Collegiate Reformed Fellowship is the campus ministry of Christ Church and Trinity Reformed Church in Moscow, Idaho. Our goal is to teach and exhort young men and women to serve, to witness, to stand fast, and to mature in their Christian Faith. We desire to see students get established in a godly lifestyle and a trajectory toward maturity. We also desire to proclaim the Christian worldview to the university population and the surrounding communities. CRF is not an independent ministry. All our activities are supplemental to the teaching and shepherding ministry of CC & TRC. Students involved with CRF are regularly reminded that the most important student ministry takes place at Lord’s Day worship.
Another one of the ways God is blessing our community immensely is through the explosion of businesses and industry. As this grows, the opportunity for business bumps will increase. Of course it’s often a great gift to be able to do business together as believers, but there is no guarantee that Christians will not sin, make mistakes, or botch projects. These are challenges that we must embrace, and work through as Christians. And this process is essential to growing up into a mature Christian city.
“But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another. And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia: but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more; and that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you; that ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing” (1 Thess. 4:9-12).
LOVE IS OBEDIENCE FROM THE HEART
We cannot say this enough in our current cultural moment, but “love” is not whatever we want it to be. Love is obedience to God from the heart. And in this case, the “love” that Paul is urging the Thessalonians to “increase more and more” is clearly spelled out. Just before our text, love means abstaining from all fornication and not defrauding one another sexually (1 Thess. 4:3-7). We may as well spell out the fact that this means: monogamous heterosexual marriage. And then he adds to that here: study to be quiet, mind your own business, work with your own hands so that you are known for your honesty and lack nothing. This is love. Notice that Paul doesn’t say anything here about warm feelings or following your heart.
The connection here between sexual ethics and economic and business practices is not accidental. Rampant sexual fraud in the bedroom leads to rampant economic fraud in the public square. The family and home are the basic building blocks of business and economy. Covenant keeping in the home is practicing to keep your word at work. Of course it goes both ways, and shoddy work in the market place is a great way to practice unfaithfulness at home. The foundation for our commitment to this kind of love is the gospel of Christ: He was obedient to the death for our salvation. This is love. And we love because He loved us first (1 Jn. 4:9-11).
GIFT GIVING ECONOMY
God so loved the world that He gave (Jn. 3:16). And so it is that the basis for all truly free markets is this kind of love: gift giving. This means that when it comes to doing business, our instinct should always be to blessothers, especially brothers and sisters. This is the opposite of looking for or expecting a deal or a discount – as a buyer or a seller – simply because you’re both Christians. It is more blessed to give than receive, and therefore, the accent is on you giving, not you getting other people to give to you. So, if you need the goods or services of someone else, you should want to give as big of a gift as you can in exchange for it. You are of course free to shop around, but you should want to bless them (pay) so they can give even more. And if you are giving the good or service, pricing should be set sufficiently so that you can keep on giving a good gift that is high quality, excellent, and thoroughly honest. God does not want us to give beyond what He has actually given (2 Cor. 8:12). We are to work in such as a way that we lack nothing (1 Thess. 4:12). In terms of quality of products and services, Christians should despise the sentiment of the bumper sticker that says, “not perfect just forgiven.”
WRITE IT DOWN
Paul said that the Thessalonians didn’t need him to write to them, but he did it anyway, and given the challenge that they would soon face (2 Thess. 2:2), it was very important that he did. We are people of the written word, and therefore one of the hallmarks of Christian civilization is the written contract. Therefore, write all business agreements down. Do not say that since they are Kirkers you don’t need to write it down; do not say they are fellow believers so everything will be fine. Do not write some of it down, and have additional verbal agreements and handshakes. No, from the beginning God wrote everything down for us, not because He would forget His word, but because we are the kind of people who forget. This is central to our commitment to honesty. This need not be a suspicious or accusatory thing; it should be considered one of the central ways we love one another. In the absence of a written contract, the Bible says elsewhere that we should rather be defrauded than bring shame on the name of Christ by making a big stink about it or taking a brother to court (1 Cor. 6:7).
MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS
Of course, as members of Christ and bound together by membership vows, we have promised to watch out for one another and bear one another’s burdens (cf. Gal. 6:2). But in the same place it says, “let every man prove his own work… for every man shall bear his own burden.” If the great principle of Christian business is love (defined as obedient and glad gift-giving), then our duty to work hard and mind our own business so that we lack nothing means that our goal should be to mind our own business, which is not at all the same as autonomous self-sufficiency. Part of minding your own business means take care of your own garden. It also means not assuming you know anything about your brother’s situation. This applies to what you might be tempted to think your brother can afford to pay or give; this also applies to various business decisions, whether it’s your competitor or the fact that somebody in the church went with your competitor. Don’t assume the worst; don’t assume anything. Life is complex. Related is the fact that you must not take business decisions personally. And while you should want to do everything you can to be at peace with a brother and cover a multitude of sins, a negative review of work need not be cause for being out of fellowship.
When a business deal goes south it can be a real tangled mess, especially in a small, tight-knit community, but the gospel applies here as well. This doesn’t mean being naïve, gullible, or being walked all over. The cross teaches us is that love is obedience from the heart. Obedience is scrupulously honest (Ps. 15:4), but love also speaks the truth, holds brothers accountable, and is willing to work long and hard to bring resolution and make things right, because Christ suffered for us. They will know we are Christ’s disciples not just because we get along but because we love one another even when by all human standards we shouldn’t (Jn. 13:35).
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Virtues, like vices, are like grapes—they come in clusters. Paul is following his usual pattern here, which is to conclude his letter with a burst of ethical exhortations, all of which should be arranged within the larger framework that he established earlier in the letter.
“And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves. Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men. See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men. Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil. And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it. Brethren, pray for us. Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss. I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen” (1 Thess. 5:12–28).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
The letter to the Thessalonians concludes with a cluster of rapid-fire exhortations. Remember this, and also that, and here is something else. The first thing Paul reminds them of is their duty to the leaders in their church. Know those who labor, who rule, and who admonish (v. 12). Paul says to esteem them highly, and to be at peace (v. 13). And being at peace with one another is actually a good way to esteem them. In the next verse, he says to be hard and to be soft, depending on who you are dealing with (v. 14). Don’t be the kind of person who retaliates, whether inside the church or outside (v. 15). Rejoice all the time (v. 16). Pray without ceasing (v. 17). Give thanks in every circumstance (v. 18). Don’t quench the Spirit (v. 19). Don’t treat prophecy with contempt (v. 20). Test everything, and cling to what passes the test (v. 21). Abstain from every form of evil (v. 22). Do these things and God will preserve you till the coming of Christ. He is faithful and He will do it (vv. 23-24). Paul then requests prayer for his work (v. 25). Greet one another with a kiss (v. 26). The letter is to be read to all (v. 27). And may the grace of Christ with be you (v. 28). Amen.
There are a number of places where we quietly assume that certain practices are human traditions when they are actually profoundly biblical. One of those things is the biblical practice of church membership. We think that it is a human invention when it is actually a scriptural requirement. Set vv. 12-13 alongside Hebrews 13:7, 17 and see what happens.
“Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation” (Heb. 13:7).
“Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you” (Heb. 13:17)
“And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves” (vv. 12-13).
What would you think of someone who argued that husbands did have to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25), but that this did not mean that they had to know who they were? Nonsense, right?
These exhortations absolutely require the leaders of the church to know the names of those they are responsible for, and it requires the members of the church to know the names of those they are responsible to.
Members have to remember their rulers. They have to remember their sermons. They must imitate their lives. They must render obedience, and they must be submissive. They must know those who labor in their midst. They must esteem them highly. And all this means that they must know their names.
And what must elders do? They must rule, speak, and live lives worthy of imitation. They must joyfully watch over souls, as men who will give a reckoning. They must work and work hard, and they must admonish those who are erring. And all of this requires them to know their parishioner’s names. What would you think of your tax accountant if he said you owed a couple thousand dollars, and you said, “you sure?” and he said, “more or less.” Accountants count. Shepherds count. Are they all here?
THE CRITICAL EYE
These exhortations require discernment. You have to discern who is lazy and who not. You have to discern who is unruly, and who is feeble. You have to discern the word of the Spirit, and you must have nothing to do with charlatans. God told you, eh? But there is a true balance that has to be struck, which we can see in v 21. Test everything, but do it with a certain spirit—a spirit that is eager to embrace what passes the test. In other words, you are to be a judge, but not a hanging judge. Be like the Ephesians in your hatred of the Nicolaitans, but do it without falling from your first love, the way the Ephesians did.
In the flesh, people who like to test tend to be ornery, and they like to see people crash and burn. In the flesh, people who are eager to hold fast to what is good tend to want everythingto be good. This is why everybody gets a participant ribbon. And these two errors feed off each other.
All of these traits are to be pursued and embraced in the light of the coming of Christ (vv. 23-24). And given how God has directed history, this means that you must pursue this lifestyle with your death in view, or with the Final Coming of Christ in view. Going back to the previous point, those who love to hold people accountable must remember that the day is coming when they will be held accountable. Those who are allergic to every form of accountability must remember that the day is coming when they will be held accountable.
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10).
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As we work through this next portion of Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, we want to continue to hold the various elements of “the last things” loosely, and in the palm of our hand. After we have all the pieces on the workbench before us (e.g. after 2 Thess. 2), we will then look at how they relate to one another. For the moment, to help keep things clear in our minds, I am going to begin referring to the end of all things as the Final Coming, and not the Second Coming.
We should work through all of this in humility, remembering that Augustine, one of the greatest minds in the history of the church, once said of 2 Thess. 2: “I frankly confess I do not know what he means.”
“But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do” (1 Thess. 5:1–11).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
Paul had not had the opportunity to teach the Thessalonians everything he had wanted to, but he had already covered this. You know the “times and seasons,” he said (v. 1). The day of the Lord would be sudden and unexpected, like a thief in the night (v. 2). Be aware that throughout Scripture, “the day of the Lord” is commonly used for any number of historical judgments. The day of the Lord is not necessarily the Final Coming. When they are expecting peace and safety, they will suddenly give birth to “sudden destruction” (v. 3). But their complacency was a moral darkness, not an intellectual one (v. 4). The believers in Thessalonica were children of the day, children of light, which would prevent the day from overtaking them like a thief (vv. 4-5). So his exhortation is that they remain awake and sober (v. 6). Sleep and drunkenness belong the night, not the day (v. 7). Those who are of the day should be sober, putting on the helmet of the hope of salvation, and the breastplate of faith and love (v. 8). The reason for this preventative behavior is that God has not appointed them to wrath (as He did the others), but rather to obtain salvation through Christ (v. 9). Christ died for those believers who were already dead, and for those who remained alive, so that all would live through Him (v. 10). These were to be words of comfort and edification, which Paul assumed the Thessalonians would continue in (v. 11).
THE SOMEWHAT OBVIOUS
Paul obviously has the Thessalonians of the first century living in a state of high alert. They are to be awake, and with their armor on. If they could read his words to them, and not be looking out the window at what might be happening in their day, then it would the result of not paying close attention. That tone of urgency is very clear in this passage. Just as I have argued that the presence of the general resurrection is an indication we are talking about the Final Coming, so also the presence of an “any minute now” vibe is an indication that we are talking the events that run up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. In the two letters of Thessalonians, we have both elements weaving in and out with each other.
And looking ahead to 2 Thess. 2:6-7, we see something similar, in that Paul tells the Thessalonians that “he that restrains” is currently restraining, and that is why the man of lawlessness has not yet appeared.
A BASIC TAKE
As the first century Christians were navigating their way through a very dark pagan century, they were warned by Paul against some very real perils in their day. Formal emperor worship had begun under Augustus, and Thessalonica had a temple to the emperor. In 41 A.D. Caligula had ordered a statue of himself to be set up in the Temple at Jerusalem, which was only forestalled because Caligula was murdered. To give you a sense of the atmosphere of the times, in the forecourt of one of his homes, Nero had a bronze statue of himself built, a statue that was 120 feet tall—like a twelve-story building.
There were certain signs that indicated the pending destruction of Jerusalem (the day of the Lord), and that destruction was something that had to occur before there could be a Final Coming. That Final Coming was in Paul’s view, but it was like a very high and distant mountain range behind the mountain range that they were about to cross.
The Jewish War would “fill up” the sins of Israel (Matt. 23:32). That time would begin the “times of the Gentiles,” a period of time that would eventually be completed. I take that completion as being marked by the conversion of Jews, an event that has not yet happened (Rom. 11:15).
REMAINING ON HIGH ALERT
Once the judgment begins, that is no time to begin to prepare. The judgment might be temporal and historical (a day of the Lord), or it might be the Final Coming. In either case, the daylight is coming, and so Paul’s charge to us is to act as though the day has already come. We are not to be ethically groggy for whatever reason. You don’t want to be among those who were appointed to wrath—because that appointment will be kept. Rather, we should yearn to be among those who will “obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us.”
And this is what brings us back to the everlasting center—Christ, our Lord. Because He was not overcome by the night, it becomes possible for all those who have trusted in Him to follow Him and to do the same.