Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg

with Tom Fuller

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4 Keys to Success

1Thessalonians 5:12-28

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I think every Christian struggles with this question: what are the ingredients for a successful church and an obedient Christian? Instead of reading the whole Bible we want it summed up in Cliff Notes or in bite-sized 140 characters tweets. Now, while I certainly would encourage you to read your Bible—Paul at the end of 1st Thessalonians gives us sort of a Reader’s Digest version of how to get along with each other and lead a successful Christian life.

His exhortations involve:

  • How to live without giving your leaders headaches
  • How to love so that the weak are helped, not trounced
  • How to worship so that you have proper perspective
  • How to evaluate your environment so you are of the most use

We then end with a promise that if you follow these exhortations, you will see growth in your life.

12 – 13

Paul has just encouraged the brothers and sisters to “build each other up.” Paul’s talking not about giving each other a “pep talk” but about building a structure—constructing a character. To help them, he gives this flock four valuable pieces of advice.

The first is: don’t give your leaders headaches.

There’s no doubt about it—being a leader in a church is hard work. It is hard both physically and emotionally. Paul bookends his description of the elders in Thessalonica with “labor” and “work hard.” “Work hard” means to toil. “Labor” means to become fatigued though effort. The job of an elder is really two-fold as Paul outlines it here: to lead and admonish.

To lead means “to preside over” but I think the broader context of that is to make sure that the sheep are properly fed and protected as any good shepherd would do. Give the sheep a good balanced diet of teaching, encouragement and opportunity that will lead to growth. Secondly, they are to “admonish” which means to “caution gently”. So, when a leader sees someone moving away from the character of God, they are to gently bring them back without harshness.

Paul wants the church to do two things in response to the leaders: “give recognition” and “regard … very highly in love.” To “give recognition” means literally to “be aware.” We as members of a congregation need to recognize the hard work of our leaders, appreciate and cooperate with them in that work. To “regard highly” is one of Paul’s “super words”. The idea is to go above and beyond in showing them agape love.

What is one of the best ways to do that? To be at peace with one another. I’ve got to say that in my 40 years of ministry, the thing that is the most taxing and tiring and discouraging is when brothers and sisters are fighting with one another, hurting one another, competing against one another, or passive aggressively trying to put one down so they can lift themselves up. And, by the way, most of the time this happens below the conscious level of most people. We do it but don’t realize we are engaged in self- and –other destructive behaviors.

If we would all focus on building one another up instead of tearing each other down—the church, and church leaders would be much happier.

14 – 15 How to love so that the weak are helped, not trounced

These exhortations are how we can all aid in creating a healthy church.

  • Admonish the disorderly (“warn those who are irresponsible”). If there is a troublemaker, tell them to stop it!
  • Comfort the discouraged. If someone is downtrodden, depressed, undergoing a trial—bring comfort to them. Stand by them. Pray for them. Do good things for them.
  • Help the weak means to provide support for those who can’t stand on their own.
  • Be patient with everyone. What great advice. And how often we ignore it. Give some space. Don’t freak out. Let cooler heads prevail—don’t react in the moment.

Verse 15 is such great advice but we tend to think that as long as we don’t hit someone that we are following it. Not by a long shot. There are so many ways we “get back” at others through a look, a bit of gossip, leaving them out of something. I love what Paul says to do instead: to “pursue” what is good for the other and for the church as a whole.

What this mean is that before you think a thought, say a word, of do an action you need to consider: how will this help this person grow spiritually and how will it help the church to grow strong in representing the gospel? Our lives, our relationships, and our churches would be revolutionized if we did this one thing. I wish it were more common, but it is not.

Paul next focuses on Part 3: how to worship to get proper perspective.

16 – 22

In light of the difficulties the Thessalonians faced, the advice in verses 16 through 22 might seem a bit tone deaf. “Don’t you know what we’re going through?” they might ask. In reality, though, Paul’s admonishment is perfect for anyone undergoing a trial. He is saying, in essence: “Focus not on the darkness, but lift up praise and prayers upwards to God, knowing that He is causing all things to work together for the good.” We live in the darkness and we experience its effects but it does not define who we are.

We rejoice always because God is good in every bad situation. We pray constantly because only He has the answers and we need His perspective.

He goes on to note that our relationship with God is not static but dynamic. Before leaving for heaven, Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit. We should not stifle the Spirit’s power and work in and through our lives, especially in times of trouble—when His Spirit shines more brightly. In those times we should also be open to those who speak edification, exhortation, and comfort into our lives through prophecies.

1 Corinthians 14:3 (HCSB) But the person who prophesies speaks to people for edification, encouragement, and consolation.

Open yourself up for the Spirit’s comfort – He is known as the Comforter (John 14:26) and the comfort of those who speak on behalf of God into your life – however – there are some caveats here.

Paul says to “test all things.” The Greek word means to examine, approve, and discern. Don’t just open up your heart to everything anyone says. This has led to all kinds of false doctrine. Instead test to see if what is said lines up with the revealed Word of God and the gospel of Jesus.

Hold on to those things that are true and reject those things that are not. Paul may also be making a general statement about holding on to good things in your character and around you – and avoiding doing things that are not of God’s character.

Paul finishes the letter with another beautiful benediction to sum it all up.

 23 – 24

The ultimate aim of God is peace. He is the “God of peace” and the sacrifice of Jesus has brought about peace with God (Romans 5:1). Paul calls us to “be at peace” in verse 13. Peace is both the cessation of conflict and the creation of a new oneness. In this process God’s Spirit changes us (“sanctification”). Paul’s prayer is that this process run completely through us—spirit, soul, and body. The goal is that when Jesus comes back He will present us as a spotless bride (Ephesians 5:27).

The immediate reaction might be: “I’m too impure—it won’t work with me!” So Paul adds the fact that it isn’t us but God, who can be trusted, “who will also do it.”

Phil 2:13 “For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose.

25 – 28

In conclusion Paul asks for three things: that they pray for he, Timothy, and Silas, that they greet one another (kind of like: give each other a hug for me) and that they read the letter openly.

His final admonition: that the grace of Jesus be with them.

Conclusions

I think really that the last part of the letter can be summed up nicely in two ways:

  1. Don’t work at cross-purposes with the leaders in your church
  2. Don’t work at cross-purposes with your brothers and sisters

Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:1 “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” Your leaders work hard to show you how to reflect God’s character in your life. Be moldable, cooperative, teachable and appreciative of those efforts. If you find yourself having a problem with a leader first ask yourself—is this something me and my attitude or is there something they are doing that is counter to their charge.

As Paul said here in 5:23 “May the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely” We are all works in progress and because of that – when we interact with each other there are bound to be elements of God’s character and elements of our old nature that compete for supremacy.

In your interactions—question your motives first. Think and pray before you react, before you speak, before you act. Ask yourself: how can I help the other person grow in their relationship and showing the character of God? You may find your reaction has more to do with you and hurt pride than you’d like to admit. 

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