Meditations in 1 Thessalonians
Part 2 : 12 : Building the Church
1 Thess 2:11,12 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.
So you get people to become Christians and that’s it? Not according to the New Testament. We find here the apostles’ activity described in order to achieve some change in the lives of the new believers, so let’s consider first the end result, what the apostles are seeking to achieve in these new believers.
Paul describes the end result as “lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.” When we speak of being worthy, we speak of ‘being up to an approved standard, a quality that would be acceptable’. So the apostles are teaching these new believers to live new lives, lives that will be approved by God. One of the best descriptions of the old life we lived before we came to Christ is found in Eph 2: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.” (Eph 2:1-3) That’s how we used to be, spiritually dead because we transgressed or strayed for God’s right way and lived lives characterized by sin, led by the nose by Satan in a life of disobedience to God and simply following our self-centred desires all the time.
Very well. Let’s consider the opposite to those things: alive to God with lives following God’s way for living, led by the Spirit and thus following God’s purposes for us. Do you see the four things there: 1. God related, 2. Learning God’s design for living, 3. God led, and 4. Realizing God’s purpose for us as individuals. If you reverse that order for a moment we see that when we come to Christ we realise that He has a new purpose for our lives which is revealed as His Spirit leads us and teaches us a new way to live and we realise the reality of living out this new daily relationship with God.
Now Paul expresses that in our verses above as living lives that are approved by God as we learn to live under His reign (his kingdom) and realise the wonder of His presence in and with us (his glory). This is why it’s not just rules but relationship. We have His Spirit within us and we are led on a daily basis by His Spirit. As we let Him do this we realise more and more the wonder of His presence with us. This is what the apostles are seeking to teach these new believers, how to enter into this new relationship with the Lord which has practical outworkings in daily living.
So a little practical application. Have we learnt or are we in the process of learning to be led by His Holy Spirit, learning to be sensitive to Him as He prompts us, chides us, convicts us, teaches us, trains us? Have we realised that he has a unique plan for each of us? Are we aware of the gifts and abilities He has given us and the things He has put on our heart as He works to lead us into a place of blessing and service, becoming Sons of God, those who enter into the Father’s heart and the Father’s business? Are we aware of things that are good and things that are bad for our lives? Do we work to rid ourselves of those things that are bad whether they be things we might consider as mundane, like gossip, criticism, jealousy (but are things that are really harmful to both us and to others) or things that we might consider more serious like theft or adultery etc.
The New Testament has lists of things to be rejected from our lives, e.g. No. “falsehood .. anger.. stealing.. unwholesome talk …bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice,” (Eph 4:25-31) or no “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed… anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language …lying.” (Col 3:5-9) But the teaching is positive. Replace these things with, “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Col 3:12-14) Thus in the Christian life there are negatives – to be rejected – and positives – to be cultivated.
And how did the apostles go about this teaching? Byencouraging, comforting and urging. The word that the NIV translates as ‘encouraging’ some other version translate as ‘admonishing’ which has more of a corrective element to it. As Paul elsewhere speaks of the function of scripture is for “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training,” (2 Tim 3:16) it is likely that this first word will have a stronger feel than just a pat on the back. The analogy of them acting like a father would suggest a more directive approach that is backed by comfort or support in difficult times. The word ‘urging’ brings an urgency or importance to the work of change. Yes, this work brings correction and change, and we do need support or comfort to keep at it in the face of enemy distractions and doubts, and we do need urging on to remind us how vital it is, for this is the reason Christ saved us.