Paul’s advice on staying ready for Christ’s return.
For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:9, 10).
I actually saw a grown man twiddling his thumbs not long ago. That is unusual these days. We are more likely to see people watching screens on cell phones, televisions, computers, or game devices in doctors’ offices, restaurants, traffic lights, subways, and airports.
Waiting has changed. How we wait has changed. Even staying focused on what we are waiting for is harder because the worldwide presence of technology blunts the edge of both longing and dreading of joyful or fearful expectation. Distractions threaten to overtake us.
The apostle Paul had a lot to say about waiting. In fact, he wrote to the Thessalonian believers twice to encourage them to look forward with eager anticipation to the day when Jesus returns. Both letters to the Thessalonians include lengthy descriptions of Christ’s return, with an emphasis on watching expectantly for it to happen. What should a Christian do while waiting for Christ to return? We can learn from four things Paul told the Thessalonians to do while they waited for this day.
Paul starts by commending the Thessalonian believers for the impact of their witness, even in the midst of their suffering. Their words and their actions showed that they followed the true and living God, and this witness had influenced all of modern-day Greece (1 Thessalonians 1:8-10). Their conversion had been complete, and they became genuine disciples of Jesus Christ. Paul says the Thessalonians’ response to persecution gives him cause to boast about them (2:14, 15). He is probably referring to the same kind of suffering he experienced when he and his companions were driven out of Thessalonica after a short visit (maybe three weeks), following accusations that they were trying to turn the world upside down (Acts 17:1-8). Paul thus encourages the believers to continue witnessing for Jesus Christ.
From this we learn that as we witness to friends, neighbors, and co-workers, we may find some open to the truth of the gospel. Rather than become discouraged by our culture’s general secularization, we are called to shine Jesus’ light in our sphere of influence. Continuing to witness in the face of opposition gives us the opportunity to demonstrate the truth of the gospel.
Want God’s Word
Next, Paul directs his readers to continue in their desire for God’s Word. He commends them for accepting his teaching, not as the word of men but for what it really is: God’s Word (1 Thessalonians 2:3-6; 3:13). They should search the Scriptures and verify the truth of Paul’s words (Acts 17:11). Paul points out that this is a conscious decision, based on their recognition that the idols they had worshipped did not offer them the truth of Scripture.
In order to know God’s heart, we also need to be immersed in God’s Word daily and choose to do what it says. In our world, many voices compete for our attention. Mass media constantly tries to suck us into the world’s value system, selfishness, and materialism. In so doing, the media markets a kind of happiness that is not permanent and that often opposes God’s Word. God calls us to reject what the idols of the world say and search His Word for what He wants us to do prior to His return.
Paul’s third admonition to the Thessalonian believers is to live holy (or sanctified) lives. Though surrounded by all kinds of temptations, they are to keep themselves sexually pure (1 Thessalonians 4:1-5). Their lives should reflect Christ’s supernatural love in their relationships with one another (vv. 9, 10), as well as encourage those who had lost heart because of persecution (5:11, 14). Rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks would also result from living Spirit-filled lives (vv. 16-19). In short, the believers should walk worthy of their calling.
We learn from this that our lives should be distinctive. We should stand out not just for the things we oppose on a moral basis but for possessing the quality of a holy and consistent life. As people observe our joyful and thankful lifestyle, they will realize that we value other things more than passing pleasures and fun.
Paul’s final admonition for these Thessalonian believers is to continue working (4:11, 12). This seems an odd command, yet evidently some people in Thessalonica thought that since Jesus would return soon, they could quit their jobs. Perhaps they would sit and watch for His coming and expect others to provide for them while they waited. Why work, when work is difficult?
Paul spells out the high value of work in this passage. It is not only the means by which we provide the daily necessities for our dependents and ourselves, but also a way of maintaining a witness before an ungodly world. Elsewhere Paul mentions that by doing our job well, we actually show our employers that being a Christian results in excellence (Colossians 3:23, 24). While Christians are called to provide generously for the poor (especially orphans and widows), Paul rejects the idea that able-bodied people can be idle.
This point teaches us that our work should be permeated with a heavenly purpose. God makes it clear that no matter when Jesus returns, He should find us actively working, both for His kingdom and in the earthly sense. God commanded Adam to work. Following Jesus sanctifies our work by making it a means of witnessing to others and of providing for our family and ourselves. Paul stresses that believers should keep working until the day of the Lord’s return.
If you are eagerly watching for signs of the times and waiting for Christ’s return, do not get distracted by technology, laziness, or apathy. Read Paul’s letters to the believers living in Thessalonica almost two thousand years ago. His advice is pertinent today. May we live by it!
Marcellus George writes from Fort Wayne, IN.