To God Be the Glory!

23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

25 Brothers, pray for us.

26 Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.

27 I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.

28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. – 1 Thessalonians 5:23-28 ESV

As Paul wraps up his letter, he provides a brief summary of its content. He has covered a lot of territory, but when all is said and done, what Paul has been trying to emphasize is their sanctification. This has been the primary point of his letter. Remember, back in chapter four Paul stated: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3 ESV). According to Paul, the divine will is that the life of each and every believer reflect their status as having been set apart by God for His use. It’s an obligation and not an option they can choose to ignore. 

The apostle Peter made this non-optional aspect of God’s will quite clear when he wrote: “…but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15-16 ESV). The Greek word for “holy” is hagios and the Greek word for “sanctification” is hagiasmos. Followers of Jesus Christ have been set apart or consecrated by God, and their lives are to reflect their status as His possession. They are no longer free to do and think as they please. Which is why Paul told the Corinthian believers:

Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. – 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 NLT

And Paul told the Thessalonians something very similar and linked it to their status as having been sanctified by God.

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor. – 1 Thessalonians 4:3 ESV

With this simple, yet profound sentence, Paul eliminates any thought the Thessalonians may have had about maintaining a semblance of their old lifestyles. Paul is emphatic when he states, “run from sexual sin!” He leaves no room for debate when he demands, “abstain from sexual immorality!”

Paul warned Timothy, “Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts. Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace” (2 Timothy 2:22 NLT). In another letter, Paul reminded Timothy that he belonged to God and he was to love like it.

But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have confessed so well before many witnesses. – 1 Timothy 6:11-12 NLT

From Paul’s perspective, the sanctified life that God willed for His children was non-optional and required constant attention and effort. But the goal of all this effort and energy is so that we will be useful to God. Which is exactly what Paul told Timothy.

So if anyone cleanses himself of what is unfit, he will be a vessel for honor: sanctified, useful to the Master, and prepared for every good work. – 2 Timothy 2:21 BSB

But when it comes to the topic of sanctification, there is a very important part we tend to leave out, and Paul brings it up as he closes out his letter. He knows that God’s call to live set apart lives is a daunting one. He also knows it will prove impossible if attempted without God’s help. The life of holiness is not something we can pull off on our own. Which is why Paul offered this short prayer on behalf of his brothers and sisters in Thessalonica: “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely” (1 Thessalonians 5:23 ESV). Their sanctification was not only God’s will, but it was His responsibility. God didn’t provide for their salvation and then leave their sanctification up to them. God doesn’t didn’t adopt them into His family and then leave them to fend for themselves. Paul wanted all those under his leadership and care to live with the assurance “that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6 ESV).

And Paul continues his prayer on behalf of the Thessalonians, stating, “may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again” (1 Thessalonians 5:23 NLT). Notice that phrase, “be kept blameless.” Paul uses the Greek word, tēreō, which means “to keep or preserve.” It could be used metaphorically to refer to “keeping one in the state in which he is.” Paul is assuring them that God is the one who will maintain their set-apart status. But he isn’t suggesting that God is going to keep them just like they were when He saved them. Notice that Paul addresses the whole nature of man: spirit, soul, and body. And he asks that God preserve every aspect of the believer’s life as faultless. He isn’t speaking of sinless perfection, but of a life where sin no longer enslaves and controls one’s actions.

A blameless man was an individual whose life was no longer dominated by sinful habits. He lived under the control of the Spirit of God, and his life reflected the fruit of the Spirit. That is why Paul demanded that all elder candidates be blameless men – men who were above reproach. No one could point a finger at them and cast dispersions on their character. Their reputations, while not perfect, were expected to be free from sinful habit or questionable behaviors. 

And, according to Paul, it is God alone who makes that kind of life possible. That is what he means when he says, “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24 ESV). But again, that doesn’t leave the believer with no role to play or any responsibility to pursue Christlikeness. Paul’s point is that if sanctification is God’s will for us, it should be our will as well. We should desire what God does. If He has sanctified us – set us apart – we should pursue a life that reflects that reality. But here is an often overlooked aspect of the sanctified life. IT ISN’T ABOUT US.

In other words, if we are not careful, we will pursue holiness for our own glory. We will attempt to live godly lives so that God will be pleased with us and others will think more highly of us. But that kind of approach to sanctification is missing the point altogether. Paul would have us remember that we exist to bring God glory. And when we live set-apart lives, in the power of the Spirit, we bring Him glory. And our sanctification is to influence every area of our lives. Which is why Paul said, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” 1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV). Even in the mundane, everyday things of life, our goal should be God’s glory, not our own. And according to Peter, when using the gifts given to us by God, our focus should never be receiving glory but giving glory to God.

If anyone speaks, he should speak as one conveying the words of God. If anyone serves, he should serve with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory and the power forever and ever. – 1 Peter 4:11 BSB

Peter also reminds us that our pursuit of holy conduct and character should be less about us and more about the lost around us.

Conduct yourselves with such honor among the Gentiles that, though they slander you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us.
 – 1 Peter 2:12 BSB

God wills our sanctification. He makes possible our sanctification. And He will one day complete our sanctification. All for our good and His glory. And with that assurance in mind, we should make it our highest priority to desire the good that God has willed for us. Not so we will look good in front of our believing friends. But so that God will be glorified before a lost and dying world. To God be the glory, great things He has done.

To God be the glory, great things he has done!
So loved he the world that he gave us his Son,
who yielded his life an atonement for sin,
and opened the life-gate that we may go in.

O perfect redemption, the purchase of blood!
To ev'ry believer the promise of God;
the vilest offender who truly believes,
that moment from Jesus forgiveness receives. [Refrain]

Great things he has taught us, great things he has done,
and great our rejoicing through Jesus the Son;
but purer and higher and greater will be
our wonder, our transport, when Jesus we see

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
let the earth hear his voice!
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father thro' Jesus the Son,
and give him the glory, great things he has done!

– Fanny Crosby (1875)

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

1 Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 64. All abbreviations of ancient literature in this essay are those used in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3d ed. (OCD).

Signs In “The Times”

12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil. – 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22 ESV

The Thessalonian believers are living in what Paul refers to as “the times.” This is what may also be referred to as the church age or the times of the Gentiles (Luke 21:24). It is the period of time between Christ’s first and second advent. The phrase, “until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled,” used by Jesus in Luke 21:24, refers to the period leading up until His second coming. He used it in direct reference to Jerusalem, indicating that the holy city would remain predominantly under Gentile control or influence until He returned to set up His Millennial Kingdom at the end of the seven years of Tribulation.

Paul wrote of this same time period in his letter to the church in Rome, telling them, “I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way, all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:25-26 ESV). Paul seems to indicate that there is a specific number of Gentiles who will come to faith in Christ, but it is only known to God. When the full number of Gentile converts is reached, the day of the Lord will begin, and it will commence with the Rapture of the church. 

The Thessalonian believers were excited about the possible return of Jesus, but they were also confused by what appeared to be His delay. So, Paul has reassured them that God has a plan and that they were living in “the times” leading up to the day of the Lord. But God has provided no date or length of time by which to measure its arrival. As Jesus told His disciples, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know” (Acts 1:7 NLT).

So, rather than worry about things God has chosen to keep a mystery, Paul points his readers back to God’s clearly revealed will.

For this is the will of God, your sanctification… – 1 Thessalonians 4:3 ESV

While it was proper for them to eagerly long for the Lord’s return, they were not to allow their anticipation to turn into preoccupation or lull them into a sense of spiritual complacency. While they waited, they were to walk in a manner worthy of their calling (Ephesians 4:1) and to work hard to show the results of their salvation (Philippians 2:12). They had work to do. And if God delayed the return of His Son, that was up to Him. In the meantime, they were to stay actively engaged in the pursuit of holiness. Which is why Paul told them, “So be on your guard, not asleep like the others. Stay alert and be clearheaded” (1 Thessalonians 5:6 NLT).

Paul was all about practical holiness. It wasn’t meant to be some kind of pie-in-the-sky in the sweet by and by mentality that leaves you heavenly minded but of no earthly good. That’s why he challenges them to show respect to those who minister among them. This would have included Timothy, their elders, and any other God-ordained leadership in their local congregations. Notice that Paul doesn’t tell them to respect their leaders if they deem them worthy of it, but because of their work. This had less to do with the leader than with God’s calling on that leader. As Paul reminded the believers in Ephesus, spiritual leaders within the body of Christ are to be seen as gifts provided by Christ Himself.

Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. – Ephesians 4:11-12 NLT

These individual have been given authority by God to lead and, sometimes, admonish. They were shepherds who had the responsibility to lead, feed, protect, and, if necessary, discipline the flock of Jesus Christ. And they were to be treated with honor and respect.

But Paul doesn’t stop there. He calls them to live in harmony with one another. They were to pursue peace at all costs. There was no place for disunity within the body of Christ. Paul shared this same advice with the believers in Rome.

Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. – Romans 12:18 NLT

The author of the book of Hebrews gave similar counsel.

Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life. – Hebrews 12:14 NLT

But the presence of peace is not an absence of conflict. It is impossible to live in close proximity with other people and not experience some degree of disagreement. So, Paul provides them with steps to deal with the inevitable threat of disunity. He tells them to “admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14 ESV). These four admonitions run the gamut, covering everything from reproving the lazy and strengthening the timid to caring for the weak and showing patience to all. That about covers every possible relationship scenario in the local church.

Paul wanted them to know that their survival was dependent upon their mutual care and concern for one another. There was no place for backbiting and payback. Instead, they were to seek the good of one another. That requires selflessness. It demands that each individual put the needs of others ahead of his own. And Paul knew that kind of lifestyle was only possible if they remained prayerful, joyful, and thankful.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 ESV

As soon as they lost the ability to rejoice in the unbelievable reality of their salvation, they would become myopic and self-focused again. And if they failed to pray, they would tend to live according to their own wills, rather than God’s. If they became ungrateful to God for all He had done for them, they would become envious and jealous of others. And that would lead to quarreling, conflict, and disunity.

Failure to rejoice, refusal to pray and a reluctance to give thanks will only stifle the work of the Spirit of God among the people of God. When believers begin to live selfishly, ungratefully, and prayerlessly, the Spirit’s power is diminished in their midst, like water poured on a flame. Paul referred to this as living according to the flesh, and he described it in these terms to the Galatian believers:

…the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other. – Galatians 5:17 ESV

A believer’s decision to give in to their fleshly desires will end up stifling the transformative power of the Spirit in his or her life. And it will do damage to the body of Christ.

Paul also provided the Thessalonians with what appears to be a very specific word regarding prophecy. It appears that there were some in the local congregations who were rejecting the idea of someone having a direct word from God. In the 1st-Century church, there were those who were given the gift of prophetic utterance, the ability to hear from God and to share that word with the local congregation. This was before the finalization of the Scriptures. Evidently, in their worship services, it was not uncommon for someone to stand up and share a word from God. And it appears that the Thessalonians were reluctant to accept that these individuals were speaking on behalf of God. But Paul warns them to test the words of these people, not to reject them. If these people actually spoke for God, it would be proven true in time. God would validate their words. And whatever God validated, they were to hang on to it as having come directly from Him.

And Paul wraps up this section with the simple, yet profound, phrase: “Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22 ESV). They were to avoid sinful behavior like the plague. But not only that, they were to have nothing to do with anything remotely associated with evil. Paul provided the Ephesians believers with a similar word of admonition.

Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, for the light makes everything visible. – Ephesians 5:10-14 NLT

The Christian life is comprised of acts of commission and omission. There are things we are to do and other things we are to refuse to do. There are activities we are to pursue, and there are those we are to avoid like a plague. This is part of what it means to be in the world but not of it. In His High Priestly Prayer, recorded in John 17, Jesus addressed the awkward reality of the believer’s presence in this fallen world.

I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.  And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. – John 17:15-19 ESV

Living in “the times” was not going to be easy for the Thessalonians, but it was also not impossible. They had all they needed to live as lights in the darkness. And Paul was convinced that they could and would.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

1 Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 64. All abbreviations of ancient literature in this essay are those used in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3d ed. (OCD).

Destined to Salvation

1 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4 But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. 5 For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. 6 So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.– 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 ESV

Paul has just addressed the Thessalonians’ concern about the spiritual state of their deceased friends and relatives. The loss of their loved ones had created a sense of unease and confusion among the believers because they had been anticipating the return of Jesus. One of the things Paul and the other apostles had to constantly deal with was the immature and incomplete nature of the new converts to whom they ministered. The global church was growing rapidly, and the new followers of Christ lacked much in the way of doctrinal instruction. Most had a rudimentary knowledge of Jesus Christ and His offer of salvation. They most likely understood that Jesus had resurrected and would one day return. But it appears that, beyond that, their understanding was incomplete. 

That is why Jesus had instructed the apostles, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20 NLT). It was not going to be enough just to share the gospel message. Any new followers of Christ were going to need to hear His words, taught and expounded upon, in order to grow in their faith. And one of the things Jesus taught to His disciples was the coming day of the Lord. He wanted His followers to understand that God had a grand plan in place, that included not only His Son’s death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, but His future return. Paul has just reminded his readers about the Rapture when Jesus will return for His bride, the church. Now, he shifts his focus to another end-times event, the day of the Lord.

This designation, “the day of the Lord,” was used by Jesus, Paul and Peter to refer to a future period of time when God will intervene on the earth in spectacular fashion. He will bring judgment upon the earth and its inhabitants and usher in the final phase of redemptive history. And, while every believer needs to be aware of the reality of these coming events, Jesus made it clear that no one can know their exact timing.

“It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” – Acts 1:7 ESV

“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” – Matthew 24:36 ESV

Yet, it is human nature to want to know how and when these end-times events are going to happen. And while Jesus provided His disciples with significant details regarding the events surrounding the day of the Lord, He did not tell them when it would happen – only that it would. And Paul had evidently taught the Thessalonians about these coming end-times events, referring to them as “the times and the seasons.” His use of the Greek words chronos and kairos seems to be in order to stress the “the times” – a reference to the period of waiting or delay that precedes the day of the Lord – and “the seasons” – referring to the actual events themselves. In other words, Paul had taught them about the coming day of the Lord, a time when God will bring judgment upon the earth. But he had also taught them about the days leading up to that time – that period in which all believers live until God’s ordained outcome takes place.

Paul had already taught the Thessalonians that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2 ESV). And when Paul used this phrase, he was referring not only to the second coming of Christ, but also the events leading up to His return. For Paul, the day of the Lord included the seven years of Tribulation, when God will pour out His judgments upon mankind, as well as Christ’s second coming that will occur at the end of the seven years and usher in the Millennial Kingdom. These future events are all included in the day of the Lord, and their arrival will come unexpectedly. A thief comes when the home’s occupants least expect him. They are unaware of his plans and unprepared for his arrival. In their minds, “Everything is peaceful and secure” (1 Thessalonians 5:3 NLT). Paul uses the metaphor of a pregnant woman who, after nine months of waiting, has grown used to being pregnant. She has grown accustomed to her condition. And then, suddenly, the contractions begin. Even though she has had nine months to prepare herself for this moment, she is still caught off guard by the severity and speed of the labor pains. 

But Paul reminds the Thessalonians that they have no reason to be caught off guard by the news of these future events. They had been warned.  They had been fully informed that God has a future plan in store for mankind. And it will all begin with the return of the Lord for the church. The Rapture is what will introduce the rest of the end-times events. With the removal of all believers from the earth, the stage will be set for God to prepare all those who remain for His righteous judgment. The absence of any Christians on the earth will leave a tremendous spiritual void in which unrighteousness will be free to spread unabated. And in this moral and spiritual vacuum, the Antichrist will quickly rise to power, and an apostate church will rise to prominence. The following seven years referred to as the Tribulation, will be marked by unprecedented unrighteousness and wickedness. Jesus described it in foreboding terms: “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be” (Matthew 24:21 ESV).

The Thessalonians had been informed about these coming days, but it appears that they were still confused. In fact, in his second letter to them, Paul goes into further detail about the day of the Lord, attempting to allay any further fears or misunderstanding they had.

Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. – 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 ESV

The bottom line for Paul was preparedness. He wanted the believers in Thessalonica to live in a state of constant readiness, fully ready for the Lord to return for them at any time. He told them, “let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober” (1 Thessalonians 5:6 ESV). There is no place for complacency in the life of a believer. We know the Lord is coming back, so we should live like it. We don’t live in darkness or ignorance, like the rest of the world. We are children of the light and have had our minds illuminated by the truth of God’s Word.

There was no reason for the Thessalonians to fear. They were in Christ and were being preserved by Him for their future salvation. That is why Paul tells them to rely upon “breastplate of faith and love.” They were shielded from the judgment to come by their faith in Christ and God’s love for them. Paul had promised the Roman believers that “not even the powers of hell can separate us from God's love” (Romans 8:38 NLT). And they had access to “the helmet of salvation” to protect their thoughts and minds. They were guaranteed a place in God’s Kingdom, and Paul provided them with the reassuring words: “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9 ESV). They did not need to fear the coming judgment of God because His Son was coming back for them.

But they did need to be ready. So, he told them “to encourage one another and build one another up.” They were living in “the times” – the period of time before the Lord returns and the day of the Lord commenced. They had no way of knowing when Jesus was coming back, but they needed to live in eager anticipation of that day and prepared for it to happen at any moment. And Paul emphasized this same spirit of readiness when writing to the believers in Ephesus, urging them to dress for the spiritual war in which they were engaged.

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God… – Ephesians 6:13-17 ESV

Jesus is coming back one day and the day of the Lord will take place. But until that day, we are to live in a constant state of preparedness, realizing that, until He comes, we must fight the good fight to the end.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

1 Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 64. All abbreviations of ancient literature in this essay are those used in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3d ed. (OCD).

Encouraging Words For Discouraging Times

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left 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 cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. – 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 ESV

In an effort to prepare His disciples for His coming death in Jerusalem, Jesus provided them with some encouraging news:

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” – John 14:1-3 ESV

Jesus had repeatedly emphasized that His death was inevitable and unavoidable. It was part of God’s redemptive plan and, as an obedient son, Jesus was obligated to carry out the will of His Father. It was the reason behind His incarnation, a point that Jesus made perfectly clear when He said, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28 NLT).

Without Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, the sin debt owed by mankind would remain unpaid and a sentence of death would still hang over the heads of each and every man, woman, and child who has ever lived. But Jesus did die. He was buried. He rose again and was see in His resurrected state by hundreds of His followers. Paul emphasized these facts in his first letter to the church in Corinth.

Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen… – 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 NLT

But the story of redemption didn’t stop there. We know from the gospel accounts that after Jesus appeared in His resurrected form to His disciples, He commissioned them to take the gospel message to the nations. And then He ascended back into heaven, right before their eyes. Luke gives us a glimpse of that moment in the book of Acts.

…he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. – Acts 1:9 NLT

Jesus returned to His Father’s side in heaven. But the redemptive story doesn’t end there. As the disciples stood staring up into the sky, two angels appeared and gave them some very important words of encouragement.

“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!” – Acts 1:12 NLT

Jesus died. He was buried. He rose again. He appeared. He ascended. And, one day, He will return. This is the very event to which Paul refers in this section of 1 Thessalonians 4. He reminds His audience that there is another important event that looms on the horizon of redemptive history. The return of Christ for His bride, the church. This is the event commonly referred to as the Rapture. This word, while not actually in the Bible, is derived from the Latin translation of the Greek word, harpazō,  translated as “caught up” in verse 17. In the Latin Vulgate translation of the New Testament, this word became raptura, from which we get the term, Rapture.

The Rapture, while often confused with the Second Coming, is a completely separate end times event. It refers to the return of Christ for His bride, the church, and it will take place at the end of what is called the church age – a period of undisclosed length that includes the time in which we live. It began with the coming of Jesus and will end with His return for the church, when He takes all those who have believed in Him to join Him in His Father’s house in heaven.

All of this fits into the wedding imagery that Jesus used concerning He and the church. He is the groom and we are His bride. Technically, according to the traditional Jewish concept of marriage, we are the betrothed on Jesus. The marriage has yet to be consummated, but we are legally bound to Him, having been given to Him by His Father, just as in a traditional Jewish wedding (John 17:12). During the betrothal period, the bride and groom are legally married, but remain separated from one another.  It is only just before the actual wedding itself that the groom returns for His bride and takes her to his father’s house, where the wedding ceremony and feast are held. Jesus, having returned to His Father’s house, is preparing a place for He and His bride. Then, when the time is right, he will return for her and take her to His Father’s house, where the ceremony and the celebration  will take place.

That is the event to which Paul is referring and he appears to be bringing it up because there was confusion among the believers in Thessalonica. They had all be longing for and eagerly waiting on the Parousia or coming of Christ. The early church lived with a sense of immediacy and imminence when it came to Christ’s return. They expected it to happen any day. And Paul and the other apostles encouraged this outlook. Paul to the believers in Corinth:

But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control. – Philippians 3:20-21 NLT

But the Thessalonians were beginning to have second thoughts. Some of their fellow believers had died and Jesus had not yet returned. That raised some significant questions in their minds: Where did their deceased friends and relatives go? What was their eternal fate? Was Jesus ever coming back?

And Paul addresses these concerns by providing them with much-needed assurance of the coming of Christ. For Paul, the deaths of their friends and relatives was cause for mourning, but not despair. Sadness is a natural human reaction to loss but, for believers, our loss is to be accompanied with hope. Because we have the resurrection of Jesus as a constant reminder of our future destiny.  Jesus’ death was followed by His resurrection and, by virtue of our faith in Him, we have the same outcome awaiting us. Paul told the believers in Rome:

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. – Romans 6:5 ESV

And he told the believers in Corinth:

It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. – 1 Corinthians 15:52 NLT

Notice what Paul says here. Those who have died will be raised to live forever. And those who are living when Jesus returns for the church will also be transformed. That is the very same message Paul is delivering to the Thessalonians. The dead have not missed the boat. Their souls have gone to be with Jesus in heaven. Just as Jesus told the criminal on the cross, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43 NLT). Those believers who die prior to the Rapture go to be with Him. But the day is coming when they will return with Him and receive their new resurrected, glorified bodies. Again, Paul addressed the reality of this incredible promise in his first letter to the church in Corinth.

…our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever. But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! – 1 Corinthians 15:50-51 NLT

As Dr. Thomas L. Constable so aptly puts it: “the translation of living Christians and the resurrection of dead Christians will take place at the same time.” It is at the Rapture that all those in Christ, the living and the dead, will receive their glorified bodies, custom-made for the eternal state. As Paul puts it, “our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies” (1 Corinthians 15:53 NLT).

Paul wanted the Thessalonians to maintain their hope, even in the face of loss. Their loved ones were not gone, they had simply gone on ahead. And the day is coming when all believers, those who have died and gone to be with the Lord and those who are still living, will be reunited and will received their resurrected, glorified bodies. And the apostle John provides us with further words of encouragement regarding that day.

Dear friends, we are already God's children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. – 1 John 3:2 NLT

With this fantastic news in mind, encourage one another with these words.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

1 Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 64. All abbreviations of ancient literature in this essay are those used in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3d ed. (OCD).

Love Like God

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

Paul has just reminded the Thessalonians that they have been sanctified or set apart by God. According to His divine will, God has consecrated them for His use. And Paul added the clarification that “God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (1 Thessalonians 4:7 ESV). In other words, God had set them apart to something: holiness, and from something: sexual immorality. Paul is not saying that sexual immorality was the only thing they needed to avoid, but it was obviously a problem among them.  They had been raised in the Greek culture where sexuality permeated everyday life. There were few taboos regarding sex and, therefore, adultery, prostitution, homosexuality, and sex outside of marriage were a normal and expected part of life. There were even cases where the worship of their gods involved what Yahweh had deemed sexual immorality.

All kinds of immoralities were associated with the [Greco-Roman] gods. Not only was prostitution a recognized institution, but through the influence of the fertility cults of Asia Minor, Syria, and Phoenicia it became a part of the religious rites at certain temples. Thus there were one thousand "sacred prostitutes" at the temple of Aphrodite at Corinth.1

The Greek culture was steeped is sexuality and it was not considered immoral for one to fulfill their natural physical passions. So, the Thessalonian believers found themselves juggling God’s call to set-apartness and the siren call of society to compromise their convictions.

For Paul, God’s call to sanctification was not to be viewed as a list of things not to do. Yes, he clearly states that they were to abstain from sexual immorality. But notice the context. They were to control their own bodies and manage their passions so that they would not transgress and wrong their brother. This was really about brotherly love. Adultery is a lack of love. It is an expression of lust, envy, and greed; taking what does not belong to you. Sex outside the God-ordained boundaries of marriage is not love. It’s little more than lust, a willing surrender to physical drives with little regard for the other individual’s needs or wants.

But Paul commends the Thessalonians for their brotherly love. They had “been taught by God to love one another” and they were doing it. But that did not mean they were immune to the temptations all around them. That’s why Paul urges them to love more and more. They were to grow in their love for one another, expressing that love in tangible ways. And those expressions of love can take both positive and negative forms. They could love by caring for the needs of one another. But they could also love by not taking advantage of one another. Their love could show up  in the form of an act of kindness or a decision to not spread a false rumor.

Paul provided the believers in Galatia with a sobering list of actions that emanate from a life driven by the sin nature.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these.  – Galatians 5:19-21 NLT

Look closely at this list. Every one of these characteristics are selfish in nature. They are expressions of a loveless, self-centered life where any care for anyone else is absent. These are the actions of someone who loves self more than anything else. But compare this list with the one that describes a Spirit-led, Spirit-controlled life: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23 NLT).

These attributes are other-oriented, not self-centered. They are expressions of love because they are the fruit of the Spirit of God. God is love and we love because He first loved us. We have been set apart for the purpose of expressing His love to one another. And Paul provides the Thessalonians and us with three concrete expressions of what it looks like to love others.

First, he says they are “to aspire to live quietly” (1 Thessalonians 4:11 ESV). This is an interesting one, because it could be translated, “strive to live a non-frantic life.” Sounds counter-intuitive doesn’t it? But the Greek word translated “aspire” is philotimeomai, and it can also mean “to be fond of.” The first half of the word is philos, and it means “friend.” The second half of the word is timē, and it means “to honor.” So, Paul is telling the Thessalonians to honor their friends by living quiet, peaceful lives. It is not a call to isolationism, but an encouragement to live in a way that brings the most good to others. It is a life of selflessness, not selfishness.

Secondly, Paul says, “to mind your own affairs.” In other words, manage your own life well. Don’t attempt to fix everyone else’s life by controlling or correcting them. It is not love when you find fault in others. It is not love when you constantly criticize and complain about others. Jesus warned, “why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5 NLT). 

Paul is calling them to a life of self-examination, where they are slow to judge others, but quick to assess the condition of their own hearts. Because, as Jesus said, “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander“ (Matthew 15:19 ESV). How easy it is to focus all our attention on the faults of others, while ignoring the condition of our own hearts. And when we do, rather than love others, we judge, envy, slander, and take advantage of them. In other words, we fail to love them.

Finally, Paul tells the Thessalonians, “to work with your hands.” This is not a call to hard work and industry. Keep it within the context. He is calling the Thessalonians to grow in their love for one another. And a big part of what they are called to do is express that love by doing the things God has called them to do. Remember what Paul wrote the believers in Ephesus:

…we are his [God’] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. – Ephesians 2:10 ESV

Earlier, in the very same letter, Paul had told them: “he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love…” (Ephesians 1:4 ESV). Notice those last two words: in love. That’s the key. Love is to be the greatest proof of our holiness and blamelessness. And later on, he gave them further instructions “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24 ESV).

As God’s children, set apart by Him for His use, we are to emulate His character. We are to bear His image by behaving according to His will for us. And as Paul stated earlier, God’s will is our sanctification, our holiness lived out in everyday life. And the greatest expression of that holiness is our love, because God is love. This is what Jesus meant when He told His followers, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35 ESV). And the apostle John so rightly states, “We love each other because he loved us first” (1 John 4:19 NLT).

Paul summarizes his statements, telling the Thessalonians that their adherence to these three things: to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, will allow them to “walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1 Thessalonians 4:12 ESV). The image Paul paints is that of brotherly interdependence that mirrors for the lost world what it means to be part of the body of Christ. There is a love that is expressed in selflessness and mutual care and concern for one another that is like nothing the world has ever seen. And it should result in a lack of need among the family of God. But not just a lack of physical need. This brotherly love should create a overflowing sense of acceptance, significance, worth, and purpose in life.

The love we express for one another as fellow believers in Christ is the greatest proof of God’s existence. When we love as He has loved us, selflessly and sacrificially, we demonstrate the depth of love with which He loved us. And in doing so, we make God known. And the apostle John calls us to lives lives marked by that kind of love:

Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. – 1 John 4:11-12 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

1 Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 64. All abbreviations of ancient literature in this essay are those used in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3d ed. (OCD).

God's Will: Your Holiness

1 Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. 8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. – 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 ESV

The chapter and verse designations found in our English translations were not In the original letter sent by Paul to the Thessalonians. So, the rather abrupt break we find between the close of chapter 3 and the beginning of chapter four would not have been there. And that artificially imposed structure on the letter can cause some unnecessary confusion when trying to determine Paul’s intent and meaning. 

Chapter three ends with Paul expressing his strong desire that God increase the love of Thessalonian believers for one another and for those outside their fellowship. And his prayer is that God would “establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (1 Thessalonians 3:13 ESV). Paul’s concern is that they live loves marked by love and godliness. He longs to see their inner heart transformation manifest itself through external expressions that give evidence to their holiness.

And Paul carries that thought into the next paragraph. The word “finally” is translated from the Greek word loipon, which can have a wide range of meanings, depending upon the context. It could be translated, “in addition” or “moreover.” Paul is expanding on what he has just said. He’s adding to his thoughts by providing his readers with further counsel regarding the link between their status as believers in Jesus Christ and the behavior that marks their lives. Paul had previously provided them with instructions in how “to walk and to please God,” and he commends them for having done so. But he also encourages them to “do so more and more” (1 Thessalonians 4:1 ESV). They were not to grow complacent or content. This was no time to rest on their laurels or to become satisfied with the current condition of their spiritual lives. 

And it must be noted how Paul weaves together two very important aspects regarding the Christian’s spiritual maturity. At the close of chapter three, he expressed his firm belief that it was God alone who could increase the level of their love and cause it to overflow. And only God could make their hearts strong, blameless, and holy. The inner transformation of their lives was totally dependent upon divine power, not human effort. It was impossible for them to manufacture, through human means, the kind of love God demanded. There is no way that they could repair the sin-damaged condition of their own hearts through self-renovation. Man is incapable of seeing the true state of his inner life. As the prophet Jeremiah put it, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9 NLT). And even if he could see how wicked his heart is, man is powerless to do anything about it. That’s the meaning behind a comment made by God regarding the people of Judah and recorded in the book of Jeremiah.

“Can an Ethiopian change the color of his skin? Can a leopard take away its spots? Neither can you start doing good, for you have always done evil.” – Jeremiah 13:23 NLT

God asked two rhetorical questions that shared the same obvious answer: No. The people of God were powerless to change their behavior because they couldn’t change their hearts. Their actions were nothing more than an outer expression of their inner condition.

So, Paul reminds the Thessalonian believers that it is the power of God that has transformed them and made them His children. Their newfound status as sons and daughters of God was His doing. But that didn’t mean God was finished with them. Otherwise, Paul would not have prayed for God to increase their love to make their hearts strong, blameless, and holy. They were works in process. Which is what Paul meant when he wrote to the believers in Philippi:

God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. – Philippians 1:6 NLT

But Paul’s reference to God’s work in them doesn’t mean that God expects no work from them. And he makes that point perfectly clear when he states, “this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3 ESV). This little verse packs a punch and yet is easily overlooked or ignored by most Christians. It provides a remarkable glimpse into God’s divine will for the life of the believer, and it is all summed up in the one word, sanctification.

The Greek word Paul used is hagiasmos and, like most Greek words, it is rich in meaning. It is sometimes translated as holiness, consecration, and purification. And it can be used to signify a position (a holy nation) and a process (be holy). In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul provides them with a list that describes the unrighteous, or those outside of Christ. It includes the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, men who practice homosexuality, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers. Then Paul makes an interesting statement.  

…such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. – 1 Corinthians 6:11 ESV

Notice that he lists the Corinthian believers as having been sanctified. In this case, he is referring to their having been set apart by God. In the process of their salvation, their sinful condition was cleansed by the righteous blood of Christ, making them pure and acceptable before God and able to be set apart for His use. Like the utensils used in temple worship, they had to be cleansed and purified before they could be deemed worthy of use for God. Which is what Peter meant when he wrote:

you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy [hagios] nation, God’s very own possession. – 1 Peter 2:9 NLT

Don’t miss what Peter is saying. He tells his readers that they are a holy nation. They have been chosen by God and set apart as His very own possession. They belong to Him. Which is exactly what Paul told the believers in Corinth.

You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NLT

They had been declared holy by God and set apart for His use. Which meant that they were to honor God with the entirety of their lives. And that is the whole point behind Paul’s admonitions to the believers in Thessalonica and Corinth. Notice the similarities between his comments in the two letters.

He tells the Thessalonians, “stay away from all sexual sin. Then each of you will control his own body and live in holiness and honor—not in lustful passion like the pagans who do not know God and his ways” (Thessalonians 4:3-5 NLT). And his words to the Corinthians were similar.

Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? – 1 Corinthians 18-19 NLT

In a sense, Paul is commanding both groups to live their lives in a manner that matches their calling. They have been set apart by God for His use, and their lives were to reflect it. They were not free to live according to their own desires anymore. They had been bought with a price and belonged to God. And it was His will that they live sanctified, set apart lives.

And, as it to make sure the don’t miss his point, Paul states, “God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (1 Thessalonians 4:7 ESV). There’s that Greek word, hagiasmos again. It is the very same word that is translated as “sanctification” in verse 3. Paul is emphasizing that the believer’s calling by God is for the purpose of holiness or sanctification, not impurity.

There is a very important truth revealed in this verse that is easily overlooked and underappreciated. Paul says that God has not called us for impurity but in holiness. Those two prepositions are critical. The first one conveys a destination or activity. The second has to do with status or position. Holiness is not to be viewed as a process, but a positional reality. Holiness or sanctification is not to be viewed as a progression towards something as much as a revelation of something. We are already holy in God’s eyes. So, we are to live as what we are. We have been set apart by God in holiness. That is our new status or condition. We have been set apart by God for His will.

But there is going to be a constant war between our will and that of God. And one of the areas of life where the battle will rage the hottest is in regards to sexual sin. It was obviously a problem among the Thessalonian believers, or Paul would not have addressed it. While they enjoyed status as sanctified saints, they were going to have to live lives that gave evidence of who there were. And Paul reminds them that they had the indwelling power of the Spirit of God available to them. This was not about will power and self-effort. But it was about a willingness to make God’s will for them their highest priority. And Paul minces no words when he tells them, “this is the will of God, your sanctification.” 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Blameless in Holiness

11 Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, 12 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, 13 so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. – 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 ESV

Paul closes this section of his letter by reiterating his desire to return to Thessalonica. But as he shared earlier in the letter, that desire had been resisted by the enemy.

…we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you — I, Paul, again and again — but Satan hindered us. – 1 Thessalonians 2:17-18 ESV

Yet, Paul knew that his path was determined by God, not Satan. He was fully convinced that his return to Thessalonica was in the hands of the Almighty, and it was his prayer that God the Father and God the Son would make it possible. The Greek word Paul used is kateuthynō, and it means to guide or make straight by the removal of any obstacles or hindrances. Paul will use this same Greek word in his second letter to the Thessalonians.

But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. – 2 Thessalonians 3:3-5 ESV

Paul knew that what God wanted done would be done. If He wanted Paul to return to Thessalonica, it would happen. Satan himself has no power to thwart God’s will. And Paul knew that God alone possesses the power to remove any obstacles to the believer’s spiritual journey, making it possible for them to experience the love of God and the perseverance of Christ.

For Paul, God was the key to everything. The Trinity was the sole source of the believer’s strength and hope. The Father’s will for man’s redemption, made possible by the work of His Son on the cross, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, are the non-negotiable necessities behind the believer’s transformation from condemned sinner to glorified saint. Paul wanted the Thessalonians to know that any hope they had to live strong, blameless, and holy lives was totally dependent upon the Father, Son, and Spirit. And it was Paul’s constant prayer that God would “establish” or strengthen their hearts so that they might live worthy of their calling.

When Paul uses the word “heart,” he is not referring to the organ that pumps blood through the body. While the Greek word kardia did have that meaning, Paul was using it to refer to the center of all spiritual life. The Outline of Biblical Usage describes it as “the soul or mind, as it is the fountain and seat of the thoughts, passions, desires, appetites, affections, purposes, endeavors.”

Paul knew that the external behavior of the Thessalonians was directly tied to the internal condition of their hearts. Jesus warned that “from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander” (Matthew 15:18 NLT). The Old Testament proverb reads: “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (Proverbs 4:23 NLT). The outward actions of our lives tend to flow from the inward condition of our hearts. That is why any attempts at behavior modification without transformation of the heart are doomed to failure.

The goal, as far as Paul was concerned, was a strong finish. He wanted the believers in Thessalonica to run the race well and keep their eyes on the prize. For him, the journey was meaningless if you didn’t remain focused on the destination. That is how he lived his life.

I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. – Philippians 3:14 NLT

And he expected all those under his spiritual care to follow his lead. Which is why he emphasizes “the coming of our Lord Jesus.” The Greek word for “coming” is parousia and it was most often used by Paul to refer to the return of Christ. In fact, in the very next chapter, Paul will provide the Thessalonians with insight into the day when Christ will return for His bride, the church.

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

Jesus was coming back. That fact is a very important part of the gospel message. Jesus‘ first coming, while epic in nature and essential to the promise of salvation, is incomplete if He does not come again. Jesus promised the disciples that He was going to prepare a place for them. And He told them, “When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am” (John 14:3 NLT). The bad news was that He was leaving them. The good news was that He was coming back some day. And immediately after telling the disciples He was leaving but would be returning some day, He promised to send them His Holy Spirit to indwell and empower them.

“I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. Remember what I told you: I am going away, but I will come back to you again.” – John 14:27-28 NLT

That promise holds true for each and every believer in Christ. The Thessalonians had received the gift of the Spirit, who was fully capable of giving the peace of mind and heart. He had the power to transform their inner lives so that their outward behavior reflected their confidence and hope in the promise of their future glorification. Their ability to become like Christ was provided by the Spirit, who would guide and empower them until the return of Christ. But if Christ did not return before they died, they had nothing to fear because they would go to be with Him.

The promised return of Christ is meant to remind us that this life is not all there is. There is life after death. There is glory to come. This temporal existence will be followed by the eternal state. Which is why Paul told the believers in Rome, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18 ESV). He told the Corinthian believers: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17 ESV). And Peter shared Paul’s confident hope in the promise of God.

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. – 1 Peter 5:10 ESV

One day we will stand before God blameless in holiness. We will be sinless and completely righteous. That future reality, guaranteed by the word of God, the work of Christ, and the power of the Spirit, is to keep us motivated as we live in this fallen, sin-filled world. Any momentary, light afflictions we may have to suffer in this life will pale in comparison to the eternal weight of glory awaiting us.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Faith and Love

6 But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you — 7 for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. 8 For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. 9 For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, 10 as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith? – 1 Thessalonians 3:6-10 ESV

In time, Timothy had returned from his assignment in Thessalonica, where he had been sent by Paul to establish and exhort the believers in their faith. At his reunion with Paul, Timothy provided a report concerning the state of the churches in Thessalonica, and Paul deemed what he heard as “good news.” Timothy shared details regarding their faith and love – pistis and agapē – two characteristics that Paul deemed indispensable to the Christian life. The writer of Hebrews stressed that “it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 NLT). Faith begins the Christian’s spiritual journey, but it does not end there. Faith is to be a permanent fixture of the believer’s life from the moment of conversion to the future day of glorification. Paul himself wrote, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17 ESV). And in the original Greek, that phrase actually reads, “The one who by faith is righteous shall live.” Faith is the fuel of the Christian life. It provides new life in Christ and makes possible the abundant life that He promised.

As the author of Hebrews makes clear, faith is a belief in the existence of God. But there’s more. It is a belief that this existent God is a rewarder of those who sincerely seek Him. In other words, those who sincerely seek Him and Him alone will be rewarded with the joy of finding Him. But in his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote:

For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. – Romans 1:20 NLT

While God has revealed His invisible attributes through all that He has made, most men have chosen to worship chosen the creation rather than the creator. They had an awareness of God’s presence, but rather than seeking Him, they turned their attention to things made by Him. And the apostle John reminds us that “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is Himself God and is at the Father’s side, has made Him known” (John 1:18 BSB). And Paul describes Jesus as “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 ESV), who made God not only knowable but approachable. And yet, Paul also reveals that many who have heard about Jesus, still refuse to believe in Jesus. And their disbelief results in a spiritual blindness to the reality of who He is and what He has come to offer. 

Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don't believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don't understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. – 2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT

They don’t believe. The Greek word is apistos and it means “not belief.” It is a lack of faith and trust in who Jesus is and the salvation He came to offer.

But for those who do believe in the salvation offered by God through His Son, forgiveness of sin and a restored relationship with God are the reward. But God expects that belief to last well beyond the point of conversion. Placing your faith in Christ is not a singular event, but a lifelong experience. The Christian life is a journey on which the believer’s faith will be tested all along the way. And when Paul heard that the believers in Thessalonica were exhibiting faith amid difficulty, he was encouraged. Their faith was a living faith. They were exhibiting a belief in the promises of God that did not waver in the face of difficulties. They were not allowing the presence of trials to diminish their trust in God. Their perseverance in the face of difficulties made Paul proud because it reflected their adherence to his teachings.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.  No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39 NLT

They fully believed that they were loved by God and didn’t allow their less-than-ideal circumstances to diminish that belief. And their unwavering belief in God’s love for them manifested itself in a selfless love for others. That was the second characteristic Timothy highlighted. He reported to Paul that the Thessalonian believers loved well. But the text is very specific as to what kind of love they exhibited. The Greek word is agapē, and it refers to a specific kind of love. Timothy could have used the Greek word philadelphia, which refers to a love between brothers or friends. No, he specifically used agapē, which carried a much more powerful connotation. Within Christianity, it came to be associated with the love of Christ. It was a selfless, sacrificial kind of love that exhibited a lay-it-all-on-the-line kind of quality that demanded nothing in return. This kind of love is unconditional and not reciprocal. It doesn’t require the one who is loved to return the favor. It doesn’t demand that the one to be loved be lovely or loveable. In fact, Paul tells us that “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT). And the apostle John would have us remember that this kind of sacrificial and undeserved love is exactly what we received from God.

This is real love – not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. – 1 John 4:10 NLT

The Thessalonian believers loved in the same way they had been loved by God: Sacrificially and selflessly. And this brought Paul great joy. It provided him with comfort as he faced his own set of trials and troubles. News of their faith and love was exactly what he needed to hear. And he responded to this encouraging report by telling them, “It gives us new life to know that you are standing firm in the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 3:8 NLT).  News of their faith and love was like a tonic for Paul. It made all his hard work well worth the effort. For Paul, there was nothing more revitalizing to his own faith than to hear that his spiritual children were growing in godliness. And the two characteristics that best illustrated their growth were persevering faith and selfless love.

Yet, in spite of the good news delivered by Timothy, Paul longed to see his brothers and sisters in Christ again. And he assured them, “we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith” (1 Thessalonians 3:10 ESV). Notice the motivation behind Paul’s desire to return. He wants to fill in any gaps that might exist in their faith. For Paul, faith was dynamic, not static. It was to be living and ever-increasing. That is why James wrote, “faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless” (James 2:17 NLT). Both Paul and James knew that true saving faith would result in true life change. And they also understood that faith would have a tendency to ebb and flow, based on the circumstances of life. There would be those days when a believer found holes in his faith – those gaps where the seed of doubt tends to take root and, in time, turns into full-grown disbelief. So, Paul wanted to fill in the gaps. He wanted to bring confident assurance to their faith, by increasing their knowledge of God and improving their understanding of and reliance upon His promises. And this desire by Paul to pour into the lives of believers is reflected in his prayer for the congregations in Colossae.

We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.

We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. – Colossians 1:9-11 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Word At Work In You

9 For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. 11 For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. 14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last! – 1 Thessalonians 2:9-16 ESV

In these verses Paul seems to emphasize the theme of work. He reminds the Thessalonians that he and his fellow missionaries had originally come to them for the purpose of sharing the gospel. And he describes their efforts among them as “labor and toil” and points out that “we worked night and day” (1 Thessalonians 2:9 ESV). But the kind of work to which Paul is referring includes far more than just the preaching of the gospel. That was their primary objective, but we know that Paul and his companions made a habit of operating a self-sustaining ministry “that we might not be a burden to any of you” (1 Thessalonians 2:9 ESV). Luke records that Paul used his talents as a tent maker in order to underwrite his ministry in Corinth.

After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks. – Acts 18:1-4 ESV

Paul was reluctant to place any kind of financial burden on the new churches he helped to found, choosing instead to pay his own way, utilizing his skills as a tentmaker to underwrite his ministry. The result was that Paul put in long days, dividing his time between manual labor and his labor of love: The sharing of the gospel.

And Paul wanted the Thessalonians to recall that his hard work among them truly was a labor of love and a demonstration of selfless and blameless behavior. No one could point a finger at Paul, accusing him of dishonest or ungodly actions. Paul states that the Thessalonians had experienced firsthand how “we were devout and honest and faultless toward all of you believers” (1 Thessalonians 2:10 ESV). And if they refused to give witness to the truth of Paul’s integrity, God would.

And all of Paul’s hard work among them was directed toward one overarching objective: That the Thessalonians might “walk in a manner worthy of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:12 ESV) – that their lives would reflect their newfound calling in Christ. When Paul speaks of “walking,” he uses the Greek word peripateō. It is a robust word that includes far more than mere movement from one place to another. It is an all-inclusive word that covers all of life. To “walk” meant to conduct your life – every area of your life – in a manner that brought glory to God. So, Paul is talking about the entirety of life, including home, leisure, recreation, and work. No area of life was to be left out. And this was a message Paul shared with virtually every church to which he ministered. He told the Colossian believers:

…walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. – Colossians 1:10 ESV

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith… – Colossians 2:6 ESV

He told the believers in Philippi:

…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world. – Philippians 2:12-15 ESV

What makes this new way of living possible? The word of God. And Paul insists that it is at work among them. Not only was the gospel capable of saving them, it was the power behind their ongoing sanctification. The word of God saves and transforms. It redeems and recreates. It makes the believer right with God and makes right living possible. But that kind of living was not going to be easy. It requires effort on the part of the believer, but it’s not about self-effort. In fact, Paul makes it clear to the Philippian believers that “God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6 NLT).

Paul had worked among the Thessalonians. And God had worked through Paul. Now, Paul was encouraging them to work out their faith in daily life. He was calling them to godliness, in every area of their lives, even in the face of difficulty. And he makes it clear that the persecution they faced was not unique to them.

For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews. – 1 Thessalonians 2:14 ESV

Their efforts at living their lives in a manner worthy of God were going to be met with opposition. Their “walk” of faith was not going to be easy. Working out their salvation wasn’t going to be a cake walk. And Paul had firsthand experience with just how difficult following Christ could be. The word of God, which had transformed the lives of the Thessalonians, was not going to be met with open arms by their fellow citizens. Jesus, the living Word, was put to death by His own people. He suffered and died while accomplishing the work assigned to Him by His Father. And Paul had run into road blocks in his attempt to take the gospel to the Gentiles. He had faced opposition from Jews and Gentiles alike. But he kept working. He kept sharing. And he kept believing that God was far from done. His work among the Thessalonians was not yet finished.

And, as for those who worked hard at trying to derail the efforts of Paul and to discourage the faith of the Thessalonian believers, Paul knew God had judgment in store for them. They were standing in opposition to the gospel of God, and He would eventually judge them for their sin of resisting His work.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Smart Enough To Know Better.

2 Chronicles 1-2, 1 Thessalonians 5

Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can govern this people of yours, which is so great? – 2 Chronicles 1:10 ESV

Solomon was a bright young man. In fact, he was smart enough to know that, when God offered him a chance to ask for anything he wanted, what he really needed were wisdom and knowledge. And God granted both. So Solomon wasn't just book-smart, he was God-ordained, off-the-charts intelligent. But he was going to learn that all the wisdom in the world won't stop you from doing some pretty unintelligent things. It's interesting to note that the chronicler takes special care to follow up the story of Solomon's anointing by God with wisdom and knowledge with a very telling side story. It seems that Solomon had an appetite for fast wheels, precious metals, and, eventually, foreign women. "Solomon gathered together chariots and horsemen. He had 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horsemen, whom he stationed in the chariot cities and with the king in Jerusalem. And the king made silver and gold as common in Jerusalem as stone, and he made cedar as plentiful as the sycamore of the Shephelah” (2 Chronicles 1:14-15 ESV).

So what's the problem? Everything listed here is in direct violation of the will of God. Over in Deuteronomy 17, we read, “Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again.’ And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold” (Deuteronomy 17:16-17 ESV). Solomon failed his first aptitude test. He flunked Obedience 101. And it would prove to be a pattern in his life.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God expected His king to be obedient. He had made it perfectly clear and had commanded that each king was to keep a copy of the Law close at hand at all times. “And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel” (Deuteronomy 17:19-20 ESV). God's Law was to be a constant companion to the king, guiding him, teaching him to fear God, and helping him to remain faithful to God's will. The wisdom Solomon received from God was not to have replaced or substituted from his knowledge of God's will as revealed in His Law.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Solomon was just a man – a very smart man, but a man nonetheless. Like all men, he suffered with a sin nature that caused him to listen more to his passions than to his God. For Solomon, the trappings of kingship were highly attractive. Chariots and horses, gold and silver, wives and concubines were all symbols of a successful reign in his day and age. Even when Solomon got around to building a house for God, he would be sure and build an even bigger one for himself. Materialism and the trappings of sovereign success were constant temptations to him. In his letter to the Thessalonian believers, Paul writes, “Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22 ESV). it seems odd that he would have to say this to a group of Christ followers, but evidently, this was much-needed information for some of them. They needed some basic instruction in how to live godly lives in the midst of an ungodly world. Paul went on to say, “may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23 ESV). He wanted them to know that a faithful walk with God was more important than anything else. Their greatest need was for God to finish His sanctifying, life-transforming work in their lives.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

God gave Solomon exactly what he had asked for: wisdom and knowledge. But it didn't prevent Solomon from doing something stupid. It would appear that Solomon had not yet taken God's command seriously and made the Law of God a part of his daily reading schedule. Perhaps he thought he could survive off his intelligence. But it could have been a case of Solomon knowing what to do, but simply failing to do it. How often have I been guilty of the same thing? Real wisdom shows up in faithful obedience to the will of God. And because I have the Spirit of God living in me and the Word of God available to me, I should be smart enough to know better than to disobey God.

Father, I want to be faithful. I want my wisdom to be lived out in practical ways that impact the everyday nature of my life. I have no excuse not to live wisely and obediently. May I not overlook Your will in an effort to satisfy my own desires. Amen

Godliness Is Impossible Without God.

1 Chronicles 29, 1 Thessalonians 4

O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, our fathers, keep forever such purposes and thoughts in the hearts of your people, and direct their hearts toward you. – 1 Chronicles 29:18 ESV

Over in 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul writes, “God’s will is for you to be holy” (1 Thessalonians 4:3 NLT). In other words, it is God's deepest desire that His children live lives that are set apart and distinctly different than the rest of the world. The lifestyle of the believer in Jesus Christ is to reflect their relationship with God as His children and the reality of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in their life. Peter writes of this. “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3 NLT). It is God's will that we experience His ongoing sanctifying work in our lives, and He has provided the means necessary for this to happen. The key is that we must recognize our own inability to transform our own lives in our own strength. But as Jesus said, “With God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26 ESV).

David, the great king of Israel and the man after God's own heart, knew that the people of Israel were totally dependent upon God for their well-being and ultimate success. He also knew that his young son, Solomon, who was ascending to the throne of Israel in his place, would need the help of God to be the kind of king God desired him to be. Which is why he asked God, “Grant to Solomon my son a whole heart that he may keep your commandments, your testimonies, and your statutes, performing all, and that he may build the palace for which I have made provision” (1 Chronicles 29:19 ESV). Solomon was going to need God's help just to be faithful and to accomplish all that lie ahead for him as the king of Israel. David could provide Solomon with all the resources and plans for building the temple of God, but God would have to provide the internal fortitude and spiritual stamina necessary to accomplish the task in a God-honoring and holy way.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God is fully aware of man's weaknesses. He knows that we struggle with faithfulness and are ill-equipped to pursue a life of holiness. Which is why He has always provided the means by which holiness can become a reality in our lives. Holiness, in its most simple form, is set-apartness. It speaks of a character of life that is radically different than the norm. When God had called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees and promised to make of him a great nation, His intention was to create a people who would reflect His character and live according to His righteous standards. They would be set-apart for His service, and would be His prize possession. As such, they would be expected to live differently. God told them, “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6 ESV). God had provided them with His Law, making it abundantly clear just what His standards of conduct were to be. Then He provided them with His sacrificial system, because He knew that they would find it hard to live up to His righteous standard. The sacrificial system was a means by which they could be restored to a right relationship with Him, receiving forgiveness for their sins through the atonement made possible through the shedding of blood.

God did not call His people to holiness, then leave them on their own to pull it off. He did call them to live obediently and faithfully, but He knew that they would struggle to live up to His standards. So He provided everything they would need to receive His forgiveness when they sinned and enjoy His ongoing presence and power in their lives. The key was that they remain fully aware of their total dependence upon Him. They were helpless and hopeless without Him. .

What does this passage reveal about man?

Man has a strong independent streak. Ever since the fall, we have been wired to act independently and fend for ourselves. We want to be in control of our own lives and do things our own way. But as God's people, we must constantly remind ourselves that the only thing that sets us apart is our relationship with Him. In and of ourselves, we are nothing. We have no strength of our own. We have no wisdom of our own. We have no righteousness of our own. All that we have and all that we are, we owe to Christ. Jesus Himself reminds us, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 ESV). Paul wrote, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13 ESV). The key is dependence. We must recognize our non-negotiable need for God in our lives. Even Jesus Himself lived in complete dependence upon God the Father. “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 5:30 ESV). This does not absolve us from responsibility or mean that we have no role to play in the process. It simply means that we must recognize our need for God in our lives and constantly turn to Him for the strength, wisdom, and resources we need to live holy lives in the midst of an unholy world.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Trying to love the godly life without God's help is like trying to drive your car without gas – it's impossible. Not only that, it's ridiculous and a total waste of time. Yet how often do we as believers find ourselves trying to pull off godliness without God's assistance. Too often we attempt to replace the Spirit's power with a bit of elbow grease and a good work ethic. David spent years preparing for the construction of the temple. He drew up the plans (with God's help), he appointed all the workers, he assigned all the duties of the priests, he collected all the materials, and he willingly and generously gave out of his own pocket the financial resources necessary to make it all happen. But David knew that nothing he had done was really his doing. David admitted as much to God: “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you” (1 Chronicles 29:14 ESV). David was simply giving back to God what was rightfully His in the first place. Any gifts David had given had first been given by God to him.

We are completely dependent upon God. He must save us, because we cannot save ourselves. He must sanctify us or continually transform us into the likeness of His Son, because we are totally incapable of doing it on our own. He must also one day send His Son to come back for us. We can't earn or work our way to heaven. We can't climb our way into His presence. Jesus Christ will come back for us. Paul reminds us, “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 ESV). God has provided for our salvation, sanctification and, ultimately, our glorification. It is all His doing. We are completely dependent upon Him. But what a great place, what a safe place, what a totally worry-free place to be.

Father, may we learn to lean on You more. May we learn to be content being dependent upon You. Life lived in our own strength is exhausting and disappointing. But when we willingly rest in Your strength and live according to Your power, we find the rest and peace that Jesus offered. Amen

Seek the Lord.

1 Chronicles 27-28, 1 Thessalonians 3

And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever. – 1 Chronicles 28:9 ESV

David's days were numbered and he knew it. He was fully aware that his time on earth was coming to an end, so he was doing all he could to prepare his son, Solomon, and the people of God, for his eventual departure. His greatest desire was that Solomon would fulfill his dream of building a house for the Lord. David had taken painstaking care to ensure that everything was ready, from the actual plans for its construction, to the division of the responsibilities for the priests, musicians, gatekeepers, guards, administrators, singers and everyone else who would help care for and protect the temple. But David also knew that none of this would come about if his son, Solomon, did not stay faithful to the Lord. The temple would never see the light of day if the people of God did not remain faithful to the Lord, keeping His commandments and rules. After all, the temple would simply be a building. It would be nothing if the people of God did not faithfully follow and worship God. As impressive as David's plans and preparations for this structure may have been, he knew that it was little more than bricks and mortar if the people failed to seek the Lord and “serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind” (1 Chronicles 28:9 ESV). “For the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever” (1 Chronicles 28:9-10 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

David knew he had been chosen by God to be king over Israel. He had not doubt in his mind that God had promised to establish his throne and make him “king over Israel forever” (1 Chronicles 28:4 ESV). David had every confidence that Solomon was to be his successor and that God had chosen him “to sit on the throne of the kingdom of the Lord over Israel” (1 Chronicles 28:5 ESV) and that God would “establish his kingdom forever” (1 Chronicles 28:7 ESV) as long as he continued to keep God's commandments and rules. So God charged Solomon to “know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind” (1 Chronicles 28:9 ESV). He begged him to be careful, because he had been given the tremendous responsibility of building the temple in which the God of Israel would dwell. But David also comforted and encouraged Solomon by reminding him to be strong and courageous, to not fear, because “the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished” (1 Chronicles 28:20 ESV). David knew that God would be faithful. The real concern was whether Solomon and the people would be. David knew there would be distractions and temptations along the way. He knew that the people had a track record of unfaithfulness. He also knew that Solomon, like all men, regardless of his wisdom, was predisposed to half-hearted worship of God. He would find all kinds of reasons to neglect the building of the temple or, worse yet, forsake the worship of God altogether. And David was painfully aware that if Solomon or the people forsook God, He would be forced to forsake them. God would fully expect Solomon to seek Him and serve Him wholeheartedly. The temple would not serve as a substitute for man's undivided allegiance.

What does this passage reveal about man?

David was a good judge of character. He knew his people well and he understood the risks associated with turning his kingdom over to his young and inexperienced son. This is the second charge David had given Solomon. The first one was in private. On that occasion, David had warned his young son, “may the Lord grant you discretion and understanding, that when he gives you charge over Israel you may keep the law of the Lord your God” (1 Chronicles 22:12 ESV). David knew that Solomon was going to need God's help in remaining faithful. David could provide Solomon with the plans for the temple, the workmen to build it, the financial resources to pay for it, and the material to construct it. But Solomon was going to need God's help in accomplishing it. The greatest threat to Solomon's successful completion of his task was going to be his own heart. Which is why he told Solomon, “Now set your mind and heart to seek the Lord your God. Arise and build the sanctuary of the Lord God” (1 Chronicles 22:19 ESV). The ability to build a house for the Lord would only be possible if Solomon recognized his need for the presence and power of the Lord in his own heart and life. He would need to seek the Lord diligently and faithfully.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

It is so easy to forget that fact that I can accomplish nothing in this life without the help of God. I must constantly remind myself to seek Him because I need Him. I can't live this life without Him – at least, not successfully or as He intended. Paul knew this fact all too well. Which is why he told the believers in Thessalonica, “may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish you hearts blameless in holiness before our God and father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus, with all his saints” (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13 ESV). Their ability to love one another was dependent upon the Lord. Any hope they had of standing before God as holy and pure at the second coming of Jesus was totally up to God. Which is why their lives needed to be marked by a constant seeking after God. Paul wanted them to stand fast in the Lord – to stand firm, persevere or persist in their hope in and dependence upon God for all their needs. We are nothing without God. We can do nothing without Him. Which is why we must consistently and constantly seek Him with all our hearts, souls, mind and strength. Our faithfulness to Him must be based on our awareness of our great need for Him. We even need His help to remain faithful. We need His Spirit's power to accomplish the life to which He has called us. David told Solomon, “if you seek him, he will be found by you” (1 Chronicles 28:9 ESV). Seeking Him begins with an awareness of our need for Him. We search for what we believe to be of value. We seek for what we long to find. If we truly believe God is all that we need, we will be motivated to search for Him with all our hearts.

Father, like Solomon, I am sometimes tempted to believe that there is something other than You that can meet my needs. I am easily persuaded that there are other things that can bring me fulfillment and happiness. But without You, nothing else matters. This life is incomplete without You. There is nothing in this life that can fulfill or complete me like You. Give me an increasing awareness of my desperate need for You, so that I might seek You more diligently and wholeheartedly. Amen

Pleasing God, Not Men.

1 Chronicles 25-26, 1 Thessalonians 2

…but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. – 1 Thessalonians 2:4 ESV

As followers of God, we are always facing the daily choice to live our lives in submission to His will and in obedience to His commands – in other words, to live in a way that pleases Him. But there is always the temptation to become man-pleasers – living our lives in fear of rejection and ridicule, and in search of the acceptance and adoration of men. The proper worship of God always involves obedience. It is never enough to simply go through the motions and involve ourselves in the activities associated with the worship of God, if our hearts are not in it. God would later accuse the Israelites of this very thing. “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13 ESV). You see in this passage, quoted by Jesus in His day, that the people of God were far more concerned about pleasing men than pleasing God. They would rather obey laws created by men than those given to them by God Himself. But to live a life that truly pleases God requires that we make Him our highest priority and His Word our only authority. Jesus had strong words for the religious leaders of the Jews in His day. “Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God” (Matthew 15:9 NLT). They were burdening the people with rules and rituals that were man-made and not God-given. So the people ended up trying to please these self-proclaimed models of righteousness and live up to their standards, all the while thinking that they were worshiping God. But Jesus warned that their worship was in vain or fruitless.

What does this passage reveal about God?

The worship of God is about so much more than an event that takes place on Sunday morning. It is about an attitude of the heart. It emanates from within and flows out through all our attitudes and actions. The worship of God is to be a lifestyle that encompasses every facet of our lives. We are not to compartmentalize it or relegate it to a specific day or an occasional event. Our goal in life, as God's people, should be to make Him the focal point of our lives – even if it puts us at odds with the people around us. When David was bringing the Ark of the Covenant into the city of Jerusalem, he did so with much pomp and circumstance. There was singing and dancing. There was rejoicing and praise. There were musicians playing and sacrifices made. Samuel writes that “David danced before the Lord with all his might” (2 Samuel 6:14 ESV). Here was the king of Israel throwing caution to the wind and disregarding his own reputation, out of praise for God and in an attempt to please God with his life. Interestingly enough, David's wife, Michal, was appalled. She “looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, and she despised him in her heart” (2 Samuel 6:16 ESV). But David was not concerned about Michal's feelings about him. He was determined to please his God and properly praise Him for all He had done for him. This same David would spend countless hours preparing all the elements necessary to build a house for God. He would also appoint musicians, singers, gatekeepers, treasurers, officers and judges – just to watch over the house of the Lord when it was built. As far as David was concerned, God deserved the best. He was deserving of honor, glory, praise, and the best efforts of His people when it came to establishing Him at the center of their lives and community.

What does this passage reveal about man?

The apostle Paul lived to please God. He wanted to conduct his life in such a way that it always brought pleasure to God through his obedience to God's call on his life. He told the Thessalonians, “For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed – God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or others…” (1Thessalonians 2:5-6 ESV). Paul's desire was to please God while, at the same time, expressing the love of Christ to men. His job was not to please men, but to share with the love of God made available through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He attempted to live his live in such a way that it would please God. “You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers” (1 Thessalonians 2:10 ESV). Because Paul was living his life in order to please God, there was no accusation that men could make against him. He didn't attempt to flatter the Thessalonians or use persuasive words in order to impress them. He simply told them the truth about God, the reality about sin, and their need for God's saving grace made available through His Son's death. He told them exactly what God had commanded him to say. “We exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:12 ESV). This wouldn't always win Paul a lot of friends. But he was far less concerned about his popularity than he was about living his life to please God.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

For David to hire 24-hour guards to station at the gates of the temple and to employ the finest musicians and singers, would have cost him a great deal of money. And he did all this before the temple had even been built. He would not even live long enough to see the temple completed. And I am sure there were those who looked at all his efforts and questioned his sanity and wisdom. They wondered about why he would waste so much time, money and effort for the construction of a house that God had denied him the privilege of building. But David loved His God. He wanted to please Him and wasn't concerned about what men thought about it all. Likewise, Paul lived his life in such a way that he could lay his head on the pillow at night, knowing that he had done what God had called him to do. He had been obedient. He had been faithful. Rather than seek glory or praise from men, he sought to bring pleasure and praise to God through the way he conducted his life. “We had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict” (1 Thessalonians 2:2 ESV). His life was not easy. Pleasing God did not come without its fair share of troubles and conflicts. There was always the not-so-subtle temptation to listen to the words of men and to seek the praise of men. Popularity and acceptance are strong urges in every human being. We want to be wanted. We desire to be accepted. But as children of God, our greatest desire must be to please God – not in an attempt earn His favor or to try and stay in His good graces. We can do nothing to make God love us more or force Him to love us less. His great love for us has already been expressed in His Son's death on the cross in our place. But our desire to please Him must flow from grateful hearts for all He has done for us. Pleasing men is a futile game to play. Men are fickle and their friendship can come and go. But God's love for us is everlasting and unfailing. He deserves our willing desire to live obediently in response to His Word and in submission to His Spirit, not to please men, but to please Him.

Father, I want to please You with my life. I want to live in such a way that my life brings you honor and praise. Help me to worry less about what men think and more about what You have commanded for me to do as Your Son. Remove the fear of man and replace it with a healthy fear of You. Amen

Serving God.

1 Chronicles 23-24, 1 Thessalonians 1

For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God… – 1 Thessalonians 1:9 ESV

Serving and worshiping God should be our primary objectives as His people. The Westminster Shorter Catechism states that the chief end of man, or his primary purpose in life is “to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” As David's grew older, he began to prepare his son to carry out his dream of building a temple for God. David had a desire to provide a place of worship for his God, in which sacrifices could be made. David divided up the Levites and gave them specific responsibilities, one of which was to “stand every morning, thanking and praising the Lord, and likewise at evening” (1 Chronicles 23:30 ESV). Their praise and thanksgivings were also to be regularly offered to the Lord on “Sabbaths, new moons, and feast days” (1 Chronicles 23:31 ESV). A big part of what was to go on in the temple was the worship of God, expressed in praise and thanksgiving to Him for all that He had done for His people. David desired to build a temple in which His God would dwell and in which the people of Israel would honor their God through obedient sacrifice and ongoing praise.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Over in Psalm 145, we have the words of David written concerning his God: “I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever. Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable” (Psalm 145:1-3 ESV). David went on to write of God's graciousness, mercy, patience, kindness, and steadfast love. He declared that “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts” (Psalm 145:4 ESV). They were to talk about God's majesty. They were to meditate on His wondrous works performed on their behalf. They were to speak of His might and declare His greatness. They were to sing of His righteousness. For David, serving God was not just about doing things for God. It was recognition of His glory, majesty, holiness and greatness; and a outward expression of that recognition in praise and worship. David said, “My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever” (Psalm 145:21 ESV).

In the old hymn, When We All Get To Heaven, Eliza Hewitt wrote the following lyrics: “Sing the wondrous love of Jesus, Sing His mercy and His grace; In the mansions bright and blessed He’ll prepare for us a place. When we all get to heaven, What a day of rejoicing that will be! When we all see Jesus, We’ll sing and shout the victory!” Even in heaven, we will find ourselves praising, singing, rejoicing, and worshiping God for His greatness, goodness, and glory. But David knew that the praise of God was not something to be reserved for heaven, but was to be the regular lifestyle of those who understood and had experienced God's amazing grace and mercy in this lifetime.

What does this passage reveal about man?

In his letter to the Thessalonian believers, Paul spoke of their “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 1:3 ESV). He said that their “faith in God has gone forth everywhere” (1 Thessalonians 1:8 ESV) and how they had “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 ESV). Their lives had become living expressions of their belief in and worship of God. They were serving God, not just through doing good things and living right kind of live, but by expressing unfailing hope in Jesus and faithfully waiting for His return from heaven. Rather than put all their stock in this world, they were counting on the promise of God for eternal life made possible through Jesus, “who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10 ESV).

We see in the Thessalonians an example of what it looks like to serve God faithfully. They had “received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 1:6 ESV). Their faith in God had become visible and well-known to all those around them. It was not secret, hidden, or some kind of personal, internal thing, but an outward manifestation of their faith in God that was easily seen and acknowledged by all those around them. Their lives were different than they had been before. Others could see that they had turned away from idols and were now worshiping the one true God. They were serving Him and it showed in how they lived their lives. It was evident in how they talked about God and placed their hope and trust in God. They were waiting on the return of Jesus and living with an eternal mindset. But in the meantime, like David, they were singing of the wondrous love of Jesus. They were telling of His mercy and grace. In the midst of all their troubles on this earth, they were counting on the reality of heaven and the promised return of Jesus Christ.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

My service for God needs to be more than just outward acts of goodness and righteousness. It must stem from a desire to praise and worship Him for who He is and for all He has done. Too often I can become just like the Pharisees, of whom Jesus said, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8 ESV). Like David, I want to be able to say, “My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord” (Psalm 145:121 ESV), and I want to mean it. It begins with a recognition of just how great He is. Then it shows up in verbal expressions of praise and thanksgiving. I must learn to tell of His greatness, goodness, graciousness and ongoing love. I must place my hope in His Son's eminent return. I must live my live in faithful obedience to His will and in loving submission to His Word. That is true service to God.

Father, I want to serve You with all my heart. I want all my devotion to be focused on You, but so often I find myself in love with the things of this world. I find it so easy to praise temporal things and find satisfaction in objects that have no lasting value. Teach me to sing of Your wonder and grace, to talk of Your glory and majesty, and to praise You for all Your incredible activity in and around my life. Amen

Standing Firm.

1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:13

So we have been greatly encouraged in the midst of our troubles, and suffering, dear brothers and sisters, because you have remained strong in your faith. It gives us new life to know that you are standing firm in the Lord. – 1 Thessalonians 3:7-8 NLT

You can sense the love that Paul had for the Thessalonian believers. He longed to be with them. He had tried on numerous occasions to visit them, but had been prevented. We don't know what kinds of circumstances kept Paul from making the trip, but he believed Satan had played a role. He understood the reality and significance of spiritual warfare. He knew that the enemy was always trying to destroy the fruit of Paul's efforts and the work of the Spirit taking place around the world. The various letters of Paul reflect that kinds of spiritual conflicts that had risen up in the churches that had sprung up since Pentecost. Legalism, syncretism, factions, false teachers, errant doctrine, and a host of other issues had made their way into these local fellowships, causing all kinds of problems. As one of the few qualified leaders available to minister to these fledgling fellowships, Paul had a strong sense of responsibility for their well-being. He knew they were under attack, just as he and Silas were. He knew their faith was being tested and wanted to encourage them to remain strong and stand firm. Unable to make the trip to see them in person, Paul and Silas sent Timothy to visit the Thessalonians in order to assess their condition. His report when he returned was positive and encouraging. Paul and Silas had sent Timothy to encourage and strengthen the young believers in Thessalonica, but what he found ended up being a source of encouragement to Paul and Silas. In spite of their difficult circumstances and the troubles surrounding them, the Thessalonians were strong in their faith. The Spirit was at work in their lives.

When he had been with them, Paul had warned them of the difficulties to come. He had not left them wide-eyed and innocent, unaware of the difficulties that accompany a life committed to Christ. "Even while we were with you, we warned you that troubles would soon come – and they did, as you well know" (1 Thessalonians 3:4 NLT). Rather than leave these young converts with an impression that the Good News meant a life devoid of bad circumstances, Paul and Silas had told them the truth. "We are destined for such troubles" (1 Thessalonians 3:3 NLT). They come with the territory. When we come to faith in Christ, we become enemies of this world. We become targets for Satan to destroy. Our very existence stands opposed to him and his plans for this world. We should not be surprised by trials or struggles. We should not be shocked by difficulties. We are immersed in a spiritual battle, surrounded by the enemy, and under constant attack. But we have the Holy Spirit to strengthen and empower us. We have the body of Christ. We have the unfailing promises of God to trust in and the unquestionable assurance of our salvation to stand on. We can and will endure to the end. And our faith in the midst of difficulty should be a source of encouragement to us. When we see one another standing firm in the face of difficulty, we should rejoice. When we see another believer struggling with trials, we should come alongside them, strengthening and encouraging them. Then when we see them come out the other side stronger and firmer in their faith, we will be strengthened as well. Paul was encouraged by the faith of the Thessalonians. He was strengthened by the news of their steadfast commitment to the cause of Christ. And he prayed that their love and faith would continue to increase. "And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows" (1 Thessalonians 3:11 NLT).

Father, may my life be an example to all those who know me. May they be strengthened and encouraged by the way I handle and face the inevitable adversity of life. Trials are inevitable. They are part of life on this planet. But give me the faith to remain strong. Give me love for others so that I will stand by them as they struggle and rejoice with them when they come out the other side stronger in their faith. Keep us going and growing, Lord. Amen.

Faith. Hope. Love.

1 Thessalonians 5

Those three words are our antidote for surviving in the midst of a sin-filled culture where the darkness of moral depravity surrounds us. We are sons of light and sons of the day, yet the world we live in loves the darkness. Jesus Himself was "the Light of men" (John 1:4) and He came to shine in the midst of the darkness, but "the darkness did not comprehend it" (John 1:5). Jesus would later tell His disciples, "I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the Light of life" (John 8:12). Jesus also warned His disciples that, "for a little while longer the Light is among you. Walk while you have the Light; so that the darkness will not overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. While you have the Light, believe in the Light, so that you may become sons of Light" (John 12:35-36).

Paul reminds us that we are sons of Light. So we are to be alert, awake, sober, and diligent – living our lives in the light as sons of Light. And how do we do that? Faith, love, and hope. Paul says that we are to equip ourselves with a breastplate made up of faith and love. Those two qualities are like iron and ore that when heated in the furnace of life produces an alloy of incredible strength and durability. You cannot have one without the other. Love that is not based on and mixed with a faith in the grace-filled love of God is merely human sentimentality that will prove insufficient when put to the test. Faith that is not accompanied by and expressed in love for God and others is nothing more than a mental assent to the reality of God, but without any real expression in our lives. Paul warned that " if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:2). My faith must be expressed in love. My love must be grounded in faith.

But if I want to truly survive as a son of Light in a dark world, I must have hope. But not just any hope. It must be the hope of salvation – that what God began at my conversion, He will complete. Paul says, "for God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ (Vs 9). Salvation is out destiny. It isn't a past event, but a future reality. Yes, I was saved, but I am being saved every day. And I will one day be saved when God calls me home or His Son returns. My hope is in the certainty of my future salvation – when I will obtain or gain possession of my salvation in its final form. Hope is what protects my mind from despair, disappointment, thoughts of defeat, or the temptation to give up. That is why Paul refers to it as a helmet. It is what surrounds my mind and protects it from the blows of the enemy that attempt to destroy and incapacitate us.

Faith, love, and hope. They are essential for life in this world. They are the qualities of the sons of Light. They prepare us for the battle in which we find ourselves. Paul describes them as military armor. We wear them because we know we are at war and cannot survive without them. They protect us and preserve us. So we should never leave home without them.

Father, may my life be increasingly more characterized by faith, love and hope. All centered and based on the cross of Christ – the greatest expression of all three. Amen

Progressive, Aggressive Sanctification.

1 Thessalonians 4

…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. – Vs 1

The NET Bible translates the last part of this verse as "that you do so more and more." Paul uses this phrase twice in this chapter. Here in association with the manner in which they walk or live their faith out on a daily basis. They are to excel still more -- they are to live lives that please God and to do so more and more. The commands of Christ and their obeying of them are to be increasingly more a part of their lives. Why? Because God's will - His desire or purpose for their lives - is holiness that is becoming increasingly deeper, greater, more pervasive, and influential over their day-to-day lives.

And Paul is speaking to us as well. He gives us practical, everyday examples of what this progressive, aggressive sanctification or growth in holiness should look like. He says it should impact the morality of our lives, especially sexual morality. As we increase in holiness, our desire to live sexually immoral lives should decrease. My holiness should impact how I use my body, including my eyes, hands, and mind. Because God did not call me to lives a life of impurity, but holiness.

Paul says that as we excel still more we will love more. Both our brothers and sisters in Christ as well as those who are outside the family of God – our lost neighbors, friends, coworkers, and all those with whom we share this planet. Paul gets really practical when he says, "we urge you … to aspire to lead a quiet life, to attend to your own business, and tow work with your hands" (Vs 11). It seems according to 2 Thessalonians 3:11-12, that there were some who were not doing this. Paul says this kind of practical, progressive holiness will show those outside of Christ what it means to live a decent, quiet, godly life. One that is characterized by diligence, faithfulness, and responsibility. As we increase in holiness we don't become "other worldly" but instead we show what kind of life mankind was meant to live prior to the introduction of sinn and the effects of the fall.

Excel still more! Do so more and more. So how are we doing? Is our holiness increasing? Paul is not saying we need to get more holiness. Because in Christ, we have been made holy. We were set apart by God as holy at salvation. But we are to increasingly live out who we already are in our daily lives. It is to become increasingly more apparent that we are indeed holy by the way we act, react, think, talk, walk, live, and relate to others. Not in our own strength, but through the Word of God and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. I can live an increasingly more holy life because I am a holy person possessing the presence and power of God. Holiness is in my new DNA. It is my nature. It is who I am!

Father, I want to excel still more in my holiness. I want to live out of who I am – according to my new identity in Christ – not my old sinful nature. I am not just a "new and improved" me, but a whole new creation in Christ with a brand new nature – the nature of Christ Himself living in me. My heart is new because Christ is there. I live under new management with a new power available to me I didn't have before. I live by faith in the Son of God. According to His power, not mine. Living His life, not mine. Help me to live a life of personal integrity, grace, and courage – more and more everyday of my life.  Amen

Faith In Action.

1 Thessalonians 3

We were comforted about you through your faith; for now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord. – Vs 7-8

Paul is obsessed about the condition of their faith. In fact, he mentions it five different times in this chapter. He says he Timothy "to strengthen and encourage" them in their faith. He was anxious to "find out about" their faith, because he feared that Satan might have tempted them to fall away. He rejoiced over the "good news" of their faith and love brought to him by Timothy. Even in his trials and sufferings Paul found comfort through the news of the ongoing faith. They had stood firm. But Paul continued to pray "night and day" that he could see them again and "complete what is lacking" in their faith. Their faith was more than simply a belief in Jesus and His death, burial and resurrection. It was a living, active faith that continued to express itself in the face of persecution, trials, the attacks of the enemy, and sufferings of all kinds. Faith is dynamic, not static. Their faith was being tested and Paul acknowledges that it had deficiencies. It was not complete or finished. It never is this side of heaven. Paul even expresses his desire that their faith "increase" in verse 12. In verse 10, he says that their faith was lacking, but then he says, "may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another and for all people." The increase refers to their faith. Paul is asking that the Lord Himself cause this to happen so that their faith would grow and be accompanied by a tangible love for one another.

Our faith should be increasing daily. And one of the ways God causes this to happen is through the "heat" of everyday life. People, circumstances, and situations all test our faith. Paul knew that their faith, if weak, would let them down and cause them to give in to the temptation to respond in their flesh instead of faith. They could be tempted to get angry, give up, grow weary, take matters into their own hands, doubt God, and start believing the enemy. But Paul says that they stood firm (Vs 8). They didn't cave in. They grew up in their faith. They grew stronger. Faith tested results in a stronger faith, because it proves the reliability and trustworthiness of God.

It is less a revealing to God of the quality of our faith than it is a revelation to us of the dependability and power of our God. It is the object of our faith that gets proven, not the quality or quantity of our faith. But as we learn to trust Him (faith in action), our faith grows. So let's thank Him for the opportunities masquerading as trials that will show us just how great a God we serve!

Father, thank You for increasing my faith daily by bringing into my life situations, circumstances, and people that test just how much I am leaning on You, how much I trust You, and how dependent I am in Your strength versus mine. Thank You that You regularly prove your faithfulness to me. You have never given me a reason to doubt You.  Amen

Where's Your Joy and Glory?

1 Thessalonians 2

For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy. – Vs 19-20

Over in 2 Corinthians 10:17, Paul said, "But, let him who boasts boast in the Lord." In 2 Corinthians 11:30 he said, If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness." In 1 Corinthians 1:31, he said, Let him who boasts boast in the Lord." But now, as he writes to the Thessalonians believers, he talks about receiving a "crown of boasting." Sounds like a disconnect, doesn't it? Paul seems to be saying that he is going to be able to boast about the people he has led to the Lord at His second coming. He refers to the Thessalonians believers as his crown of boasting or exultation. In the NET Bible study notes it says, "Paul uses boasting or exultation to describe the Christian’s delight in being commended for faithful service by the Lord at his return." Paul specifically refers to the role he has been able to play in their coming to faith in Christ. Being able to stand before the Lord and see those whom Paul has helped introduce to Christ was what was bringing him joy and giving him hope right now! He had his eyes on the future and decided any hardship or suffering he had to go through in order to take the gospel to the Gentiles was well worth it because one day he was going to get to stand before the Lord and see all those who came to Christ because of his faithful service.

What about me? What drives me to teach the Word of God day after day? What motivates me to tell others about Jesus and potentially face rejection or even ridicule? Is it the hope I have in that future day? Is it the joy I feel in knowing that I am playing a small part in their spiritual new birth and growth? Even in the face of Satanic opposition, Paul wanted to see the Thessalonians again, so that he could be a part of their lives. He was willing to suffer so that they could grow in their faith. It brought him joy. In fact, Paul tells them, "you are our glory and joy." They make him proud, like a father watching his child walk across the stage at graduation. They bring him joy, like the joy of a parent at their child's wedding day. For Paul, playing a role in the spiritual lives of others was everything. It was why he existed. It was what he lived for. It was his purpose for life. And when he was in the middle of doing it, he was in his sweet spot.

Shouldn't that be true of you and me? Isn't that why we are here? Yet we spend so much time finding our glory and joy in other things. But God has given us the same job as He had given Paul. Paul puts it this way in 2 Corinthians 5:18: "And God has given us the task of reconciling people to him." That is our job. That is our commission as believers. To bring others back into favor with God. To help them restore the relationship that has been lost because of sin. We do that by introducing them to Christ. And when we do, like Paul, we will discover it to be our greatest joy and delight. And nothing will motivate us more than thinking about standing before Jesus some day and seeing the faces of those who have come to know Christ through our efforts standing there with us! Now that's motivation.

Father, forgive me for letting other things, the things of this earth, to become my joy and glory. They are worthless and valueless. They will not even be around when I stand before Your Son. But people will be. They are the only thing that lasts. So help me see that doing my part in the ministry of reconciliation is the reason for my existence. It is why I am here. May I daily discover the joy of helping others come to Christ and grow in Him. Amen

Where's Your Hope?

1 Thessalonians 1

For they themselves report … how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God. – Vs 9

What's the report on me? What would people who know me have to say about me if they were asked about my faith in Christ? I'm talking about the people I work with, live with, rub shoulders with in everyday life. Would they be able to report that there has been a change? Would they testify that they had seen a marked change in my behavior, my words, my lifestyle?

As Paul begins his letter to the believers in Thessalonica, he commends them for their faith. He tells them that he is constantly praying for them and thinking about their "work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ" (Vs 3). He says they became "imitators of us and of the Lord" (Vs 6) and "an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia" (Vs 7). These people had undergone a dramatic change. These were converts from pagan religions. They were Gentiles who had walked away from their faith in false gods and turned to the one true God. They exchanged lifeless gods for a living God. And it had made a dramatic change in the way they lived their lives.

So what are the dead idols in my life? They tend to be those things I worship or find worth in that can't deliver what I want from them. Things like success, money, material things, recognition, popularity, and entertainment. All the things this world offers up on an everyday basis. All I have to do to find the idols in my life is see where I spend my money and my time. They are the things in my life that I wake up worrying about or that I find myself thinking about. They occupy my time and invade my thoughts. I fear losing them or dream of attaining them. I desire them and pursue them. I expect of them what only God can deliver.

And that is what makes them false gods. They can't deliver. They're not real, so they can't bring real satisfaction. They are lousy replacements for the one true God. So the Thessalonians "turned to God." They literally turned around and changed their direction from pursuing false gods to God Himself. And the people around them could see it. So what if we began to turn from all those things we still worship in our lives? What if we began to turn to God and away from our obsession with material things? What if we looked to Him for our satisfaction and sense of identity instead of in our career, the size of our home, the make and model of our automobile, or the size of our bank account? What if we began to find time in the Word more entertaining and satisfying than the mindless trash on TV? What if we began to turn from all those things that we hold so near and dear and can't seem to live without and began to understand that our hope is in Jesus and Him alone?

I think the world would sit up and take notice. They would report that there has been a change in us. They would see it in our actions and in our affections. We would truly be imitators of the Lord (Vs 6) making it our highest priority to pursue the things of His kingdom first and making the attainment of His righteousness more important than anything else in our lives (Matthew 6:33). And that kind of living is hard to ignore. So let's do it. Let's turn from the lifeless, little gods of this world and turn to the living, true God and make Him our sole object of adoration and attention. When we're down, let's turn to Him instead of some temporary form of entertainment. When we're feeling unloved or under appreciated, instead of trying to boost our self-esteem with another purchase, let's remember that we are loved by the God of the universe. When we're worried about our finances, let's turn to God before we turn to the bank or some other lending source. They may help with your fiscal situation, but only God can help with your spiritual one.

They themselves report…. What will they report about us?

Father, I want the report about me to be a good one. I want those around me to see You in me. I want them to report that I daily turn from the gods of this world to the one true God. That I am not looking for the false gods of money, materialism, popularity, and prosperity to satisfy my needs and desires. Instead I am turning away from those things and turning to You. I want You to be my greatest desire and the object of my time and attention. Amen