May 20 - Living Well

Living Well

May 20, 20108

1 Thessalonians 5:12-18

 

LIVING WELL

1 Thessalonians 5:12-18

May 20th, 2018

 

Continuing in our journey through Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians.  Next week we’ll be wrapping it up, but for today we are dealing with verses 12-18 of chapter 5.

 

After Paul deals with the questions that the Christians in Thessalonica might have ... for example, what happens to Christians who die before Jesus returns? ..., Paul concludes with a very practical section ... about how the believers should relate to each other in the church. 

 

We ask of you, brothers:  Appreciate those who work diligently among you, who lead you in the Lord and instruct you.  Esteem them highly and love them because of their ministry.  Live in peace with one another.

                                                1 Thessalonians 5:12-13

 

Paul was the founder of the church in Thessalonica.  And he was an exceptional person in his own right.  But he was forced to leave town and so others in the church had to take on the mantle of leadership, of preaching and teaching.  And that couldn’t have been easy for them, particularly since they would have had to fill Paul’s shoes.    

 

Paul was highly educated, a learned Pharisee, intimately familiar with the OT.  He had had at least one encounter with the risen Christ, very likely more, and during those encounters he had received revelations, information that he passed on and that would impact the direction of the church in immense ways.  In fact Paul’s teaching would transform a rather obscure Jewish sect in Jerusalem into a world-encompassing movement. 

 

Today, everyone has expectations of leaders in the church as well.  Sometimes those expectations are unrealistic, especially when Christian leaders are expected to be perfect. 

 

The perfect pastor preaches exactly 20 minutes, give a message that is both scholarly and practical; one that is fresh, relevant, serious and humorous, and hits home every Sunday.

 

The perfect pastor condemns sin, but never hurts anyone’s feelings. 

 

He will lead the perfectly balanced life, be in great shape, have a fairytale marriage and near-perfect kids, all the while being involved at the church from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. every day.

 

He will always be available in the office while at the same making 5 home visits a day.

 

The perfect pastor is impeccably dressed, drives a nice car, lives in a nice house, but makes half the median wage.

 

The perfect pastor smiles all the time, is never in a bad mood, has a great sense of humour, and is happy for any criticism he might receive. 

 

The perfect pastor is 29 years old, but has 40 years experience.

 

The perfect pastor is able to relate equally well to infants, kids, teens, young adults, the middle aged and seniors.  He spends all his time with the youth, yet has time to visit all the seniors.

 

The perfect pastor will attend all church events, every committee meeting, all retreats, and be available to do every wedding, funeral, baptism, and dedication. 

 

He will be a charismatic and visionary leader, but have a servant’s heart.  He is an excellent evangelist, while spending all his time discipling.

 

The perfect pastor should be praying all the time, be a great counsellor who has the insight to fix everyone’s problems, a mediator who has the emotional fortitude to solve every conflict, a fantastic MC, a great administrator, and a computer genius.

 

What’s wrong with these expectations?  They are not realistic. 

 

Whoever holds to any or all of these expectations will be sorely disappointed and disillusioned.

 

What about when there is a change in leadership, like there was in Thessalonica?  Will the expectation be that the new leader should do everything as good or better than the previous leader? 

 

What’s wrong with this expectations?  The reality is that every person is unique.  Just like the leaders in Thessalonica couldn’t be like Paul, so I couldn’t be like Pastor Ernie, and whoever follows me can’t be like me.  Everyone is their own person, human, vulnerable, and prone to mistakes.  Everyone.

 

That’s not to say that there shouldn’t be any expectations.  In 1 Timothy and Titus, Paul writes about some of the criteria of Christian leaders.  They are not to be predatory, greedy, aggressive, pompous, proud, argumentative, rebellious, quick-tempered, inflexible, abusive, alcoholics, liars, or sexually immoral. 

They should be gentle, uncontentious, temperate, able to teach, caring, just, devout, self-controlled, and so on. 

 

It is noteworthy how Paul concludes v. 13.  Live in peace with one another.  This is still spoken in the context of appreciating, respecting and loving church leaders.  To take them for granted, or to treat them with distain, or to dislike them and always complain about them, will inevitably invite hurt, division and potentially open conflict. 

 

One of the miserable of all situations in the church is when the pastors and the laity are at odds with each other, when there is a struggle to be in charge or to only have one’s own way. 

 

Paul continues to describe how the believers in the church in Thessalonica are to behave.  In vv.14-15, he speaks of how believers are to treat others in the church. 

 

Now we appeal to you, brothers:

  • admonish those who live in an unruly manner,

  • encourage the fainthearted,

  • help the weak,

  • be patient toward all people. 

  • Make sure that no one pays back evil for evil to anyone. 

  • Instead, at all times treat each other and all people for their good.                1 Thessalonians 5:14-15

 

The people who surround us in church can be unruly, fainthearted, weak, and hurtful.  Why?  Because they, like you and I, have their own point of view, their own convictions, their own idiosyncrasies, and so, like us, they have the potential of being exasperating and draining. 

 

So doing what Paul is writing is extremely hard.  It is hard to confront someone who professes to be a Christian, but is involved in a lifestyle that flies in the face of God’s will.    

 

It can be hard to support individuals who are emotionally compromised, who are fearful, timid, shy, depressed.  It would be so much easier to be self-absorbed.

 

It can be hard to provide strength to the weak, who are either physically frail or spiritually frail or emotionally frail.  It would be so much easier to just not care.

 

It is hard to respond with kindness to those who are hurtful.  It would be so much easier to be offended, bitter, defensive, vindictive and lash out at those who have hurt us.   When hurt, it’s easy to become hurtful ourselves. 

 

According to Paul, when it comes to our relationships, we should be patient with everyone ... and we should treat others keeping in mind what is in their best interest, not our own. 

 

I don’t know if this reminds you of Jesus’ teaching. 

Treat others as you would want to be treated yourself (Matt 7:12; Luke 6:31). 

Don’t take revenge (turn the other cheek - Matt 5:39). 

Forgive everyone (Mark 11:25). 

Do good to those who hate you, curse you, mistreat you (Luke 6:27-28). 

Be like the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37).

 

When I thought about this, the question came to mind: Where in the world do I get the strength, the where-with-all, to be the kind of person Paul is telling his audience to be? 

 

In Psalm one, we read about a person who is like a tree planted near the water, a tree that does not wither, instead producing fruit at the proper season. 

 

And Psalm 1 was not written by someone who is familiar with a costal climate.  This author is familiar with places that are dry and arid and desolate and barren without water.   

 

What makes the tree flourish?  It is the fact that its roots are able to reach the water it needs to flourish and produce fruit.  So how do we draw the strength, the nutrients, the refreshment, that we need to be as God would have us be?  Paul goes on to tell the Christians in Thessalonica.

 

  • Rejoice at all times,

  • pray constantly,

  • give thanks in every circumstance,

for this is God’s will for you who are in Christ Jesus.                                                         1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

 

I believe that only when we build prayer, thankgiving and rejoicing into our lives that we are able to relate to others in the way that Paul tells the Christians in Thessalonica to do.  Persistent prayer that has as its major component gratitude and joy, is necessary if we are not to fall into indifference, skepticism, selfishness, impatience or vengefulness. 

 

How the way we approach God will affect our outlook on life, so that we are able to react to others in a new way – building others up, encouraging them, forgiving them and loving them.

 

Focus on God

Consistent prayer with rejoicing and thanksgiving

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Focus off self

Inner peace and strength

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Focus on others

Ability to treat others in love

 

When we are people of praise and thanksgiving, then that will change our attitude toward our own situation and toward others, so that we are able to act in loving and forgiving and caring ways.    

 

A heart filled with praise, rejoicing, thanksgiving leads to compassion and understanding, and the ability to make a difference.

 

What has to happen for us to be in consistent prayer with rejoicing and thanksgiving?  We can answer that question when we realize that this is both a personal discipline and a resulting mindset.

 

Keep in mind that prayer is nothing more than speaking to God. 

  • Some people don’t speak with God because they doubt that he exists. 

  • Others don’t speak with God because they are angry at him for something. 

  • Some people don’t speak with God because they don’t think it makes any difference.  If we knew that indeed it does make a difference, maybe we would pray more. (The point is that the greatest change that prayer brings about is within us).

  • Again others don’t speak with God because they’re just too preoccupied. 

  • Again others don’t speak with God because they find it boring. 

  • And there are those who stop speaking to God because they sense no need for God.  They can get along quite fine without him.

 

The nation of Israel was warned not to allow that to happen after they entered the Promised Land and prospered.

 

When the LORD [lit. YHWH] your God brings you into the land ... then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.   Deuteronomy 6:10-12

 

There shouldn’t be any life situation that would cause us to stop praying altogether.

 

We read in Daniel 6 how the Darius the Great (reigned 522 - 486 BCE), king over the Medes and the Persians, issued a decree that for 40 days no one was allowed to petition anyone, God or man, other than the king himself.  Disobedience to the decree was punishable by death.  This is how Daniel responded:

 

Now when Daniel knew the decree was signed, he entered his house (he had a window in his roof chamber that opened toward Jerusalem) and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously.                                       Daniel 6:10

 

Daniel lived a life that combined three disciplined times of communicating with God with spontaneous encounters with God throughout his day. 

 

If we want to communicate throughout the day with God, we should set aside specific times of prayer and rejoicing and thanksgiving.  This should include giving thanks at meal times and praying with our kids when they are in bed at night.

 

Paul is telling the Christians in Thessalonica that they should speak with God constantly or continually or all the time. 

 

In his letter to the Romans, Paul uses two of the exact same terms he does in 1 Thessalonians. 

 

For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly (constantly) I make mention of you in my prayers at all times.                                                   Romans 1:9-10

 

This did NOT mean that Paul spoke to God about the Christians in Rome every minute of every day.  What it does mean is that he prayed for them daily, and did so many times over and over again. 

 

So to pray, give thanks and rejoice always does not mean that we are praying, praising, giving thanks every minute of every day.  It does mean that we should pray as often as possible.

 

As an aside, I doubt very much that Paul is thinking of prayer as always asking God for something.  In fact, if our prayers consist only of a litany of requests, if the only time we think to speak with God is when we want something from him, that’s really not much of a relationship, is it?

 

Imagine that the only time someone contacts you is when they want something from you.  Otherwise they never, ever, bother to speak with you.  After a while, you will probably think to yourself, “forget him/her.” 

 

Maybe this message is relevant for you because you have become prayer-less.  In fact, you find yourself rarely if ever even thinking about God. 

 

Paul tells his readers that they should always pray and that they should always be thankful. 

 

Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what we have or what we have received, whether it is something tangible, like food, or something intangible, like a kind word.

 

We give thanks when we become conscious or mindful of something good in our lives, some blessing. 

 

When we are grateful, we acknowledge the goodness in our lives. In the process, we usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside of ourselves.  As a result, gratitude also helps us to connect to something larger than ourselves as individuals — either to other people or to God.

 

I have heard it said that God dwells in two places.  He dwells in heaven and in the thankful heart.  While theologically this may be a bit incorrect, practically speaking there is a ring of truth to it.

 

Unfortunately, some of us have so much, that we’ve stopped realizing when we are blessed ... we just take it for granted.  So we stop giving thanks, even at meal times. 

 

Instead of being mindful of the good in our lives, we get used to complaining about our problems. 

 

This week I met up with a friend, who told me that his wife had accidentally dropped a big jar of mustard and it had shattered on the kitchen floor and made a huge mess. It really upset him and his wife.

But the next day he said to me that the things that he complains about are really just inconveniences when compared to what others have to face.

 

So I believe it’s pretty easy for us to end up complaining and griping all the time, even if we have it really good compared to the vast majority of people on this planet. 

 

We move from thanksgiving to rejoicing when we feel happy about something that is happening and express that happiness in thought or word. 

 

We feel glad about something we purchase or possess, we are happy for the weather, or the beauty of nature, the marvel of the universe or a sunny, crisp morning.  We express joy at the birth of a newborn, or the people in our lives, or the ability to walk or sing.  We are overjoyed at receiving a smile, a compliment, a kind word.  We express happiness at some purchase or possession, or the fact that we have a roof over our heads, food in our stomachs and clothes on our back.  We might be joyful at the company of a good friend, or the taste of a good meal, or the love of a spouse, or a successful operation, or the greatness and goodness and patience of God.

 

So Paul tells his readers to rejoice at all times. 

 

Thankfulness                                      Ingratitude

      

 

Happiness                                          Unhappiness

Contentment                                       Discontentment

Joy                                                    Misery

 

Most psychologists are keenly aware that there is a direct and strong correlation between thankfulness (gratitude) and contentment or happiness (or a happier life) - and thus between ingratitude and unhappiness. 

 

A person who is thankful is also a person who is happier.  Thoughts and expression of thankfulness keeps them from focusing on worries and the negative aspects of life. As such, it creates positive emotions like joy and contentment, even love. 

 

The world’s leading expert on the effects of gratitude is Prof. Dr. Robert Emmons (University of California), conducted numerous studies on the effects of keeping a gratitude diary.

 

People who filled out gratitude diaries reported feeling more positive, being more optimistic, exercising more, doing more acts of service, feeling more satisfied with life, and sleeping better, particularly when the diaries were kept daily over a three week period or longer.

 

The more we pray, the closer we feel to God, the more we become aware of his presence, and the more conscious we become of the many ways he blesses us. 

 

When I give thanks, when I rejoice, when I worship God, it changes me inside.  I can’t but feel better about life.

 

I read somewhere,

 

 

 

Every day contains something good.  Nevertheless, the day will be bad if all we are looking for is the ugly.

 

 

If we're looking for ugliness in life, we'll have no trouble finding it. 

If we are looking for cruelty, or injustice, or violence, again, we'll find plenty of evidence for that too. 

War, death, crime, terrorism – it is there on the front page of our newspapers and the headlines of our newscasts.

 

But on the other hand, if we are looking for things to be thankful for, guess what, we'll be able to find plenty of things as well - literally a hundred blessings in life. 

 

In fact, given the very same circumstance, two individuals can look at it in two completely different ways.  For example, let's say that you were transferred to a different part of Canada because of work. 

 

One person would look at this situation as a major hassle or even a tragedy.  The kids have to attend new schools, the place they're moving to has a much harsher climate, they're moving away from friends and family. 

 

Another person will look at it as an opportunity to begin a new adventure, as a place where there is there is sunshine and snow in the winter, or where they can afford to buy a house and property, and a place where they have the opportunity to meet and make new friends. 

 

The point is, if we want to be truly thankful to God in the ordinary day-to-day experiences and the big events of life, then we need to see life and the situations it brings as a gift and a miracle - and always find reasons to thank God and be happy.

 

And when we praise and thank God, then we will constantly be reminded just how fortunate we are.

 

So let’s begin by making a sincere commitment to take the focus off all that is wrong and not working and bad, and replace it with a focus on everything that is good and right in our lives!

 

Let’s incorporate the discipline of speaking with God, always including thanksgiving and rejoicing, until it turns into a habit, a way of life. 

 

I’ve already mentioned that heartfelt gratitude and thanksgiving will drastically change the way we will view and feel about life.

 

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008), who suffered 8 years of incredible deprivation in the Gulags of Siberia (1945-1953), and subsequently almost died of cancer,[1] wrote in his book, "The Gulag Archipelago", these words:

 

If your back isn't broken, if your feet can walk, if both arms work, if both eyes can see, and if both ears can hear, then whom should you envy?  And why?  Our envy of others devours us most of all.  Rub your eyes and purify your heart and prize above all else in the world those who love you and who wish you well.

 

About 1.6 million people would starve, freeze, or be worked to death in Stalin’s Gulags between 1934 and 1953.[2] 

 

But for Solzhenitsyn, it would lead him to abandon atheistic Marxism and gradually becoming an Eastern Orthodox Christian. 

 

In Daniel Defoe’s book, Robinson Crusoe (1719), after the title character, Robinson Crusoe,[3] was wrecked on his lonely island, he took stock of his situation by drawing up two columns.  One he called evil, the other good.

 

On the one hand he noted that he was shipwrecked. 

On the other hand, he was thankful that he was still alive.

 

He noted that he was totally alone.

But he was thankful that he was not starving.

 

It was bad that he had no place to purchase new clothes.

But he was thankful that he was in a hot climate where it didn't matter all that much.

 

He noted that he had no weapons to defend himself.

But he was thankful that there were no animals on the island that would attack him.

 

By the way, the slave trader Robinson Crusoe ends up reading the Bible and becoming a Christian, thanking God for his fate in which nothing is missing except other humans. 

 

When he rescues a man from the cannibals who would visit the Island from time to time, he names him Friday and converts him to Christianity.  Now he has human companionship.

 

Eventually the Island, which he had named “Island of Despair” when he was shipwrecked, would become “my beloved Island”.

 

The point is, that no matter how bleak the picture may seem, when we are grateful for what is good, it can help us to regain a positive outlook and experience life in a positive way.     

 

When we worship God and give thanks for all the good things, it allows us to see that most of the things that cause us to worry are not huge issues and it will help us to leave them in God's hands.

 

Instead of complaining about your salary, thank God for the fact that you even have a job. 

 

Instead of yearning after a Mediterranean cruise, thank God for the fact that you are surrounded by opportunities to relax and enjoy, without having to travel far away.   

 

When I am thankful, it brings contentment and peace to my heart.

 

The more genuinely grateful I am to God for the gift of my life, for my wife, for the measure of health I have, for my home, my ministry, my freedom, for my friends, for my children, the more peaceful I feel and the more able I will be to treat others right. 

 

Think of what a genuine attitude of gratitude can do in relationships.  Instead of wishing that your spouse or your kids or your parents were different, try thanking God for their good qualities. 

 

You see, it is easy to get into the habit of taking one another for granted.  The combination of passing time, familiarity, and the hustle and bustle of life makes us forget how special and valuable our loved ones really are to us and how much they bring and add to our lives. 

 

Everyone loves to know and hear that they are appreciated and valued.  In fact, when someone feels taken for granted, or under-appreciated, resentment and apathy are usually not far away. 

 

A lack of gratitude toward others is a major factor in a relationship becoming stagnant and boring.  Couples stop caring because they don't feel acknowledged or appreciated.

 

By expressing your feelings of gratitude you are reinforcing that the relationship is appreciated as a gift - something of great value. 

 

Gratitude is a powerful force that can eliminate and overcome most problems that exist in a relationships.  In other words, you can make mistakes, as long as you remember to sincerely be thankful to the other person.

 

We should spend a moment every day thinking of someone to thank.  It can be anyone.  Someone who allowed you to merge into traffic, someone who held the door open for you, a physician who helped you get better, a kindness done by your spouse. 

 

Invariably, when I think of one person to be thankful for, the image of another person pops into my head and then another and another. 

 

When we make it a habit to be thankful to God for the people in our lives, then we will be on the look-out for what is right and beautiful in your relationships and that is what we will see and focus on.

 

So there are all kinds of benefits to being a person who is prays constantly with rejoicing and thanksgiving.  A heart filled with thankfulness to God is calmer and more accepting toward life.  It makes us more relaxed and peaceful.  It is a proven fact that there is a direct relationship between those who take time out to regularly connect with God in a positive way in prayer and those who are much less likely to describe life and relationships as stressful. 

 

So practicing the attitude of gratitude, genuinely taking time out of our every day to praise and thank God for His love, for all the good things in life, for our family or friends, for our home and the food we eat changes the focus to how blessed we are instead of all the negatives of life. 

 

When times are difficult, giving praise reminds us that, despite the difficulty, we are indeed fortunate to be alive and to have all we do. 

 

Let’s begin each day with rejoicing and thanksgiving, and end each day with rejoicing and thanksgiving.  For the privilege of being alive, for the food on our tables, the clothes on our back, for parents and kids and friends and neighbours, for all that is ours and all that we have.

 

The more accepting of life I become, the more I become open to the moments of grace and beauty in my life. 

 

The more I stop taking for granted God’s love and forgiveness, the good things in my life and my loved ones – the better my perspective on life will be and the greater my ability to actually admonish, encourage and help others. 

 

So allow that attitude of gratitude and joy to bring out the best in you, to help you maintain your emotional bearing, and to touch and transform your relationships.

 

Beginning today and for the next three weeks (21 days) will I discipline myself ...

 

... to pray a minimum of three times a day, even if it’s just giving thanks at mealtimes?

 

... to make three entries in a gratitude journal once a day?

 

... to make a point of telling one person every day why I appreciate them?

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Cancer Ward

[2] According to Russian estimates, over 1 million people died.  Non-Russian estimates range as high as 5 million to 12 million.  About 14 million people passed through the Gulags from 1929 and 1953, with another 7 to 8 million being deported and exiled in remote parts of the USSR.

[3] Crusoe is a corruption of the German name Kreutzner.