For the Love of God, Volume 1/October 18
From Gospel Translations
1 Kings 21; 1 Thessalonians 4; Daniel 3; Psalm 107
IN 1 THESSALONIANS 4, Paul once again provides explicit instruction to his converts on how to live (see meditation for October 4). Although his time with the Thessalonians was brief, Paul can look back on those few weeks and comment, “Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living” (4:1). In what follows in this chapter, there are four areas of such instruction (and still more in the next chapter, though we shall not pursue them here). The first three of these “how to live” paragraphs are laced with theological terminology and motivations; the fourth is primarily theological in its argumentation, but the reason for writing is entirely practical.
(1) Paul insists that God’s will for the Thessalonians is that they be “sanctified” (4:3). Although for Paul sanctification is often definitional or positional (i.e., he is thinking of the way believers have been sanctified in Christ at the moment of their conversion, in other words, set aside for God and his use; see meditation for August 27), here he is thinking of the entailments of conversion in the way believers live. In particular, he is concerned with the sexual arena. The Greek text of verse 4 could mean “learn to control his own body” (in the sexual arena), or “learn to live with his own wife” (in honorable sexual harmony, not sexual exploitation or manipulation), or even “learn to acquire a wife” (in an honorable way, not in a relationship based on nothing more than lust). The fact that “God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life” (4:7) has immediate bearing on our sexual conduct.
(2) Love in the Christian community is a mark that a church has been “taught by God.” However excellent the reputation of the Thessalonians in this respect, Paul urges improvement (4:9-10).
(3) Christian ambition should aim at quiet faithfulness, minding one’s business, and working hard so as not to be a burden to others. Judging by the frequency with which Paul returns to this theme, one suspects that more than a few idle people filled the church’s ranks in Thessalonica (5:14; 2 Thess. 3:11-13).
(4) The last paragraph (4:13-18) concerns “those who fall asleep,” whom the context shows to be Christians who have died. What befalls them? Apparently Paul had not had the time to flesh out much on such matters while he was still with them. Not wanting them to be ignorant (4:13), he sketches what happens. But the point to observe is that this doctrine is shaped to assuage any grief that befalls bereaved believers: we sorrow, but not “like the rest of men, who have no hope” (4:13). Instruction on how to live even extends to how to grieve.