This past Sunday we completed our study of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians — and it’s amazing to consider that when we began it months ago, we also commenced life with the rest of the world in dealing with the coronavirus and were unable for the first time to meet together as a body of believers.

Fittingly, however, 1 Thessalonians has provided us with many insights on how to deal with challenges — and is that not what we’ve all faced for the last several months, in one way or another?

On that note, here are the last two verses we’ll examine in detail from the very first book of the Bible the Apostle Paul ever wrote (chapter 5, verses 23 and 24): “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”

Would you believe that God actually wants to give us rest and not more work or yet another list of things to do? That’s part of what the Lord means when Paul prays that God will sanctify us completely. In a way our heavenly Father wants us to take a kind of vacation so he can peel off — spiritually speaking — all the things that entangle us in this life.

So … how are you doing today? If you’re tired due to what our world has handed you lately, you’re not alone. There is weariness everywhere. But God really does want to give us rest — but he doesn’t mean the absence of conflict or challenges; rather the Lord means peace and strength and energy in the midst of difficulties.

Now here are a few other important points: Who do you imagine is doing the sanctifying in you? Well, of course God is behind it. The “God of peace,” in fact. And our passage says the Lord “will surely do it.” What a promise that is — one we can count on! But at the same time, it’s crucial to keep in mind that we also need to come to God in this process — not just be passive about it.

And the Scriptures also say that God will do the sanctifying in us “completely.” It’s fair to say that such a word means not just in our spirits and souls, but also in our bodies, minds, and emotions — through and through, truly rested holistically. But it’s no surprise that we would need such a reminder, as we tend to divide ourselves up into separate compartments: If we’re feeling physically ill, we see a doctor; if our minds or emotions are bothering us, we may see a counselor; and if we’re feeling spiritually out of sorts, we may visit a pastor for advice.

But God wants to be all of those things to us!

The Weary Test

As we came to the end of our study of 1 Thessalonians, we also took some extended time to examine chapter 5, verses 12 through 22 — a look at various characteristics that Christians share. Of course we’ve been through these points recently, so they already may be fresh in your mind; but here’s something to do right now: Read through this list, and ask yourself if you need work in any of these areas … and then ask God to guide you the rest of the way so you can actively move toward him. Let’s get started:

  1. Are you gaining as much as you can from the authorities in your life? (1 Thessalonians 5:12) Would you believe that in addition to what we owe to authorities, they in turn can give a lot to us? It’s true … so take advantage of that!
  2. Are you able to practice peace on a daily basis? (5:13) Remember that Jesus said to come to him, and he will give us rest. (Did you catch that? Getting rest from Jesus is an active process — we come to him; he doesn’t necessarily just toss rest upon us if we don’t ask for it!)
  3. Do you feel confident to help other people deal with their issues? (5:14) Relationships can be tiresome! But God wants us to do something to address those challenges — and perhaps that means when we give our patience to others, we will get it in return. Consider this another instrument to add to your relational toolbox.
  4. Are you pursuing goodness? (5:15) If we continue to harbor a justice mentality — or worse, repay evil for evil — we’re never going to be at peace in our lives. So, the next time you’re in traffic and someone cuts you off, why not give that driver the benefit of the doubt? In so doing, you can do away with anxiety and tension so you can be freed up to focus on doing good in Jesus’ name.
  5. Is your joy level high? (5:16) It’s important for us as believers to be able to see God’s joy — and it’s not close to the same thing as happiness. Joy can come to us in all situations; even during hardships. Ask the Lord to help you sense his joy; it’s one of the many things he’s waiting to give to you!
  6. Are you accessing God’s grace each day? (5:17) The Bible says we must pray without ceasing, and that God knows the answers to our prayers even before we ask him. But again, we have a part in it: To access God’s grace means we must reach out for it; in fact, that’s part of the Lord’s amazing love relationship with us — he’s thrilled when we come to him! And he’s just waiting for us to access all the riches at his disposal and ask him to help us; and remember … we must ask BIG!
  7. Are you experiencing a lot of gratitude? (5:18) We must give thanks in all circumstances; as we’ve learned, the act of gratitude is recognized by medical professionals the world over as a vital component of excellent mental health — clearly God was on to something here!
  8. Are you unleashing the power of the Holy Spirit in your life? (5:19) “Do not quench the Holy Spirit,” the Scriptures say. So often we’re so busy doing other things that we regularly push away the promptings of the Holy Spirit; but even if that has defined us to date, that doesn’t mean we’re destined to continue like that. So, let’s get busy and start responding to what the Spirit is telling us every day. And again, all of us have the power to unleash (or quench) the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives: it’s all up to us.
  9. Are you hearing God speak? (5:20) The Bible says that we should not despise prophecies but test everything we observe and hear. That takes practice! And if we’re out of practice, all we need to do — and boy is this becoming a theme — is ask God to help us do so. Seriously, why wouldn’t our Lord — who longs to spend time with us — give us the power to hear him speak to you and me?
  10. Can you tell the difference between what’s good — and what looks good but is really bad? Why would we look at two similar plates of food but decide to eat the dish containing maggots? It’s our sin nature, unfortunately, along with our world’s system that deftly sells such meals to us. But it’s our job to hold on to what is good — and determine the difference between good and bad.

And now as we conclude 1 Thessalonians, let’s look at Paul’s final words that come after verses 23 and 24: “Brothers, pray for us. Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.”

We know what Paul means by a “holy kiss.” It’s a sign of being connected with each other in the spirit of Christ; something we long for today as our separation continues. Next, Paul wanting this letter read to all those in the Thessalonian church reflects a confidence and hope in their spiritual progress — which we can apply to our own lives as he and all the saints cheer us on.

And of course, we all need the “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” to be with us — every day. It’s what will give us vitality instead of weariness in a world that battles against that minute by minute. Surely, we need the Lord every day — but we must do our part and reach out to him!

Therefore, let us all take hold of what Jesus so desperately wants to give each of us. And without delay.

Listen to the sermon here:

As we finish our journey through 1 Thessalonians 5 and discover what characterizes us as believers in Jesus, this past Sunday we looked at verses 21 and 22: “Hold fast what is good; abstain from every form of evil.”

Why would anyone want to choose evil over good? When we look at the news, we know that people do so every single day — but why?

Pastor Scott used a food illustration to paint a stark image of what choosing evil looks like: Let’s say there are two dinner plates in front of us, each containing a delicious-looking slice of lasagna. But after turning over one of the slices, we discover it’s infested with maggots and worms — but the other slice is just fine. Yet we choose to eat the infested slice!

It sounds crazy — not to mention gross — right? But in many ways that sums up choosing evil over good. So, again, why do we do it? What’s attractive about a slice of lasagna infested with maggots, especially when there’s a perfectly healthy option on the table for us?

Well, first off, every one of us has been born with a sin nature. No one comes into this world with a blank slate. And our sin nature is like a magnetic pole that leads toward danger — and ultimately destruction. James 1:14-15 says “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”

This is the reason, after all, why we become Christians. By believing in Jesus and his sacrifice for our sins, the Lord gives us new lives and hearts that live on with him into eternity. But our sin nature is still with us on this side of heaven, enticing us toward earthly despair and destruction.

And there can be a fine line to it all. For example, the desire for pleasure isn’t necessarily a bad thing; but it can be — particularly in our teen years — if such a desire leads us to try substances such as cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs, as doing so can lead to addiction that affects the rest of our lives. Pursuing wealth isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can be if it leaves relationships trampled upon and discarded. The desire to win can be distorted when we end up cheating and living a dishonest lifestyle. And these examples don’t merely represent damage we can see; there’s also damage to our spirits we must account for.

If that weren’t enough, there’s a second factor working in concert with our sin nature, and that’s the world system and its values. It’s Hollywood telling us we can’t be happy unless we’re rich and famous and beautiful. It’s the political realm saying the only way out of trouble is by embracing this party or that candidate. It’s our culture telling young people they’re not normal if they haven’t tried this or that.

This is why coming alongside young people is so important. Those of us who’ve lived a little longer and have more life experience can help our young brothers and sisters in Christ avoid the plate of lasagna with maggots and choose a healthy meal. (And often it’s because those of us with more experience under our belts know how sick we became after making that meal choice!)

And here’s some really good news. When we become Christians, besides being welcomed into eternal life, another thing happens that counteracts our sin nature: The Holy Spirit takes up residence inside each one of us! And when that happens, we’re empowered to rise above temptations and challenges — to choose good over evil.

We all truly have the ability to follow the Lord and avoid pitfalls that inhibit our earthly and spiritual lives. As 1 Timothy 6:6 says, “godliness with contentment is great gain.” True pleasure and happiness can be found by living under God’s commands and within the limits he’s set up for us — boundaries that exist in order to protect us.

But most people don’t choose to live like that — wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, the Bible says. Only a few find the narrow road that leads to life.

Psalm 119 begins with the following words: “Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord!” Why? Because walking in such a way leads to good things happening to us!

The Bible is our instruction manual for how to live life in a way that’s most pleasing to God — and it just so happens that that path is the healthiest way for us, too. Therefore all of us — especially when we’re young — must avoid responding to God by saying, “I don’t need an instruction manual. I can do it on my own.”

“How can a young man keep his way pure?

By guarding it according to your word.

With my whole heart I seek you;

let me not wander from your commandments!

I have stored up your word in my heart,

that I might not sin against you.

Blessed are you, O Lord;

 teach me your statutes!

With my lips I declare

all the rules of your mouth.

In the way of your testimonies I delight

as much as in all riches.

I will meditate on your precepts

and fix my eyes on your ways.

I will delight in your statutes;

I will not forget your word.”

— Psalm 119:9-16

Listen to the Sermon here:

As we begin to wrap up our journey through 1 Thessalonians 5, verses 12 through 22, and discover what characterizes us as believers in Jesus, this past Sunday we looked at verses 20 and 21: “Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.”

So, let’s take a look by going to the Scriptures and seeing what they have to say about prophecies.

First off, prophecies are found throughout the Bible. Arguably the most well-known prophecies are the ones that foretell the coming of Jesus and his saving work on the cross. But not all prophecies necessarily discuss the future. Prophecies can be a declaration of God’s word that’s relevant to a personal situation.

And indeed, the Lord speaks to us through his word. We know that Scripture is like a sword that cuts through our own thoughts and intentions so we can hear the heart of God speaking to us — and that’s when good things can happen.

But prophecies also can be God speaking to us in relevant ways through other people — such as preachers, friends, spouses, and family members. All of us can offer prophecies — you don’t have to hold the office of “prophet” to do so. For an example that’s relevant to all of us, what we experienced on Sunday when Pastor Scott declared to us God’s word and shared what his study of the Scriptures taught him over the previous week was a prophecy. We must dispense with the notion that prophecies are only dramatic moments when the Holy Spirit comes over someone and inspires a “prophetic word”; that’s actually not the norm. It’s more common that a friend during a Bible study mentions an insight that speaks powerfully to us — that’s also a prophecy.

Prophecy can be words of affirmation — for example, when others speak God’s word into our lives and help us if we’re feeling worthless and missing the truth about how much God loves us. God can use all of us to pass on his grace to others. What is God teaching you today? Maybe the Lord will use what he’s teaching you to speak to others and help them with whatever they may be experiencing or struggling with. And then perhaps that will cause others to think more about how God is speaking to them. In these cases, prophecies can be very important in our lives — and we must take to heart what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5: 20 “Do not despise prophecies.”

Then there’s the second part of the Scripture we looked at on Sunday: “But test everything.”

Of course, we must always evaluate prophecies to make sure they are in line with God’s word. We may run into situations when others give their opinions with regard to our lives — whether it’s about buying a new car, taking on a new job, or what to do about a relationship — and human opinions aren’t always correct! Sometimes we use God’s word to support our own ideas. That’s why we always must test what we hear others say and ask, “Is this from God or not?”

Because in the end, the standard is always God’s word. Which of course underscores the importance that we know God’s word and how to study it — and figure out what God is saying through Scripture. And most definitely not “what Scripture means to me.”

Listen to the sermon here:

As we continue our journey through 1 Thessalonians 5, verses 12 through 22, and discover what characterizes us as believers in Jesus, this past Sunday we looked at verse 19 — and as with the last several verses we’ve examined over the past few weeks, it’s yet another short one. Just four words: “Do not quench the Spirit.”

But also, as usual, there’s a whole lot behind those words. So, let’s break it down, as we’ve been doing, by looking at what Scripture has to say about the key words in this verse.

First, what is “the Spirit”? For an answer to that question, let’s go back to very beginning of the Bible in the very first chapter of the Book of Genesis, verse 26: “Let us make man in our image.” Our image. While the Scriptures indeed say the Lord our God is one God, within that oneness are three distinct persons or personalities: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Indeed, the mysteries of the Trinity are beyond our finite human understanding, but we are given glimpses to work with. For instance, the Father gives prophecies that his son Jesus fulfilled. Christ implemented what his Father established. But what about the Holy Spirit? Where does he show up and what does he do?

Well, we know from the Gospels that when the angel tells Mary she’s with child, she asks how could that be since she’s a virgin — and the angel replies that it’s through the Holy Spirit’s power that she will bear a son. The Holy Spirit makes things personal. When Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit came down from heaven in the form of a dove. The Holy Spirit makes things personal.

While we look to God as Father and to Jesus as head of the church, the Holy Spirit makes things personal as he guides and leads us in everyday life — and empowers us to make good choices.

In John 16, Jesus tells his disciples that he must leave them, and despite their sorrow, he adds, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment … I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” (vv.7-15)

You see, the Holy Spirit isn’t just working in your life and in the lives of other Christians: He’s reaching out to everyone. So be mindful of what you say and do around others, because you don’t want to inhibit what the Spirit is doing in their lives.

And that brings us to the other word from verse 19 we will examine: “Quench.”

In the context of the Scriptures, “do not quench the Spirit” literally means “don’t put out the fire of the Holy Spirit.” OK … but how do we keep that fire burning strong? Well, a fire needs three things to keep it burning: fuel, heat, and oxygen. In many ways it’s the same with the fire of the Holy Spirit. The fuel is the word of God, which the Holy Spirit illuminates for us and makes come alive within us; the heat is prayer, especially the “listening to God” kind of prayer; and the oxygen is a willing heart.

That third element needed to keep the Holy Spirit’s fire burning is important: Because believe it or not, you have the power to restrict or unleash the spirit of God in your life! Your willing heart will help do it.

And here’s another especially exciting thing the Holy Spirit can do in each of our lives. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 2, verses 9-12, he reminds his fellow believers that “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” and that “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.”

That means, literally, that the Lord has something incredibly special in mind just for you. A unique freshness he wants to bring to you through the Holy Spirit — a work in your life that fits your specific situation, your special characteristics, your unique history, and all the factors around you! The Holy Spirit makes things personal.

So, we must put into practice listening to the Spirit. Because after all, there are a lot of other voices shouting at you and whispering for your attention — and heeding their call, if not in step with God’s calling, will lead to places you don’t want to be. The Enemy is constantly trying to drown out the Spirit’s calling in your life.

Who are you listening to?

As we consider the Holy Spirit’s presence and work in our lives, remember finally that it’s never wise to take the self-guided tour through life — especially when the Holy Spirit is right there and ready to guide us into all truth. We all have unlimited access to the Spirit’s guiding hand which personalizes what we need and empowers us to take the steps we need to take.

So, do you have big mountains to climb? Struggles in front of you that seem too daunting to deal with? Then you need the power of the Holy Spirit in your life — and you need more of it, all the time, every day.

Just reach out and ask him. The Holy Spirit has been waiting…