Monday, September 8, 2008

In Search Of Truth


1st Thessalonians, Chapter 4

Welcome back! So, have you been reading along? Hopefully you have! Otherwise, you're missing the most important part. I just want to emphasize again that although I spend time carefully preparing my thoughts for this post every week, my words are not God's words. If you're crunched for time, I'd much rather you skip what I write and just read the chapter for each week as we get to it. Unlike what I post here:

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. It is God's way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do. (2nd Timothy 3:16-17)

In this chapter, Paul deals mainly with three issues:

1. Sanctification-

This word often has a general meaning of either "purification", or the result of the purification process. To be in the process of sanctification means that imperfections are being stripped away, with the goal that only the pure and perfect elements will remain in the end.

As the term is used here, it's referring specifically to sexual sanctification. For unmarried Greek men of this time period, it was socially acceptable to have sex with prostitutes, slaves and other men. In both Greek and Roman culture, sex with slaves and prostitutes was common and not discouraged.

Paul acknowledged how well the Thessalonians were living to please God, but also urged them to become even better at it. (v. 1-2) In other words, he wanted them to remember that this life is a spiritual journey that is never meant to stop. We're continually moving forward.

The specific area he wanted them to give attention to was in the arena of sexual purity. The word used for "sexual immorality" (as the NIV translation puts it) is "porneia". This word refers to any sexual activity that happens outside of a marriage relationship between a man and woman.

Sex is an incredible thing. Clearly, God designed men to enjoy women's bodies and women to enjoy men's bodies. The Bible is in no way "anti-sex". Paul says that to resist your spouse's desire for sex is "depriving" them and shouldn't be done unless both agree to abstain temporarily. (1 Corinthians 7:5) And the "Song of Solomon" (or "Song of Songs") in the Old Testament often refers to the sexual relationship between a man and woman in a good way.

What Paul is stressing here is that sex is meant to be shared only in the marriage relationship. It's God's desire for us to have self-control OVER our bodies, not to be controlled BY our bodies. We're meant to share this unique and ultimate physical experience with only one person.

"Lustful passion" (or "passionate lust") is behavior to avoid, according to verse 5. Although in the original Greek, the word for "passion" here has a negative meaning anytime it is used, unlike the English word, "passion". In other words, there's nothing wrong with passion experienced between husband and wife. Some religions or demoninations of Christianity have taken the view that sex is only for procreation. But when the Bible is examined, we don't find any support for this man-made idea.

Paul knows the pain that can come from sleeping with another man's wife, and reminds us that God is the "Avenger" in these matters. (v.6)

These ideas about sex are not some kind of "oppressive" invention of organized religion. Paul makes that point clearly in verses 7 and 8. If we reject these ideas, we are rejecting the same God that lives inside of us through the Holy Spirit, blessing us, protecting us, encouraging us and giving us strength. A Christian that ignores what God says about sexual relationships is rejecting their greatest source of life and support!

2. Love For Christians-

Paul says that the Thessalonians are doing so well at this that they don't need any more instruction on how to do it. But Paul does urge them to become even better at loving other Christians.

According to the IVP Bible Background Commentary of the New Testament, "living a quiet life"(v.11) refers to being inconspicuous, not being withdrawn from society. This verse should encourage us not to need attention from others, but it shouldn't keep us from interacting with others.

Landowning aristocrats of this time period despised manual labor, but Paul wanted everyone to be productive. A life of leisure should not be our goal. Whether we have great financial needs or are very wealthy, we're meant to work and be productive, not lazy and "free-loading", as Paul implies when he likely refers to begging in verse 12.

3. Death-

The term "sleep" was often used during this time period to refer to death. Paul reminds us that as Christians, we don't have to grieve in the same way that others do. We don't have to wonder or settle for wishful thinking regarding our fate after this life, or the fate of those Christians we love who have died. The more we examine and verify the truth claims of the Bible, the more we have trustworthy, reliable hope for life after this one.

Paul uses Jesus as proof that life after death is possible through God's power. In fact, Paul teaches here, when Jesus returns to the earth, the Christians who have died will rise from the dead and join Jesus even before the Christians who are still alive when he comes! After this, the Christians who are still alive will join Jesus in the air and we will begin our new lives with him forever.

Death is not the end. For those who put their trust in Jesus, trusting that he paid for their sins through his death, trusting that he is God, just as he said he is, death is only a transition into an incredible life beyond our ability to imagine.

"Therefore, comfort one another with these words."(v.18)

Next Week: Preparing For The End...

Coffee House Question-

Whether you are a Christian or not, death can be a scary thing. What, if anything, scares you about death or life after death?

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