1 Thessalonians 2Jim Courson, October 15, 2017
…you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us
from the wrath to come .
Warren Wiersbe, a solid Bible teaching pastor from a generation past, tells the story of when he was a young man preaching on the last days with all the events of prophecy clearly laid out, and presented with a very clear plan. At the end of one such sermon an older fellow came up to him and quietly said to him, “I used to have the Lord’s return planned out to the very last detail, but years ago I moved from the planning committee to the welcoming committee.” Wow,what a great perspective and style of life for the believer!
Knowing the signs of the Lord’s return is of tremendous value to the believer. Yet even more important is the desire to welcome and to be with Him. Knowing His soon return ought to have profound effect in the way we live. Foremost if we do not know Jesus as our Savior then it should motivate us to be ready for eternity, as time is short!
Related to the shortness of time, it ought to motivate we who are believers to share the gospel… the good news that we uniquely have to share as “ambassadors for Christ.” Paul implores us to do just that (see II Cor. 5:21).
Thirdly, a correct understanding of the Rapture ought to produce a life of holiness and purity. A focused awareness can powerfully motivate our desires to living a pure life. I John 3:2-3 addresses that,
“…we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”
To Titus Paul writes,
“…denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Comfort… particularly this week in our country, is on the minds of many. Did you know the Rapture is actually a subject of great comfort for those who are hurting? The last verse of chapter four in this first letter to the Thessalonians, is closed by these words, “therefore comfort one another with these words.” What words? Read the preceding several verses of I Thess. 4!
Finally consider the admonition of Paul in I Corinthians 15:58 that we as believers are to be “steadfast, immovable, and always abounding in the work of the Lord.” This is clearly attached in the knowledge that Christ will someday soon receive us to Himself. The realization that Christ could return at any moment is to make us energetic, and delighted about serving our Lord.
It is interesting that the first two questions Saul, who would become Paul, asked on the road to Damascus were “Who are you, Lord?” and “What shall I do, Lord?” (Acts 22:8). Many believers never do move past the first of these two questions. As one pastor comments “Many believers in Christ are spiritually unemployed!”
If the soon return of the Lord is a reality to us, it will motivate us to work faithfully for our Lord. May the Lord find us serving with vigor with brightly burning lamps (see Luke 12:35).
…as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake.
And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit (I Thess. 1:5-6).
What kind of man was Paul? In I Cor. 11:1 he exhorts the people of Corinth to “imitate me…” wow! Immediate thought mind tend toward overconfidence; perhaps even proudly so.
But we must read the full statement. “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” Ah, the later changes everything. Paul is describing that his identity is absolutely bound up with Christ Jesus.
He was a man of Christ and therefore the gospel of Christ. This gospel was the center of his life. He was a man, not focused on the kingdom of the Roman Empire, nor on the Caesar of the empire, nor of the fabulous and very daily advantages and pleasures of the culture for an esteemed citizen of the empire. No, quite the contrary. Paul was a man who followed another king, not Caesar. He was a man who was not of this world. He was not after satisfying his own passions or the lust of personal pleasure. He did not attempt to win the approval of the community surrounding him. Paul’s hope was his approval of Christ. His teaching reflected that the only long lasting, eternal hope was that found solely and wonderfully in Christ.
Paul’s life reflected such truth without contradiction. His life was bound up with Christ. He lived in such a way that reflected the reality of another world. That is the kind of man Paul proved to be among them. He glorified God by witnessing to the reality of the kingdom of God in the face of the very power of the Roman Empire and its domination of the surrounding cultures. His life was bound up with Christ.
And what happened to many of the people in Paul’s presence? They became imitators of Paul and of the Lord. It wasn’t easy. Remember the backdrop of the church in Thessalonica is found in Acts 17. Some of the descriptive words towards the believers in that city who chose to follow Paul—“evil men”, “mob”, “attacking”, “dragged.” No wonder Paul would write “having received the word with much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit.” The Thessalonians, to use New Testament language, “took up their cross.”
This is what it means to be a Christian. You die to yourself and the old way of life in order to live in a way in which your hope is in Christ who transcends the struggles of this world. You look well beyond satisfying your own desires. The one who sincerely calls Jesus “Lord,” lives life intending to submit to Him.
Consider the above verse and the reality of the words “affliction” and “joy” in the same sentence. This is not the language of one living an earth-centered-life. This kind of language makes no sense if your hope is based on the promises of this world. Paul is commenting on a joy beyond words, found in the gospel. One which daily chooses to be lived with submission to the Holy Spirit and God’s Word. It is a joy which comes from a confidence in the forgiveness of sin solely by the Cross of Christ. It is a joy that knows it is God who will make all things right one day.
That day is soon… Heaven is soon and time is short… we’ve been forgiven of sin. That is good news!
Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.
Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place— unless you repent.
The “frog-in-the-pot” parable you likely know— the illustration in which a frog is placed into a pot of lukewarm water and with a slow increase in temperature to boiling and tragically the undiscerning frog is boiled to death. Many churches today are in a similar danger. Subtle changes have occurred and increased to a dangerous point. Some contributors to a watered-down church is the emphasis on a seeker-sensitive approach to grow a church, aggressive Calvinism, Replacement theology, the Contemplative movement, kingdom dominionism, Hebrew Roots, the Emerging Church or “Jesus and…” movements.
Those often most likely to sense this are foreign missionaries returning to their home church after years away. Coming home to a church with familiar location and faces, yet a diminished appreciation and emphasis on Jesus as Lord and Savior. No longer living in ways submitted to Scripture, nor in anticipation of His soon return and a diminished view of the reality of Heaven, or Hell.
The church of Ephesus as seen in Revelation 2:1-7 was very much a church which had forgotten Jesus. They had drifted. Jesus himself addresses this church. Their error was to “have left (their) first love.” Lovingly he exhorts them to remember, repent, and do. They were a strong church in many good things— causes and works to help, great patience and tolerance, hatred of evil, truth seeking, and all of these tirelessly. It was just that they forgot and moved Jesus to the back-burner. The departure from one’s love of Jesus, no matter how slight… no matter if couched with a lot of good activity, without the love of Christ as the primary, it is still a departure. He warns them to get right again… love Him with all their heart or else He would “remove the lampstand.” Such removal would result in their no longer reflection of Jesus, who is the “true light.” Such a slide is dangerous, often resulting in a “falling away,” (II Thess. 2:3 & I Tim.4:1).
Dear church family… I can’t remind you enough to keep Jesus as your first love, spend your life to use in ways that acknowledge His love for you as demonstrated by His going to the cross for you. And then responding in holiness and keeping His commandments because of such a great love. Be careful of subtle departure. Hebrews 2:1 warns us of “drifting away.” A drift is not traumatic or quickly noticeable, in fact it can even be smoothly comfortable. The scary part of drifting is its subtlety.
Has that happened? If you are currently drifting simply do what Jesus dictates—remember, repent and do the first works, return to your first love, appreciate your salvation by His sacrifice alone, worship God and love His people, word and ways…
Nothing can separate you from His love!
…we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in
the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.
Therefore, comfort one another with these words.
I Thessalonians 4:17-18
From Acts 17, we learn Paul and his companions were only in Thessalonica for a short three weeks. They were forced to leave because of all the trouble going on there. In that brief time they founded a church and departed leaving it well taught, healthy, and vibrant. The first letter to the Thessalonians was penned by Paul from Corinth, because of his love and concern for the church there. It was quite likely the first writing of such letters we have in the New Testament.
First Thessalonians contains profound teachings on the gospel, lays out methodology for ministry, and useful counsel for the life of the believer. Yet its most distinguishing trait is the constant reminder of the very real and soon Rapture of the church.
Paul instilled into the minds of the Thessalonian believers that the return of Christ could come at any moment. These believers were exhorted by Paul, as we also are, to live with the soon return of Christ in constant mind. I remind you, Paul was only in their presence for three weeks. Many today, and I write of Christians, unfortunately believe that teaching eschatology (the study of end-times), is too confusing and complicated for both young and even mature Christian.
Paul certainly did not feel that way, he would bristle at such a discouraging thought. He included solid teaching on the very subject in his short three weeks with this new and young church. Why? When we live with the expectation of the soon return of the Lord it is both a tremendous comfort and powerful motivation for us to live our lives with the perspective and priorities which bless us and our God. How do I know this? The Bible says so!
Today it is not unusual, even in the church, to hear one say with a snicker—“Yes, I’ve heard it before, the Lord is coming soon… but I don’t buy it… it’s been two thousand years.” Peter addresses that very attitude—from I Peter 3:3-5 … scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts saying, “Where is the promise of His coming… all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” They willfully forget…
Resist those who might entice you to “willfully forget” the joy of living with an eye toward the Lord’s coming…soon! I encourage you to live your life with the wonderful expectation and anticipation of the soon coming of the Lord…it will do your soul well!