September is upon us, which indicates a change of seasons.
- School is in full swing (BTW, we missed many for our school prayer walk)
- Pumpkins are arriving. (Stop by to volunteer or purchase)
- Weather is slowly cooling and daylight savings will end Nov 7.
- Soon enough will be Thanksgiving, and as I write today (Thursday), we are 100 days from Christmas.
Many people love the changing of seasons, not just to enjoy the colors, the flavors, and the celebration of special days, but because it represents opportunity for fresh starts. Like chapters in a story book, life can go in many different directions. As Christians, we long for God to close the chapter of this world that is often hard to experience and endure. We long for God to write a new chapter with His glorious return and redemptive conclusion.
EXAMINE Gospel Unity. Missional Urgency. 1 Thessalonians 5:1-28
The apostle Paul wrote the Thessalonian church about their aspired change for seasons and the Lord’s return. In the Christian church, there were people who had questions about the return of Christ that Paul sought to educate and encourage (cf 1 Thes 4:13-18). Additionally, there was a movement of Christians that were becoming overly critical of the world and seeking to unhealthily withdraw from it. Indeed, Christians are to be in the world but not of it – to separate in morals and values (cf 1 Thes 4:1-8). Yet, some Christians who receive the blessings of God become puffed up with pride and fail to give the grace that God has generously to them. These sorts of Christians are cold and critical of others. They are quick to point out problems and faults and slow to offer help or solutions. Paul warns against these types of Christians by calling them to “live quietly, mind your own affairs, and work hard” (1 Thess 4:11). Paul rebukes those who are idle busybodies and withholding serving others in good deeds (2 Thes 3:11-15). Some could make the same observations today about a movement within the church who are complacent in their spiritual devotion, misguided in their theological understanding, and dispassionate about their duties that will matter in eternity.
This is some of the intention behind our series “Gospel Unity & Missional Urgency.” As Christians, our hope is in heaven, but our hands and feet are on earth. We must work while it is day, and we must be faithful stewards of all the resources (time, talent, and treasure) that God has provided us. Life is too short, Heaven is too real, Hell is too hot, and eternity is too long for every Christian to not be actively engaged in God’s mission. Sadly, many Christians are not even aware of Jesus’s Great Commission.
Today’s text will help motivate us toward God’s mission as well as prepare our local church for present decisions within our ministry structures. In 1 Thessalonians 5 we will identify two principles for the Christian life.
#1 Christians must prepare for the end (5:1-11).
Paul writes about the “day of the Lord” frequently. He fully intends to associate it with the OT phrase, which represents a time of divine judgment against God’s opponents (Isa 13:6-8; Am 5:18-20; Ob 1:15; Joel 1:15; 2:1; Zep 1:14-16) and deliverance of God’s people (Joel 2:31-32; Zec 14). Further, Paul fully intends to align his message with that of Jesus, who also spoke about the end times and His return (cf. Mt 24:43; Lk 21:34-36; Rev 3:3; 16:15).
Paul describes the day of the Lord in three facets:
- It will be a day of sure division (v.2). In saying the day of the Lord will be like a thief in the night, it will be unexpected. Further, in saying it will be like labor pains, it will be unavoidable. Like the day separates from darkness, so will unbelievers be separated from those who have faith in Christ. So, the best way we can prepare now by trusting in Jesus. Don’t put off today what you think you’ll have a future to decide.
- Especially the young who think they have forever. Tomorrow is not promised.
- Even the aged. Circumstances can change unexpectedly & rapidly. Today is the day of salvation.
- It will be a day of sudden destruction (v.3). The consequences for sin will be fully met in this day. The unfairness of this current life will finally conclude, and God’s righteous justice will be dispensed.
- On that day there will be no do-overs, no oops, too late for second chances, only missed opportunities
- Destruction does not equal annihilationism (extinction or no hell); it means complete ruin or utter loss
- No never escape (double negative in Greek for emphasis)
- People promise “peace and security.” While these are good aims, they are never fully attainable on earth. We can work toward them, but there is a level of tension and risk that we must endure to live on earth. Peace will not fully come from a strong military because there will always be threats; it will not come from a wise government not just because those words are an oxymoron but because there will always be shortcomings; it will not come from following every medical practice, because we cannot fully protect from every virus, disease, or death. This does not mean we do not strive for peace and security on earth, or use God-given wisdom, but as Christians we must know true and lasting peace and security are only found in the eternal gospel of Jesus Christ.
- It will be a day of sustaining deliverance (v.9). Those who “believe Jesus died and rose again” (4:14) are not destined for wrath but salvation. Christians are delivered from the division and destruction the world will experience. Such assurance is not just future wishing but present strength.
In all, Paul’s emphasis was not on giving or predicting times and dates. The end times have been predicted for centuries since Jesus’s day without any certainty. Jesus said “no one knows the day or hour, but only the Father in heaven (Mark 13:32). After Jesus’ resurrection his followers questioned if that were the time for Jesus to end the age and begin His kingly rule. Jesus responded, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority” (Acts 1:7) … and therefore giving Christians a present sense of urgency of being His witnesses unto the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). In other words, the end time is inevitable but unpredictable, so live each day as if it is your last. If you knew Jesus was coming one year/month/day/hour, how would that be different in your life?
We prepare for the end by
- Being certain of our salvation.
- “if you abide in Jesus’s words” (Jn 15). No lip-service to the LORD.
- “if you endure to the end” (Mt 24:13). Self-deception is real.
- Being light in darkness.
- Being light has at the very least a low standard of not being rude but relational. Exercise grace and value people, even with those we disagree.
- Being light has an expected standard of intentionality. Where are you intentionally being light?
- Being light has a next-level standard of strategic partnerships. SPBC seeks to provide some of these partnerships: Pregnancy Clinic, SPAN, The Well. Regional & International mission opportunities. Yet… SPBC does not exist to serve the mission of other organizations. It is great to have a passion for __X__, but your passion does not equal the church’s purpose. So, church members, let’s be careful to work together for our collective purpose of growing godly generations at SPBC with equal intensity and intentionality as our individual passions.
#2 Christians must practice endurance (5:12-28).
Paul’s letter has been highly encouraging and loving with significant affection towards the church.
- 1:2-4 “We give thanks to God for you… remembering your work of faith and labor of love and steadfast hope in our Lord Jesus… as brothers and sisters”
- 2:1, 7-9 “brothers and sisters… we were gentle among you… affectionately sharing not only the gospel of God but our own selves…” We cared like a nursing mother for her children… and like a faithful father encouraging children.
- 2:17-20; 3:10 “brothers and sisters… we eagerly desire to see you face to face… for you are our glory and joy”
- 4:1, 9 “brothers and sisters, we urge you to live for and please God more and more… and love one another”
The Thessalonian church wasn’t perfect, no congregation or pastor is. Paul writes not necessarily to correct a problem as to continue a pattern of healthy relationships in the church. Every church needs reminders toward acting graciously, living generously, and at peace with one another. This does not mean we should excuse sin or avoid conflict, but it simply means God wants His children to walk in gospel unity and missional urgency.
Paul writes for three different relationships:
- Members toward Elders.
Paul exhorts the members to respect and esteem the Elders. The wording suggests not just respect but recognition as leaders; in other words, to identify their position as one of importance and a level of authority in the church. We should treat Elders/Pastors as other important and influential roles in society – school teachers, civil or government leaders.
- Saying this may appear self-serving as a Pastor. Two things to note: 1) It’s what the Bible teaches, not me. 2) The days where pastors were respected in general society are fading fast; partly due to improper examples, and partly due to hostility toward Christian values and morals. So, this principle isn’t me attempting to earn an audience as much as it is to elevate the standard of the position.
- Top ways to respect Elders:
1) Talk with them. Almost every gathering I linger for those who want to talk. I may not get to each person who wants to talk, so follow back or draw my attention to contact you. I don’t have all the answers, nor am I omniscient to know what’s going on, so your talking with me invites me to have a part in what God is doing in your life.
2) Open the pages of Scripture and track line by line with the teaching.
3) Pray for me/us. Notice how many times Paul asks for prayer in his letters.
- Elders toward Members.
Paul does not prescribe exact qualifications or procedure for installing church Elders/Pastors, as he does with Timothy & Titus. Yet, the exhortation to recognize as Elders as those who are serving in such capacity. Paul is talking about one group of individuals in terms of three aspects of their activity.
Elders are laboring among the members. The wording (κοπιᾶν = copious) suggests hard work, toil and sweat. An Elder’s vocation may be outside the church, but their work inside the church should be no less tough and tiring. There should never be a task that is beneath an Elder (chairs, tables, trash, floors, etc.). Elder’s lead by example. “A shepherd should smell like the sheep” (Johnny Hunt).
An Elder’s work is not just serving tasks but teaching the Scriptures. The distinctive labor of an Elder is their study and sharing Scripture (cf. Acts 6:2; 1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:9).
- My average is 12-15 hours (sometimes closer to 20 depending on the text or amounts of teaching) per week of study; about a 1/3 to 1/4 of my overall work hours).
- “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and ‘The laborer deserves his wages.” (1 Tim 5:17-18)
- Hebrews 13:7 “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.”
- I imagine your Bible Group teachers spend 3-5 hours preparing…
Elders are leading over the members. Leaders who emphasize authority without responsibility miss the mark. Church leadership is stewardship for the costly and cherished gift of souls. So, while a leader is over the members, there is also the reminder that leaders are under God’s authority.
- Hebrews 13:17 “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
- 1 Peter 5:2-4 “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”
Elders admonish. As a doctor is to the body; a teacher is to a student; or a coach to an athletic team, so is an Elder to the congregation to educate, equip, and encourage. Any basis for admonishment is not a personal preference or soap box opinion but upon the authority of God’s word (2 Timothy 3:15-16). Christians, especially Elders, are to speak the truth in love with significant care and sincere tears. (cf Mt 23:37; Acts 20:31; Eph 4:15; 2 Tim 2:24-26).
- 1 Thes 5:14 Admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all.”
- A pastor’s role is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
- Christians toward Everyone.
This final section is a series of rapid-fire commands. They are also descriptive for how to love one another in Christian community.
- “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”
25 Brothers, pray for us.
26 Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.
27 I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.
28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
Most people have birthmarks that are specific to them, whether moles or other kinds of identifying features. Likewise, designers are known by their trademarks, whether a name tag or logo symbol. Sometimes a birthmark or a trademark is prominently presented, and other times uniquely displayed.
Similarly, God has established a very clear mark of those who are birthed by the Holy Spirit. Grace is the birthmark and love is the logo for every believer. Without these, the world has difficulty seeing the truth of the gospel and experiencing the tangible comfort of the Holy Spirit.
 Cf. 1 Cor 5:5; Php 1:6; 2:16; 2 Cor 1:14; 1 Thes 5:2; 2 Thes 2:2.
 Wanamaker, C. A. (1990). The Epistles to the Thessalonians: a commentary on the Greek text (p. 179). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.
 Wanamaker, C. A. (1990). The Epistles to the Thessalonians: a commentary on the Greek text (p. 192). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.
 Adapted from Tony Evans book of illustrations: “love.” (p.196).