Sojourning Through Thessalonians

Sojourning Through Thessalonians

Study Guide, January 7, 2024

Pastor Clay Olsen

I appreciate Pastor Robert getting us off to a great start in the New Year with that focus on ‘growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ’. Imagine the usefulness to the Lord, the blessings to others around us, and the motivation for daily living for us that can come from such a daily focus on growing in God’s grace…the sufficiency of God’s favors and strengths He supplies to us, and then practicing that grace in how we treat others and talk to others around us. God’s grace not only changed our lives for eternity…but passing on God’s grace to others around us is what changes other’s lives day by day. And then imagine the pleasure that God takes in watching us seeking to know Him more and more so that we can then serve Him better and better. To realize that we can bring joy to God by our pursuit of the knowledge of God is astounding, as well as inspiring. Plus, how great to know that the very thing that God longs to teach us, His truth, is the very thing that this world desperately needs since it is captive to falsehoods. Only God’s truths can set them free from the devil’s lies. And only then do they come to understand how deceived they were all that time. And by the way, realize again, that people won’t thank you for sharing God’s truths with them until after they have received God’s truths. Until then they will usually resist you or reject you. Just a little reminder there to keep our expectations in check!

So, once again, thanks Pastor Robert for that focus. And as we continue to launch into the New Year we have a couple of focus words to share with you. And both have to do with identity. One is just for fun, and the other is for…well, we’ll get into that soon. Here’s the fun and a bit surprising one. Did you know that the divider that you use in check-out stands at stores actually has a technical name? It’s technically called a ‘Spratchet’. Really, I just found that out…a Spratchet! And you might want to have some fun when you go through your grocery or general store checkout to let them in on one of America’s best kept secrets…you can let them know that little divider thing-a-ma-jig has a name after all. And once they know it, they will then know something that is one of the least known things in the world.

But even more helpful than that, more profitable than that, is this second word: Sojourner…for a Sojourner is what we are and who we are in this foreign land of this present world. And the more that we understand that a ‘Sojourner’ is our real identity the more realistic we will be able to think about and to deal with everything around us as we sojourn through this foreign land. If there is one pulsating message that pounds throughout the New Testament letters it is this: We are to understand that when we gave our life to Christ and received His life into ours that we were delivered from this kingdom of darkness and transferred into God’s Kingdom of Light. You no longer belong to this world. You belong to God’s world and to an entirely New Cosmic order that God is about to create…as He re-creates His new world with His new family.

Or to put it succinctly…one neon-light message of the New Testament to God’s Born-again children is this: ‘Stop thinking about this world like it’s your home! It’s not! It’s not your world any more than as Jesus said to Pilate, that this world was not His world. Our world is Jesus’ world…and Jesus’ world is not this world. Jesus’ world is the world of Heaven and the New world which is going to include a New Earth that He is working on even now. That is our world. And since the New World is our world, that clearly makes us ‘Sojourners’ in this old world…this cursed world…this decaying world…this dying world…this world that is coming nearer and nearer to a second judgment just like the world in the days of Noah fell under the judgment of the Flood. Noah and his family didn’t belong in that world and neither do you and I and all of God’s family belong in this world.

But again, in order to know how to live in this world, you have to know who you are in this world…and, again, you are a ‘Sojourner’…a pilgrim, a traveler…traveling through this lost and dying world on your way home to your real world…Jesus’ world…the world that Jesus said was His world. And He is just about ready to replace this old world with His new world. So, in the meantime, what do we do? We share the saving truths of the Gospel every way we can everywhere we can to everyone we can, and we try to show the grace of God every way we can everywhere we can to everyone we can as we seek to do what Jesus did while He was in this world…helping others physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. We seek to bless others as we sojourn through this old world to our new world.

So again…we be ‘Sojourners’! And since we are Sojourners, we’re going to ‘sojourn through the letters to the Thessalonians, since their journey was a lot like the journey on which we now find ourselves. And even like with our blessed time of Communion, the Thessalonian believers were also looking for the Lord’s soon return and the fulfillment of what Jesus said that He would partake of this ‘Supper’ with us in His Kingdom. That Kingdom is getting closer day by day. Where Jesus was once sitting at the right hand of the Father, He is now standing right at the door…just about to return in His Second Advent…or we could say…second Christmas…the first one is done, the second one is closer than ever!

Let’s begin our sojourn through Thessalonians. Let’s look at how it starts and then we’ll look at how it all started. That makes sense, right? 1 Thess 1:1-3- “Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father.” NASU

You remember Silas…Silas was with Paul on his second missionary journey. We remember him a lot from when he and Paul broke out in a ‘song festival’ in a prison in Philippi. Philippian jailers weren’t used to hearing prisoners rocking out in praise songs. But God’s people do a lot of things differently from the world…because why? Because we belong to a different world! And through their praise and God’s truths, that Jailer received the Redeemer, and he also become a new family member of God’s world. But it was after leaving Philippi that Paul and Silas traveled to Thessalonica and planted a church there.

Now, right away, something we should note about Paul and then try to emulate in our own lives is his practice of the edification of others. Paul understood that in order to build up churches you have to build up the churched…you have to build up the people. Paul was a ‘bodybuilder’. He built up people by recognizing their strengths and thus reinforcing their strong works…their good works. Oswald Chambers pointed out that we don’t often realize what a blessing we are to others, and therefore we need to specialize in commending others, in edifying others, in pointing out how they have blessed our lives or other’s lives. That’s part of our body-building ministry is to keep other believers encouraged and strengthened for their service.

And even when offering correction Paul would first offer some commendation, for it is commendation that opens the door for correction. That principle is one of the strongest principles in every area of life, from person to person to family to church to business and to just every area of life. It’s like that statement made popular through Friendship Evangelism: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

It’s not just an inter-personal or business relationship principle…it is a Biblical principle: Commendation, where possible, before correction. We see God doing that even as He corrected the churches of Revelation. He commended what they had done before He corrected them for what they hadn’t done or needed to be doing. He offered them a “You’ve done well in this”, before He stated to them a “But I have this against you…” So as we, too, practice this principle as often as we can in every arena of life that we can, we will find a new power in persuasion that both changes lives and blesses lives…even our own!

Next, look at the focus of Paul’s commendation, which became for these Thessalonians and for every church body, their ‘trinity of ministry’. Again, “We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father.” Where have we heard that before? A few years after writing this letter to the Thessalonians Paul wrote a letter to the Corinthians. And in one of the most important chapters in the New Testament Paul concluded it by saying: 1 Cor 13:12-13- “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” NASU So there it is again. This ‘trinity of ministry’ became a theme for what was essential for God’s people in order to be useful and helpful to the Trinity of our God.

If you want to evaluate how you are doing in your discipleship, if you want to measure how helpful, how useful, how faithful you are being to God, look no further, because the answer to that is found in how much you are acting upon and demonstrating to God and others your work of faith, your labor of love, and your steadfastness of hope. And notice that Paul has already provided the ‘qualifiers’ of each so that we can each both better understand and better measure how we are doing in each of these ‘duties’ of ours. ‘Duties’ you say? Yes, duties we say. Look at the words again: ‘work’, ‘labor, ‘steadfastness’.

Let’s break it down…Work of faith. This is not a reference to the faith that saves, but to the faith that works after becoming saved. An unsaved person is saved ‘by God’s grace through their faith’. And that is a repentant faith…the kind of faith that turns to God with the intention of following Christ and trusts in the forgiveness and gift of new spiritual life in Christ. That kind of faith opens the door of your life to Christ and invites Him into your life. And now the ‘work of faith’ is the kind of faith where you now follow Christ out the door of your life with your commitment to follow His lead in how to deal with everything and everyone in your life. And thus, the question is: So how is that part working for you? How is your ‘work of faith’ working out for you? And we each well know if we are working out our faith in following Christ’s lead or not.

Next: Labor of love. Okay, this one takes the whole concept of ‘love’ to the next level…to now being a ‘labor of love’. And in doing so we have just gone from the world’s levels of ‘eros’ love and ‘phileo’ love to ‘agape’ love! Or, the world operates in on the level of ‘feeling’ and ‘friendship’ love. And if they are not feeling it or it no longer seems friendly to them…even more…if any ‘labor’ factor gets factored into it, then they are done with that ‘love’ for whoever or whatever that involved in their life.

Thanks be to our great God, that He didn’t deal with us on just that level of love or none of us would even be sitting here today…because: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” Rom 5:8-11 NASU

Now of course there comes times when after much reproof and there is still hardness of heart or continued offenses from others that we practice Biblical disciplines or separation from offenders, just like Jesus did. In the second chapter of John it tells us that Jesus disassociated Himself from some who were basically ‘troublemakers’ because He knew what was in them…that they were not to be trusted. John 2:23-25- “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.” NASU

There also comes times when the Bible instructs us not to associate with those who are given to anger, those who are faultfinders and cause divisions especially within the family of Christ. Prov 22:24-25- “Do not associate with a man given to anger; or go with a hot-tempered man, or you will learn his ways and find a snare for yourself.” NASU And remember that being a person who causes divisions between others, who is a divisive person, is doing that which is on the list of the top seven sins that God hates. Prov 6:16-19- “There are six things the Lord hates,

seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies, and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.” NIV Or as the ERV states it: “or anyone who causes family members to fight.” Prov 6:16

So this, too, calls for a ‘labor of love’…a ‘labor of disciplinary love’, or we would say ‘tough love’. Remember, relationships are not a right, they are a privilege, and privileges can be lost. It is as Biblical to practice disciplinary love toward an argumentative or divisive person, be it in the faith or outside the faith, as it is to practice ‘discipleship love’. It is as Biblical to practice ‘dis-fellowshipping love’ toward those who despise and disregard God’s commandments, like Paul did with some Corinthian believers, as it is to practice ‘fellowshipping love’ with those who are seeking to love God and love others as God commanded. God practices both, and so should we…by the Bible’s guidance of course.

But what the Apostle Paul is referring to here is that our default practice with others is to also be like that of Jesus’ own practice, and that was the practice of ‘agape’ love…sacrificial love. That is doing labors of love for others based upon the sake of God and the needs of others, even if our feelings are lacking and the friendliness is waning. Sacrifice means it costs us something, which often includes the reality that we’re not feeling all that fond of the ‘hard to love’ one or ones that we are serving, or they aren’t really all that friendly, but they need our service or our help, nevertheless. The key to agape love or sacrificial love is that it is service based not upon who and what others are, but based upon who and what we are, which comes from the power of the Holy Spirit and not our own. Plus, any time you serve others who are hard to love, Jesus not only sees that, but it especially touches His heart, and He will reward you greatly for trying to do the things that He did and in the ways He did it. You can always count on the pleasure of Jesus upon you.