Thursday, January 14, 2010

How To Endure Opposition While Waiting For Christ (1 Thessalonians)

Book: 1 Thessalonians

Background:

Paul, Silas, and Timothy came to Thessalonica after being persecuted in Philippi (Acts 16; 17:1ff).  On three Sabbaths, Paul reasoned with the Jews in the synagogue, 1) that the OT predicted a Messiah who would suffer, die, and rise again, and 2) that Jesus fulfilled these prophecies (17:3).  Many Jews, and some wives of Gentile authorities, believed (17:4).  The missionary team was forced to leave the city prematurely, however, when some jealous and angry Jews hired a mob and put the city in an uproar (5).  They finally sent Timothy back to encourage them in their affliction, and find out about their faith (3:1-5).  When Timothy returned with a good report, Paul sent this letter (3:6-10).

Content:

Chapter 1 expresses thankfulness for their faith, hope, and love.  2:1-12 recounts the blameless character of their teachers, and  2:13 - 3:10 the persecution they endured for their faith.  3:11 - 5:28 gives practical  instructions about excelling in love.  Each chapter relates its contents to the return of Christ for the church (1:10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:13-18; 5:1-11, 23).

Purpose:

To encourage them to wait for Christ's return (1:1-10), by respecting their teachers (2:1-12), enduring opposition (2:13 - 3:10), and abounding in love (3:11 - 5:28).

Theme: Wait for Christ


Outline:


Introduction (1:1-10)
1. By respecting godly teachers (2:1-12)
2. By enduring opposition (2:1 - 3-10)
3. By abounding in love (3:11 - 5:28)

1 Thessalonians 1

Theme: Wait for Christ

Introduction (1:1-10).

Before Paul begins instructing the Thessalonians how to wait for Christ, he first thanks God for the fruit which is already evident in their lives: faith, hope, and love (1-3).  They imitated the godly testimony of the missionary team, with joy, even during a time of tribulation (6).  They set an example for all the believers in the region (7-8).  2 Cor. 8:1-8 says that in their poverty, they voluntarily gave themselves, then their substance, during a time of tribulation, to meet the material needs of the saints.  They turned to God from idols (9), served Him (9b), and waited for the return of Christ from heaven (10).  The fruit they bore showed they were God's elect, and that they would be saved, by the return of Christ, from (rather than "out of") the wrath to come (cf. Rev. 3:10).  


1 Thessalonians 2


Theme: Wait for Christ

1) By respecting godly teachers (2:1-12)
2) By enduring opposition (2:13 - 3:10)

*To encourage the Thessalonians to wait for Christ, Paul reminds them of the missionary team's respectable behavior, message, and endurance of opposition.*

By Respecting Godly Teachers (2:1-12)

The way these verses recount and defend the ministry of the missionary team at Thessalonica, seems to suggest that someone was discrediting their reputation.  To discredit the messengers is to discredit their message, which was the Word of God.  Since faith in God's Word is crucial to salvation and waiting for Christ, this passage shows why the Thessalonians should respect godly teachers, and thus hold faith in their message.

To show their sincere motives in preaching the gospel, Paul recalls how the team came and taught after much mistreatment and opposition in Philippi (2). They had never sought to please or glorify men, but only God (3-6).  They treated the Thessalonians gently, as a nursing mother cares for her children (7-8).  Further, they had worked day and night to support themselves (9), and charged the Thessalonians nothing.    They behaved devoutly, blamelessly, and uprightly (10), and exhorted them in God's ways, like a Father does his own children (11-12).  Such a ministry is sincere.  It calls for respect (cf. 5:12-13), and continued faith in God's Word.    

By enduring opposition (2:13 - 3:10)

The missionary team constantly thanked God because the Thessalonians received their message as the Word of God (13).  Also, they had imitated the faith of other churches by enduring the opposition of unbelieving Jews, as had Christ (15), and the missionary team (16; cf. Acts 16:22 - 17:15).  The statement that such persecutors always fill up the measure of their sins, may mean that they reach the limit of sin which God will allow before He brings wrath upon them (cf. Genesis 15:16; Dan. 8:23).  The wrath which is come upon them may refer to the coming tribulation, when Israel will be especially tried by judgments from heaven (cf. 1:10; 2 Thess. 1:7-10), or the eternal destruction of unbelievers in the lake of fire (Rev. 20), which follows.  Paul was eager to return to them, because they were his joy and crown (17-20).  Sometimes, waiting for Christ means enduring opposition.


1 Thessalonians 3


Theme: Wait for Christ

2) By enduring opposition (2:13 - 3:10)


*This passage gives several ways Paul sought to encourage the Thessalonians to endure opposition:  By sending Timothy (1-2; 5-8), by reminding them to expect opposition (3-4), and by praying for them (9-10)*.

Having been forced to leave Thessalonica prematurely (possibly in as little as three or four weeks after arriving; Acts 17:2), due to the persecution of some unbelieving Jews, the missionary team went to Berea.  The Jews followed them, and forced them out of that city as well.  Paul went on from there to Athens, leaving Silas and Timothy behind to complete the work.  From Athens, Paul sent for them (Acts 17:10-15), and then sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to establish and comfort them (1 Thess. 3:1-5).  Paul went to Corinth alone (Acts 18:1), and shortly afterward, Silas and Timothy met him there (Acts 18:5).  Timothy returned a good report about the Thessalonians' love for Paul, and stand in the faith during persecution (3:6-9).  From Corinth, Paul then wrote this Epistle to express thanks for their faith, explain his absence, and complete that which was lacking in their faith (3:10).

The missionary team first sent Timothy, to check on, strengthen and encourage the Thessalonians to stand in their faith (1-2; 5-8).  Faith in Bible doctrine (specifically the return of Christ for the church, and punishment of those who persecute us: cf. 4:13 - 5:11; 2 Thess. 1:4-10) provides a basis for enduring afflictions.  Sending a mature believer along side of new converts helps to strengthen, encourage, and complete what is lacking in their faith.

The missionary team also reminded them to expect opposition (3-4).  They had suffered it, and had told the Thessalonians it would come.  Expecting opposition will make it easier to endure once it arrives
(cf. John 16:1-4).

The missionary team also continued in prayer for the Thessalonians, thanking God for their existing faith, praying they would continue to stand in it, and that they might have opportunity to complete what was lacking in their faith.  Follow-up Bible study is key to establishing new converts in the faith, and encouraging them to endure opposition.  The missionaries continued in prayer to this end.



1 Thessalonians 4


Theme: Wait for Christ

3. By abounding in love (3:11 - 5:28)


*The prayer in 3:11-13, is that the Thessalonians abound, or increase and overflow in their love for one another and all men.  Such love establishes a blameless and holy testimony among men, anticipates the return of  Christ, and includes abstaining from sexual immorality (4:1-8), leading a quiet life (4:9-12), and comforting others with resurrection hope (4:13-18).*

Abounding in love involves abstaining from sexual immorality (1-8).

"Immorality", here, refers to any kind of sex the Bible doesn't authorize.  Possessing your own body in sanctification and honor means you control your body and passions, and avoid going too far, by flaming the fan of desire in someone else, thereby taking advantage of them.  This kind of consecration is God's will, pleases Him, and is made possible as we, by faith in Christ, yield ourselves to the indwelling Holy Spirit (cf. Romans 6:1-11).  Abounding in love means abstaining from sexual immorality.

Abounding in love involves leading a quiet life (9-12). 

The Thessalonians were already bearing the fruit of love for the brethren, but were urged to excel still more.  Apparently, some believers were under the impression that since Christ could return at any moment, there was no need to continue working.  This may have bothered believers who supported them, and injured the reputation of non-working believers, with creditors of the world.   Such the passage exhorts to lead a "quiet" life, and work with their hands to provide for their own financial needs.  The concept of being "quiet", is used elsewhere, to denote a settled, undisturbing manner of behavior, where one minds their own business.  It does not, however, require total cessation of speech.  In Acts 11, for example, some Jews "took issue" with Peter, for eating with Gentiles.  After Peter explained that God had  instructed him to, and had given the Spirit to the Gentiles as well, they "quieted down, and glorified God, saying..."  Abounding in love means leading a quiet life.

Abounding in love involves comforting others with resurrection hope (13-18). 

Some believers may have become concerned about what happened to their loved ones (believers) who died before Christ returned for the church.  Would they too be resurrected?  Yes.  As Christ rose from the dead, He would first raise physically dead believers, when He returned for the church.  These, followed by believers who will be living at that time, will be "caught up" ("raptured ") together with Christ, to meet Him "in the air", and ever live with Him.  Abounding in love involves comforting others with resurrection hope.


1 Thessalonians 5


Theme: Wait for Christ

3. By abounding in love (3:12 - 5:28)


*The theme of the whole epistle is to "wait for Christ".  This is necessary when believers endure persecution for their faith.  Punishment will come on persecutors during the tribulation and after.  Christ will rapture believers before the tribulation, saving them from persecution and tribulation wrath.  In light of these facts, believers should wait for Christ.  Chapter five shows how to wait for Christ: by abounding in love.  This includes encouraging others with rapture hope (1-11), and practicing love in a variety of ways (12-28).*


Abounding in love means encouraging others with rapture hope (4:13 - 5:11).

The words used for "Now" (peri de), in verse one, are those used to show a sharp contrast in subjects.  4:13-18 just taught about the rapture of the church, something the Thessalonians had not heard about before.  By contrast, the events described in 5:1-11, pertained to events which the Thessalonians had been taught, and were described in the OT: The day of the Lord.  The Day of the Lord describes life during the tribulation, when, after an unmentioned church age, the anti-christ makes a peace treaty with Israel, and the Lord begins to pour wrath on the inhabitants of the earth (Revelation 4; cf. Daniel).  Thus, the rapture, or time when Christ catches the church up to Himself, is not the "Day of the Lord".

In addition to the strong contrast "Now", in 5:1, there are a series of other contrasts which show that those who go through the Day of the Lord, are different from church age believers, who will be raptured "from" (not out of) tribulation wrath (1-3; cf. 1:10; Rev. 3:10).  He first says "you" know the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night, while "they" are saying "Peace and safety!".  The destruction which comes, is said to come on "them", and it is "they" who will not escape. 

By contrast, "you brethren", are not in darkness" (4-8).  This means believers know about the events of the day, but also that they are no longer members of the kingdom of darkness, who will enter the tribulation, as are the unsaved (cf. Col. 1).  Believers, are sons of light, having been delivered from the domain of darkness, and transferred to the kingdom of Christ (Col. 1:13).  Since believers are of the day, and not of the night, like those  unsaved people who will enter the tribulation, they should put on faith, love, and the hope of salvation. 

In contrast to the wrath which will come upon the unsaved during the tribulation, and the judgments which follow, "God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (9).  This includes not only salvation from the penalty, power, and  presence of our sins, but also from the very "hour" in which tribulation wrath comes upon the unsaved inhabitants of the earth (cf. 1:10; Rev. 3:10). 

Christ died for us, so that whether we are dead or alive, ready (spiritually alert) or not, we may live together with Him (10).  4:13-18 indicates it is the rapture of the church from the earth which accomplishes this goal of bringing the church to live with Christ.  5:9-11 apparently equates this union of believers with Christ to salvation from tribulation and eternal wrath.  Thus, Christ will rapture the church before the tribulation, saving it from wrath, something they are "not" appointed to. This hope of salvation from tribulation and eternal wrath, is a truth which should "encourage" and "build up" other believers (11). 

Abounding in love means practicing it in a variety of ways (5:12 - 28).

The passage mentions several practical ways to abound in love towards others.  It says, to appreciate and respect those who diligently labor and teach (13-14), to admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, and be patient with all men (14).  Verse 15 says to "see that no one repays another with evil for evil".  Rather, believers should "always seek after that which is good for one another and for all men". 

Other brief instructions include those to "rejoice always; pray without ceasing", and to give thanks in everything (16-18a).  Such conduct is "God's will" for believers (18b).  What believers are not supposed to do is "quench the Spirit" (19), which may include despising "prophetic utterances."  Instead, they should examine everything carefully, hold fast to that which is good (21), and "abstain from every form of evil" (22).  Since the Bible is now
complete, believers do not receive any additional revelation, or prophecy.  The Scriptures, however, are God's revelation and prophecy to the church, and are what the Spirit uses to defend and confirm gospel truth in the lives of believers (Eph. 6:17b; Heb. 4:12-13; Matt. 4; 1 Pet. 1:23-25; etc.). As such, believers should not despise the Bible, but hold fast to its truths.  Also, Romans 6:1-11, and Galatians 5 tell us to walk in step with the Spirit, yielding ourselves to God's will, by faith in Christ.

In closing, verses 23 through 28 wish God's sanctification, and blameless preservation upon the Thessalonians, reminding them that God had called them, and is able to complete these things in their lives (23-24).  He asks them to pray for the missionary team (25), to greet and read this letter to all the brethren (26-27), and commends them to the presence of Christ's grace (28).

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