Meditations in 1 Thessalonians
Part 1: 7 : Living Meanwhile
1 Thess 5:8-11 But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
While it is true that often Scripture helps us to cope in the present by looking to the future, it never allows us to have an escapist attitude that opts out of this present life. History shows a variety of ways believers got it wrong and perhaps no more so than in those hermits of long back who decided that they could only be holy if they escaped from the wicked ways of this world and live lives of isolation.
When Jesus in one of his most famous teaching passages lays down a mandate to change the world, he says, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:13-16) You be neither salt nor light by hiding away!
So, back in Paul’s letter, although there are many references to the Lord’s return, it isn’t a letter of escape for again and again Paul gives them things to do, things to aim for – now! His life teaching doesn’t begin until chapter 4 when he says, “Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.” (4:1) That’s his starting point: we know you are living to please God – go on to do it more and more. So he continues, “For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.” (4:2) Yes, they had received a lot of specific and practical teaching from the apostles on how to live, so a whole teaching base had already been laid down.
His first set is in respect of sexual behaviour: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality…..For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.” (4:3,7,8) Sexual immorality and impurity prevent a holy life and rejects God.
Then: “Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you….Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more.” (4:9,10) See the same approach – we told you about this so now just do it more and more (building on the foundation we laid).
Then another very practical thing: “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to 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.” (4:11,12) Just as we told you before, don’t be lazy but be respected workers. Then we come to a big chunk about Jesus’ return and our verses at the beginning follow that: “But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (5:8,9) This, he says is how you should live in contrast to those who live in darkness. We are to major on faith, love and hope as we receive – today – the salvation Jesus brings to us – now.
The verses that follow, before he finishes, are possibly some of the most compact instructions in the epistles. Here they are: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” (5:11-22)
It is this practical teaching that we will consider slowly and in detail in Part 3 of the meditations in this series in this letter. We will backtrack and consider all the verses we have highlighted in this particular one. But let’s restate the teaching: although the scriptures point us to the second coming of Christ as a means of sustaining us in present difficulties, they do not give us an escapist route but are full of practical teaching as to how to live today. Today is the day of our salvation and this is the way it is worked out. Are you ready?
PART 1 : Big themes
1. An Intriguing Book – a quick overview
2. A Success Story – how the gospel had been received there.
3. Persecution – the extent of the opposition to the Gospel there,
4. Apostles Approach – Paul’s defence as to how they had come.
5. Apostles Frustration – Paul longing to return to them
6. The Lord’s Return – Paul’s teaching on the Lord’s return
7. Living meanwhile – Paul’s teaching on everyday living
PART 2: Big Principles – picking up some of the ways God works
Part 3: Detailed Practical Teaching – for living the Christian Life