1 Thessalonians Chapter 4
(Vs. 1-2) “Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.”
Living a lifestyle separated to the LORD in this perverse and crooked generation isn’t easy and it is not going to get any easier either. As Satan sees his end coming he is pulling out all the stops to accelerate his attacks against the Body of the Messiah individually and corporately. His attacks are savage and brutal and they will come through manifold temptations, through difficulties that he is engineering within families, difficulties within local assemblies of believers, within the places of business and in the educational institutions and in every aspect of life for faithful believers who are desiring to please and to serve the LORD in this fallen depraved, and idolatrous world. Today millions upon millions of faithful New Covenant believers are being persecuted right now for their faith.
Paul had given the Thessalonian believers instructions on how they should seek to be living as aliens and strangers in the world. They were still walking in the way they had been instructed to walk in by Paul when he was with them imparting to them the unchanging Word of God. He wanted them to excel even more in their love for God and His commandments and to keep these commandments before their eyes given to Paul and his fellow workers by the authority of the Lord Jesus. Paul’s gospel was not a man-made gospel but one that came by the revelation of Jesus the Messiah. As he writes in his letter to the Galatians; “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus the Messiah” (Galatians 1:11-12).
As New Covenant believers we prove our love for the Lord Jesus by seeking moment by moment of every day by faith to keep His commandments by the power of the Holy Spirit and to do those things which are pleasing in God’s sight (John 14-15). A love for God, a love for the Lord Jesus, a love for the Holy Spirit, a love for the Word of God, a love for our brothers and sisters in the Messiah and a love for the unsaved and for the things God loves is expressed by the submission of our wills to Him, not our emotions which are changeable at the best of times. When we will to love God and seek Him to enable us to do what is pleasing in His sight the right kind of emotions will follow. Many times in the psalms we see David starting his psalm with the words; “I Will” Agape love is primarily an action of the will, not the emotions. Those who know they are walking in God’s will for their life, who are being guided by the Word of God and by the Holy Spirit and walking by faith under the power and protection of the blood of Jesus, have His inner peace deep down on the inside.
It can be likened to the bottom of the ocean where all is quiet and serene with a continuous rather gentile stirring within its depths regardless of conditions on the surface affected by the elements of the weather. On the surface the sea may be calm or tossed in a severe storm and this can be likened to our soul life, being our intellect, our emotions and our will which are affected by outward circumstances or physical, emotional and mental tiredness, or by spiritual attacks from the evil one. Our feelings and emotions are not a barometer for our spiritual standing with the LORD. After all we walk by faith and not by sight and we fix our eyes, not on those things seen, because what is seen in this physical world is temporal and changeable. However, we fix our eyes on the things of God’s kingdom not seen with our physical eyes but which are eternal and unchangeable. Paul knew this to be true in his own spiritual walk with the LORD. He writes; “For our light and momentary affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory that is far beyond comparison. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).
If anyone one had afflictions, temptations, physical ailments, beatings, rejection, chains, imprisonment, hostility from Jewish religious leaders and daily anxiety for all of the assemblies it was Paul. However, he considered them “light and momentary afflictions” knowing that through these they were producing that eternal weight of God’s glory which nothing in this world can compare with. The days are coming when this truth will become a reality for the global Body of Messiah when the beast kingdom of the man of sin unleashes its persecution against the Body of Messiah for three and a half years at the end of this present age (Daniel 7:25) (Revelation 13:5-8). In these days of Great Tribulation those things which are eternal and not seen will become a reality for those who are not attached to this world and to the things of this world which are physically seen. And so Paul continues…
(Vs. 3-8) “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honour, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.”
God’s will for every born again, blood justified, blood redeemed, blood washed, New Covenant believer to be sanctified. It is something that happens when one is spiritually reborn from above. It is a past action of God yet also a continuous spiritual process empowered by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:11) and one that has its ultimate consummation at the rapture and resurrection for those believers still living on earth when the Lord Jesus comes back. Paul also saw the possibility of being entirely sanctified in spirit, soul and body and that God could accomplish this even in this life, and that one so sanctified by God’s power could be kept blameless right up to the Second Coming of the Messiah. This was his desire for the Thessalonian believers (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
However, overall God’s Word teaches that sanctification is a continuous spiritual work that the Holy Spirit does in a believer’s life. The word salvation in the Greek text has three meanings. We were saved (justified). We are being saved (Sanctification). We will be saved (completely and fully redeemed out of this present evil age). It is one thing to be taken out of the world when we are saved. It is another thing to have the world taken out of us which does not happen overnight but requires a lifestyle of continuous sanctification. In God’s perspective we are already sanctified but in order for us to progress in the spiritual life we need the process of sanctification which only the blessed Holy Spirit can achieve (Romans 15:16) (1 Corinthians 6:11) (1 Peter 1:2) (2 Thessalonians 2:13).
More than any other sin sexual immorality has been the downfall of prophets, priests, kings, preachers, pastors and teachers from Genesis to Revelation. While God is not against sex and its enjoyment He has fixed a boundary line on it called marriage. Paul knew the power of the fleshly nature and the propensity for Godly men and women to misuse sex. The cults and religions and sects in both Testaments were infested with cultic prostitution, sodomy and bestiality and paedophilia all connected to the occult. These practices were not only confined to the sects and enclaves of the occult but also relentlessly pursued and practiced by many of the politicians in the Roman Senate including many of the Roman emperors.
In the time of Moses these wicked practices were an infestation in the land of Canaan that was the reason God told the Israelites to exterminate the Canaanites. When we read the Old Testament every kind of sexual deviation and perversion was openly practiced by those who did not belong to God’s chosen people the Israelites. Demonic principalities infested the whole land of Canaan. When the people of Israel fell into idolatry they also fell into sexual immorality related to the idols and the enclaves where those idols were worshipped. Scores of them ended up on the shelves in the homes of the Israelites and worshipped. In fact we are told in both Testaments that the worship of idols is the worship of demons (Deuteronomy 32:16-17) (Psalm 106:36-37) (1 Corinthians 10:20).
In the New Testament we also see idolatry and false cults directly connected to immorality and sexual perversion. When you look at the history of Christendom you have seen Popes with mistresses, nuns and priests indulging in unnatural sexual practices in the convents and priories, and multitudes of men and women once used by God who have fallen into immorality. Paul understood this sexual affliction that was a constant threat to the Body of the Messiah and writes about it, and in the end attests to the fact that it is only the Lord Jesus that can deliver anyone from the lusts of the flesh which include sexual immorality. With man this is impossible but with God all things are possible! (Romans 7:14-25) (Luke 18:26-27).
In 1 Corinthians 7:1-9 Paul puts things into perspective concerning matters related appropriately to sex for believers. The Bible is not against sex and its enjoyment but it is against its misuse. We live in an age now where all of us are bombarded with sexual images through magazines, movies, DVD’s and especially over the internet where images can be brought into our living rooms. Sexual addiction is in fact a form of idolatry as is any addiction whether it is drugs, alcohol or cigarettes, or money, wealth or fame, or anything else that becomes an addiction and enslaves us, because this is spiritually dangerous in that it takes the focus off of the LORD and puts the focus on pleasing ones fleshly nature which if not checked will lead to spiritual shipwreck.
As Paul writes to the assembly at Rome; “Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh; but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. The mind of the flesh is death, but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind of the flesh is hostile to God: It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Romans 8:5-7).
If ever we need the work of sanctification to be active in our daily lives it is in these times in which we live. We must cut off those images which we know will lead us into adultery of the heart. As godly Job said; “I have made a covenant (agreement) with my eyes; how then could I gaze [lustfully] at a virgin?” (Job 31:1). As the psalmist writes; “I will set no worthless thing before my eyes. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me” (Psalm 101:3). Cutting off those things which can lead us into sin will be to our fallen nature like the pain of cutting of one’s hand or plucking out one’s eye, however, we must do this by the power of the Holy Spirit and by the power of the blood of Jesus if we would make progress in our spiritual life in the Lord Jesus.
As the Lord Jesus Himself said; “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to depart into hell” (Matthew 5:29-30). This statement was never meant to be taken literally of course but to illustrate the importance of being severed from practicing sin. In fact while we will be tempted and that severely at times, and at times commit a sin, we have the blood of Jesus to cleanse us from it when we confess it for what it is, agree with what God says about it without excusing it and then go to that cleansing fountain of His redeeming atoning blood to be washed from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Added to this, the apostle John tells us; “But if anyone sins, we have one who advocates or speaks to the Father in our defence-Jesus the Messiah, the righteous one. He is the atoning sacrifice, the one who turns aside the wrath of God not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2).
A sanctified New Covenant believer will not be practicing a life of sin because God’s seed the Holy Spirit resides in them and has sealed them for the day of redemption, and that seed of God’s power keeps them from the power of the wicked one (1 John 3:5-10; 5:18-19). As John writes; “Greater is He in you than He that is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
So then Paul clearly instructs his fellow believers at Thessalonica to enjoy sexual relations with their respective wives or the wives with their respective husbands but to engage in it in such a way as to express love and not to fulfil ones lust. In engaging in love making with God’s love at the centre will satisfy both the man and his wife even when at times there will be difficulties experienced in the sex life. Of course what a husband and wife do in their bed is sacred. God’s Word tells us the marriage bed is undefiled and that those who defile it will be judged by God. As the author of Hebrews writes; “Marriage should be honoured by all and the marriage bed kept undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterers” (Hebrews 13:4).
Sexual relations between a husband and a wife can be erotic but the underlining power of it will be the love of God. A husband and wife need to find out what each other likes in the matter of sexual relations and seek to meet each other’s needs. In the Jewish tradition, there’s a saying that the Shekinah glory of God hovers over the marriage bed when a husband and wife sexually unite. The Shekinah glory represents the presence of God. It’s His indescribable beauty, bright light, or radiance. It’s a taste of heaven here on earth. The Shekinah is the Spirit of God; He is the very presence of God being the third person in the Tri-Unity of the God head.
To some, it might seem sacrilegious to think of sex and God in the same breath. However, it’s clear from scripture that not only does God think sex between a husband and wife is not dirty but He actually celebrates their lovemaking. Consider the scripture from the book of Song of Solomon 5:1. After Solomon and the Shulamite consummate their marriage the Lord speaks to them, “Eat friends; drink and imbibe deeply, O lovers.” While there is a deeper spiritual meaning behind the Song of Solomon related to the spiritual intimacy between the Messiah and His Body on earth we cannot dismiss the aspect of physical intimacy in the Song of Songs.
Also Paul solemnly warns us not to wrong a fellow brother or sister in the LORD in this area of sexuality especially if we might be having problems in the sexual area with our spouse. In such cases God’s love is necessary to be exercised and the strength of the Holy Spirit sought because this is not a licence or excuse to enter into another relationship. When there is a sexual dysfunction in the relationship between a husband and his wife both need to find a way to meet the others needs and the LORD will enable that couple to find a solution. His grace will always be on hand to bring that couple to a place of victory even if the problem is not completely rectified. In the end God knows what He is doing in our lives, and that the difficulties we are experiencing in any specific area of daily life will fortify our trust in Him so that in the end we might glorify and praise Him realising that it is always safe to trust the LORD! As Paul writes to the believers at Rome; “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
While God does not condemn sex in its Biblical context He does not favour a brother who deliberately courts another brother’s wife, or a wife that seeks to enter into another relationship with a man in the fellowship because she cannot work through the problems she may be having with her husband. The whole sexual area can be like nitro-glycerine in any fellowship and many fellowships have been blown apart and spiritually dismembered from their fellow assembly members by sexual sin. For example when the pastor runs off with a younger woman in his congregation, and this happens, or when a preacher ‘plays the field’ with young women in the fellowship, or the church organist enters into a sexual relationship with the choir leader because they felt ‘led.’ The sad ramifications in that assembly are enormous. In such situations many young believers have fallen away because their pastor or church leader became involved in sexual sin. God will never lead us into doing something that He has forbidden in His Word. His laws are made for our benefit and protection and for the welfare of those we associate with. Imagine if there was no law that said “You shall not commit adultery” then another man could run off with your wife and there would be no consequences or penalty for such an action.
We need to always keep in mind that just because one who is gifted and operates in the gifts of the Spirit does not mean he is living a holy life. God does not call any of us to impurity of any kind whether in word, thought or deed when it comes to sexual matters. We are saved from our sins not in them.
Impurity will always hinder the work of sanctification in a believer’s life. To continue to court impurity in any way or form whether in thought, word of outward action, is to reject the LORD and to grieve the Holy Spirit beyond measure. Now let’s continue…
(Vs.9-12) “Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.”
Agape love is the royal law of heaven. God is love and the source of all pure and true love and when the Body of the Messiah is together corporately His love should be the catalyst or springboard for all that is said and done in the local fellowship. Not only were the believers at Thessalonica walking in love but that faith working by love was spilling over towards all the assemblies in Macedonia (1:7-8). Paul also urges them to excel even more in exercising their love for one another because the danger for all of us as New Covenant believers in the Messiah our Lord Jesus is that even in our activity for the LORD as Biblically sound as it may be, we can lose our first love as the assembly at Ephesus did (Revelation 2:4).
Our Lord Jesus also told us that in the last days just before He returns that because of the increase of wickedness and abounding lawlessness that the love of most believers would grow cold and that only those who have endured to the end will be saved (Matthew 24:12-13). We also know that the final apostasy or falling away from the faith will pave the way for the man of sin (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4). Paul gave this fellowship practical advice concerning the right kind of ambition and inner attitude every believer should have.
“To lead a quiet life,” is “to study to be quiet or to strive earnestly and to make it one’s aim or goal” to live quietly and with all due diligence and honour in all matters pertaining to one’s spiritual and secular life. It is to avoid being boisterous and loud in word or deed. It is to stay at home or at your place of employment minding your own business and not to be a busy body. Of course we must always be able to give an answer to anyone who asks about the faith and the hope that lies within us that we have because it is always best to nail ones colours to the mast when it comes to identifying as a follower of the Lord Jesus. The unbelievers we work with will be watching how we walk as well as how we talk. Paul mentions that there were some in the fellowship who were indulging in idleness and busy bodies. In his second letter Paul writes about this as well (2 Thessalonians 3:11-12).
“…and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you; so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.” Every one of us has our own matters to attend to whether in the secular world or within our families or within the local Body of Messiah. While we are to take an interest in others, especially our fellow brothers and sisters in the Messiah, we must be careful not to meddle in things that do not concern us. Some people like to keep certain things private and if they decide not to share them we must respect their rights to do this. Sometimes ‘sharing’ with others about someone else is in reality gossip which has been called the Church going sin.
Also in business affairs there needs to be circumspection when dealing with others. Attending to one’s own business is to work with one’s own hands as if one is working for the LORD. As King Solomon wrote; “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). As the apostle Paul wrote to the assembly at Colossi; “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men,” (Colossians 3:23).
When this is being done there will be no room for grumbling, fault finding, being a busy body spring boarded by idleness and by meddling in someone else’s affairs when one is not invited! This was the command from the apostle Paul to be taken on board and actioned, not an option especially for a believer. In doing this outsiders who are unsaved will see how diligent believers are and it will be a good witness in itself and an appropriate action for the believer in the Messiah. Our Lord Jesus was a working man, “a tradie”. The apostle Paul often worked at his trade as a tent maker so as not to be a burden on the assemblies he visited in his missionary journeys even though he had a right to financial support scripturally, according to the Torah which was his Bible.
The subject of eschatology was an important part the message of the gospel of the kingdom preached by Paul, Silas and Timothy as it was by the other apostles Peter and John and the other writers of the New Testament. In his Second letter Paul writes a great deal about eschatology as there was some confusion caused by some writing claiming it was Paul writing them. Even in this his first letter there was some confusion about the rapture and resurrection connected to the Day of the Lord and the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus. Let’s now look at this…
(Vs.13 “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.”
When a New Covenant believer in the Messiah dies physically they fall asleep. In other words they physically die, their spirit goes to be with the LORD and their body lying in the ground will rise again. Believers in the Lord Jesus fall asleep whereas unbelievers die and their spirit, when it leaves their body, goes down into Hades to await the Great White Throne Judgement and ultimately the Lake of Fire. Those in the world who are unsaved grieve over the loss of their loved ones and grief is normal even for believers in the Messiah. However, when a saved believer in the Lord Jesus dies there is genuine sadness especially from loved ones, however, there is the hope of the resurrection at the Second Coming of the Messiah and that the loved one in the LORD who has fallen asleep is now with God in heaven and will be reunited with us. Those we love who die in the Lord are not dead but have just gone ahead of us and will meet us in the air if we are still alive on earth at the rapture and resurrection. The unbeliever has no assurance of this and their grief is endless. Hope in the Bible is not “I hope so” but a deep seated certainty that what God has promised He will make it happen! As we read in Proverbs; “Every word of God proves true; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him” (Proverbs 30:5). Now the issue is expanded on by Paul…
(Vs.14-15) “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we, who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.”
When the Lord Jesus returns to this earth at His Second Coming He will bring with Him the spirits of those in Him who have physically died or who fell asleep in Jesus. Those who belong to the Lord Jesus and are still physically alive on earth will be reunited with those who are coming in the clouds.
(Vs.16-18) “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in the Messiah will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”
When the Lord Jesus descends from heaven it will be with a great shout that everyone living on earth will hear and it will be accompanied with the loud blast of God’s trumpet announcing the arrival of the Messiah to establish His Messianic Kingdom. In the Book of revelation we read about this event when the seventh angel sounds his trumpet and loud voices are heard in heaven announcing to the whole world that “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our LORD and of His Messiah, and He will reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).
This corresponds with what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians; “Listen I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed (both those who have fallen asleep and those who are still alive) in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last (seventh) trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable and we will all be changed” (1 Corinthians 15: 51-52). Then in Matthew’s gospel we have the same event mentioned and once again the sound of the trumpet is mentioned and it is a clear reference to the rapture and resurrection which we are told occurs immediately after the tribulation of those days (Matthew 24:29-31).
Those who argue for a pre-tribulation rapture argue against the words of the Lord Jesus who clearly outlines the events that will lead up to His Second coming which will be seen by everyone (Matthew 24:27-28) (Revelation 1&7). Paul then clearly states that both those who have fallen asleep in Jesus along with those that are still alive on earth in Jesus will all be gathered together at once. The rapture and resurrection is the one and the same event and it will happen when the Lord Jesus returns at His Second Coming. After this the Body of Messiah will never be separated ever again from Him and this fact is the comfort that all of us in the Body of the Messiah should comfort each other with. This clear statement by Paul would have greatly encouraged the assembly at Thessalonica especially in view of the severe persecution they were experiencing at the hand so the religious Jews and from the secular authorities, not to mention the false rumours being spread by servants of Satan masquerading as servants of light. These men were jealous of Paul and his fellow workers because of the powerful ministry they were exhibiting among both the saved and the unsaved and that exposed these false religious leaders.
In his second letter Paul has to deal with eschatology in more detail as the believers in the assembly were still being confused to a degree about the events concerning the day of the Lord which included the coming of the man of sin, the apostasy and all kinds of counterfeit miracles signs and wonders done by occult power.
It is also interesting to note that the phrase “to meet” is the original Greek denotes an important dignitary travelling towards a certain city and the people of the city coming out to meet him to gather around him and then returning with him and accompanying him back into the city. Once again the idea of a pre-tribulation secret rapture was not taught by the apostles or believed by Christians before the middle to late 19th Century.
When put together you have the shout from heaven, the blast of the seventh and last trumpet, the rapture and resurrection of all of the saints of all of the ages caught up together at the same time and transformed physically to have immortal, indestructible, glorified bodies and to be gathered around Him in the air when He comes back to earth and to be with Him forever!