Today’s reading continues with Paul’s letter to a very young church. Some of the things, therefore, which Paul talks about will be reasonably elementary, but it is always worth while to review the fundamentals, especially in a day like ours that is working so hard at influencing us away from the Lord.
Sexual purity — 1 Thess. 4:3-8
Thessalonica was a typical Greek (Hellenistic) city, which included, among other things, a very loose sense of sexual propriety. Granted, there was a strong Jewish representation in this new congregation of the Lord’s people, and they would have at least been aware of God’s law about sexual morality. But Paul knew that the influence of sexual sinfulness is always a strong one, and that old pre-Christian habits and “turn ons” sometimes die hard; so, he wanted to bring up the topic of sexual purity and strongly forbid sexual sin — 1 Thessalonians 4:8 “So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.”
Here is a teaching that may be thought of as a bit elementary by some, but because it will be considered “old-fashioned” by others, it still must be stressed and strongly forbidden. Especially among young people, who get bombarded by Hollywood morality, who have been rendered rudderless through lack of parental guidance, who have been confused by sexually perverted folks who call themselves religious leaders, who have been taught how to practice sex “safely” (and therefore been given an implied green light), and who are having their minds addled through hormonal overload that they confuse with love. They just don’t know the Christian teaching about sex and sexuality anymore, so we need to teach it and stress its rights and wrongs.
A Christian ambition — 1 Thess. 4:12,13
In both of Paul’s letters to the Thessalonian church he mentions a problem in the church with those who are not working. Not everything is clear about this situation, but it appears that since there was an expectation that Jesus could be coming back at any moment that the poorer brethren thought, “Well, then why should I work, since my generous richer brethren could feed me.” We do know for sure that later Paul tells the church that if there are those who refuse that they should not eat. What this teaches us today is clear that we should work, we should eat our own bread, and we need to make it our ambition to lead a quiet life. This last command piqued my curiosity and it turns out that in the ancient world (not unlike modern times) the idle often got into trouble, sometimes politically, sometimes criminally. What Paul commands here in the “quiet life” a turning away from rioting and activism.
Clarification on the second coming — 1 Thess. 4:13—5:11
The hope of Christianity to these young Christians was still pretty vague. They had been taught that Jesus was coming again and could possibly be expected at any moment, and they’d been taught a little bit about the resurrection of the dead. Unfortunately they knew just enough to get confused, so Paul clarifies. And you know, I’ve found that the hope of Christianity is still kind of vague among many who call themselves Christians; so, here’s a quick (and hopefully clarifying) look at some of the last things as Paul lists them here.
- When Jesus returns, He will bring with Him all (in resurrection) who have died
- Those who are alive, when the Lord returns will not go ahead of those who have already died
- The second coming (the end) will come in a flash (twinkling of an eye) in which the dead will rise first, then all who are alive will be changed to their incorruptible and immoral bodies (see 1 Cor. 15:50-58).
- Then all men, the dead and those who were living at His coming, will leave this old world (due to be destroyed — 2 Peter 3)
- The timing of the second coming will be a complete surprise, like a thief in the night, like a woman suddenly going into labor
- Therefore, keep alert and obedient
Appreciate your leadership — 1 Thess. 5:12ff
Leadership of any kind is more difficult than usually imagined by those who follow. It is especially difficult for church leaders, because it contains all the usual challenges of leadership (getting people organized to accomplish something) but also caring about the followers (more than worldly leaders often do) and caring HOW they get people to do work together and accomplish things. As a consequence there are a couple of exhortations in Scripture to appreciate and support your leaders.
Examine, hold fast to the good, abstain from evil in any form it comes — 1 Thess. 5:21-22
Critical thinking is an increasingly rare commodity these days. We keep ourselves entertained pretty much 24/7 — who has time to think? Besides that we have plenty of talk show hosts and celebrities to tell us what to think — don’t ask me how they reached their conclusions, but I think they’re cool, and I want to be just like them. But Paul commanded, 1 Thessalonians 5:21, 22 “But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.” That word “examine” means to inspect something closely; turn it upside down and all over and look it over up close — think critically about what you’re taught, what you’ve heard, the influences in your life. Hold it up against the standard of all that is good and holy, the Scriptures and the Lord to compare. And then hold on tight to what is good, and jettison every form, appearance, and look of evil. It was what was so admirable about the folks in Berea, interestingly enough, the very next town Paul went after Thessalonica on his missionary journey: Acts 17:11 “Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.”
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.