1 Thessalonians 1:4-5
The Thessalonian believers displayed faith, love and hope in the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul knew that they were loved and chosen by God because they saw evidence of “full conviction” through their changed lives. This could only have been possible with the power of the Holy Spirit working through the preaching of the gospel. These chosen people emulated the lives of Paul and Jesus by “[receiving] the word in affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit”. They went on to become examples of faith in God to believers everywhere.
God’s chosen people were never meant to remain passive and subdued. Their hearts and lives are always being actively transformed by the gospel, so much so that they shine as examples of God’s grace through faith to believers and non-believers alike. They all started from accepting the gospel in “full conviction”, meaning fully believing in the truth that all have to repent of their sins and entrust themselves to the lordship of Jesus Christ.
As we take time to worship and serve the Lord, let us also take stock of our “convictions”. Do we really believe in the need to bring our sinfulness before God, trusting that Jesus Christ will complete His sanctifying work in us through our faith and obedience? Will we then allow the glory of God to shine out to the world through the work of the Holy Spirit?
1 Thessalonians 2:4
Before we reflect on the passage, let us examine our attitudes as we recall experiences of sharing the gospel with our friends and relatives.
Paul sought to describe and defend the ministry of his team of missionaries in response to his accusers in Thessalonica. Their gospel did not come from erroneous doctrine, impure motives and deception (v. 3). There was no intention of seeking glory and honour for themselves, even when these were due to them (v. 6). Instead, they were fully invested in the nurture and care of the Thessalonian believers as their spiritual parents, to the point of working hard so as not to burden the believers financially (vv. 7-12). All these were done in gentleness and sincere love, being an example of people worthy of God’s kingdom and glory to the Thessalonian believers.
As the Thessalonians received the gospel as the direct authoritative word from God and followed the example set by Paul and his team, God worked in them to make them exemplary citizens of His kingdom.
As we re-examine our attitudes when ministering to and sharing the gospel with others, may we be personal in our interactions out of genuine love and gentleness, as a tangible and practical display of Jesus’ gospel message. Let us hold the attitude that we have been “approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel” and to speak it. Let us also pray for God to continue transforming our hearts through His grace and the work of the Holy Spirit, that we may seek “to please God who tests our hearts”.
1 Thessalonians 2:14
What is our typical description of a church that is truly of God? A large church filled to the brim with worshippers bringing joyful worship to God? Zealous believers who go out evangelizing the gospel in power? Strong church leaders who lead in word and in example?
These certainly are characteristics of a church of God, but one that is often overlooked is the suffering of persecution and opposition from those outside of the church. Paul mentioned that the Thessalonian believers were imitators of the churches in Judea (v. 14). Interestingly, Paul pointed out the similarities between the Thessalonian and Judean churches not in the way they walked their Christian lives, nor in the size of their church congregations, but in their suffering for the spread of the gospel (vv. 14-16).
The Thessalonian believers faced severe and possibly violent persecution from the Jews, like the believers in Judea (v. 14). The opposition sought to hinder the gospel to the Gentiles, like in the Judean churches (v. 15). There were also satanic hindrances that prevented Paul from being with the Thessalonians to help them grow in the Lord (v. 18). And despite the persecution and setbacks they suffered, these Thessalonian believers were the prime examples to all believers!
So are we, as the church of God, prepared to face strong objection and hindrance to our works of faith and labours of love for the sake of the gospel? These may come in the form of family disapproval, societal and cultural norms, and maybe even outright violence. May we seek to stand firm in the gospel of salvation and grace in our Lord Jesus and proclaim it to the world, while knowing that all who oppose us in the spread of this same gospel will have to suffer God’s wrath (v. 16).
1 Thessalonians 3:11-13
When we say “Praise the Lord!” or “I’m happy for you!”, for what are we praising God for? Gain in possessions? Good fortune? Favourable circumstances? When we struggle to live holy lives, where do we draw strength from? When we see our youth being lead around aimlessly by secular culture and expectations, where do we find our deepest sense of comfort and assurance?
Paul had immense affection for the believers in Thessalonica, like a father to his children (vv. 1-5). When Paul found out about the Thessalonians’ spiritual growth and lasting affections through Timothy, it became a great source of joy, strength and comfort (vv. 6-7, 9). To Paul, hearing “the good news” of the Thessalonians’ enduring faith and love was like hearing the gospel itself (v. 6)!
Paul found his support and encouragement in the deep relationship and affections he had for the Thessalonians, as well as the love and faithfulness that the Thessalonians displayed. There are principles that we can draw from this relationship to improve the quality and focus of our relationships in church.
When we proclaim “Praise the Lord!” or “I’m happy for you!”, let that joy spring from seeing signs of spiritual growth in our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Let us draw strength to live out holy lives as we see fellow Christians living out Christ’s teachings and commands faithfully.
Find comfort in younger Christians among us who are holding fast to the teachings of Scripture, despite being bombarded by conflicting values from secular culture.
Seeing how Paul found his source of joy, strength and comfort in the Thessalonians, we should also pray for God to help us draw joy, strength and comfort in seeing His work in others. Practically, let us nurture deeper and more loving relationships among other Christians in church, that, through love, Christ “may establish [strengthen] your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints”.
1 Thessalonians 4:1
We have seen how the Thessalonian believers were an example to all Christians around the world. Paul commends them for what they have been doing, and now he commands them to “do so more and more”!
We would definitely have heard this request before – whether we can do more at church, work or at home. More often than not, our first response will be a resounding “Urgh! I already have enough to do!”
Knowing that God expects us to live increasingly in holiness with pure motives under the lordship of Christ, and “whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives His Holy Spirit to you” (v. 8), how do we make that change from “Urgh!” to “YES!”?
The answer starts from 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13. Our help and only source for change comes from God Himself. Paul prays that God will create an increasing abundance of love for each other and for all in the hearts of the Thessalonians, so that God “may establish [their] hearts blameless in holiness before [Himself]”. There is power through prayer for God to continually mould our hearts, thus empowering us to love others (Christians and non-Christians alike) and to live holy and blameless lives more and more.
It is only when our hearts are “re-created” and transformed by God that we can follow through with His will – our sanctification (v. 3). To be sanctified is to be set apart from sin and the world, while dedicating ourselves to God’s service with pure hearts. Paul instructs the Thessalonians to abstain from all sexual immorality, to live in holiness while honouring ourselves and others, and to deal with others (in business) without having to exploit or overstep the boundaries (vv. 3-6). Of course this list is not exhaustive; sanctification pervades all aspects of our lives and is guided by Scriptural instruction. With hearts regenerated by God, we can live in sanctifying obedience to Scripture according to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
So how do we increasingly walk in a way that pleases God? It starts with consistent, earnest prayer for God’s power to transform our hearts’ desires from our own to His, in submission to Christ’s instructions. With changed hearts, we make efforts to grow in the knowledge of and obedience to Scripture. When our hearts have been strengthened in Christ through Scriptural truths, we live not simply to obey tradition as an end in itself, but beyond that – to please God more and more.
1 Thessalonians 4:10b-12
This passage addresses two aspects of Christian living: love among members in the church, and concern for the church’s relationship with society.
Mutual Christian love among believers is “God-taught”. The Holy Spirit works to mould our hearts towards brotherly love (Gr. philadelphia) for each other. The word philadelphia is commonly used to describe love within the family, and is not used in the context of religious groups.
Christian brotherly love, then, goes beyond love and concern for each other as friends. “Philadelphia” in church is when members treat each other as a spiritual family. It is to care for each other in deed and not just in word. It is to take the effort to cultivate deep relationships with each other. It is to look out for and want the best for each other. And we are to practice these more and more. As one commentator puts it: “… the nature of Christian love is such that it is always practiced, never mastered” (Michael Martin). This command to love each other more and more can only be achieved through the instruction and working of the Holy Spirit. He works in our hearts as we practice obedience to His command.
Genuine Christian living will definitely impact on society’s view of Christ’s gospel. Paul encourages believers to “live quietly”, to “mind your own affairs”, and to “work with your hands”. The purpose is to “walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one”.
Paul did not intend for Christians to be “social parasites”, anti-social citizens, or revolutionaries for “social justice”. We are to be exemplary citizens who contribute to society through respectable pursuits, and these are done in quiet submission to Christ’s commands to believers. A Christian walks in a way that, when observed by non-Christians, Christ’s gospel and living under His authority is viewed with respect and worth, instead of being a dubious and/or mediocre way of life.
God effects social change from the bottom-up. Individuals in society are transformed through a personal gospel, while awaiting the final overhaul of society with the second coming of Christ. In application, we influence social change by living respectable lives under Christ’s kingship, for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ who live in obedience to Christ’s commands.
So, as Christians within the church, let us love each other as spiritual family members. Towards non-Christians, we are commanded to be “living proofs” that obeying Christ’s instruction includes being respectable members of society. Let us aspire to be “in the world but not of the world”, that we may not make living the gospel of Christ worthless before non-Christians, while displaying its infinite worth.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-14
When we consider Christian living, we will also encounter the concept of Christian death.
Death is inevitable. It marks the end of life, Christian and non-Christian regardless. Even our Lord Jesus had tasted physical death at His crucifixion. With death comes loss and grief to those who remain, regardless of religion. So how should we as Christians view physical death differently from non-believers?
Paul says that we are not “uninformed”, meaning we do not lack understanding or knowledge, on the issue of death as Christians because Jesus has already taught us the hope we have in Him after death. Therefore, we who know hope must not grief like those to do not have hope.
What is this hope that we have? Our hope is that, just like Jesus who was resurrected after His death on the cross, God will bring back to Himself those who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord (v. 14). Our hope is that ALL believers, living or dead regardless, will join together “to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” during Jesus’ second coming (v. 17).
We as believers in Christ hope in a resurrected Saviour, Jesus Christ, and a faithful God who promises to bring us back to Himself through resurrection and transformation and be with Him forever! And even death cannot prevent us from uniting with God and all believers on that day!
So what are the implications for us on this side of eternity? Firstly, we have assurance that we live under a sovereign Lord who is alive and will come back for us one day. Secondly, when a loved one who is a believer passes on, we grief as people who hold on to the hope of Christ’s second coming, where all things will be restored and we will be together in eternal communion with our Lord without sin. Thirdly, Paul tells us to “encourage one another with these words” (v. 18). Let us share in the grief of other fellow believers for their loss, but as people of the Word, may we use that same Word to encourage one another in the hope we have in our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Thessalonians 5:9-11
Why do we as Christians always work so hard to live out lives of faith and love? What drives and motivates a Christian man/woman to resist the relentless temptations to live unholy lives? Is escaping hell the only reason? What else can a believer look forward to at the end of the day?
Paul tells us that we who trust in the lordship of Jesus Christ are destined for salvation instead of the wrath we deserve (v. 9). And beyond that, believers can look forward to living in communion with Christ forever (v. 10). How then do we express our trust and obedience to Jesus Christ’s lordship and authority?
Christian lives are characterized by faith in the promises and laws of God, love for God and others, while holding on to the hope that Jesus Christ will come back for us again (v. 8). And for us to live this way, it requires focused intent to stay alert and self-controlled. The idea is that of a soldier ever-ready with the full armour of God, carrying out his duties in love while awaiting the return of his Master.
It is never easy for anyone to maintain the focus and self-control required for Christ-centred living alone because of the temptations of “practical wisdom” in the world around us. Therefore, Paul tells believers to encourage (meaning to come alongside and strengthen) one another and in so doing, to build each other up (v. 11). Similarly, the author of Hebrews encourages us to set our eyes upon Jesus and remember the hostility He endured as He journeyed toward the cross, so that we “may not grow faint-hearted and weary” (Heb 12:2-3).
Therefore we work hard to live holy lives in faith and love because we have a hope. And that hope is to be saved from God’s wrath and be in holy communion with Christ forever when He returns for us. Meanwhile, Jesus commands us to “stay awake” while awaiting His return and live focused lives according to His commands.
1 Thessalonians 5:12-13
In the church of God, there are as many people as there are personalities, and we interact with each other as a spiritual family. There are leaders and followers; there are those who are strong in the faith and those who are weak; the go-getters and the discouraged; the doers and the ones who sit around passively. It is written in Romans 12:4-5, “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”
Recognizing that variety of believers is characteristic of a church community, Paul addressed the attitude that members of a church are expected to have toward each other.
Members of the church are to acknowledge and give recognition to leaders who work hard, and correct fellow believers “in the Lord” (v. 12). Leaders who lead “in the Lord” are those who take their responsibility of shepherding their followers according to the instruction and will of God seriously with reverence, and exercising such authority in love. It may not always be easy being followers at the receiving end of admonishment, therefore Paul instructs followers to “esteem [godly leaders] very highly in love” (v. 13). Without love for godly leaders and their work, it can be difficult to respect and esteem them very highly. Therefore let us learn to love our leaders who lead in the Lord, and to respect them and their work as an expression of our love for them.
On another level, we as believers in the church are also fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. As spiritual siblings, we are to “be at peace among [ourselves]” in the church (v. 13). In the spirit of love and peace, we are to correct those who are “idle”1. To those who are discouraged and “fainthearted”, we are to encourage them in the Lord and His promises. To those who are weak in body and/or in soul, we are to come along side to support them. God knows our strengths and weaknesses and His will is for the strong to correct, encourage and support their weaker spiritual siblings towards holy living, and doing so in patience, peace and love.
In application, let us pray for God to support our leaders as they shepherd their flock “in the Lord”. We are also to cultivate hearts that appreciate the hard work godly leaders have done in their ministries and honour them out of love. At the same time, let us look out for each other as fellow siblings in Christ, patiently correcting those who live out of line with Scripture and picking up those who stumble along the way. Overall, our attitude is one of seeking the good of others through our thoughts and actions, and resisting retaliation against evil with evil (v. 15). As we practice these as a community of believers, we display godly brotherly love toward each other and support each other to live in holiness.
1 Thessalonians 5:19-22
There are two ways to put out a fire. We either starve it of fuel or oxygen, or we take away the heat by pouring water on it. The Spirit here is described in the Greek text as a fire that’s burning in the hearts of believers. When Paul instructs all believers not the quench the Spirit, he means that we are not to allow that fire to die in us. The Holy Spirit Himself cannot be quenched, therefore this “fire” refers to the gifts given to us and work that the Spirit is doing in our hearts. What must we do in order not to “quench the Spirit”? We have to ensure that we do not starve that fire by neglecting “[fanning] into flame the gift of God” (2 Tim 1:6), AND that we do not “douse” or hinder the Spirit’s work in believers’ hearts to produce fruit.
How do we identify the gifts and work of the Spirit that we should “fan into flame”, as opposed to the work of a sinful heart and/or Satan that we should douse? We can only identify the Spirit’s work through what God has revealed to us in His Word. We, in our finite and sinful nature, are unable to come to any natural conclusion about God and His work through His Spirit on our own; we require the help of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:11-16). Through Scripture, we know that the Holy Spirit saves us through regeneration and renewal (Titus 3:5-7), He continues to sanctify us (2 Thess 2:13), He teaches us directly (John 14:26) and reveals to us God’s wisdom and knowledge in Scripture (Eph 1:17). In response to knowing what God has revealed to us in Scripture about the work of the Spirit, we also need to exercise biblical discernment, being skilled in the understanding and application of Scripture by constantly practicing discernment of good from evil (Hebrews 5:13-14).
A part of what informs our understanding of Scripture is also through “prophecy”, or the preaching of all that God has revealed in Scripture. But with preaching, there comes the need to test everything that has been preached, in order that we do not quench the Spirit. The analogy is that of testing a metal to ensure that it is genuine and true to its supposed weight. To test prophecy then is to scrutinise and carefully examine all that has been taught using God’s Word as the criteria.
In application, let us seek to nurture and protect this fire that the Holy Spirit has put in our hearts. To achieve that, it is our responsibility to be well-versed in the knowledge of God and His work through His Spirit, and to be well-skilled in understanding and applying Scripture in order to discern the work of the Spirit from the work of sin/Satan. We also need to discern everything that is being taught not just on the pulpit, but also in our interactions with each other (1 John 4:1). Every time we make a comment or instruct a fellow believer, let us first test ourselves: “Which part of the Bible supports what I’m going to say?”, “Am I saying this out of a spirit of pride/self-righteousness/anger/faithlessness? Or am I saying this out of a spirit of love/patience/holiness?”, “How am I building up that person who hears what I’m going to say in holiness and love?” Together as fellow believers, let our hearts burn brightly to the glory of God.
1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
When we look to Christ’s second coming, what do we anticipate? What can we look forward to when we “meet with Christ in the air”? Here Paul gives believers in Christ the blessed assurance of a faithful God who will see to our complete restoration when Christ returns.
Paul described God as the “God of peace”. For most of us, “peace” means the absence of conflict and chaos, but Scripture often speaks of “peace” as the fullness of well-being that God provides for His people. Therefore, we can look forward to having this fullness of well-being that God provides for us through his complete sanctification work at the second coming of Jesus Christ.
The idea of “complete” is that of seeing something through to the very end thoroughly. And this sanctifying work involves our “whole spirit and soul and body”. Sanctification, meaning the setting apart from the world and its influences for God’s service, involves our entire being, and God works thoroughly to set aside for His glory every part of those He has called. God wants to complete His work in us thoroughly and see it through to the end, our part is to be willing to trust God to do His work in ALL areas of our being, and not to “quench the Spirit” working in our own lives as well as those of other believers.
As we journey on earth and still undergo the process of God’s sanctification of our lives, we may feel discouraged by our short-comings and sin. But we can be assured that at the second coming of Christ, God will not leave any aspect of our beings incomplete and unwell. “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” (v. 24). For those who are called to live in fellowship with Christ, it is guaranteed that our God is faithful to complete his work of restoration in our total being when Christ returns. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)
The goal of God’s sanctification is ultimately to guard and strengthen our hearts from being blemished by sin, and as a result we are kept acceptable before Himself at Christ’s second coming. So as we press on to “put off our old selves” while trusting God to help us with putting on our “new selves”, let us hold on to the assurance that our God of peace will restore us to complete wellness in Him, and present us blameless and acceptable before His presence at the second coming of Christ.
David Ow is currently one of the board members at Bethany Evangelical Free Church.
David is currently a fully registered physiotherapist providing physiotherapy services at a private clinic. He specializes in assessing and treating joint and muscle conditions. David has been practicing as a physiotherapist since 2011 in various settings.
His other roles are as a husband, father and writer. David is deeply interested in shepherding his household according to Scripture. He also enjoys studying Scripture and its applications, which he expresses through writing.
He has a heart for digging deep into Scripture to mine its riches, and seeing how we all fit into God’s glorious Big Picture. His hope is that all who hear Scripture will come to faith in God, and those who have responded will continue to grow in the Lord.