1 Thessalonians 4 v 1 Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, t
I came across this News report a few days ago –
Boris Trajkovski dies in plane crash “President Boris Trajkovski of Macedonia was an evangelical Christian who led his country courageously in very difficult times. His death in a plane crash earlier today has robbed us of a great European statesman. He more than once addressed the annual European Prayer Breakfast in Brussels very movingly. He recalled how he had had to plead with tears with the highest EU and NATO representatives to intervene with practical security assistance to help stabilise his country during its darkest hour. President Trajkovski had to walk a tightrope between bitter ethnic and political tensions internally and strong competing external forces to lead his country towards peace, stability and economic development from the ruins of the former Yugoslavia. He drew great strength from his faith without which he freely acknowledged his task would have been impossible.” (Care International Bulletin 26\2\04)
As I read this account I thought of Paul in Macedonia 1,950 years ago. I thought of the pioneer missionary work that went on for those few short months as the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ was brought to Macedonia. Was this Christian leader, Boris Trajkovski, in any way connected with the history of Christianity in Thessalonica or Berea or Philippi? We have no way of knowing.
Paul has been doing some LOOKING BACK in his first letter to the Thessalonians.
So far in the letter we have been introduced to the missionary situation in that strategic city of Macedonia and the events that followed it. In particular we have focussed on the news that Timothy brought to Paul in Corinth about the state of the church.
As we approach the 4th Chapter we see Paul’s mind turning in a new direction. We finished Chapter three with Paul’s Prayer to Christ and His Father. We begin Chapter four with Paul’s Plea to Christians. He brings “Counsel to converts” as Andrew Young puts it.
The younger man’s report from Thessalonica had brought great encouragement but it had also highlighted several problem areas in the believers’ lives. Paul responds without criticism or judgment. Rather he turns to exhortation and has as his target some unruly elements in the congregation who needed tenderly to be brought into line by warning them – with Christ’s word. Then there were weak members who needed supporting; and there were those who were fearful in the face of persecution – these needed encouragement.
How do we know of these situations? How have we come by the suggestions of these deficiencies in the church at Thessalonica? Are we guessing? Do we assume from the text of Paul’s exhortations what the problems are by the way that Paul counsels them in words?
No – we do not need to do that – because we have the definitive statement of the problems in chapter 5 v 14
Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.
Here is a list – the undisciplined who needed warning; the feebleminded or fearful who needed encouragement and the weak who needed support. And we could add that there were those that could provoke impatience in the congregation – whether inside or outside of the church – the believers are called to be PATIENT.
The masterpiece of the Scripture, whose author is God the Holy Spirit, impresses us today with its ability to be timeless. These exhortations from Paul to one church in Macedonia are as relevant to us today as they were then. Every church of the Lord Jesus Christ, which is made up of believers with differing backgrounds and spiritual experiences and problems, need these exhortations. In every church there are the unruly, the weak and the fearful members. Let us not look round at each other and seek to categorise each other into one or more of those categories – that would be unhelpful and ungodly and against the spirit of what Paul is saying. In effect Paul writes to believers because there can be elements of weakness, fear and indiscipline in every one of us. We all need this ministry and to apply it to our selves.
So the first part of Chapter 4 is a CALL to this distant flock of believers to take some practical exhortations to their hearts.
1. A Call to live to please the Lord God v 1 – 2 2. A Call to Holiness and Purity v 3 – 8 3. A Call to Brotherly Love v 9 – 10 4. A Call to Work v 11 – 12
The second part of Chapter 4 begins to open up some instructions about the Christian’s Hope – that is certain knowledge – of the future, and in particular how the Lord Jesus Christ will come again and its impact on believers. From verse 13 through into Chapter 5 to verse 11 Paul deals with the Parousia, Christ’s return. He reassures those who are worried about their relatives who have already died – that they will not be left out of the events of the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
So this morning we embark on the first of those calls from the Apostle
1. A Call to live to please the Lord God v 1 – 2
1 Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more. 2 For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus.
Right from the beginning of their Christian lives new converts to the saviour must be told that new life in Christ is a holy life – a life that is bent on pleasing God by obeying His commandments. One commentator has said this with which we should heartily agree –
“One of the greatest weaknesses of our contemporary evangelical Christianity is our comparative neglect of Christian ethics, in both our teaching and our practice. In consequence we have become known as people who preach the Gospel rather than those who live and adorn it. We are not always conspicuous in the community, as we should be, for our respect for the sanctity and quality of human life; our commitment to social justice; our personal honesty and integrity in business, our simplicity in lifestyle and happy contentment, in contrast to the greed of the consumer society; or for the stability of our homes in which unfaithfulness and divorce are almost unknown and our children grow up in the secure love of their parents. Are we surprised that statistically the performance of marriage and family life is stronger in the Jewish community than in the Christian! Why is this? Because our Churches on the whole, do not teach Biblical Christian ethics. We are so busy preaching the Gospel that we neglect the teaching of the law. Certainly our acceptance before God does not depend on our observance of the law – Christ did that on our behalf. Nevertheless we as Christian are obliged to keep the moral law and God’s commandments. It would be unthinkable for the saviour to have kept the law on our behalf so that it may be written in our hearts and the righteous requirements of the law be fully met in us by the Holy Spirit, if we did not obey and adhere to the law! There is an urgent need for us, as pluralism and relativism, humanism and atheism spread worldwide, to follow Paul’s example and give people plain, practical, ethical and Biblical teaching.” J Stott 1991
We say Amen to these words. As a church who loves the Gospel and the One, the Lord Jesus Christ, who brought us that Gospel, we should also be ready to live the Gospel every day. This practical section of Paul’s letter that calls us to please God is up to date and necessary today.
1. Paul’s Appeal v 1
Paul starts in verse 1 with the word ‘Furthermore’
Truly it is a word that means ‘finally’ or ‘for the rest’. But the Apostle is not finished – he merely uses the word to make the transition into practical things.
then we beseech you, brethren,
Paul calls them brethren – not children but brethren. This passage is for us – believers in the same Lord Jesus Christ. Certainly Paul is continuing the ministry to the Thessalonians that he started when he was with them. Then he was careful with them. Look back to verses 7 and 11 of chapter 2
7 But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children:
11 As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children, 12 That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.
However children grow up and move through various stages to adulthood – when parents can become friends and adults on an equal footing. So now Paul calls them brethren.
This is further born out by his use of certain words here.
The word BESEECH is an interesting one. It means to ASK, DESIRE OR REQUEST.
There are 2 Greek words used in the New Testament translated by the word Beseech.
1. AITEO. The first is used by a person in a lesser position asking for something from someone more senior. Several examples of this are in the Gospels.
It is used of a child asking a parent for something –
Matthew 7 v 9 Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? 10 Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?
It is used of a human being asking for something from God – in the same chapter –
Matthew 7 v 7 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
It was used of the priests and people asking Pontius Pilate for Jesus to be crucified –
Luke 23 v 23 And they were instant with loud voices, requiring that he might be crucified. And the voices of them and of the chief priests prevailed.
Then it is used of a subject desiring something from a King – in Acts 12 v 20
And Herod was highly displeased with them of Tyre and Sidon: but they came with one accord to him, and, having made Blastus the king’s chamberlain their friend, desired peace;
All of these are the word AITEO.
2. Paul does not use it here. Paul uses the other word ‘beseech’ – EROTAO which means to ask of an equal. As he urges these disciples to please God he appeals to them on the basis that they all are recipients of the same love and grace of God.
The Lord Jesus Christ uses it when speaking to God –
John 14 v 16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;
The lame man at the gate of the temple asked Peter and John for money – he asked them as equals –
Acts 3 v 3 Who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple asked an alms.
The scripture faithfully records the incident in Luke 7 when a Pharisee, who treated the Lord Jesus Christ as another Rabbi or teacher, an equal in other words, asked Jesus to come and have a meal with him.
Luke 7 v 36 And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him.
From this word beseech in our text we first of all have a further example of the way that words communicate great truths. Last week we had an example of treating God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ as one in chapter 3 v 11. Now we can see that the Lord Jesus Christ addresses the Father in prayer using the word indicating equality!
Secondly we see the point as this word is applied to us – believers in the Lord Jesus Christ yet equal with all other believers – including Paul. We are equals with each other in God’s sight – we are equal in sin and in our fallen nature; we are equal in salvation since the same Lord saves us with the same power; we are equal in eternal terms – for we shall all enjoy heaven and spend the same eternal destiny with the Lord Jesus Christ gazing at Him as we lie prostrate before His throne – adoring and praising Jesus the King of Love! Therefore we should never ever believe ourselves to be superior to any other fellow Christian. Paul leads the way in this with his use of language.
Paul goes on to say now
and exhort you by the Lord Jesus,
Exhort is another fascinating word. It is PARAKALEO – to call to one’s side – to urge someone to pursue a particular course of conduct. When used the word is always prospective – it looks to the future.
And putting these two words together we get a sense of the fervent desire in Paul’s heart for these Christians at Thessalonica – He requests and urges them to consider the importance of maintaining Christian character and holiness. He urges them “by virtue of their union with the Lord Jesus Christ whom he represents and whose Spirit inspires him.”
Paul speaks down the centuries to us. He asks, indeed urges us through the Lord Jesus Christ to be like Christ – to walk like Christ and to please God in doing so. There is a need for this exhortation right through the length of the Gospel age. Christians will need this urging right up until the point when the saviour comes again. Which is why it has been preserved in the Word of God like this. Are we listening to Paul’s urgings, pleadings, exhortations today?
None of what Paul had to say would have taken his readers by surprise. He says that what he was saying was simply reinforcing teaching that they had already received when he had been with them in Thessalonica.
that as ye have received of us
Paul will recall that while he had been at Thessalonica he had not only concentrated on the preaching of the Gospel. He was also involved in teaching the new believers how to live to please the Lord in their daily lives. This had been the great commission –
Matthew 28 v 19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you:
The Thessalonians had already received some teaching from Paul – now they needed some more.
how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.
We have seen in the past how the word WALK has to do with conduct and behaviour. Believers must not be static. We must ever be on the move – forwards preferably – onwards hopefully. We should ever be asking ourselves, “Are we making progress? Are we getting somewhere?”
But by what standard are we to measure our progress?
Paul makes it plain that our whole aim should be to please God. It has been said that the whole purpose of man’s existence is that He should please his creator – God. The Apostle tells us in Romans 8 v 8 who CANNOT please God –
So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.
He tells us in 1 Corinthians 10 v 31 in what activities we can please and glorify God –
Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.
So in whatever we do wherever we go we should be seeking God’s glory and seeking to please Him at all costs.
In these introductory verses Paul is not being specific, but laying down a general rule and dealing with the WHOLE OF LIFE for the Christian. WALK usually means the whole of the believer’s manner of living – not just his career – but everything about life. In the early days of Christianity a designation was given, that known as THE WAY. Luke describes it when writing about Paul before his conversion in Acts 9 v 2
And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.
The term spread into Europe for we read about people in Ephesus later in Acts 19 v 23
And the same time there arose no small stir about that way.
The whole Christian life is God centred. Christians should not walk or live with a view to obtaining the maximum amount of satisfaction for themselves – rather they are to walk in order to please the Lord God. Our whole demeanour must be driven this way – How can I please the Lord today – in this situation – in that conversation – with that group of people – or even when I am on my own and have so called time to myself? Will the Lord get joy from what I purpose to do today? Do we ask ourselves these questions? Paul implies that we should. Sadly human nature, being what it is, leans to the temptation to make our own satisfaction our primary goal – what I want – what I need – what is my right! In this exhortation from the Lord Jesus Christ through Paul we are urged to look beyond our own needs and pleasures and seek to please our Father. It is sad that even some professing Christians, have not realised this. They can be very selfish and self centred – and self and its pleasure principle comes before pleasing God. May the Lord help us to overcome selfishness in all its presentations – and may we learn day by day what it is to truly please the Lord – abounding at it! Matthew Henry at this point says, “The apostle taught them how to walk not how to talk! To talk well without living well will never bring us to heaven – for the character of those who are truly in Christ Jesus is that they walk NOT after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Not according to the selfish nature, but according to the selfless pleasing nature of the Lord Jesus Christ through His Spirit. Does this describe us my friends?
In verse 2 Paul speaks about Authority – his authority for saying what he has said and what he is about to say in succeeding verses –
2. Paul’s Authority v 2
2 For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus.
Paul is not misusing the name of the Lord Jesus Christ here – rather he is encouraging further progress. Paul is under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ himself, and he has been given Christ’s authority to speak on the Lord’s behalf.
And it is the Lord’s desire that spiritual growth should be real in the believers at Thessalonica. The original instructions that Paul writes about now WERE Christ’s instructions. This was something that they knew well. Paul’s preaching had been accompanied by such spiritual power that his hearers had accepted the message as from God rather then from man!
Chapter 1 v 5 For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.
Chapter 2 v 13 For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.
Paul’s authority and credentials had never come into question. The source of the Gospel message and the instructive teaching was not Paul but the Lord Jesus Christ – Paul was the messenger – like a military courier bringing despatches from the Commander in chief to the troops – yet with the Commander’s full authority to speak.
Is the life that pleases God merely a lofty ideal that is worth aspiring to? Is it something that we have as an elevated goal to strive towards but it won’t matter if we don’t achieve it?
Neither of these is right!
There is a demand made upon us as Christian people backed by the full authority of the Lord Jesus Christ our King. It is that we live lives that are pleasing to the King.
Cold obedience out a sense of duty will never satisfy him.
Rather our saviour requires that we devote ourselves GLADLY and GRATEFULLY to a life that pleases God.
Are we up to this my friends? Do we acknowledge the authority of the word of God that demands these things of us – and rightly so? May we all heed this call to Walk with the Lord – to please the Lord and to glorify Him!