1 Thessalonians 5: Live in the light, live in vigilance.

Whether in a biblical context or in secular culture, the idea of light vs dark is commonly used to depict good and evil. In this passage, Paul extends this metaphor to help us understand the vigilance and holiness we must have in the end times. This is one of the passages which I feel are directed at us, modern day readers awaiting the Second Coming.

 2for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.

In verse 2, the Second Coming is compared to a ‘thief in the night’ which, at first glance, is a bit of an ‘unconventional’ comparison.

Paul then pleads for us to be ready for the day so that we will not be surprised. He instructs us to (1) live in the light and (2) to emanate light.

But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night.But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate,and the hope of salvation as a helmet.

By living in the light, we can stand blameless when Jesus returns. In these verses, Paul also elaborates on what it means to live in the light:

(1) To remain vigilant and not live in slumber. We should keep our eyes open and be aware of our surroundings – we must set ourselves apart from worldly things and not be seduced by the things of this world. Part of the vigilance is also to have good judgement in deciphering which things around us are worldly and which are of God. 

(2) To keep our thoughts pure and holy. Although Paul uses the term “drunk”, the meaning extends beyond just alcoholism and refers to the state of mind in general. We can interpret this as indulgence in things that cause us to lose focus of God. 

This can be further supported by the parable of the ’10 Virgins’ – we need to be ready and spiritually well equipped for the return of Jesus so that we do not falter in the end times. We must maintain a strong foundation and relationship with Christ so that we will not be affected worldly opinions (verse 3) and that we do not immerse ourselves in the culture.

 

 

 

 

 

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1 THESSALONIANS 4: LIVING TO PLEASE GOD

It seems that in the 21st century, ever-growing distractions and temptations manifest themselves, stopping us from living to please God. Conventional television and movies tell us: if you want it, take it. Dating apps like Tinder allow us to be defined by one action: swipe right or swipe left. In this environment, sex has been dehumanised, reduced to something that is not ‘holy or honourable’ (1 Thessalonians 4:4) in any way.

In this chapter, we are reminded that:

“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body… for God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-4).

Being holy and set apart for God, we should not conform to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of our minds. Romans 12:2 tells us that through testing, we can discern what the will of God is, what is “good, acceptable and perfect.” Let’s remember this the next time we are tested, and call on the Holy Spirit to help us live a holy life. The gospel calls us from uncleanliness to holiness.

The second half of this chapter covers the second coming of Christ. When that day comes, we will be with the Lord forever. Even though we might feel sorrow for believes whom have already died, we can have full assurance that we will be reunited one day. What more convincing do we need? This is the ultimate goal – to remain as pure and holy as possible, endeavouring to support each other in times of sorrow and temptation, eagerly awaiting Christ’s return.

How might we practically act in response to this chapter?

  • Have an accountability buddy. Find a more mature Christian (a friend, youth leader/pastor) who can hold you accountable for your sins and actions. It helps to have someone to turn to, and an extra person that you don’t want to disappoint.
  • Remove temptations from your life. Delete that dating app, or distance yourself from people who have unrighteous intentions.

1 Thessalonians 3: Faith inspires faith

In this chapter, Paul appraises the Thessalonians for their faith upon receiving a report from Timothy. Paul is particularly encouraged and impressed by their faithfulness to Christ despite their harsh conditions of distress and persecution which in turn, is an inspiration for their own perseverance through the hardships they themselves are encountering.

He summarises their work and their relationship by discussing these elements:
1. The importance of prayer and mutual support in the maintenance of their perseverance
2. What this ‘faithfulness’ entails
MUTUAL SUPPORT

 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.

Paul emphasises the importance of continuous peer support and prayer when it comes to maintaining faith. In verse 10, their commitment and sincerity is obvious as they pray ‘night and day’ to strengthen the Thessalonians’ faith – such that they would not be ‘tempted’ (verse 5). This is a relationship of reciprocity: Paul expresses gratitude towards them for their encouraging simply by being faithful. He explains that, from this encouragement, they are able to live in joy “in the presence of our God” (verse 9): good faith and good support allows us to live in His presence.

SUPPLYING WHAT IS LACKING IN FAITH

12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

Paul also explains to us what he means in verse 10 by supplying what is lacking in faith and how we should respond in times of distress. The answer is of course: LOVE. But what’s more important is that he says that love is to be bestowed upon us by God himself – it is not something we can do by our own efforts. He also touches the importance of upholding purity and having a godly righteousness! Again, this is not something that can be achieved simply by our own will or by our ‘manly nature’ – it is something we should earnestly pray to God for!

 

1 THESSALONIANS 2

In this chapter, Paul gives us a good glimpse at the manner of his preaching, setting an example that should be followed when we ourselves preach the gospel.

  1. Don’t take the easy way out. 

He writes: “with the help of our God, we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition.” (1 Thessalonians 2:2). Despite what some of Paul’s accusers said, Paul did not only resort to preaching the gospel when it was easy or convenient. Rather, he spoke boldly for the Lord even amidst times of conflict, backlash and rebellion from the people.

2. Speak with integrity and truth. 

I was reminded today in church that anyone preaching must make sure that what they are preaching is true. In fact, the preacher (who was not our regular pastor), insisted that if anything did not ring true about what he was preaching, the senior pastor should immediately get up and point this out. There would be no use in waiting until the preacher had finished, as by then, the damage would have been done.

“For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you.” (1 Thessalonians 2:3)

Paul emphasises that his preaching is motivated by the truth, and not from any deceit or uncleanliness of the spirit. Flattery and niceties should not be employed. Importantly, banish greed and pride, and do not seek glory from men. We need to make sure that when we are speaking on behalf of and for God, we are doing so solely in servitude for him, and that there are no hidden, selfish motives.

3. Practice what you preach. 

“For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.” (1 Thessalonians 2:12).

The higher up you are, the further you fall.  Those were the words a friend told me recently on the way to Hillsong church. While boarding the bus, a passer-by yelled repeatedly and aggressively at those on the bus – “Pedophiles!” “Molesters!” Utterly confused, I wondered aloud why he responded so. I knew the Catholic church had an issue with pedophilia – but the Christian church too? My friend explained that the founder of Hillsong had been implicated for child sexual abuse in 2000. He had to resign and never preached again. Almost 20 years on, the repercussions are still being felt. This definitely serves as a reminder that “above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

On top of that, we should do what Paul asks – encourage, comfort, and urge each other to live lives worthy of God. Keep each other in check, identify sins and mistakes, and, most importantly, hold each other accountable.

1 Thessalonians 1

In this chapter, Paul starts off his letter to Thessalonians with grateful words of praise – thanking them for maintaining their faith despite their hardships.

We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

In describing their faith, he highlights three important elements that he appraises them for: faith, love and hope. In fact, these aspects effectively describe how we should approach what we do – from the mentality, motivation and the perseverance in the long term. This is especially important in evangelism, in serving God and when maintaining the notion that everything we do, we do for His glory.

(1) Work Produced by Faith

Faith is “assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). Not only should our actions be in accordance to our belief in God and that the gospel is real, but we should be driven or inspired by it. Us going out of our way to tell the people around us about God should be a direct result of our faith in Christ.

If we can truly understand that evangelism should be a faith-inspired act, then we will be able to overcome our own ‘barriers’ – from the many thoughts and excuses that we might make for ourselves, to the fear of rejection. The chances of success in evangelism is not measured by the things we CAN see  (i.e. our own calculations based on what we know about the other person). But rather, God just wants to count on our faith and whether they accept or not does not depend on us. As the old saying goes: try your best and God will do the rest.

(2) Your Labor Prompted by Love

Here, labor refers to hardship and effort… it even suggests that it might be a painstaking effort as, for most, it requires stepping out of their comfort zones.  In Matthew 5:11, it is written that those who are persecuted in the name of Christ will be rewarded in heaven.Paul writes that our efforts should be fuelled by love: love for God and love for the people. In 1 Corinthians 13, it is written that “love is patient, love is kind” followed by a long list of descriptions of what ‘love’ is. By learning how to love, we can appreciate the value of evangelism and make a sacrifice.

(3) Your Endurance Inspired by Hope

To sustain in the long term, hope is needed to help us endure and persevere. In the context of evangelism, this can be continual rejection or even persecution. Here, hope means optimism – that one should not feel discouraged in the long term but should instead remain motivated in our efforts to spread the gospel!

Colossians 4: Personal Evangelism

How would you define a coincidence? According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a coincidence is: “an occasion when two or more similar things happen at the same time, especially in a way that is unlikely and surprising. Well then, I guess I’ve had my fair share of “coincidences” this weekend (although I’m sure the events are not so much a coincidence as God prompting me to do something).

Although I’m not a regular attendee at Hillsong, I decided to go along with my housemate to their Saturday evening service. The message was about evangelism, and the speaker gave us 3 key points:

  1. Think like a prophet.
  2. Act like an apostle.
  3. Speak like an evangelist.

This Sunday morning at my regular church, the message was ~again~ about evangelism. The pastor reinforced the fact that despite our differing political or social views, it is a mark of the church that we are made up of people who disagree about all kings of things but we agree on one thing – the gospel. We are united by nothing but the gospel.

And, of course, the third and final “coincidence” was this passage – which focuses on evangelism:

And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:3-6) 

Are we making the most of every opportunity? As a matter of fact, a good friend of mine recently reached out to me, expressing an interest to come to church. She even made it there today!  The first part had already been done for me – all I have to do now is continue praying and asking the Holy Spirit to guide me, so that our conversations may be rich and stimulating in Christian content, and that I might know how to best answer her questions.

Of course, sometimes it seems like that is easier said than done. Lots of nagging doubts fill my head – what if she feels threatened by my evangelising? What if I am acting like a hypocrite? What if this disrupts the dynamic of our friendship? What if I’m teaching her the wrong thing? And what about those answers she doesn’t want to hear (who wants to be told that non-believers are going to hell?!)

Well, our Pastor reinforced that we should speak the truth, and nothing but the truth. Christianity is not a sugar-coated faith, why should I sugar-coat things? Of course, this does not translate into being overly brash in my evangelising, but I need God’s wisdom and knowledge to know when best to speak, and how to express myself. I hope I answer his call.

COLOSSIANS 3

Most Christians have a general sense of what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’, of what qualities and behaviours are desired by God. In this chapter, Paul reminds us about the importance of ridding some of these things from our lives (v. 5-10). But what is interesting is the concept of the ‘old self’.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.[b] You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

In verse 7, he writes that “you used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived” and that by being saved, we can take off our “old self with its practices”. It is important to understand the concept of the ‘old self’.

As a Christian who has been going to church for most of his/her life, it is easy to dismiss this. ‘Old self’ does not simply refer to the person you were before coming to Christ, but can be better understood as the person you are when you do not live a godly life or when you do not live according to His will and desires. This is something that everyone will have experienced regardless of how long he/she has been a believer for: whether it is a season where one has strayed from God, or when having a premature or weak relationship with Him.

The ‘old self’ can also be seen as the self without God’s intervention and succumbs to earthly desires and desires of the flesh.

God made each of us unique – from the way we look, to our thoughts/dreams and our personalities; everyone’s walk is different as is their struggles and weaknesses. Whilst some people find it difficult to remain sexually pure (as in v. 5), others find it difficult to remain well-tempered in all situations (v. 8). It is imperative for one to understand his/her own weakness before being able to invite God to help him/her prevail in such struggles.  It is easy to fall into the mentality when we sin that we think “oh, at least I haven’t done ________!”. God doesn’t want us to just check some of the boxes on the list and be pure in some ways. He wants us to follow him wholly and be free from all the things that He does not desire.

We must seek to “put on the new self” (v. 10). Paul tells us that this is achieved by being “renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator”.

This involves three things: (1) knowing WHO God, (2) knowing OUR identity in God and (3) understanding the relationship and role we play between ourselves and God.

This knowledge can be gained through studying the Word and by having a good devotional/prayer lifestyle. In doing so, not only do we gain the knowledge, but we also really learn how to apply it so that our lives can become “renewed”. Through this, we make our Salvation relevant in our lives, understand His desires and to truly learn how to place our weaknesses and vulnerabilities in His strength to overcome.