EXCEL STILL MORE

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1 THESSALONIANS 4:1-8

Study 5

4 “Finally then, brothers and sisters, we request and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received instruction from us as to how you ought to [a]walk and please God (just as you actually do [b]walk), that you excel even more. For you know what instructions we gave you [c]by the authority of the Lord Jesus.”

Brief intro: Paul has come to a place in his writing where he is no longer “looking back” and expressing his personal reflections on his first missionary endeavor with them. He is now going to begin “looking forward” by giving these believers practical instructions and exhortations as to what is proper behavior in light of the commandments he gave them by the authority of the Lord Jesus (v.2). Paul gives them three aspects of Christian living that are pleasing to God. We are only going to be looking at two of them in this study: Their/our general conduct as believers (1-2) and sexual purity as a part of their/our sanctification (3-8).

FOCUS ONE: This chapter begins with the words “finally then.” Those words lead us to believe that Paul is coming to a close in his writing. That will eventually happen, but not here. Paul still has a few things that he would like to share with these believers that will instruct and equip them as they move forward in their faith. Paul uses that word here to introduce his final section of the letter, one that moves from their present condition to their future progress in developing holy character.

The word “brethren” as Paul is using it here does not mean “biological” siblings as it is used elsewhere (Matthew 1:2), but rather members of the same Christian community (John 21:23; Acts 9:30). He begins by “requesting” and “exhorting” these people to continue pursuing obedience to the word of God. Requesting something of someone is a gentle, more friendly way of asking someone to do something. Exhorting someone is by far a more authoritative manner in making a plea. Paul’s exhorting has such an authoritative tone to it because it includes the words “through the Lord Jesus” (vs. 2).  So, I think we can surmise from this that his urging is a bit more than a request, but less than a command!

It is interesting that Paul is not intending to instruct them to behave differently, but to “excel still more” in doing what they are already doing (1:3,6,7,10; 2:14; 3;6; 4:1,9-10). One reason Paul probably added the words “through the Lord Jesus” to his appeal is because he knows that such an endeavor would never be successful without divine help. 

3 “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to [a]possess his own [b]vessel in sanctification and honor, not in [c]lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God;”

FOCUS TWO: Have you ever wondered what God’s will is for you Christian? Paul very directly tells these believers that it is God’s will for them, and naturally for any believer, to “abstain” from any sexual sin. In our new lives as redeemed, forgiven, and justified children of God we are to refrain from sexual sin in any form whether that be heterosexual or homosexual. We are to “Cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1).

These Thessalonians lived in a pagan environment. Sexual frivolity was rampant. Fornication (porneia – The Greek word used) was practiced openly and people were encouraged to do so. Prostitution was considered a priestly duty and, crazy enough, extra-marital sex was viewed at times as an act of worship. No wonder Paul is concerned about this young church. Even though he rejoices in their spiritual progress so far, he knows that doesn’t mean that they didn’t sometimes fall into sin. These people grew up in a culture where God and His standards didn’t  exist. But one day a man named Paul, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, arrives and tells them about their creator and what He has done for them in the person of His son Jesus. This message went forth in power and the Holy Spirt convicted them of their sins and brought them to a repentant faith in the finished work of Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:5, 9). They are now new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), “old things have passed away, behold new things have come.”

Now, as children of God with regenerated hearts, they are to move forward seeking to work out in their lives what has has been accomplished within their hearts (Philippians 2:12-13). Paul’s exhortation here is a personal one: “you abstain from sexual immorality;” “each of you know how to possess (control) his own vessel” (vv. 3-4). Such a work requires the exercise of self-control enabled by the Holy Spirit within them. So, Paul doesn’t just place this burden on them without giving them some guidance as to how they can affectively be obedient and gain the victory in this aspect of their lives. 

You and I, contrary to modern psychology, are not the victims of our circumstances. We witness in biblical history as well as secular history, time and time again, people who overcame their present circumstances to go on and make their lives better. Unlike those who do not know the Lord as their savior and are caught up in their “lustful passions,” these Thessalonian believers as well as any believers, are not the victims of their present circumstances, sexual desire can be controlled with God’s help!

Paul doesn’t specify exactly how to control oneself and that is probably because there are several ways in which a person can accomplish this goal. One or another way may be useful to one person but not so helpful to another. So, each of us has to apply the necessary means that enable us to behave in a manner that set’s us apart from this world unto the Lord who redeemed us. 

6 “and that no one violate the rights and take advantage of his brother or sister in the matter, because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you previously and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for [a]impurity, but in sanctification. Therefore, the one who rejects this is not rejecting man, but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.”

FOCUS THREE:  In these verses Paul transitions from the personal aspect of sexual purity and is now speaking of its relationship to others. A question that comes to mind is this: what does he mean by “transgress and defraud his brother in the matter?” I believe that Paul is saying that when a person does not stay within the confines of their marital relationship, they break God’s law, violate His revealed will, and therefore rob others of the sanctity of the marriage relationship. That sense of security, intimacy, and holiness of the relationship is stolen from others (Ephesians 5:22-33; Hebrews 13:4).

The act of fornication with someone else defrauds or robs that person by taking advantage of them. In “overstepping” God’s moral laws for sexual relationships, in this case with another believer, a person will rob them of the purity and sanctity of such a relationship that is set apart for the marital relationship. One commentator notes that: “this refers to all the destructive societal and spiritual implications of illegitimate sexual activity.”

So, Paul goes on to tell them, actually “solemnly warn” them not to behave in such a way because “the Lord is the avenger in all these things” (v. 6). There are many reasons stated within these scriptures that should lead them/us to obey our Lord in this area as well as any other area of our Christian walk, such as:

  • Overstepping God’s appointed boundaries and taking advantage of another person sexually are violations of His holiness (vv. 3,6,8).
  • The Lord’s future punishment of such sins (v.6; Hebrews 13:4).
  • The nature of His calling (salvation, sanctification, and glorification – v. 3; Ephesians 1:4-14).
  • These standards are God given and able to be obeyed because of His Holy Spirit within the believer (v.8).

To live in such a way is called “impure” or “unclean.” Such terms should never be used of a true follower of Jesus Christ. This kind of behavior is the opposite of holiness and must be abandoned. God has called us for better things (Romans 8:29; Ephesians 1:5; Colossians 1:12)!

FOR FURTHER THOUGHT

  1. Beginning in chapter four Paul begins giving some practical instructions for godly living to these believers in Thessalonica. What other instructions can you find in the New Testament that God wants you to obey? For example, Romans 12:1-2 .
  2. How would it look in your life and how might it impact others if you “excelled still more” in your spiritual growth?
  3. What do these verses teach us about the will of God for our lives (1 peter 2:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:18; Micah 6:8; Hebrews 13:20-21)?
  4. What other verses teach us about God’s mind in regards to sex?
  5. What might you need to do (aided by the Holy Spirit) to practice self control more consistently in your daily life?
  6. What role does prayer and bible reading have in our daily walk of faith? Can they help us in the practice of self control? How?

I have added this link below to Desiring God ministries for those who are interested in reading more about sexual purity.

https://www.desiringgod.org/topics/sexual-purity#escape-the-prison-of-pornography

WAITING FOR THE SON

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Long reading: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

Devotional verse: 1 Thessalonians 1:10

“And to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come” (NASB)

The believers in Thessalonica were relatively new to the faith but the joy and zeal they shared with each other was astounding. Paul had heard of their “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. . .” (Vs. 3), and he was full of joy and thankfulness at the persistent and perseverant manner in which they lived for their new found savior. These young converts become imitators of Paul, the Lord, and other churches because of the suffering they endured as followers of Jesus. They became examples to other believers around them for being steadfast in the faith and for being a faithful gospel witness to the watching world around them.

What gave them so much joy? What inspired them to persevere through suffering? What gave their hearts the courage to tell others about the “living and true God? Jesus promised that He is coming back for his beloved (John 14:1-3)! The joy and expectation that is expressed in verse 10 is expected and should be anticipated in those who have, as they have, “turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God.” Idols do not necessarily need to be fashioned out of gold, wood, or any other material thing for us to be in bondage to them. We are very creative in setting up idols in our own hearts (Ezekiel 14:3)

Reflecting on these scriptures should “re-awaken” our longing for the Lord’s return. They  remind us that we are to live our lives in faithful anticipation of this event. What a joy it is to read: “he delivers us from the wrath to come.”

                                                                                                           Larry G. Stump Jr.

Prayer: Our Father, we rejoice in God our savior. We admit that we have not lived each day in light of the truth that Jesus is coming back for us and will make all things right. Help us, O Father, to live our lives from this day forward in joyful anticipation of being with our savior. Amen.

Paul’s love and concern for the Thessalonians

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1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:10

STUDY 4

17 “But we, brothers and sisters, having been orphaned from you by absence for a [w]short while—in [x]person, not in [y]spirit—were all the more eager with great desire to see your face. 18 [z]For we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, [aa]more than once—and Satan hindered us. 19 For who is our hope, or joy or crown of pride, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His [ab]coming? Or is it not indeed you? 20 For you are our glory and joy.”

Brief intro: In our last study we took notice to Paul’s second note of thankfulness for these believers (1:2; 3:13). Paul was thankful for their reception of the Word of God, receiving it as such, and enduring the sufferings that they were going through as a consequence for following Christ. We also took note of Paul’s charges against his own countrymen who sought to undermine the spread of the gospel (2:15).

In this study we will again witness Paul’s love for these believers and the frustration he dealt with in not being able to see them face to face and minister to them. 

FOCUS ONE: Paul, moving on from his charges against those who seek to stifle gospel growth, now begins to express his frustration at not being able to see them face to face again. These verses (17-20) reveal Paul’s heart for this young persecuted church. He loves them. He has such a yearning to be with them again physically; to minister to them, encourage them, and strengthen them in their faith. Perhaps there are rumors circulating around that Paul has no intentions of ever coming back, but Paul with these emotional words, lay’s such rumors to rest. 

For Paul and his companions, being forced out of Thessalonica and having to leave these people behind, was equivalent to the feeling parents would have at losing their children. It was heart wrenching for him. His only comfort was in the hope that this separation would be short-lived and that he would soon be able to be with them again. 

Take notice to Paul’s switch in the plural usage of “we” up to this point, to the singular “I.” Paul desires to set himself apart from his co-laborers here and stress how he personally made every effort to to go back to them but was “thwarted” or prevented from doing so. It is of importance to notice who Paul says prevented them from going back to Thessalonica, “Satan Thwarted us” (vs.18).

It is time for a brief *SOS study. In Acts 16:6-10 Paul’s plans are frustrated as well, but there he credits the Holy Spirit for “forbidding” them to speak the word in Asia. He saw this as God’s leading of them in their missionary efforts. Now, back to our text. Here in 3:18 Paul see’s no other explanation of the opposition facing them but Satan himself. Exactly what it was that hindered them we can only speculate, he doesn’t mention anything here, so it is probably best not to surmise what it could have been.

In verses 19 and 20 Paul seems to break out in untethered joy as he thinks upon their friendship and brotherhood under the banner of Christ! These folks are the cause of his joy and confidence as he thinks upon the Lord’s coming again. To him, these believers (1)“will be a kind of victory prize. They will be his ‘crowning glory’ on that day and the source of unspeakable joy.”

3 “Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it best to be left behind, alone at Athens, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you for the benefit of your faith, so that no one would be [a]disturbed by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we have been destined for this. For even when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; [b]and so it happened, [c]as you know. For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I also sent to [d]find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter might have tempted you, and our labor would be for nothing.”

FOCUS TWO: Paul “cannot endure it any longer,” and so he sends Timothy to them. The constant thought of these beloved people just seems to be a pressing burden to his soul. Remember, Paul and his companions were forced to leave Thessalonica much sooner then they would have preferred, and as a result they were not able to teach them as much as they would have liked and felt necessary (Acts 17). So, after being forced out of Thessalonica they traveled to Berea, founded a church, and then under pressure again, Paul leaves and travels to Athens and from there he sends Timothy to them.

Timothy is a “brother” in Christ, and a “fellow worker’ in the proclamation of the gospel. He is a man that Paul loves and values and so trusts with the mission of traveling back to Thessalonica with the goal of strengthening and encouraging these young believers. He has great confidence that Timothy will complete that mission. This church was going through a time of suffering and facing various trials in their day to day walk of faith. Paul is concerned for their welfare and that they would stand firm and not “be deceived” by the afflictions they face. 

Paul knew that they would go through such times (3:4). He wrote Timothy some years later: “yes, all that live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). It would be very naïve to think the world would accept those who follow Christ (John 15:18). And so, this is why Paul just had to know if their faith was genuine, if it was holding up.

6 “But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you, for this reason, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith; for now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord. For what thanks can we give to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice because of you before our God, 10 as we keep praying most earnestly night and day that we may see your faces, and may complete what is lacking in your faith?”

FOCUS THREE:  Timothy returns! What a joy Paul feels as his good friend and faithful co-laborer returns safely from his journey. Not only that, he brings good news with him (vss. 6-10)!  Paul’s questions are finally answered, his concerns alleviated. It seems that Paul wrote this letter rather quickly as his heart was elevated with emotions of thankfulness and praise! Their faith remained steadfast. Their love toward and kind affection for Paul remained. And imagine the joy in Paul’s heart to hear that they longed to see him again just as he did them! Paul is elated, “for now we really live, if (since) you stand firm in the faith.” 

Paul then expresses for a third time (vs. 9) his thankfulness for them. It sounds as if Paul, believe it or not, was temporarily at a loss for words in how to express his thankfulness to God. (1) “This is a rhetorical question expressing the thought that no act of thanksgiving can equal the joy Paul experiences as he thinks of the Thessalonians.” 

But even so, Paul reflects back to his desire to be with them again and minister to their needs. He knows that they are young in the faith and he desires to “complete what is lacking in your faith” (vs, 10). By that Paul means that even though they have started out well (1:3,7; 2:13,14;3:6), there is always room to grow (2 Peter 1:5-15).

FOR FURTHER THOUGHT:

  1. Have you ever experienced frustration? Look up these verses in your bible and write down how they counsel us in regards to frustration: Romans 8:28; Proverbs 3:5-6; Ecclesiastes 7:9.
  2. Looking back at these verses, what statements of Paul’s help describe the “burden” he carried for these believers?
  3. Do you have a burden for the lost?  Your family, neighbors, co-workers, etc.? If not, what needs to change in your heart and life?
  4. What does it mean to be a “fellow worker” in the gospel? Who are you co-laboring with in the cause of Christ? 
  5. What pattern for prayer do you see in verse 10 that may help you in your daily prayer life?
  • David Ewert, Study on 1 and 2 Thessalonians
  • *Step Outside Study

RUNNING WELL

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Long reading: Galatians 5:1-8.

Devotional verse: 5: 7

“You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?”

Martin was a friend of mine who struggled in the faith. Early on in his life he was a false convert, but thanks to the long-suffering of God he was finally redeemed and by God’s grace was growing in the knowledge of God’s will revealed in His holy word.

But as time went on it appeared that Martin was struggling once again. This time it was because of some false teaching he was listening to. This teaching was drawing him away from “grace alone” for salvation, toward a “works plus” grace salvation model. Martin began well, but eventually became seriously hindered in his Christian walk for several years to come, because he listened to someone’s distorted teaching about God’s word rather than trusting in God’s revealed word. 

Paul’s words echo forth with resounding clarity! Those who were now struggling in their faith started well. They were growing in their faith and living in light of the gospel, but then some false teacher with some pseudo gospel came along. They perhaps, hesitantly at first listened with skepticism, but then somewhere along the way they were deceived into believing a lie. Now there assurance of salvation was lost as they became “subject again to a yoke of slavery” (vs.1).

Paul told the Ephesians that “we are saved by grace through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works so none one should boast” (2:8-9). As we have so much available to us today within media, whatever and however that is manifested, let us with caution listen to others who propose to speak for our Lord and exercise discernment (1 John 4:1), and let us with confidence apply the word of God in full assurance and faith (Hebrews 10:22).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us in our ignorance to learn your word. We ask for your Spirit to teach us all things that pertain to life and godliness. Grant us an uncanny mindset that is able to discern truth from error and to reject the false and cling to that which is good. Amen.