Scriptures

1 Thessalonians 4

Introduction

1 Thessalonians 4:1 “As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living.” NIV

After concluding their prayers for the Thessalonians which included Paul’s desire to see them again and that they be established blameless in their living, he now goes ahead to instruct them how to live a live which pleases God.

Notice that they are already doing this

‘as in fact you are’.

What a compliment this is, to this congregation who are already walking the talk, practicing what the apostles are preaching and being such a great example to many other churches even beyond the borders of Thessalonica. As we go through the second part of this letter, we will see that they are going to be encouraged to increase and abound in love so that they may be found blameless at the coming of the Lord Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 4:2 “Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.” NIV

Paul doesn’t just suggest but urges them how they should live a life which pleases God and twice he appeals to the Name of Jesus for his authority in doing so. He wants their service to God to be evermore increasing as he mentioned earlier in 1 Thessalonians 3:12 and he will urge them again later in 1 Thessalonians 4:10.

We always need to remember that the Christian walk never stands still, walking involves moving, hence why we are to abound more and more and increase our levels of service to God, especially in terms of living morally pure lives for God.

“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honourable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before.” 1 Thessalonians 4:3-6 NIV

Now there is absolutely no misunderstanding what God’s will is in this text. He wants all Christians to be sanctified which means simply put means to be set apart for God’s purpose. It’s important to understand that this is a process which doesn’t suddenly happen after we’ve been Christians for a while.

The sanctification process starts with God’s Word, Jesus says in John 17:17

“Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth”

And so it’s the very Word of God (Truth) which begins the setting apart process, when we allow His Word to change us. We’re also later going to be reminded that it is God who sanctifies our whole being. 1 Thessalonians 5:23. Read also 1 Peter 1:2.

But when we obey the Truth we see the real start of the sanctification process beginning at our baptism. 1 Corinthians 6:11 / Ephesians 5:26. But it’s important to understand that it doesn’t end there, this setting apart process continues throughout our Christian lives as Hebrews 2:11 and Hebrews 10:14 remind us. But when will our sanctification end? Well, as we will see later in this letter, it will be completed when Christ returns. 1 Thessalonians 5:23.

From the text, we can see that part of our sanctification involves some self-denial, in this case it’s sexual immorality. The Greek word used here for sexual immorality is the word porneia which is a general word used to describe anything which is unlawful and immoral such as sexual intercourse and immoral relationships. This would include pre-marital sex, extra-marital sex (adultery), and homosexuality, in other words any sexual activity outside a lawful, marital relationship between husband and wife.

As Christians, we are commanded to control our bodies in a completely different way from the world, Ephesians 4:17-19. The world loves pornography and the abusing of their own bodies and the bodies of others for sexual gratification but as Christians we are to be different. But how do we go about doing that? Simply by the renewing of our minds Romans 12:1+2 and being on our guard against the lust of the flesh as Romans 13:13+14 tells us.

It is sad that even in the religious world today, there are those who will take advantage of their own spiritual family members, even for sexual purposes, and so we can understand why we need practice self-denial and allow God’s Word to sanctify us every day of our lives. After all, if we have our mind set on heavenly things the less chance there will be of allowing the fleshly, earthly things to actually happen.

Remember we need to live godly lives and stay clear of these things because it’s God’s will and if that isn’t enough motivation to stay clear of sexual immorality then we need to read on.

“The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins.” 1 Thessalonians 4:6

Hebrews 13:4 also reminds us that “Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”

And so the Christian should stay clear of sexual immorality because it’s God’s will and the Christian knows that God will punish anyone who gets involved in such sin and one other way to help live a life which please God is to remember our calling.

“For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.” 1 Thessalonians 4:7-8 NIV

It’s worth noting at this point that sexual immorality is sinful in at least four ways. 1 Corinthians 6:18 tells us that it is a sin against our own bodies. 1 Thessalonians 4:6 tells us that it’s a sin against our fellow brothers or sister s in Christ. 1 Thessalonians 4:8 tells us that it is a sin against God and in the same verse the text tells us that it is a sin against the Holy Spirit.

And so, God has called us to holiness, (Jeremiah 7:8-18) not to live our lives trying to please our own fleshly desires, remember our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit according to 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 and we need to live up to that calling otherwise through our actions we can actually reject God and His calling for us as the text above implies. Take a moment to read Isaiah 59:1-2 to remind yourself that we cannot preach one way and walk in another way.

“Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more.” 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10 NIV

It seems pretty obvious to me that two of the most obvious characteristics of the early church were the way they strived to live in purity and holiness and also the way they loved one another. Can you imagine how the church would flourish today if all Christians strived to do the same?

Now remember Paul has just finished praying to the Lord that the Lord will increase their love for one another and for everyone 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 but here in chapter four we have seen that not only are the Christians in Thessalonica already living a life which pleases God 1 Thessalonians 4:1 but here in 1 Thessalonians 4:9+10 the writer also tells us that they are practicing love for one another and love for all of God’s family throughout Macedonia.

But notice that Paul once again urges them to love more and more. Did they take Paul’s words and put them into practice? They certainly did, take a moment to read 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4.

“And to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 NIV

Already here in chapter four Paul has urged and encouraged them to continue to live a life which pleases God, continue to love everyone as they have been doing so and now here in 1 Thessalonians 4:11+12 he is going to encourage them to be diligent with those ‘outsiders’.

It should be the ambition (Greek φιλοτιμέομαι ‘philotimeomai’) meaning to be found in honour, of all Christians to lead a quite life. Romans 12:18 / Romans 14:19 / Hebrews 12:14. But as we know this is not always the case, I personally find that as a Christian my life is usually very peaceful but it is others who come along and bring trouble into it, but nonetheless, we strive to live a peaceful life.

There was a woman who used to live in our street who knew everyone and everyone’s business; I guess she would be classed as a gossip and a ‘nosey-parker’ (someone who wants to know what everyone else is up to.) Now there is a big difference between wanting to know what’s going on in someone’s life just for the sake of knowing and wanting to know what’s going on in someone’s life because you genuinely care and want to help.

Here in our text the Thessalonian church are being told to mind their own business, the KJV says,

‘and to do your own business’

but what the writer is telling them is simply not to become busybodies, don’t interfere in the affairs of others.

Now as great as this church was, this is one area where they did have problems as we will see when we get to 2 Thessalonians 3:10-14.

Now this is a real problem which can have serious consequences, Peter in his first letter puts ‘busybodies’ or ‘meddlers’ in the same category as murderers and thieves. 1 Peter 4:15. And so, we shouldn’t be interfering in people’s lives for all the wrong reasons but we should be working with our own hands. What does the writer mean?

Simply put, he means that we should be working to provide for our own families as 1 Timothy 5:8 reminds us. It also means we should be working to help those who are less fortunate than ourselves. Ephesians 4:28 / Acts 20:34+35.

So why is it so important to lead a quite life and not to become busybodies but work with our own hands? The answer as always is in the text, in order for us to win the respect of those who aren’t Christians and so we can become independent.

“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-15 NIV

As we noted at the beginning of our studies of the Thessalonian letters, we see that Paul concludes every chapter with thoughts concerning the Lord’s return, and this chapter is no exception. In 1 Thessalonians 1 we saw that the Thessalonian church had turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and were waiting for His Son from Heaven. 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10. We saw in 1 Thessalonians 2 that the apostle’s hope, joy or crown was that the Thessalonians would be found in the presence of Jesus at His coming. 2 Thessalonians 2:19.

We also saw in 1 Thessalonians 3 that Paul’s desire for the Christians in Thessalonica was that they would abound in love one toward another, and that they would be found blameless in holiness before God at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints. 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13.

It seems that Paul had taught them about Jesus’ return while he was in Thessalonica but it also seems that there was some misunderstanding on the part of these Christians. So, in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 Paul will deal with the topic of the dead in Christ and the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

If you’re of an older age physically the chances are you’ve probably heard this text read out on several occasions especially during funeral services. And you will know that there is no escaping the fact that loosing someone you know and love is a very real and often traumatic time for those who are left behind. The sorrow is often overwhelming and the grief which follows is often hard to deal with and as someone once said, ‘it is probably one of the most stressful times, we humans have to go through.’

Yes, as Christians we need to go through these times too, but at the same time for Christians there is hope, hope in knowing where our loved ones have gone and that we will see them again and this in turn brings up great comfort. And this is what Paul is going to try explain to the saints in Thessalonica, that they can find comfort in knowing that Jesus will return one day and they will find comfort in the events which will surround His coming.

The Bible often talks about sleep which in Greek is the word κοιμάω koimao. This word is found 18 times within the New Testament, 4 of those times refer to literal sleep. Matthew 28:13 / Luke 22:45 / John 11:12 / Acts 12:16. The other 14 times including the passage above refers to those who are literally dead. And so here the apostle Paul is referring to those who have literally died in Christ, in other words faithful Christians. 1 Thessalonians 3:13.

The text tells us that God Himself will bring those who have died in Christ back when Jesus returns. And so we can find comfort in this and we can know it’s true because we know that Jesus Himself died and rose again from the dead. And notice also that this text implies that these saints are with Jesus now, since God says He will bring them with Jesus. We can see this thought clearer in 1 Thessalonians 5:10 / 2 Corinthians 5:8 / Philippians 1:21-23.

But it seems there were some Christians in Thessalonica who were worried about those who had already died in Christ would miss out on the blessings of Christ and Paul has to reassure them that this is not the case. He’s already told them that God will bring those who have fallen asleep in the Lord with Jesus when Jesus returns and he now tells them that by no means will those Christians who are still alive precede those Christians who are dead in Christ.

Paul’s point is simply this, those who are alive when Christ returns whenever that happens will have absolutely no advantage over those who have died in the Lord.

And he goes on to inform them that that they can have assurance about this because it is ‘by the word of the Lord’. This is the same word which lives and remains forever as 1 Peter 1:23-25 reminds us. This is the same word which foretold and brought about the great flood of the earth as 2 Peter 3:3-6 reminds us. This is the same word which tells us that Jesus will indeed return again one day as 2 Peter 3:7-13 reminds us. In other words if God says He is going to do something, He will.

“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 NIV

As Paul continues to clear up any misunderstanding about the Lord’s return, he now proceeds to discuss the processes which will take place when the Lord returns. He says when Jesus Himself returns there will be a loud command, the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God. Please take a mental note of this for the assignment at the end of this section.

Now notice that God is not sending a substitute or any kind of helper; it’s the Lord Himself who will be coming down from heaven. Revelation 1:7 says,

“Look, he is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”; and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen.”

Matthew 24:30 says,

“Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.”

The NIV uses the words ‘loud command’ other translations use the Greek word κέλευμα keleuma translated ‘shout’. This makes no difference as they both are telling us that this is a shout of command, the idea of a charioteer giving a command to his horses to go, or a shipmaster giving the orders to start rowing to the rowers, or someone who is charge of many soldiers and gives them the command to go. The point is there is a tone of authority behind the command.

With reference to voice of the archangel, we cannot be certain exactly who is this archangel is, it possibly could be Michael as this is how he is described in Jude 9 and Revelation 12:7, but along with voice comes the sound of the trumpet. Trumpets are used in various ways throughout Scripture.

We know that Moses was commanded to make tow for use in the tabernacle, Numbers 10:2 but later Solomon made much more for use in the temple, 2 Chronicles 5:12. We know that they were made of either silver or ram’s horns. Numbers 10:2 / Joshua 6:4, we also know that they were used as musical instruments in the Old Testament. 1 Chronicles 13:8. God also instructed them to be made and used for getting his people attention when it comes to making journeys from place to lace. Numbers 10:2 / Numbers 10:5+6.

We also see from Numbers 10:2+3+7 that they were used to call God’s people together. They were also used for blowing over the sacrifices on the feast day. Numbers 10:10 / Psalm 81:3. They were also to be used at all other religious processions and ceremonies. 1 Chronicles 13:8 / 1 Chronicles 15:24 / 1 Chronicles 15:28 / 2 Chronicles 5:31 / 2 Chronicles 15:14.

Trumpets were used to assemble God’s people in times of war, Judges 3:27 and were used when they went into battle to help God’s people remember the Lord, Numbers 10:9 / Numbers 31:6+7. They were also used when the people proclaimed a king, 2 Kings 9:13 /2 Kings 11:14. They were also used as alarms in times of danger, Ezekiel 33:2-6.

Now I’m going to stop here as I don’t want you to get distracted from our main text, if you want to find out other things for which trumpets were used please feel free, but for moment I thinks it worthwhile just quoting two other verses from 1 Corinthians 15:51-52

“Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”

Notice that it’s after the loud command, voice of the archangel and the trumpet sound of the Lord that the dead in Christ shall rise first.

And so not only will the Lord’s return be very audible, we see that the dead in Christ will rise first, which is obvious as they will come with Jesus when He returns but it’s important to say that it will be their ‘souls’ which will be coming with Jesus as implied in 1 Thessalonians 4:14 but their ‘bodies’ will be raised from the grave as implied in 1 Thessalonians 4:16. And so this will happen first, so we who are alive will not precede those who are dead.

Next, we see what will happen to those who are still alive when Christ returns. Paul says that those who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds. Paul explains this more in 1 Corinthians 15:51-58 where he tells us that those who are still alive will be transformed, and their bodies will put on immortality and their bodies will become incorruptible. And it’s that this same point in time when the righteous living will join the righteous dead together in the clouds. 1 Thessalonians 4:17.

Notice also that there is no mention of Jesus literally touching the Earth with His feet when He returns as some people believe, but we will meet with him in the air. 2 Peter 3:7-11. And I don’t know about you but I just can’t wait to be with the Lord forever as Paul says here and as Jesus promised us in John 14:3.

What an amazing scene this is and how difficult it is to even to begin to try and imagine what this day is going to like. But what a day it will be, or as the song writer Eliza E. Hewitt, writes,

‘Sing the wondrous love of Jesus, Sing His mercy and His grace.

In the mansions bright and blessèd He’ll prepare for us a place.

Refrain

When we all get to Heaven, What a day of rejoicing that will be!

When we all see Jesus, We’ll sing and shout the victory!’

“Therefore encourage one another with these words.” 1 Thessalonians 4:18 NIV

Now remember despite the NIV using the word ‘encourage’ these words are all about comforting the saints who remain alive in Thessalonica and who were concerned about those who were already dead in Christ. Yes when Christians pass on to be with the Lord it can be and is very painful but it can be even more painful if that person isn’t a Christian and dies without any hope.

Paul says encourage each other with these words, which is something he also reminds all Christians to do in Romans 12:15 / 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 / 1 Thessalonians 5:10-11.

Now as we enter 1 Thessalonians 5 we will see once again that Paul isn’t finished talking about the Lord’s return but for the moment he wants them to understand that losing a loved one is very sorrowful but not so much for Christians who have passed on.

He reminds them that those who have already died in Christ will not lose out in any blessings when the Lord returns and he talked them through the process which will take place when the Lord returns and finally he reminds them of the purpose of all his words in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, to comfort them, 1 Thessalonians 4:18.

Now I don’t know about you but this doesn’t sound like the second coming that so many religious groups believe these days and so a short assignment might be very useful for you at this point on this topic.

Go to 1 Thessalonians 5

 

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

John 1:1

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