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1st Thessalonians
Chapter 4

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1st Thessalonians Chapter Four
Commentary by Ron Beckham

This Week - 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18

 Audio Bible Study - 1 Thess. 4:1-5

Verse 1. "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."

Paul now gives us the practical application of what he has been speaking about in the preceding verses.  HOW do you love others like he told us in 1 Thessalonians 3:12?  What does it MEAN to be "blameless in holiness" as he prayed in 1 Thessalonians 3:13?  Paul had prayed for them and now he gave specific information within these verses which were not only applicable to their culture, but he also is speaking right now to you and me.

Notice we are not ORDERED to do what we are supposed to do.  Paul requests, he urges us to live in a manner that will "please God."  At the time of these verses, that part of the world was in a period of cultural and moral decline.  "Sexual immorality," which will be mentioned in Verse 3, was widespread in the place, just as it has become commonplace today.  Paul urges us to "excel," to be DIFFERENT from this world in a very good way.

Verse 2. "For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus."

Paul, the principal writer of this letter to the Thessalonians, had recently spent a few weeks with these new Thessalonian believers, sharing Jesus and instructing them from the Old Testament Scriptures (Acts 17:1 & forward).  Notice in this verse that the Thessalonians already knew what was expected of them.  Whether or not you admit it, even to yourself - so do you.  Underneath it all, everyone in the world really KNOWS what God wants from us.

The Holy Spirit, through Paul, showed us the way humanity is; as a people, we are revealed in Romans 1:18 - "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness."  Way deep inside, everyone knows that God is real and that we need to be made clean; but as a people we have denied our need, even to ourselves.  Like the Thessalonians, we "KNOW... (the) commandments (given) by the authority of the Lord Jesus."

Verse 3. "For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality;"

"Sanctification" in this verse can be defined as growing in holiness, in purity, in thought, in the words we say and in our actions.  In much of the Roman Empire of that time, especially in Corinth, the place where Paul was writing this letter, "sexual immorality" was rampant.  The patron "goddess" of the place was "Venus," the so-called "goddess of love."  Adultery and incest were considered crimes, but fornication was not even thought to be wrong by many in that culture.

Jesus pointed out to us that if we even THINK lustful thoughts, we have "committed adultery" in our hearts (Matthew 5:28).  Even if some never act on such thoughts, the ones who think such things are cheapened inside and are rendered less effective in service, not only to God, but also to one another.  We must pray to God that those in the church will find God's "sanctification," including our deliverance from "sexual immorality."

Verse 4. "that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor,"

The word "possess" in this verse would actually be better translated "acquire."  All in humanity have separated themselves from the "will of God" (Verse 3), and therefore, none are sanctified (set apart) to God's purposes in this world.  But with the good news of the redemption given in Christ, all this has been changed.  We can acquire that which is needed to enter the will of God and live within it.

In Him, in Christ, we now each have the potential to discover "how to possess his (or her) vessel," which is your body, "in sanctification and honor."  God knows our thoughts, hears our words, and sees our behavior.  We are also seen by His holy angels.  It's time to stop embarrassing yourself in front of the host of heaven and find "sanctification and honor" in the power and love of God.

Verse 5. "not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God;"

"Lustful passion" fills the people of this world.  It is in our movies, books, music, paintings, stage plays, and it infects the thoughts that rule our actions.  Paul just defined "lustful passion" in Verse 3 by referring to it as "sexual immorality."  If we are not married, we are to be celibate in thought and action; not in our own strength, but in the strength and power of God.  It's difficult for humans; but God makes all things possible.

God's standard for this subject is clearly seen in Hebrews 13:4 - "Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge."  The "marriage bed" is only for a man and a woman who are husband and wife.  Those who think and teach differently suffer from a "depraved mind" (Romans 1:26-27) by denying the clear command of our holy God.

Father, give us purity in thought and action.  We ask that You will do this in Your strength and not merely in our own.  Help us, Father.  Thank You.  In Jesus Name.  Amen.

Audio Bible Study - 1 Thess. 4:6-10

Verse 6. "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."

Most people have heard of the concept called "Cause and Effect."  This refers to the relationship between two occurances when one of them makes the other happen. For example, if we eat too much food and do not exercise, we will gain weight. Eating food without exercising is the "cause;" weight gain is the "effect."  Paul in the context of these verses is talking about "sexual immorality" (Verse 3) and "lustful passion" (Verse 5).

To "transgress and defraud" someone, as in the context of this verse, is to commit adultery with their spouse.  Note that "the Lord is the avenger in all these things."  The "cause and effect" in this context is clear - if you take someone else's spouse for yourself, God will take vengeance on you for what you have done.  EVERYONE is potentially someone's spouse, for God loves marriage, and even if yours or that person's marriage is still in the future, God will judge you for your act.  The Lord through Paul has "solemnly warned you."

Verse 7. "For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification."

Everyone who receives Jesus Christ as his or her personal Savior and Lord, is "called" to God's service.  Your call may be dramatic, as in a lifetime of service on the missionary field, or it may be subtle; as for instance you may be drawn to have extraordinary faith.  Others may turn back, but your trust in the Lord is so significant that not only do you stand fast, but those around you are encouraged by your example.  The call of God may be subtle, humanly speaking, but to Him, it is VERY important.

Note that ALL of us are are "called" to lives of holiness and purity.  As Paul is saying in these verses, we are definitely "NOT called... for the purpose of IM-purity."  Sexual sin should NEVER be part of our Christian lives.  As Paul asked in another place, "What shall we say then?  Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?"  His question is deliberately ridiculous, and he answers his own question: "Certainly NOT!  How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" (Romans 6:1-2).  We are to be sanctified, set apart in holiness for service to God.

Verse 8. "So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you."

What is expressed in these verses is not some doctrinal position or the theology of some man or group.  Paul, the writer, was highly educated and could have given us many doctrinal ideas, but instead he relied on the Holy Spirit of God to lead him in what was said.  When he spoke, it was the Holy Spirit who gave him utterance, and when he wrote, that same Holy Spirit caused the words we are reading to be straight from the heart of God.

There have been some who have rejected the words of Paul.  Some have rejected the Bible altogether.  Far too many pick and choose what they like or do not like in the Word of God and it's important to note that "ALL Scripture is given by inspiration of God" (2 Timothy 3:16).  As Paul said in this verse, "he who rejects this is not rejecting man, but... God;"  who gives us purity in thought and action.  You are to accept the words of these verses as from "His Holy Spirit."

Verse 9. "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;"

No one should need to be commanded by God to love others, in attitude and/or in action, for it is self-evident that life is much better when we all receive and give the selfless love that God has in store for us.  And yet we tend to not understand and must be commanded to love.  Israel was told to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18), and Jesus made it clear that we are to "love one another" (John 13:34).

Sadly, there is not much unselfish love in humanity, and it's extremely odd that comparatively little love is expressed in the church.  The various churches of the world have a history of being aloof and distant from one another.  Yet Jesus said, "all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35).  Do you want revival?  Then let God's love be expressed in and through YOU to others - right now.

Verse 10. "for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more,"

In another place, Paul prayed that "Christ may dwell in (our) hearts through faith, that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend... what is the width, and length and depth and height" of the love of Christ.  He says of such love that it "passes knowledge" (Ephesians 3:18-19).  God's intention for you is that you will know the deep love of God, which will result in your being "filled with all the fullness of God" (Ephesians 3:19).

Jesus Himself is our example of love.  What He showed us is something we never fully understand in this life, for we are told to "excel (in love) still more."  Love is like a debt to God and to others which we can never completely pay except through loving still more.  We are dull in understanding love and our natural selfishness holds us back.  It says in this verse that we must urge ourselves and others to abound in love, more and more.  It has been said about our love that, "to stand still is to lose ground."  We are to be people who "excel" in love.

Help us Lord, for we are slow to understand, slow to love.  Fill our lives with holiness and let us truly walk in Your love.  In Jesus Name.  Amen.

Audio Bible Study - 1 Thess. 4:11-15

Verse 11. "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,"

When you come to Christ, it does not necessarily mean that you will be the first in your town to bring the world to Jesus Christ.  You may instead be blessed to live a "quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands."  And such a life is indeed a blessing.  Some are paralyzed and cannot move their bodies at all in order to "attend to (their) business" and "work with (their) hands."  Many around the world are fugitives of bad government and are blessed to even survive.  Do you have an ordinary, quiet life? - Be grateful for it.

Paul wrote directly to a Greek and Roman audience of the time.  They were an eager, restless, ambitious people, each one longing to be first in all that they did.  Paul here sets them (and us) free from a need to become unnecessarily politically involved and from social rivalry.  They could (and we should) spend the time we have on this planet in love, peace and communion with God, instead of becoming involved in things we are not called to do.

Verse 12. "so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need."

This is a continuation of the preceding verse.  We are to mind our own business and not be "busy bodies," meddling in the lives of those around us.  We are to live normal lives so that others will not think we are strange and turn away from Jesus because of us.  Jesus Himself modeled His own life, working day-after-day in an obscure carpenter's shop, not allowing His human family to "be in any need."

Paul did much the same.  He and his Lord both worked as much as it was possible.  They honored the customs and laws of those in the culture around them.  But when the call of God came, Jesus Himself and Paul each responded as they were directed.  As it said in the preceding verse, we are to live "quiet" lives, look to our "own business," and "work with (our) hands" when we can.  But the call of God may come, and then you are to GO as He directs your path.

Verse 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."

Paul had heard that the Thessalonian believers were troubled about those among them who had died.  He used the gentle term "asleep" to describe these departed ones.  We DO miss our loved ones who have gone to be with the Lord.  And we DO long to be with them once more.  Feelings like anger and depression DO exist in those who know such loss, even when they are in Christ.

But there is indeed a difference.  We know something, or rather we know SOMEONE the world does not know.  We know the LORD, who gives us a certain hope that we will be with not only Him, but also our loved ones once more.  They have gone through a "Door;" one we cannot yet travel through, for the Lord has more for us to do in this place.  Our grief is not the same as "the rest who have no hope."

Verse 14. "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus."

Do you believe in Jesus?  Do you believe "that Jesus died?"  The meaning here is more than death.  It means: Do you believe that Jesus died FOR YOUR SINS?  We all die, but His death was unique.  In Him, in His death, God has provided a way for you to live - forever!  To believe He "rose again," is to accept the proof given by God that those who believe are forgiven.

All over the world, individuals and families are damaged and destroyed by grief.  People become depressed from loss to the point where they simply cannot go on.  Such discouragement all too often leads to destructive behavior such as alcoholism.  People drink so they will not feel emotions too great for them to bear.  But when Jesus returns, "God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus."  Yes we miss our loved ones, but we will once again be WITH those who have trusted in the Lord - for all eternity.

Verse 15. "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."

In these verses, we catch a glimpse of Christ's return, when He will rescue His people from the sin and suffering of this earth.  As to those who "are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord," notice that Paul says, "WE who are alive."  He expected that the Lord would return during his lifetime, 2000 years ago.  You and I should also live with such an expectation.  When we KNOW the Lord may come at any moment, LIFE is breathed into us in a special way that can only be known in such a manner.

Jesus said, "of that day and hour no one knows," and He continued, "not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only" (Matthew 24:36).  We do not know WHEN He will return, but we do know He WILL return.  As a church, we have tended to divide with one another over the circumstances of the "rapture" of the church and Jesus' second coming to this earth.  Instead we should be patient with these minor differences and be UNITED in the certain hope of our imminent rescue.  He WILL return and He IS our blessed hope.

Father, help us to be slow to quarrel with one another and to be quick to love.  Calm us.  Ease our feelings of grief and give us Your peace.  In Jesus Name.  Amen.

Friday Study 9/7/07 - 1 Thess. 4:16-18

Verse 16. "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 Christ will rise first."

We should all be EXCITED, right on the edge of our chairs because of the promise in these verses.  And yet, there should also be a CALM inside us that is pleasing and lasting.  For "the Lord Himself WILL descend" to this earth once more.  He will come to us "with a SHOUT;" not unlike the leader of a group of soldiers of that time would SHOUT when leading his troops into battle.  And at the future moment this verse reflects, He will be announcing God's final VICTORY over sin and death.

It is unclear to some whether the "voice of the archangel" will be the actual voice of Jesus or it will be delegated to an "archangel," a leader of the angelic host.  It doesn't matter, for all that is in these verses will be done under the authority and within the will of Almighty God.  And when that voice speaks, those who have faith in Christ and have died before that time, will rise fully to LIFE once more.  They will go first before those in Christ who are alive at that time (Verse 15).

Verse 17. "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."

Again note that Paul, Silvanus and Timothy, the writers of this letter (1 Thessalonians 1:1), fully expected to be alive when the Lord returned to rescue His little ones from this earth.  They said, "WE who are alive and remain will be caught up."  The phrase "caught up" was later translated into the Latin word "raptus," which meant "seized and taken."  This is a verse which speaks about the "rapture" of the church.  In Verse 16, we were given a glimpse of the "dead in Christ," referring to the believers who have died prior to the Lord's return.  Right after they "rise," in this verse we see "those who are alive and remain" are to be "caught up" to be with Him.

The question often arises in relation to this verse: WHEN will all this occur?  The correct answer is: only the Lord knows.  The second question is, will this "rapture" occur before, during or at the end of what is called the "Great Tribulation" period of future history?  The true answer is that we probably don't really know that answer, either, though in the past century or so, many have tried.  Unfortunately the issue has been DIVISIVE.  Those who take one side or another are unnecessarily irritated with anyone who disagrees with them.  Note that when we ARE "caught up" to be with the Lord, our attempts at theology will be over, and nothing will be left except love.  Here's the best question of all: Do you love that person who does not agree with you?

Verse 18. "Therefore comfort one another with these words."

This is it!  Here is the intention of all these verses.  When you look carefully at the people and actions of this world, you will discover that there is something wrong.  People everywhere do, say and think wrong things, and as Paul said in another place, "If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!" (1 Corinthians 15:17).  As a people and as individuals, we need to be REDEEMED and the proof of our redemption is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  That is why "these words" are such a "comfort" to us.

"Now Christ is risen from the dead" (1 Corinthians 15:20) and "in Christ all shall be made alive" (1 Corinthians 15:22).  Those loved ones in Christ who have died are not lost.  If we die before He returns, we who are in Christ will not be lost.  As the prophet said in Isaiah 25:8, and as quoted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:54, "Death is swallowed up in victory," and in Verse 57, "Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."  It is reasonable for us to "COMFORT one another" with the "words" of these verses.

Father, we are excited and comforted by the promises of these verses.  Thank You that Jesus Christ WILL return and rescue all those who have trusted in Him.  We praise Your Holy Name.  In Jesus Name.  Amen.

Ron Beckham, Pastor
Friday Study Ministries

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