In addition to waiting for the return of Jesus expectantly and knowledgeably, believers should do so appropriately by living exemplary lives. We should, as Ray Stedman put it, be “living Christianly.” One reason we don’t make a greater impact on the world is that too many people who profess faith in Jesus and attend church regularly lie without blinking an eye, cheat on their taxes, pull dishonest business deals, break their marriage vows, hold bitter grudges, spread malicious gossip, and despise the downtrodden in society while overlooking the evils of the rich and successful. Even those of us who are seen by our peers as truthful, honest, moral, and kind can at heart be self-serving and self-righteous. Paul was writing to us as well as to the believers in Thessalonica when he interspersed practical Christian-life admonitions throughout these letters.
Maintain Sexual Purity (1 Th. 4:1-8). Pagan society in the first century was marked by sexual permissiveness. So believers needed to be reminded that God wants His people to be distinctive by their chastity. Christians are to keep their passions under control because their bodies belong to God. Adultery always defrauds someone other than the two participants in the act. The unmarried who commit fornication wrong their future partner by not being able to bring into their marriage the virginity one has a right to expect. God will punish sexual impurity because it violates the whole character of the Christian life and is outright disobedience to the One who has given us the Holy Spirit to enable us.
Love One Another (1 Th. 4:9-10). Paul said that the Holy Spirit had taught his readers to love one another, that they were doing it, and that they should continue to do so. We know that the love God demands means being kind, forgiving, helpful, and tender toward others regardless of how we feel toward them. We must therefore choose to be loving. And whenever we fail by being unkind, sarcastic, or critical, we owe the person we wronged a sincere apology.
Work Diligently (1 Th. 4:11-12; 2 Th. 3:6-15). Paul made it clear that productive employment is a Christian duty. He pointed to himself as an example, reminding the Thessalonians how he worked at his trade so that he would not be a financial burden on them. As a man well-versed in the Old Testament, he knew that God gave Adam and Eve work to do in the Garden of Eden before the fall (Gen. 1:28; 2:15). We are stewards of the earth and its resources. By working diligently, we gain a sense of accomplishment and benefit for both ourselves and others.
To the Thessalonian believers who had quit their jobs because they expected the immediate return of Jesus, Paul gave two other reasons for working. First, a steady job would help keep them from continuing their busybody activities and making a nuisance of themselves by minding the affairs of others (2 Th. 3:11-12). Second, by engaging in honest toil they would “walk properly toward those who are outside,” so that they would “lack nothing” (1 Th. 4:12).
Their testimony before the unsaved world was at stake. Therefore, the apostle twice commanded the obedient believers to deal with anyone who remained idle—to “withdraw” (2 Th. 3:6) and to “note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed” (2 Th. 3:14). This is a withdrawal from intimate fellowship, not the kind of withdrawal one would take when someone’s commitment to Christ is in doubt. Treating the man as a brother (v.15) calls for gentle treatment with just enough bite to make him feel ashamed and lead to repentance. More severe measures would be required in the case of continued disobedience, but these steps are not outlined here. Paul apparently was confident that the action he specified would be adequate.
Honor Your Spiritual Leaders (1 Th. 5:12-13). Since the Thessalonian church was less than a year old, the men who served as elders and deacons were themselves new believers and probably lacked some leadership skills. But Paul commanded the church members to help them in three ways. First, they were to “recognize” them as “over you in the Lord” with a divine mandate to “admonish you,” acknowledging the leaders’ responsibility to look out for their spiritual welfare. Second, “esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake,” even if they had some idiosyncrasies and imperfections. Third, “be at peace among yourselves,” avoiding any action that would create factions in the church.
Help The Erring, Timid, And Weak (1 Th. 5:14- 15). We are to do all we can to help fellow Christians. This help takes different forms: “warn those who are unruly” (in this case the idle who were bringing disruption into the church and harming its testimony); “comfort the faint-hearted” (people who have low selfesteem, feeling that they have no gifts and are incapable of being a help to anyone); “uphold the weak” (people who feel unsure of their salvation, wonder if they have really been forgiven, and tend to think that they are unloved).
Paul went on in verses 14 and 15 to point out that to fulfill our “helper” role we must: “be patient with all,” no matter how often people fail or need comfort or repeat questions you have answered many times; “see that no one renders evil for evil,” forbidding revenge no matter what; “always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all,” focusing always on doing and teaching the things that are lovely, pure, and helpful.
Keep God In View (1 Th. 5:16-18). The apostle issued three exhortations that we can obey only by a continual consciousness of God’s presence: (1) “rejoice always”—finding in the spiritual resources we possess a reason for joy no matter what our circumstances and the grace to go our way with a song in our heart; (2) “pray without ceasing”—though continually talking to God verbally is impossible, we can be always conscious of our dependence on Him and find speaking to Him as natural as breathing; (3) “in everything give thanks”—believing that God’s loving purpose is being worked out through all the changes of life, whether happy or sad, the child of God can always give thanks.
Since this is “the will of God in Christ Jesus for you,” we can be sure that as we depend on Him we will be enabled to obey these injunctions.
Remain Open To God’s Voice (1 Th. 5:19-22). Although the Lord had not yet provided any inspired New Testament documents when Paul wrote these letters, He often spoke to believers through men and women to whom He had given the gift of prophecy— the communication of a message from Him (Acts 11:28; 21:9; 1 Cor. 12:10). Moreover, from Paul’s description of first-century church services in 1 Corinthians 14, it is quite obvious that they were informal, with members participating freely. It seems likely that in Thessalonica some of the more staid members did not like enthusiastic displays of fervor. They were inclined to put a damper on ordinary people proclaiming messages they said they had received from the Lord. By doing this, they were in danger of putting out the Spirit’s fire and rejecting genuine prophecy.
These warnings against quenching the Spirit and despising prophecies, however, are not to be taken as an endorsement of gullibility. Believers on the listening end were to test carefully every professed spiritual manifestation and utterance. They were to hold fast to that which was true and beneficial, while rejecting every manifestation and utterance that did not pass the test.
While our situation is somewhat different today because we have the complete New Testament as our standard for doctrine and practice, we must remain open to the possibility that God may sometimes speak to us through circumstances and through other Christians. In this way, believers who fellowship in liturgical, nonliturgical, charismatic, and noncharismatic churches can l earn from one another. This will promote spiritual unity. Since we must base our beliefs on the Bible and refuse to compromise with what we perceive as error, we may find it necessary to place limits on organizational cooperation, but we can maintain a love for all of the Lord’s people and avoid needless conflict. This will strengthen our witness to a world that needs the Savior.
• In God’s demand for sexual purity, we see a reflection of His own perfect purity.
• In God’s demand that we live responsibly, we see His concern for our testimony before the world.
• In God’s admonition that we help the weak and timid, we see His parental tenderness.
• In God’s exhortation that we respect our spiritual leaders, we see His concern for the church.
• In the necessity for a long list of specific commands, we see our need for specific guidelines.
• In the exhortation to be always joyful and grateful, we see our need for dependence on the Holy Spirit.