Love, Joy, Reason

1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

The caption in my Bible for these 16 verses is “Final instructions and benediction.” I don’t think it is a good caption, considering the depth of what Paul wrote. Fortunately, the captions are not part of the Word, but were added by editors, supposedly to make reading easier. Sometimes they can be helpful, but sometimes they don’t make sense.

There is so much packed into these verses. It’s a description of how to live out our faith on multiple fronts. I see three broad categories: act in love, choose joy, and use your mind.

Acting in love takes many forms. First, humility by respecting those who are called to teach us. Then, living at peace with each other – even when we guide each other into godliness. There is no place for disparaging judgment in the family of faith, only patient restoration done in and through relationships.

Choosing joy is a recurring theme in Scripture. Here, Paul says we should rejoice ALWAYS. Even when we don’t feel like it. We are to pray continually with gratitude for EVERY circumstance. That is so hard! It certainly doesn’t come naturally to me, but there it is: gratitude and joy are not feelings, but choices made when we converse with the Father.

God made us senescent, thinking, reasoning beings. We are not animals that act on instinct, nor are we to be gullible followers of any person who uses Christian jargon for selfish gain. Paul is clear: test everything. That means using the brain that sets us apart from the animals to think, question, challenge, and search out the Word, keeping what is true and turning away from that which is not. If someone teaches that what we do influences our salvation, it is evil. Only God can make us holy and that happens when we know Him with our minds, as well as hearts, souls, and strengths.

Paul saves the best for the end: He who calls you is faithful and He will do it [He will set apart and make holy those who follow Him]. Knowing that my salvation is in Jesus and my sanctification is the work of the God of peace Himself means I am free to act in love, choose joy, and use my mind.

More and more

1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

The Thessalonians acted on their beliefs, even though they didn’t know as much as Paul would have liked them to know. He told them that they had been taught by God to love one another, and he encouraged them to not only continue in their love, but to increase it, loving each other more and more. The holy love they lived out was part of their journey to sanctification.

We can never love too much on our journey to being sanctified in Christ. Paul defined the process of becoming set apart and made holy as being continual; we never stop becoming the name He gave us when we first believed this side of heaven.

We can never be too loving, too pure, too kind, too compassionate, too forgiving, or too holy. The will of God for believers is for us to work hard, live without creating drama, and love each other more and more. Our reputations verify and validate our testimony.

Loving God fully shows itself in loving others authentically. When we love and live in Jesus, we will do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly more and more (Micah 6:8). 

Keep in step

There is a really cool percussive dance genre called Stepping. When I read Galatians 5 this morning, all I could imagine was a team of people using their whole bodies and their voices to create complex rhythms with a message. Stepping requires coordination, discipline, practice, unity, and commitment for the routine to have its full effect.

The same thing is true of the Church. Paul reiterates our freedom in Christ throughout this chapter, this time explaining that with great freedom comes great responsibility (apologies to Peter Parker). What we do (or do not do) cannot buy our freedom in Christ; only his gift of mercy and grace can do that. However, once we live in that freedom we live it out in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Our actions and attitudes reflect what (or whom) we worship.

All Christians are called to live out this lifestyle. The Church is made up of wonderfully made unique individuals who join together to serve one another and to reach the hurting people of the world. But when we isolate ourselves or get so caught up in the works we do, we fall out of step, and God’s message of hope gets muddled. We need to be committed and disciplined to learn the steps together so that the Church can manifest the complex rhythms that will draw people to Jesus. When the Church is in step with the Spirit, it is a powerful force that can withstand any evil that comes against it.