Monday

11 December 2017

1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

“As you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God (as, in fact, you are doing), you should do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification.” (vv. 1-3)

Psalm: Psalm 135:1-7


Background

Paul writes his first letter to the church at Thessalonica from the house of Aquila and Priscilla in Corinth at the beginning of the year 51. (It is the oldest writing in the New Testament.) He writes to the church as a whole: a new church that has smuggled him out of the city because of opposition from the synagogue (Acts 17:1-10). A few weeks later, Timothy, left behind in the region (Acts 17:14-15), returns to bring Paul news of the church (Acts 18:1-5; 1 Thessalonians 3:6). So Paul writes this letter to them in response to the news Timothy has brought. In a sense, after the first three chapters of greeting Paul is writing, "And now, as I was saying, before I was so rudely interrupted …" So what is the most important thing he wants them to know? Simply this: they must live a life of holiness. Paul's instructions seek to address "what is lacking in [their] faith" (1 Thessalonians 3:10).

The people of the church at Thessalonica heard the message that Paul, Silvanus and Timothy have brought to them. They believed the message and became Christians. Paul tells them (verse 1) that during his short time among them (possibly three months) they learned something of the transformation of one's life that should follow the profession of faith in Jesus, and how they should wait expectantly for Jesus to return (1 Thessalonians 1:10). This message is from Jesus himself (1 Thessalonians 2:13-14; see also verse 2). God's will is their sanctification: to make them holy.

They, therefore, need firstly to avoid the sexual sin which was considered normal in Roman and Greek society (verses 3-5). (The original Greek words in verse 4 mean literally that each one needs 'to possess his or her own vessel', hence to control our own bodies.) They need also to avoid the exploitation (including sexual exploitation) of others (verse 6). The Lord Jesus will come to avenge these things under God's authority, though God also gives the Holy Spirit to help them (verses 6-8).

They secondly need to grow in love for fellow Christians, their 'brothers and sisters' - though they should not need a letter to tell them this, as they have been taught this by God (as in Jeremiah 31:33-34). Love for fellow Christians means that all should play their part (verses 11-12; see also 1 Thessalonians 5:14).


To Ponder

  • As these notes were being written, several prominent actors, celebrities and politicians were being revealed as having exploited others, especially sexually. Is what is 'normal' in today's western society changing? And if so, what does this say about how 'normal' should Christians be?
  • "You cannot keep birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair" (Martin Luther). How helpful do you find this idea in your own quest to 'control your own body in holiness and honour'?
  • "Be dependent on no one" (v. 12). Should Christians fundraise for the church? Why, or why not?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Neil Cockling

Neil spent 20 years as a circuit minister before becoming the District Development Enabler for the Newcastle upon Tyne Methodist District. He now works full-time for the NHS as a Consultant Lead Chaplain in mental health, leading a multi-faith team of 14 chaplains working in 10 hospitals in Northumberland and Tyne & Wear.