Today: [1 Thessalonians 4:] Controversy, Intrusion, and Hope! In chapter 4 of Thessalonians Paul unapologetically intrudes into the personal lives of the believers in Thessalonians. He also addresses very controversial subjects not as salacious topics meant to titillate his readers but instead calling them to a hope beyond themselves of a coming cataclysmic confrontation between the forces of light and the domain of darkness.
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[1Th 4:1-18 KJV] 1 Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort [you] by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, [so] ye would abound more and more. 2 For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, [even] your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: 4 That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor; 5 Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God: 6 That no [man] go beyond and defraud his brother in [any] matter: because that the Lord [is] the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified. 7 For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. 8 He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his Holy Spirit. 9 But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another. 10 And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia: but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more; 11 And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you; 12 That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and [that] ye may have lack of nothing. 13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive [and] remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. 16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17 Then we which are alive [and] remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
Chapter 4 opens with Paul urging the believers in Thessalonica to maintain commitment to the newfound faith without wavering. He reminds them of the example set by himself and his fellow workers when they were with briefly with them before being driven from the city by unbelieving Jews. He speaks of the commandments of Jesus that he communicated with them, and that brings up the question where did he draw these teachings from? The New Testament did not exist at that time so what texts if any other than the Old Testament did Paul preach? We get some indication from Gal. 1:12:
[Gal 1:11-12 KJV] 11 But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. 12 For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught [it], but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Does God give direct revelation to men today? This is a very uncomfortable question because it brings up the issue of a closed canon and whether or not apostles exist in the modern day. If they do not, then we have to agree with the dispensationalists that the dealings of God in the apostolic age are far different than the dealings of God in our time. We then have to ask ourselves what do we do with Heb. 13:8 that declares that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever? The reason for bringing this up is not to add some modern text to the sacred writing but to draw the line between church tradition and accepted beliefs and what the Bible actually says. How would we have gotten along in the days that the New Testament did not exist and all we had was the testimonies of men such as Paul and the apostles of Jesus extant in his day?
Paul’s doctrine was also quite intrusive into people’s personal lives. In v. three he imposes apostolic edict upon their privacy, specifically their sex lives. Paul said these things because he was aware they needed to be said which means he was putting his attention as a single man upon very delicate areas of the lives of his followers. Is your sex life anyone’s business, apostle or no? 1 Thess. 4:3 would suggest that it is. Paul goes on to state (v. 4) that every person’s physicality is a vessel reserved for the sanctity of God and should be regarded and related to in what he terms sanctification and honor and not in concupiscence which is an obscure word meaning inordinate or impermissible sexual longing.
This isn’t something Paul touches on and then moves on in his remarks. In v. six he cautions the Thessalonians that their transgression in sexual matters put them in danger of defrauding their brother and sisters which again might bring the question what business is that part of our lives to our brothers and sisters in Christ. In our culture, we erect walls of alleged privacy and individualism that denies all social and personal responsibility. We are taught we can dress as we wish, conduct ourselves as we want to and if someone doesn’t like it they are the offenders and not we ourselves. Paul completely ignores issues of self-determination, charging right in upon very private matters (v. 7) saying we are not called to uncleanness but to holiness. What does that tell you? Certain believers in the church at Thessalonica believed they were CALLED or disposed by nature to conduct themselves in ways that Paul invasively calls transgression and iniquity before God. He concludes his remarks by acknowledging in saying these things (v. 8) he will be despised by many and declares if so those objecting are not despising man but God thereby making plain that as far as he is concerned, he is speaking for God and not merely for himself or his own reservations.
He goes on in v. 9 to speak of the fraternity, or brother love of the believers toward one another. They truly had a reputation of treating one another like family. Do we treat one another in Christian culture like family? Because Christianity is based upon belief systems and not the apostles and prophets with Jesus Christ being the chief cornerstone we really don’t regard one another as a family. If a family member offends us sooner or later, we work it out because we are family. If a church member offends we make our exit or exclude that person from our lives and never look back. The quality of brotherly love and mutual commitment between brothers and sisters referenced to in Paul’s writing is virtually non-existent today to our discredit as believers. Paul doesn’t caution them about being so close to one another but in fact (v. 10) encourages them to press in to even more committed connection to one another.
In verse 11 Paul deals with the recalcitrant and busybodies saying that all believers as to study to be quiet and to do their own business. He also charges them to work with their own hands that they might (v. 12) walk honestly toward them that are without that they might have lack of nothing. Are you lacking Paul is asking? Then get a job. Do you have a job? Find a better one or take on another job or a business enterprise. Make it your responsibility to solve your own lack and not merely live off the largess of others just because they are generous. Why is he saying this? Because there was no state welfare in that day. The church took care of many. They saw it as their mandate to care for the poor and as a result constantly had to deal with those who came into the number for the personal gain to be had without taking responsibility for themselves.
Now (v. 13) Paul turns to matters that are controversial in the extreme right down to our day. Concerning those who have died where are they and what is their state? He says that as Christians we are not to sorrow over the dead as though they are without hope. That tells us that there were teachings in their midst that claimed that death was death and that there was no afterlife. They were taught once a person was dead they would never be seen again in this life and that the afterlife was a myth. Paul declares in opposition to this that those who believe in Jesus are not without hope regarding our departed loved ones or our own mortality. He speaks of death not in terms of finality but as though it was merely sleep from which one day all in Christ will awaken.
Not only will we awaken (v. 14) but we will be involved in something that he describes as God bringing not just to heaven but back to earth. He makes this very plain that he is not guessing but speaking by the word of the Lord that one day we who are alive on the earth will witness the return of Jesus with the resurrected righteousness dead.
As if in answer to an anticipated question of those reading his letter (v. 16) he says in effect, yes the Lord himself (in bodily form) will at some point descend from heaven with a shout, attended by archangels to bring to life the dead in Christ and further to catch up alive those who remain on the earth in their mortality. We will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. This is an astounding statement. The only comparative these saints would have to consider this would be the word of mouth accounts among them of the ascension of Jesus Christ and the enunciation of the angel that as Jesus departed bodily from them so one day he would so return.
The chapter concludes with an appeal for us to comfort one another with these words. It doesn’t say come out swinging and argue over these things. We are not to get into doctrinal wrangling about what this will be like or even if it will happen. Neither is it acceptable to take a coquettish attitude as though to sneer at such things or rolling our eyes to claim what will be will be, it will all pan out. Satan has with complete effectiveness repudiated this truth in the hearts and minds of a majority of God’s people today. We must in our own lives reclaim this hope. Being a believer is far more than just living lives enhanced by a profession of Christ while we go on our way as if nothing will ever change. The heart of God is that we look for and anticipate the physical, personal return of Jesus to the earth to set up his government over the affairs of men worldwide for a thousand years. This is the plain and unambiguous teaching of scripture to which the only appropriate reply in our heart should be “even so, come Lord Jesus!”
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