Category Archives: 1 Thessalonians
Welcome to the end of another book of the Bible! 1 Thessalonians 5 brings us a variety of almost Proverbs, and one of them stood out to me as particularly important for our world of radical skepticism.
1Th 5:21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
Skepticism is not a bad thing. We should prove all things. We should explore ideas, and we should be willing to discover what is true. The problem is when that skepticism becomes an absolute commitment. The problem is when we refuse to hold on to anything because we want to maintain our radical skepticism.
Scripture advises implicitly here that there is such a thing as truth. Truth is not simply a concept; there are objective things that are true in the world. For example, when we see someone like Adolf Hitler, there is no doubt that he committed many crimes that were objectively evil. I know that is the obvious and most extreme example, but it is very hard to sustain a belief in moral subjectivity absolutely.
Therefore, if morality is objective, then there are things that are good, and there are things that are not good. That is where this advice from Paul comes into play. When things are good, we are to hold on to them. We do not remain skeptical of them. Why would we? If they turn out to be good, then that is what we are to live by.
As Christians, we certainly don’t need to be afraid of critical thinking. We certainly don’t need to be afraid of hard questions. Our excellent intellectual tradition within Christendom developed out of many people asking many difficult questions. Yes, it might be more comfortable to suppress questions and simply circle the wagons, but that’s not what it seems that we are being encouraged to do. Rather, we need to make sure that we do our homework, prove what is true and hold on to that which is good. If it is good, then it is of God.
As is typical with the writing of Paul, as we are nearing the end of 1 Thessalonians, he begins talking about some general life advice that the people ought to follow in chapter 4. I really like the way that he summarizes his advice.
1Th 4:7 For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.
If we are followers of Christ, then we have been called by Him. However, when someone calls, then we are theoretically going to be moving somewhere else. After all, if I am in one room and you call me from another room, you are calling me to the other room. You want me to make a change in my location to come and talk to you.
Therefore, God is asking us to make a change. He is calling us to a holy place. He is calling us into a place where we conform to Jesus. We are not being called to a place of greed, envy, hatred or evil. Rather, we are being called to holiness.
Clearly, we don’t always listen to the call. Just as I don’t need to respond to you when you call me from the other room, we can ignore what God wants us to do. Think about Jonah. He got on the boat and went in the opposite direction. This is the problem of sin. We violate the law of God, and we do what we want rather than what God has explicitly said we need to do.
I guess that is a challenge for all of us. If we are followers of Jesus Christ, we have been called. We need to respond to that call and go where the call is leading us. Paul tells us here that the destination is going to be holiness. Let’s keep working for that.
Paul was a realistic man. He understood that the church in Thessalonica had undergone persecution, and in 1 Thessalonians 3, he expresses his concern that perhaps some of them had fallen away because of that.
1Th 3:4 For verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass, and ye know.
1Th 3:5 For this cause, when I could no longer forbear, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter have tempted you, and our labour be in vain.
1Th 3:6 But now when Timotheus came from you unto us, and brought us good tidings of your faith and charity, and that ye have good remembrance of us always, desiring greatly to see us, as we also to see you:
Vigilance is important. I do think that part of the Christian mission is to support the community, and when we go through difficult times, we need to make sure that we provide comfort and encouragement for each other.
Paul saw what was happening in Thessalonica. He knew that circumstances can cause people to doubt. We see it happen all the time, and Paul did not want that to happen. As a result, he sent a message to evaluate how well they were doing. If there was a problem, he wanted to address it.
I know that many of us are not necessarily great with words. Maybe we feel intimidated about comforting people because we don’t necessarily know what to say. However, it seems to be part of what Paul did for this church, and it therefore seems to be something that might be good for us to do. Maybe we don’t exactly know what to say when someone needs support, but if we remember that God is with us and that we do have an obligation to our Christian community to be supportive where we are able to, then maybe when that persecution does come, we will remain strong rather than fade away.
How do we reach other people with the gospel? How are we able to find that connection? In 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul makes a really good point about how he gained credibility among the people of Thessalonica.
1Th 2:9 For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.
1Th 2:10 Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe:
1Th 2:11 As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children,
1Th 2:12 That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.
They specifically did not want to be a burden to the people, so they made sure to work and essentially earn their keep. They didn’t want to look like conmen trying to benefit off of other people’s generosity. Rather, they wanted the focus to be on the message. They wanted the people to hear the Gospel.
I think about that for you and me since we probably are not traveling missionaries. How does this passage apply to us? We need to care about people. I don’t know that anyone wants to listen to anyone who doesn’t care about them. If Paul had not been willing to prove that he cared about the people and was only there to take advantage of the people of Thessalonica, then I don’t think that anyone would’ve listened.
If somebody has statistics, I would be very interested to see them, but I believe that most people are brought to Jesus by someone they have a close relationship with. I am sure that revival meetings and things like that have their place, and I know that they are effective for many people, but I still think that the true power comes from God working through a personal relationship.
In 1 Thessalonians, it is interesting to see the almost viral nature of early Christian belief. People were sharing that rapidly, and that of course begs the question as to why.
1Th 1:5 For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.
1Th 1:6 And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost:
1Th 1:7 So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.
1Th 1:8 For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing.
It seems to be the case that these people were motivated by the Holy Spirit. They were acting on those convictions, and God was providing the increase. The people in Thessalonica were examples to other people, and those people were excited about what was going on.
I wonder then if that is the wraps that we should be taking in our society today. We are not nearly the minority status that the early church was or face similar persecution, but there are undoubtedly a set of cultural pressures that seem to be similar.
These people were living as examples that others wanted to follow. They were living lives that displayed the evidence of the Holy Spirit, and people wanted to live like that.
Clearly, outreach is a vital mission of the church, but we want to make sure that we remain strong at home. The Christian life is by nature attractive. Following the will of God is the best way to live, so if we do that, people will notice. If the two most important commandments are loving God and loving other people, then it seems to me that a life characterized by those two things will draw people and make them want to be a part of it.
It seems like that was what was happening here in 1 Thessalonians. The Holy Spirit is working, people were living attractive lives, and the Word was spreading. It must of been a very powerful testimony.