How many soldiers did it take to hold our Savior down as the nails were driven into His trembling flesh? Did they hold fast His precious head to place the thorny crown, Viciously assuring it would keep the bleeding fresh?
“How many?” asked the teacher, as she faced her little brood. Each child tried to answer, as earnestly they stood. “Four soldiers!” called Meg. “Ten!” said Jon, mocking her with a shove. Jimmy rose and cried, “You’re wrong! He did it out of love!”
From lips of a child the answer, in startling truth, rings still: Out of love for all mankind, He did His Father’s will. “You’re wrong!” the answer echoes loud — He willingly obeyed; If He had fought and struggled, the debt would not be paid.
How many soldiers did it take to hold the Savior still? He did it all for you on that dark and lonely hill! He did it out of love for you, to save you from your sin. He’s offering forgiveness; Will you turn and follow Him?
BRIEF RECAP: We have meditated on various topics the past few weeks: The recognition of and relationship to spiritual leaders and their congregations, as well, as the relationship of believers among themselves. Everything that we have learned in those studies reflects our new life in Christ and how that manifests itself in our varied life circumstances and surroundings. This study is no different! It is so because all of these verses (5:12-22) are part of a larger context, one that is about life within the church. As meaningful as the relationship is between a congregation and its leaders, so is the relationship that we share as the “body of Christ.”
Intro: As Paul continues his letter, he gives a few more imperatives or commands for these Thessalonian believers to follow. Let’s take a (1)SOS here. The New Testament is written in various moods, most noticeably, the Indicative and Imperative moods. When we read our Bible, we will notice that we are being told about things that happened, and we have those things that occurred explained to us. This form of writing is the indicative mood, the expressing or explaining of the word of God. Often, most noticeably in the Epistles, when the explaining or narrating certain things ends, commands follow. This mode of writing is the Imperative mood.
So, what is going on? Simply this: The writer, based on all that he has just explained, wants his readers to apply the truth’s taught, so he starts writing in the imperative to give application to his readers.
These are not the only moods that we find in the New Testament. The Exclamative and interrogative are used as well. Both the element of emotion and the probing analytical and rhetorical questions we witness, in conjunction with the indicative and imperative, are to instruct us in the will of our God!
Interestingly, we find in our letter that the first three chapters are written in the indicative, and only in Chapter four do we begin to see commands being given. Out of the sixteen imperatives that Paul gives from chapter four onward, most of them arise in these verses that we have been meditating on in previous weeks (5: 11,13-22, 25, 26)!
FOCUS ONE: Back to our study. In the verses before us (16-18), Paul gives his readers three exhortations:
Pray without ceasing
Give thanks in everything
“You also became imitators of us and the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit” (1:6). In expressing his thankfulness for these believers (1:2), Paul mentions their joy of the Holy Spirit at the time of their salvation. This joy was upon them in the midst of the “tribulation” they were experiencing due to trusting in Christ. Paul credits the Holy Spirit for the delight they have. That makes good sense, right?
Joy is a work or fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Even in Isaiah 61:10, the prophet writes of rejoicing in God for this very same thing, salvation! Often we misplace our joy, or worse still, confuse it with our definition of happiness. “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, BUT rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).
Christians are to be joy-filled people. We are to “rejoice always” in what God has accomplished for us in Christ. Situations in our lives will change, effecting our mood. In one day we can experience happiness, sorrow, anger, etc., all depending on the circumstances we are facing. But, regardless of our situations, our joy remains the same! When we understand that our joy does not hinge on our ever-changing conditions in life, but in our redemption in Jesus Christ, which doesn’t change, we will find that our lives, minds, and hearts are affected and changed forever with a “joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8)!
FOCUS TWO: What does the Apostle mean when he says “pray without ceasing?” Does he mean that Christians are to be in a constant, formal, and audible prayer mode their whole lives? Would that even be possible? Obviously not.
The idea or thought Paul is conveying is relatively simple. He wants his readers to know that they need to live their lives in constant dependence on their Father in heaven. They are to bring all their cares, burdens, anxieties, hopes, and dreams before Him in prayer. Why? Because He cares for them and is the only one who can provide for them ideally concerning all their needs (Philippians 4:6-7; James 1:17).
There is no sound argument regarding this verse that would substantiate the idea of unending repetition in our prayer lives. Jesus Himself spoke against such a thing in Matthew 6:7; Then giving His disciples an example to follow. In contrast to such a thought, we are to be a people that pray persistently(Luke 11:1-13) and regularly (Ephesians 6:19).
FOCUS THREE:Thank-less-ness is a characteristic of unbelievers (Romans 1:21), not redeemed Christians! Does that mean that we should be thankful for the horrific personal tragedy that happened in our lives or in the life of someone we love? Should we celebrate the terrible misfortunes of others? No, obviously not. Instead, we ought to be people who are diligently and intentionally looking for the good in the midst of the bad in the middle of our ever-changing circumstances. There is always something good or some good reasons to be thankful, even if they are a bit hard to see at first.
Perhaps you have been praying for a loved one for many years to come to Christ. However, year after year, you witnessed their hearts getting colder to the gospel. In despair over their soul, you cried out to God to do whatever it takes to bring that dear one to repentant faith. He answered your prayer.
You now find yourself in the emergency room, waiting, worrying. Days go by, even weeks, the healing and recovering process are brutal. Not much to be thankful for here, you think to yourself. But what you didn’t know was that one of the caregivers was praying for your loved one. A friend was reading the Bible to him/her when they visited. And your loving Father in heaven was working through these difficult, painful circumstances to bring this dear one to repentance.
Ultimately, through this experience, your loved one repents, and his/her life is changed forever because of Christ. Your prayers were answered! Sometimes it’s hard to see the good when things are so bad. Keep looking. The Lord promises it’s there (Romans 8:28)!
Dear Christian, when we join this appeal with the previous two, rejoicing and praying, they give us a biblical roadmap for victorious Christian living!
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT:
1. Turn in your Bible to Philippians 1. Read through the chapter and find where Paul ends writing in the indicative (simple statements of fact) and begins writing in the imperative (commands or exhortations). Look at some other Epistles and do the same. This exercise will help you in your application of the truths taught.
2. What other scriptures can you locate that teach on these three topics: Prayer, Joy, and thankfulness? Write them down and meditate on where your strengths and weaknesses are. Spend time in prayer asking our Father in heaven to help you “excel still more” (4:1)!
3. Think of an example in your own life when you felt nothing good was going on in your situation. How might understanding these three commands (rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and thankfulness) help you get through the next hard or bleak period in your life?
1 Corinthians 1:18 “for the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
The idling of car engines stopped, and many people, including myself, left our vehicles to begin the one-mile hike to the cross. In a small town known as Paxinos, Pennsylvania, the Easter service at the cross is a big event. The 24 foot high cross, placed initially and maintained by the Boy Scouts, troop 250, sits high on top of a mountain, and the only access to it is by walking unless you are unable to walk, then a van will transport you to the top.
Young and old alike come faithfully each year to sit beneath the cross and hear a sermon of power, hope, and love: the message of the cross! As the pastor preaches, we enjoy a fantastic panorama of the surrounding countryside. The view before us reminds us all that the forgiveness purchased by Christ Jesus on the cross is available to anyone who will turn to Him in faith!
It’s easy to hear these words of Paul and become discouraged. After all, many people are perishing because they think that no one can die and return to life again. But we should be encouraged as we read these verses because God, in His wisdom, was pleased to use what seems foolish to some to save even the most hardened of sinners!
Listening to the Easter message reminded me of the ongoing work of salvation that God is accomplishing through His Son, who came to seek out and save the lost (Luke 19:10). Let us encourage one another with these words.
Prayer: Blessed Lord Jesus, let our faith be fixed and unaltered, one that never grows weary or disheartened. Help us be pleased with what you are delighted with, always rejoicing in the hope and glory of Christ Jesus! Amen.
The stalwart guards stood watch that day around a dead man’s grave. Not mindful that He was the Lord, they stood there, bold and brave, till all at once they fell away without a chance to fight, for Jesus had returned to life, and vanquished sin’s dark night.
The angel band drew near to praise and glorify their King. They crowded in to worship Him and hallelujahs sing: for they had longed to comfort Him as on the cross He hung, but He bore all the suffering, this Savior, God’s own Son.
My sin was pardoned on the tree that held this blessed Christ; He took the punishment for me and paid sin’s awful price. Only the perfect lamb of God could love a wretch like me enough to die, enough to live, enough to set me free!
The empty tomb, a witness stark that Jesus lived again, and soldiers fearing for their lives knew Christ was no mere man!
O Jesus Christ, my dearest Friend, O King of heaven and earth, Though ages pass, no tongue can tell the measure of Your worth!
“Also keep back Thy servant from presumptuous sins; Let them not rule over me; Then I shall be blameless, and I shall be acquitted of great transgression” (NASB).
I have recently read an account about the Battle of the Wilderness in the Civil War when general John Sedgwick was inspecting his troops. The story goes that he was inspecting his troops, and at one point, he came to a parapet, over which he gazed out in the direction of the enemy. His officers told him that it was unwise to do so and that, perhaps, he ought to duck while passing the parapet. “Nonsense,” snapped the General. “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist. . ..” A moment later, it is said, Sedgwick fell to the ground fatally wounded.
We are a lot like the General in this regard. How often do we take for granted something as being true without any evidence to the contrary? How often do we make decisions or venture forward without the proper authority or permission? That is what it means to act presumptuously. That is what Job’s friends did as they counseled him after he lost everything (Job 4-37). And this they did at times with evident arrogance, which often is attached to this sin. God called them out over it and told them that “you have not spoken of me what is right. . .” (Job 42:7).
The sin of presumption can manifest itself in many forms; that is why David petitions God to keep him from them. Unwittingly or willfully, we sin unless divine forgiveness and help aid us in walking above reproach. So David prays that his words, thoughts, motivations, and conduct would be acceptable in the sight of God, who is His source of strength. We also need the Holy Spirit to aid us in our battle against the flesh so we, too, can walk with integrity before our God.
Prayer: O Lord, we, like David, need your divine intervention in our lives so that we would not fall prey to presumptuous sins. Help us pray, think, speak, and act in a manner worthy of you, our loving Heavenly Father. Amen.
Devotional verse: “But as for me, I will hope continually, and will praise thee yet more and more” (v.14 NASB).
The topic of aging and all that comes with it is a topic that many people seek to avoid. According to a Pew Research Center survey, there is a “sizable gap between the expectations that young and middle-aged adults have about old age and the actual experiences reported by older Americans themselves.” Illness, memory loss, loneliness, and depression are things many aging adults deal with and acknowledge that they are just par for the course! But what about the “unexpected” things life throws at you? What about the trials and tribulations yet to face? Shouldn’t they be diminished or even done away with when we are “old and gray” (v.18)?
In Psalm 71, we find a man engaging the Lord in prayer. He has enemies that speak against him at every opportunity and who are seeking to do him harm. His desire is for the Lord to be his security, his safety, and protection. All else may fail, but not the Lord! As he looked to the future, concerns about getting older and possibly being forsaken by the Lord when physically and mentally weaker discouraged him (vv. 9,18). He reflected on the past and remembered that the Lord had been there for him and delivered him through all his trials. He grows confident that He will again (vv. 5, 20)!
With his confidence strengthened and his refuge found in the Lord, he resolves to move forward with unwavering hope and praise on his lips! He desires to proclaim the goodness of God to the next generation for as long as he is able (vv. 15,16,18). Perhaps as we reflect on how good the Lord has been to us in our own lives, we too can move forward into old age with confidence and resolve to be a witness for Him while trusting Him with whatever trials come our way. And along the way praising Him yet more and more!
Prayer: Father, as we walk through each day you provide us, grant us a mind to remember your past faithfulness, a heart whose refuge is in you alone, a voice to sing you praises, and lips to witness of thy salvation to others. Amen.