is at work, Satan and his demons are surely present.181 Yet, instead of being frustrated by this, we need to be complemented because we are a threat to hell. If we aren’t doing much for the Lord, Satan will leave us alone. You may face opposition at work or from a critical colleague or from a classmate, a friend, a teacher, a neighbor, a relative, or even from your children or your spouse. Satan’s primary strategy against the church is to discourage us by stirring up opposition so that we will stop spreading the gospel. We must always recognize that our battle is not against flesh and blood but against satanic rulers, principalities, and powers (Eph 6:12).
Paul concludes in 2:19-20 by explaining (“for”) why he is so eager to see the Thessalonians: “For who182 [not “what”] is our183 hope or joy or crown of exultation?184 Is it not even you, in the presence185 of our Lord Jesus at His coming?186 For you are our glory and joy.” Every new parent understands what Paul means. What happens when a baby is born? You can’t wait to tell the good news. You have pictures and statistics and stories about how he has his daddy’s chin and his mother’s eyes and how smart he is and how it doesn’t matter what the doctor says, you know he smiled at you. He’s the smartest, best-looking, cutest baby ever born. And you’ve got pictures to prove it!187
In these two verses, Paul and his coworkers call the church at Thessalonica our “joy.” Paul concludes this passage the way he began, with thanksgiving. These new believers are Paul’s hope. He is confident in their faith and obedience. The Thessalonians are also a source of joy and spiritual delight, not only in the present time but in the future, at the return of the Lord. Paul also calls these believers his “crown of exultation.”188 Paul did not say that he would receive a crown, though this is suggested. He said that the saints themselves would be his crown when he met them at the judgment seat. To be sure, some of the believers in the church were not living as they should, and some were a burden to Paul. But when he looked ahead and saw them in glory, they brought joy to his heart. In his letters, Paul often pictured these rewards as “crowns.”189 It is the word stephanos from which we get the names Stephen and Stephanie. The word refers to a wreath of leaves given to the winner of a race in the Isthmian Games. One of Paul’s rewards in heaven would be the pleasure of seeing all those new Christians standing with him.
In 2:20 Paul declares, “For you are our glory and joy.” The word “you” is emphatic in the Greek—“you and especially you are our glory and joy.” The word “glory” (doxa) means “fame” or “renown”190 that a person receives when honored by others. Paul is saying, “Whatever honor is ascribed to me has its source in you Thessalonians.”191 It is Paul’s honor to introduce his converts to the Lord Jesus Christ. When he sees the Lord, he will know that his team’s glory will be people in heaven because of their witness. This is legitimate pride because it is based on what God did through them. Our reputation in eternity will be based, in part, on winning people to Christ.192 Do you have a part in building up Christ’s Kingdom? Will people point to you that you had a part in bringing them into the Kingdom?193 You can shape tomorrow by starting today.
This leads to a very fascinating question: Does it make any difference what local church you attend? I would argue that it makes an eternal difference because of the biblical significance of team ministry and corporate rewards. In the West, we are consumed with individual performance, but in the Scriptures, God makes it clear that He cares about the church.
By way of analogy, the National Football League each year “crowns” a team the Super Bowl Champions.
All team members receive, among other things, a ring commemorating their participation on the championship team. Whether or not they actually played in the last game (or any game), all are rewarded. All that matters is that each player was on the team. Of course, it is hard to imagine a player who does not contribute in some way to a championship team, especially as the whole group embraces its quest together. Corporate rewards, as a possibility at the judgment seat of Christ, will mean that some of the believer’s rewards (or loss of rewards) will be based on the corporate faithfulness and works they all accomplished (or neglected) together. This in no way compromises individual responsibility. Indeed, a “most valuable player” exists in the Super Bowl analogy. Individuals can be rewarded for both his/her own efforts and the entire team’s results.194
So both individual and corporate rewards are significant. We need to impact people individually and corporately with the gospel. You may be serving in our VBS ministry next week. As an individual, you have served behind the scenes, invited your neighbors, prayed, and prepared for your responsibilities. Next week though, you will also be teaming up with the one of the greatest groups of people ever assembled. You will be a part of what God is going to do simply because you’re a part of the Emmanuel family. And you will reap whatever rewards come from this next week because of your partnership with this church.
This principle is applicable for youth, college, and adult ministries as well. It matters what your church believes. It matters how faithful your pastors are. It matters how zealous your ministry partners are. It matters how unified your body. It matters in this life and it will matter for all eternity.
What difference will your life make in 10,000 years? How will you wish you had spent your few years on this earth? Live your life backwards from the judgment seat of Christ. You can shape tomorrow by starting today.
James 1:21-25; 5:7-8
1. What is my typical response to preaching (2:13)? Boring? Exciting? Depends? How do I prepare my heart every Sunday morning to receive and welcome the preached Word? Do I spend time in God’s Word throughout the week with the goal of feeding my own soul? If so, how do I go about this? What have I learned over the years? Can I pass on some of my experiences (both good and bad) with another believer?
2. Am I thankful for believers I know who are receiving God’s Word (2:13)? Presently, who am I most thankful for? How often do I thank God for these persons? Have I followed up these believers and also affirmed God’s work in their lives? What was their response?
3. Am I willing to suffer hardship for the gospel (2:14)? Read 2 Timothy 1:12; 2:3, 9. How will I prepare my heart and mind for various hardships that I may experience? How can I encourage Jewish people to believe in Christ (2:14-16)? Have I been intimidated by those who reject Christ? If so, how can I learn to be bolder in my faith and witness? How should God’s future judgment give me a sense of confidence and urgency?
4. Have I experienced Satan hindering me in my life and ministry (2:18)? When did this happen? How did I respond? As I look back on this episode do I now see how Christ used Satan to accomplish godly purposes in my life and ministry?
5. Have I ever considered the concept that the church I attend and serve can play a role in my eternal reward (2:19-20)? Am I conscious that Christianity can be a “team sport?” How will this affect my decision as to what church I attend? Do I need to remain in my current church or consider other options? If the Lord calls me to remain, how will I grow in my role as a teammate?
147 Copyright © 2008 Keith R. Krell. All rights reserved Permissions: Feel free to reproduce and distribute any articles written by Keith Krell, in part or in whole, in any format, provided that you do not alter the wording in any way or charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. It is our desire to spread this information, not protect or restrict it. Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: by Keith Krell, Timeless Word Ministries, 2508 State Ave NE Olympia, WA 98506, 360-352-9044, www.timelessword.com
148 1 Thess 2:13-16 serves a transitional role in this letter. In 2:12, Paul’s focus shifted from the behavior of the missionaries (the primary subject of 2:1-12) to that of the Thessalonians. Now, still focusing on the Thessalonians, he picks up and develops further a point touched on in 1:6: the Thessalonians’ acceptance of the gospel in spite of severe suffering (2:13-14). This reference to suffering in turn sets up what he will say in 2:17-20 (where his focus again shifts from the Thessalonians back to the missionaries). Charles A. Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians. New International Greek Testament Commentary series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans/Exeter, England: Paternoster, 1990), 109.
149 This verse begins with the second thanksgiving section in a series of three (1:2-5; 2:13; 3:9-13) that dominate the tone of the first three chapters. Holmes notes, “In 1:2 Paul’s thanks are ultimately rooted in God’s choice of the Thessalonians (1:4); here he gives thanks for their acceptance of the message, and in 3:9 he will give thanks for their continuing steadfastness (3:8).”Michael W. Holmes, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 80.
150 The phrase dia touto (“for this reason”) can either refer to previous (1 Thess 2:1-12) material (see G.K. Beale, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. IVP New Testament Commentary [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003], 76-77) or forthcoming material (Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians, 110. Holmes, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 81). A similar use in 1 Thess 3:5 supports a forward view. Interestingly, this phrase is omitted from the NIV.
151 The word “constantly” (adialeipto) is an adverb which means “without interruption, continually, regularly.” It is used in 1 Thess 1:5; 2:13; 5:17; and Rom 1:9. In each passage it has to do with some aspect of prayer.
152 The word “received” (paralambano) means “to receive from another,” but it is especially used in the NT of receiving a message or body of instruction or doctrine (cf. 1 Cor 11:23; 15:1, 3; Gal 1:9, 12 [2x], Col 2:6; 1 Thess 2:13; 4:1; 2 Thess 3:6). See also John 1:11-12 where John writes, “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive [paralambano] Him. But as many as received [lambano] Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.”
153 The Greek phrase to theo (“of God”) is in the emphatic position.
154 A preferable translation of the Greek pronoun hos (rendered “which”) is “who,” referring to God. Thus, it is “God who also performs His work in you who believe.” The reasons for adopting this translation are: (1) God is usually the subject of energo (“work”) in the Pauline epistles. (2) The verb energo and its noun form energia typically have supernatural beings (whether good or evil) as their subject. Earl J. Richard, First and Second Thessalonians. Sacra Pagina (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 1995), 114-115.
155 “Performs its work” is energeo from which we get our word energy or energize.
156 The word “believe” at the end of 2:13 is in the present tense indicating continuing action. The Thessalonians continued to believe in the power of the Word of God to change their lives. The Word brings ongoing evidence of changing lives. They endured trial by God’s grace (2:14).
158 Ray Pritchard, “What Does It Mean to Believe the Bible?” (1 Thess 2:13-16): http://www.keepbelieving.com/sermon/1996-09-08-What-Does-It-Mean-to-Believe-the-Bible/.
159 Quoted in Gordon, Hope and Glory, 86.
160 This quote is attributed to W. Clement Stone and is quoted in Sam Gordon, Hope and Glory. Truth for Today (Greenville, SC: Ambassador International, 2005), 85.
162 Gordon, Hope and Glory, 90.
163 The term sumphuletes (“countrymen”) is not found anywhere else in the NT.
166 Cf. Stephen’s words in Acts 7:52. The slaying of the Lord Jesus was the outworking of the same essential attitude as that displayed so often to the prophets. Jesus, of course, had himself denounced with some emphasis what his nation had done to the prophets (Matt 23:33-35).
167 The Greek term enantios (“hostile”) is normally used of such things as winds (Mark 6:48; Acts 27:4), or deeds (Acts 26:9; 28:17). This is the only place in the NT where the word is used of people.
169 Wallace notes that the aorist verbal infinitive anaplerosai (“fill up”) has in mind “an act…already in progress [i.e., in the past history of Israel] and…then brings the action to a conclusion.” Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 559.
171 Although the wrath spoken of here is eschatological, Paul uses the aorist to stress the certainty of its coming—a “prophetic” aorist.
172 The phrase eis telos may either mean “to the uttermost” (i.e., fully, completely) or it may mean “at last,” “finally.”
173 Bruce says, “From...Moses (Deu 32) onward, some of the most scathing denunciations of Jews...have been made by fellow-Jews.” F. F. Bruce, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Word Biblical Commentary series (Waco, TX: Word, 1982).
174 In view of the eschatological emphasis of the letter, it is possible that Paul is alluding primarily to the judgment coming on unbelievers during the Tribulation. Ernest Best, A Commentary on the First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians. Black’s New Testament Commentaries series. 2nd ed. (London: Black, 1977), 119; Robert L. Thomas, “1 Thessalonians,” In The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein and J. D. Douglas (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), 259-60; D. Michael Martin, 1, 2 Thessalonians. The New American Commentary series (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1995), 95.
175 Morris comments, “Paul’s anger is the anger of a man with his own nation, his own people. He is very much part of them, and he sorrows at their faith. He is not gleefully invoking dire disasters on them, but grieving over the effects of their misdeeds.”
176 This is the only time the NT uses the word orphanizo.
177 Gene A. Getz, Standing Firm When You’d Rather Retreat: Based on 1 Thessalonians (Ventura, CA: Regal, 1986), 87.
178 Exactly what did Paul mean and how did Satan stop him? It is likely that Paul is referring to some kind of ongoing problem that kept him from returning to Thessalonica. We can’t be sure of the precise details, but we know that Jewish opponents followed him from city to city openly opposing him and spreading lies about his ministry.
180 Constable writes, “How can we tell if Satan is opposing us or if the Spirit is directing us? It seems to me that the New Testament writers viewed God’s sovereign control of all things on different levels at different times. Sometimes, as in Acts, they spoke of the One who is in ultimate charge and focused on His direction. At other times, as here, they spoke of the instruments that God uses. God permitted Satan to oppose Paul’s return to Thessalonica, but this was all part of God’s sovereign will. In Acts the emphasis is on the One responsible for the expansion of the church, but here the emphasis is on the instrument God used in this situation. Satan can only oppose us as God gives him permission to do so (Job 1-2).” Thomas L. Constable, “Notes on 1 Thessalonians,” http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/1thessalonians.pdf, 2007 ed. 15-16. See also Bruce, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 58.
181 Elsewhere, Paul says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers…powers…world forces of this darkness…spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12).
182 “Who is our…” introduces us to Paul’s reason which is presented in the form of a rhetorical question. It is designed to stress the reason more forcefully and to get the reader to think. “Who” refers to the believers of Thessalonica.
183 The word “our” (humon) reminds us this was a team effort.
184 Paul uses boasting or exultation to describe the Christian’s delight in being commended for faithful service by the Lord at his return.” The Thessalonians are the crown, and the result at the Bema will be rejoicing or exultation. But what did he mean by this? In view of Paul’s use of “crown” (stephanos, the victor’s crown) in other places, and the fact believers will cast their crowns before the Lord (Rev 4:10), Paul undoubtedly had in mind a personal crown or reward that believers will receive because of their presence at the return of the Lord for faithful ministry. Though, in this passage the apostle does not say he would receive a crown, this is suggested, if not here certainly in other passages.
186 This is the first use of the term parousia (“coming”) in the NT. It was used in secular Greek literature in the first century for a royal visit by a king. Parousia is a very important word used of the return of the Lord. It comes from a verb pareimi, which means “to be present” as in Luke 13:1, John 11:28, and Acts 10:33. It refers to a stay, a presence that follows an arrival or a coming.
188 Paul uses boasting or exultation to describe the Christian’s delight in being commended for faithful service by the Lord at His return (1 Cor 9:15-16; 2 Cor 1:12-14; 10:13-18; Phil 2:16; and 1 Cor 3:15; 4:5). NET Study Notes.
190 BDAG s.v. doxa 3.
191 Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians. Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 156.
192 Benware writes, “On that day, believers and holy angels alike will be glad to see those who have come to know the Lord Jesus, but those who have had a part in the spiritual birth of individuals will experience an even greater joy. A woman may be pleased that have a major of joy when her sister has her baby, but nothing rivals the joy that is hers when she becomes the mother of her own baby. There will be an incredible fullness of joy at the judgment seat for those who are spiritual parents.” Paul N. Benware, The Believer’s Payday (Chattanooga: TN: AMG, 2002), 126.
193 Richison, 1 Thessalonians, 69.
194 See Fred R. Lybrand, “Corporate Rewards: Does the Church You Attend Matter to God?” Chafer Theological Seminary Journal 11:1 (Spring 2005): 11-
This past week while we were in Oregon, I filled up our van with gas for $4.13 a gallon. I never thought I would be so happy to only have to pay $4.13 a gallon. In this day of increasing gas prices, drivers are looking for every advantage.197 One of the most overlooked strategies is keeping tires properly inflated. A group of Carnegie Mellon University students determined that the average driver could save $432 annually (when gas is $3 per gallon) by keeping tires at the recommended pressure. Tires usually lose air pressure v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y. If your car’s engine has a problem, you notice it immediately. But you can still drive on under-inflated tires—just not very efficiently. Likewise, we lose “efficiency” in the Christian life the same way tires lose air pressure: very slowly. When we finally are stopped dead in our tracks by sin or failure, it’s not because of a blowout. It’s because we failed to perform daily spiritual maintenance: prayer, worship, Bible study, self-denial, service, and obedience. Over months or years we can grow so spiritually inefficient that we fail to notice. Have you checked your spiritual air pressure lately? Are you operating for the Lord at peak efficiency? Be warned: Failing to perform daily maintenance can ultimately leave you stranded.198
So how can we ensure that our faith won’t leave us stranded? How can we have a “pumped-up” faith that will go the distance? How can we help other believers grow spiritually? These questions are answered in 1 Thessalonians 3 where Paul states, “Afflictions are not accidents—they are appointments.” In these thirteen verses, Paul shares two strategies to build ourselves and others up in the faith.
In this first section, we discover that the way to prepare others to endure trials is to strengthen them in the faith. Paul begins with these words: “Therefore when we199 could endure200 it no longer, we thought it best to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith” (3:1-2). Now this passage presupposes that we understand the circumstances surrounding Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica, so allow me to summarize those circumstances. Paul arrived in the Greek city of Thessalonica after he and his coworker Silas had received a terrible beating and been imprisoned in the city of Philippi. During their short time in Thessalonica, Paul, Silas, and Timothy led several of the Thessalonians to faith in Jesus and this new nucleus of believers formed a church. But soon trouble started, and Paul, Silas, and Timothy were forced to run for their lives and Paul and Silas were forbidden from entering Thessalonica again. So the three ministers traveled to the cities of Berea and Athens.201 It was while they were in Athens that Paul’s concern for the Thessalonian Christians reached its peak, so he sent Timothy back to the city to find out how things were. For some reason the city ban against Paul and Silas didn’t apply to Timothy. Timothy had a Greek father and probably looked Greek. He would, therefore, have attracted no special attention in a Greek city, whereas Paul was immediately recognizable as a Jew (cf. Acts 16:20).202 It is also likely that because of his youth the authorities didn’t notice him.
Now, let’s get into the text. The word “therefore”203 that opens this chapter refers back to 2:17-20, where Paul expressed his great love for the Thessalonian believers. It is because of this love that he cannot abandon them when they need spiritual help. The verb translated “left behind” (kataleipo)is an intense and picturesque term that is used of a child leaving his parents (Eph 5:31) or the death of one’s spouse (Mark 12:19). In 2:17, Paul said that he felt “orphaned” from his friends in Thessalonica, and the Greek word can also mean “bereaved.” To leave these new believers was like an experience of bereavement. This is a good lesson for us today. Paul so loved the Thessalonian believers that he would have risked his own life to return to them.204 He wanted to give of himself and his resources for them, as a parent provides for his or her children. Paul had a passion for these new believers. Do you have this type of earnest desire for new believers? Do you long to see other believers and help them grow in their faith? What new believers have you recently invested in?
In 3:2, we find two keys to this chapter. The first key word in this chapter is “faith” (3:2, 5, 6, 7, 10). Another key word is “strengthen/establish” (sterizo, 3:2, 13).205 Paul’s problem is that he is separated from the Thessalonian Christians by distance and circumstances. He is in Athens with no telephone, FAX, email, or teleconferencing, incapable of meeting the spiritual needs of his Thessalonian friends. So he empowered Timothy with the confidence to minister. Notice how Paul describes young Timothy in 3:2: “our brother and God’s fellow worker.” Timothy is a brother in Christ, a follower of Jesus, related to every other Christian, as a brother. But he’s also called “God’s fellow worker.” This is a remarkable phrase—that any person besides Jesus Himself could be described as God’s fellow worker. Now some Bible versions have the phrase “God’s minister” (KJV) instead of “God’s fellow worker” or “God’s coworker,” because some scholars found the idea of God having coworkers a far too bold word to be applied to Timothy.206 But the original word here is sunergos, where we get our English word synergy from. Paul seems to be saying that God’s partnership with Timothy provides synergy. What’s even more amazing is that it’s likely that Timothy was in his early to mid 20s when Paul wrote this.207 Timothy was a young and inexperienced ministry intern, yet here Paul empowers him to be an extension of God to the Thessalonians. Timothy’s mission is to strengthen and encourage the Thessalonians in their faith. Notice again that word “faith.” Paul is most interested in the faith of these believers, not their comfort, welfare, or prosperity. The word “strengthen” is a building term that means to cause a structure to become more secure. Think of retrofitting a freeway overpass, that’s what this word describes. When used to describe our faith it means “to cause someone to become stronger in the sense of firmer and unchanging in attitude or belief.” The word “encourage” here basically describes a coach who comes alongside a person to help them take the next step. Paul wanted Timothy to strengthen and encourage the Thessalonians so they wouldn’t waver when problems and suffering came upon them.208
Verse 2 should be an encouragement to all college students and young adults. If God can use Timothy to affect an entire church, he can use you as well. The best example I can think of is our very own Sean Post. Sean came to Emmanuel as a senior in high school and for the last three years he has been active and committed to our church. Consequently, our church voted unanimously that he should be our youth and college pastor, at the ripe young age of 21. Most of us know that Sean has exceptional skills; however, he is on a fast track because of his exemplary character and commitment to the local church. Young people, you have a model to follow and imitate if you want to be mightily used by God. As Sean follows Christ, may you follow him (1 Cor 4:16).
In 3:3-4, Paul reveals his purpose in sending Timothy to strengthen and encourage the Thessalonian believers: “so that no one would be disturbed209 by these afflictions;210 for you yourselves know that we have been destined211 for this. For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction;212 and so it came to pass, as you know.” Several insights on affliction and trials come directly out of these two verses:
In 3:5, Paul explains the reason behind the reason he sent Timothy to strengthen and encourage the Thessalonian church: “For this reason, when I could endure it no longer, I also sent to find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter might have tempted you, and our labor would be in vain.” In this verse, Paul once again demonstrates his pastoral heart. He is concerned about the Thessalonians and desperately wants to hear how they are doing in their faith. The reason that he is so anxious to learn of their spiritual progress is because he is all too aware of “the tempter.” Did you know that Satan has a “ministry?” That’s right…he’s a step up on many Christians. Satan’s special “ministry” is to attack Christians. Satan loves to attack new Christians. If he can sidetrack or defeat new believers from the get-go, he has won. Even though he can’t take away a believer’s salvation, he can render Christians ineffective.219 And he has done this countless times. This is one of his specialties! Satan also loves to tempt mature believers to fall away during hard times. How does the devil tempt us in hard times? First, he tempts us to doubt God’s goodness. He whispers in our ear that God has forgotten us, that He doesn’t care, and that He isn’t good. Second, Satan tempts us to retaliate against others with anger and resentment. This is one of his favorite tools when the hard times involve problems with friends and family members. Third, Satan tempts us to give in to despair and discouragement.220 Satan will tempt us to say, do, or think anything that will get us off track spiritually. Remember this simple principle: Satan tempts us to get the worst out of us; God tests us to get the best of us. In this context, Paul is fearful that Satan may cause his labor to be “in vain.”221 Paul knew that no labor in the Lord is in vain (1 Cor 15:58). We have the Lord’s promise that He will reward us for faithful labors. But Paul also knew, because of the workings of Satan, some of his labor could be annulled or tarnished as to its effect on the lives of others. This is why he was so concerned about their faith and took steps to protect his labor.222
In 3:6-8,Paul rejoices when he hears that the Thessalonians are withstanding persecution. He shares his reaction to this news with them to encourage them to persevere as their afflictions continued. “But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you,223 for this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction224 we were comforted about you through your faith; for now we really live, if you stand firm225 in the Lord.” The phrase translated “brought us good news” (euaggelizo) is the exact equivalent of “preaching the good news of the gospel.” In fact, this is the only place in the New Testament where this verb is used in the general sense of bringing good news rather than of preaching the gospel. Paul’s use of this verb here shows his depth of feeling on hearing news of the Thessalonian Christians. The report from Timothy was, to Paul, like hearing the gospel. Paul most likely uses this word because through our lives we have the opportunity to influence unbelievers favorably on behalf of the gospel (cf. 1:6; 2:13).226 Timothy reported that the new believers were manifesting “faith and love.” There’s that word “faith” again. It is “faith” and “love” in that order. You cannot have “love” unless you first have “faith.” It is one thing to believe in Jesus as Savior, but in order for there to be fruitfulness, there needs to be ongoing persistent faith.227 Paul also exclaims that the church is standing firm in spite of persecution. They did not believe the lies that Satan had told about Paul, but they still held him in the highest esteem in love. Furthermore, their lives brought comfort to the apostles. This leads Paul to say “now we really live.” We often use the phrase “Get a life!” when we regard someone’s pursuits as insignificant. Yet, here Paul discusses “getting a life” in an unusual way.”228 Spiritually speaking, Paul is given a new lease on life…a new surge of energy, a new zest for living the Christian life.229 Afflictions are not accidents—they are appointments.
[How can we help other believers grow spiritually? First, prepare God’s people to endure trials. A second way to help others grow spiritually is…]
In these remaining five verses, we will learn how to pray that God’s people have a good showing at the judgment seat of Christ. These verses disclose three specific requests that we can pray today for other believers.231
The goal and purpose of these three prayers is given in 3:13: “…so that He [i.e., the Holy Spirit] may establish your hearts without blame247 in holiness before248 our God and Father249 at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints [i.e., believers who have died and gone to be with Christ in spirit form, whose bodies will be resurrected when He comes (see 4:16)250].” Again, Paul anticipates the judgment seat of Christ (cf. 2:19; 5:23). He says that submission to God’s passion, direction, and love gets us ready for the judgment seat of Christ! Paul wants us to be prepared to stand before Jesus Christ one day, with confidence. He yearns for the Lord to “establish” us as practically righteous, before Christ returns.251 This should be our heart cry and our deep desire for every believer. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but very few Christians have a passionate longing for Christ’s return. We may yearn for it when overwhelmed by pain, sorrow, or disappointment, but once life returns to normal we are quite happy to remain on planet earth.
Earlier this month, some friends from Vancouver treated our family to a stay at Great Wolfe Lodge Waterslide Park. While we were walking around the park, I couldn’t help but notice a muscular man standing with his wife. (No, I wasn’t looking in a mirror.) I thought to myself, I need to find out this guy’s secret, so I approached him and asked about his workout routine. He told me about his weightlifting routine and then he talked about his cardio workout. His cardio workout is what interested me most because he and I were on the same schedule—4-5 days of week of cardio for 45 minutes at a shot. Yet, he said that he is on a new routine that calls for 3 cardio workouts a week of 15 minutes. The workout routine consists of intervals of 2 minutes of intensity and 1 minute of ease. This workout shocks your body and burns fat. It is intense and effective. I have tried it several times and it is flat-out brutal!
This metaphor is also true in the spiritual realm. If you and I want to build a rock-hard faith we will have to increase our intensity. Faith is like a muscle—you’ve got to use it or you’ll lose it. Sometimes you’ve got to push yourself to the limit. You’ve got to work those muscles to failure. You’ve got to shock your body into growth. If I sincerely believed that Jesus was going to return today (heart, soul, mind, and will), I would work out with a renewed intensity. I would also stop and enjoy the breaks that God gives. I would understand that God has a purpose in all of the afflictions I face and I must depend upon Him.
1 Peter 4:12-19; 5:8-9
1. Timothy provided the Thessalonian believers a huge source of spiritual comfort and encouragement (3:1-2). In the course of my spiritual growth, who has provided me the biggest spiritual lift in my quest for maturity? Has there been anyone in my life recently who has strengthened me and encouraged me in my faith? Who have I personally marked over the years that I have been a Christian? Who am I currently seeking to help grow spiritually?
2. Do I understand that suffering and trials are a part of the Christian life (3:3-4)? Why does this realization or reminder trouble me so much? How have I suffered for the cause of Christ? How did God use suffering in Jesus’ life (Heb 5:8)? To better comprehend the New Testament emphasis on suffering read Matthew 5:10-12; John 15:18, 20; 16:33; Acts 14:22; Rom 8:17; 2 Cor 4:7-11; 11:23-27; Philippians 1:29; 2 Tim 3:12; 1 Pet 2:21; 4:12-16.
3. Why is mutual love and respect between leaders and church members so important (3:6-8)? How can I be a source of joy to my pastors and elders (3:9)? Read Hebrews 13:17. As a church leader, how can I demonstrate servant-leadership toward those I minister with? Read Matthew 20:26-28.
4. Like Paul, do I pray “night and day” for opportunities to help others mature in Christ (3:10)? Most likely not, right? How can I take one step forward to increase my sense of zeal and urgency to help others grow in Christ? Is there anyone on my spiritual radar that I can help grow to completion?
5. How would I rate my current love for the body of Christ (3:12)? Could I describe my love for fellow believers by the terms that Paul uses: “increase and abound?” If not, why not? Read John 13:34-35; 15:12-17; Romans13:8; 1 Peter 4:8; and 1 John 4:7-13. What can I do to cultivate a greater love for my church family locally and universally? How does love for all the believers in God’s family prepare me for a good showing at the judgment seat of Christ (3:13)?
195 This title is a play on the slogan “Built Ford Tough.”
196 Copyright © 2008 Keith R. Krell. Permissions: Feel free to reproduce and distribute any articles written by Keith Krell, in part or in whole, in any format, provided that you do not alter the wording in any way or charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. It is our desire to spread this information, not protect or restrict it. Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: by Keith Krell, Timeless Word Ministries, 2508 State Ave NE Olympia, WA 98506, 360-352-9044, www.timelessword.com
197 The average gas price in Washington State at the time of this writing is $4.35.
198 David Jeremiah, “Spiritually Deflated,” Today’s Turning Point, 7/14/08.
199 This may be an epistolary “we” for Paul lapses into the first-person singular in 1 Thess 3:5. See Charles A. Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians. New International Greek Testament Commentary series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans/Exeter, England: Paternoster, 1990), 127 and G.K. Beale, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. IVP New Testament Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003), 95. Thomas explains further, “Yet his use of ‘us’ in 2:18 may well have been in a singular sense in light of the ‘I, Paul’ in the same verse. Also, 3:5 picks up the plural of 3:1 with the singular ‘I.’ For Paul to have used ‘we’ in v. 1 in any other than a singular sense would have defeated his apologetic desire to express his loneliness. If his long-time companion Silas had still been in Athens, there would have been little deprivation in Paul’s not having Timothy with him. He would not be ‘alone’ (monoi, v. 1) in the real sense of the word unless Silas too was away (Morris, NIC, pp. 98, 99). Robert L. Thomas, “1 Thessalonians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein and J. D. Douglas (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), Electronic ed.
200 The verb stego (“endure”) is used in the NT only in 1 Thess 3:1, 5; 1 Cor 9:12; and 13:7. This uncommon verb originally referred to “keeping water out of a vessel, such as with a watertight house or a boat that doesn’t leak (3:1; cf. 3:5). The image that the apostle paints, therefore, is of his deep affection for the Thessalonians that he is no longer able to contain within himself and prevent from leaking out.” Jeffrey A.D. Weima, “1 Thessalonians” in Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 417.
202 F. F. Bruce, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Word Biblical Commentary series (Waco, TX: Word, 1982), 64.
203 The only other use of the conjunction dio (“therefore”) in 1 Thess is found in 5:11.
205 The verb sterizo (“strengthen”) means “to support, stabilize, establish, fix, strengthen.” This word is used 14 times in the NT (Luke 9:51; 16:26; 22:32; Rom 1:11; 16:25; 1 Thess 3:2, 13; 2 Thess 2:17; 3:3; Jas 5:8; 1 Pet 5:10; 2 Pet 1:12; Rev. 3:2) and in all but two of its uses it is used metaphorically of providing some form of spiritual stability or strength.
206 Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians, 128.
207 This is based on the fact that 1 Thessalonians was written in 52 AD. In Paul’s later letter 1 Timothy, Timothy is told “let no one look down on your youthfulness” (4:12). Most scholars take this to mean Timothy was in his 30s, and it’s likely that 1 Timothy was written somewhere around 67 AD. This puts Timothy in his early to mid 20s during his mission in Thessalonica.
208 Paul sent Timothy to Corinth to help straighten out the problems there (1 Cor 16:10-11). He also planned to send Timothy to help the saints in Philippi (Phil 2:19-23). Timothy was a great discipler.
209 This is the only NT use of saino (“disturbed”). It originally referred to a dog wagging its tail.
210 The noun thilipsis (“afflictions”) is used by Paul in Rom 2:9; 5:3; 8:35; 12:12; 1 Cor 7:28; 2 Cor 1:4, 8; 2:4; 4:17; 6:4; 7:4; 8:2, 13; Eph 3:13; Phil 1:17; 4:14; Col 1:24; 1 Thess 1:6; 3:3, 7; 2 Thess 1:4, 6.
215 The imperfect tense proelegomen (“kept telling”) means repeated action in past time.
216 Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians, 130.
218 Michael Eaton, 1 & 2 Thessalonians. Preaching Through the Bible (Kent, England: Sovereign World, 1997), 45.
219 Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) once said, “I can resist anything except temptation.” Quoted in Sam Gordon, Hope and Glory. Truth for Today (Greenville, SC: Ambassador International, 2005), 112.
220 Ray Pritchard, “Living in Hard Times” (1 Thess 3:1-8): http://www.keepbelieving.com/sermon/1996-09-22-Living-in-Hard-Times/.
221 For the idea of useless efforts (or laboring in vain) cf. Gal 4:11; Phil 2:16; and for the OT background see Isa 49:4; 65:23. Michael W. Holmes, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 99 n. 16.
222 Keathley III, “Concern for the Thessalonians Continued.”
223 Wanamaker writes, “Contemporary Christians can learn from Paul’s missionary practice by recognizing that meaningful evangelism must aim for more than acceptance of Christian beliefs by converts. Evangelical Christianity needs to strive to create a social context or community in which converts may be resocialized into a new and distinctively Christian pattern of behavior and practice.” Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians, 139.
226 I. Howard Marshall, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. New Century Bible Commentary series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans and London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott Pub. Ltd., 1983), 94.
227 Eaton, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 47.
228 Beale, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 103.
229 Gene A. Getz, Standing Firm When You’d Rather Retreat: Based on 1 Thessalonians (Ventura, CA: Regal, 1986), 91.
230 Holmes writes, “There is clearly a substantial connection between these verses and those that precede them. The single sentence comprising 3:9-10 is closely joined with 3:8 by the conjunction gar (“for,” omitted by NIV, NRSV), and 3:11-13 form a ‘benediction’ that draws to a close the entire first part of the letter (1:2-3:13).” Holmes, 1 and 2 Thessalonians 113. See also Earl J. Richard, First and Second Thessalonians. Sacra Pagina (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 1995), 163-178 and Peter T. O’Brien, Introductory Thanksgivings in the Letters of Paul (Leiden: Brill, 1977), 156-164.
231 This prayer contains three optative verbal forms: kateuthunai, pleonasai, perisseusai (“direct,” “increase,” and “abound”). The optative mood is the mood of potentiality used in prayers.
233 The adverb huperekperissou (“most earnestly”) is a very strong, triple compound: huper + ek + perrisou (Eph 3:20; 1 Thess 5:13). Epaphras must have learned from Paul how to pray for people: “always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God” (Col 4:12).
234 The word “complete” (katartizo) was used for mending torn nets and setting broken bones. He used the same word in Gal 6:1 for restoring sinning saints and in Eph 4:12 for equipping all the saints for the work of ministry.
235 BDAG s.v. husterema 2: “a defect that must be removed so that perfection can be attained, lack, shortcoming.”
237 The word “Himself” (humon) is very emphatic in the Greek.
238 Paul addressed two members of the godhead in prayer. He regarded both of these as God as is clear from his use of a singular verb (“direct”) with a plural subject. “Himself” emphasizes Paul’s dependence on God to grant his request. See also 1 Thess 1:1; 2 Thess 2:16.
241 The entire Trinity is involved in this prayer. Paul addressed the Father and Son in 1 Thess 3:11. In 3:12 “the Lord” may refer to the Holy Spirit, since “our Lord” at the end of 3:13 certainly refers to Jesus Christ. If this is so, then this is the only prayer I know of in the NT directed to the Holy Spirit. The biblical pattern of prayer is: to the Father, through the Son, and in the Spirit. Since the Holy Spirit is the Sanctifier of the believer, and this is a prayer for holy living, the address is proper.
242 The word “you” (humas) is in the emphatic position (i.e., first word in the Greek sentence).
244 Gk. perisseuo: also translated “overflow” by the NIV and HSB. Paul uses this term in Rom 3:7; 5:15; 15:13; 1 Cor 8:8; 14:12; 15:58; 2 Cor 1:5; 3:9; 4:15; 8:2, 7; 9:8, 12; Eph 1:8; Phil 1:9, 26; 4:12, 18; Col 2:7; 1 Thess 4:1, 10.
246 Stott aptly writes, “Truth is hard if it is not softened by love, and love is soft if it is not strengthened by the truth.” John R.W. Stott, The Gospel and the End of Time: The Message of 1 and 2 Thessalonians (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1991), 70.
249 Thomas notes, “Earlier Paul has made ‘our Lord Jesus’ the judge at this scene (1Thess 2:19). This is no contradiction. The unity of the Father and Son, just seen in v. 11, allows a joint judgeship. The bema of Christ (2Cor 5:10) is also the bema of God (Rom 14:10), because Christ in his present session is with the Father in his heavenly throne (Rev 3:21; cf. Rom 8:34; Heb 1:3; 10:12). This hearing will take place at the future ‘visit’ (en te parousia, “in the coming”) of the Lord Jesus (cf. 2:19). For the Thessalonians Paul prays for a favorable verdict at that time.” Thomas, “1 Thessalonians,” Electronic ed.
250 Thomas explains, “Others present at this reckoning will be ‘all his holy ones.’ Their identity has been variously taken either as that of angels or of redeemed human beings, or both angels and redeemed human beings. The last possibility can be eliminated in that Paul would hardly include two such diverse groups in the same category. That angels alone are meant is unlikely in light of NT usage of hagioi (“holy ones”). Universally in Paul and perhaps the entire NT Jude 14 is debatable) it is a term for redeemed humanity, though usage in LXX and later Jewish literature differs. The redeemed are elsewhere associated with Christ at his return (2Thess 1:10). Since human beings are the objects of judgment and their holiness is what is in focus (cf. “blameless and holy”), it is entirely appropriate to identify “the holy ones” as other Christian people joined with the Thessalonian Christians before the bema of God and Christ.” Thomas, “1 Thessalonians,” Electronic ed.
251 Keathley righty notes, “In 3:13 Paul is referring to experiential sanctification. Paul would not pray for something to be accomplished that took place at conversion.” Keathley III, “Concern for the Thessalonians Continued.”
One day, Frederick the Great of Prussia was walking on the outskirts of Berlin when he encountered a very old man walking in the opposite direction. “Who are you?” Frederick asked his subject. “I am a king,” replied the old man. “A king!” laughed Frederick. “Over what kingdom do you reign?” “Over myself,” was the proud old man’s reply. This old man was on to something. Each of us is “monarch” over our own lives. By that I mean we are responsible for ruling our actions and decisions. To make consistently good decisions, to take the right action at the right time, and to refrain from the wrong actions requires character and self-discipline. To do otherwise is to lose control of ourselves—to potentially destroy our witness or disqualify ourselves from ministry. When we are foolish, we want to conquer the world. When we are wise, we want to conquer ourselves. This begins when we do what we should, no matter how we feel about it.
Today, in 1 Thess 4:1-12 we will learn how to do what we should. It is important to recognize that we have arrived at the center of the book of 1 Thessalonians. To clearly see this, it will be helpful to return to the theme of the letter found in 1:9-10. In these two verses, Paul summarizes the three components of the argument of his book.253 He writes, “(1) For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols (2) to serve a living and true God, and (3) to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.” The first section entails 2:1-3:13; the second section deals with our present text (4:1-12); and the third and final section encompasses the remainder of the book (4:13-5:28). The structure of the theme verses in 1:9-10 point readers to the center of the letter: “to serve the living and true God.” Or as I shall suggest, “walk His way.” In the twelve verses of 1 Thess 4:1-12, Paul exhorts us to walk His way by being sexually pure, loving other believers, and working not meddling.
In these first eight verses, Paul explains that God’s will is for us to become holy (“sanctified”) like Jesus. In 4:1-2 he writes, “Finally then,254 brethren, we request255 and exhort256 you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received257 from us instruction as to how you ought258 to walk and please259 God (just as you actually do walk260), that261 you excel still more.262 For you know263 what commandments264 we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.” Paul begins this chapter with the word “finally.”265 Have you heard the latest definition of an optimist? It is someone who believes the preacher is almost finished when he says “finally.” From a purely statistical point of view, it is interesting to note that in chapters 1-3 there is a total of 43 verses, and in chapters 4-5 there are a whopping 46 verses to add to the total! So the question is, “What does Paul mean when he says ‘finally?’” I would suggest it is almost like a change of gears as he moves into overdrive. He ups the ante. He raises the stakes. The word “finally” serves as the punch line.266 In chapters 4-5, Paul moves from the theological to the practical. Paul continually affirms believers in their position and encourages them in their practice.267 In 1 Thessalonians, he affirms that the Thessalonian believers are positionally chosen (1:4), yet he exhorts them to practically live out this positional truth by walking in obedience (2:12). In this passage, he encourages the Thessalonians with their present “walk”—their lifestyle of faith.268 The Christian life begins with a step of faith, but that step leads to a walk of faith. Christianity is not a sprint; it is a walk of perseverance along the way marked out for us by Jesus Christ. The biblical metaphor “walk” is an appropriate term that most likely came into use because Christianity was originally called “The Way” in Acts.269 What is of particular interest here is that Paul uses the word “walk” to bookend this section. The Greek word peripateo (“walk”) is used twice in 4:1 and again in 4:12 where the NASB renders it “behave.”270 Hence, the thrust of this passage is that you and I would walk with God, which entails seeking to please Him by receiving His instruction and obeying His commandments.271 Will you make a conscious decision to walk His way? It will be difficult, if not impossible, to continue to work through this passage unless you choose as an act of your will that you are going to obey God, whether you like it or not and whether you feel like it or not. I urge you with all that I am to walk His way.
Now the $6 million question is, “How do we please the Lord and walk His way?” There’s a simple answer—by doing the will of God. In 4:3-8, Paul insists that Christians must maintain their sexual purity. In 4:3-6a, Paul gives three specific instructions.
Young people and singles, perhaps you are thinking, “What kind of sick humor is this? God puts this sex drive in us then says, ‘Oh, but you have to wait.’ It’s cruel.” This is kind of like buying your 16-year-old son a brand new Lamborghini, parking it outside, and then saying, “It’s yours. It’s paid for, but there are no keys, and you can’t drive it.” So every day he has to walk by and look at it, sit in it, but cannot drive it. He has the car but nowhere to go. Is God crazy? No, He is very smart. God understands there are consequences to premature oneness. His design is for you and me to have this beautiful thing called intimacy and oneness in marriage, where two become one for life. When we choose to ignore God’s design, there are consequences.291
[Tear off a single piece of scotch tape, and begin sticking the tape to different people’s pants, shirts, and foreheads.] Each time I stick this tape on someone, when I pull it off, pieces of that person’s clothing stick to the tape. The more people I stick the tape to, the more adhesive was lost. This piece of tape is designed to stick things together, yet the more I use it on people’s clothing, the less sticky it becomes. The same thing happens with our sexuality. Sexuality is who we are. We want to be able to stick together through thick and thin so that we can enjoy the oneness waiting for us. When we go outside God’s principles, our stick-ability in marriage is diminished. Many of us are married and wonder why we don’t have the ability to have a cohesive relationship. This may be the reason why. God is not a killjoy. He’s just smart. He said oneness is what we are to pursue.292
In 4:6b-8, Paul shares three incentives to pursue sexual purity.
Perhaps, you’ve found yourself lost in the above instructions and incentives. If so, here are some other suggestions that may be helpful to you.
Before we move on, I really want you to hear that it is never too late to walk with God. Many of you have already sinned sexually. It is God’s will that you move on. God makes it clear that He will welcome you back and restore you to fellowship. As we trusted the finished work of Christ for salvation, so we trust His finished work on the cross for our sin (1 John 1:9-2:2). What Paul is saying in this section is that through our relationship with God, we can have the power and the discipline to stay sexually pure; or if we have already messed up, we can begin right now. God is simply waiting for you to confess your sin, receive His forgiveness, and go and sin no more. Or, if you prefer, walk His way.
[Why should you serve God by being sexually pure? For the simple reason that God loves you and wants the best for you.]
The transition from holiness to love is not a difficult one (cf. 3:11-13). God’s love is a holy love, so our love for God and for one another ought to motivate us to holy living. The more we live like God, the more we will love one another. If a Christian really loves his brother, he will not sin against him (4:6).305 Paul writes, “Now306 as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God307 to love one another; for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge308 you, brethren, to excel still more.” In these two verses, Paul reminds the Thessalonians that they should demonstrate “the love of the brethren.” The Greek word behind this phrase is philadelphia, which means “brotherly love.” In the New Testament it is used exclusively of the love Christians are to show to each other.309 Outside of the New Testament philadelphia is used only of love for blood brothers or sisters.310 The idea seems to be that believers should have a fondness for one another. This only occurs when the agape love of 4:10 is first implemented. The word “love” (agapao) in 4:10 is a different word for love than in the first phrase of 4:9. The word here is a self-sacrificing love produced by the Holy Spirit. This requires believers making a conscious decision of their wills to love and forgive one another. Paul reveals that the Thessalonians are exuding love for not only one another but all the brethren in their entire region. They are a model church, yet Paul urges these believers to “excel still more.” How can we accomplish this? First, it is important to recognize that the church is made up of individuals and families. Therefore, it is essential to love believers closest to you. If you don’t love those people closest to you, you won’t love the body of Christ at large. So if you are married, the most important person in your life is your spouse. You need to love your husband or wife with every fiber of your being. Obviously, you can do this by being sexually pure. But you can also listen to your spouse, verbally affirm your spouse, and support his or her dreams. If you have children or grandchildren, you must love those precious souls with unconditional love. One way I have found of doing this is adopting an area of their interest. If they like a sport, a type of music, or a particular hobby, do that with them—even if you don’t like it. If you are a student or a single, you are called to first and foremost love other believers in Christ. This means prioritizing your friendships with those in youth or college groups above those of your coworkers or friends. As a church, we are called to love people within our body. One of the most tangible ways you can do this is by simply reaching out to people on Sunday morning. This is as simple as greeting someone who looks new or lonely and seeking to befriend that person. Additionally, we are expected to love those believers outside of our church walls. On Friday, I had a phone call with a seminarian who is looking for a pastoral job, and he told me about a Presbyterian church in Eastern Washington that learned of a Hispanic Charismatic pastor in their community who wanted to go to seminary but couldn’t afford it. They decided to foot the bill! Theologically and philosophically these churches have very little in common, but they love Jesus and they love one another!
What does it mean that our love should “excel still more?” It means that we should increase in our sympathy for those in need, patience for those who are struggling, and tolerance toward those with whom we disagree. We can’t be satisfied with our past performance. We must excel still more in our love for others. Research shows that when the unchurched are asked what they are looking for in a church, the answer is always the same: They are looking for a caring church. Not just a friendly church, a relevant church, or a church with plenty of programs for the kids. As good and essential as those things are, they don’t touch the deepest heart cry of this generation, which is for a place where they can be loved truly and deeply. When the people of the world find such a place they stand in line to get in. This was the primary attraction of the early church. They had no buildings, no fancy programs, no large budgets, no radio, no TV. They had none of the things that we consider essential for success. Yet nothing could stop them. In just three centuries, Christianity conquered the Roman Empire. How did this happen? It was said of the early Christians, “Behold, how they love one another.”311 If we want to walk His way, we will love other believers.
[Why should you serve God by loving other believers? It pleases God and serves as a witness to the world.]
In this third and final section,Paul argues that our work is a witness. People are watching. We are witnesses! He puts it like this: “And to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave [“walk”]312 properly313 toward outsiders314 and not be in any need.” These challenging words should be understood in the context of 4:13-5:11, which teaches Christ’s return. Furthermore, in 5:14 there is yet another warning against slackness.315
This past week, I met with my men’s group at a deli where we have met for over a year. During the past several months, I’ve noticed a hardworking young woman who buses tables, washes windows, and mops toilets. I have been so impressed with her that I decided to approach her and commend her on her work ethic. After doing so, I told her that I would be glad to fill out a comment card expressing my appreciation. She said, “Why don’t you tell my manager? And tell him I need a raise.” I was happy to comply, because I know her manager. You can imagine my shock when her manager said, “She was just complaining to me about how she doesn’t want to do her job. But she will only be here for four more weeks.” The young woman ran over and attempted to explain herself but I was a bit underwhelmed. As we talked, I wondered if this young woman was a believer. (At this point, I was hoping that she is not!) I told her, “Someone (God) may be trying to tell you something.” By that I mean, “Keep working hard, but have a good attitude.” I then asked her, “What are your future plans?” She said, “I am going to return to BYU.” I laughed at the irony. Instead of Christians receiving a bad name, this time it was the Mormons. The point is this: God longs for us to use our work as a witness. He wants us to represent Him in our thoughts, attitudes, and actions. As we do so, we will see others drawn to Christ.
Let me say it again: Walk His way. When you walk His way life is not usually easier but God is glorified in and through you, and eventually the world sits up and takes notice. Will you be a Christian who is characterized by sexual purity, love for the brethren, and a godly work ethic? If so, you can change your world. For when you learn to conquer yourself and allow God’s Spirit to reign in and through you, your life and the lives of others will be changed for eternity. Walk His way.
1. Is my “walk” (i.e., personal behavior) pleasing to God (4:1-2)? What tangible examples of Christian maturity can I share from my own life? Am I seeking to “excel still more” in my obedience to God’s “instruction” and “commandments?” What specific area of my life is God presently working on? Am I aggressively responding to His leadership?
2. When I think of “the will of God” (4:3) what immediately comes to mind? Do I regularly reflect on my sexual purity (4:3)? How do I strive to maintain my purity? What have I learned from my failures and sins in the sexual realm? How can I teach others to learn from my mistakes? In what ways do I need to grow in my thoughts, words, and actions? Read Ephesians 5:3-5. Does this passage serve as my consuming passion? Why do I tolerate impurity when the Lord is clear that I “must” walk and please God (1 Thess 4:1b)?
3. Am I willing to take God’s Word at face value? Will I obey the Lord in all that He says (e.g., sexual purity, love for believers, a godly work ethic)? Do I recognize that when I fail to do so I am “rejecting” God (4:8)? How can I be a disciple that is “humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at God’s word” (Isaiah 66:2b)? Who can help me grow to become this type of submissive disciple? Will I contact this person today?
4. Will I make a conscious decision to love other believers in Christ (4:9-10)? How can I grow in my brotherly fondness (Greek = philadelphia) for fellow believers? At this very moment, is there a believer who I am struggling to love? How can I express love and compassion for this person? Will I take the initiative to seek this person out and attempt to bless and not curse? Read Romans 12:9-21. Am I using this passage as my measure of love for those believers who I know and serve with?
5. Am I so conscientious about my work, so skilled at what I do, so helpful to the people around me, that it makes them wonder why I work the way I do (4:11-12)? How can I improve my skills and attitude? If Jesus were working beside me, how would my work attitudes and actions change? What will it take for me to realize that Jesus observes all that I do and that His Spirit is grieved when I don’t work as unto Him? Read Ephesians 6:5-9 and Colossians 3:22-4:1.
252 Copyright © 2008 Keith R. Krell. Permissions: Feel free to reproduce and distribute any articles written by Keith Krell, in part or in whole, in any format, provided that you do not alter the wording in any way or charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. It is our desire to spread this information, not protect or restrict it. Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: by Keith Krell, Timeless Word Ministries, 2508 State Ave NE Olympia, WA 98506, 360-352-9044, www.timelessword.com
254 The strong conjunction oun (“therefore,” omitted in NIV), closely links the two major portions of the letter (1:2-3:13; 4:1-5:22). Michael W. Holmes, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 124.
256 Paul uses the verb parakaleo (“exhort,” “encourage,” “urge”)54 times in his 13 letters. It is noticeably present in 1 Thessalonians (2:12; 3:2, 7; 4:1, 10, 18; 5:11, 14).
257 The word translated “received” (paralambano) is used for accepting instructions passed on as fixed traditions from teacher to follower. Paul speaks in these terms about doctrinal traditions as well as ethical instruction that he passes on to his converts and expects them to keep (cf. 1 Cor 11:2, 23; 15:1-3; Gal 1:9; Phil 4:9; 2 Thess 2:15; 3:6).
258 The word “ought” is the Greek word dei, which means “it is necessary.” This is a very strong word.
260 The KJV/NKJV does not include this phrase which is a textual variant that seems to be genuine.
262 The word translated “excel” means “be outstanding, be prominent, excel” (see also 1 Cor 15:58 cf. 2 Cor 8:7ab; Col 2:7). In 1 Thess 4:1, 10 the addition of the adverb mallon (“still more”) leads to a definition of “progress more and more.” See BDAG s.v. perisseuo 1b b.
263 Paul uses the verb oida (“know”) throughout 1 Thessalonians (1:4, 5; 2:1, 2, 5, 11; 3:3, 4; 4:2, 4, 5; 5:2, 12).
265 The Greek word loipon (“finally”) typically introduces a new, sometimes concluding section in Paul’s letters.
266 Sam Gordon, Hope and Glory. Truth for Today (Greenville, SC: Ambassador International, 2005), 127.
268 Wiema writes, “The verb peripateo literally means ‘to walk’ but has the metaphorical sense of ‘living one’s life.’ It is not only one of Paul’s favorite words to describe the Christian life (it occurs 32 times in his letters), it is also one of his more strategic terms as it is used to introduce themes that the apostle considered to be fundamental. This metaphorical use of ‘walking’ to describe moral conduct has its roots in Paul’s Jewish background (approximately 200 of the 1547 occurrences of the Hebrew verb “to walk” in the Old Testament are metaphorical).” Jeffrey A.D. Weima, “1 Thessalonians,” Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 419.
270 The Pauline use of the verb peripateo (“walk”) makes for an interesting study: Rom 6:4; 8:4; 13:13; 14:15; 1 Cor 3:3; 7:17; 2 Cor 4:2; 5:7; 10:2-3; 12:18; Gal 5:16; Eph 2:2, 10; 4:1, 17 [2x]; 5:2, 8, 15; Phil 3:17-18; Col 1:10; 2:6; 3:7; 4:5; 1 Thess 2:12; 4:1 [2x], 12; and 2 Thess 3:6, 11.
271 The word “commandments” (paraggelia) was used of military commands passed down the ranks.
272 The definite article (“the”) is absent in the Greek text indicating that this is part of God’s will, not all of His will.
273 Paul uses the phrase “the will of God” in Rom 1:10; 8:27; 12:2; 15:32; 1 Cor 1:1; 2 Cor 1:1; 7:9-10; 8:5; Eph 1:1; 6:6; Col 1:1; 4:12; 1 Thess 4:3; 2 Tim 1:1; cf. Mark 3:35; Heb 10:36; 1 Pet 2:15; 4:2, 6, 19; 5:2; and 1 John 2:17.
274 The word hagiasmos (“sanctification”) is used in Rom 6:19, 22; 1 Cor 1:30; 1 Thess 4:3, 4, 7; 2 Thess 2:13; 1 Tim 2:15; Heb 12:14; and 1 Pet 1:2. In 1 Thessalonians, the term is referring to experiential sanctification, not positional sanctification.
276 This definition has been modified from BDAG s.v. apecho 5.
278 “Only if your God can say things that outrage you and make you struggle (as in a real friendship or marriage) will you know that you have gotten a hold of a real God and not a figment of your imagination.” Tim Keller, Belief in God in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Dutton Adult, 2008), 114.
282 Later in 5:18, Paul says that it is God’s will for the Thessalonians to give thanks in all things. So God’s will includes obedience to Him in several areas.
285 In 2 Thess 1:8 Paul declares that God will deal out “retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” Mayhue suggests, “This phrase probably has its origin in the Old Testament (cf. Ps 79:6; Jer 10:25).” Richard Mayhue, First and Second Thessalonians. Focus on the Bible (Great Britain: Christian Focus, 1999), 111.
286 The word huperbaino (“transgress”) is only used here in the NT.
288 This may refer to taking liberties with another brother’s family (cf. 4:9) or to the term “brother” could refer to any other human, similar to “neighbor” in 4:12. It is likely that the term is a generic reference to humankind.
289 The definite article (to)demonstrates that Paul is referring to 4:3-5.
290 Gordon, Hope and Glory, 146.
291 In his book, Forbidden Fruit: Sex & Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers, sociology professor Mark Regnerus says evangelical teens are slightly more sexually active than their non-evangelical peers. Non-evangelical teens have sex for the first time at age 16.7, versus 16.3 for evangelicals. Worse, 13.7% of evangelical teens have had three or more sex partners, versus 8.9% of their non-evangelical peers. World Magazine reports 80% of U.S. teens claiming to be born-again agree that sex outside of marriage is morally wrong, yet 66% violate their own beliefs. “Evangelical teens don’t have sex less than their non-evangelical friends; they just feel guiltier about it.” He credits the clash of cultures in the evangelical youth experience: urged to drink deeply from the waters of American individualism and its self-focused pleasure ethic, yet asked to value time-honored religious traditions like family and chastity. “Who can serve two masters? Teens need a pure community of true believers who teach the truth about sex, including its beauty in marriage.” Church Leaders Intelligence Report Enclosed - 05.14.08 OneNewsNow 3/29/08
292 Kenny Hibbard, “What’s a Single to Do?” http://preachingtoday.com/sermons/mediacollectionsn365/whatsasingletodo.html?start=3.
295 BDAG s.v. ekdikos.
296 Hibbard, “What’s a Single to Do?”
298 The repetition of “sanctification” in 4:3 and 7 forms an inclusio or “bookend” encasing the warning about immorality, all of which undergirds the reason Christians should please God. F. F. Bruce, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Word Biblical Commentary series (Waco, TX: Word, 1982), 81.
299 Michael Eaton, 1 & 2 Thessalonians. Preaching Through the Bible (Kent, England: Sovereign World, 1997), 57.
301 The unusual Greek construction to pneuma hagion (“the Spirit holy”) lays stress upon the Spirit as holy.
302 William Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians. Daily Study Bible series. 2nd ed. and reprint ed. (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew, 1963), 231.
303 Paul’s description of God’s giving his Holy Spirit “into you,” is an expression that echoes exactly the words of Ezekiel (see Ezek 37:6, 14 [LXX]; see also 36:27).
305 Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Ready: 1 Thessalonians, Electronic ed.
306 The phrase peri de (“now about”) typically introduces new topics that were likely raised by the Thessalonians and communicated through Timothy back to Paul (1 Thess 4:13; 5:1; cf. 1 Cor 7:1, 25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1, 12). Nevertheless, 4:9-12 is still related to 4:1-8 and 3:12-13. G.K. Beale, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. IVP New Testament Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003), 124.
307 The word theodidaktos (“taught by God”) only occurs here in the NT and seems to refer to the teachings of Jesus in the Upper Room (John 13:34; 15:12, 17). Bruce, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 90 and Beale, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 125. An almost exact statement is made in Isa 54:13 and quoted in John 6:45. A similar idea is contained in the New Covenant promise of Jer 31:33-34. This appears to be the ministry of the Spirit spoken of by John (cf. 1 John 2:20, 27). See Mayhue, First and Second Thessalonians, 114. “Taught by God” refers to the teachings of Jesus in the Upper Room (John 13:34; 15:12, 17).
Bruce, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 90 and Beale, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 125.
308 The Greek text has one command, “we urge,” an object, “you,” followed by four infinitives (4:10b, 11), and a final clause that gives the intended outcome (4:12).
310 BDAG s.v. philadelphia.
315 I. Howard Marshall, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. New Century Bible Commentary series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans and London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott Pub. Ltd., 1983), 117 and Beale, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 128.
319 This is the way the NIV translates this phrase.
Early Edition was a popular television program in the 1990s that featured a young man who received the next day’s newspaper a day ahead of time. Because he always knew the future, this man’s task in each episode was to save people from a tragedy or problem he had read about in tomorrow’s paper. So if he knew a building was going to burn, he tried to keep people from entering it. Or if someone was going to be hurt by an act of violence or an accident he tried to prevent the encounter from taking place.322
If you own a Bible, you have an “early edition” of future events. By reading God’s prophetic Word, you can know God’s plan for all eternity. Perhaps you’re thinking, “I’m not interested in prophecy and all that end times gobblygook.”323 To which I would reply, “Do you long to have hope?” By hope I mean absolute confidence and peace in your present and future circumstances. Hope is one of the great characteristics of Christian reality. At the start of the letter (1:3), Paul tells us that hope produces perseverance. If there is no hope in the church, there will be no perseverance, and no perseverance will mean the demise of local churches.324 Fortunately, there is good news: God provides hope in a hopeless world. In 1 Thess 4:13-18, Paul shares two convictions that we can count on.
In this first section, Paul promises us that if we have placed our faith in Christ, we will one day be resurrected. In 4:13 Paul reveals a problem: “But we do not want you to be uninformed,325 brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.” The word “but” introduces a new subject but also connects to the previous paragraph. The restlessness of disorderly believers (4:11-12) was, in part, caused by an incomplete understanding of the resurrection of the body.326 The Thessalonians rightly understood that Christ was going to return; however, they had not considered the possibility that some of their loved ones and friends would die before it occurred.327 They, therefore, plunged into deep grief. Doubts filled their minds as to the status of these prematurely deceased believers. All sorts of questions were going through their minds: “What will happen to our loved ones who die before Christ returns? Will they miss out on the resurrection? What about those of us who are alive when Christ returns? Will we receive our resurrection bodies then or later?”
In light of these questions, Paul educates these believers about the status of their brothers and sisters who have passed away. In 4:13, he states the purpose of this entire passage with the phrase “so that328 you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.” Is Paul being cruel and heartless here? No! It is not wrong to grieve over the death of a loved one. Jesus Himself grieved over the death of Lazarus (John 11:35) and He knew full well He was going to bring him back to life. Paul merely says that when death comes we should not grieve hopelessly but mourn with hope. Our attitude toward death is a distinguishing feature that witnesses to the reality of the gospel. This is yet another example of leading a “quiet life” (cf. 4:11).329
One day when I was ten years old, I walked into my parents’ bedroom, pushed open the pocket door to the bathroom, and saw my mom sobbing with unspeakable grief. She told me that her dad had died without believing in Christ. The horror of that moment marked my young life. I will go to my own grave with this memory. It devastated me! Now fast forward with me 23 years to a hospital room in San Jose, CA where my mom watched her mother pass away. While my mom cried, this time there was also hope and gratitude in her tears. You see, my mom had the privilege of leading my grandma to faith in Christ when was 62 years old. In these two deaths, I saw in stark contrast the difference between the way the world grieves and the way followers of Jesus grieve. As far as my family knows, my grandpa is in hell because he rejected Christ. On the other hand, I am confident that my grandma is at home in heaven and will come back with Jesus someday. For you see, when believers die it is not “goodbye,” but only “good night.” We will see them again when Jesus returns. God provides hope in a hopeless world.
Now I recognize that you may not want to think about death today. One of the things that Christians and non-Christians have in common is that we don’t like to think about death. 52% of unchurched adults say they never wonder if they will go to heaven after they die.330 Death is usually the last thing we want to talk about; it makes us squirm and feel uncomfortable. And yet, life being what it is, we cannot walk away from it.331 Where is your hope found? If it’s not found in Jesus Christ, you are without hope. You may have happiness, but you do not have hope. There is no hope apart from Christ. If you put your hope in your church, you will be disappointed. If you put your hope in your friends and family, they will fail you. If you place your hope in your job or your money, you will be disillusioned. Only Christ offers permanent, eternal hope. Today, at this very moment, will you believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior from sin? Will you stop trying to be “good enough” to please God? Instead, will you trust in the only One who can meet God’s expectations? The Lord Jesus Christ offers you eternal life as a free gift if you will simply ask Him for it. God provides hope in a hopeless world.
In 4:14, Paul gives his first reason why we can have hope. He writes, “For if [since] we believe that Jesus died and rose again,332 even so God333 will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” The inevitable result of believing that Jesus died and rose is the hope that He will return. In other words, the return of Christ is as certain as His death and resurrection.334 Our hope for the future is grounded in the certainty of the past.335 This verse is also clear that those who have “fallen asleep in Jesus” will return with Him.336 The term “asleep” is a euphemism for death (4:13, 14, and 15).337 The Bible never uses the term “asleep” or “sleep” when referring to unbelievers—only the passing of believers. “Sleep” explains what happens to a Christian’s body at death, NOT his spirit or soul. The Bible never teaches that a Christian’s soul goes to sleep upon death. Soul-sleep is a false doctrine that is taught by Jehovah Witnesses or Seventh-day Adventists. The soul of the dead is unconscious in reference to this world338 but wide awake and fully conscious of the world to come.339 Stephen’s spirit went to be with the Lord, but his body fell asleep (Acts 7:60). After death, the thief on the cross was with Jesus in Paradise (Luke 23:43). When a believer dies, his or her spirit goes immediately into the presence of Christ. Paul wrote in 2 Cor 5:8 that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” The moment a Christian dies, that person’s spirit leaves the body and is immediately with the Lord. The body, not the soul, sleeps in death. This is why the New Testament writers use the term “sleep” or “asleep” for believers. If you are a Christian, you will not taste death for even a nanosecond. Before the doctor has a chance to pronounce you dead, you will be in the Lord’s presence. God provides hope in a hopeless world.
In 4:15-16, Paul shares the second reason why we can have hope. In 4:15 he writes, “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not340 precede those who have fallen asleep.” Most likely this “word of the Lord”341 was given in one of Christ’s appearances to Paul (cf. Acts 18:9-10).342 Paul states that those believers who make up the church of Jesus Christ will rise together when Jesus returns. Those who are asleep will meet up with their spirits, while those who are alive will rise and be given a new glorified body. The bottom line is this: We all are simultaneously given new bodies. I like to think of it like this: Those who are asleep in Jesus have caught an earlier train to their final destination of glory. Today we are standing on the station platform, and who knows, we may be on the next one!343
Paul explains himself further in 4:16 where he discloses the details of Christ’s return: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.” The return of Jesus will occur with three sounds: Christ’s shout, the archangel’s voice, and the trumpet of God. The word “shout” is a military expression and it indicates a command or an order that is given.344 It is as if the troops are standing at ease and the command issued is, “Come to attention!” This voice will wake the dead.345 We don’t know the specific content of the command; however, in biblical times whenever the king was coming to a village, the town crier ran ahead and shouted, “The king is coming! The king is coming!” In the same way, the King of Kings will make His entrance known to the entire world.346
The second sound is the archangel’s voice. Daniel 10:13 implies several archangels, but the Bible only mentions one, Michael (Jude 9). Michael is most likely the leader of the holy angels. Since he and the other angels have been commissioned to protect God’s people (Dan 12:1; Heb 1:14), it may be that he is present to protect God’s people from Satan and his forces as they pass through his domain.347
The final sound is the trumpet of God. The archangel and trumpet of God are united by the conjunction “and” so that the archangel is represented as sounding God’s trumpet.348 Since the days when Israel was camped down at Mount Sinai, trumpets were used to call God’s people together for assembly (Num 10:2). This trumpet blast summons the church to gather in heaven (cf. 1 Cor 15:52).
There are two different views regarding these sounds: One is that these sounds are only heard by believers; another view suggests that these sounds are heard by everyone. I prefer the latter view because I think this makes it more difficult for Oprah and others to explain away the rapture. Seriously, these three descriptions sound rather public, don’t they? It is likely that unbelievers will be aware that something unique, supernatural, and amazing is taking place; however, they will not understand its meaning and significance.349
Paul is clear that dead believers will rise before living believers (cf. 1 Cor 15:52). Yet, not just any person will rise from the dead but only those who are “in Christ.” The Bible never claims that Old Testament saints are “in Christ.” The “dead in Christ” refers only to those believers who have died since the ascension of Christ. Paul is addressing Christians who have died in the church age.350 He was comforting those Thessalonians who had lost loved ones by saying, “Death is not as final as it seems. Your loved ones have not missed out on the coming of the Lord. In fact, they will be the first ones to receive their brand-new bodies.”351 This answers the Thessalonians’ concerns. No one who has placed his or her faith in Jesus Christ will in any way miss out on His return. God provides hope in a hopeless world.
[Why should you hope in your resurrection? Why should you have confidence that God will raise your loved ones who have believed in Christ? God’s Word authoritatively says so!]
In this second section, Paul says we can be certain that Christ will come for us and we will be reunited with Him and our fellow believers. In 4:17 he writes, “Then we352 who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.” This verse teaches there is a Christian generation that will not experience death. Like Enoch and Elijah in the Old Testament,353 some believers will bypass death and be taken directly to heaven. The phrase “caught up” comes from the Greek verb harpazo, which means “to grab or seize suddenly.”354 This word is used of Paul being taken into heaven (2 Cor 12:2, 4). It is also used of Phillip being snatched after baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:39). This word is also where we get the term “rapture.” When the New Testament was translated into Latin (i.e., the Vulgate), the scholars rendered harpazo as the Latin verb rapturo. It is just a short step then from the noun form raptura to the English word “rapture.”355
Paul writes that we will be raptured or “caught up” with the Lord and His people in the clouds.356 When you look up into the sky and see the clouds, what do you think of? If you’re like me, you instantaneously think of the fact that Jesus could crack the sky and return at any moment. Last night, I was sitting on my porch swing with my nine-year-old son, Justin. We were going through a discipleship workbook. He was reading aloud and I was gazing at the clouds above and I couldn’t shake the thought that Jesus could return at that very moment. Whenever we look up into the sky and see clouds, we should be reminded of the reality of Christ’s return. Interestingly, “clouds” are often used figuratively in the Bible to refer to the presence and glory of God.357 It is best in this passage to understand the clouds as referring to the visible presence and glory of the Lord.358 Thus, at the rapture, it is the glorious Lord Jesus who appears and brings the saints359 into the presence of His glory.360God provides hope in a hopeless world.
How will the rapture happen? 1 Cor 15:51 teaches that the rapture will take place “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.” The Greek word for moment is the word from which we get the English word “atom.” For years, the atom was thought to be the smallest, most irreducible part of matter. They’ve now split the atom, but the point is still made that the time it will take for Christ to rapture His church is infinitesimally small. The twinkling of an eye is the time it takes for your eye to catch light, which is a lot faster than a blink. We will be changed and given our new bodies instantly.361 Stop for just a moment and blink your eyelid. The return of Christ will be quicker than that! One moment you’re baking cookies, the next moment you’re flying like Superman. One second you’re eating pizza, the next you’re in the air. One minute you’re in the shower, the next you’re being blown dry at 30,000 feet. Just like that. We will be here one moment and gone the next. Paul then says we shall be with the Lord forever…and ever…and ever. God provides hope in a hopeless world.
As I have implied, this passage suggests that Paul believes Christ could return at any moment.362 In other words, there are no other signs that need to be fulfilled before Christ returns. This view is often called the pre-tribulation rapture (i.e., before the tribulation). In brief summary, the pre-tribulation position believes that Jesus Christ could rapture His church into heaven at any time. Immediately following this event, the judgment seat of Christ will take place.363 While this is going on in heaven, the tribulation will begin on earth. This will last for a period of seven years. At the conclusion of the seven years, Christ will return in power and glory and set up His kingdom in Jerusalem for a thousand years (i.e., the millennium). During this time He will fulfill the Old Testament promises He made to Israel. Once this is complete, the eternal state will be ushered in. This view is certainly not held by all Christians,364 yet at this time in my study, I believe this view is the best position. Although there are problems with the pre-trib position and every other position, I believe the pre-trib position has the least amount of problems. Practically speaking, the pre-trib position allows me to expect Jesus Christ to return at any moment. This motivates me to be holy because I never know when my Master will return. However, I am also humble enough to recognize that I could easily be wrong in my interpretation of Scripture. Every year, I teach eschatology to college students at Ecola Bible School. The longer I teach this subject, the more I realize how little I know. The danger with the end times is many people know just enough to be dangerous. Thus, we must all be careful not to become proud and divisive in our understanding of the end times. We must hold our eschatological views loosely. As Yogi Berra once said, “Predictions are tricky—especially when they involve the future.”365 Even though I am pre-trib, I am preparing to endure tribulation. You could say that this is playing the end against the middle, but I see it as the wisest way to live the Christian life. Expect Jesus Christ to return at any moment, but be prepared to suffer greatly before He comes.
Verse 18 is the main point of this passage. Paul concludes this passage with this command: “Therefore comfort one another with these words.”366Notice what Paul doesn’t say: He doesn’t say, “Therefore, make charts based on these words,” or “Write theology books based on these words.” He doesn’t say, “Set dates, sell your possessions, run to the hills, and form a Christian militia.” Nor does he suggest that we should go our merry way without paying any further regard to these future events.367 Rather, Paul commands us to “comfort one another.” Most English versions prefer the translation “encourage” (NET, ESV, HSB, NIV) over “comfort” (NASB, NKJV). I opt for this rendering as well. “Comfort” is an aspect of the overarching word “encourage.”368 We are to encourage one another with the reality of our future resurrection and reunion.
Last night, my children did an outstanding job cleaning up after dinner. When they finished, I encouraged them. Instantaneously, I was reminded of a chant I have taught my children, “Encourage one another… encourage one another… encourage one another.” I told them that I am going to use this chant in my sermon tomorrow. My oldest child, Joshua, said, “Dad, you’ve already used that one or two times.” I said, “That’s the point, Joshua. I have to continually remind our church to encourage one another.” So will you heed the words that I continually repeat to my children? Repeat after me: “Encourage one another… encourage one another… encourage one another.” This is a biblical command from the Lord Himself!
So how can we encourage one another today?
The return of Jesus Christ is sure, it’s wonderful, and it could happen anytime. It’s like a telephone answering machine that tells you, “I’m not home now, but when I return I will call you.” If the person we have called is reliable, we can expect a return call even though we don’t know whether it will be five minutes or five hours before it comes.369 Jesus is coming back! It could happen at any moment. Whatever you are going through right now, as painful as it may be, it is only temporary. In a very short while, you and I will be resurrected and reunited with Christ and our loved ones. In the midst of battles with sin, suffering, and Satan, God provides hope in a hopeless world. May we hope in this promise because it is our only hope.
John 5:24-29; 11:21-27
1. What was the general attitude about death in my family growing up? Who was the first person I was close to who died? How did this person’s death affect me? What else has shaped my view of death and dying? How have I responded when I have lost a non-Christian loved one in death? What was the difference when losing a Christian loved one?
2. The Bible teaches that the moment a believer dies he or she goes immediately and directly into the presence of Christ. Read 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 and Philippians 1:21-23. How does this comfort my fears and uncertainties? Paul anchors the Christian’s hope in the death and resurrection of Jesus. According to 1 Corinthians 15:14-19, what are some of the consequences if Jesus did not truly rise from the dead?
3. Could Jesus return today? Why or why not? How is this reality affecting my life today? What one area of my life do I need to relinquish control of? Who will I share this with? Is there a relationship I need to make right before Christ’s return? What will I do today to make contact with is individual?
4. Is there someone in my life who is currently going through grief? How can I offer comfort to this person? What, if anything, should I say? What can I do to show the love of Christ? Read 2 Corinthians 1:3-4. Who has recently comforted or encouraged me with God’s truth? Did I express my gratitude to this brother or sister? Read Hebrews 10:23-25.
5. Do I have a balanced understanding of the end times? Am I prone to dogmatism, pessimism, escapism, or sensationalism? If so, how can I return to a biblical balance? Are my views based upon Scripture, the opinions of others, experience, or personal preference? How can I ensure that I do my best to seek the Scriptures when deriving my theological convictions on the end times?
321 Copyright © 2008 Keith R. Krell. Permissions: Feel free to reproduce and distribute any articles written by Keith Krell, in part or in whole, in any format, provided that you do not alter the wording in any way or charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. It is our desire to spread this information, not protect or restrict it. Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: by Keith Krell, Timeless Word Ministries, 2508 State Ave NE Olympia, WA 98506, 360-352-9044, www.timelessword.com
322 Tony Evans, The Best is Yet to Come (Chicago: Moody, 2000), 15.
323 It is worth noting that for every prophecy on the first coming of Christ when He was born as a babe in Bethlehem, there are eight prophecies on the second coming of Christ. This truth is central to the Word of God. Statisticians tell us there are 1,845 OT references to Christ’s return. A total of 17 books out of a possible 39 give it prominence. When we move across to the NT, the figures are no less impressive. Of the 260 chapters in the NT, there is a minimum of 318 references to Christ’s return. That comes out to about one verse for every 30 verses in the whole NT. Sam Gordon, Hope and Glory. Truth for Today (Greenville, SC: Ambassador International, 2005), 152-53.
324 David Jackman, The Authentic Church (Great Britain: Christian Focus 1998), 117.
328 Gk. hina, a conjunction introducing the purpose, aim, or goal.
329 G.K. Beale, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. IVP New Testament Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003), 130.
330 Church Leaders Intelligence Report 08/06/08.
331 Gordon, Hope and Glory, 156.
332 The death and resurrection of Jesus is the irreducible minimum of the gospel. A person cannot become a Christian without believing these two great truths (see Acts 2:23-24; 3:14-15; 5:30; Rom 4:25; 8:34; 14:9; 2 Cor 5:14-15; and Rev 1:8).
333 Keathley III notes, “God is emphatic in the Greek text and lays stress on the idea that this is nothing less than the miraculous work of God through the Son of God Himself.” Hampton Keathley III, “The Comfort of His Coming” (1 Thess 4:13-18): An Exegetical and Devotional Commentary on First Thessalonians (www.bible.org).
334 This phrase is a first-class conditional sentence in Greek in which, assuming for the sake of argument the reality of the first clause, the truth of the second clause necessarily follows. Beale, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 135.
335 Jackman, The Authentic Church, 119.
336 Paul has just said that dead believers are asleep. If they were simply buried in the ground awaiting the resurrection, how could Christ bring them back from heaven with Him when He returns? You can’t come back with someone unless you’re already with him. But Paul clearly said that sleeping things will come back with Jesus when He returns.
337 Surprisingly, the word koimao (“sleep”) is only used by Paul elsewhere in 1 Corinthians (7:39; 11:30; 15:6, 18, 20, 51). “Cemetery” (koimeterion) comes from koimao and means “a place of sleep.”
340 Note the emphatic use of the strong Greek double negative ou me (“never—no never”).
341 The “word of the Lord” is a technical expression in OT literature, often referring to a divine prophetic utterance (e.g., Gen 15:1; Isa 1:10; Jonah 1:1). In the NT it occurs 15 times: 3 times as rhema tou kuriou; Luke 22:61; Acts 11:16; 1 Pet 1:25 and 12 times as logos tou kuriou; here and in Acts 8:25; 13:44, 48, 49; 15:35, 36; 16:32; 19:10, 20; 1 Thess 1:8; 2 Thess 3:1. As in the OT, this phrase focuses on the prophetic nature and divine origin of what has been said. See NET Study notes.
342 Richard Mayhue, First and Second Thessalonians. Focus on the Bible (Great Britain: Christian Focus, 1999), 121.
Stott argues, “But whenever Paul uses this phrase “the Lord’s own word” elsewhere in his other writings it refers to something Jesus himself taught.” John R.W. Stott, The Gospel and the End of Time: The Message of 1 and 2 Thessalonians (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1991), 99. Consequently, post-tribulationists like Beale argue that Paul has in mind Matt 24:30-49. Beale, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 136-137.
Gordon, Hope and Glory, 163
343 Gordon, Hope and Glory, 163.
348 William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of I and II Thessalonians. Reprint ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1955), 116.
349 Paul N. Benware, Understanding End Times Prophecy (Chicago: Moody, 1995), 160. Thomas exclaims, “The King is coming unexpectedly, personally, suddenly, visibly, audibly, and spectacularly.” Robert L. Thomas, “1 Thessalonians,” In The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein and J.D. Douglas (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), 122.
350 Dan 12:1-2 predicts the resurrection of the righteous dead of OT times as well as the righteous martyrs of the Tribulation at the second coming of Christ (Rev 20:4-6). Believers of the church age will already have been changed and raised at the Rapture. The unsaved dead are left in their graves. They will be raised at the Great White Throne judgment 1000 years later, see Rev. 20:5).
351 Robert Jeffress, As Time Runs Out (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1999), 58.
352 The fact that Paul used the pronoun “we” in 4:15 and 17 suggests that he expected to be alive when the Lord returned.
355 While the word “rapture” does not occur in our English translations of the Bible, the sense of the word is surely there. The word “Trinity” does not appear in the Bible either, yet no informed Christian denies its truth.
356 This is one of the primary differences between the rapture and the Second Coming. At the rapture, Christ never sets foot on the earth; at the second coming, “His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east” (Zech 14:4).
357 E.g., Exod 14:19-24; 16:10; 19:9, 16; 20:21; 40:34-38).
358 F. F. Bruce, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Word Biblical Commentary series (Waco, TX: Word, 1982), 102.
359 In Rev 19:8, when the church returns with Jesus to earth, she has already been clothed in fine linen, a picture of her rewards for good works. Thus, in this context the church is going to heaven to appear before the judgment seat of Christ.
360 Benware, Understanding End Times Prophecy, 162.
361 Evans, The Best is Yet to Come, 136-37.
362 Theologians call this the doctrine of the imminent return of Christ. “Imminent” means that it can happen at any moment. As Christians, we do not look for signs, nor must any special events transpire before the Lord can return.
364 The various rapture views are laid out in the chart below.
The Pretribulational Rapture
The rapture will occur before the tribulation period begins.
The Partial Rapture
Faithful Christians will be raptured while those who are unfaithful will be left to go through the purging of the tribulation.
The Midtribulational Rapture
The rapture will occur at the midpoint of the tribulation.
The Prewrath Rapture
The rapture will occur five-and-a-half years through the tribulation, when the wrath of God begins to be poured out on the earth at the seventh seal.
The Postribulational Rapture
The rapture will occur at the end of the tribulation right before Christ’s second coming.
365 Larry Dixon, Doctalk: A Fairly Serious Survey of All That Theological Stuff (Ross-shire, England: Christian Focus, 2002), 341.
366 Thomas observes, “They would be comforted by: (1) the fact of these events; (2) their certainty; (3) their order, with the dead being resurrected for; (4) the expectation of reunion; (5) the irreversibility of these event; and (6) the eternal prospect of these events.” Thomas, “1 Thessalonians,” 124.
367 God didn’t reveal these things to satisfy our curiosity to solve puzzles, but to help us follow Jesus confidently. The important thing is that we should be ready when Jesus comes.
369 Tony Evans, Who is This King of Glory? (Chicago: Moody, 1999), 116.
What is the difference between ignorance and apathy? I don’t know and I don’t care! That’s the way a lot of people feel about Christ’s return. They don’t know and they don’t care. Yet, the Bible repeats this theme over and over again.371 Did you know that 27% of the Bible is prophecy?372 In the Old Testament there are over 1,800 references to Christ’s return. Of the 260 chapters in the New Testament, there are more than 300 references to Christ’s return—one out of every 30 verses. Twenty-three of the 27 New Testament books give prominence to this subject. For every biblical prophecy concerning Christ’s first coming, there are eight prophecies about His second coming.373 In spite of this biblical data, many of us are so familiar with end-times teaching that we have tuned out. This tendency reminds me of how we treat our alarm clocks. We have grown so accustomed to hearing them sound off that we can press snooze as we sleep right through the alarm warning us to rise from our slumber. In light of our human tendency to forget and ignore God’s Word, Paul sounds a red alert: “Don’t get caught sleeping!” In 1 Thess 5:1-11, Paul issues three exhortations to live in light of the last days.374
In this first section, Paul says we should be well-versed in biblical prophecy. He writes, “Now as to375 the times376 and the epochs,377 brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know378 full well379 that the day of the Lord will come380 just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, ‘Peace and safety!’381 then destruction382 will come upon them suddenly383 like labor pains384 upon a woman with child, and they will not385 escape” (5:1-3). Paul reminds the Thessalonians that they are well taught when it comes to end-times doctrine. Specifically, Paul has taught them about “the day of the Lord.” The day of the Lord is that future time when God will judge the world and punish the nations.386 In 5:2, Paul says that this day will come “like a thief in the night.”387 The trouble with thieves is that they do not tell us when they are coming. It is not their habit to send a warning postcard. The same unexpectedness will characterize the day of the Lord.388 In 5:3, Paul also says that this day will come upon unbelievers like labor pains upon a pregnant woman.389 My female sources tell me that labor pains are more uncomfortable than painful. They are bearable (easy for me to say, right?). A woman may feel one, and then not feel another for fifteen minutes or more. But as the moment of birth approaches, the pains become more acute—and they get closer together. There comes a point where the woman has to make a mad dash for the maternity wing of the local hospital. In the same way, during the day of the Lord, times will be frightfully bad—but to add fuel to the raging fire—they will escalate out of hand rapidly.390 Yet, in the midst of this, the world will be declaring peace and security.
It is worth noting that the word translated “full well” (akribos) indicates that the Thessalonians gained knowledge of the day of the Lord from Paul’s accurate teaching of the Old Testament. The root word for “full well” means “pointed.” Paul pointedly expounded the Bible. He paid close attention to details when he read the Bible. He didn’t hold anything back. He gave the Thessalonians the “skinny” as it pertained to the whole counsel of God’s Word, including the end-times. Like Paul, I have intentionally sought to teach you end-times doctrine. Since I have come to EBF, I have taught Revelation, Luke’s end-times parables, end-time passages from Mark, 1 Corinthians, 1 John, and now 1 Thessalonians. The reason that I have prioritized teaching on the end-times is so that you will be both prepared and motivated. But I must warn you: In Luke 12:48b Jesus says, “To whom much is given much is required.” With knowledge comes accountability. This is the most sobering reality about attending a Bible church. Can I ask you a few questions? What do you currently know about the end-times? Are you living out your knowledge? Or are you foolishly living as if you are guaranteed tomorrow and Christ couldn’t possibly return today? I encourage you to wise up to end-times doctrine. Don’t get caught sleeping!
[We are called to wise up to end-times doctrine because God expects us to know what He declares in His Word. And in the end, we will be held accountable for our knowledge or lack thereof.]
In this second section, Paul reminds us of who we are in Christ. He puts it like this: “But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you391 are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness.”
The phrase “but you, brethren”392 is very emphatic. Paul is saying, “In contrast to the unbelievers in 5:2-3, believers will not be ‘surprised’393 by the day of the Lord.”394 The reason Paul gives is that believers are not in darkness; rather, they are “sons of light and sons of day.” Notice that Paul does not say, “You are all sons in light and sons in the day” but “of the light” and “of the day.” The issue is not where they are but who they are. We are “of day” because Christ has given us new life. We are lights in the world (Matt 5:14) because He is the “light of the world” (John 1:1-9; 8:12; 9:5). Jesus was the light as long as He was on the earth. In the same way, God characterizes us according to our nature. We are not in darkness, but are sons and daughters of light and sons and daughters of day. This is true for each and every person who has believed in Jesus Christ. Paul brings this home with the use of the word “all” in 5:5. Every Christian is defined as light and day, not just some.395 So if you’re a believer, don’t get caught sleeping!
Maybe you’re thinking, “I’ve failed Christ and don’t deserve to serve Him.” Well, that’s true of you and me both. We have all miserably failed Christ. No one deserves to serve Him. Nevertheless, Christ longs to use us in a powerful way. Therefore, we must recognize that we represent Him for good or bad since we are His ambassadors as long as we live (2 Cor 5:20). We may be poor examples, but we are nonetheless His people, who need to be reminded of this truth: The world is not dark because of all the evil; the world is dark because so few Christians are giving off light. God illumines Christians but we are often guilty of hiding our light under a basket (Matt 5:15). Why is this? I maintain that many Christians don’t recognize who they are. When we are confused about our identity with Christ we will remain in an infantile state. Obviously, this is unacceptable. You would never be content with your children if they refused to grow up. Likewise, the Lord says, “Believer, get out of the nursery and into the infantry. I need you on the front lines of my battle brigade.” One way to be useful is by working through our identity in Christ. You can do this by simply reading through the New Testament and noting every description God applies to believers. I go through a worksheet that I have created called, “Who You Are in Christ.” If you are interested in using this resource I would be happy to e-mail it to you. But whatever you do—don’t get caught sleeping!
[It is critical that you and I clear up our Christian identity. As we do so, we will be propelled forward in our spiritual maturity.]
In this final section, Paul says, “Wait up for Christ’s return by behaving in a godly way.” In other words, don’t be caught off guard like unbelievers. Our problem is that “waiting” sounds inactive and boring to us. After all, when most of us think of waiting we think of something we despise. Think about the last time you sat in a waiting room at a doctor’s office, a dentist’s office, or a train station. UGH! It can be painful because we are impatient people. But the biblical notion of waiting is highly active (cf. 1:9).396 In 5:6 Paul says, “Wake up!” He writes, “So then let us not sleep as others397 do, but let us be alert398 and sober.”399The term “sleep” (katheudo) in this context refers to spiritual lethargy and negligence with a view to Christ’s return.400 It is the opposite of being “alert and sober.” We all know that there are “morning people” and “evening people.” Spiritually, we are called to be “morning people” for God. Tragically, many believers are spiritual sleepwalkers who have been intoxicated by the world. Honestly, it is easy to yawn and sleep through life. Research from Barna and Gallup demonstrates that there is no longer any difference between the behavior of Christians and non-Christians. In some cases, Christians are actually more immoral and unethical than many non-Christians. How this grieves God’s heart! There is work, ministry, marriage, and kids. All of these take time and energy. Consequently, unless we are intentional, it is easy to neglect spiritual preparation. Yet we are not meant to be spiritual Rip van Winkles. Stop living in silk pajamas! Stay awake.401 Today, are you ready for Christ to return? Tomorrow? What if He were to return in the next 24 hours, would you be ready or would you be ashamed to see Him? Don’t get caught sleeping!
When I was a student at Multnomah Bible College, I had the tendency to stay up awfully late. One such night, I stayed up until about 3:00 and woke up at 6:00 for an early class. The class was Christology/Soteriology (i.e., the study of Christ and salvation) taught by Dr. Joseph Wong. I can’t think of a more important class that anyone could take. Unfortunately, I was dead tired. This particular morning, Dr. Wong invited Dr. Willard Aldrich to teach. I went in, sat down, and promptly fell asleep. The next thing I remember was Dr. Aldrich walking toward me as the class emptied out. As I came to, I noticed a pool of drool covering my chest that soaked through my flannel shirt and thermal onto my bare skin! How a person could drool this much, I’ll never know! Needles to say, I was humiliated! My so- called “friends” didn’t even have the decency or common courtesy to wake me during class or at least before the class ended. Dr. Aldrich is the co-founder of MBC and the father of Dr. Joe Aldrich (the president while I was there). And I fell asleep on him. What a nightmare! Although this was one of the more embarrassing moments of my life, what will it be like to be found in a state of sleep when Jesus Christ, the founder of our life and faith returns? Consider yourself warned, don’t get caught sleeping!
Verse 7 explains the exhortation in 5:6. Paul now urges us to “clean up.” He writes, “For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night.” The stress is not merely on not getting drunk (Eph 5:18), but on the self-control and alertness that should mark a soldier on duty.402 Paul’s point is that our behavior should NOT be characterized by the sin of unbelievers. Many Christians, myself included, have in a moment of temptation, thought, “Do I want to be doing this when Christ returns?” When the answer is a resounding, “NO!” it is easier to reject the temptation. Instead, we are challenged to so love Christ that when He comes we will be found doing the things that earn His praise, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt 25:21) , rather than the rebuke that will be extended to those who are ashamed at His coming (1 John 2:28).
With this motivation in mind, Paul says, “Dress up.”403 In 5:8 he writes, “But since we are of the day let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation.”404 The language of 5:8 is not drawn from the garb of Roman soldiers as many suspect. Rather, it comes from Isaiah 59:17 (cf. Eph 6:14-17) and refers to the Lord’s spiritual armor.405 The breastplate and helmet are basically defensive. They can guard against our enemies—the world, the flesh, and the devil. In this context, the breastplate has two features: faith and love. “Faith” protects the heart. If we live by faith, we will be spiritually stable in spiritual war. Faith and faithfulness will help us persevere until Jesus returns. “Love” is the other side of the breastplate. Our faith must result in love. In 2 Tim 4:8, Paul says we are to love Christ’s appearing and anticipate the crown of righteousness. This will arm us against broken relationships. “If you knew Jesus was going to return today and had only one phone call you could make, who would you call and what would you say? Why are you waiting?” In 2005, Joshua Witter, a 25-year-old atheist living in Orlando started a business called “The Post-Rapture Post.”406 This creative business bills itself as “the postal service of the saved.” For as little as $4.99, Witter offers to deliver your letters to friends and loved ones left behind after the rapture. On his site, he asks, “Do you want to take the chance that your loved ones will have to suffer through your ascension into Heaven without knowing how you really feel in your heart? Sign up for the Post-Rapture Post today to guarantee that, while you are gone, you will remain in the thoughts of those left behind.”407 As inexpensive and clever as this business is, I hope and pray that you will be courageous in communicating your feelings to your loved ones and those who don’t know Christ, before the rapture. May we never require the Post-Rapture-Post. Don’t get caught sleeping! Live out your love today before it is too late.
Paul also writes that we are to put on a helmet, which is “the hope of salvation.” This protects the mind and produces clear thinking. What is the “hope of salvation?” It is the certainly that if we die before Jesus returns, we who believe will go directly to heaven. If we live until Christ’s return, it is the certainty that we will be raptured off this earth to meet Him in the air. Either way we’re going to be delivered—whether alive or dead. We’re going to meet Jesus very soon.So don’t get caught sleeping!
In 5:9-10, Paul explains why believers will be saved from God’s wrath. He writes, “For God has not destined us for wrath,408 but for obtaining salvation [deliverance] through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him.” The “wrath” in this context almost certainly carries a double entendre force to it: both the Tribulation period and eternal wrath (hell). Believers are not destined for either. This promise extends even to those believers who are not alert (5:10). A state of non-alertness affects present sanctification, but has no impact on the time of future glorification.409 Most scholars agree that the “wrath” under consideration refers to hell, so I don’t need to explain this interpretation. However, the view that Paul is also referring to the Tribulation requires contextual support.410 This can be found in the immediate context of 5:2-3 where the day of the Lord is mentioned. This view is also confirmed in 1:10 where Paul clearly lays out the third and final outline point of his book. Paul states that we are “to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.”411 The arrival of the last days brings two contrasting experiences: rescue versus ruin.412 Those who believe in Christ are destined for rescue, the world for ruin. This destiny not only belongs to those Christians who are wide awake when Christ comes, but also to those who are sound asleep!413 And notice “we will live together with Him.” In short, Christ’s return delivers all believers! Heaven is surely a place, but it is first and foremost being with a person—Jesus. Christianity is a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
This raises an important question: Is it permissible to sluff off? Absolutely not! Imagine that the president chose you to be an ambassador to China during the Olympics. He promised you a great reward if you would represent America well. You probably wouldn’t say, “I’m not going to do anything. I’m just going to live for myself. After all, I’m an American citizen and no one can take my citizenship away! No! You would be filled with gratitude and the prospect of great reward would surely motivate you. Likewise, we should feel an incredible sense of gratitude and obligation to the Lord. God’s unconditional love and grace ought to motivate you and me to a life of good works.
Our passage closes in 5:11 with two commands and a word of affirmation: “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another,414 just as you also are doing.” Does this sound familiar? It should! Paul concluded his previous section (4:13-18) in the same way—“encourage one another” (4:18).415 Obviously, Paul considers encouragement an important theme.416 Along with encouragement, Paul also urges the Thessalonians to “build up one another.” The word translated “build up” (oikodomeo) originally meant “to build a house.” In the New Testament, it is used of building in a spiritual sense.417 But the idea is to build up other believers like you would build up a house. To use the building metaphor, this means you lay a foundation of discipleship and construct a life built upon God’s Word. It is also worth noting that the terms translated “encourage” and “build up” are in the present tense. This implies continuous action. We need to continually “encourage” and “build up” our fellow believers. Moreover, these words are commands, not suggestions or options. Fortunately, the Thessalonians are fulfilling these commandments. Paul tells them to simply keep doing what they are already doing. Similarly, I could say to you, “You are doing a great job encouraging and building up other believers in the light of Christ’s return. But don’t give up now. Keep on keeping on!” You and I must never relax on the grounds that we have made sufficient progress. We must press on to the high calling of Christ Jesus (Phil 3:12-14). We are to encourage and build up one another until Jesus returns (Heb 10:24-25). How can we tangibly do this?
Idaho businessman Don Bennett was the first amputee to climb to the summit of Mount Rainier. That’s 14,410 feet, on one leg and two crutches! During a difficult portion of the climb, Bennett and his team had to cross an ice field. To get across the ice, the climbers had to put spikes on their boots to prevent slipping and to dig into the ice for leverage and stability. Unfortunately, with only one spiked boot and two crutches, the only way Bennett could figure to get across the ice field was to fall face forward onto the ice, pull himself as far forward as he could, stand up, and then fall forward again. On this particular climb, his teenage daughter, Kathy, happened to be with him, and she saw what was happening to her dad. Kathy stayed by her dad’s side through the entire four-hour struggle and shouted in his ear: “You can do it, Dad. You’re the best dad in the world. You can do it, Dad!” Kathy Bennett’s belief in her father and her verbal encouragement touched a place deep within her dad, strengthening his resolve and commitment. Consequently, he finished.421
Will you help other brothers and sisters finish their climb? Will you speak words of hope and affirmation into their lives? Will you wake up to opportunities around you? Will you go into this week with a renewed passion for Christ’s return? You can single-handedly make an eternal difference in someone’s life. Please don’t be guilty of sleep walking. Live today as if Jesus could return because He just might.
Revelation 3:3; 16:15
1. How much end-times preaching or teaching have I listened to in the course of my Christian life (5:1-3)? Have I digested and appropriated the insights and the truth I have received? Read Luke 12:48b. If so, what specific and tangible attitudes and actions have I implemented? During my Christian life how much time have I spent studying the end-times? What have I learned? How has this information led to transformation in my life?
2. Does the reality of impending Tribulation judgment upon unbelievers shake me to my core (5:3)? What unsaved relatives, friends, coworkers, and neighbors can I share the good news of Jesus Christ with? How will my awareness of what awaits the unbelievers I know and love motivate me to share the love and grace of Jesus? Since many unchurched people have an interest in the end-times, how can I use this topic in my spiritual conversations? Read Colossians 4:5-6.
3. What is my spiritual opinion of myself? If I have trusted in Jesus Christ, do I have a healthy, biblical understanding that I am a son or daughter of light (5:4-5)? Since Christ has forgiven my sins, have I forgiven myself? Am I still making excuses for why I can’t serve Christ because of sins and failures from my past? How can I be “light” to those around me? Would my family members, friends, coworkers, and neighbors consider me a son or daughter of light? Why or why not?
4. Am I ready for Jesus to return? Read 1 John 2:28 and 2 Corinthians 5:10. In what area of my life am I a spiritual sleepwalker who has been intoxicated by the world (5:6-7)? What personal steps can I take to return to fellowship and intimacy with Christ? Who can help me grow in my relationship with Christ? Will I contact this person today and ask for his or her assistance?
5. In what ways am I presently seeking to “encourage” and “build up” my fellow believers (5:11)? Read Hebrews 10:24-25. How can I intentionally spur other believers on to love and good deeds as the day of Christ’s return draws near? Am I actively involved in other people’s lives? If so, how? Do I attend a small group? Am I serving in some capacity? Am I a friend to those who need encouragement and strength?
370 Copyright © 2008 Keith R. Krell. Permissions: Feel free to reproduce and distribute any articles written by Keith Krell, in part or in whole, in any format, provided that you do not alter the wording in any way or charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. It is our desire to spread this information, not protect or restrict it. Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: by Keith Krell, Timeless Word Ministries, 2508 State Ave NE Olympia, WA 98506, 360-352-9044, www.timelessword.com
371 Sam Gordon, Hope and Glory. Truth for Today (Greenville, SC: Ambassador International, 2005), 177.
372 The breakdown is as follows: 28.5% of the OT and 21.5% of the NT. See J. Barton Payne, Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), 674-75.
373 Robert Jeffress, As Time Runs Out (Nashville: Broadman, 1999), 10.
376 Paul uses the noun chronos in Rom 7:1; 16:25; 1 Cor 7:39; 16:7; Gal 4:1, 4; 1 Thess 5:1; 2 Tim 1:9; Titus 1:2; and Jude 18. The terms chronos and kairos (see below) are used in Eccl 3:1-8; Dan 2:21; and Acts 1:7.
377 Paul uses the noun kairos in Rom 3:26; 5:6; 8:18; 9:9; 11:5; 13:11; 1 Cor 4:5; 7:5, 29; 2 Cor 6:2; 8:14; Gal 4:10; 6:9, 10; Eph 1:10; 2:12; 5:16; 6:18; Col 4:5; 1 Thess 2:17; 5:1; 2 Thess 2:6; 1 Tim 2:6; 4:1; 6:15; 2 Tim 3:1; 4:3, 6; and Titus 1:3. Thomas notes that kairos “very frequently refers to this future period (Dan 9:27, LXX; Mark 13:33; Luke 21:8, 24; Eph 1:10; 1 Tim 6:15; Titus 1:3; Heb 9:10; Rev 1:3; 11:18; 22:10).” Robert L. Thomas, “1 Thessalonians,” In The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein and J. D. Douglas (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), Electronic ed.
378 In 1 Thess, Paul uses the word oida (“know”) 13 times (1:4, 5; 2:1, 2, 5, 11; 3:3, 4; 4:2, 4, 5; 5:2, 12).
380 Thomas writes, “Erchetai (“will come”) is a vivid futuristic present (cf. John 14:3) to portray the day as already on its way with an arrival anticipated any time (cf. 1 Thess 1:10).” Thomas, “1 Thessalonians.”
381 This was the message of the false prophets of Jeremiah’s day (Jer 6:14; 8:11, 28). For a fuller explanation see G.K. Beale, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. IVP New Testament Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003), 142-43.
382 Holmes correctly notes, “‘Destruction’ (or perhaps “disaster”) can indicate loss of property, death, or eternal punishment. In 2 Thessalonians 1:9, the phrase ‘eternal destruction’ stands as the opposite of ‘eternal life.’ Here, however, where the adjective is ‘sudden’ rather than ‘eternal,’ the idea seems to be one of some sort of historical catastrophe or disaster, perhaps as a foreshadowing or anticipation of an eternal loss or judgment to follow.” Michael W. Holmes, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 167. Contra Beale, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 144.
383 The word aiphnidios (“suddenly”) is used elsewhere only in Luke 21:34 where Jesus says, “Be on guard, so that your hearts will not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day will not come on you suddenly like a trap.”
386 See Amos 5:18ff; Joel 2:1ff.; Zeph 1:14-18; and Isa 2:12-21. Another term for this period is “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer 30:7). Many prophetic students also call it the Tribulation and point to Rev 6-19 as the Scripture that most vividly describes this event.
387 Jesus used a thief coming at nightas an illustration of the unexpected and hostile nature of the coming of God’s judgment in the future (Matt 24:43; Luke 12:33, 39). This is also repeated in various ways in 2 Pet 3:10; Rev 3:3; and 16:15.
388 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Thessalonians: The Gospel & the End of Time. The Bible speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity, 1994), 109.
389 At the same time, God will prepare Israel for the return of Jesus Christ to the earth to establish His kingdom.
390 Gordon, Hope and Glory, 184.
391 This sentence gives emphasis to “you.” It would be sufficient for the Greek to say este (“you are”). Yet, in both 1 Thess 5:4 and 5, Paul has humeis plus este (“you” plus “you are”). The sentence gives emphasis to “you.”
392 The word “you” (humeis) is emphatically placed as the first word in the sentence.
393 BDAG s.v. katalambano 3b: “to come upon someone, with implication of surprise, catch.” Various English versions translate the word “surprise” (e.g., ESV, NRSV, NIV).
394 Hodges writes, “The timing of the rapture does not rely solely upon the reference to the Day of the Lord coming as a thief. Instead, it is framed within the larger picture of a world that is both unconcerned and undisturbed. The time-frame to which Paul’s words apply is the time period before the Tribulation begins.” Zane C. Hodges, “1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 and the Rapture,” Chafer Theological Seminary Journal 6 (October-December 2000): 29.
396 David Jackman, The Authentic Church (Great Britain: Christian Focus 1998), 115.
398 Paul uses the term gregoreo (“alert”) in 1 Cor 16:13; Col 4:2; 1 Thess 5:6, 10; cf. Matt 24:42, 43; 25:13; 26:38, 40, 41; Mark 13:34, 35, 37; 14:34, 37, 38; Luke 12:37; Acts 20:31; 1 Pet 5:8; Rev 3:2, 3; and 16:15. BDAG s.v. gregoreo 2: “to be in constant readiness be on the alert.” In the NT, the verb gregoreo never refers to physical life. The English name Gregory comes from this Greek word. Perhaps every time we meet someone named Gregory or Greg we should be reminded to watch for Jesus’ return.
400 Paul uses the Greek word katheudo (“sleep”) in 1 Thess 5:6, 7 [2x], 10; and Eph 5:15. In each of these usages, Paul has ethical behavior in mind. In 1 Thess 4:14, Paul uses a different Greek word translated “sleep” (koimao) to refer to the death of believers. This word never has ethical connotations. Paul’s choice of words is quite deliberate. For further study and insight, see Thomas R. Edgar, “The Meaning of ‘Sleep’ in 1 Thessalonians 5:10,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 22:4 (December 1979): 345-49. See also the author’s revised article: Thomas R. Edgar,“Lethargic or Dead in 1 Thessalonians 5:10?” Chafer Theological Seminary Journal 6.4 (Sept-Dec 2000): 36-51. http://www.chafer.edu/home.html
401 Gordon, Hope and Glory, 187.
404 The three “graces” of faith, hope, and love occupy a central place in the Christian life as is expressed also in 1:3. Here they are the defensive armor of the Christian. On Christian armor, see Rom 13:12f; 2 Cor 6:7; 10:4; Eph 6:13f.; 1 Tim 6:12; 2 Tim 2:3-4; and 4:7.
405 See also Thomas, “1 Thessalonians”; Holmes, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 168.
410Contra Mayhue who is “certain that he [Paul] refers to God’s eternal wrath here.” Richard Mayhue, First and Second Thessalonians. Focus on the Bible (Great Britain: Christian Focus, 1999), 135.
413 This view obliterates the partial rapture theory.
414 The Greek phrase eis ton hena (“one [to] one”) is equivalent to allelous but emphasizes the distributive nature of the task—each one is to do it—and also that it is to be a one-to-one activity as well as communal.
415 Scholars call this an inclusio: a literary framing device in which the same word or phrase stands at the beginning and the end of the section (e.g., 1 Thess 4:18 and 5:11). For visual purposes, I like to call inclusios “bookends” or a “sandwich.”
416 Paul uses the term parakaleo (“encourage”) eight times in 1 Thess alone (2:12; 3:2, 7; 4:1, 10, 18; 5:11, 14).
418 Mayhue, First and Second Thessalonians, 136.
419 To read more see Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines within the Church: Participating Fully in the Body of Christ (Chicago: Moody, 1996).
420 Richison, 1 Thessalonians, 117.
421 Preaching Today citation: James Kouzes and Barry Posner, Encouraging the Heart: A Leader’s Guide to Rewarding and Recognizing Others (Jossey-Bass, 1999); Van Morris, Mount Washington, KY.
“Practice makes perfect!” How many times have you heard this expression? No doubt, countless times. Yet, we all know too well that “practice doesn’t make perfect!” I wish it did, but it doesn’t. The hope is that practice makes permanent. Nowhere is this more critical than in the Christian faith. Christianity is nothing if it is not practical. Or, perhaps I should say, “The Christian faith is no faith at all if it is not practiced.” In 1 Thess 5:12-22, we come to one of the most practical passages on how to do church in the entire New Testament. Perhaps you have wondered, “What are the essentials for a happy, thriving church family? How can I make my local church a more spiritual place?” These eleven verses flesh out what it means to live soberly (5:6, 8). Paul provides four “sobriety checkpoints”423 that will enable us to function wisely in the body of Christ.
In this first section, Paul gives three specific exhortations on how to honor those in spiritual leadership.
[We should esteem church leaders. Why? Because this showcases the unity of the church.]
Having stated the responsibilities of the church to its leaders, Paul now considers the responsibilities of the church to each other.436 In 5:14, he urges437 church members to follow a four-fold job description.
Paul closes this second section in 5:15 with a very relevant verse: “See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always446 seek after that which is good for one another and for all people.” This verse is speaking of Christian relations in both the local and universal church. The phrases “one another” and “all people” are used elsewhere in 1 Thessalonians of fellow believers in the local church and surrounding region.447 The idea is if we can graciously forgive and bless our spiritual family members, we can live in peace with unbelievers as well. Thus, when others reject you and even oppose you, continue to serve in love and be ready to forgive. We show our love for God by making a conscious decision to love His children. Of course, this requires divine enablement. We tend to want to bury the hatchet in our brother or sister’s back! Yet, to return evil for good is natural; to return good for evil is supernatural.
Who is really getting on your nerves: a boss, a neighbor, a classmate? Maybe it is a spouse, a parent, or a sibling? How can you be especially kind to this person? What tangible acts of blessing can you pass on to this person? Will you do so today? This will free you from a root of bitterness (cf. Heb 12:15).
[We should shepherd church members because this is how we express love for God.]
The age-old question that pastors are frequently asked is: “How can I find God’s will for my life?” Paul says that we don’t need to worry about finding God’s will, we merely need to find God and then His will finds us. Paul puts it like this: “Rejoice always;448 pray without ceasing;449 in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” In these three verses are three commands that will help us to discover God’s will.
[We must discover God’s will. How can we do this? By pursuing God and seeking to discover Him.]
In this fourth and final section, Paul tells us how to worship in spirit and truth (cf. John 4:23-24). He writes, “Do not quench458 the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain459 from every form460 of evil.” Paul uses “quench” metaphorically to speak of hindering the operations of the Holy Spirit. People who refuse to submit to the above commands “quench” the Spirit. Those who usurp the ministry of the Spirit in the local church throw cold water on God’s work in the congregation.461 Do you know what it means to quench the Holy Spirit? What do you do when you quench your thirst? You drink some water and the thirst is put away. When you quench a fire, you put it out—you smother it. How do you quench the Spirit of God? You quench the Holy Spirit by not doing something He tells you to do.
Paul now relates this specifically to prophecies. The gift of prophecy is when a man or woman of God speaks a word to build up the body of Christ. Paul says, “Don’t despise prophecies.” Yet, he also commands us to examine every prophecy. This can be done by asking four questions: (1) Does the prophecy agree with Scripture? (2) Does the prophecy edify those who hear it? (3) Do other believers agree that the prophecy is from God? (4) Does the person with the prophecy present it humbly?462
Paul is saying, basically, look before you leap. You don’t have to be cynical, but it doesn’t hurt to be a little skeptical. Investigate. Test things. Don’t allow yourself to be spoon-fed. When you hear a sermon or read a book about spiritual matters, think it through. Compare it with Scripture. Don’t be gullible. Reason it out. Test everything, Paul says, and hold on to that which is good, reject that which isn’t good. It’s not always easy to think things through, but it’s necessary. The more you practice discernment, the stronger you become spiritually.463
Paul has said, “Practice makes permanent!” Will you make it your goal to practice Christianity? Will you live out your faith so that your life makes a difference in your world?
1. Do I esteem my pastors and elders (5:12-13)? If so, how do I express my love and appreciation to them? Am I faithfully living out Hebrews 13:17? Have I made a deliberate attempt to get to know my children’s Awana, Sunday school, and youth leaders? How have I sought to encourage these leaders who volunteer to serve my kids and me? What tangible acts can I perform to show these individuals how much I care?
2. In what ways have I been critical of those leaders who are serving me? Have I confessed my gossip or slander to the Lord and others? How can I make a conscious decision to “live at peace” (5:13)? When other members say critical things about leaders in my church, how will I respond? Will I lovingly, but firmly rebuke a fellow believer for having a divisive spirit? Read Psalm 133.
3. Am I seeking to minister to the different types of people in my church (5:14)? Which of the four types of individuals listed is the most difficult for me to minister to? How can I improve my ability to care for these types of individuals? Will I begin to pray for those believers that I struggle with? Will I strive to forgive those who sin against me (5:15) as I myself have been forgiven by God and others?
4. Have I learned to fulfill the commandments of contentment, prayer, and gratitude even when I don’t feel like it (5:16-18)? Why are these disciplines so difficult for me to master? Have I asked God to supernaturally enable me to be the man or woman He wants me to be? What fellow believer have I observed who models these characteristics? How can I learn from this person’s life?
5. Do I know God’s Word well enough to discern truth from error (5:19-22)? How can I strike the biblical balance of not forbidding prophecy and yet not being gullible to believe everything that a Christian says? Read 1 John 4:1-6. Today, will I begin to pray that the Lord will help me to “test the spirits” so that I will know what is truly from Him?
422 Copyright © 2008 Keith R. Krell. Permissions: Feel free to reproduce and distribute any articles written by Keith Krell, in part or in whole, in any format, provided that you do not alter the wording in any way or charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. It is our desire to spread this information, not protect or restrict it. Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: by Keith Krell, Timeless Word Ministries, 2508 State Ave NE Olympia, WA 98506, 360-352-9044, www.timelessword.com
426 Morris writes, “The three participles are preceded by a common article which indicates that it is one group of persons and not three that is in mind. This points to elders, who alone would exercise this triple function.” Leon Morris, The Epistles of Paul to the Thessalonians. Tyndale New Testament Commentary series (London: Tyndale, 1984), 103.
427 The Greek verb oida (“know”) can also mean “recognize merit, respect, honor.”See BDAG s.v. oida 6.
428 See ESV and NIV. Other English versions translate oida as “acknowledge” (NET) or “give recognition” (HSB).
429 Paul uses the verb kopiao (“diligently labor”) in Rom 16:6, 12; 1 Cor 4:12; 15:10; 16:16; Gal 4:11; Eph 4:28; Phil 2:16; Col 1:29; 1 Tim 4:10; 5:17; and 2 Tim 2:6. Holmes writes, “Paul often uses the verb ‘to work’ (kopiao, which sometimes indicates manual labor) to characterize his own activities on behalf of the gospel (1 Cor. 15:10; Gal. 4:11; Phil. 2:16; Col. 1:29) or those of members ministering within a congregation (1 Cor. 16:16; cf. Rom. 16:6, 12). This is its meaning here (the corresponding noun, kopos, occurs in 1:3 in the expression “labor prompted by love”). Michael W. Holmes, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 178.
431 Gene A. Getz, Standing Firm When You’d Rather Retreat: Based on 1 Thessalonians (Ventura, CA: Regal, 1986), 143.
432 See Richard Mayhue, First and Second Thessalonians. Focus on the Bible (Great Britain: Christian Focus, 1999), 139. Paul uses the adverb huperekperissos (“very highly”) elsewhere in Eph 3:20 and 1 Thess 3:10.
434 The call to “live in peace with each other” is common in 1 Thess and elsewhere (see Rom. 12:18; 14:19; 2 Cor. 13:11; Eph. 4:3; Col. 3:15; 2 Tim. 2:22, Heb. 12:14; cf. Mark 9:50). Holmes, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 179.
435 “Peace” is emphasized throughout 1 Thess 5:12-24. In 5:13 and 23, “peace” serves to bookend this section. G.K. Beale, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. IVP New Testament Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003), 157.
436 Holmes notes, “Some have argued that 5:14-15 are directed to the leaders referred to in 5:12-13, but this is unlikely. The entire community is addressed in 5:12-13 and 16-18 and the introduction of 5:14 is nearly identical to the one in 5:12 (note esp. the repetition of adelphoi “brothers and sisters”). Had Paul intended a church in subject in 5:14 he would surely have signaled it more clearly.” Holmes, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 180 n. 4.
437 Paul uses the verb parakaleo (“urge”) a total of eight times in 1 Thess (2:12; 3:2, 7; 4:1, 10, 18; 5:11, 14).
438 The adjective ataktos (“unruly”) is only used here in the NT. BDAG s.v. ataktos defines it: “of volitional state, pert. to being out of step and going one’s own way, disorderly, insubordinate.”
440 Getz, Standing Firm When You’d Rather Retreat, 150.
441 The adjective oligopsuchos (“fainthearted”) is only used here in the NT.
442 Jeffrey A.D. Weima, “1 Thessalonians,” Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 427; Beale, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 165.
446 The adjective pantote (“always”) is emphatic.
450 Thomas L. Constable, “Notes on 1 Thessalonians,” http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/1thessalonians.pdf, 2007 ed., 37.
451 John L. Benson, I, II Thessalonians: The Prospect of Glory (Denver: Accent, 1987 ), 74.
452 Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 521.
453 Charles Caldwell Ryrie, First and Second Thessalonians (Chicago: Moody, 1959), 80.
454 Steve May, “Spiritual Priorities”: http://www.preachingtoday.com/sermons/series/strategiesforlivinginthe21stcenturesermonseries.
456 Thanksgiving was the fuel of Paul’s prayers. Note: the Greek word eucharisteite (“give thanks”) is an active, present tense imperative. This means that thanksgiving is not an option or a suggestion; it is a command! If we are to be properly devoted and alert in prayer, we must consciously focus on expressing gratitude to God.
457 David Jeremiah, God in You: Releasing the Power of the Holy Spirit in Your Life (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 1998), 168.
458 The verb sbennumi can also be translated “extinguish” (NET), “stifle” (HSB), or “put out” (NIV). In its other NT occurrences it refers to literal fire (Matt 12:20; 25:8; Heb 11:34) or metaphorical fire (Mark 9:48: Eph 6:16).
462 Doug Banister, The Word & Power Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 106-107.
463 May, “Spiritual Priorities.”
Two years ago, my wife (Lori) received a strand of pearls from some dear friends of ours. Since that time, I have been intrigued with pearls. So this past week I did some research on how a pearl becomes a pearl. To ensure that I was not falling for any urban legends, I asked Russ McMillan, our resident Marine Biologist, for assistance. Russ explained that a beautiful pearl begins as a fragment of broken shell, a sand grain, or even a parasite. Such an object enters an oyster’s shell and irritates its soft tissue. The irritant then gets covered and strengthened with layers of mother-of-pearl or nacre (NAY-ker). Over the course of time, a beautiful pearl develops. Similarly, the Bible teaches that every human starts out as an irritant. We are enemies of God, dead in our trespasses and sins.465 Yet, by God’s amazing grace, those of us who believe in Christ are declared positionally righteous. Slowly but surely, God then envelops us in Himself and practically transforms us into beautiful followers who reflect His beauty.
Paul closes 1 Thessalonians the same way that he began, by emphasizing God’s grace and the need to be prepared for Christ’s coming.466 In view of these important themes, Paul urges us to, “Get a grip on grace.” In 1 Thess 5:23-28, Paul provides two instructions to strengthen our grip.
In this first section, Paul prepares to wrap up his book with a closing prayer467 affirming our security in Christ.468 In 5:23 he prays, “Now469 may the God of peace Himself470 sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved471 complete,472 without blame473 at474 the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Interestingly, the first word in the Greek text of 5:23 is the word “Himself” (autos). This is a significant point because Paul is emphasizing that the peaceful qualities of life that he discussed earlier in 5:13 come from God and God alone. Here is the truth: Only God can make you better. Think about that for a moment. Exercise improves your body, therapy helps your soul, a friend lifts your spirit, good fortune improves your circumstances, but only God can make you better. God is the author and source of all spiritual progress. It is impossible to overstate the importance of this fundamental truth. In contrast to all our feeble efforts at moral betterment and self-improvement, Paul simply says, “God Himself, the God of peace.”475 The “God of peace”476 is the only one capable of sanctifying us.
This word “sanctify” simply means “set apart for God’s exclusive use.”477 There are at least three different ways this term is used in the New Testament. First, there is positional sanctification. When you believed in Christ as your Savior, you were instantaneously, once-for-all set apart for God (Heb 10:10). Second, there is progressive sanctification. This refers to your daily growth in holiness (2 Cor 7:1). Third, there is perfective sanctification. This takes place when you see Christ and become eternally like Him (1 John 3:2).478 It is this last meaning of sanctification that Paul has in mind here. He prays that God will “entirely”479 sanctify the Thessalonians. He prays that their entire person480 will be preserved. The word translated “preserved” (tereo) is a word that typically means “to watch over, keep.” God Himself will ensure your salvation and Christian growth. It is God who does this work! This morning, I noticed that before going to bed last night I forgot to lock the back door of our house. A thief could have easily walked in. I immediately said, “Lord, thank you that You always protect my family and me, even when I fail to be wise or faithful.” The word translated “without blame” comes from the legal arena. It means to be acquitted in a court of law. You are “blameless” if no one can bring any charge against you. That’s not true of most of us now. Those who know us best know our weaknesses and could testify against us. God’s goal, however, is that when we stand before Him, He will say, “Does anyone in the whole universe know any reason why this person should not enter heaven?” At that point there will be a loud silence as no one in the entire universe will be able to bring any charge against God’s elect. Interestingly, archaeologists have discovered tombstones from Thessalonica marked with the inscription “blameless.” This indicates the impact God’s Word had upon the early church in the first century. I can’t think of a better way to die than to be able to place on our tombstone “blameless.”
Perhaps you’ve heard the expression “good enough for government work.” That’s a sarcastic way of saying, “Don’t worry about the details. The joints don’t have to fit, the margins can be crooked, and we don’t need to worry about the budget. We don’t have to be perfect; we don’t even have to be close.” Mark it down plainly: God does not do government work. Everything He does is perfect. But many of us feel like our lives are “government work.” We look inside and see lots of good and bad mixed together, a whole bunch of loose connections, and a lot of parts that don’t seem to work right. That’s the way it is in a fallen world. We’re stuck with what seems to be “government work” in this life. But it won’t be that way forever. God has promised that when Jesus Christ returns, we will be sanctified through and through.481
Paul concludes this first section in 5:24 by esteeming God further: “Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.” The adjective “faithful” (pistos) is the first word in the Greek text. The NASB is the one English version I could find that reflects the emphatic position. Paul is saying, “Above all else, God is faithful. You can trust Him. You can depend upon Him.” This is confirmed by the fact that God “calls”482 believers. The present tense verb “calls” stresses that God does not merely call Christians once and then leave them on their own. Instead, God continues to call the followers of Christ.483 God’s call mirrors the assertion in 1:4—God has chosen me. How do I know God has chosen me? First and foremost, His Word tells me so. Second, He is experientially calling me with His still small voice. His Spirit is at work in me all the time, prompting me to an increase in faith, love, and hope.484
You understand this. We hear cell phones all around us: at work, at church, at the mall, and at home. There’s no escape. Someone always seems to be trying to track us down. This is also true of God. When you hear a cell phone, let it be a reminder to yourself that God is calling you. He wants to have a dynamic relationship with you. But you must answer His call. Don’t screen His call and let it go to voicemail. Instead, respond to God’s call upon your life for continual growth and intimacy in Him.
Paul continues to emphasize God’s preservation of the believer by stating: “He also will bring it to pass.” Think of those seven words: “He also will bring it to pass.” They are simple and direct. No qualification, no hesitation, no doubt of any kind. Not “He may bring it to pass,” “He could bring it to pass,” or “He’ll bring it to pass if He feels like it.” Not even “He will bring it to pass if we do our part.” There is just a simple declarative statement—“He also will bring it to pass.” When everything is said and done, it is not our grip on grace but God’s grip on us (John 10:28-29). Salvation is assured because it begins and ends with God (Rom 8:28-39).
Let me suggest six ways485 these verses should affect us:
First, God’s grace should give us enormous confidence in God. If you have doubted God, doubt no longer. He is faithful to keep His promises. He has ordained that some day you will be like the Lord Jesus inside and out. And He is working even now to make you a better person. Don’t doubt His purposes, even though you can’t always see His hand at work.
In order to maintain spiritual health we must remember where our spiritual strength lies. We cannot work out our salvation on our own (Phil 2:12-13). We cannot make ourselves holy by our own strength. The only way to develop and maintain spiritual strength is to depend entirely on the power of God’s Spirit at work in our lives. Today, will you prepare for Christ’s coming by getting a grip on grace? Will you rest in the promises of God? C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) noted that our problem isn’t trusting God; it’s in trusting God only.486 Will you completely trust in your faithful God?
[We are called to pray for spiritual dependence. This is especially important because our Christian growth ultimately depends upon God’s work in and through us.]
In this second section, Paul concludes 1 Thessalonians with three requests and a final prayer.
First, consider becoming a member of my prayer shield. Eight years ago when I came to EBF, I raised up a prayer shield. A prayer shield is a team of prayer partners that commits to faithfully pray for their pastor. I recruited the team and started well, but failed to keep my team updated on prayer requests. The team dissolved, and then a few years later, I recruited another team. Sadly, I again quickly neglected to keep my prayer shield updated on how they could pray for me. I regret this and would like to believe that “the third time is the charm.” So if you are interested in praying for me, would you please indicate this on your communication card? Feel free to hold me accountable as well. I need it. In my busyness, it is all too easy to put my need for personal prayer last on my to-do list.
Second, consider becoming one of our Sunday morning prayer warriors. One of our pressing needs is to recruit prayer warriors who will pray during our three worship services. I believe that this is an incredibly fruitful ministry. “The Prince of Preachers,” Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892), had hundreds of faithful people pray in his church’s basement boiler room before he preached. He used to say, “This is where the power falls!” He was so right! Great preaching and a great response to preaching is the result of great prayer. I would cherish your commitment to pray for our church and me during one of our worship services. Whenever someone asked Spurgeon the secret to his ministry his reply was simple: “My people pray for me.” Would you be willing to sign up today to serve as one of our Sunday morning prayer warriors?
Finally, consider becoming a member of our prayer chain. If you have a heart for brothers and sisters in our church and beyond, we would love to have you join our prayer chain. It would simply require you praying when you receive a request and then calling a couple of other people. Perhaps one of these three opportunities is tailor-made for you. If so, please join our prayer ministry as we pray for our leaders and one another.
How strong is your supportive tie to those in your church? Can they depend on your prevailing prayer for them? We fulfill God’s purpose in our lives through the prayers of our fellow Christians. Living the Christian life depends on teamwork. If we play on a team, we depend on our teammates to fulfill their role. Soldiers depend heavily on other soldiers in their company. Their lives are at stake if others fail to fulfill their function. Every area of life needs teamwork. This is no less true in the church. Part of our teamwork is praying for one another. This is something that everyone can do.489 Get a grip on grace means you pray for other believers.
A proper understanding of our Christian oneness requires understanding that fellowship is a part of worship. This means you shouldn’t make a mad dash for the door at the close of the service. I know we joke about this, but after (or during) the closing prayer, some members escape like rats leaving a sinking ship. This isn’t God’s will. Rather, He wants us to intentionally and strategically seek people out for the purpose of encouragement. This means I must look for ways to express affection to my fellow brothers and sisters.493 Although several people (including one complete stranger) have given me a holy kiss, there are other ways to express love. You can give a hug. You can put your arm around someone’s shoulder. You can give someone a double-handed shake, expressing warmth. The method is not that important, but the motive certainly is.494Getting a grip on grace means you love your brothers and sisters in Christ.
This past Sunday, a new Christian, Maura O’Leary, wrote this on her communication card: “Thank you for calling the sermon “Worship through the Word” for that is what it truly is—worshipping God by honoring His Word. Worship is everywhere at EBF. Thank you also for praying for other local churches every week. It is truly powerful. I was gone for two weeks on a family vacation and the thing that I missed most about home was by far this church. Thank you all for making this so dear to my heart and the hearts of so many others. This church is an incredible example of devotion to Christ. Thank you for being my example. I only pray that those who have not yet come to trust in Christ can do so with help from strong believers like those here at Emmanuel.” Maura has a grip on grace. Even as a new believer, she understands what God’s grace can do. Today, as your leader, I commit myself to reading and teaching God’s Word. Will you commit yourself to responding to God’s Word as we worship the Lord? Will you also make it your practice to come to church prepared to hear from God? You can do this by reflecting on the passage you know is scheduled to be preached. You can ask the Lord to clear your mind and help you to focus on His Word. Getting a grip on grace means you take God’s Word seriously.
Paul closes the book of 1 Thessalonians with a final prayer: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ499 be with you” (5:28).500 The epistle began with the note of grace (1:1) and ends with the same note. Paul begins and ends all of his thirteen letters with a mention of grace. The reason for this repetitious emphasis is Paul wants us to know that we cannot live apart from God’s grace. The life-changing grace of God saves us. It also sustains us and never fails to strengthen us. Paul’s longing is that the unmerited favor of God would continue to be his readers’ experience and source of joy. It is the grace of the Lord Jesus that makes our salvation and sanctification possible from start to finish.
This natural lead-in begs the question, “Have you received God’s grace in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ?” If you haven’t, would you please do so today?
1. How have I matured spiritually since I became a Christian (5:23a)? In what specific area have I grown most? What tangible difference has my growth made in my life? How is God sanctifying me this month? If those who know me best were asked these same questions about me, how would they respond? Would I be pleased or embarrassed by the growth or lack thereof that others see?
2. If Jesus returned today, would I be ready to meet Him (5:23b)? Why or why not? Am I struggling with a particular sin that would bring me shame if Jesus appeared today? Read 1 John 2:28 and 2 Corinthians 5:10. Who can help me overcome this sin? Will I contact this person today?
3. How has God proven Himself faithful in my Christian life and growth (5:24)? Do I have complete assurance that God loves me and is working in my life? If not, why? When do I lack security and confidence? How do I respond when I am plagued by doubts about my salvation and sanctification?
4. Am I committed to praying for the spiritual leaders God has placed in my life (5:25)? How can I pray for these individuals? How can I stretch myself in greeting my brothers and sisters in Christ (5:26)? Am I committed to hearing and responding to God’s Word in my local church (5:27)? In which of these three areas do I need the most growth? Will I ask God to help me in this area?
5. How would I define “grace” (5:28)? How does “grace” distinguish Christianity from all other world religions and cults? What has God’s grace meant to me personally? Am I able to share with another person how God has manifested His grace in my life?
464 Copyright © 2008 Keith R. Krell. Permissions: Feel free to reproduce and distribute any articles written by Keith Krell, in part or in whole, in any format, provided that you do not alter the wording in any way or charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. It is our desire to spread this information, not protect or restrict it. Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: by Keith Krell, Timeless Word Ministries, 2508 State Ave NE Olympia, WA 98506, 360-352-9044, www.timelessword.com
466 G.K. Beale, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. IVP New Testament Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003), 157.
467 In a prayer expressing Paul’s wishes for the congregation, two of the basic themes of the letter are again highlighted: sanctification (chs. 4-5) and the preservation of the church (chs. 1-3). D. Michael Martin, 1, 2 Thessalonians. The New American Commentary series (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1995), 188.
468 Paul concluded the first main section of 1 Thessalonians with a prayer referring to the Lord’s return (3:11-13).
469 Keathley writes, “The ‘now’ (Greek de) of verse 23 is slightly transitional and moves the reader to another point, though not totally unrelated to the preceding. In the preceding verses there has been one admonition after another relating to the spiritual walk corporately and individually. Each of these commands embrace the believer’s sanctification. How is it possible for us to accomplish such commands with any sense of consistency? Paul has already related the process of sanctification to the Holy Spirit in 4:1-8, but with this final petition, he again points us to the only true source of spiritual growth and change—the awesome sanctifying work of God Himself to whom we must all turn.” Hampton Keathley III, “Final Instructions and Exhortations” (1 Thess 5:12-28): An Exegetical and Devotional Commentary on First Thessalonians: (www.bible.org).
471 Paul uses the verb tereo (“preserved”) in 1 Cor 7:37; 2 Cor 11:9; Eph 4:3; 1 Tim 5:22; 6:14; and 2 Tim 4:7. The verbs “sanctify” (hagiasai) and “preserved” (terethein) are both aorist optatives, which is the mood of wishing or praying. Paul prayed that believers be sanctified and preserved by God.
472 The word holokleros (“complete”) is emphatic. Holokleros only occurs elsewhere in Jas 1:4: “And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete [holokleros], lacking in nothing.” The adjective “complete” is used in the Greek Old Testament of stone for the altar (Deut 27:6) and Philo in Josephus use it of sacrificial victims. It is thus possible that Paul is thinking of the presentation of the whole person as a complete sacrifice (cf. Rom 12:1). Leon Morris, The Epistles of Paul to the Thessalonians. Tyndale New Testament Commentary series (London: Tyndale, 1984), 111.
474 The coming of the Lord has been the focus of this entire book. Paul is seeking a good showing for the Thessalonians at the judgment seat of Christ. Eaton argues, “Paul prays that they might be this way ‘for’ the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The translation done is surely not ‘at’ the coming. We shall certainly be sanctified “at” the coming. We do not need to pray about that! The sense is “so as to be blameless in the coming.” It is simplest to translate it, “for” the coming.” Michael Eaton, 1 & 2 Thessalonians. Preaching Through the Bible (Kent, England: Sovereign World, 1997), 88.
478 Henry Holloman, The Forgotten Blessing (Nashville: Word, 1999), 6.
479 The adjective holoteles (“entirely, wholly”) is only used here in the NT.
480 The phrase “spirit and soul and body” has generated a great deal of controversy in theological circles over the concepts of dichotomy versus trichotomy. That’s basically a debate over whether man is basic two-part or three-part in his essential nature. 1 Thess 5:23 is a key verse for those who favor the trichotomy point of view. Yet, I doubt that Paul intended to give us some kind of definitive treatment of human psychology. I think the reference to spirit, soul, and body simply means “the whole person in all his parts.” Beale favors the dichotomist position and suggests that 5:23 “clearly restates and develops 3:13, where God is said to strengthen their hearts, which is either a reference to the entire person, or more likely, an allusion to the noncorporeal aspect of the believer (equivalent to spirit and soul in 5:23).” Beale, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 177. For a good summary of the theories of humankind as trichotomous, dichotomous, or a unity, see Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 538-57.
481 Pritchard, “God Finishes What He Starts.”
482 Paul uses the noun kaleo (“call”) in 1 Thess 2:12 (God calls believers into His own kingdom and glory) and 4:7 (God has not called believers for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification). Weima writes, “The reassurance that ‘the one who calls you is faithful and he will do it’ recalls the language of election and calling found in the letter (1 Thess. 1:4; 2:12; 4:7; 5:9)—language that comforts the Thessalonians in the midst of the persecution they are currently enduring.” Jeffrey A.D. Weima, “1 Thessalonians,” Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 428.
483 Charles A. Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians. New International Greek Testament Commentary series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans/Exeter, England: Paternoster, 1990), 207.
484 David Jackman, The Authentic Church (Great Britain: Christian Focus 1998), 172.
485 See Pritchard, “God Finishes What He Starts.”
486 Dwight Edwards, Releasing the Rivers Within (Colorado Springs: WaterBrook, 2003), 97.
487 The word adelphoi (“brethren”) is emphatic in the Greek. Paul strongly pleads for the church to pray for him.
491 Beale, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 177.
492 Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians, 208.
493 The Phillips paraphrase “Americanizes” this verse with this rendering, “Give a handshake all around among the brotherhood.” I don’t think this catches Paul’s intent.
494 Sam Gordon, Hope and Glory. Truth for Today (Greenville, SC: Ambassador International, 2005), 223.
495 The first person singular may suggest that this is the point where Paul himself took up the pen. F. F. Bruce, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Word Biblical Commentary series (Waco, TX: Word, 1982), 135; Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians, 208.
496 A great OT example of this is Nehemiah 8:5-8: “Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the LORD the great God. And all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen!’ while lifting up their hands; then they bowed low and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, explained the law to the people while the people remained in their place. They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading.”
497 BDAG s.v. enorkizo provides this definition: “to put someone under oath, adjure.”
499 Whenever the Lord Jesus is presented as the source of grace His deity is being affirmed.