In his final words about the resurrection of the dead and the return of Christ, Paul says to the Thessalonians that the day of judgment should not surprise them life a thief in the night (1 Thess 5:5). In saying this, Paul does not mean that Christ's followers will not be surprised because they will know the day in advance but that they will not be surprised because they are always ready. In fact, Paul himself seems to think that the Lord will return soon. Yet here we are.
And so we are to encourage one another to always be ready because the Lord Jesus could return at any moment. Paul instructs us to warn the idle, encourage the timid, help the weak and be patient and kind with all (5:14-15).
For Reflection: While we wait for the coming of the Lord, how are we spending our time? Are we in right relationship with God and others? Is there anyone with whom we need to be reconciled? If He returned tonight, would we be ready?
Just as Jesus was raised from the dead, so too will Christians be raised. With these words Paul again comforts the people of the church in Thessalonica who have lost loved ones. They will be with Christ in heaven. He has the Lord's word on this.
Paul speaks about the resurrection, "According to the Lord's own word" in 4:15. Either Jesus spoke of this while he was alive and it was not written in the Gospels, being left to the oral tradition, or Paul had a personal revelation of it. Specifically he says, "We tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever (1 Thess 4:15-17).
So, when Christ returns, the dead in Christ will rise first and then those who are still alive will rise to meet Christ in the air. If those who are alive at that time get to see the rising bodies of those who have died, it will be quite a sight. But I don't think Paul was trying to paint a picture so much as trying to reassure the families of the deceased that there would be a bodily resurrection of both the dead and the living, and they would be reunited with their loved ones. We don't know exactly when that will happen, but happen it will (5:1-3).
Let us pray. Jesus,you were crucified, you died and you were buried. You rose on the third day. You ascended into heaven and are seated at the right hand of the Father. You will come again in glory to judge the dead and the living and your kingdom will have no end. We look forward to the resurrection of the dead and to being with you in the world to come. Because of you we have hope.
Those who have died in faith will rise to eternal happiness. It is this hope of the resurrection to which Paul refers throughout his first letter to the Thessalonians. Christians are not like other people who, when a loved one dies, have no hope of their continued happiness or of ever seeing them again. We will see each other again in the resurrection. That is our sure hope.
So we should not grieve as non-believers do when someone dies. And, in fact, we should not fear death. There is life beyond this one, and it is a better life. In heaven there is no pain, no illness, no sorrow, no mourning. In heaven there is the presence of the complete fullness of God. That is our sure hope (1 Thess 4:13-14).
For Reflection: This hope should make us happy. This hope should reassure us about our future life and the lives of others who are in Christ. Do we have this happiness and assurance deep down within us?
Let us pray. Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us (Romans 5:1, 2, 5).
Paul continues to stress his themes of faith, love and hope in 1 Thessalonians. Faith in Jesus; love for God, fellow Christians and others; hope in the resurrection to come. In chapters 4 and 5 he gives general instructions for living the Christian life and what to expect at the end.
Evidently some of the people in the church at Thessalonica began to think that Jesus was returning soon and so they slacked off on working. Why work if the Lord is coming back for us in a little while? But Paul encourages them to keep working up until the end, whenever that is, just as Paul himself continued to do (1 Thess 4:11-12). Taking care to provide for oneself and one's family is not a matter of pride; it is a matter of not putting undue burden on others to take care of us. It is hard to share the gospel when others are giving us a handout.
For Reflection: Christians are not to be slackers. Paul continued to work as a tent maker wherever he traveled. We don't all have such portable businesses, but do we lend a hand whenever possible? Are we doing our utmost to provide for ourselves and our families? Are we giving our employers a full day of work for a full day of pay?
For retirees: Are we volunteering our services to anyone?
Let us pray. Jesus, I thank you for the work that I have, that you have given me to do. I thank you for a body that is capable of working, a mind that is fit and active, a disposition that is cheerful. I thank you for my family and that I am able to provide for them.
For those looking for work: Jesus, I look forward to working again at my full capacity. I thank you that you are placing me where I will be happiest and the most productive.
Having spoken of marital love, Paul now moves on to brotherly love (philadelphia) in 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10. Love of fellow Christians is one of our duties in Christ. Jesus commanded us to love one another and this teaching continued throughout the early church. This love for other co-believers should overflow into love for all people. As God loves all people, we should love all people too.
There was a YouTube video which went viral recently and an Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post about women who (still) cannot walk down the street without enduring catcalls from leering men. This behavior does not exhibit brotherly love. Nor does the reverse - women ogling men - which has become almost as common, if not just as common, in U.S. society. So although every woman could tell you her own story of being on the receiving end of these comments, now men can too. This type of behavior violates the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
We spoke earlier this week of taking every thought captive to Christ. If we take such thoughts captive, we can keep ourselves from speaking them. We need also to guard our eyes from lingering where they ought not linger. That man or woman we are ogling is a child of God and someone else's husband/wife/son/daughter.
For Reflection: Am I acting toward others with brotherly love? Am I following the Golden Rule?
Let us pray. Father, I thank you for creating us male and female and for making us attractive to one another. I confess that I have not always been careful about who or what I have looked at, and about what I have said to other people, especially members of the opposite sex. I have violated your command to love others as you have loved me. I ask your forgiveness and your help in being more careful about where and how I look at people and what I say to them.
We move now to 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8. The topic is sanctification which comes from the Holy Spirit (v 8) through the avoidance of porneia (from which we get the word pornography). This word is translated variously as unchastity, sexual immorality or fornication (v 3). Sanctification, or holiness, cannot come without control of one's own body. Each man should have a wife chosen because of holiness and honor not because of lust (v 4-5). And certainly no one is to wrong a brother or sister through adultery (v 6).
Why not engage in fornication and adultery as those around them were doing? Because God is an avenger who calls the Thessalonians to holiness, to purity by giving of his Holy Spirit.
For Reflection: Temptations abound. Have I kept myself pure from pornography, unchastity, fornication and adultery? Besides sinning against myself, have I sinned against others by involving them in my fantasies of immorality? Have I been unfaithful to my spouse in thought, word or deed?
Let us pray. Jesus, we know that you call us to greater and greater holiness. But the world of fantasy lures us into unholy territory. Help us to bring every thought captive to you.
"The weapons of our battle are not of flesh but are enormously powerful, capable of destroying fortresses. We destroy arguments and every pretension raising itself against the knowledge of God and take every thought captive in obedience to Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).
How great would it be to be described as God's co-worker? Not God's employee, God's servant, God's follower, but God's co-worker? Two people working side-by-side toward the same goal. What if Jesus introduced us as, "This is my co-worker ___"? What a privilege to be described that way and to hold that place.
That is just how Paul described Timothy in 1 Thessalonians 3:2. Timothy is "our brother and God's co-worker." If we seek God's goals in our station in life, then we are God's co-worker in raising families, teaching children, studying and working alongside others, feeding the hungry, comforting the grieving, spreading the gospel. God's work is a vast undertaking. He chooses to use many co-workers.
For Reflection: Where may I serve as God's co-worker today? Am I working alone or alongside Jesus?
Let us pray. God, it would help a lot if I could feel you beside me today as I go about my normal activities and any special activities you want me to do. I want to be your co-worker today.
Although Paul was happy every time he recalled the reception of the gospel in Thessalonica, still he was worried what might be happening to them under persecution (1 Thess 3). Persecution may have been coming from Jews, the local Greek townspeople or the Roman authorities. At that time it could have included beatings and stonings, torture, crucifixion and death. If believers weren't strong in their belief in Jesus, they certainly would not have risked any of these punishments even once, much less every day.
For Reflection: As I've said before, most of us don't face these types of persecution today. But if the early Christians could face these for believing and witnessing about Jesus, why can't we face the type of persecution we do experience - rejection for witnessing about Jesus? The number one reason most people don't speak to anyone about Christ is the fear of rejection.
Yes, we will experience rejection on behalf of the gospel message. It's a given. Jesus himself was rejected. Why should we expect to be treated any differently? Scripture says, though, that we should cast our cares, including our fears, upon the Lord (Psalm 55:22, 1 Peter 5:7). Let's do that today.
Let us pray. Jesus, we do give you our fear of rejection, our fear of loss, our fear of persecution, and all other fears that we have. We trust that you will hold us and care for us and protect us. Renew our joy in you and in talking about you and what you have done.
And we remember today all those people in the world who are suffering extreme persecution. Give them the strength only you can provide, Jesus.
After Paul and Silas left Thessalonica they tried repeatedly to return to the young church there. But, Paul says, "Satan stopped us" (1 Thess 2:18). He is not specific about how Satan stopped them. Perhaps it was the persecution, threats from the authorities, illness or some direct attack by Satan; we don't know. Nevertheless, Paul has hope and joy just thinking about the Thessalonians. It gave him great joy just to remember how they had received the gospel, how they had turned from idol worship to worshiping the one true God, how they had stood under persecution. Paul's reward in life and before God was knowing that he had brought people to Christ. That was his hope, his joy, his glory. No matter what came against him in life, no one could take away what God had done through him - the salvation of more people for the kingdom.
For Reflection: What is keeping me from remembering the great things God has done?
Let us pray. What can keep us from recalling the great works of God? Sickness or depression? Persecution or danger? Loss of job? Criticism by a loved one? No, we are more than conquerors through Jesus. Nothing in creation can separate us from God's love. Jesus, you are my sunshine on every cloudy day (based on Romans 8:35-36).
In chapter 2 of 1 Thessalonians Paul makes a defense of his ministry in Thessalonica. Possibly one prong of the persecution the church was under was a discrediting of Paul, Silas and Timothy. People may have been saying to them, "Oh, you were just taken in by their trickery and flattering ways. They are not sincerely interested in you. After leading you astray, look how quickly they left you." And so Paul reminds them of the truth. We had no impure motives; we were not trying to trick you; we didn't use flattery nor were we greedy. We shared our hearts and our lives with you. We worked alongside you while we preached to you the Gospel of Jesus. We treated you as a father treats his own children. And we are still concerned for you.
For Reflection: Paul and the other disciples did not suffer only from the physical persecution of those who wanted to kill them, but also from the slanderous tongues of those who would discredit them and their message. Although some Christians in the world today are being killed for believing in Jesus, most are not. But many suffer the whispered criticism, being thought less of or outright ignored. Jesus taught us, though, to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
Let us pray. Jesus, we pray for all people who are persecuting Christians around the world. Touch them, Lord, with your mercy and forgiveness and let their minds be open to your truth.
I started this website and blog on May 1, 2012. I am a Catholic who has been in ministry for many years. I first developed what I would call a close relationship with Jesus in the early 1970s. Ever since then I have been praying with people for healing and other needs. It is because I have seen so many of these prayers answered that I am so bold as to offer to pray for you individually through this website and phone line.