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!
Brief Intro: Moving forward in our study of these two letters by Paul to the Thessalonians, we find topics of a prophetic nature. We noticed how Paul mentions the second coming at the end of every chapter, but now he will speak more directly about it in greater length and with much more depth.
These are topics in which many mature, godly people of faith disagree. They do not differ with Paul’s main point, The second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, but they disagree about the timing of His return. Is He coming:
Before the tribulation, in the middle, or after it?
Is His coming going to be in two phases or one – Pretribulation or Post tribulation?
These are not issues that should divide us as believers. Instead, in love for one another, let us recognize that no one system of theology has all the answers to these essential questions. So, my focus in this study will be, as best I can, to hold tightly to Paul’s motives for writing these words, i.e., to comfort and encourage these believers regarding the misunderstanding they have about the resurrection of the saints.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18: “13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who [a]are asleep, so that you will not grieve as indeed the rest of mankind do, who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose from the dead, so also God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep [b]through Jesus. 15 For we say this to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive [c]and remain until the coming of the Lord will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a [d]shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who remain, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore, [e]comfort one another with these words.”
FOCUS ONE: “But we do not want you to uniformed.” Paul begins a new topic with these words. He received information regarding a misunderstanding these young Christians had about those who have died “in Christ” and their outcome. Did the living believers have an advantage over the dead? Would those that have died already waiting for Christ’s return miss the resurrection or not be a part of it? This young church certainly seems to have believed in an imminent (in their lifetime) return of Christ. With that understanding and Christians dying around them amid the persecution they were enduring, even their loved ones, such thoughts were grievous to their souls. So, Paul writes to give them more information on the resurrection, and along with that, provide them with some comfort.
Paul begins instructing them about what will happen to those who died in Christ and those who remain alive until His coming (v.14). (1) “Since their grief was based on ignorance, Paul comforted them by giving them knowledge.” Since their main concern was regarding those “who are asleep” (dead), he addresses that question first. Paul says that since (for) “we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so (or, then it surely follows), that God will bring with Him those who sleep in Christ” (v. 14). Paul uses the term “dead in Christ” in verse 16. Both expressions refer to the same group of people.
The power, authority, and ability given to Christ to accomplish the saints’ resurrection are anchored to the fact that the Father accepted His sacrifice, raised Him from the grave, and seated Him at His right hand (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 12:2). (2) “God will treat those who died trusting in Jesus in the same way He treated Jesus Himself, namely by resurrecting them.” At least in this passage, that link is found in the use of the phrase even so after speaking about Christ’s death and resurrection (v.14)!
Paul makes a direct statement about the “order” of this event (v.15), and then he fleshes it out more in the following two verses:
The Lord will descend from heaven with a shout.
There will be a voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God.
The dead “in Christ” rise first,
Then those who are alive will be caught up together with them, in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and then shall forever be with the Lord.
Again, it is not the purpose of this study to delve into what all of this means concerning the timing of these events. But we see in this explanation from Paul how they would be comforted by understanding that their friends and loved ones, who died in Jesus Christ, would not miss the coming of their savior! The living saints would not take precedence over dead saints or gain some advantage over them, according to Paul, who the Holy Spirit led to write these words (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Verse 18 reveals Paul’s goal in giving them further teaching on the coming of the Lord. “Therefore comfort one another with these words.” Paul’s primary purpose in writing these things is not to teach some mode or structure of eschatological theology but to provide comfort to Christians whose friends and loved ones have died waiting for what they thought would be the return of Christ in their lifetime. Waiting amid harsh opposition and persecution.
5 Now as to the periods and [a]times, brothers and sisters, you have no need of anything to be written to you. 2 For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord is coming just like a thief in the night. 3 While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction [b]will come upon them like labor pains upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness, so that the day would overtake you [c]like a thief; 5 for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; 6 so then, let’s not sleep as [d]others do, but let’s be alert and [e]sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who are drunk, get drunk at night. 8 But since we are of the day, let’s be [f]sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him. 11 Therefore, [g]encourage one another and build one another up, just as you also are doing.
FOCUS TWO: Paul’s focus in these verses is on the “times an epochs” or period in which His coming, at least the general sense of it, will play out. Notice that he does not predict a specific time for this event. Indeed, he is mindful of what Christ Himself had said to His disciples in Matthew 24:36 and Acts 1:7 and therefore seeks to urge these believers to live prepared lives, living daily in light of Christ’s soon return (vv.6-8). Jesus Himself taught these things (Matthew 25:1-13).
Paul is clear that “the day of the Lord” will be a time of destruction with no escape (v. 3). That the people of that day will be deceived into thinking that all is well, they will say “peace and safety” when seemingly out of nowhere judgment befalls them.
But Paul wants to encourage them, so he reminds them of a critical difference between those who trust in Christ and those who do not, and that is this: believers are NOT in darkness; they are aware such days are coming. They are “sons of light and sons of day,” so not apart of the night around them! And as such, they should not be overtaken by that day’s arrival (v. 4).
So, because of these differences, bestowed upon us through Christ, Paul encourages the Thessalonians to be sober or self-controlled. (3) “Standing on the threshold of an event that will mean sudden translation for some and sudden destruction for others, Christians should arm themselves for action with self-control.” Paul uses metaphoric language in exhorting these believers to put on the breastplate of faith and love and as a helmet the hope of salvation (v. 8). A Roman soldier’s breastplate covered him from his neck to his waist, protecting his vital organs. This is what faith and love do for the Christian: Faith in God protects inwardly, and love for others protects outwardly.
The “hope of salvation” guards a Christian mind against the evil one’s attacks (cr. Ephesians 6:10-18). The salvation that believers long for and look forward to is our only hope of deliverance from the wrath to come! And how sweet it is that Paul included the words they would have read in verse nine, and by God’s grace, us today. These words would have lifted their spirits and put a fresh kick in their step, so to speak, and they ought to do the same for us. Our God’s intention for those He redeems IS NOT the wrath that will come upon the earth in the day of the Lord, but IT IS complete salvation that will be theirs and ours when the Lord returns for us in the clouds. “And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (4:17).
These great truths are a source of encouragement and comfort to us as we face opposition and persecution for our faith in Christ (v. 11). These faithful and true words need to be continuously repeated. Contrary to our current culture, Christians do not always have to be looking for the next “new thing,” but we need to remind ourselves constantly about what we already know!
If you are interested in a deeper study about the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, I recommend a book written by Robert P. Lightner titled: The Last Days Handbook—a complete guide to understanding the different views of prophecy. Who believes what about prophecy and why. I included the link below.
(1) John MacArthur
(2) The New Century Bible commentary
(3) Thomas Constable Commentary on 1 and 2 Thessalonians
Brief Recap: The Thessalonian believers lived in a heartless pagan society that was engrossed in sexual immorality. They lived within a culture that made no provision for the poor, the sick, or the aged. A Christian would stand out from others because they “abstained” from all the forms of sexual immorality that were being practiced and encouraged. They had a shared unity among their members where brotherly kindness was openly practiced, so unlike the culture around them.
Now, as Christians, their conduct would be radically different than the culture in which they lived. They were to be light amid darkness; live lives of purity in contrast to impurity; to practice selflessness rather than selfishness. When the gospel first arrived in Thessalonica, people’s hearts had been regenerated by the Holy Spirit. As a result, two characteristics attracted the most attention from their neighbors: personal purity and love for one another!
So, it makes sense that Paul’s first exhortations to them would be along the lines of avoiding sexual immorality by practicing self-control, and to “excel still more” in their expression of love toward one another. The latter is what we will focus on in this study.
9 “Now as to the love of the brothers and sisters, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; 10 for indeed you practice it toward all the brothers and sisters who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers and sisters, to excel even more . . .”
FOCUS ONE: In this study and including our next one, we see two themes and two groups emerge in Paul’s thinking:
The themes of love for the brethren and their testimony among unbelievers become Paul’s focus. The groups involved are the church (insiders) and unbelievers (outsiders). You can see this in verse 12.
This study will only be concerned with the first group, the “insiders,” those redeemed and a part of the church in Thessalonica. Verse nine is interesting in that Paul, using the word “now,” directs those who will be reading this letter to his next topic, that of love for one another. But directly after that, he says, “you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another. . .” That’s interesting, isn’t it? Why mention it then? How did God teach them to love one another?
Jeremiah 31:31-33 is where we need to begin to answer those questions.
31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers on the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. 33 “For this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord: “I will put My law within them and write it on their heart; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”
Because this covenant will be new, it stands in contrast to the old covenant, which was the Mosaic covenant under which our Bible records Israel’s failure to keep it. This new covenant will have a (1)”spiritual, divine dynamic by which those who know Him would participate in the blessings of salvation.” This new covenant, which Jesus Christ announced in Luke 22:20, is represented by the “cup which is poured out for you,” signifying the manner of His death; death on a cross where His blood would be shed for the remission of sins!
When writing his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul spoke of this very thing (2 Corinthians 3:1-3). Paul, there is stating that their changed lives are proof that Christ had transformed them from within. In contrast to the false teachers that accused Paul of not having the proper documentation to prove himself a legitimate teacher, Paul’s commendation was “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (v.3). Sound familiar? It should! Jeremiah was speaking about an “internal” change within people that would be accomplished in their hearts as contrasted to the law written on tablets of stone that could only ever be “our tutor to lead us to Christ” (Galatians 3:24).
Add the above to the very words of Christ as he answered one of the scribes in regards to what commandment is the first or foremost of all in Mark 12:28-31, and you should be able to understand how God taught these believers to love: to love Him supremely and others sacrificially.
10 “for indeed you practice it toward all the brothers and sisters who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers and sisters, to excel even more. . .”
FOCUS TWO: This is the second of three times (4:1; 5:11) where Paul acknowledges that they are practicing the very things that he is referring to. He is not urging them to “begin” a particular behavior but to continue it or “excel still more” in the conduct they are already practicing. Paul has learned how well they are doing in exhibiting love for one another in their local region. Still, he seeks to encourage them to go further, to “think outside the box” and practice Christian love, gospel love, with others outside their small group, outside their community.
They were already encouraging one another, giving preference to one another, serving one another, rejoicing and weeping with one another, practicing forgiveness and tolerating one another for the sake of biblical unity, praying, and showing compassion for one another.
Paul does not want these believers to be narrow-minded in their expression of love for each other or other believers elsewhere. And, as we will notice in our following study, their expression of gospel love has purposes that extend to those outside the community of faith as well (v.12).
Paul wrote elsewhere that “love does no wrong to a neighbor. . .” (Romans 13:10); that a part of the fruit of the Spirit, the first on the list, is love (Galatians 5:22). Jesus taught that we are to love our enemies (Luke 6:35). Jesus tied our obedience to His word as an expression of our love for Him (John 14:23)!
The church of Christ has no boundaries, so neither should its love for others. Since God has shown His love for us, while we were yet still sinners as Romans 5:8 teaches, we are to love one another manifesting this same love to others: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). Gospel love, then, is not mere sentiment or particular feelings that we think we should experience but is an act of obedience to the will and word of God-at times without and sentiment or emotion (Matthew 5:44-48; Luke 6:27-36;1 and 2 John).
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT:
When people are regenerated (born again) by the Holy Spirit, they become new creations in Christ Jesus, “old things have passed away, behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). How has your life been changed since you have received Jesus Christ and His forgiveness?
Our culture, much like the Thessalonians culture, is overcome with sexual immorality of all types. Paul taught in the previous verses that a Christ follower must practice self control and remain sexually pure. What struggles are you facing in this area of your life? What are you doing to “resist” or “abstain” from sexual sin? Consider Philippians 2:12-13 and James 1:13-16.
What does Jesus tell His disciple to do in Matthew 26:41? How can this help you overcome temptation in your life?
In what ways can you “excel still more” in your obedience to Christ?
In what areas of your life or with what people are you struggling to show “gospel love?” Re-read the verses on love in this study and prayerfully meditate on God’s will for you.
“To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.
2 We always give thanks to God for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; 3 constantly keeping in mind your work of faith and labor of love and [a]perseverance of hope [b]in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father,4 knowing, brothers and sisters, beloved by God, His choice of you; 5 for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sakes. 6 You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word during great affliction with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 8 For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place the news of your faith toward God has gone out, so that we have no need to say anything. 9 For they themselves report about us [c]as to the kind of reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from [d]idols to serve [e]a living and true God, 10 and to wait for His Son from [f]heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is, Jesus who rescues us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 NASB).
One of the things that I find most attractive in this letter by Paul and his friends to this small group of believers is his genuine affection for them. His heartfelt sense of gratitude for their salvation and the resulting evidence of it on display for the world to see, elicits constant prayers to the Father in heaven on behalf of them. What a lesson for us already as we begin this study: our need to be diligent in prayer for those we shared the gospel with and thankfulness for the various evidences of it that we witness in their lives.
Throughout this study we must keep in the forefront of our minds one thing (not that there won’t be other things that will demand our focus along the way), and that is this: this is a relatively young church. Some Jews but mostly Gentiles are what makeup this newly forming congregation and they came out of of a city which became the capital of Macedonia, a Roman province. As such, the moral climate of the city left much to be desired. Immorality of all types was rampant, and up to this point in time, they did not know about God or His salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ. The standards and practices of their pagan society had to be “put off,” and God’s standards, moral and otherwise, had to be “put on.” Being new in the faith and with only a small amount of teaching and instruction from Paul (see background here 1 Thessalonians Historical Context), proved to be a problem for them in some regards, in light of what he taught them about the second coming of Christ (Take notice to Paul’s mention of the 2nd coming at the end of every chapter, specifically the end of chapter four and beginning of chapter five). It appears that they believed it could happen in their lifetime.
With that said, let’s dive in to our study!
Focus one: The gospel arrives (1:4-5)
Paul mentions in these verses that “our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.”
Obviously they spoke words to them, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17), but words of men, any men, are inadequate and powerless to save, without the power of the Holy Spirit working through them, opening up the minds and hearts of the hearers to understand and believe those words. “We cannot explain the operation of the Holy Spirit which charges a bare verbal cable with high-voltage spiritual power. But we can ask what are the constituents (components) of a good cable” (R.A. Ward commentary).
These men proved to be good “components” of that spiritual power. We see that evidenced with the words “full conviction.” One of the clear evidences that a person is genuinely saved and called of God to share His truth, is just that, full or deep conviction in who they are and the message they have to share! This isn’t simply because they profess it to be so, but rather, because “the Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Romans 8:16). This testimony forges a deep sense of personal assurance and persuasion of the truthfulness of the gospel in their own lives. But this is not just proven by what Paul say’s, it is also manifested in the behavior these men exhibited among them while they were with them (2:1-12).
Focus two: The gospel received (1:6,9)
Paul and Silvanus (Silas) brought the gospel to Thessalonica “through much suffering” and “despite great opposition” (2:2,3; Acts 16 and 17), and that is the same manner in which these folks received it! They had received it “in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit” (1:6), and in much suffering at the hands of their own countrymen (2:14). Paul says that their salvation was due to “His (God’s) choice of you” (1:4). By that Paul means that God is the one that takes the initiative in our salvation. Salvation is not a work of man nor is it by works of men, but is solely by His grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-9). (See GOSPEL).
How amazing is God’s salvation of sinners! “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.” (Ephesians 1:4)! These folks heard the gospel from Paul and Silas and the Holy Spirit supernaturally empowered those words to bring forth a repentant faith in the risen Lord. He “regenerated” their hearts and made them “new creations in Christ Jesus” (Titus 3:5; 2 Corinthians 5:17). In repentance they “turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God” (vs. 9), and as a result their lives were forever changed!
Focus three: The gospels affect
Let’s take a look at the changes in their lives as a direct result of the Spirit’s work within them. Instantly they became imitators of Paul, Silas, Timothy, as well as the Lord Himself and “the churches of God that are in Judea” (2:14). In what manner? In that just as they suffered for the sake of the gospel so are these new believers (1:6; 2:14). But despite the suffering they endured from their neighbors, they were said by others to be faithful witnesses (1:8) and godly examples (1:7) to all the believers and unbelievers in Macedonia and Achaia.
These folks were * “persecuted by the Jewish community that saw in the Christian gospel a threat to the very essence of Judaism,” and yet, they persevered with joy (1:6) and proclaimed the gospel by word and deed, so much so, that Paul’s testimony is that “the word of the Lord sounded or echoed forth. . . In every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything” (1:8). Instead of their faith being content solely with the fact that they had been saved, these Christians had a strong desire to live in obedience to their Lord and tell as many people as they could about their new faith in Christ and His mercy towards them. And as a result of their obedient faith their testimony went well ahead of them beyond their city into surrounding ones as well, proving to be a powerful catalyst for the gospel in those regions!
Their new found hope in Christ led them to live for Him daily as they waited for His return. Paul encouraged them to be “alert” and watchful for their Lord’s return (5:6), and with that hope before them they humbly, faithfully, and expectantly lived out the gospel for all to see!
For Further Thought:
Why was prayer such an important part of Paul’s life and ministry?
What are some positive things that come out of suffering for the gospel?
Name 5 ways in which Paul and Silas were positive examples to the Thessalonians. How can we apply these Examples in our own Lives?
In what three ways in verse 3 were the Thessalonians examples to Paul and Silas? How can we apply these examples in our own lives?
Are you living for Christ each day In hope and expectancy of His soon return?
What changes might have to be made in your own life to become a more Christ-like example to others?
*Evangelical commentary on the Bible, 1989, Pg 1074
“And for this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God’s message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (NASB).
The Open Air Campaigners have an evangelistic ministry that has at its core the burden of preaching the gospel to lost people anywhere and mobilizing the body of Christ to do the same. I had the pleasure of learning from these men, many years ago, the skills that were needed to do well in open air evangelism. Using a sketch-board, painting a gospel message, rope tricks and other illustrations; as well as spiritual discipline, faithful study of God’s word, earnest prayer, teamwork, and compassion for the lost. But there is one thing that I learned from them that has affected my gospel witness more than anything else, and that is this: God working through His word performs His will in those who hear and believe!
You and I cannot save anyone. Our flattering speeches, or supposed superiority with words; our perceived wisdom or persuasive rhetoric, never did and never will save anyone. God uses people to proclaim His word, this is true, but He uses weak people led by His Spirit, so that when He opens up minds and hearts to His truth’s, it will always be a demonstration of the working of His Holy Spirit and power (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)!
This truth should be encouraging and reassuring to God’s people. Just as the word of the Lord sounded forth from these believers in every place they went (1 Thessalonians 1:8), so too it should from us. You and I can faithfully share the gospel of God with others (vs 9), confident that He will do what He will in those peoples lives that have heard the truth from us. This means that you and I can share the gospel and then go home and sleep in peace. If people are to come to faith in Christ, such faith cannot rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God!
Larry Stump Jr.
Daily prayer: Help us O God, to trust in your Spirit and power in the salvation of the lost. Grant to us thy peace which surpasses all understanding as we pray and seek to win souls for Christ. Amen.