Encouragement and the Church (6)
Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God; for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 4.1, 2
An exemplary church
In many ways, the church in Thessalonica was the exact opposite of the church in Corinth. Whereas the latter was in a mess, and hardly exemplary to anyone, Paul held up the Thessalonians as an example to churches everywhere of what God could do with a people who truly trusted in Him and took His Word seriously.
Here was a church which embraced its calling from God to His Kingdom and glory (1 Thess. 2.12). For Paul, it was not enough that heshould refract the glory of God or know the joy of His Kingdom. True, he sought these at all times and in all things. But he labored to see glory and joy in others as visible manifestations and evidence of the work of God’s Spirit through his ministry (1 Thess. 2.1). He regarded the glory and joy others came to know through his ministry as the crowning achievement and proof of God’s work through him (1 Thess. 2.2-8, 19).
What evidence of faith and the glory of God did Paul see in the Thessalonians? He cited their “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1.3). They understood that working out the salvation to which they had come in Jesus meant doing good works of love and promoting a common hope in the Lord and unto His glory.
Further, they right away got busy about the work of making known the Good News of Jesus: “...from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything” (1.8).
The Thessalonians eagerly sought to learn what was required of them as a community of believers, and devoted themselves to becoming such: “…when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe. For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans...” (2.13, 14).
They were hungry to become disciples of Jesus and Paul: “...just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God; for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus” (4.1, 2).
And they abounded in love for one another, which is the true mark and end of Christian faith: “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” (4.9, 10).
Everything in Thessalonica was going great guns, and that in spite of “much affliction” (1.6). So, time to sit back and rest on the old laurels a bit, no?
Abound more and more
Obviously the Spirit was at work among the churches in Thessalonica. Paul had seen it, and Timothy had just come from there with a report that all was continuing in grace and flourishing in the salvation of the Lord among the churches in that city (3.6). Paul determined, as much as he could in a brief letter, to try to effect another lightning strike of spiritual energy in this vibrant and vital congregation.
Paul saw an opportunity to encourage the Thessalonians, and he wrote, “we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more” (4.1) And just to make sure his word of encouragement wasn’t lost on them, he charged them all with carrying on the work of encouragement among themselves: “Therefore encourage one another with these words.” “Therefore, encourage each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing” (4.18 and 5.11, my translations).
And he set a standard of increasing growth and ministry toward which they should aspire and for which they should earnestly strive: “But we urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more…” “And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all…” (4.10, 12).
And why not? Paul acknowledged the Lord’s work amongst them, celebrating with exuberant rejoicing the evidence of His Spirit at work within them. But he knew there was more, always more – exceedingly abundantly more (Eph. 3.20) – we can all experience and express of the glory and power of the Lord, at work within us to will and do of God’s pleasure (Phil. 2.13); and he longed for the Thessalonians to know that as well.
So, after reassuring them about the return of the Lord (4.13-18), Paul set about with specific words of exhortation to outline actions they could take to encourage and edify one another (1 Thessalonians 5). They should persevere in faith, love, and the hope of salvation (v. 8); honor those who serve and instruct them, and love them dearly (vv. 12, 13); treat one another as the situation required for holiness and love (vv. 14, 15); rejoice and pray and give thanks and walk in the Spirit, testing everything and holding fast to whatever was good, while turning away from everything that was evil (vv. 16-22).
Paul saw an opportunity to keep the Thessalonians moving forward in the faith, and he did not hold back from offering as much encouragement as he could. He wanted them to excel and abound more and more, because he knew we are all capable, in the Lord, of such growth and fruitfulness.
And he assured them that, as they took up the challenges he put before them, God would be faithful, and would enable them to realize even more of their great salvation (5.24).
It’s too easy for us to become satisfied with the state of our walk with and work for the Lord. We need to encourage one another to excel and abound and increase more and more, because there is always more and more of our great salvation to know, enjoy, embody, and proclaim.
1. What would “more and more” look like in your life?
2. Why must we resist the tendency ever to think that our experience of Jesus is “good enough”?
3. What can you learn from Paul about the work of encouraging your fellow believers?
Next steps – Transformation: Whom will you encourage today in their walk with and work for the Lord?
T. M. Moore
Resources for the Journey
If you missed our ReVision series, “We Would See Jesus,” you can download all four installments by clicking here. Our newest book, What in Heaven is Jesus Doing on Earth?, can help you to “see Jesus” as He continues His work at the right hand of God. Order your copy by clicking here. For a sweeping study of the unseen realm and the world to come, order our workbook, The Landscape of Unseen Things, by clicking here. And you can learn how our Celtic Christian forebears saw Jesus through the 28 days of meditations in Be Thou My Vision (click here).
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.