Where Transformation Began: “Basic Training” – 1 and 2 Thessalonians

The young man standing at my door bore only a slight resemblance to the pudgy little kid that used to live next door. Now twenty-two and serving our nation in the military, this young man had the look of a well-chiseled frame, taught of muscle and sharp in features. I could scarcely see in his eyes the youth and uncertainty that once marked his steps. This was no kid; he was now a US Marine.

I wonder… How did those who were engaged in making Marines out of our boys manage to press deep disciplines into undisciplined, sloppily-dressed apathetic youths? They took them through what has come to be known as “basic training.” They worked to transform these young men with rigorous training, discipline and constant contests against each other and their own lazy inclinations. They tested, tried, taunted and troubled them into transformation of mind and body. They repeated exercises until muscles responded in memory when the brain was still mostly asleep. I don’t know much about the process, but there is the one this anyone who passes through the experience can tell you: Discipline comes at a price. No one becomes well-trained in a passive and unintentional environment.

Dear ones, I have been spending time with believers in a number of places. God is at work in many corners of our planet, and I am blessed to be a part of many things far larger than I ever could have imagined. The believers I have been with come from many parts of the world, and they don’t all share the same experiences, cultures, languages and politics. Yet, it is clear to me as I journey that I am encountering many of the same attitudes and practices no matter where I turn. Out of a heart of concern, I say to you that I believe the world is impacting the believer, in many cases, far more than the believers are impacting the world. Collectively and individually, our salt is in danger of losing its saltiness.

I know that most of you know this basic truth of Scripture:

Believers are called, first and foremost to be “distinct” (the meaning of the word “holy” in Scripture).

When we lose that distinctiveness in look and sound, the “salt loses its savor” and becomes worthless for the purpose of witness and impact on our world. It offers nothing to flavor the world that is unique. Though our worth to God is not in question, our worth in witness is reduced to bland mimicry of the world’s ways. Let’s say it this way: No good cook reaches for salt shakers filled with beach sand to flavor the stew.

How can we go back to the training we received in the beginning to help us recover our individual paths of transformation? That is the question I want to explore for the moments we have together.

Maybe the place to begin is where instruction in our faith began. To that end, I want to look back at where the writings of Paul began to instruct the church to begin their impact on the world around them – by allowing the Spirit to transform them from within. I want to look briefly at his first two letters that were addressed to the Thessalonian believers of the first century. Here is what I believe will become obvious from our study…

Key Principle: The call of the believer is to cling to Jesus while His Spirit transforms us to a distinctiveness we cannot achieve on our own.

Drop your eyes into 1 Thessalonians for a few minutes. In the time allotted, I cannot offer a deeply detailed study, but I am not persuaded that is truly necessary to make the point Paul wanted us to take away.

Transformation by the Spirit can and does happen. It doesn’t always take ions of time and volumes of copious notes. It does, however, take intentional and focused submission to Jesus as we let Him lead us.

Paul’s first epistles opened with simple reminders of the authors and their intended recipients (1 Thessalonians 1:1 and 2 Thessalonians 1:1)

“Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

It is worth recalling that this wasn’t a tiny country village off the beaten track, but rather the capital and largest city of the Roman province of Macedonia. Located on the Egnatian Way, a major road from Rome to the eastern provinces, the city served as center of trade and commerce.

We know about the beginnings of this church.

The establishment of the church is recorded in Acts 17:1-9. This was on Paul’s incredibly difficult second missionary journey, He and his companions (Silas and Timothy) had just left Philippi and passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia to arrive at Thessalonica. As was his custom, Paul immediately located the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews for three Sabbaths concerning Jesus Christ. While some of them were persuaded, including a great number of devout Greeks and leading women, the unbelieving Jews became jealous and created uproar within the city. It became necessary to send Paul and Silas away secretly by night to the city of Berea, almost one hundred fifty (150) miles away!

Despite ominous beginnings, a strong church was established in Thessalonica (cf. 1:2-10). Mostly Gentile (cf. 1:9), its members included Jason (Ac 17:9), Aristarchus, and Secundus (Ac 20:4).

In spite of their initial troubles, Paul tried to open each letter (one written shortly after the other) with something “upbeat.” Listen to how positive his words were, considering the shortness of their time to get underway:

1 Thessalonians 1:2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; 3 constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ…

5 for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction…

6 You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit…

Leaders need to see past the troubles into the joys. Good leaders highlight the good things. They see the problems, but they also balance that with God’s good hand in the midst of the struggle. Paul demonstrated that.

We know about the specific circumstances surrounding the letters.

From the letter itself (1 Thess. 3:1-6), and the record of Paul’s travels in Acts (Ac 17:10-18:11), it appears that Paul wrote this letter soon after arriving in Corinth on his second journey. This would put it somewhere around 52 CE, when Paul was in his late 40’s in age. His concerns were used by God to ignite his writing career, and give us the bulk of the New Testament by his life’s end.

It is obvious when reading, that his abrupt and forced departure from Thessalonica so soon after the beginning of the church left Paul anxious about the condition of the brethren in that city. When Timothy joined Paul at Athens (cf. Acts 17:14-16), his concern prompted Paul to send Timothy at once back to Thessalonica to encourage and ground the new disciples in the faith, and to learn how they were enduring persecution (cf. 3:1-5). When Timothy returned to Paul in Corinth (cf. Ac 18:5), the news was mostly encouraging (cf. 1 Thess. 3:6-7).

Despite persecution they had remained strong (1 Thess. 2:13-16), and even proved themselves to be an example to others (1 Thess. 1:6-8). Yet, as with any young church, they needed further instruction concerning holy living and the work of Jesus in them.

We know about the problems they were facing.

The letters made clear issues were lurking beneath the surface. The three most prominent problems in Thessalonica were persecution, confusion and discouragement.:

In 1 Thessalonians 2 and 2 Thessalonians 1, Paul noted the church barely got started, and was swamped with persecutors and problems – they needed confidence that God understood their problem.

One of the most powerful attacks of the enemy is PERSECUTION. It is not simply the act of beating down believers that he uses. He seeks to get believers stirred with a rage of injustice in order to get them to doubt God’s reality or perhaps question God’s true goodness. Troubles make us impatient at best, cynical at worst. This is an old ploy – and the enemy has used it since the beginning of the church. Because people are against your message does not mean that the message is wrong. It may mean their hearts are the problem. If you look closely, the condition of the attackers hearts will become apparent.

Paul made clear God is not unaware of the unfair attacks believers suffer – He simply awaits the proper time to respond. This is the nature of 2 Thessalonians 1. Be careful of being led away from sharing Jesus because of the injustice of an irrational lost world. It is a trick. Judgment will come in due course – but not until the last man, woman or child is reached by a sharing believer! If we allow ourselves to get stirred up, love will dissipate, and anger will suppress our call to obedience.

In our world, “wrong” (as defined by God’s Word) will be called “right.” God will be mocked by mutineers. People will make outrageous charges against the people of the truth – and allow others who are clearly sinister to walk by untouched by accusation. We must anticipate it, and we dare not allow ourselves to be distracted by it. God promised His unending presence; not unabated fairness.

By the time of 2 Thessalonians 2, it seems some were shaken by a false letter and forged explanations of eschatology that were designed to throw them off track of following the truth – they needed clarification of what Paul already taught them.

The enemy loves CONFUSION in the church. Sometimes it is the muddling of false doctrine that emerges from improper use of the text of Scripture. Sometimes it is the elevation of false scripture – or the relentless charges against the true Word of God. Still other times, it is the misguided and poorly formed teaching of a wayward pulpit. After two thousand years, the enemy has played a role in all of these.

Both letters show that some were upset and distracted by undisciplined and disorderly Christians, who were not living the truth – they needed a charge to make certain their responses.

This third attack invokes DISCOURAGEMENT. It is hard to serve God when you see so many believers that act with disregard to the Word and God’s Spirit! Paul ascribed the bad behavior in the wayward as undisciplined behavior. He didn’t simply call them lazy, he argued that proper disciplines in life that were essential to obedience were simply lacking – and that resulted in dependencies on others that were not right.

In the letters, I could seven direct calls toward transformation. That doesn’t cover every detail of the two epistles, but it does give the essentials to the basic training in the first of the manuals given to the church by God.

Seven Calls to Transformation

Drop directly into 1 Thessalonians 4, where Paul picked up on the opening instructions of seven points of transformation, and look at their purpose:

1 Thessalonians 4:1 Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. 2 For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.

There it is! The clear purposes of each letter was to:

• Make a special request: erōtáō (from eromai, “ask”) – make an earnest request, especially by someone in a “preferred position” – as Paul obviously was.

• As well as offer a special encouragement: parakaléō (from pará, “from close-beside” and kaléō, “to call”) – properly, “make a call” while being “close-up and personal.”

• The point of these personal requests were that they “excel more” (perisseúō: meaning “to exceed previous levels”) in a holy (distinctive) walk.

Don’t miss that verse two says the commands came from Jesus (1 Thess. 4:2) so they were essential.

What were they? Follow the line of his writings in the rest of the first epistle and in the second letter as well.

Call One: Live in Distinctive Purity

Paul started with the believers surrendered use of their body for God’s purposes. He wrote:

1 Thessalonians 4:3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, 5 not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God … 8 So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.

Sexual freedom as defined by our society is a masquerade for godless, pagan, rebellion. It isn’t rejection of the church – it is the rejection of God’s right to be God. He made us. He called us to define right and wrong NOT BY OUR FALLEN DESIRES but by His carefully stated and illustrated Word.

I plead with you if you know Christ today to learn to curb the desires of your body and walk in obedience to Jesus Christ. One million years from now, you will celebrate that victory. Don’t excuse your bad behavior by your desires. We all have them. They shouldn’t define you, nor should they control you. You and I are called to be different than the world around us.

Call Two: A Call to Distinctive Focus

If you keep reading, Paul offered a second word – and this one is about the sparkling objects to which we most pay attention. This one is about where we focus…

1 Thessalonians 4:10b “…But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more, 11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, 12 so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.

We live in a time when many will spend hours surfing the web and picking up causes over which they can fume. They will read about injustice. They will read about abuses. They will fall into the negative trap of believing that offering an opinion is what will change the world.

The believer should spend more time loving the girl who got pregnant out of wedlock and drawing her to Jesus than protesting Planned Parenthood. The latter deserves to be derided, but not more than caring for the people in our lives. Get busy doing more than criticizing what is wrong with our world. I would humbly suggest the world has more critics than it needs already. Get involved in something that stirs your heart and make a difference. Work hard. Be a person with that reputation. You and I are called to be different than the world around us.

Call Three: A Call to Distinct Understanding

Paul kept the fire hot and wrote…

1 Thessalonians 4:13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. … 15 …we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive [n]and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words. 5:1 Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. 2 For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. … 6 so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. …11 Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.

Believers are to understand the times we live in. Some of us will die, but the body sown in the ground will get recycled at the coming of Jesus. Jesus can deal with all of it when He returns, and HE WILL RETURN. It will be sudden, when the world has tossed aside the idea that He ever came, let alone the idea that He will return.

Because we know He is coming again, we should be encouraged. We should be watchful. We should care about how we use our time, our talent and our treasure. We only have what we have because He gave it to us. You and I are called to be different than the world around us.

Call Four: A Call to Distinct Gratefulness

Look for a moment at the reminder of how we should sound concerning those God has given us to serve with in the Kingdom…

1 Thessalonians 5:12 But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, 13 and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work.

Paul noted the way to do that is:

• 13b “…Live in peace with one another.
• 14b “…admonish the unruly.
• 14b “…encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.
• 15 See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people.
• 16 Rejoice always;
• 17 pray without ceasing;
• 18 in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
• 19 Do not quench the Spirit;
• 20 Do not despise prophetic utterances. 21 But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good;
• 22 Abstain from every form of evil.

What if believers lived out those truths? What if the people of our churches focused on getting along instead of sharing dirt behind the scenes? What if we lovingly built relationships where correction wasn’t a mallet, but an act of love? You and I are called to be different than the world around us.

Call Five: A Call to Distinct Courage

Paul offered in 2 Thessalonians 1 some inspiration to oppressed and persecuted Christians as he wrote these words:

2 Thessalonians 1: 5 [This is] a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering. 6 For after all it is [only] just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and [to give] relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire…

He noted that believers must “take heart” in persecution?

If the days grow dark, we are to keep growing and know that our testimony is enhanced by the testing of persecution. We must learn to be settled in recognizing that God will deal with those who are hurting you (1:6). We have to remember that the Magnificent One is on His way! (1:10). We have to understand that God will use your lives powerfully to glorify Jesus (1:11-12). Ask the Coptic Christians that withstood fear in the face of Muslim Brotherhood. Ask the Iraqi believers who endured the horror of ISIS.

Massive numbers of followers of Jesus have sprung from those events. Though pushed out of some places in the Middle East, there are plenty of new congregations and believers. We have to be courageous. We have to stand firm. We have to stop trying to appease evil. You and I are called to be different than the world around us.

Call Six: A Call to Distinct Commitment

Paul offered instruction to perplexed Christians with this simple command:

2 Thessalonians 2:1 Now we request you… 2 that you not be quickly shaken …or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 3 Let no one in any way deceive you, for [it will not come] unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, … 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains [will do so] until he is taken out of the way. … 11 For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false… 15 So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught…

Believers are called to recognize that God clearly holds our future in His hands!

When trouble came, they tried to decide if they were in the wrath of the “Day of the Lord” – but they weren’t (2 Thess. 2:1-2). Knowing the Word and resting in its surety would have saved them much in anxiety. Paul made clear that first came the “snatching away” and then the “Man of Sin” would be revealed (2:3).

The Greek noun “apostasia” is used twice in the New Testament (here and Acts 21:21 referencing Paul as “teaching Jews among the Gentiles to forsake (apostasia) Moses.” The term is “apo” or from and “istemi” “stand” with a core meaning of “departure”. The Liddell and Scott Greek Lexicon defines “apostasia” as either “a defection or revolt” or a “departure or disappearance.” Is this the rapture of the church? Is this the falling away of the church? I cannot say for sure, though I have an opinion.

The point is that we are called to understand the times based on the revealed truths of the Word. God isn’t playing games, and times must be seen through the glass of the Word.

What is clear is there is a restraint on the lawlessness that is growing, and will come to an explosion when the end comes. (2:4-7). Lawlessness means “making up our own rules.” The pressure is building, and that shouldn’t surprise us – but there is a God-ordained restraint upon him right now. Don’t be dismayed, Jesus will deal with his power! (2:8). The enemy will work, and God will dull minds, but it will all be dealt with in the coming judgment (2:9-12). Be thankful with us that God has called us to rescue and deliverance! (2:13-17). Don’t let discouragement over the behaviors you see take over your heart. You and I are called to be different than the world around us.

Call Seven: A Call to Distinct Discipline

At the heart of Paul’s “Injunctions to disorderly Christians” he the need to deal with the unruly in the church. Many will be the voices that suggest we should ignore bad behavior because we don’t want to come off as “judgy.” Here is what the Word says:

2 Thessalonians 3: 6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we [kept] working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; 9 not because we do not have the right [to this], but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example…

There will always be wayward ones in our world. Paul made clear:

• Back away from them during their disobedience (3:6).
• Keep walking in discipline and work hard (3:7).
• Don’t try to get things from others for free – work hard (3:8-10).
• Remember that people need productive work to do or they will multiply sinful behaviors (3:11).
• Recognize that practical instruction is part of the work of the church (3:12).
• Don’t tire of doing right and walking in obedience (3:13-14a).
• If someone won’t follow the Word, mark them and admonish them in brotherly affection (3:14b-15).

The point is clear: The call of the believer is to cling to Jesus while His Spirit transforms us to a distinctiveness we cannot achieve on our own.

Before we are finished, let’s hear two warnings:

First, while we are called to walk well, I won’t hesitate to remind you, that isn’t our ultimate focus. In fact, if we focus on doing right, our works will be good. If we focus on walking with Him, that relationship will help us begin to understand holiness – true distinctiveness. The two do not end in the same place because they come from a different place. One is rooted in accomplishment; the other builds on relationship.

Second, Jesus said that when He left, He sent the Spirit of God to work in the LOST to bring conviction. (John 16:8-9). Look at what a comfort that truth is!

• We do not ARGUE people into the Kingdom of God.
• We don’t PROTEST them into the throne room of the King.
• We don’t SHAME them into following Jesus.

We teach His Word – and do it with love and grace. We accept their harsh words, as those who “know not what they are doing” but stand unapologetically by the Word of the King.

How does that “weak” and “unaggressive” method work in such a “dog eat dog” world? It works incredibly well – because we have the privilege of laboring beside the powerful partner of the Spirit of God.

Jesus does the changing; we hold His hand and follow His lead.

God on the Move: “Postcards from the Edge” – 1 Thessalonians

postcards edge 1Carrie Fisher wrote a screenplay based on her own life in 1987 and by 1990 it was on the silver screen as a comedy movie called “Postcards from the Edge”. In the year that followed, the movie was acclaimed at the Academy awards… The story was about an actress who was a recovering drug addict and her attempts to re-start her career and her life after leaving the treatment center. She was forced to move in with a “responsible adult” in order to keep her insurance, and she returned to take residence with a famous musical comedy star of the 1950s and ’60s – her own mother. The title of the movie tells how “out of control” the scenes within the screenplay became – and I can only imagine on the big screen it was even more off the wall. I mention the screenplay because the title popped into my mind as soon as I began thinking through the letters to the Thessalonians…they were letters written from the edge of pain and during a season of recovery for Paul- and that often is forgotten in the teaching of the epistles to Thessalonica. Our next two lessons in the life of the Apostle will be about the substance of these letters.

You will recall that in our last study we saw that Paul was passing through a difficult time on that second mission journey, in part because the trip began with an argument that broke the Paul and Barnabas team over the issue of John Mark. Next, they found themselves confounded on God’s direction for forward progress, being stopped from heading toward Bithynia. God redirected the team with a dream of the Macedonian man, but Paul had no sooner seen his first converts there in Philippi, when he and Silas were beaten and imprisoned. After a dramatic release by God’s intervention and then His providence, they passed through to Thessalonica – only to have Paul’s family member assaulted (Jason) and held until Paul left town. On to Berea, and Paul saw success until a rabble had HIM singled out to depart alone for Athens. His Athenian trip was “off script” for Paul’s normal venture, and as he continued to Corinth – he did so extremely discouraged and beaten down. It was during that short visit in Athens that Paul made the decision to dispatch Timothy to Thessalonica – delaying their reunion but offering Paul a window on the progress of the Gospel. As God helped Paul pick up the pieces he wrote the two letters to the Thessalonians help us grasp the mindset of Paul in recovery, and explore what was on his heart as God put him back together in Corinth. Paul showed that when wounded, a believer’s values surface without “make up”. People can see what we truly care about when we have no energy left to mask our broken heart.

Key Principle: A mature believer lives his values and follows under pressure, recognizing God is at work even when times are tough.

In these two lessons, we want to sweep quickly through the two letters Paul wrote and capture what was exposed of his heart by the letters. We know their context; now we need their content. The question we are seeking to answer is this: “What was exposed from the Apostle’s heart as it was torn open by pain and tribulation over the rejection of the Gospel?” Let’s focus on the First Epistle to the Thessalonians. The letter can be divided into two parts:

First, Paul opened the letter with six declarations that recapped the context of the writing:

Paul exposed some important things by sharing simple declarations. Let’s consider what we learn of him in each of the six:

1. Paul Hurt: Paul and his team was praying for the believers at Thessalonica constantly, thanking God for them, longing to return to them – but was hindered from going there (1:1-2; 2:17-20; 3:9-11).

Look at the phrases from 1 Thessalonians 1:2 “We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers.” Similar sentiments are expressed in 2:17 “But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short while—in person, not in spirit—were all the more eager with great desire to see your face. 18 For we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, more than once—and yet Satan hindered us.” Later in 3:9 we read: “For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account, 10 as we night and day keep praying most earnestly that we may see your face, and may complete what is lacking in your faith?

It is clear that when Paul’s heart was torn open, what spilled out was his love for those other believers. Mature Christians care for younger believers – not to sit in judgment over them – but to see them progress. They communicate care for younger followers of Jesus, because the heart of the missionary isn’t about self-affirmation but of love for lost men and women. That love doesn’t end when they follow Christ – it morphs into a deeper and more permanent hope for their growth and life ahead.

2. Paul Remembered: Paul saw God’s choice of them and their dramatic life changes by the power of the Spirit as they became followers of Jesus – the Gospel was obviously powerful among them (1:3-5; 2:13).

It is not difficult to see in places like 1 Thessalonians 1:3ff that Paul saw God at work in them. He wrote: “…5 for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.” He affirmed that again in 2:13 “For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.”

How exciting to see God’s hand touch lives. One of the rich assurances we have as we look back on ministry where we have been fortunate enough to participate is those times when we saw God heal a broken marriage that we couldn’t fix with counsel. We stood amazed as God took a certain young man bent on self-destruction, and broke his life-hardened heart to lead him into his Creator’s arms. It is one thing to know from God’s Word that our God and His message is powerful – it is another to experience God on the move. When it happened, Paul was deeply thankful God gave him a place in the room to watch what God was doing! The Apostle knew that excitement. Even in the brokenness of rejection by many in his present place, his heart remembered God at work in the past – and that kept him going.

3. Paul Promised: Paul pledged that trouble would come, and it did quickly upon them as it had in his team’s lives. They were afflicted and walking with God under fire, becoming witnesses to the world as they suffered injustice (1:6-8; 2:1-2; 3:4).

Paul apparently never pulled his punches when he came to them initially. Perhaps preaching to people just after you have been beaten and jailed he figured, no sense trying to “pretty things up” – it was going to get tough quickly and he warned them. Note in 1 Thessalonians 1:6, he commended them when he wrote: ”You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.” He made clear the troubles of the mission team again in 1 Thessalonians 2:1-2, and reminded them in 3:4 “For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass, as you know.”

I am continually amazed at how modern marketing has affected the presentation of the Gospel. Paul delivered a message that offered suffering and persecution from the outset. Where was the “how to have a happy and meaningful life” section? Paul’s Gospel was about salvation from sin and a secure walk with God for eternity – not about a better bank account and other temporal perks. I recognize that our presentation needs to be culturally sensitive, but that cannot mean changing the substance of the truth because we want people to accept our message. I simply argue that when we change the message so drastically to grab our culture, what feed their self-focus, and betray the core of the message we were given to represent by God.

I personally think Paul marveled at how quickly they were “under the gun” in 1 Thessalonians 2:14 “For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews, 15 who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out.” What makes us think that we should preach to people prosperity with the signs of the times we see all about us? Why do we not accept the coming troubles as PART of our faith – after a long line of others have passed through similar things? Paul promised troubles with their belief, whether that hindered people from coming forward in the meeting or not. At least when trouble came, he could remind them of that promise. Will our churches be able to make the same claim if we preach a message of personal advancement?

4. Paul Clarified: Lest anyone attempt to charge that Paul’s outreach was self-benefitting manipulation, Paul reminded them of how they offered truth in gentleness and love while working to be no burden to them (2:3-11).

Attacks on Paul’s preaching were evident from the start in the Book of Acts, and here Paul reinforced the content of some of those false charges. In 1 Thessalonians 2:3, Paul didn’t defend himself beyond making clear the truth. He wrote: “For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts. 5 For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness— 6 nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. 7 But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. … 11 just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children.

Paul established in the short time he was in Thessalonica that he did not want to burden them with his expense, he was not a lazy man, and he did not work among them as some kind of ancient huckster or salesman. He worked hard, paid his way, and cared for them personally as he preached Biblically. The bottom line was this: He could call upon his TESTIMONY of life to back up his MESSAGE. Words are far more effective when they are rooted in a measured life that endeavors to live truth. If you are living in sexual sin, it is hard to correct a son or daughter who is about to make such a choice. They know you – and your life doesn’t match your lofty words. If you cheat on your taxes, it won’t be long until your voice cracks when you tell your teen not to cheat on their upcoming exam. Paul made clear that his life backed his message. He was not perfect, but he was no huckster, either. Words to the contrary may have been floating about – but Paul would have none of that left unanswered. We can be harmless in our response, but we need not flinch from clarifying attacks that are based on lies. If we represent truth, we must do so without apology – popular affirmation or not.

5. Paul Exhorted: From the beginning, the message was not only to come to Christ, but to be changed in their daily walk to a manner worthy of Jesus’ payment for them (2:12; 3:12-13).

He encouraged the believers to walk with God, not simply look at the Gospel as a “get out of Hell free” card. In 1 Thessalonians 2:12 he wrote: “…so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.” He affirmed that as a core value in 3:12 when he wrote: “…and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you; 13 so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.”

We made the point that Paul promised trouble rather than fill his presentation with personal benefit, but it is worth remembering that Paul also demanded surrender to Jesus in areas of behavior rather than emphasizing only the benefits of Heaven and security in our eternal state. Paul connected the message of the Gospel and the foundation of the church to a call to HOLY LIVING. Is that message what we hear proclaimed about us today? Paul’s heart was exposed. He wanted believers to live like they were God’s people – not self-indulgent princes and princesses that allowed their “felt needs” to direct their decisions. This will be even clearer in the second part of his letter, so we will reserve the discussion until then.

6. Paul Celebrated: When Paul couldn’t wait to hear from the new believers and know of their progress in Christ any longer, he sent Timothy – who eventually returned with a joyful report (3:1-3, 5-8).

In the opening three chapters of the book, Paul communicated excitement over the people that he received from the report Timothy brought back to him. In 1 Thessalonians 3:1, Paul wrote: “Therefore when we could endure it no longer, we thought it best to be left behind at Athens alone, 2 and we sent Timothy, … 6 But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you, 7 for this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith; 8 for now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord.”

Who can mistake Paul’s note of anxiousness concerning the people? He prayed and prayed, because like all of us, he was tempted to worry and worry. Paul was an Apostle, not a demi-god that wasn’t afflicted with a sin nature and a desire to control what he could not. Don’t make him such a good guy that you no longer see him as a regular Christian – struggling to trust God when things are falling apart. Remember what he had been suffering along the journey? Sometimes it seems God hides His control – when, in fact, what He is doing is working beyond our sight and in matters beyond our grasp. Paul heard back from Timothy, and celebration and joy flooded, tears flowed, and his prayer journal got some exclamation points scratched beside old requests!

The opening three chapters of the letter then, seem to offer a description the permeation of the Gospel to the Thessalonians during the three weeks of the mission team’s tireless sharing and caring ministry, another verified account of their forced exit from the believers under duress and a record of Timothy’s dispatched trip to check in. Apparently Paul agreed to have Timothy go while he was still alone in Athens during his darkest time of ministry. That left the Apostle without his team longer, but in the end it provided word from the fledgling church in Macedonia that so richly encouraged Paul. It’s nice to end the section on a note of happy celebration, but Paul’s letter had a second part as well.

Second, Paul wrote specific commands to the people to follow:

This section includes the last two chapters of the letter as the Epistle is divided for us in our modern Bibles. Paul made clear that the commands were a continuation of his earlier “live” teaching, and that he expected the people to continue to grow in obedience and submission to the teachings as from God. In classic fashion, Paul made that clear at the very beginning of the section, found in 1 Thessalonians 4:1 when he wrote: “Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. 2 For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.”

Paul wasn’t unsure of what he taught, nor the source of the revealed truth – and he made that clear. A church that surrenders parts of their Bible in fear of looking un-scientific or a dread over charges of a text lacking historical integrity will also surrender moral precepts in the face of social pressure – it is inevitable. Paul asserted vigorously that his words were from God. If they weren’t, he was lying. If he was telling a lie (or some editor inserted this idea later) than the Bible is not a good book, but a book of lies. It won’t lead you to Heaven – if such a place exists. It cannot tell you about your Creator – if there is one. My point is that the surrender of the text is a BIG DEAL to our faith – because our faith is rooted completely within it. The earlier church used phrases like: “The Bible is our only rule for faith and practice.” In modern churches where that idea has been surrendered, it is but a matter of time when they lose all coherence and consistency in their practice, and become a lump of clay molded not by a Heavenly potter, but by earthly pressures to allow the mold its influence.

What were these essential commands to which the Apostle pointed them? Let me suggest the three that seem to “stick out” more than others:

First, there was the command to live a life of sexual purity (4:3-8).

1 Thessalonians 4:3 states: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, 5 not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. 8 So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.”

Paul flatly stated sexual purity as a core value of the early church, and a revealed truth from God above. He called us to “sanctification” a word that means “to be set apart”. Lest that not be clear, he followed with another restatement in verses four and five, that a believer is NOT to be like the world around them in this area. As he developed the thought, he told them in verse six that relationships between them were to be held as a high value, and that sensual behaviors would “defraud” others in the family of God. He made clear that God intended distinction in this area, and that rejecting the cause of purity was not an option as a believer.

Here again I find myself wondering if Paul would recognize the modern church as “Christian” in its value system.

Purity is encouraged when we carefully delineate how attraction is not the same as action. God placed desires within us – we were created with some intrinsic desires. At the same time, we live in a fallen state. As a result, we must be very careful not to see those desires as something “naturally good”. Man is broken inside, and his desires reflect that brokenness. We must continually make clear a Biblical truth – wanting something is not the same as acting on a desire. The Bible begins with simple restriction of action – but eventually calls the maturing believer to surrender the very desires themselves. When we “grow up” in our faith, we won’t excuse our sin by claiming desire had the determining place in our decision making process. We will see God’s will, not our want, as the most important factor.

Purity is encouraged when we help young women understand the value of developing their inner spirit as well as keeping a healthy body. With a fashion world designed to pry money from your wallet and promising to make you look “hot” – it has become even more important for the church to carefully help young women to see that the body will not retain its God-given youthful beauty forever. We get older or we die on the path. The fact is, we are on the planet for a short time compared to eternity. If the Christian message is true, our submission to Jesus is based on two things: first we acknowledge that Jesus is our Lord and we offer Him our whole self. Second, we submit because we know that our Savior knows what is best. He knows what we do not about the plan, the future and our best life in His presence in eternity. Purity is encouraged when we teach men and women to see eternal things as more important than temporal ones.

Purity is encouraged when we place safeguards on our young men at home and restrict their unlimited access to websites and media that encourage immoral sexual pursuits. Because we have redefined the word “adult” in the context of sexuality as “removal of restraint” in our society, the church must clearly mark out that ADULT truly means “under control”. It is a CHILD that throws a tantrum when unhappy. An adult should know better. We must apply that same logic to other urges. Children punch and punch back. Adults should have better control of their hands. We must make the case that guardrails and restrictions aren’t to stop young people from growing – they are to provide sufficient time for that young person to grow the necessary disciplines before thrown to predators that lurk across the wireless signals.

After commanding purity, a second command was offered – to work hard and stay out of other people’s business (4:9-12).

1 Thessalonians 4:9 Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you… 10 …But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more, 11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, 12 so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.

It may astound modern Christians to know that Paul intended believers to get a job, work in that job and avoid making other people pay their way. In fact, the Apostle made the point that a believer’s ability to take care of others and live quietly at work was very much a part of their Christian faith. We need not meddle from the pulpit, we have Scripture before us that challenges any who would see a way around work as God’s plan. There are disabilities that need to be taken into account – but I suggest this is an extreme much less frequent than claimed – even by believers. We cannot enshrine laziness in some kind of reward system and expect anything less than an increasing number of unproductive people. When there is a true need, a believer is not wrong to access the provision for that need – but we must be very wary here of expecting others to pay our way through life. Some people are simply unsure of a truth: Life is hard. Work is not always fun. Since the expulsion from the garden every job was given its weeds. We must be careful to check any thinking that would argue that everyone has is easier than we do. In many, if not most cases, some of our difficulty was added by our own earlier life choices.

After purity and focused work, there was a third command – to comfort one another with the truth concerning death and life (4:13-5:11).

It seems from reading 1 Thessalonians 4:13-15 that some believers felt those who died in Christ were somehow penalized – a notion the Apostle quickly dismissed in the letter. Paul wanted to make sure the “uninformed” were made to understand that those believers who died actually have a better place in line of the resurrection of the dead. The timing of that resurrection are as follows:

1 Thessalonians 4:16 “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a [m]shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.

Paul wanted to make it clear that when Jesus returned to the earth to take His own, He would do so in the order of those who died BEFORE those who are alive. To the believer, death is no penalty, but a mere illustration that the fallen world has not yet been fully redeemed. When Christ makes all things new, death will be forever banished to the hole of the fiery pit. The rest of the section in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 reminded the believers that the world would not believe that Jesus would return, but would focus all their attention on THIS world. Beleivers should be awake and alert in their times, and comforting one another with the truth that (as Martin Luther long ago wrote): “the body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still – His kingdom is forever!”

Missions Instructor Gregory Fisher of Victory Bible College wrote of his earlier times in West Africa: “What will he say when he shouts?” The question took me by surprise. I had already found that West African Bible College students can ask some of the most penetrating questions about minute details of Scripture. “Reverend, I Thess. 4:16 says that Christ will descend from heaven with a loud command. I would like to know what that command will be.” I wanted to leave the question unanswered, to tell him that we must not go past what Scripture has revealed, but my mind wandered to an encounter I had earlier in the day with a refugee from the Liberian civil war. The man, a high school principal, told me how he was apprehended by a two-man death squad. After several hours of terror, as the men described how they would torture and kill him, he narrowly escaped. After hiding in the bush for two days, he was able to find his family and escape to a neighboring country. The escape cost him dearly: two of his children lost their lives. The stark cruelty unleashed on an unsuspecting, undeserving population had touched me deeply. I also saw flashbacks of the beggars that I pass each morning on my way to the office. Every day I see how poverty destroys dignity, robs men of the best of what it means to be human, and sometimes substitutes the worst of what it means to be an animal. I am haunted by the vacant eyes of people who have lost all hope. “Reverend, you have not given me an answer. What will he say?” The question hadn’t gone away. “Enough’” I said. “He will shout, ’Enough’ when he returns.” A look of surprise opened the face of the student. “What do you mean, ’Enough’?” “Enough suffering. Enough starvation. Enough terror. Enough death. Enough indignity. Enough lives trapped in hopelessness. Enough sickness and disease. Enough time. Enough”.

I don’t know if the missionary is correct about that, but I wouldn’t be surprised! Life here is broken, but God is working a plan – and Paul showed that plan to be at work in him as he shared a short “Postcard from the edge” with the Thessalonians. He was hurt, but he was healing. He was beaten up, but he was not quitting. A mature believer lives his values and follows under pressure, recognizing God is at work even when times are tough.

1 Thessalonians 2: Ten Qualities of Godly Parenting

The Bible is filled with practical words for dads that struggle! Children are not unlike wet cement, that will conform in part to the mold they are formed in. Dads provide some unique positive qualities that can be helpful in raising godly children and grandchildren.  In our text note that Paul uses both the role of the mother (2:7) and the father (2:11) to illustrate his relationship with a group of his “spiritual children”. We can see these as a model for both spiritual and physical children.

Key Principle: Godly parenting can be measured, has a revealed set of guidelines and a specific goal.

Quality #1: Active attempts at caring communication. “We proved to be gentle among you”. (gentle is epios; from epo as in epoch, a word or communication). We openly tried to communicate with you in a caring manner (2:7a).

Quality #2: Focus on the thriving and comfort of the child. “as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children”. (tenderly is thalpo likely from thallo “to warm” or to encircle with warmth). We deliberately focused on how you were feeling and doing to raise you as a healthy child (2:7b).

Quality #3: Sincere yearning to be with the child. “Having so fond an affection for..” (affection is himaromai: yearning). We wouldn’t wait to be with you and loved spending any time we could with you. You are a privilege and a blessing, not just a responsibility! (2:8a).

Quality #4: Consistent choices of preference to share both intimate time and heart insights with the child. “We were well pleased to impart the gospel and our lives..” (well pleased is eudokeo or ‘preferred’ which demonstrated choices; lives is psuche or souls). We kept choosing to open our very heart and spend any time possible with you. (2:8b).

Quality #5: Constant sensitivity to what the child can handle. “working so as to not be a burden to you..” We did what we needed to in order that no undue weight would be placed upon you. (2:9). Colossians 3:21 makes this case for dads not to exasperate (erithidzo: stir or stimulate to an inappropriate response from eris: conflict or wrangling) their children- or the children will “lose heart”. (2:9a).

Quality #6: Deliberately persuading the child of God’s truth. “we proclaimed the gospel of God”. (proclaim is from kerudzo: to persuade.) We worked to convince you that what God’s Word said is true! (2:9b).

Quality #7: Authentic modeling of right choices. “You are witnesses and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you.” (devout is hosios: undefiled, clean; dikaios is actively observing and living out right choices; blamelessly is “without charge for unpaid debt.” We carefully modeled clean living, right choices and left nothing outstanding to be cared for later! (2:10).

Quality #8: Pointed toward instruction. “you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring”. (exhorting is paraklete or called alongside to help as in apprenticing them; encouraging is paramutheomai: beside myth (story) to soothe- or better a woven speech planned to soothe the heart; imploring is marturomai: strongly bear witness, particularly in times of conflict. We instructed by working along with you, sometimes using soothing words when you needed to be lifted, other times using strong words to keep truth as the standard in your life! (2:11).

Quality #9: Individually tailored. “each one of you”. We evaluated each one of your personalities and situations and shared what was valuable in your situation and way of learning. (2:11).

Quality #10: Clear goal of building character and forming proper commitment to God. “So that you would walk in a manner worthy of God..” (walk is peripateo: to make one’s way; manner is axios is consistent checked standard weights of the agora for counterbalances. We always worked toward building your character and shaping a consistent commitment to a life worthy of your calling in Messiah. (2:12).

Godly parenting can be measured, has a revealed set of guidelines and a specific goal.