“Finally, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.” 1 Thessalonians 4:1
Yoga is a fitness phenomenon that everyone seems to either do themselves or know someone who knows someone who knows someone who tried it once. If you’ve ever tried it, you know that, although it may look painless enough, it is HARD! It takes immense strength and balance to be effective. You must try and find that ever-delicate balance of grace and strength. The Bible paints a similar picture when it comes to our “efforts” spiritually. Jesus said in Matthew 11:28 that He would “give us rest” when we come to Him. However, Paul says in Philippians 2:12-13 to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” So are we not to work and simply rest? Or are we to strive and work out our own salvation? The answer is YES. There is an ever-delicate balance between resting in God’s grace and striving by God’s grace. It’s His power in us working out and becoming evident in our lives. A “spiritually lazy” Christian is an oxymoron. As we abide in Christ, His life will be pressed out through us and we will strive by the grace of God in us. That is what Paul is exhorting the Thessalonians to do in our passage as well.
Taking an honest evaluation of your walk with Jesus: Are you not striving at all, striving in your own strength, or striving by God’s grace? Take some time to talk to God about this.
“They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. From morning till evening, he explained and declared to them the kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and the Prophets.” Acts 28:23
If someone asked you, “What is the book of Acts all about?”, what would you say? Is it about the Day of Pentecost and the many different signs and wonders in the early church? Is it about the birth of the New Testament church? Is about Paul and his missionary journeys? Those answers are a part of the book of Acts, but they don’t really get to the heart of the purpose of the book of Acts. So what’s the overarching theme of the book of Acts? Acts is all about the expansion of the kingdom of God to the ends of the earth. Acts starts with Jesus talking about nothing but the kingdom (Acts 1:3). And Acts finishes with Paul talking about nothing but the kingdom, all the while he was under house arrest in the city of Rome (Acts 28:23). Therefore, it begs a serious question. If the mission to expand the kingdom of God to the ends of the earth was what consumed Jesus’ life before He ascended and was all that Paul talked about when he was in Rome, is the expansion of the kingdom even on our radar today?
When was the last time you considered how you personally can expand the kingdom of God in your everyday life?
“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 in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God.” 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4
Imagine you are on a sidewalk waiting to cross a busy street during rush hour. Across the street there will most likely be a big flashing red hand with the word “wait, don’t walk” warning you of the dangers of crossing before it was safe to do so. Now, imagine you were with a friend who was angry at this sign. “This sign is trying to steal my joy of crossing this street! Why does this sign not want me to have the freedom of doing what I want?!” In a similar way, we understand that God made sex. And God made sex good in the right context, namely marriage. God is not trying to rob us of joy or freedom any more than the sign on the busy street is trying to rob us of our freedom of crossing the street. God’s “no” and God’s “wait” is protection, not punishment. He is protecting us from getting hurt by trying to cross a dangerous road when the time is not right. Paul is challenging the Thessalonians with this idea and challenging us in our culture with the same: Do we trust God and His timing of the gifts that He created and gave us?
Do you view God’s commands and “waits” as protection or punishment? Are there any of God’s “signs” that you are ignoring right now that have put you in a dangerous place?
“For God did not call us to be impure, but to love a holy life.” 1 Thessalonians 4:7
We’ve all experienced a baby’s first steps. Whether it was our own child, a brother or sister, a niece or nephew or maybe even a viral video online. It’s a beautiful sight to see someone who has never walked before, take those first few awkward steps. But it is not as cute if a grown man would post a video of himself walking a few steps. Why? Because the reason the baby’s steps are monumental and the man’s steps are not, is because of the growth and progress associated. There are two often misinterpreted biblical doctrines that we all experience as believers. Firstly, justification. Simply put, justification speaks of God declaring people righteous before Him. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection and faith in that work, we are not guilty; justified! It is a one-time event. Sanctification, however, is the journey to becoming holy, it’s a process. A sometimes painful one. Why? Because we’re so far from it! As Paul says, God has called us to live a holy life, a pure life. Sanctification is His process to grow us to conform into the image of Jesus. In other words, every follower of Jesus has a next step. Our perfection won’t come until we see Jesus face to face; so there is always a next step to take!
“Where is God working on you right now in your sanctification process? What is your next step?”
“Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14
If you were in a competition as a young boy or girl or competed in any kind of sport in junior high or high school, you probably received some kind of trophy. A trophy is a physical symbol of a past victory. And years later, when that trophy is viewed, memories of the good ole’ days rush back into one’s mind. Similarly, the Apostle Paul had spiritual trophies from past victories. Paul preached and saw many come to Christ. He planted churches. All in all, he had many high spiritual mountain top experiences. But whatever accomplishments he had, he intentionally forgot about them all to pursue His personal relationship with Jesus. For you, maybe it was a mission trip several years ago, maybe it was seeing that family member come to know Jesus personally. These past victories are to be celebrated but not at the expense of following Jesus in what He desires for us today.
What has been your perspective on past spiritual victories? Have they held you back from experiencing what God wants to do in your life today?