How do you know if you're going to be ready? I knew I'd be ready to go on holiday earlier this month, because I hadn't seen that big yellow ball in the sky for a while!
But how about bigger things? How do you know if you're going to be ready to be a husband or a wife? How do you know if you're going to be ready to be a parent? And how do you know if you're going to be ready for Jesus to return?
Well that's what this passage tonight is about – it's going to give us great confidence that because of our faithful God, we will be ready when Jesus returns. So I'm going to ask you to open your Bibles in a minute, but first I just want to fully introduce myself.
I'm Sam, I'm part of the congregation here at HTG and I've been a Christian since I was about 7 years old. I've been in the North East for about 4 years, and I really love it here.
Great, please open your Bibles to 1 Thessalonians 5 and verse 12.
Well, the Big Idea of this passage is this: Our faithful God is making us ready for Jesus' return.
Someone once said: "Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start." And indeed, it is a very good place – but it's not always the best place! And tonight, I'm going to start near the end of this passage, because if we grasp what the end is saying, then I think the rest will flow from that.
Follow with me as I read – 5:23-24
May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.
So our big idea is: Our faithful God is making us ready for Jesus' return. And the first point from this section is it is
God who will make us ready, or sanctify, not us.
Did you see that word in v23 – sanctify? What does it mean? It is the process by which we become more Christ-like. It comes between salvation, becoming a Christian, and going to be with the Lord. It's lifelong and it comes from the Holy Spirit. It means becoming more holy.
What a privilege to be sanctified by God - the creator of the universe. It's Him. Not anyone else. He's doing it. And yes that means high standards, but it also means that when Jesus comes again and we go to live with God forever, the job will be perfect. It's a bit like in a factory. Think about the big Nissan factory in Sunderland. It is the European home of Nissan, the Japanese car manufacturer. You're there, and suddenly there's a hush, a quiet... Everyone is looking very smart. You look around. And in comes Carlos Ghosn. Now, you (being a bit of a Nissan fan) know exactly who this is. Mr Ghosn is the Chairman and CEO of Nissan. The top man. The boss. And he's here, in the factory looking over the cars. He kindly but firmly speaks to the workers – pointing out imperfections here and there with the cars, things he wants ironed out. He wants each Nissan car to be just right. He knows what is just right. He's signed off the design and he knows what he wants to see. He wants the best, because it's his name that is ultimately at stake.
Now, that is just a tiny example of what this passage means.
In our lives God knows what's best. He made us. He won't retire or quit like Mr Ghosn will one day. God is perfect. He knows exactly what is best for us, and being sanctified, made more holy, by him should be a joy and a delight. So it's God who will sanctify, not us.
We also see in this section how our faithful God is making us ready for Jesus' return in every way. Did you see that? May God himself, the God of peace sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless. ...he will do it.
Through and through means wholly, totally, fully. And spirit, soul and body means every part of us – our feelings, thoughts, emotions, decisions – everything. Do we see that in our lives? Let's repent – turn around – from these areas where we are not following what God wants us to do. Let's ask for help. Talk to Christian friends. Pray. And look to God to shape us in every area of our life.
So, Paul is praying that God would work through us completely – in every part of our life. And finally in these verses: God is faithful and he will do it. Verse 24 says exactly that:
The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it
What an encouragement that is. Listen to the certainty of it. God is faithful. And He will do it. We can cling on to the fact that God, this God of peace as we see mentioned in v23, will do it. When we are in difficult circumstances. When we feel upset, frustrated, disappointed, hurt.We should look to God, and remember. He will do it. He does not let us down, we can be confident in him. So here, in verses 23 and 24, we've seen how it is God who will sanctify and not us.
We've seen how God is making us ready in every way, and we've seen that God is faithful and will not let us down. Now we've seen that, let's look back at the beginning – Julie Andrews' very good place to start: the beginning of this passage, which is verse 12. Here we see:
God is making us ready for Jesus' return – through those who are over us in the Lord
Let's see that in v12 and 13
Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other.
I think those "who are over you in the Lord" means the people who are bringing God's word to us.
So for us at HTG that's the staff team, those who are teaching us in homegroups, and small groups like women's fellowship and children's work. Paul is pointing out that these people are doing important work. They are admonishing us, which means they're reminding and cautioning us; and they are "working hard". We see that here at HTG too don't we? Those who are bringing God's word to us, "work hard". So let's thank God for all those people here.But we, the congregation, also have a role here too. Paul is calling on us to respect those who are over us and to hold them in the highest regard in love, v13.
How can we do that? Well, for a start, we need to respect them for the position God has given them. But also, in order to hold these people in the "highest regard in love" we actually have to get to know and love these people.
It is a very hard job to be a leader in church - teaching God's word and serving people - and at times it can be extremely lonely. So we need to be getting alongside these people in fellowship. Invite them over for a meal, ask how their children are doing. Have some cricket banter with them...All in an effort to hold these people in the highest regard in love.
Later on in this passage, in v25, Paul asks the Thessalonians to pray for him and his team. So that's something we need to be doing as well. At HTG we're about to have two new couples come to serve, and be "over us in the Lord". Dim and Gales and Tom and Cat. So there are two new opportunities to put into practice these verses. So here in these passages we've seen that the people who are over us in the Lord are part of the plan of making us ready for Jesus. And we see that we have a role too in respecting, loving and praying for them too.
Now, I just want to say a word about unGodly teachers. At times we may have been hurt by bad teachers who are not teaching the word of God. Later in this passage it talks of testing everything, and holding on to the good. So let's do that, humbly and prayerfully. Let's pray for those teachers, and for us, that teachers of the Word would preach Jesus, and not themselves.
Well, let's move on to look at the next part of this passage, from v14 to 22.
And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit's fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.
Wow. There is so much in each of these verses – they are packed with short punchy instructions. Depending on your generation, it's a bit like a telegram, a text, or a tweet.
I'm going to go through these verses at quite a pace with some practical ways that we can put them into action. But I'd also encourage you to go home tonight and ponder them yourself too. I think we could summarise these verses like this:
God is making us ready for Jesus' return through each other .
Let's start by looking at v14.
And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.
Here, idle could mean those who are playing truant from work, or could mean being disorderly or unruly. They should be warned to turn away from their wrongdoing and come back to doing what is right. We are also told to encourage the timid. Those who are downcast, sorrowful, sad. What might that mean? A kind word perhaps, or a generous offer of help? Let's do that, let's be encouragers. Then it says: Help the weak. That's those who are in difficulty – perhaps spiritually, or physically. Help them. Support them. Lift them up. And perhaps now there is a broader context too, in resisting moves for euthanasia and assisted suicide – those people who are so weak physically. Let's be helping those people. Not brushing them aside or ignoring them, but loving them and caring for them.
Then "be patient with everyone". That doesn't really leave out anyone does it?! Patient with the ones who annoy us, frustrate us, get on our nerves. And linked to that - v15:
Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.
It sound so simple, child like. But when was the last time we were wronged...and chose not to give it back? On the road? At work? At church maybe? Let's go to the Lord for help when we face these difficulties. Let's remember that he is faithful and will help us to not pay back wrong for wrong. Well let's continue to look at how these verses fit into this big idea of our faithful God making us ready for Jesus' return.
Let's look at V16, 17 and 18 together:
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus
Be joyful always?! That sounds hard doesn't it?! Well, I think to get to grips with this it's necessary to look at what joy really is. Because it's not the same as happiness.
Happiness is fleeting – they've got chocolate on offer at the supermarket... I'm going to have a BBQ after work today... my country won the Ashes match... Those things are great, but they don't last. Joy is different. It is deep. Settled. Sure. If we are trusting in Jesus Christ as Lord over our lives, as our King, if we've turned away from our sin and know that Jesus has rescued us from its penalty, then we can be joyful – really joyful. Our time here on earth is not permanent. The heartache, the pain, the sadness that we sometimes feel will not be forever. We are going to be with Jesus after we die, if we are trusting in him. And with Jesus, all sadness, all pain, all fear will be gone. We will be there forever and ever and ever. That is where our deepest joy is found, and if we hold on to that then we can be joyful always. V17 says
Well, I don't know about you, but I certainly need to pray more than I do now if I'm going to remember the joy of heaven that is on its way. But this doesn't mean don't do anything else, instead I think it means, pray as we do other things. Around the house, in the office, as we travel. Continually. V18 says:
give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus
Well, that's another hard verse. "All circumstances" covers the bad ones and good ones. That is hard. And there isn't a simple answer. On one level we know that we can give thanks for all the material blessings that we have received – food, clothing, homes. But most of all we can give thanks for Jesus. Let's be giving thanks for him in hard situations. Give thanks that he came to earth, that he died on the cross in our place, and that he rose from the dead and returned to heaven where he is reigning now with God! Let's be thankful for that in all circumstances. So, we're seeing how we're each part of God's plan to get each other ready for Jesus' return - hopefully you're seeing ways that you can be part of that.
Well, the passage continues with V19 to 22.
Do not put out the Spirit's fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil
Here are some more clear instructions from Paul to the people in this church in Thessalonica, and let's look at how they can apply to us in Gateshead.
Firstly – "do not put out the Spirit's fire". I don't think he means it's possible to put it out completely. God's work, through the Holy Spirit, will continue until it is complete. But it could mean for individuals or in particular circumstances. Here are a couple of examples.
Imagine someone who has been coming to HTG for a couple of months. They're in a home-group and they're really keen to start serving. They say to you: "I love making people feel at home in my house, and I make a really good cup of tea. "Could you come with me and sign up for a couple of weeks to serve tea and coffee from the hatch?" What do you say? "Hmm, ahh, well actually..." Or "Yes! Sure! Great idea. I'm not very good at making tea and coffee, but maybe you could show me how..."
Or maybe, to give another example, you're a Sunday School leader, or a Holiday Club leader. One child is the keenest in the group. They have their hand up all the time, they remember the memory verse, they sing really loudly and enthusiastically, they just love being there.
How do you respond to them? Do you wish they'd be a bit more sombre? A bit less excited? Or do you encourage them? Build them up? Nurture them? You see, these are examples of the Holy Spirit working. The fire in their heart to learn more and serve. Let's not squash that, let's not dampen it. Let's fan those flames, and give more fuel to encourage those people.
Next: Don't treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good.
So when you hear something which is apparently from God, whether that is in a sermon, or a prayer, or someone speaking something directly to you -don't treat it with contempt. That means don't despise it, consider it to be vile, worthless. Rather test it. Check out the Bible to see if what you've heard is in there. Pray. Talk to wise Christian friends. And if what the person has said does not line up with what's in the Bible, then it's not from God. And if it's not from God, then drop it. But if it is in the Bible, then hold on to it.
Avoid every kind of evil
This could also be put – don't engage in any appearance of evil. This verse is saying don't get close to it. Don't play around with it. Don't go near it! Well, over these 9 verses we've heard loads of practical wisdom. Practical ways in which we can all help each other to be part of God's work to make us more ready for Jesus' return.
Now, Paul begins this section by urging us to do it. So let's take these things seriously and act them out. And while we're doing these things, let's remember that it is God who will be ultimately doing the sanctifying. It's through him that we'll be able to help others. And there'll be some time at the end to pray about these things too. So, our faithful God is making us ready for Jesus' return through each other.
Let's carry on with the passage: We've already looked at verses 23 and 24, so the last point I want to bring from this passage is:
God is making us ready for Jesus' return through his word
Let's read these final verses: v25 to 28:
Brothers, pray for us. Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you
Did you see v27? Paul says: I charge you before the Lord.
That is strong stuff. It could be that he actually took the pen himself and wrote that line rather than dictating it. Whether or not that is the case, the words should make us sit up and listen. So what is Paul wanting his readers to hear? Well, he wants the words he has written to be read to everyone in the church. The "brothers" here means the congregation. Paul doesn't want just the leaders to hear what he has written to them. He wants everyone to hear.
These words, in this book that we now call 1 Thessalonians, are the words of God. They're so important. They have the power to change our life. And if we listen to them then we will be more ready for Jesus' return. So we see that the word of God is important in making us ready for Jesus' return.
What else can we see from these closing verses? V25 is what we touched on before – praying for those who are over us in the Lord, but what about v26...it's the K word!
Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss
Well what does that mean?! Kissing in public is not a very British thing, is it?! Although sometimes we actually love it- just think about those words at a wedding: "you may now kiss the bride"!... How joyful we are at that moment! Maybe it's because we know that kissing is a wonderful display of affection? And it's that underlying affection I just want us to think about for a moment - in our context as a church.
I'm not saying we should start kissing each other as a greeting...! But Matt Lillicrap put it really well a couple of weeks ago. He said: How many times do we greet each other with a weak smile, and a half-hearted handshake while looking straight through each other at the cakes? How about instead greeting them with warmth, care, an encouraging word...and then eating some cake together?! Well, the chapter – and the book – ends with a form of 'goodbye' that is common in other letters:
the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you
How much do we need this grace. We need it as we do all these things in this passage - as we get ready for Jesus to return.
So, to conclude.
There is a lot in this passage, here's a recap: Our faithful God is making us ready for Jesus' return. It is God who will make us ready, not us. He will do it totally and completely. He will do it through those who are over us in the Lord, through each other, and through his word. So let's pray and respect those who are teaching us, let's look for ways to encourage, help and be patient. Let's look to what God has done through Jesus in order to be joyful at all times. Let's not put out the Spirit's fire. Let's test things that we hear from people when they say things are from God, and hold on to the ones that line up with the Bible. And remember that it's God who is faithful.
Let's trust him in that. Trust him as the Lord and master, trust him in the good times and the bad. He is faithful and he will do it.