1 Thesssalonians 4:1-2
1. What did Paul teach the Thessalonians when he was with them?
Paul taught them the gospel and then the new identify that they were given in Christ. The result of their new identity should be changed behavior. So, Paul instructed them in what that new behavior should look like based on who they were in Christ.
2. If we are saved by grace, why is there so much emphasis on pleasing God in the New Testament letters?
Accepting God’s grace results in a person being in Christ and the Holy Spirit being in the person who has been saved. These two things should result in a change in behavior. If a person is not striving to please God, then the concern is that the Holy Spirit is not alive in them. This would mean that their behavior is still being determined by their own selfish desires. If God is at work in us, then we will be becoming more like Jesus every day (Romans 8:28,29).
The second reason for this emphasis is that a Christian’s behavior is what other people see. If we are living to please God, then people will get a living picture of who God is and what He is like. Some people will be attracted to this and come to be saved as well.
3. What does Paul ask the Thessalonians to do?
The expression that Paul uses is “more and more.” Paul’s expectation is that people who are following Jesus will grow to be more and more like him every day.
Object lesson: A balloon in a box. If I insert a deflated balloon through a small hole in the bottom of a box. Blow up the balloon. What is the shape of the balloon? The balloon will conform to the shape of the box. If I blow up the balloon outside the box the sides of the balloon will be round. Inside the box the sides of the balloon will be flat.
When we are in Christ and the Holy Spirit is in us the Spirit will fill us until we have taken on the shape of Christ.
4. Why should we pay attention to what Paul writes?
Paul is not just sharing his own opinions. Instead, he is communicating what Jesus has asked him to communicate. Paul is telling us that we should regard his words in the same way we would regard Jesus’ words.
1 Thessalonians 4:3-8
1. Why is sexual behavior the first issue that Paul confronts?
I think this is important to Paul because what we do with our bodies reveals how we think about ourselves and others. Also, because God’s expectations are different from the world’s expectations our behavior also reveals how we think about God.
2. What was the standard for sexual behavior in Grecian culture when Paul wrote this?
The simplest description is that anything was acceptable. The assumption was that both men and women would have multiple sexual partners. Homosexuality was considered normal, especially between high class men and boys. Sexual intimacy was a normal part of worship in the temples of the Greek gods. We can assume that the new Christians in Thessalonica were active participants in this sexual culture.
3. Why is sexual immorality such a big thing for God?
When God created the first man and woman, he created sex. In the Bible we find several purposes for the sexual relationship. The primary purpose was reproduction. Marriage was intended to provide a stable family structure for the raising of children. It is also clear that God designed sex to bring pleasure. Sex the way God designed it is one of the most intimate ways to express love to another person. Sex can also be used selfishly and abusively.
4. Why is rejection of God’s standard for sexual morality a rejection of God Himself?
Refer to Romans 1:18-28. If God is the creator, then we honor God by expressing our sexuality in the way He designed for it to be expressed. If we assume that there is no creator, then we have rejected what God reveals about Himself. Once we’ve done this anything is acceptable that the society around us considers acceptable.
1 Thessalonians 4:9-12
1. What does love look like in the early church?
The highest expression of love in the early church is found in Acts 2:42-47. The earliest Christians held all their possessions in common. This was an exceptional situation brought on by the fact that many of the first believers were not living in their homes but stayed on in Jerusalem after Pentecost. By the time this letter was written the normal expression of love was that those who had resources shared them with those who didn’t. The expectation was that no one would go without the basic needs of life: food, clothing, and shelter.
2. What might happen in a church characterized by this kind of love?
The risk is that some might abuse this love and generosity. They would stop working and depend on the wealthy to supply their needs. In this way they stopped loving and allowed greed and laziness to define them.
3. How does Paul’s instruction counter this tendency?
Paul’s consistent instruction is that everyone should work to provide for his or her own needs. Only those who are incapable of working were to be provided for. It is interesting that this instruction from Paul was apparently resisted by some in the church at Thessalonica and in Paul’s second letter he addresses this issue even more directly.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
1. What is causing the church in Thessalonica great concern?
Based on Paul’s response it appears that they are very concerned about people who have died before Jesus’ return. They apparently believed that once a person died, he or she could not be resurrected. They believed this in spite of the fact that their decision to follow Jesus and regard Him as the Son of God was based on Paul’s testimony to Jesus’ resurrection.
2. What are they looking forward to?
They are looking forward to the return of Jesus and their departure to heaven with him.
3. What are they concerned their dead brothers and sisters might miss?
They are concerned that their brothers and sisters who have died might miss out on heaven and eternal life. This may have resulted from an assumption that a whole physical body was required for eternal life.
4. How does Paul describe Jesus’ return?
The most important part of Paul’s description is that both those who have died in Christ and those who are alive in Christ will be taken to heaven with Christ. Paul tells us that we’ll know Jesus is returning when we hear a loud voice and a trumpet call. I have no doubt that we will recognize it as something we have never heard before. We will rise and meet Jesus in the sky.
Material for this and the other lessons from Philippians are drawn from two primary sources and my own observations: