1 THESSALONIANS 4
“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 honourable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life” (4:3-7).
Even though we are forgiven by the Lord, if we commit overt sexual sins, there will be a ‘fatherly’ punishment from God in this life, for the reasons given above. We should realise that, just because we are forgiven, does not mean that we can do what we like with our life and our bodies!
“You should mind your own business and work with your hands… so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody” (vv11-12) The Greeks believed erroneously that manual labour was demeaning and suitable only for slaves, whereas Paul dignifies it with God’s blessing. All responsible work is a blessing from the Lord (not only the manual variety) and we must acknowledge that He is our true boss, and we work primarily for Him. Some church members were neglecting their work, in the belief in the imminent return of Christ (see 2 Thessalonians 3:11); so Paul rebuked their laziness. Also, it was important that believers were not a financial drain upon the church, but net contributors if possible – in this way they would also win the respect of outsiders. It also opens up a much larger mission field than the narrower community of the existing church members.
“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (4:13-17)
Since Christ and Christians have conquered Death, the bible uses the phrase ‘falling asleep’ instead – because when you sleep your wake up again! It is Ok to grieve for our lost loved ones (Acts 2:8) but not like people without hope. Jesus is the only person described in this chapter as having ‘died’ (instead of ‘fallen asleep’). He genuinely was separated from the Father, so that our own death is only like sleep! The really comforting news, for those who have ‘falling asleep’ and for those left behind, is that Christ himself will wake the ‘Sleeping Ones’ up first and only then come back to earth – with them – to greet and transform his people who are still alive. To sleep in Christ is to jump to the head of the queue! And after the Return, in the Great Forever we will all be together with him anyway! Fantastic! Wonderful! Awesome!
The antidote to ‘depression’ is ‘hope’ – and we are to encourage one another with the doctrine of Christ’s Return, since it is the ultimate hope of all Christ’s disciples, awake and sleeping.
JEREMIAH 23, 24 and 25
God takes Jeremiah from the potter’s house to the sheep pen. “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” God declares. He is probably targeting the rulers and leaders of Judah who have shirked their responsibility to care for the common people. They will be severely punished. And God will rescue a remnant of his flock from exile to bring them back to the land, is the promise. But there is also a better promise than that:
“…I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land… This is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord Our Righteous Saviour’” (Jeremiah 23:5-6). This is so obviously a pure Messianic passage, and it links Jesus in with King David’s lineage – He will come to complete the job that David began, and he will act rightly and justly in every aspect of his life. And he will be their Saviour and ours. The Great Shepherd!
God, through Jeremiah, then denounced the false prophets of the lands of Israel and Judah, who have denied the truth by their lies and by the lives, committing spiritual and actual adultery to lead the people astray. Their visions and dreams are the source of false hopes for the people, and they have never spent any time in the ‘Council of the Lord’ to get the genuine Word of God to deliver. They are false messengers carrying a deceptive message. God reminds them that he can see, hear, and know everything: “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” – he declares. (23:24).
“Is not my word like fire”, declares the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” (23:29). His word ‘tests’ us all and quickly uncovers and destroys untruth and exaggeration. It judges the ‘thoughts and attitudes of the heart’ (Hebrews 4:12).
After the exile had begun, the Lord describes the nation as being a mixture of good and bad – like the baskets of figs he used to illustrate the point to Jeremiah in Chapter 24. Those who went obediently into captivity as the Lord has commanded were spared and would be restored to the land later on; those who fought a futile fight against the Babylonian forces were quickly killed – and this action permitted by God as a punishment for disobedience.
The nation itself would be taken into servitude and the land left desolate for seventy years (605 – 535 BC). After that God will punish the King of Babylon and make that nation desolate, as prophesied already by Jeremiah. Just because the Lord uses a wicked nation to achieve his own purposes does not mean that the wicked nation is absolved of all guilt; God is able to use all things, good or bad, to achieve his great and wonderful purposes on earth.