Thursday, January 19, 2017

Jesus’ Return and Rapture of Christians – 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

The importance of teaching about Jesus’ return and the rapture is for hope. Hope for those who are grieving the death of a loved one and hope in the promise we will be with Jesus now and forever.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words. (ESV)

Uninformed about Death

Because we should not be uniformed about what happens to believers immediately after they die, I taught two classes about what happens after death. It was a fairly extensive study. I covered several Christian views and those of a couple of cults. The slide presentations and audio can be found at You can also start with my blog at and follow the series that I used to develop the teaching.

One of the reasons there is confusion about what happens between our death and Jesus’ return is the use of the word sleep. Jesus used the terminology for Lazarus’s death in John 11:11. His disciples misunderstood him at that time. Paul uses it to refer to those who have died in several verses (1 Thess 4:13, 15, 5:10; 1 Cor 11:30, 15:6, 18, 20, 51). Peter also uses it in 2 Peter 3:4 referring to the death of our ancestors. It is with good reason they use the terminology because that is the view of the Old Testament as demonstrated in Daniel 12:2: “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt” (NIV).

To add to the confusion, the Lord spoke of the wicked dying and never waking up in Jeremiah 51:57, “I will make her princes and her wise men drunk, Her governors, her prefects and her mighty men, That they may sleep a perpetual sleep and not wake up,” Declares the King, whose name is the Lord of hosts”(NASU). This can easily be construed to mean that the wicked will be destroyed, annihilated and cease to exist. Jesus made a similar statement in Matthew 10:28, “But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (NKJV). It isn’t without a lot of Bible study and analysis that we can come up with a comprehensive explanation of what happens to people immediately after death, whether they are Christians or not. People write books, traditions have been formed, but most people haven’t really thought it out, especially people who don’t place their faith in Jesus for salvation. 

Here is my short version of what I discovered after putting together the teaching I mentioned above: 
  • Christians will be conscious and not asleep after death. Sleep is a euphemism for death, not a statement of the condition of the person after death. Jesus made that clear in John 11:11-14.

  • When a Christian dies, he goes immediately to be in the presence of Jesus.
o   2 Corinthians 5:8 is clear. We are either alive here or with Jesus. “Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord” (NLT). This is also seen in Psalm 16:11 and Phil 1:23.
  • Christians will have some sort of intermediate body that is recognizable as a human body.
o   Jesus had a physical body after His resurrection that could appear and disappear (John 20:19-29; Luke 24:30) before His ascension into heaven.
o   Jesus is the firstfruits of those who will be raised (1 Cor 15:23).
o   2 Corinthians 5:1-5 speaks of Christians taking off our current tents (bodies) and putting on heavenly dwellings (bodies) prepared for us by God who has given us this assurance by the Holy Spirit. The New Living Translations interprets it this way, “For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies” (2 Cor 5:3).
  • Christians will get a resurrected body when Jesus returns.
o   Resurrected bodies will be different from earthly bodies, “It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:44 NKJV).
o   The dead will get new bodies as will everyone who is alive (1 Cor 15:50-53; 1 Thess 4:15-17).

These points make it clear that after death we will have some kind of body, exactly what it is like, we don’t know. After Jesus returns, we will get a final, eternal body that is also going to be different. Paul emphasizes the differences of bodies in 1 Corinthians 15:40-41 as he speaks of the different glories of sun, moon, stars all of which are different. If Jesus is our model, then compare His resurrected body before ascension to His two appearances afterward, first to Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3) and then to John on Patmos (Rev 1:12-16). Is this not an indication that our intermediate bodies after death will be something different from the eternal bodies after Jesus’ return?

Just a quick word about what happens to non-Christians. They die and suffer consciously for a time, as Jesus pointed out when He told of the rich man who died in Luke 16:22-25. He was aware of his surroundings, was able to speak, recognized Abraham, and was in anguish in the flames. They will stay there until they are resurrected after the millennial reign of Jesus on the earth. Then they will be raised for judgment (Rev 20:5, 12-14). Their immortal bodies will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev 20:15) where Satan was tossed previously (Rev 20:10). 

No Grief

Is it really possible not to grieve over the loss of a loved one? We must remember that Paul didn’t say we would not grieve but that we shouldn’t do it the same as those without hope. One of the most astounding passages in the Old Testament regarding grief over the death of a loved one comes from David’s loss of his illegitimate son born to Bathsheba due to his adultery. God told him the boy would die (2 Sam 12:14) and he became ill. While the boy was ill and dying, David fasted and prayed for the boy’s healing (2 Sam 12:16). His action resembled mourning. This action was so out of the ordinary that they thought that he would kill himself when he heard the boy died, which happened seven days later. David ended his fast. His servants could not understand his actions (2 Sam 12:17-21). So David explained it to them, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Sam 12:22-23 RSV). 

Those with no hope (non-Christians) don’t have the assurance that they will see anyone again after death. Sure, some believe in reincarnation, various forms of heaven, and nirvana. But the truth is clear in all of those religions; there is no assurance. All of them depend on their own ability to be good enough to achieve their everlasting place. They can’t be sure they’ve done everything. They don’t have a Redeemer who has died and come back to tell them that He is the way. They don’t have a Savior who assures them that He has done everything necessary for their eternal salvation. 

With a Savior like Jesus, we don’t have to grieve without hope of seeing our Christian loved ones again. Our grief is different because we miss them now but have the assurance we will see them again. Note that this assurance is only for Christians. If our loved ones are not Christians, we don’t have the assurance we will see them again. We will grieve for them in the same way as the world does. This makes it all the more important to share the Gospel with them and live lives that will not turn them away from Jesus. 

Timing of the Rapture

Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. (1 Cor 15:51-52 NASB)

If anyone tells me that they can prove without a shadow of a doubt that the rapture is going to come before, in the middle, or at the end of the tribulation, I know that they are wrong. Paul clearly says it is a mystery. Yes, there are verses that lean toward each of these doctrinal positions, and that is just the point of why it is a mystery. If multiple theologians over time have spent years studying Scripture and have come down on opposite sides of the controversy, then how can anyone have 100% assurance that one is correct and the others are not? I’ve done my studies over the years and have come to my conclusion. But I assure you that I’m not 100% sure it will happen the way I think, even though it is sound biblical exegesis. The reason is simple. There are verses that don’t fit smoothly together with the rest. It doesn’t matter if it is my view or the others, an honest theologian will admit that there are weakness in his or her argument and I’ve seen them in each of the three positions. 

One important thing to remember about this passage in 1 Thessalonians is that it doesn’t tell us anything about timing, other than it all happens at once. The rapture isn’t spread over several days, hours, or weeks. When Jesus comes back, that is it. We all are changed. We all will be with Jesus. All Christians are reunited. That is the encouragement that we get from this passage.

If you want to know my position, then you will have to read my lessons on the Book of Revelation. It only makes sense if you start at Revelation 1:1 and work through the whole book. So the first lesson is at I think there are only 52 lessons, so take your time, I did.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Brotherly Love – 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12

We are taught by God to love one another. Does that only include those who follow Jesus or does that include all people? Paul provides some insight after imploring us to love one another even more.

But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do so toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more; that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing. (NKJV)

God Teaches Brotherly Love

It is quite clear in these verses that Paul is talking about loving other Christians. He addressed his letter to Christians and he refers to brethren in Macedonia. Therefore, when he says that God has taught us to love one another, he is first of all talking about other Christians. This is one of the messages Jesus taught:
So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples (John 13:34-35 NLT).

Jesus is clearly talking about those who follow Him. There is an external purpose to Christians loving one another and that is to show those who are not His followers that we are Jesus’ disciples. One of the biggest complaints or excuses people have when refusing to follow Jesus is the hypocrites in the churches. They are hypocrites not just because they act just like those who do not know Jesus but because they don’t love each other or other Christians in other denominations. 

If any one says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also. (1 John 4:20-21 RSV)

John talked a lot about loving each other and he makes the point that loving one’s fellow Christians is exactly what God taught us. In fact, a refusal to do that demonstrates that anyone who does not love other believers cannot truly love God. If we love God, then we must show it by obedience to His commands (John 14:21). 

Love Increases

Paul said that we should be pleasing God more and more (1 Thess 4:1) and now he tells us to love each other more (1 Thess 4:10). Just how do we do that? One thing is for sure, it isn’t supposed to be some sappy new-age philosophy where love tolerates all things from all people. Paul instructed the Philippians:
And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ (Phil 1:9-10 NASB). 

Love increases where there is knowledge and discernment. This kind of love does not accept everything from everyone. It looks as what people are saying and doing to discern the good things. This type of love must filter the world through the Word of God. If we filter it by the world’s values, we will end up with some very serious problems. Looking back at the previous verses about having sexual purity is one area in which the world deviates from God’s perspective of love. The world’s view of love is often simply sexual passion. It has little to do with true love for each other. That is one reason why there are so many divorces. When the sexual sparks fail, there is nothing to keep the marriage alive. 

Love’s Connection to Non Christians

The connection between loving other Christians and loving people who do not follow Jesus isn’t obvious in 1 Thess 4:9-12. The thought-for-thought translations (NIV 1984, NLT) make a clean break and start a new thought as if there is no connection between verses 10 and 11. However, word-for-word translations (ESV, NAS, NKJ) do not separate urging love for bothers more (1 Thess 4:10) and our daily behavior (1 Tess 4:11) with the result of proper behavior to outsiders (1 Thess 4:12). This is a good reason not to rely on one translation.

Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Col 4:5-6 ESV)

This connection isn’t something that has to be squeezed out of 1 Thessalonians 4:10-12 since it is supported in other places of the Bible. Paul said essentially the same thing to the Colossians. Their conduct to outsiders, that includes anyone who doesn’t follow Jesus, should be gracious but with enough flavor to make sure they know they need to follow Jesus as well. That salt may come in the way we talk with them, showing respect and being gentle (1 Peter 3:15-16) or it may be in actions such as doing good deeds for them (Matt 5:16, Gal 6:10). God will be glorified in the way we behave.

Paul gave three areas of living that demonstrate our love and concern for outsiders: live a quiet life, mind our own business, and work with our hands in order have good relationships with outsiders (1 Thess 4:11-12). 

Quiet Life

This direction from Paul is probably dismissed by people with type A personalities. People with type A personalities don’t live quiet lives. They are described, “As rude, ambitious, rigidly organized, highly status-conscious, sensitive, impatient, anxious, proactive, and concerned with time management. People with Type A personalities are often high-achieving ‘workaholics.’ They push themselves with deadlines, and hate both delays and ambivalence.”[1] Think about that for a while. Why would an outsider be put off by a Christian with a Type A personality? Compare this definition with a Spirit-led life, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal 5:22-23 NIV).

Can a Type A personality exhibit the qualities of a quiet life or a Spirit filled life? Not all the qualities of a Type A are in conflict with the Spirit. There isn’t anything wrong with being ambitious if the motivation is right. There is nothing wrong with being organized either. Proactive is a great quality and time management is often necessary if it doesn’t interfere with spontaneous ministry (Luke 10:33-34). Sensitive can go either way, good or bad, depending on what one does because of their sensitivity. However, rude, rigid, status-conscious, and anxious are all qualities that need to be addressed if a Type A wants to live a quiet life that will demonstrate love to outsiders and still get things done. They need to rid themselves of fleshly motivated characteristics.

For if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. (Rom 8:13-14 NASU)

The message is clear. A quiet life is one that is led by the Holy Spirit and not the flesh. Type A personalities don’t have to exhibit the negative characteristics in order to effective leaders, entrepreneurs, preachers, or other careers that often are associate with type As. When they put off the bad characteristics and replace them with the fruit of the Spirit, they will demonstrate God’s love toward outsiders.

Mind Our Own Business

He who passes by and meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a dog by the ears. (Prov 26:17 NKJV)

In today’s world of tolerance, it is easy to misunderstand what it means to mind your own business. I think the Proverb says it well. When we meddle in other people’s business, we will be bit. There is a big difference between coming to the aid of someone who is in trouble, standing up for justice, defending the cause of widows and orphans (James 1:27), calling for repentance, and meddling in other people’s business. Paul wrote a whole chapter in Romans about this. In Romans 14, he addresses such things as judging another’s dietary habits, what day they set aside to worship the Lord, and setting legalistic standards. Applying this to outsiders means that we recognize they will not conform to Christian holiness and purity and God will judge them (1 Cor 5:12-13). This isn’t easy because we recognize what happens in society when there is no restraint. We also have to remember that our business is God’s calling on us to be his ambassadors. “So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20 RSV). We become meddlers when we insist that people change their behavior without changing their hearts toward God. And that is how most outsiders perceive most Christians. 

Work With Our Hands

In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35 NASB)

At times, Paul had to work for a living just like everyone else. At other times, he was supported by churches. The point he made to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:35 is that working hard and giving to others in need should be a way of life for Christians. When outsiders see this, they will have respect for us. They will not see us as a freeloader or a sap on society. 

May our love for other Christians be a testimony to those who do not know Jesus. May the way we live our lives among unbelievers also be a testimony that draws people to Christ instead of repelling them.

[1] “Type S and Type N Personality Theory,” Wikipedia, November 30, 2016, accessed January 3, 2017,, cited from Saul McLeod, “Type a Personality,” Simply Psychology, accessed December 29, 2013,

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Importance of Sexual Purity for Sanctification – 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8

Why did Paul make sexual purity the focal point of sanctification in this passage? It has a lot to do with knowing God’s will and obeying or rejecting His will and therefore rejecting God.

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified. For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit. (NKJV)

God’s Will

There are not many verses in the Bible that expressly say something is the will of God. Most often, we have to look at a passage and apply a narrative or some direct teaching to understand what God’s will is. Many times, the verses don’t say that one thing or another is God’s will, but uses other words. For instance, 1 Timothy 2:3-4 says, “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (NIV). Other versions use the word desire. God’s desire and His will are different things. His will is something that is certain, such as everyone who comes to him will not perish (Matt 18:14). However, His desire is not certain because it is obvious that not everyone is saved but that is His desire (1 Tim 2:4). When it is His desire, He gives us freedom to align ourselves with His desire or not. When we don’t conform to His desire, it is still a sinful response because we have chosen against His desire. When it is his will, we have no choice, as He will make certain it happens. We can still sin by struggling against His will but at some point, His purpose is accomplished. 

Therefore it must be quite important when we find a passage like this that say it is God’s will and then goes on to elaborate on how that should be done. In this case, God’s will is our sanctification.

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the return you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life. (Rom 6:22 RSV)

The word for sanctification is hagiasmos. You’ve probably heard this described as a separation from the evil things of the world and dedication or consecration to God. That is the basic definition but there is more. It is also a description of the life that we should be leading once we are separated. While we are set apart at salvation, the process of sanctification is “built up, little by little, as the result of obedience to the Word of God, and of following the example of Christ, Matt 11:29; John 13:15; Eph 4:20; Phil 2:5, in the power of the Holy Spirit, Rom 8:13; Eph 3:16.”[1]
In Romans 6:22, we can see the initial calling when we are set free from sin. We can also see that sanctification is a process because there is a beginning and an end. The end is eternal life. That sounds odd, doesn’t it, an end that is eternal. But that is the way it will be. When we eventually reach heaven, our sanctification stops. When we reach the end of the process we will be completely sanctified, we will be like Jesus. This is the promise we have in Romans 8:29 and 1 John 3:2-3:
Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. (NASB)

We know that now we are God’s children and that is the position we gained at salvation. What full sanctification will be like is not completely apparent to us but we only know that we will be like Jesus and we know He is completely holy or sanctified. Then our response is to work toward purity because we know that is God’s will.

The Thessalonians were still quite young in their faith and didn’t have the advantage of a long time of teaching from Paul. This may be the reason that he emphasizes the beginning of this step by step process with sexual purity. 

Sexual Purity

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you:  sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Col 3:5 ESV)

It just wasn’t the Thessalonians who were singled out and warned about sexual impurity, Paul also wrote essentially the same thing to the Colossians (Col 3:5), Corinthians (1 Cor 6:13), Galatians (Gal 5:19), and Ephesians (Eph 5:3). The author of Hebrews also warned his audience about sexual immorality (Heb 12:16) as did Peter (1 Peter 2:11). In fact, the warnings about avoiding sexual impurity go back to the Ten Commandments where it is stated simply, “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Ex 20:14 KJV). People always look for loopholes so the Law expanded upon that to define sexual immorality in more detail. The legalists would think that as long as they are not having sex with someone else’s spouse it would be OK. So Leviticus 18 prohibits many sexual activities, most of which are incestuous but also includes homosexuality and bestiality (Lev 18:22-23). The reason Paul had to warn people about sexual immorality is also provided in this chapter:
Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. (Lev 18:24-25 NIV)

These nations are the Gentiles that Paul refers to in 1 Thessalonians 4:5 as well as all non-Jewish people. Sexual immorality is the common behavior of people who do not follow the Lord, they do these things; they think about them all the time; they talk about them and when they can get away with it, they practice them. You may think that is not true, but my experience in the Navy and later in the blue-collar working world before becoming a Christian tells me that the world’s attitude toward sexuality is more perverse that most Christians would ever suspect. The Hollywood portrayal of this is more accurate than we like to admit. The horrible truth is there but we are warned to stay sexually pure.

It is honorable when we do. It honors the Lord, it honors our spouses, and it honors our children. When we are sexually immoral with another person, it wrongs or defrauds him or her because it shows no respect for that person. It shows no respect for the rest of the family. Paul emphasized this when he said that it wrongs his brother. We are simply using others to satisfy our own lusts and desires. They are no more that objects and we care nothing for their spiritual development and walk with Christ or for the damage that does to the rest of the family when it is discovered.

When we become a nation that acts in this way, the Lord promises to vomit us out of the land (Lev 18:25). Don’t be surprised when it happens to the U.S. 

Don’t Reject This

Paul began the chapter by emphasizing that his teaching carried the same weight as if Jesus had instructed them Himself. 1 Thessalonians 4:8 puts a bookend on the passage when he says that rejecting this teaching on sexual immorality is the same as rejecting God. Look at what Jesus said:
He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day (John 12:48 NASU).

Anyone who is rejecting the clear teaching of the Bible will be judged for that. Does that mean that a person will lose his salvation for rejecting this teaching on sexual immortality? No, the Bible doesn’t teach that. But just as Jesus tied receiving His Word to receiving Him or judgment, then a person who is sexually immoral and continues in that lifestyle is in fact rejecting Jesus. The concept is clearly spelled out by John, “Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning” (1 John 3:7-8 NKJV). In vs. 7, the emphasis is on practicing and practicing also applies to sin in vs. 8. So it is that the ones who reject the teaching about immorality are rejecting God. 

We can’t ignore the clear teaching of the whole Bible on sexual immorality. If we do, we are rejecting God. Thanks be to God, we can always repent and be forgiven. If we don’t, it just proves we aren’t saved in the first place.

[1] W.E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1985), s.v. “NT38”, Biblesoft.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Doing More to Please God – 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2

Do you feel like you are living a godly life? That’s great if you do, we should all be striving for that. But look at what Paul says to the Thessalonians who are living to please the Lord.

Finally, dear brothers and sisters, we urge you in the name of the Lord Jesus to live in a way that pleases God, as we have taught you. You live this way already, and we encourage you to do so even more. For you remember what we taught you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. (NLT)

Even when we are already living godly lives, there is always room for improvement. 

Urged on In the Name of Jesus

At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth. (Phil 2:10 NKJV)

Calling upon the name of Jesus to urge someone to do something is a very serious. Since every knee will at sometime in the future bow or submit to Jesus’ authority, it makes Paul’s urging more than an encouragement. If we address Jesus as Lord, then we must acknowledge His sovereign rights over us. Paul taught by the authority of Jesus so his urging is the same as Jesus Himself urging us. It is confirmed by the fact that this book of the Bible has been kept as revelation from God. Had this directive not been inspired by the Holy Spirit then it would not have survived over the years and delivered along with the rest of the Bible.
This urging is similar to the way Paul exhorted Timothy. Three times, he charged Timothy in the presences of God and Christ Jesus to live a godly life and to exercise his ministry (1 Tim 5:21; 6:13-14; 2 Tim 4:1-2). Think about that for a while. Imagine standing in the presences of God and Jesus Christ along with Paul. Paul then tells you to do something and while God and Jesus nod in agreement. That’s what is going on when Paul urges us to live a life that pleases God.

Live to Please God

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Cor 10:31 RSV)

Eating and drinking are two very necessary functions for us to live. The context of this verse is doing things that cause others to stumble. However, the broader application is for all aspects of life. In application, it is an extension of Matthew 22:37-38 where Jesus explained the whole Law and commandments as loving God and our neighbors. If we are living to please God, then our lives should bring glory to Him. That would be a very easy test of every aspect of our lives. All we need do is to ask ourselves is whether this would bring glory to God. When we do something, does it express or demonstrate love for God and our neighbors? 

And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. (Col 3:17 NASB)

I suppose it is possible for someone to do something in the name of Jesus and rationalize it as pleasing God. I’m fairly certain that all of us have done that to one degree or another. I know I have. However, hindsight reveals that I might have done something in the name of the Lord but it was only to satisfy my own desires. It’s the same problem as praying for something and not getting it because it was really a selfish request only meant to meet my wants and passions (James 4:3). Rather than getting hung up on all the possible abuses, it’s better to simply apply these verses and try to understand what the Lord really wants. Does it glorify God and demonstrate love of God and others. If we are walking with the Lord and our hearts don’t condemn us (1 John 3:21), then were can be pretty sure that we are doing things for His glory and in His name.

Fundamental Christian Teaching

I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. (Acts 20:27 ESV)

Can you imagine having Paul as your Bible study leader? He was bold. He didn’t mince words or fear calling sin, sin. He told it like it was. However, this verse was describes a time when he talked to the elders in Ephesus. He had more than two years in Ephesus. He didn’t have that much time in Thessalonica; it was only about three weeks (Acts 17:2). Even if Paul met with believers during the week and not only on the Sabbath, this isn’t much time and they only had time to learn the fundamentals of Christianity. One of those fundamentals was how to live in a way that pleases God. 

I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. (John 5:24 NIV)

Some people think that after becoming a Christian, pleasing the Lord is automatic because they have the Holy Spirit to lead and guide them. While we do have the ability to please God because we are new creations and we have the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:17, 21), being holy and pleasing Him is something that we must also work at. Sanctification is a process as well as a onetime event. We become holy or sanctified in the sense that we’ve crossed over the line from having a dead spirit that can’t respond to God to one that now has life (John 5:24). However, that is only the start. Paul even had to write to the Ephesians and remind them of how they were taught. Remember, he had over two years to teach them and still he had to remind them to put off their old sinful habits and to put on new ways of living in righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:21-24). 

So the fundamental teaching is that we are saved by grace through faith and that is God’s work in us. We don’t earn it and our good works don’t save us. However, once saved, it is our responsibility to work at living a godly life. That is why He saved us (Eph 2:8-10). We do that in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, not just by our own efforts (Rom 8:13).

Please God Even More
Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Rom 8:8 NASU)

If we really want to please God even more, then we need to understand what it means to be in the flesh. The older NIV (1984) and the NLT versions use the terminology of “controlled by the sinful nature” instead of “in the flesh.” The latest version NIV (2011) says, “In the realm of the flesh.” Fausset’s Bible Dictionary defines flesh when used in this way:

"The flesh" is the natural man, including the unrenewed will and mind, moving in the world of self and sense only. Self imposed ordinances gratify the flesh (i.e. self) while seemingly mortifying it.[1]

Pleasing God more and more as opposed to not being able to please Him at all is tied to the concept of being in the flesh. Those who are not Christians are completely in the flesh. They have no desire or will to please God in the way He has ordained it. They may have a zeal for God, but it isn’t according to God’s will because they try to establish their righteousness on their own terms instead of God’s (Rom 10:2-4). On the other hand, Christians move on from being unable to please God at all to degrees of pleasing Him. Fausset’s definition and Scripture indicate that even when we are Christians, we can be more or less in the flesh. It depends on how much we are being renewed in our will and mind, or as some would say, how much we are being led by the Spirit.

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. (Rom 8:14 NKJV). 

This verse makes it sound very black and white. We are completely doing what the Spirit wants or we are not and therefore, not even Christians. Thankfully, Paul clarifies in other places what being led by the Spirit entails, especially when understanding what it means to have our minds renewed. 

And do not be conformed [Stop doing this! Go on refusing to do this!] to this world, but be transformed [Commitment to long term way of doing something. A command to keep on doing an action as ones’ general habit or life-style. Repeat each time this situation arises!] by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove [Constantly or repeatedly, customarily; a continuous process or habit] what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom 12:2 NASB)[2]

The Discovery Bible uses icons to indicate what the Greek grammar intended but our English grammar can’t fully reveal when translated. When using the icons to understand Romans 12:2, the meaning of being in the flesh or not comes clear. Being in the flesh is being conformed to the world, something we must stop but it is an ongoing process. We don’t just stop once, we must stop every time the world wants us to conform. Being led by the Spirit is then stopping each time a situation comes up that tries to make us conform. It doesn’t happen all at once but we must continue to refuse to do it. Obviously, we don’t always stop. Being transformed is doing the opposite. As we stop being conformed we start and continue to make being led by the Spirit a lifestyle. The implication is that we progress in this direction. It isn’t something that we suddenly are perfect at doing. The result is repeatedly pleasing God. 

If there is any doubt about this meaning, Paul also wrote, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18 RSV). Learning to please God more and more takes one step at a time.

Taught by Jesus’ Authority.

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God. (1 Peter 4:10-11 ESV)

Paul’s assertion in 1 Thessalonians 4:2 that his teaching came by way of the Lord Jesus would be rather audacious if it had come from someone else. Some translations insert “by the authority” into the text (NLT, NIV, NAS) to indicate the seriousness of what Paul was claiming. When we look at what Peter said about using our gifts, especially those who speak (and this includes write[3]), we are supposed to do so as if we are speaking the very words of God. The oracles of God in the Old Testament were often prophecies of future events. It was very serious for anyone to speak an oracle of the Lord. Judah had abused oracles of the Lord to excuse their sins. Therefore, God spoke through Jeremiah in a blistering reproof and condemnation of those who claimed to have an oracle of the Lord but were only speaking their own perverted words (Jer 23:33-40). 

I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. (Gal 1:11-12 NIV)

Paul made the claim that what he taught was a direct revelation from Jesus. Scholars believe he wrote it either in 48 or AD 52.[4] Peter also spoke of the wisdom of Paul’s writings and equated them with Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16). 2 Peter was written in AD 66-67.[5] If there had been any doubts about Paul’s authority, it would have been raised after he stated that his revelation came from Jesus. Peter had more than ten years to contradict Paul. Instead he substantiated his claim to have Jesus’ authority. 

Since Paul taught with Jesus’ authority and he unequivocally states that the Thessalonians should live in a way to please God more and more, then we have no choice but to accept that instruction for our lives. If we don’t apply this Scripture to our lives then we have no business claiming any of the promises in Scripture either. God warns those who take parts only the parts of Scripture they like and ignore the others:

But to the wicked God says, "What right have you to tell of My statutes And to take My covenant in your mouth? "For you hate discipline, And you cast My words behind you. (Ps 50:16-17 NASU)

May we all strive to please God more and more as we make the effort to let the Holy Spirit lead us and transform us more and more into the image of His Son, Jesus.

[1] Andrew Robert Fausset, Fausset's Bible Dictionary, s.v. “Flesh,” (Seattle: Biblesoft, Inc., 2006), Electronic Database.
[2] Notations in brackets inserted from icons in, New American Standard Version, The Discovery Bible: New Testament, Reference ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1987), Rom 12:2.
[3] S. Grimm and S. Wilke, New Testament Lexicon, Joseph Henry Thayer, ed., (Seattle: Biblesoft 2006), s.v. “NT:2980.”
[4] Merrill Frederick Unger, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, s.v. “Galatians, Epistle to the,” (Chicago: Moody, 1988), Biblesoft.
[5] Unger, s.v. “Peter, Second Epistle of.”