Introduction: The second half of our letter begins in chapter 4 with Paul’s appeal to Jesus Christ as the Lord who expects holiness in the lives of the Thessalonians: “We ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus that your life be lived in order to please God.” Paul’s language could not be more timely for both the immoral culture of ancient Rome and the moral climate of our day. May we heed Paul’s urgent pleas, seeking to please God with how we use our bodies and how we control our desires – and may our young people follow our godly example in seeking to establish both personal holiness and godly marriages in their lives.
Monday: read 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2. Christ towers over history as the One who will judge the earth when He returns – a fact which looms over all the commands which precede the description of Christ’s coming in 1 Thessalonians 4:13ff. Paul appeals to the returning Christ in verse 1: “We ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus that your life be lived in order to please God.” In other words, the first impact of living in the light of Christ’s return is that we acknowledge His authority here and now to shape our lives to be well-pleasing to God. Because Christ has been appointed by God the Father to return to judge the world (Acts 17:31), He clearly has authority even now to draw us down the path which He chooses for us.
Meditate and Pray: In a world where many ignore Jesus’ authority and scoff at the idea of giving an account to Him, let us affirm that His word carries authority in every realm of life precisely because He will enforce the absolutes of God’s holy Word on that great day of judgment. Ask the Father to reassert the power and authority of His Son over our lives, using the words of hymn # 441 from our Trinity Hymnal:
|Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
Does his successive journeys run;
His kingdom stretch from shore to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.
To Him shall endless prayer be made,
|Blessings abound wherever He reigns;
The prisoner leaps to lose his chains;
The weary find eternal rest,
And all the sons of want are blessed.
As rain on meadows newly mown,
Tues/Weds: read 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 & Luke 12:32. Every mountain range has a deep foundation of bedrock which gives it an enduring place on the landscape. In just this way, the “mountain” of Christ’s return later in chapter 4 depends for its solid place in history on something much deeper and older, namely, the will of God the Father, mentioned for us in 1 Thessalonians 4:3. It is God’s will which underlies all holy living and all preparation for Christ’s return. But how does this Divine will reveal itself? Well, go back to the word in 4:1, translated in most versions as “to live”: “You have received from us (Paul writes) how you ought to live to please God.” That word is actually the word “to walk,” so that the KJV puts it this way: “Ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and please God.” Ah, here is where the will of God shows its heart and desire for us: God wants our lives to be a “walk”; a “walk” with Him and before Him; a “walking” towards the goal of Christ’s return; a “walk” which implies fellowship and communion.
But how do I know that God wants to “walk” with me in this way and wants to transform me into one of His holy followers? Look at the next word in 4:1, which indicates that the Thessalonians received apostolic instruction on how they ought to walk in order that they would learn to “please God.” In other words, it is God’s pleasure which controls His desire to walk with us! That is precisely what Jesus says in that astounding statement in Luke 12:32: Fear not little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom (KJV). God’s kingdom, you see, is a kingdom of grace and divine pleasure! Because it is a kingdom of grace, God is pleased to GIVE GIVE GIVE until our lives cannot help but be conformed to the holy kingdom in which He calls us to dwell. After all, what is the highest gift mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 as proof that God’s will to make us holy will be accomplished? It is that He gives us His Holy Spirit (1 Thess. 4:8) as the guarantee that we will be sanctified in preparation for Christ’s return! Sing about the Spirit’s role in conforming us to God’s holiness in preparation for Christ’s return in hymn # 330 in our Trinity Hymnal:
Holy Ghost, dispel our sadness,
Pierce the clouds of sinful night:
Come, thou source of sweetest gladness,
Breathe thy life, and spread your light!
Loving Spirit, God of peace,
Great distributor of grace,
Rest upon this congregation!
Hear, O hear our supplication.
Come, thou best of all donations
God can give, or we implore;
Having thy sweet consolations
We need wish for nothing more:
Come with unction and with power,
On our souls our graces shower;
Author of the new creation,
Make our hearts thy habitation.
Thurs/Fri: read 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 and James 3:15-17. We note that God’s will in 1 Thessalonians 4:3 is that “we should be holy.” How important it is to understand what it means to be holy in our day – a day when no facet of God’s will is more ignored than His holiness progressively worked into lives! The world, the flesh and the devil claim that God’s holy ways cannot compete with the pleasure which this world promises, and so they seek to distort the beauty of holiness into something twisted, impractical and joyless. Does not humankind succumb to such slurs against holiness? For mankind holiness means an other-worldly impracticality or even a Scrooge-like spoiling of their fun on earth. This kind of self-willed wisdom seeks to exalt itself above God, rather than to submit to God’s holy will! As Bill Harrell wrote in his Bible notes on James 3:15-17, describing the false wisdom of this world which opposes God’s holiness:
False wisdom makes good earthly sense, meaning that it is pragmatic but unprincipled. It is suited only to cater to our sensual and immediate gratification, urging us to gain the world while losing our souls as we give no thought to heaven or heaven’s God. Such wisdom is natural, meaning emotional, but not spiritual. It emphasizes good feelings while disregarding the revealed truth of God that alone saves and sets us free.
Meditate and Pray: May God save us from Satan’s lie that God’s holy will is somehow intolerantly harsh or handicapping! Instead, may He enable us to discover that in God’s holy will we find much encouragement for living wholesome lives down here which will prepare us for living holy lives up there when Christ returns! Study and mediate further on the 8 fruits of God’s heavenly wisdom and will as they are described for you in James 3:17!
Sat/Sun: read 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 and Romans 8:11. Some might object that our study of
1 Thessalonians 4 hasn’t really addressed Paul’s urgent plea to the Thessalonians to abstain from every form of sexual sin in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5:
It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen …
There will be more to say next week about sexual sin in every age of the church, as well as its only antidote in the kind of Christian love commanded in 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10. For now, let us simply state that for the Christian the most effective way to maintain sexual purity is to be reminded of the reality of the indwelling Spirit, who has been given to us, as 1 Thessalonians 4:8 says: Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit. In other words, those who successfully resist impurity and sexual sin do so not primarily from a sense of shame or embarrassment – and certainly not from the external coercion of the Law of God – but from the daily realization that they carry the Spirit of God and of Christ in their bodies wherever they go. Ask the Lord to re-kindle that sense of intimate communion with the Holy Spirit in all of us, using the words of hymn # 338, especially verse 3:
Spirit of God, descend upon my heart;
Wean it from earth; through all its pulses move;
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art;
And make me love Thee as I ought to love.
I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies,
No sudden rending of the veil of clay,
No angel visitant, no opening skies;
But take the dimness of my soul away.
Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh;
Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear.
To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh,
Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.
Hast Thou not bid me love Thee, God and King?
All, all Thine own, soul, heart and strength and mind.
I see Thy cross; there teach my heart to cling:
O let me seek Thee, and O let me find!