According to 1 Thessalonians 1:1, Paul is the author of this epistle. Present with Paul were his co-workers Silas and Timothy. Paul, of course, was a Pharisee who converted to Christianity. He was a Jew by birth and a Roman by citizenship. Paul was a tentmaker by vocation and a missionary by avocation, an apostle specially called by Christ.
Thessalonica was a thriving seaport town in Macedonia and its people were steeped in pagan beliefs and practices. There was also a small Jewish population in Thessalonica. Paul established the church at Thessalonica during his short ministry there while on his second missionary journey (Acts 17:1-15).Date and Place of Writing
After Paul left Thessalonica he preached in Athens and Corinth. From Athens, Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to strengthen the church (1 Thessalonians 3:1-2). While in Corinth, Paul received word from the Thessalonian believers via Timothy (1 Thessalonians 3:6) involving questions concerning their faith. Paul wrote this first letter to the Thessalonians in A.D. 51, from the city of Corinth.
Each chapter in this epistle ends with a reference to the return of Jesus Christ (1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:16; 5:23). The theme of 1 Thessalonians, therefore, is the second coming of Christ, or more specifically, "living in the present in light of the future."Structure
Paul wrote this letter around two broad topics. The first topic was the personal testimony of his interactions with the Thessalonians. The second topic was practical teaching concerning Christian living. The following outline reflects these two sections of 1 Thessalonians.
"The Testimony of a Transformed Life"
Following Jesus produces a lifestyle
that reflects Christian virtues (1:1-3).
First of all, when a person turns to Christ, that individual will demonstrate a changed way of life that reflects true Christian virtues-faith, love, and hope. As believers, our actions will be different. This was true of the believers in Thessalonica.
Paul extended his greetings to the Thessalonian believers (1:1).
Paul began this letter to his dear friends in the usual manner of introducing a letter in his day. He first identified its source, here listing himself along with Silas and Timothy. Silas and Timothy had assisted Paul in the ministry at Thessalonica and were well known by the believers there. Although Paul was responsible for composing the contents of this letter, he included Silas and Timothy in the greeting as a mark of their endorsement of its content.
Paul addressed this letter to the "church of the Thessalonians." During Paul's rather brief ministry in that city a stable church had formed. Paul referred to that assembly of believers as being "in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." They stood as redeemed by the blood of Christ and as members of the family of God. To these believers Paul expressed his desire for them to experience grace and peace, common greetings filled here with Christian meaning. In Christ we find God's grace, and thereby we find lasting spiritual peace.
Paul gave thanks to the Lord for the Thessalonian believers (1:2).
The first thing that Paul wanted his fellow believers at Thessalonica to know was that they were not forgotten. He had continued to pray for them, and always prayed for them with a thankful heart to the Lord. The verb "thank" is the main verb in this verse, and is qualified by "making mention" (v.2), "remembering" (v.3), and "knowing" (v.4). The thrust of the verse indicates that Paul and his companions were very thankful for the way in which God had worked in the lives of the Thessalonians. Paul repeatedly expressed his great gratitude to God through prayer.
Paul reflected on the transformation in the Thessalonian believers (1:3).
One element of the thankfulness that Paul expressed was in relation to his reflections on his time in Thessalonica. While preaching the gospel in that city, Paul had seen a remarkable transformation take place in the lives of those new believers. Paul described that transformation in three outward manifestations-a work of faith, a labor of love, and an endurance of hope.
Faith results in work-James 2:26 states forcefully that faith without any accompanying works is dead. The believers at Thessalonica truly responded to the gospel by faith, and that faith showed itself in good works. This faith, therefore, was an ongoing reality including the initial step of faith that brought salvation.
Love results in labor-not only were the Thessalonians active in their faith, but they had developed a sincere and stimulating love for others. This deep-seated love, love which originates only in God (1 John 4:19), had produced a willingness in the hearts of these new believers to labor hard at meeting the needs of others. The word translated "labor" refers to hard work, the toil of difficult tasks which can only be maintained by a loving commitment to others. When we truly love others, we are willing to go out of our way and be inconvenienced for them. We are willing to look past our own desires, and do the hard work necessary for meeting their needs.
Hope results in endurance-the endurance, or patience, of the early Christians was evident in their ability to cope with persecution. How did such an attitude of steadfastness come about? It was anchored in a genuine hope in the Lord Jesus Christ and in His imminent return. The prospects of eternity far overshadow earth's temporary trials (Romans 8:18).
Following Jesus produces a lifestyle
that imitates Christ-like leaders (1:4-6).
Paul was impressed with the changes in the lives of the Thessalonian believers. Their faith was real and it made a difference in their lives. The changes that resulted were evident in the way the Thessalonians reflected the Christian virtues of faith, love and hope. These changes also reflected an imitation of Christ-like leaders like Paul, Silas, and Timothy.
The Thessalonian believers had been chosen by God (1:4).
An aspect of Paul's thankfulness, as expressed in verse 2, was the fact that he knew that the Thessalonian Christians had been loved and chosen by God. Verse 4 introduces the doctrine of election. To teach election as an aspect of God's saving work does not stifle missionary zeal, for Paul was himself a great missionary. Yet he taught the doctrine of election. This doctrine, which is beyond full human understanding, means that in some way God chose those who later responded to the gospel by faith. Our salvation is a gift from God.
The Thessalonian believers had been convicted by the gospel (1:5).
But how can we know if someone is elect? Paul answers that question in verse 5, stating that he knew of the election of the Thessalonians because of their response to the gospel. The elect will respond to Christ's saving sacrifice. Paul knew that these people had not simply responded to human words, but that these words carried the mark of God's power, the confirmation of the Holy Spirit, and the conviction, or settled assurance of their reality, brought about by the Spirit. In other words, Paul's words to the Thessalonians penetrated their hearts and brought about faith that yields salvation. Paul's life among these people was a testimony to God's power.
The Thessalonian believers had become conformed to a new example (1:6).
These new believers at Thessalonica, having turned to Jesus Christ, did that which believers still do today. They began to pattern their lives after the one who had proclaimed the gospel to them. Paul's life was exemplary, and these people were able to follow Paul's example in beginning their new lives. They became imitators, or mimics (in a positive sense), of their spiritual father. But they also took this imitation one step further-they imitated the Lord Jesus Christ. The truths of Jesus' earthly life became a pattern for them to follow. Because of these examples, the Thessalonian believers were able to endure suffering for the sake of the gospel. They received the message of salvation in Christ with great joy, a settled joy that is produced by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Following Jesus produces a lifestyle
that exemplifies the Christian message (1:7-8).
When people receive Jesus Christ as their personal savior, God transforms their lives. Their lives find fulfillment, not in the things of this world, but in that which counts for eternity. The Thessalonian believers found that their new lifestyle revolved around spreading the gospel to the world around them. This outreach took place both by way of their own testimony of a changed life and by their attempts to share the gospel directly.
The Thessalonian believers exhibited an exemplary lifestyle (1:7).
The Thessalonians, Paul stated, became a "model" of Christianity to those in their own province of Macedonia as well as in the southern Greek province of Achaia. The word "model" or "type" was used of the pattern made in striking coins. In other words, the Thessalonians had left their mark on the rest of the region around them. They had demonstrated an exemplary lifestyle, having followed the pattern of Paul and of Jesus Christ.
The Thessalonian believers experienced an expanding outreach (1:8).
The testimony of the Thessalonians did not simply involve their transformed lifestyle. It expanded to the whole Roman world by word of mouth. The gospel of Jesus Christ "rang out" from these believers. This is the word from which we get our word "echo." The gospel hit the Thessalonians so hard that it reverberated through and from their lives to those throughout the world. Paul did not need to comment on their faith, since it was so well known. Apparently Paul had heard reports from others traveling through the Roman Empire concerning the Thessalonians' faith. These new believers had a new purpose. They were eager to share the gospel with lost people everywhere.
Following Jesus produces a lifestyle
that anticipates Christ's return (1:9-10).
Paul went on to describe what took place in the lives of these new believers that made them into such solid spokesmen for God. They had been converted-turned around in their lives. This conversion drew their attention to the future, the return of Jesus Christ and its eternal ramifications.
The Thessalonian believers had turned to God in order to serve (1:9).
The reports going around the Roman Empire were that the Thessalonians had openly received Paul and the gospel. They had turned to God from idols. This describes conversion, the turning from sin in repentance to God by faith. The order is important. They had turned to God, and in so doing were turning from their past lives of idolatry. It's impossible to maintain the old life with the new.
The result of the Thessalonians' conversion was two-fold. First, they turned to God and began serving Him as the only living and true deity. These people were coming from a background of idolatry. To give up their idols was a monumental step. But they realized that the gospel of Jesus Christ excluded their idolatrous beliefs. So they turned to the true and living God to serve, or worship, Him.
The Thessalonian believers had turned to God in order to wait (1:10).
The second result of the Thessalonians' conversion was an anticipation of Christ's return. The gospel of Jesus Christ includes the promise of His return from heaven. Those who trust in Christ for salvation look forward to His return. Paul calls this "waiting," but it is not an idle thing. We wait while we serve, and we serve while we wait. The certainty of the return of Christ is based in His resurrection. Since Christ rose from the dead, He will also return for His bride, the church. He is going to rescue the church from the coming wrath, a reference to the future period of tribulation on earth. Believers do not face God's wrath, but enjoy His favor and grace through Jesus Christ. This is the believer's hope.
These final verses tie this chapter together, looking back at verse 3. In verse 3, Paul referred to the faith, love, and hope of the Thessalonian believers. In verses 9-10 he refers to their turning to God (by faith) to serve (out of love) and to wait (because of their hope). These Christian virtues, therefore, are to be the goal of all believers today.
"The Testimony of a Trustworthy Life"
The testimony of an eyewitness in a court of law depends on the trustworthiness of that witness. Can the words and actions of an individual be trusted? The message of the gospel is a reliable message, but its impact on the world will largely be determined by the trustworthiness of those who proclaim it. Paul knew that his life had to measure up to the gospel which he preached. After all, it was certain that some antagonists would disclaim both him and his message. But Paul left in Thessalonica a reputation of moral integrity. He called the believers there to recall his life and ministry among them (1:5; 2:1, 5, 9, 10, 11). Paul and his fellow workers had nothing for which to be ashamed. Paul's personal testimony was one that was totally trustworthy. If we want people to trust our message, we must present them with a trustworthy life. Paul, in defending his ministry to the Thessalonians, presented five qualities necessary for being effective in reaching the lost. These character qualities challenge us in how are we to serve our Lord.
Serve God with a sense
of humble courage (2:1-2).
The first quality that Paul demonstrated among the Thessalonians was that of courage. He never swerved from his purpose of sharing Christ, no matter what persecution lay behind him or what obstacles lay before him.
Paul experienced a fruitful ministry in Thessalonica (2:1).
Paul began this section by reminding the Thessalonians of the effectiveness of his ministry among them. They knew very well that Paul's entrance into their lives brought spiritual fruit. It was not a failure, that is, "empty" or "in vain." In other words, Paul was committed to seeing fruit in the areas in which he ministered.
Paul carried out a faithful ministry in Thessalonica (2:2).
Not only did Paul seek fruit in his ministry but he did so in the midst of great opposition. The apostle reminded the Thessalonian believers about how he had been treated during his preceding work in Philippi. There he and Silas had suffered physical and verbal abuse at the hands of Christ's enemies. These men of God had been beaten and imprisoned, and the scars from this treatment were probably still apparent when they arrived in Thessalonica. But in spite of such harsh treatment, Paul and Silas were enabled to preach the gospel of Christ boldly at Thessalonica. They found the strengthening hand of God in their lives, and did not hesitate to preach. They even faced strong opposition, that is, external and internal "struggles" (a term used of athletes in training for competition) at Thessalonica. But these men demonstrated courage that could come only through their commitment to Christ. They humbly trusted the Lord who made them bold enough to preach the gospel with power. This quality of courage demonstrated that they and their message were trustworthy.
Serve God with a sense
of divine authority (2:3-4).
A second quality in the life of God's people that verifies the trustworthiness of the gospel is that of divine authority. The fact that Christians have a heavenly commission will influence the world.
Paul proclaimed a truthful message (2:3a).
To demonstrate the fact that the message of the gospel comes from God, not from men, that message must be true. Paul said that his message did not spring from error but from truth. If the gospel is true, it will be evident in the lives of those who dispense it.
Paul served with pure motives (2:3b).
Not only must the message be true, but the motives of those who proclaim Christ's message should also be pure or wholesome. Paul's preaching did not stem from false motives, such as greed or self-aggrandizement. His motives were loving and godly. He was prompted by a consuming passion to reach the lost with the saving message of Jesus Christ.
Paul employed proper methods (2:3c).
Paul did not use trickery or deceit in trying to persuade the Thessalonians to come to Christ. Such methods would be degrading to the message itself. We don't have to try to implement all kinds of gimmicks in order to reach the lost. Slick methods fail in the long run because they cheapen the gracious gift of God. Instead, our methods must be as dignified as the gospel itself.
Paul obeyed a powerful mandate (2:4).
The call of God to proclaim the gospel is evident when we use proper methods and have pure motives. But we must also realize that we share Christ out of obedience to His divine mandate. Paul and Silas were men who had God's approval. They saw themselves as God's spokesmen. The word translated "approved" carries with it the idea of testing. God had tested these men in order to approve their character. Testing in the Christian life, therefore, can be used by God to strengthen us in our ability to effectively serve Him.
God had entrusted Paul and Silas with the task of spreading the gospel. He entrusts each Christian with that same mandate. Like Paul and Silas, our goal should be to please God, not men. When we try to please men, we tend to soften the truth of God's Word concerning sin. But when we seek to please God, who "tests" our hearts to approve us, then we must present the truth of the gospel from a life that is obedient to Christ. Only if we stand firm on God's Word will the world sense that we have an unmistakable calling.
Serve God with a sense
of sincere transparency (2:5-6a).
Honesty and sincerity are essential in our communication of the gospel. The world needs to see Christians as trustworthy and transparent. This will occur only when we let the world see us as we are. We cannot hide our lives; people will see through false barriers. Instead we need to have an undisguised, transparent way of life.
Paul demonstrated sincerity (2:5a).
Paul reminded the Thessalonian believers that he and Silas never used "flattery" while they sought to win them to Christ. Flattery is that sweetened speech that attempts to win personal favor and acceptance. It's usually characterized by grand and exaggerated statements. Paul didn't stoop to such methods, but spoke with sincerity. He politely and honestly preached the truth of the gospel.
Paul demonstrated vulnerability (2:5b).
Paul also lived an open life before the Thessalonians. He never put on a mask to cover up hidden goals, such as greed. The word for "mask" refers to something putting something in front of ourselves in order to hide something less attractive. It carries the sense of a façade. But Paul had made himself vulnerable, allowing people to examine his life for what it was. God was his witness to this honesty of character.
Paul demonstrated security (2:6a).
Again Paul indicates that he did not tailor his message to fit the desires of men, but of God. But this time he goes one step farther. Not only did he have no interest in pleasing men. He cared nothing for their praise as well. In other words, Paul was no insecure person who depended on human applause to fuel his efforts. He was secure in his ministry, depending only on God.
Serve God with a sense
of self-sacrificing compassion (2:6b-9).Although it would have been easy for Paul to act as an authoritative figure, making demands of the new believers at Thessalonica, he instead demonstrated true, gentle, self-sacrificing love.
Paul exemplified love that nurtures (2:6b-7).
As an apostle of Jesus Christ, Paul could have demanded support from these new believers at Thessalonica. Instead, he trusted God for his needs and labored with his own hands to support himself and his ministry team. He demonstrated self-sacrificing love in order to nurture these new Christians.
Paul reminded the Thessalonians that he had been very gentle while he was among them. (In Greek the word "gentle" is very much like the word "babe," and some texts use the latter word instead. Both indicate a gentle attitude.) He compares this gentle love to that of a nursing mother (Greek, "nurse") caring for her own children. New believers need a tender, patient hand while they feed upon the milk of God's Word. Paul provided that kind of loving, caring nurture for the Thessalonians. A more tender picture one could hardly imagined.
Paul exemplified love that gives (2:8).
True love not only nurtures, it gives. Paul said that his "love" (literally "longing desire") had become so great for the Thessalonians that he and Silas were delighted to share more than the gospel with them. These men shared their very lives, their "souls," with them as well. This was a love that gave and gave and gave some more. True love doesn't seek its own joy and pleasure, but that of the one loved.
Paul exemplified love that labors (2:9).
Again Paul called on the Thessalonians to remember his labor (the same word Paul used of the Thessalonians in 1:3) among them. It was Paul's practice to be financially independent of those to whom he ministered. This practice guarded him from being accused of being mercenary in his spreading of the gospel. So Paul often carried on his trade as a tent-maker in order to support himself in the ministry. He worked hard, night and day, so that no one in that city would be burdened by him. Probably Paul worked all day long to support his needs, and then devoted his nights and spare moments to the work of the ministry. In this way he showed the purity of his motives and the sincerity of his love for these people. He was unselfish in his love.
Serve God with a
sense of personal integrity (2:10-12).
Integrity is a key issue today, whether in the field of finances, politics, or religion. However, no one from Thessalonica could have questioned Paul's personal integrity. Paul's testimony among the Thessalonians was spotless.
Paul consistently maintained a God-honoring reputation (2:10).
Paul was not afraid to hold his life up for review. He had conducted himself in such a way that his reputation, and therefore his testimony, was well intact. He described his conduct as "holy" (that is, upright), and "blameless" (that is, free from accusation). This was not a life that was isolated from scrutiny, but one "lived among you" as he reminded the Thessalonians. People saw Paul's faith in action. If we want to make an impact on our world with the gospel, we will have to make the gospel alive in our daily practices. People must see that our lives are different-blameless-before we can expect them to listen to what we say.
Paul consistently built God-exalting relationships (2:11-12).
Paul had a spotless reputation. He also had a warm, caring relationship with the Thessalonians. He compares this relationship to that of a father with his son. A loving father patiently, yet firmly, leads his children into maturity. He cares for the needs of his children and points them to the right path. This is what Paul did for the new believers at Thessalonica. He "encouraged" them. He "comforted" them. He "urged" them to walk in a way that was worthy of God. Since God had called these Thessalonians to Himself, to His kingdom, and to His glory they were to learn to live according to His ways. Paul, therefore, became a tutor, a loving father who could show them the right way. People must see Christians as reputable, caring, and trustworthy if the gospel is to make an impact in our communities and in our world.
"The Testimony of a Triumphant Life"
In writing to the Thessalonian believers, Paul had already defended his own actions among them. Now he turns his attention to their reception of his ministry. With thankfulness in his heart Paul reflected on the time of their conversion and their early growth, remembering also how painful it was for him to be forced to leave these dearly loved friends. Doubtless, someone had attacked Paul's character, saying that Paul fled when opposition came in Thessalonica. But Paul was no coward. His departure grieved the apostle, and he longed to return. Nevertheless, Paul could rejoice in the triumphant testimony of these new believers. This passage reminds us that, no matter how difficult life may be, Christ can grant us victory. Paul includes here four characteristics of a triumphant Christian life.
A triumphant life receives
the Word of God without rejecting its authority (2:13).
The Word of God is the foundation of the Christian life. To reject its teachings is to guarantee failure. But the Thessalonian believers welcomed the Word of God as it had been spoken by Paul and his associates.
God's Word prompts thanksgiving.
Paul begins this section with a note of thanksgiving to God. This word of thanks was prompted by the Thessalonians' reception of the Word of God. Paul says that his giving of thanks to God was "continual," just as prayer in the Christian life is to be continual (1 Thessalonians 5:17). It is obvious that the Thessalonian believers were in the forefront of Paul's mind and heart. His thoughts about them were thoughts of gratitude and thanksgiving.
The Thessalonians had received God's word with open hearts. Twice Paul refers to that reception in this verse, using two different words. The first word, "received," refers to their outward welcome of the Word of God, a "calling alongside" of God's truth to their lives. The second word, "accepted," includes the internalization of that word into their hearts and lives. The word of God must not only be welcome but also internalized if the believer is to find victory over life's trials.
God's Word spreads through people.
It's interesting to realize that the Word of God that Paul refers to here is the spoken word from his own lips. The New Testament had not yet been written. Nevertheless, the spoken message of the gospel carries with it the authority of God's Word. The Thessalonians received Paul's message as the very Word of God, and rightly so. The gospel is not simply a human message, the mere words of men. It is the powerful, authoritative voice of God (Romans 1:16). Whether spoken or written, it must be heeded. Believers today have a responsibility to follow the teachings of God's Word, and to speak it to others. In fact, most unbelievers will not read a Bible, but they will see our lives and hear our words if we but speak God's truth to them.
God's Word produces change.
The Word of God was "at work" in the lives of the Thessalonian believers. It is powerful and will produce changes when we receive and incorporate it into our daily lives. Living triumphantly means living according to God's Word. His Word must penetrate our lives. We must hear it, study it, and live by it. Then we will see its power in our lives.
A triumphant life responds to
the trials of this world without caving in (2:14-16).
Trials are a part of life, but how we respond to trials demonstrates whether we'll have a triumphant life. The Thessalonian believers did not cave in when trials came. They grew in strength and faith.
We must remember that trials are manageable (2:14a).
It's important for every Christian to realize that trials in life are manageable. Sometimes it seems as though certain trials are too overbearing, and that relief, let alone success, are impossibilities. But every trial that enters the life of a believer is manageable, by God's help. The Thessalonian believers found help in their times of trial by imitating the example of other successful Christians. They followed the pattern of the churches in Judea, where persecution was greatest. Those churches had learned how to withstand the opposition of the world, and now their example was a help to others. God may allow us to go through certain struggles so that, when we are victorious, our lives can be a help to others.
We must remember that trials are normal (2:14b-16a).
We should never think that we are unique when it comes to trials in life. If we isolate ourselves from other believers, we'll tend to feel that only we face such struggles. But in reality, Christians everywhere tend to face the same kinds of trials. In Thessalonica the new believers experienced opposition from their own people-probably their neighbors, business associates, and even friends. But the churches in Judea found the same kind of opposition from their own people, the Jews. Trials are normal.
Paul here points to the fact that the Jews had been instrumental in the death of Jesus Christ. Of course, Paul loved the Jewish people and sought to turn them to the truth of the gospel. His remarks here cannot be taken as hateful. He is simply pointing out a historical reality. But the Jews were not alone in bringing about the death of Christ. The Romans-Gentiles-were also active participants (1 Corinthians 2:8). In reality, every one of us is responsible for Christ's death (Isaiah 53:6).
The churches of Judea underwent great opposition from the Jews. These unbelieving Jews had not only been involved in the death of Christ, but they had also killed the prophets, including the Old Testament prophets as well as men like Stephen in the New Testament. Furthermore, these unbelieving Jews had driven Paul and others away, just as unbelievers had done in Thessalonica. So trials are normal to the Christian life.
Paul stated that anyone who opposes the gospel displeases God. Such people also stand in opposition to that which is good for humankind. Many times this opposition is based on ignorance of the gospel. People had opposed Paul in his attempts to deliver the gospel to the Gentiles. But unless people hear the gospel, they cannot be saved. Therefore, trials and opposition must never waylay Christians in their attempts to share Christ with those in need.
We must remember that trials are temporary (2:16b).
Those who oppose the gospel are filling up their cup of sin to the point that God will severely judge their actions. This kind of description of sin is found in the Old Testament as well (Genesis 15:16). To oppose God's purposes is to test God's patience with sin, and there comes a time when sin reaches a measured climax. Then God intervenes in judgment. His wrath will come upon those individuals who have filled their cup of sin, and that wrath will be complete. According to the Greek tense, the verb in this verse indicates that such people are already under divine wrath, and can only escape by faith in Jesus Christ. Since God intervenes in judgment, trials are only temporary in nature. God calls His children to endure temporary trials in light of future justice.
A triumphant life resists
the opposition of Satan without giving up (2:17-18).
Paul was not easily distracted from his purpose in preaching Christ. Even Satan could not make Paul give up. Paul resisted Satan's opposition throughout his ministry.
We must show a genuine spiritual concern for others (2:17).
Paul and his companions did not leave Thessalonica as a result of their own desire to depart. They had been prepared to dig in and face the persecution along with the new believers there. Acts 17:5-10 tells how Paul was sent out of Thessalonica by his friends in order to spare his life. Paul describes this departure as being "torn away." The Greek term used here means to be "orphaned," and is used only here in the New Testament. It carries the idea of a traumatic, undesirable cutting off of a loving relationship. But for Paul, this severance was to be temporary. He planned to return to Thessalonica as soon as possible. He reassured these new believers that his absence was in body only, not in heart. Because of Paul's love for these people and his concern for their spiritual welfare, he had already made great efforts to return to them.
We are engaged in a genuine supernatural conflict with Satan (2:18).
Paul had evidently made more than one effort to return to Thessalonica. He especially, along with his co-workers, was anxious to get back to them and assist them in their walk with Christ. But they could not return because, in Paul's estimate, Satan hindered them. The word Paul uses to describe Satan's hindering methods is a word used of tearing up a road so that an approaching army would not be able to move in. The Christian ministry is a battle, and Satan does all that he can to throw up the roadblocks to prevent our progress. But like Paul, we cannot give up. We must try again and again to gain new ground for Christ.
A triumphant life rejoices in
the victories of others without becoming selfish (2:19-20).
A final mark of a triumphant life is that such a life can rejoice in the victories of others. Sometimes Christians find it difficult to find joy in others simply because we become selfish and think that we should have what they have. We may even want to take credit for the successes of others in some way. But a triumphant life is able to rejoice in the victories of others and give glory to God.
Our future joy will revolve around others in Christ (2:19).
Those who selfishly look to themselves for their own satisfaction and joy are going to be disappointed in the presence of the Lord. Paul saw that his future joy would revolve around others. He said that his hope, joy, and crown of glory would be the Thessalonians and others like them who had been impacted with the gospel through Paul's ministry. The crown, like that given to the athletes of Paul's day as a mark of victory, will be a prize for fruitful Christian service. Such rewards will be given by Jesus Christ when He comes. These rewards revolve around people. To stand in the presence of Christ surrounded by the people whose lives we've touched will be a great joy, because by these marks of a faithful life we will bring glory to God. May we not enter heaven's gate empty-handed in that day!
Our present joy can likewise revolve around others in Christ (2:20).
Not only is our future joy dependent on others, but our present joy likewise comes from seeing others growing in their walk with Christ. Paul shifts from the future tense to the present when he says to the Thessalonians, "You are our glory and joy." Do we rejoice when others come to Christ and demonstrate spiritual progress, or do we selfishly seek to take credit for the successes of others? Do we rob ourselves of the joy of seeing others grow? Certainly we each need to be growing, demonstrating spiritual progress. But when others around us succeed, we need to be equally joyful. We are not in competition with other believers or other churches, but are striving together to bring glory to Christ. Therefore, our joy can be found in others. Every Christian should seek to glorify God by making a difference for Him in the life of someone else. Paul was multiplying his life over and over again in others, and we need to do likewise. Then we will have joy in this life and in the life to come.
"The Testimony of a Tenacious Life"
The opposition to the Christian faith was severe in Thessalonica. Paul had been forced to leave that city prematurely, and the new believers whom he had left behind had become the target of attack. Paul's concern for these new believers prompted him to send Timothy to Thessalonica in order to find out how firm these people were in the faith and to help strengthen them in that faith. First Thessalonians 3:1-13 contains the record of this mission along with Timothy's favorable report. The Thessalonians hadn't lost their footing. They were strong in their faith in Jesus Christ. This passage is very personal. Paul here refers to the faith of the Thessalonians five times (verses 2, 5, 6, 7, 10). His purpose is to show that genuine faith in Jesus Christ can grow even in times of testing.
Our faith must be
a growing faith (3:1-5).
The first paragraph of this chapter relates Paul's purpose in sending Timothy back to Thessalonica. Paul wanted to find out about the quality of faith that the Thessalonians were exhibiting since his departure. Timothy was to size up the situation and encourage these new believers. From the example of the Thessalonians we can learn some lessons about growing in our faith.
We grow in our faith by responding enthusiastically to sound teaching (3:1-3a).
In order to fully understand this passage of Scripture, it's helpful to compare and harmonize it with Acts 17-18. In the book of Acts, Luke records the departure of Paul and Silas from Thessalonica. Presumably Timothy was with them. Their next stop was at Berea, where antagonists from Thessalonica came and continued to oppose Paul. Paul had to leave Silas and Timothy at Berea while he fled to Athens. From there, Paul sent word to his two partners to join him in Athens as soon as possible. But Acts 18:5 indicates that Silas and Timothy joined Paul later in Corinth. First Thessalonians 3:1, on the other hand, refers to an agreement among the three that Paul should be left alone in Athens for a period of time. Evidently, Silas and Timothy did follow Paul's instructions and met him in Athens. While at Athens, Paul sent Timothy to Thessalonica in order to strengthen the church there. Later Paul may have sent Silas back to Philippi, planning to reunite with the entire team in Corinth. Paul then went on to Corinth to begin preaching. Silas and Timothy later joined up and went to meet Paul in Corinth. It was, therefore, in Corinth that Paul received the good news concerning the steadfast faith of the Thessalonian believers. This news was a source of joy for Paul and his team.
In 1 Thessalonians 3:1, Paul says that he, along with Silas and Timothy, thought it best for him to be left alone in Athens in order for Timothy to return to Thessalonica. The term "to be left alone" is a strong term, used of abandonment, and shows that Paul felt almost deserted without his companions in ministry. But Paul was so concerned for the Thessalonians that even loneliness and abandonment seemed best.
Paul chose Timothy to return with the very important assignment of strengthening the new believers at Thessalonica. Why Paul chose Timothy is probably a combination of circumstances and Timothy's character. Paul could not go back himself, for his presence would have provoked greater hostility toward the believers. Silas, likewise, was probably better known than Timothy by the persecutors in Thessalonica. But Timothy had not been the target of attack earlier, and was probably able to return to Thessalonica more discretely.
Furthermore, Paul considered Timothy's character to be worthy of the task. Paul calls Timothy a "brother" and a "fellow worker," one who was dear and dependable. He was faithful in his work for God in spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. Nothing seemed to slow Timothy in his zeal for the ministry. Timothy was a worthy candidate for this task.
Paul sent Timothy to "strengthen and encourage" the Thessalonians in their faith. This he would accomplish through his gift of teaching, building these new believers up in their understanding of Christ and His work on the cross. In this way they would not become "unsettled" by the trials around them. The word translated "unsettled" was sometimes used of a dog wagging its tail. Here it refers to a tendency toward vacillation, a susceptibility to being easily moved by the opposition of others. The Thessalonian Christians, however, proved to be steadfast in the faith. They had responded well to Paul's teaching, and received Timothy's teaching with open arms as well.
We grow in our faith by responding appropriately to trials (3:3b-4).
Paul took a moment to remind the Thessalonians that trials in the faith were not unique to them. Paul himself had warned that trials and persecution were a part of the normal Christian life. He, too, had endured severe persecution while ministering among them. So trials were not new. How Christians respond to trials, however, is the main issue. Trials sometimes break believers who do not exercise their faith in these matters. But trials can also make believers stronger in the faith. When Christians stand firm in times of opposition, they find that their faith grows. Like exercising the body, trials exercise the soul and can make the believer more confident and firm in the faith.
We grow in our faith by resisting temptation (3:5).
Closely related to trials are temptations, for when the believer is tested, he or she will be tempted to give up on the faith. But when Christians successfully resist temptation, by God's help, they grow in their faith.
Paul was so concerned about the new believers at Thessalonica that, as he repeats, he sent Timothy to find out about their faith. He feared that the tempter, Satan, might have tempted them to the point that Paul's work would have been in vain. Paul had no doubt that Satan would tempt them. Temptation is certain in the Christian life. Paul's question was whether or not his work would prove to be of value in the lives of the Thessalonians to the extent that they would withstand temptation. The positive report from Timothy reassured Paul of the Thessalonians' growing faith.
Our faith must be
a steadfast faith (3:6-10).
Paul had sent Timothy to Thessalonica in order to strengthen the commitment of these new believers to Christ. Now Timothy had returned with his favorable report in hand. He indicated that these new believers were steadfast in their faith. Paul lists here the evidence for their faith, evidence that should be present in the life of every believer.
Steadfast faith longs for fellowship with other believers (3:6).
Paul was elated with the good news brought by Timothy. The term for "good news" is the same used in verse 2 for the gospel, and shows how highly Paul valued the report of the Thessalonians' steadfast faith. Timothy had found that these new believers had maintained both their faith and their love. It is interesting that no report is made of their hope, which was evident in 1 Thessalonians 1:3. Paul devotes a great amount of the rest of this short letter to the subject of the believer's hope, since that aspect of their growth seemed to be the weakest. But their faith and love were strong in the Lord.
One telltale sign of the Thessalonians' faith was the fact that they held pleasant memories of Paul, their spiritual father, and desired greatly to see him again. The desire for fellowship, especially with those who have been of spiritual significance in our lives, is a mark of true and lasting faith. The Christian who does not desire or enjoy the fellowship of other believers has a faith that is defective. True faith longs for Christian fellowship. The Thessalonians longed to see Paul and his co-workers, and their desire was matched only by Paul's desire to see them.
Steadfast faith gives encouragement to other believers (3:7).
The second mark of faith in the lives of the Thessalonians was the encouragement they brought to Paul. Though Paul, Silas, and Timothy constantly faced distress and persecution, they found encouragement in the fact that their labors carried lasting results. When other believers are growing in their faith, this brings joy and encouragement to the hearts of those who minister to them.
Steadfast faith finds its strength in the Lord (3:8).
Paul considered the good report concerning the Thessalonians to be a reviving message. Now he really felt alive and refreshed in the ministry because these new believers were "standing firm in the Lord." They did not stand firm in their own resolve of character, nor in the strength of their leaders. They stood firm because of their position and faith in Jesus Christ. True faith takes no credit for self effort, but finds its strength solely in the Lord.
Steadfast faith prompts thankfulness to God (3:9).
The steadfast faith of the Thessalonians prompted Paul to give thanks to God. In fact, Paul said that he could not thank God enough. The Thessalonians' faith had brought such joy to the apostle that no amount of thanksgiving to God could suffice. To have joy in the presence of God in this life is a great blessing, and to be the source of that joy because of our faith is a greater blessing still.
Steadfast faith may be incomplete, but growing (3:10).
Paul had such a love for the Thessalonians that he prayed day and night for them. That is to say, these new believers were on his heart continually. Paul's prayer to God was that he might have the opportunity to go and see the Thessalonians again, for he wanted to assist them in their newfound faith. Paul knew that faith can be genuine, though incomplete. He also knew that he could help to complete their faith as they grew in the Lord. No one is perfect in faith, but every believer can grow. True faith will desire to grow.
Our faith must be
an active faith (3:11-13).
Paul now took the opportunity in his letter to express his desire for the Thessalonians in response to Timothy's report. This response is in the form of a wish-list, but really forms the content of Paul's prayer for the Thessalonians. Although faith is not directly mentioned in this section, the preceding verses show that Paul is responding to the Thessalonians' faith. Theirs was both a steadfast and an active faith.
Faith responds through prayerful concern for others (3:11).
Although the report from Thessalonica was extremely favorable, Paul still had a deep concern for these fellow Christians. He showed that concern by praying for their spiritual growth. Satan had hindered his return, but Paul was praying for a clearing of these spiritual roadblocks. He indicated this desire to God the Father and to the Lord Jesus. His view of the triune Godhead makes it possible to refer to both the Father and the Son with a singular verb, "to clear the way," a reinforcement of the Trinitarian doctrine evident in the original Greek. Paul new that only God could make it possible for him to return to Thessalonica.
Faith responds through personal love for others (3:12).
The second aspect of Paul's desire to return to the Thessalonians was that the Lord would work in their lives in such a way as to make love an evident and ever-increasing virtue. This overflowing love would be directed to fellow believers ("one another") and to unbelievers as well ("everyone else"). Paul again reminded the Thessalonians of his own love for them. True faith should respond in personal love for others.Faith responds through practical holiness before others (3:13).
The final aspect of Paul's desire to see the Thessalonian believers again, an expansion of verse 12 in the original text, is that the Thessalonians would exhibit practical holiness in their lives. This kind of lifestyle is only possible with God's help as He strengthens our hearts. Paul wanted all believers to be "blameless," that it, upright in the sight of others, and "holy," that is, upright in the sight of God. The urgency of this desire for holiness is found in the doctrine of the imminent return of Jesus Christ. Every believer should desire to be found holy in God's sight when Christ returns with "all his holy ones" at the time of the rapture (to be introduce in the next chapter of this epistle). These "holy ones" might well include the angelic host that will accompany Christ at His return, but it will also include the saints of the church, those who have passed on before the return of Christ. This reference to the return of Christ closes the first section of the epistle, the personal section dealing with the testimonies of Paul and of the Thessalonians. Paul will now turn to the practical teaching of this letter. For now, however, the reader has learned that true faith never gives up and even grows in times of testing.
"Living a Life that's Pure"
The apostle Paul was not a theorist. He was a practitioner. The truths that he taught always carried a practical application, and the book of 1 Thessalonians is no exception. Having written in the first three chapters about the formation of the church at Thessalonica and about the testimony of these new believers, Paul now turns his attention to specific matters of practice. His first concern as a spiritual father to these people was that they might live in purity before God. When Jesus Christ comes into a life, He changes that life. Impurity and sin are no longer welcome. In these opening verses of chapter four, Paul zeroes in on three matters of Christian living-the general walk of the believer, physical purity, and attitudes toward people and work. It's possible to sum up this passage by saying that the child of God is never to stop growing in purity and in practice. That is to say, God is pleased by our spiritual progress.
God calls us to live a life
that's pleasing to Him (4:1-2).
The first verses of this chapter mark a transition from the personal section of the book to that which is practical. Here we read that we are to walk in such a way as to please God. Obviously God loves us, and is pleased with us through Jesus Christ. But this does not mean that everything we do pleases Him. In fact, we often displease and grieve God. What, then, brings pleasure to God in our lives?
A life that pleases God is characterized by growth (4:1).
Stagnation is never a virtue in the Christian life. We're to be growing in our walk with God. God is pleased when He sees growth in us, no matter how long we've been a part of His family.
Paul marks a transition in this letter by using the word "finally," even though he still intends to write a fairly lengthy section on practical living. Verse one is rather complex in its sentence structure, but the main concept that Paul is encouraging here is growth. He both asks as an equal and urges or exhorts as a spiritual leader these Christians to grow in their walk with Christ. The Thessalonians had already received from Paul instructions concerning the Christian life. They had even followed Paul's instructions quite carefully. But Paul did not want these new believers to become complacent, to think that they had reached a high enough level of maturity in Christ to move into a maintenance mode. There will always be room for spiritual progress in this life. We must walk in a way pleasing to God, and then do so "more and more." If we are obedient, we must become more obedient. Nobody's perfect, just progressing.A life that pleases God is based on God's Word (4:2).
Another aspect of a life that pleases God is finding direction and establishing a foundation in the Word of God. Divine instruction is necessary to keep us on course in the Christian life. Paul reminded the Thessalonians that they already knew these instructions. The word translated "instructions" carries with it the military concept of orders that are meant to be carried out. These orders were from the Lord Jesus Christ, no matter if they had come orally from the mouth of the apostle Paul or in written form from the pen of Paul. Today, believers have only the written Word of God, but that is certainly adequate instruction for living a God-pleasing life. We must know the Word of God in order to please God.
God calls us to live a life
that's pure before Him (4:3-8).
We're to please God with everything in our lives. One way in which we please Him is to live in purity and holiness before Him.
Paul presents three descriptions of physical purity (4:3-6a).
Paul first uses a general statement, and then describes that general statement in three ways. His general statement focuses on God's will for believers. "It is God's will that you should be sanctified." Sanctification is a progressive purifying of our lives that begins the moment we're saved and continues until we go to be with the Lord. It is holiness in progress. We must make ourselves available for this sanctification process. In the passage at hand, Paul is specifically concerned about physical purity in relation to sexual temptations.
Abstain from defilement (4:3)-Sanctification, according to Paul, includes abstinence from sexual defilement or fornication. The word for "fornication" or "sexual immorality" is a broad term that can refer to premarital sex, extramarital sex, homosexuality, or any other kind of sinful sexual involvement. The Greco-Roman culture of Paul's day not only accepted sexual perversion as normal, but also encouraged it. For example, some of the religious rites of these pagans involved prostitution. Regrettably, that society isn't much different than today's. It's impossible not to notice how our contemporary culture is absorbed by sex and physical pleasure. But God demands purity in matters of the body, limiting acceptable sexual expression to the marriage relationship. Apart from this relationship, the child of God must abstain from sexual relations.
Apply personal discipline (4:4-5)-Paul continues to expand on his thoughts concerning sanctification in regard to physical purity by calling for discipline of the body. Two major interpretations of this verse stand out. The terms "possess" (NIV "learn to control") and "vessel" (NIV "body") can be taken to mean "take a wife" ("vessel" is used of a wife in 1 Peter 3:7). This, then, would be Paul's explanation of how to avoid sexual impurity. Sexual expression is reserved for the bonds of marriage. However, such an interpretation is not demanded by the terms used and seems to be rather hidden. A more straightforward interpretation sees "vessel" as a reference to the believer's body (2 Corinthians 4:7). The idea of possessing one's body would refer to knowing how to be disciplined in the use and control of the physical drives that sometimes lead to temptation. Such discipline is necessary in using the body for purposes that are "holy and honorable." In contrast to the holy and honorable uses of the body is the "passionate lust" of the heathen, or non-believers, who have simply refused to place limits on physical expression. They do not know God, and so they have no knowledge of purity. They simply follow their sensual desires. No doubt many of the Thessalonian believers had come from such a lifestyle. As believers, they would have to bring their lifestyle under discipline.
Avoid defrauding others (4:6a)-A further description of fornication is that such sin damages others. "In this matter" refers to the matter of sexual impurity. No one should "wrong" or "transgress" the rights of other believers, or "defraud" them in any way. In other words, sexual sins don't just affect one party. At least two individuals, and often many more, are hurt in such a transgression. Paul realizes that Christians are not immune to physical temptations. Too often we hear of church members who destroy their lived through sexual sins. Such practices ought not to be found in the church of Jesus Christ.
Paul presents three reasons for maintaining physical purity (4:6b-8).
Now that Paul has described physical purity in three ways, he goes on to warn against impurity in three ways.
Divine Judgment (4:6b)-Paul had already warned the Thessalonians that God judges sin, including sins of fornication. Divine judgment should in itself be reason enough to abstain from such sins, but Paul gives two more reasons.
Divine Calling (4:7)-God has called us into His family. His calling was a holy calling; He calls us to holy living. Impurity has no place in the Christian life. This reason for living in purity is a positive motivation, based on the gracious call of God.
Divine Enablement (4:8)-Someone might object to Paul's requirement of physical purity based on human weakness. After all, God created our physical drives. But God has given us the enablement through the indwelling Holy Spirit to overcome such temptations. To reject these instructions concerning purity is, therefore, to reject God, not the human messenger (Paul in this case). What God is saying is that His standard for purity of lifestyle is higher than that of the world. The Christian should seek to live in accordance with God's high calling. This can be done only through personal discipline and dependence on the indwelling power of God.
God calls us to live a life
that's productive for Him (4:9-12).
The Christian's love and labor are of great interest to God. God is pleased when we are productive in both areas.We're to live a life characterized by ever increasing love (4:9-10).
Turning from the issue of purity, Paul now addresses the issue of "brotherly love" (Greek: philadelphia). Brother love involves a cooperative concern for others in the same family (the church). Such love must be more than love in word only. It must be tangible and productive. In this matter, the Thessalonians were already well advanced. Paul said that he really did not need to write about such love, for these people had been "God-taught." This means that God had directly impressed on their hearts the necessity of loving others. Here Paul shifts to a different word for "love" (Greek: agape). The Thessalonians had a reputation for love among all the believers in their region. But again Paul urged them to progress in that love, to exhibit love "more and more."
We're to live a life characterized by productive labor (4:11-12).
Love for one another will demonstrate itself in a desire to avoid becoming a burden to others. Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to be productive in their labor as well as in their love. They were to be ambitious to accomplish three things in regard to their labors.
First, they were to make it their aim to lead a quiet life. This does not mean that they were to be silent, but to be at peace about their standard of living. Many people are restless because they don't have enough material goods or money. They get themselves stirred up, and stir up others, in their quest for greater wealth. But Paul says that each Christian should aim for a quiet, settled live.
Second, the aim of the believer should be to mind his or her own business. That is to say, we should not be meddlesome. We sometimes get so concerned about the affairs of others that we are unable to take care of our own shortcomings.
Third, believers should aim to work diligently. Here Paul seems to have in mind manual labor, the work of our hands. Sometimes Christians become disenchanted with their own livelihoods, the mundane work of a regular job. After all, ministry is much more important than these kinds of labors, or so it seems. But God says that our work is our ministry. How we perform on the job will testify to how we view our lives overall. We're always to work as unto the Lord.
The results of achieving these aims-no restlessness, no meddlesomeness, and no idleness-are both external and internal. Externally, those outside of the body of Christ will be able to respect Christians in the workplace. Such respect will lead to open doors for sharing the gospel. Internally, other believers will not need to be burdened with supporting an idle brother or sister. We should do all that we can to earn our own keep. This is the way God most often uses to meet all our needs. We're to be productive in our labors and in our love. We're also to be pure in our living so as to please God. And if these qualities are already a part of our lives, then with Paul we should want to see them evident "more and more."
"Living a Life that's Expectant"
What we believe about the future determines how we live in the present. For example, if we believe that there will be no judgment of sins in the future, we won't see a need to respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ or to live in harmony with His Word. If we believe that Jesus Christ is not going to return soon, we may become lax in our obedience and Christian service. But if we believe in the imminent return of Jesus Christ for His people, we will live in expectancy and purity.
Paul has just completed a section in this letter dealing with purity in the life of the believer. Now he turns to a new, though related, subject-the return of Jesus Christ and the rapture of the church. These two sections are related in that purity of life is prompted by a belief in Christ's imminent return. But this section is more than motivational. Its primary purpose is to provide comfort. Christians find comfort in the second coming of Jesus Christ. This theme of comfort is expanded in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.
We can take comfort in knowing that
death for the Christian is considered to be peaceful rest (4:13).
Paul introduces this new section by referring to the Thessalonian believers as "brothers" and by expressing his concern about their knowledge. Paul didn't want them to be "ignorant," or uninformed, about doctrinal truths relating to the return of Jesus Christ, especially as these truths related to those Christians who had already died prior to Christ's return. Evidently Paul had already taught the Thessalonians concerning the rapture of the church. They were expecting to be caught up to meet the Lord. But since Paul had been with them, some of their Christian friends had died. Would those who had died prior to Christ's return be excluded from His glorious call to heaven? Paul wrote to inform the Thessalonians and us concerning this question.
Paul also wrote to encourage the Thessalonians not to grieve like unbelievers. Non-Christians have no real hope beyond the grave, and so they grieve for their departed loved ones. But the believer does not grieve for the dead. Believers grieve for their own loss when someone else goes to be with the Lord. Grief is acceptable for the Christian, as is evident in Jesus' weeping over the death of Lazarus. But Christian grief need not be extreme, uncontrollable, hopeless grief. Death for a Christian is a passageway into eternity with the Lord.
In this passage, Paul follows the lead of Jesus Christ in referring to death as sleep (compare John 11:11). James 2:26 describes death as a separation of body and spirit. Therefore, we can see in the death of a Christian a physical sleep, a period of rest for the body. This sleep, however, doesn't apply to the soul. The soul is very much alert after death, enjoying the blessings of heaven.At death, the body is asleep.
The Bible calls the Christian's death a peaceful rest, a "sleep." This kind of term is very appropriate for death in regard to the Christian. We know that sleep is a time in which the body rests, but that the mind is quite active. Sleep is temporary; it implies that there will be an awakening. Sleep is pleasant and peaceful. Death for the Christian is a pleasant, peaceful, restful, temporary stage. But sleep in this regard only applies to the body. The body appears to be at peace and rest, and so it is. But the soul is alert and active.
At death, the soul is alert.
In other passages, Paul makes it very clear that when believers die, they immediately pass on into the presence of the Lord (Philippians 1:22-24; 2 Corinthians 5:6-8). Even here in this passage Paul makes a distinction between the sleep of the body and the conscious existence of the soul. In verse 14 we read that Jesus Christ, when He returns, will bring with Him those who had fallen asleep. In other words, there will be a reuniting of the souls in heaven with their sleeping bodies on earth.
We can take comfort in knowing that
Jesus Christ has promised His personal return (4:14).
It's comforting to know that death for the believer is really a time of rest and peace. It's also a comfort to know that Jesus Christ will return personally for His people.
We believe in Jesus' resurrection.
This verse begins as a conditional sentence in the Greek with the word "if." But the construction indicates that the content of the sentence is a reality. "If we believe" could be translated "since we believe." The Christian believes that Jesus Christ died and rose again. This is the basic kernel of the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-5). The resurrection of Jesus Christ, therefore, becomes the guarantee of our own physical resurrection and the basis of our hope for the future. Since Jesus rose from the dead, He can and will return for His people.
We believe in Jesus' return.
Since Jesus rose from the dead as He had promised, He will also return for His people as He promised. Paul says that God will "bring with Jesus" those Christians who have fallen asleep. This means that Jesus Christ Himself will return personally for His bride, the church (compare verse 16). It also means that He will not return alone. He will be accompanied by the souls of believers who have already died.
Now, it's possible to interpret the "bringing" with Him as meaning to bring the resurrected saints from earth to heaven. But it seems better to understand this "bringing" from the perspective of Paul writing on earth. Jesus will bring with Him from heaven to earth the souls of those who have believed. In either case, the main point of comfort is found in the personal return of Jesus Christ.
We can take comfort in knowing that
the future state of the believer includes a physical resurrection (4:15-16).
The body of the believer is not lost for eternity. God will raise us up at the return of Jesus Christ through a physical resurrection.
Jesus' return for the church is imminent.
Paul was living in expectation of the imminent return of Jesus Christ. The truth concerning the rapture of the church came by revelation from Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself promised that He would come and take us to be with Him (John 14:3). In addition, Jesus may have revealed additional details about the rapture directly to Paul and the other apostles.
Paul placed himself in the category of those living at the time of Christ's return. This does not mean that Paul was incorrect in thinking that Christ would return in his lifetime. It simply means that Paul was living in the expectancy of Jesus' imminent return. There was in his mind nothing preventing the rapture of the church from occurring at any time. There are no unfulfilled prophecies that must first be fulfilled. Christ could return today. As an aside, the imminent return of Jesus Christ implies that the tribulation period must follow the rapture.
There are always two categories of believers-those who are still living and those who have fallen asleep. We who are alive will in no way inherit a greater joy or glory than those who have died. Nor will we precede them, arriving glorified in heaven before them. We will be united together with them "in the air."
Jesus' return for the church will be unmistakable.
What will take place on that great day of the rapture? Here we read that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself will personally come down from heaven where He currently dwells in His humanity. His coming will be accompanied with a shout, or a loud command. It is interesting that when Jesus raised Lazarus, He shouted "Come forth!" (John 11:43). He commanded the widow's son to get up, and then reunited him with his mother (Luke 7:14-15). He commanded Jairus' daughter to arise, and she did so instantaneously (Mark 5:41-42). Jesus' return will also be accompanied by the "voice of the archangel" and the "trumpet call of God." It's possible that these three sounds are really one. Even if they are distinct, the impression is that the return of Christ will happen in a moment of time. God's people will know that Jesus has returned.
Jesus' return for the church will include resurrection and transformation.
When Christ returns, the dead in Christ will rise first. The term "in Christ" refers to church saints, not to saints of other ages. The rapture is a time of resurrection for the church, and all those who have died as believers in Christ will be raised to life just prior to the catching up of the church into heaven. Those believers who are still alive at that time will be transformed into resurrection glory. There is, therefore, a physical resurrection which we can anticipate as believers. This truth gives us hope.
We can take comfort in knowing that
the church can expect at any time the promised rapture (4:17a).
Verse 17 contains the clearest teaching on the rapture in the entire New Testament. Coupled with other related passages, this verse provides us with a clear picture as to the future hope of the believer.
The believer will be "caught up" (raptured).
After Jesus Christ returns and raises from the dead those Christians who have already died, He will catch away all believers to be with Himself. The word translated "caught up" in the Latin translations gives us our word "rapture." The rapture of the church, therefore, is that future event that includes the physical, bodily transfer of all Christians to be with Jesus Christ. Jesus will come for us and we will return with Him to heaven. This is the next event for the church as described in biblical prophecy.
The rapture of the church is distinct from Christ's second coming to earth. At the end of the seven-year tribulation period Jesus Christ will return physically and visibly to earth. But that return is a separate event. At the rapture the church will meet the Lord in the air, but at the second coming Jesus Christ will return to the earth. At the rapture believers will be taken to heaven, but at the second coming believers will remain on earth with Christ to establish His millennial kingdom.
The believer will be changed.
But if those Christians who have died are resurrected, won't there need to be a transformation of living believers? Yes. Such a transformation is described in 1 Corinthians 15:51-53. In that moment of time that we call the rapture, living Christians will be "changed" physically to be fit for life in heaven with the Lord. Sin will be removed, and the believer will enjoy a glorified body. This event is the blessed hope of the believer, a hope that motivates us to live in purity (Titus 2:11-13). This blessed hope also gives us comfort.
We can take comfort in knowing that
eternity will be a time of permanent reunion (4:17b-18).
At the time of the rapture there will be a great reunion of believers-a reunion with the Lord and with the Lord's people.At the rapture we'll experience an eternal reunion with other believers.
Paul says that at the rapture "we" as Christians will be caught up together, and "we" will be with the Lord forever. This means that those Christians who have died will be joined in happy reunion with those living, and together we will enjoy eternal fellowship with one another. Parted families will be rejoined. Friendships will be rekindled. There will be no more parting from those we love so much.
At the rapture we'll experience an eternal reunion with Jesus Christ.
As wonderful as reunion with others will be, nothing can compare with the joy that will be ours when we are brought into perfect and unending union with Jesus Christ. Only then will we know in fullness the great love of our Savior, the great hideousness of our sins, and the great joy of forgiveness through the blood of Christ. Only then will we experience the greatness of our present spiritual union with Jesus Christ that is our present reality through faith. That reunion will be fantastic and will last "forever."
The truth of the future rapture of the church provides comfort here and now.
It was almost unnecessary for Paul to conclude this section by saying that the truths of Christ's return for the church provide comfort. But he does say so in order for us not to miss the point. As Christians, we have the assurance of comfort in light of the future. We also have the responsibility to comfort one another with the truths of God's Word. Our future is certain. Our hope is comforting. Our expectation is motivating. Our anticipation is purifying.
"Living a Life that's Prepared"
We can be certain that
the Day of the Lord is imminent (5:1-3).
The question about timing concerning the return of Jesus Christ and the rapture of the church involves a discussion of the Day of the Lord. The Day of the Lord is a future period of judgment on the earth followed by the blessing of God. Paul presents two main characteristics of the Day of the Lord and provides an illustration for each.
The Day of the Lord will be characterized by an unexpected debut (5:1-2).
Verse one presents a shift in subject matter from the preceding chapter, though with the connected theme of the return of Jesus Christ. The phrase "now concerning" marks off this transition in thought. Paul is moving chronologically. Having described the rapture of the church, he is now turning to the subject of the Day of the Lord, or the Tribulation period and the events that follow it.
The Thessalonians were curious as to the "times and dates (seasons)" of end time events. "Times" refers more to the sequence and order of events, that is, the chronology of events to occur prior to the rapture. "Seasons" refers more to the quality and characteristics of that time, what kinds of times those will be. In both cases, Paul's response is that he does not need to go into detail regarding these themes. He had already instructed the Thessalonians in these matters. However, Paul does clarify for us the reason that such a discussion is unnecessary. The rapture of the church and the beginning of the Day of the Lord are imminent. There are no events that must be fulfilled prior to the rapture. The quality of time will not matter. Such signs of end time events are given only in regard to the second coming of Jesus Christ, not the rapture of the church. And such time characteristics could become a reality during the tribulation period. So Paul is saying that we are to be prepared at all times, since we cannot know the time of Christ's return for the church.
Paul here introduces the phrase "the Day of the Lord." This phrase is found in several passages of the Bible and can refer to a time of judgment or a time of blessing. Since the Jewish day began at sundown, it is likely that the image here refers to darkness (judgment) followed by light (blessing). The Day of the Lord, therefore, includes the tribulation period, a future time of great judgment on this earth, followed by the millennial kingdom, a time of great blessing. Since the rapture of the church is imminent, so too is the tribulation that immediately follows the rapture.
Paul uses a familiar illustration for the unexpected nature of the arrival of the Day of the Lord. That Day will come "like a thief in the night." The main characteristic of thieves is that they will intrude when people don't expect them. Obviously no thief sends a warning card ahead. Otherwise, the victim would make arrangements to prevent the thief's intrusion. So a thief in the night comes unexpectedly and suddenly. In the same way, the Day of the Lord will come suddenly at an unexpected time.
The Day of the Lord will be characterized by an unavoidable destruction (5:3).
The cry of our world is for peace and security. In the end times there will be a similar longing for "peace and safety." Unbelievers, those left behind in the rapture, will proclaim that peace and safety have at last arrived. This feeling may be a result of world events at that time, possibly due to the disappearance of Christians, who have been the source of unsettling the consciences of the unsaved world. It's interesting to recall that when the antichrist comes on the scene he will be viewed as one who is able to bring order and enforce peace in the world. He will be involved in signing a peace treaty in the Middle East. So peace and safety will seem to prevail, at least temporarily.
However, at a time when peace seems to be the order of the day "sudden destruction" will fall on this world. The wrath and judgment of God will be poured out, and "there will be no escape." This future period of tribulation will be unavoidable.
Again Paul illustrates this aspect of the Day of the Lord. That Day will be unavoidable, like the labor pains of a pregnant woman. Every expecting mother knows that at some time labor will begin. The time of their arrival is uncertain, and these labor pains are unavoidable. Eventually labor will begin. The awful pain and judgment that make up the Day of the Lord cannot be prevented. It will come in increasing strength and affect everyone living on this planet. No one left after the rapture will be able to avoid that judgment.
We can be certain that the present day
will be characterized by spiritual conflict (5:4-8).
But what difference does it make to the Christian if the Day of the Lord is coming? After all, believers will be caught away before that Day begins. However, every Christian should desire to be fully prepared to meet the Lord. Our lives should be in order, characterized by spiritual alertness and moral purity. For this reason Paul illustrates in three ways the responsibility of the believer in light of end time events.
We are sons of the light (5:4-5).
"Darkness" and "light" in this passage refer to the spiritual realms of God's favor and God's wrath. The Christian is in a place of God's favor. Paul says to his brothers at Thessalonica that they are not in darkness or in the realm of God's wrath. Because of their position in Christ, they would not be surprised, or caught off guard, at the coming of the Day of the Lord. In fact, Christians will already have been caught away to be with the Lord at the rapture. The Day of the Lord will not overcome the Christian, because we will be delivered away from it.
Again Paul emphasizes the difference between light and darkness. Those who belong to Jesus Christ, who have by faith accepted His gift of salvation, are "sons of the light" and "sons of day." This means that, just as a son exhibits the characteristics of his father, so we are to exhibit the characteristics of our heavenly Father. Our lives here and now should reflect the light and glory of God. We do not belong to the "night" or to the "darkness," so our lives should in no way exemplify sin. We are sons of the light.
We are sentinels of the Lord (5:6).
The next illustration that Paul uses here is that of sleep. He says that we are not to be like others who are spiritually asleep. Instead we're to be alert and self-controlled, standing watch for Christ's return like sentinels on guard. In chapter four Paul used the image of sleep to refer to the believer's death. But here Paul uses a different word for sleep. The meaning is, therefore, different as well. Here, sleep refers to a state of spiritual lethargy in contrast to spiritual alertness and sobriety. We are not to be lazy or lax in our Christian living. We must be alert at all times.
We are soldiers of the Lord (5:7-8).
Now Paul pulls together the first two illustrations and forms a third illustration of the Christian's responsibility. Sleep and night seem to go together. Those who live in the spiritual realm of darkness are asleep in regard to spiritual matters. Those who are not alert spiritually, who are "drunk" in regard to spiritual matters, generally are associated with the night life.
By contrast, Christians are of the day and of the light. We are to be awake and alert spiritually. We are to be like soldiers of the Lord. A soldier on duty must be alert. As soldiers, we need the proper equipment. Paul here refers to the soldier's breastplate and helmet. In Ephesians 6:11-18 Paul uses a similar description of the Christian's spiritual resources. Here he refers to the breastplate, that protection of the internal life of the soldier, as composed of faith and love. Faith is trust or confidence in God. Love is that outward expression of inner faith. Faith and love go hand in hand. The helmet, which protects the head and the mind, is the hope of salvation. That which keeps us spiritually sane in an insane world is the hope that comes with knowing Jesus Christ and knowing that we have been delivered from wrath. These three virtues-faith, love, and hope-are to characterize the soldier of Jesus Christ (compare 1 Thessalonians 1:3).
We can be certain that God will rescue us from
the future wrath associated with the Day of the Lord (5:9-11).
In order to prevent greater confusion concerning these end time events, Paul reminds the Thessalonians that God has promised believers salvation from His wrath. Our deliverance from the judgment of the Day of the Lord is certain.
We will be delivered from the wrath of God (5:9).
God has not "appointed" us to suffer wrath. As Christians, we believe that our lives are under divine appointment. Every hour of our day is in God's plan, and we are to follow his plan in detail. Part of God's plan for Christians is that we will not suffer divine wrath. The Day of the Lord, beginning with the tribulation period, is a time in which God's wrath will be poured out on earth. But Christians will be caught away, or raptured, before that time begins. We will "receive salvation" in its fullest sense, the release from sin and its influence in our lives. This promised salvation comes through our Lord Jesus Christ.
We are delivered by the death of Jesus Christ (5:10).
Paul emphasizes the fact that our salvation rests completely on the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. He died "for us," that is, as our substitute. The purpose of His death was that we might "live together with Him." Isn't it interesting that Jesus Christ wants us to be with Him so badly that He would willingly give His life on the cross! We will be with Him whether we are awake or asleep at the rapture. The word used for "sleep" here is the same as that found in verse 6, where it referred to spiritual lethargy. Commentators are divided as to its meaning here. However, since the context uses this term in regard to lethargy, the same meaning could apply here. This verse, therefore, supports the doctrine of the security of the believer. Whether we are alert spiritually or not, we will still be caught up to be with Christ at the rapture.
This interpretation doesn't mean that Christians can afford to be lax in their walk with God. This whole passage is a call to be alert for Christ. But it does provide comfort for us to realize that even when we fall short of God's standards He still accepts us on the merits of His Son.
We are delivered to a position of comfort (5:11).
Like the conclusion to chapter four, Paul here concludes with a note of comfort. He says "therefore," based on the certainty of the return of Christ and the certainty of salvation, we have comfort. It really is comforting to know that, as Christians, we will not endure the time of testing that's a part of the Day of the Lord. It's comforting to know that we will not suffer wrath. It's also comforting to know that Jesus Christ really wants us to be with Him. Along with this comfort comes the responsibility to live for Jesus Christ today. Therefore, Paul instructs us to "build up" or "edify" one another with these truths. The Thessalonians had been doing just that. We, too, should use the truths of end time events to challenge and equip one another to live in purity and expectancy here and now.
"Living a Life that's Profitable"
There's a great deal of difference between a shotgun and a rifle. A rifle fires a single bullet and hits a single target. A shotgun, on the other hand, fires a load of shot that scatters to cover a wide area. Paul's closing instructions in 1 Thessalonians take on the shotgun approach. The apostle hits a number of important issues in a brief way. Several of these issues will no doubt hit each one of us who reads this letter. It's up to us whether or not we'll apply each truth to our own lives.
Because these verses do carry such a variety of teachings, it's difficult to summarize the passage. However, the concepts presented here do fit nicely into three packages. Paul first deals with issues relating to our efforts at cooperation within the church. Then he lists commandments concerning matters that reveal true, inner character. Finally, Paul concludes with items relating to the ultimate victory of the believer's spiritual life and future. We might say that this whole passage, then, teaches that a profitable life on earth is measured by the impact of Christ on the heart.
Elevate your level of
cooperation in the church (5:12-15).
How important is it that Christians maintain a sense of harmony and cooperation in the church? In God's sight, such an attitude of cooperation is of extreme value. Paul writes here about the church's attitudes relating to both church leaders and to other church members.
Maintain your respect for church leaders (5:12-13).
As an apostle, Paul could have demanded the respect and obedience of the Thessalonian believers. Instead, however, he asked for their cooperation as brothers in the Lord. Cooperation in the church begins with a respect for the church's leaders. Paul had left certain individuals in charge of the ministry at Thessalonica when he left, and these leaders deserved the respect of all. They deserved respect because of their work and because of their office.
The work of these spiritual leaders was threefold. First, they "labored hard" among the Thessalonians. This word refers to the difficulty of the work. Anyone who has ever held a position of leadership in the local church knows that such service requires a great deal of often difficult labor. Second, these leaders "stood before" or "stood over" the others in the sense that they were on the forefront of the ministry in the church. If the church suffered, they felt the effects of that suffering. Third, they "admonished" the church. This word means that they taught God's truth to the members of the church and warned about the results of disobedience to the Lord. To admonish carries both a negative and a positive aspect.
Paul went on to tell the Thessalonians to hold their leaders in the highest regard because of their work. This high attitude toward spiritual leaders is shown through godly love. It's also demonstrated by maintaining peace in the church. Those members who were disrupting the peace of the church were a burden to the leaders. Living in peace with one another is a mark of obedience to God and a sign of respect for God's chosen leaders.
Fulfill your responsibilities toward church members (5:14-15).
Again, Paul addresses his readers as "brothers." As members of a family, we all have certain responsibilities. Paul lists some of these responsibilities that each member holds in the church. First, we're to "warn" those who are idle. This is the same word translated "admonish" in verse 12. Evidently there were some in Thessalonica who didn't work regularly, though they were capable of earning their own living. Instead, they depended on the church for support. These individuals needed to be warned that such practice is unacceptable in the church and in the sight of God. There are many idle Christians today who feel that the work of the church is someone else's responsibility. But there's no room for idle Christians. Everyone must take part in the work of God.
There are also some "timid" people in the church, or more literally, "weak souled" individuals. These are people who are discouraged and downtrodden. They need the body to provide them with encouragement and support.
Paul also instructed the Thessalonians to "help the weak." These were individuals who were weak spiritually and needed others to help them learn to resist temptation and the snares of the devil. They needed extra attention, and extra dose of support, in order to develop spiritual strength. The church today needs to challenge the idle, encourage the timid, and lift up the weak.
Next Paul tells us to be patient with everyone in the church. Personality conflicts could often be smoothed out if people could learn to be patient with one another. We must realize that no one is perfect yet, and that others need to be patient with us just as we need to be patient with others.
Finally, the church shows its cooperation by not retaliating when wronged. Even in the body of Christ the temptation exists to "get even" with others. But the believer must never return evil with evil. Instead, we're always to be kind to others in the church as well as to those outside the fellowship of believers. To "try" to be kind means to "strive," exerting great determination, to treat others with goodness. This is to be the goal of every believer.
Dedicate your life to
developing godly character (5:16-22).
A profitable life will attempt to strengthen its character in spite of difficult circumstances. Paul here points out that Christians need to examine both internal and external character qualities.Learn to develop internal qualities of contentment (5:16-18).
In a series of short imperatives, Paul commands us to show inner contentment in the Christian life. A content life will be joyful in spite of life's circumstances. To "rejoice always" is possible only for the Christian who is confident that the Lord is in control. Such a believer will see the value of praying "continually," that is, to always be in an attitude of prayer before God. This word is found in 1 Thessalonians 1:3 and 2:13, and is used in other writings to refer to a persistent cough. A person with a cold may not be coughing all the time, but a cough is always ready to break forth. So the Christian should maintain a continual attitude of prayer. The prayers of content Christians will often carry the flavor of thankfulness. We're to "give thanks in everything," since Jesus Christ is sovereign over all our circumstances. These three commands-to be joyful, prayerful, and thankful-constitute an aspect of God's will for the life of every believer in Jesus Christ.
Learn to develop external qualities of conduct (5:19-22).
Along with the internal qualities of contentment, Paul emphasizes the external qualities of conduct that demonstrate a growing confidence in the Lord. First of all, the believer is not to "quench" the Holy Spirit's work. This may refer to stifling the promptings of the Spirit in regard to Christian service, or it may refer to discouraging the exercise of the spiritual gifts in the body of Christ. In either case there is an attempt to nullify the work of the Spirit. The Christian should always give way to the spirit of God.
Related to quenching the Spirit is treating prophecies with contempt. In the first century church, God spoke through prophets in order to give direction to the church. Evidently some of the people at Thessalonica were not interested in following what their gifted prophets were saying. In this way they were despising prophecies. Today we have the completed, written Word of God. To despise prophecies would mean to disregard the teachings of God's Word.
Instead of despising prophecies, we should test for approval all things. This means that the Christian must show discernment in accepting or rejecting certain teachings and practices in the church. That which is "good" must be held on to, but that which fails the test must be discarded.
Finally, Paul tells us to avoid "every kind" of evil. The word "every kind" has also been translated "appearance" as if to mean that Christians should avoid certain practices that may be acceptable but may look inappropriate to someone else. But the word as it is used here seems to emphasize the manifestations of evil in whatever form they take. Evil "appears" in many forms, but it is still intrinsically evil. Christians must avoid evil in every form. But Christians are not obligated to avoid that which is good out of fear that someone may misconstrue their actions. Such a paranoid lifestyle is unnecessary. However, godly living is always the duty of every Christian.
Anticipate your ultimate
victory in Jesus Christ (5:23-28).
A life that's profitable looks forward to the future that we have in Christ Jesus. That future includes a completion of the believer's sanctification.
We can look forward to God's ongoing work of sanctification in our lives (5:23-24).
Paul here describes God as a faithful God who sanctifies His people. He is currently building higher degrees of holiness into our lives, and will ultimately purge us entirely of sin when we go into His presence. Paul describes several aspects of this God who works so dramatically in our lives.
First, God is a God who sanctifies. Sanctification, as mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 4:3, refers to that lifelong process that takes place in the life of the believer whereby he or she becomes increasingly set apart from sin unto holy living. This process ends only when the believer is present with the Lord, at which time sanctification is complete. According to this verse, sanctification is the work of God in the life of the believer. Of course, the believer must cooperate in the process, but it's God's work to sanctify. Paul indicates that it is God "Himself," the God of peace, who carries out this process to completion.
Second, God is a God who preserves. God "keeps" the believer blameless positionally until the coming of Jesus Christ. This means that the salvation of the believer is secure-it's God who keeps us secure to the end. This security of the believer impacts our whole being-spirit, soul, and body. This verse indicates that man in his complexity can be considered as a trichotomy. The spirit relates us to God. The soul relates us to one another. The body relates us to the earthly environment. All three parts of our makeup, that is, our whole person in its entirety will be kept until the final day of salvation. The soul and spirit will be joined with the body in the resurrection to enjoy eternity with the Lord.
Third, God is a God who calls. God has called believers to Himself. Paul here describes God as faithful. If God has called us, there is no reason to wonder whether or not He will bring us to the place of His calling. He has called us to salvation and eternity in heaven.
Fourth, God is a God who acts. Since God has called us, He will perform that which He has promised. The true believer finds great value in anticipating this great fulfillment of God's salvation plan in the future. This is the hope of the believer.
We can engage in supportive relationships in the church family (5:25-28).
Paul concluded this endearing letter to the Thessalonians with some personal words of salutation. He asked these brothers in the Lord to pray for him and his companions in ministry. Prayer has always been the greatest tool of the servant of Christ. Next Paul encouraged these believers to greet one another lovingly and heartily, with a "holy kiss." Such a greeting was customary and socially acceptable in Paul's day. Next Paul puts the believers at Thessalonica on oath to publicly read this letter to all the believers. It's highly likely that many of these early Christians were unable to read. Paul wanted the truths contained here to be available to all.
Finally, Paul concluded with a fitting benediction. "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you." Every believer needs the grace of the Lord to live daily in light of the future. This grace is essential and sufficient, and will help us every day until Christ's return.
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