First Thessalonians 3 makes it very clear that Paul was under no “illusions” about what it would “cost” to be a faithful Christian. He sent Timothy to Thessalonica to strengthen the saints there, in the face of opposition from their community (he was himself worried for their welfare, vv. 1-2). In verse 4, Paul also alludes to his own hard circumstances when he was there. In Acts 17 we read of how Paul and Silas had been “hounded” from Thessalonica by some of the Jews, who had stirred up the community with false accusations (vv. 5- 10). Paul and Silas were actually sent on to Berea by the brethren, who feared for their safety, Acts 17:10. His words here should remind us of 2 Timothy 2:3 and 3:12, where he encouraged Timothy to persevere in the face of hardship and reminded him of the “price” of godliness (“Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution”). A Christian who is surprised by opposition and temptation is either someone who has not paid attention to the examples of the Lord and His apostles, or someone who has not “counted the cost” of discipleship! We are blessed today in that we are seldom physically persecuted for our faith, but make no mistake: Both the secular world and denominations are persistently chipping away at our faith, trying to marginalize genuine Christianity’s influence in the world and our local community.
The next point to notice (in chapter 4:1-8), is that Paul talks about HOW Christians are sanctified (vs. 3). He shows here that one of the ways this is accomplished is through our own actions. One of the fundamental errors in most of christendom is the doctrine that sanctification is something God “bestows” on those He saves, without any action by them (except–perhaps–offering up a “sinner’s prayer” for salvation). In verse 3 Paul directly connects sanctification with pure living: God’s will is for our “consecration” (moral purification/dedication), and our “path” to being sanctified includes…
- Refraining from sexual immorality;
- Exercising self-control (instead of indulging in the lust and self-gratification of the Gentiles, vv. 4-5);
- Especial care toward the brethren, verse 6, so as to not misuse or take advantage of them (cf. Romans 12:10 and Galatians 6:10 concerning how Christians are to treat one another);
- Recognizing that disregarding the apostle’s instructions here goes beyond merely “ignoring a man’s opinion” to despising God’s instruction, verse 8.
In verses 11-12, Paul makes an emphatic statement about the “manner of life” we should pursue as Christians, and it is important for us to understand the motive behind his instruction here. The “way” Christians should live is described in verse 11 as “quiet” (i.e., peaceful, not “running hither and thither”), and we are to aspire to this as our goal in life. Christians should not be known as gossips or busybodies, but as sober and responsible/ trustworthy members of the community (2 Thessalonians 3:11; 1 Timothy 5:13; 1 Peter 4:15). Notice also that Paul adds that we should not be dependent on others (“…that you may lack nothing”, vs. 12). Our reputation in the community should reflect well on Christ and His church, not poorly! If either the church, or individual members, are known for being “nosy,” meddlesome, or irresponsible, the cause of our Savior is hindered!
The final paragraph of chapter 4 (vv. 13-18) presents the most detailed description of the Lord’s second coming (and the end of time) in the entire bible. Here, Paul is responding to a misunderstanding by the Thessalonians. Evidently, some thought that Christians who had already died had somehow “missed out” on the hope of resurrection. Thus, he gives some very specific details about the events of the final day – Jesus will descend to meet His faithful (both living and dead) in the air (vs. 17); all will hear the voice of an archangel and the trumpet of God (vs. 16); and those who died “in Christ” will rise first (vs. 16). There are TWO points to Paul’s words here; to correct the Thessalonians’ understanding of these events, and to give them a basis for comfort in the face of the deaths of beloved brethren (vs. 18).