1 Thessalonians 4
How to stay devoted to God
Keep building those spiritual muscles1 Dear family, we want to ask you something on behalf of our leader, Jesus. When we were with you, we taught you how to live the kind of life that pleases God. You are certainly doing that. Please keep doing it more and more. 2 You know what we told you to do. And you know our authority came from our leader, Jesus.
Holiness: devotion to God3 Here’s what God wants for you: holiness, which comes from devoting yourselves to him. Don’t stray into sex sins. 4 Learn to control your body with honor, out of devotion to God. 5 Don’t let your passions run wild with lust. People who do that don’t know God. 6 Never hurt someone by acting that way. The Lord punishes us when that happens, as we warned you earlier. 7 God didn’t invite us to devote ourselves to sin. He invited us to devote ourselves to him. 8 If you say no to that, you’re not just saying no to a human like me. You’re saying no to God, who has given you his Holy Spirit.
Earn respect by living in peace9 You don’t need me to lecture you on how to love each other. God taught you how to love. 10 You already show love to believers throughout Macedonia. Dear family, keep it up. Love each other more and more. 11 Here are some goals I’d recommend to you. Instead of living loud and large, keep it quiet, mind your own business, and work hard—just as we told you earlier. 12 It’s good for people outside the faith to see you living like this, taking care of yourselves.
About believers who died13 Dear family, we want to tell you something about believers who have already died. We don’t want you mourning them the way other people mourn their dead—without hope. 14 We believe that Jesus died and rose from the dead. So we believe that when he comes back, he’s bringing company. God will bring with him the believers who have died. 15 Let us tell you something from Jesus himself. Those of us who are alive when he comes back won’t reach him first. The dead will. 16 It will happen like this. Jesus will descend from heaven, with an archangel’s voice shouting a command. The trumpet of God will blow and the dead who had put their faith in the Messiah will rise before anyone else. 17 After that, those of us who are still alive will get lifted up into the clouds where we will join the others to meet the Lord in the air—and to stay with him forever. 18 Pass these words along to encourage each other.
Macedonia was a region in what is now northern Greece.
The Bible identifies Michael as an archangel (Jude 1:9). Ancient Jewish tradition said there are seven, which some students of the Bible associate with the Book of Revelation’s angelic leaders: seven angels who stand before God, and who were given seven trumpets (Revelation 8:2 New Living Translation). Jewish tradition says the seven are called Uriel, Raphael, Raguel, Michael, Sariel, Gabriel, and Remiel.
Paul tells the people of Thessalonica, “Here’s what God wants for you: holiness” (4:3). “Holiness” is a word that’s hard to picture. We can picture words such as “kindness,” “hate,” and “joy.” We can roll stories in our head about those words. “Holiness” not so much. What do you think Paul had in mind when he talked about holiness?
Paul offers some advice that might not translate particularly well today: “Instead of living loud and large, keep it quiet, mind your own business, and work hard” (4:11). There are plenty of Christians today who live loud and large — as celebrities, politicians, CEOs. Why do you think Paul told the people of Thessalonica to “live a quiet life” (New Living Translation)?
Paul seemed to change his mind about whether or not he would live to see the Second Coming of Jesus. In this letter, perhaps the first he ever wrote that has been preserved in the Bible, he counts himself among those who will live to see Jesus come back: “Those of us who are still alive will get lifted up into the clouds” (4:17). But by a few years later, he figured he wouldn’t live that long: “We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us” (2 Corinthians 4:14 New Living Translation). Why shouldn’t that flipflop give us reason to question other things Paul wrote in his letters?
LIFE APPLICATION. In the context of this chapter, when Paul talks about holiness he seems to be concentrating in the area of sex, which is perhaps one of the strongest sources of temptation. But when someone uses the word “holy” to describe another person, what comes to mind for you? What do you think it means to live a holy life?
LIFE APPLICATION. Christians in Thessalonica seem to be worried about the eternal destiny of believers who died before Jesus comes back. It seems that Paul as well as the people of Thessalonica expected Jesus to come back at any second. Paul assures the people that those who died as believers will join all believers with Jesus in the afterlife. He said, “We don’t want you mourning them the way other people mourn their dead—without hope” (4:13). In fact, a Greek writer named Theocritus (200s BC) wrote “Hopes are for the living; the dead are without hope.” Christians today are counting on the hope of an afterlife. Why do you think they believe something as extraordinary as this—something that to people outside the faith sounds like a fairy tale?