Today’s selected reading continues in the first New Testament epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Thessalonica. More specifically, today’s passage is found in the first four verses of the fourth chapter of the epistle. When you come to the fourth chapter of the first epistle which the apostle Paul wrote to the saints which were in the city of Thessalonica it is imperative that before you begin reading what is contained within that chapter you first understand that which is found in the preceding chapter. If you turn back to the concluding verses of the third chapter you will find the apostle Paul making two absolutely incredible declarations concerning the saints within this particular city. When the third chapter is being brought to a close you will find the apostle Paul not only speaking and writing that their love would increase, but also that it would abound toward all men. You will then find the apostle Paul writing concerning these saints that their hearts are unblamabe in holiness toward the Lord until Jesus comes with all of His holy saints. It is actually quite astounding to consider this reality, for the love of these saints not only increasing, but also abounding toward all men would be something that would not have come easy for them. Perhaps it isn’t safe to say that it wouldn’t have come easy, but rather that some among them would have found it incredibly challenging to love others—particularly and especially considering the events and circumstances surrounding their receiving the gospel. I know I keep finding myself coming back to how the people within this city received the gospel, however, I am convinced that it bears strong consideration when you consider the instruction that was given unto them. If your recall—when these saints received the gospel they received it in much affliction and with much opposition due to the envy of the Jews which was stirred up like a hornet’s nest in the midst of the city.
If you turn and direct your attention back to the seventeenth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts you will find the account of the events which took place within the city when Paul and his companions provisioned that Jesus who is the Christ must needs have suffered and be risen from the grave. When the apostle Paul entered into the synagogue he first went unto the Jews in order that he might reason together with them concerning the reality of Christ. As you continue reading this particular passage of scripture you will find that as a result of the preaching of the apostle Paul there were many within the city who believed in the name of Jesus Christ and became followers of the way. Even though there were a number of men and women who believed in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ the Jews—as a direct result of their envy—caused the whole city to rise up in an uproar. What’s more, is that they gathered together a company of lees men of the baser sort in order to invite the city against Paul and those who were with him. What’s more is that you will find that the Jews—along with those who were with them—assaulted the house of Jason in order that they might rid themselves of the apostle Paul and the teaching concerning Jesus who is the Christ. This opposition comes directly on the heels of the masters of a certain damsel who made her masters much profit and gain losing her absolute to do so because Paul commanded the evil spirit to come out of her. The masters of this particular damsel rose up against Paul and Silas and had them dragged before the people and rulers of the city. What’s more is that they had Paul and Silas beaten and ultimately cast into prison where their feet were made fast in stocks. Of course we know from Luke’s account that the Lord caused a great earthquake to shake the very foundation of the prison, which resulted in every prison door being opened, and every mans bonds being released. In fact, when writing to the saints which were in Thessalonica the apostle Paul actually mentions the opposition, the affliction and the trouble they encountered while present within the city.
It is absolutely necessary that we recognize and understand the events which took place within the city of Thessalonica when the apostle Paul, Timothy and Silas entered into it, for although it is true that the inhabitants of the city heard and received the gospel concerning Jesus who is the Christ, they received it in and with much affliction and opposition. We dare not minimize the reality of what took place within the city, for it had the ability to directly influence and impact—not only their receiving the gospel, but also the presence of the gospel within their hearts and lives. Consider if you will once more the account of the inhabitants of the city and the affliction and opposition they experienced at the hands of the Jews and their envy: “Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apolonia, they came to THessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: and Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the Scriptures, opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ. And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few. But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another King, one Jesus. And they troubled the people and the rulers of the city, when they heard these things. And when they had taken security of Jason, and of the other, they let them go. And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few. But when the Jews of THessalonica had knowledge that the word of God was preached of Paul at Berea, they came thither also, and stirred up the people. And immediately the brethren sent away Paul to go as it were to the sea: but Silas and TImotheus abode there still. And they that conducted Paul brought him unto Athens: and receiving a commandment unto Silas and TImothesus for to come to him with all speed, they departed” (Acts 17:1-15).
As necessary and imperative as it is to examine once more the account of the events which took place and unfolded within the city of Thessalonica, it is also necessary to consider them in light of the words which Jesus Christ Himself spoke when speaking to the multitudes who gathered together to hear and listen to Him speak. In fact, if you turn and direct your attention to the thirteenth chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew you will find the first of many parables which Jesus would speak unto the crowds concerning the mysteries of the kingdom of God. Consider if you will the words which Jesus spoke—first unto the crowds, and then privately unto His disciples when they came unto Him. Beginning with verse one and continuing through to the ninth verse we find the following words which outline the parable of the sower and the seed which Jesus told and delivered unto the crowds: “The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side. And great multitudes were gathered together unto Him, so that He went into a ship, and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore. And He spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow; and when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: and when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: but other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 13:1-9). This particular parable was one of the first of many parables which Jesus told unto the crowds and the masses which had gathered unto Him to listen to Him speak, although while speaking to the crowds Jesus didn’t reveal the meaning behind the parable. The only thing Jesus says unto the crowds which had gathered together unto Him to listen to Him speak came at the end of the parable when Jesus declared that he who hath ears to hear, let him hear. In other words, when Jesus concluded this particular parable He essentially called those who had ears to hear what He was speaking unto them to recognize and understand exactly what He was speaking. In other words, He was inviting those who heard and listened to His parable to look beyond the parable itself, which was an illustration and allegory, and truly understand that which Jesus was speaking unto them. It’s important that we recognize and understand that while it is true that Jesus did in fact speak in parables unto the crowds and the masses, He did invite those who had ears to hear what He was speaking to not only listen, but also hear exactly what He was speaking. In other words—there was understanding and knowledge to be gained if they were willing to listen with their hearts and allow revelation to come forth from the Spirit and from the Father.
IF you continue reading the thirteenth chapter of the gospel of Matthew which is found in the New Testament you will find Jesus’ disciples coming unto Him in order that they might ask Him concerning His speaking in parables. Beginning with the tenth verse of this thirteenth chapter you will find the following encounter between Jesus and His disciples when they came to Him privately concerning His speaking unto the crowds in parables: “And the disciples came, and said unto Him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? HE answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they heart not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceived: for this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them. Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower. When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side. But ye that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, Bey and by he is offended. He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:10-23).
When you read the words which Jesus spoke unto His disciples in this particular passage of Scripture you will notice four different types of soil, yet directly connected to these four types of soil are four different responses to the hearing of the word concerning the kingdom, and the end result of hearing the word. There are those who hear the word, and yet even though they hear the word they do no understand the word, and as a direct result of their lack of understanding the wicked one comes and snatches away the word, thus leaving them with absolutely nothing. There are those who hear the word, and even receive it with joy, yet because they have no root in themselves, they endure only for a while. These same individuals—when persecution and tribulation arise because of the word—will become offended and will in fact turn their backs on the word which they have heard and received. There are others who will hear the word, and yet despite the fact that they hear the word, the care of this world, the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and they become unfruitful. There are still others who hear the word of the kingdom, and understand that word, and as a direct result of hearing the word of the kingdom and understanding it, they bear and bring forth fruit—some an hundredfold, some sixty and some thirty. Pay close attention to certain key words within this Scripture, for when speaking of the second and third type of individual who heard the word concerning the kingdom, for one group who heard the word concerning the kingdom would become offended, and another would become unfruitful. Please don’t miss or lose sight of the reality of what is contained within this particular explanation, or even within the parable itself, for despite the fact that there were two groups who heard the word concerning the kingdom—one became offended, while another became unfruitful. I am absolutely and utterly convinced that the enemy and adversary more often than not does not have any issue with men and women hearing the word of the kingdom, yet the one thing he has always targeted is the ability to bear and bring forth fruit as a result of hearing the word. I am convinced that if the enemy can keep a portion of those who hear the word concerning the kingdom offended, and another portion of those who hear the word unfruitful, he can not only limit fruit that is produced from hearing the word, but he can also divide the body of Christ along the lines of offense and untfruitfulness. It is absolutely necessary and imperative that we recognize and understand this, for it has always been, and perhaps will ultimately be the desire of the enemy and adversary to divide the body of Christ across the lines of offense and bitterness, as well as being unfruitful and unprofitable.
I am convinced that in order to truly understand this reality even more it is absolutely necessary and imperative that we turn and direct our attention to the words which Jesus spoke unto His disciples when they asked Him concerning the sign of His coming, and the end of all things. If you begin reading with and from the fourth verse of the twenty-fourth chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew you will find the following words of Jesus, which in all reality contained a warning and word of caution. Consider if you will the words which Jesus the Christ spoke unto His disciples on this particular occasion: “Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come…For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened. Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together” (Matthew 24:4-14, 21-28).
The words which we find in this particular passage of Scripture present us with a reality that is directly connected to that which we read and that which we find in the explanation of the parable of the sower, for when speaking of the different types of soil which the seed of the word of the kingdom of God would be cast we find two different types of individuals—those who would hear the word and become unfruitful, and those who would hear the word and become offended. There is not a doubt in my mind that the enemy and adversary can and will seek to immediately cause those who hear the word concerning the kingdom to not understand that which they are hearing. If he cannot prevent them from understanding the word concerning the kingdom of God, he will cause some to become offended because of affliction, tribulation, suffering and persecution. If the enemy and adversary cannot cause certain individuals to become offended, he will seek to cause others to become unfruitful because the care(s) of the world and the deceitfulness of riches will choke the word within their hearts. These two realities are closely linked and closely connected to that which we find and that which we read in the twenty-fourth chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew, for within this particular passage we find Jesus not only speaking of those who will become offended because of persecution, affliction, suffering, persecution and conflict, but also those who would become deceived by false prophets and false Christs in the last days. Oh that we would recognize and understand these realities—particularly and especially when we read the words which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Thessalonica. Although those within the city of Thessalonica heard the word concerning the kingdom of God, they heard that word with much affliction, much opposition and much conflict. When the inhabitants of this particular city heard the word of the gospel concerning Jesus Christ they heard it in the midst of the entire city being in an uproar because of the envy of the Jews. When the Thessalonians heard the word concerning the kingdom of God, and the gospel concerning Jesus who is the Christ, they immediately faced and contended with the entire city rising up in an uproar and being divided within itself. What’s more, is that those within the city witnessed the Jews—those who were not only originally the people of God, but were still the chosen people of God. The Thessalonians heard the gospel concerning Jesus Christ, however, when they heard that word, they heard it in direct connection with the Jews seeking to directly oppose Paul and Silas—much like these two men were opposed while they were previously in Philippi.
When you come to the end of the third chapter of this first epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Thessalonica you will find him desirous of the Lord making them to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as they did toward them. What’s more, is the apostle Paul also wrote unto these dear saints that the Lord would establish their hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even their Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints. This is actually quite remarkable when you consider it in light of what the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints in the opening verses of this epistle. In fact, if you turn and direct your attention to the second verse of the first chapter and begin reading, you will find the following words written unto these saints: “We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father; knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake. And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost: so that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia. For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to Godward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing. For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye 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, which delivered us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:2-10). The words which the apostle Paul writes in the opening chapter of this epistle are particularly intriguing and interesting, for the apostle Paul writes concerning these saints how he remembered their work of faith, their labour of love, and their patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. These words are actually such that should be carefully considered, for while we are not justified by works, but by faith alone in Jesus Christ, faith itself is in fact a work which we engage ourselves in within and throughout the course of our lives. When we speak of faith, we dare not speak of it in terms of this mystical feeling that is present within our hearts alone. When we speak of faith we must absolutely and without wavering understand that it is indeed a work which we engage ourselves in. If it were not so, we would not have within the epistle which was written by James his words concerning faith without works being dead.
If you turn your attention to the second chapter of the epistle which James wrote unto the church you will find him emphatically and boldly speaking of faith and its direct connection to works. Consider if you will the words which James wrote in this particular portion of his epistle: “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when he had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:14-26). James wrote in the second chapter of his epistle that faith without works is dead, and I am convinced his words must be carefully understood when reading the words which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints within the city of Thessalonica, for Paul commended them because of their work of faith—and not just their work of faith, but also their labour of love, as well as their patience of hope. There is within this passage the three distinct realities which the apostle Paul wrote in the first epistle which was written unto the saints of Corinth, for within that epistle the apostle Paul declared that faith, hope and love abide, but the greatest of these is love. The apostle Paul wrote concerning the work of faith and the labour of love, and it is absolutely necessary and imperative that when speaking of both faith and love we recognize and understand that faith is work and requires work, and love is not only a labour in and of itself, but also labours. Perhaps the greatest question we must ask ourselves concerning both our faith and our love is whether or not we are engaging ourselves in faith as a work among men, as well as engaging our love as a labour toward those among us, and those outside of our number.
When we come to the fourth chapter of the first epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Thessalonica we find him beseeching them that as they had received from them, they ought to walk and to please God, and that they would abound all the more in this reality. I can’t help but be reminded of the words which the author of the epistle written unto the Hebrews writes concerning Enoch, for beginning with the fifth verse of the eleventh chapter we find the following words: “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that He is a rewarded of them that diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:5-6). The author of the epistle to the Hebrews wrote that without faith it is impossible to please God, while when writing unto the saints which were at Rome the apostle Paul wrote that those which are in the flesh cannot please God. Furthermore, when writing unto the saints which were at Corinth, the apostle Paul writes of those who are unmarried as caring for those things that belong to the Lord, and how they might please the Lord. Please don’t miss or lose sight of the significance of that which the apostle Paul is writing unto the saints which were at Thessalonica, for the apostle Paul was desirous that they not only know how to walk before the Lord, but also that they would please God, and that they would abound in that reality more and more. What’s more, is that when writing unto these dearly beloved saints the apostle Paul wrote that it was and still is the will of God—even our sanctification—that we should abstain from fornication. The apostle Paul wrote unto those saints that they would know how to possess their vessel [their body] in sanctification and honour, and not in the lust of concupiscence as did the Gentiles. The apostle Paul would go on to write how God has not called us unto uncleanness, but also unto holiness. I can’t help but be reminded of the words which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were in Corinth in the sixth chapter of the first epistle, as well as in the sixth chapter of the second epistle:
“Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. What? Know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? For two, saith he, shall be one flesh. But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit. Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:15-20).
“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).
In this fourth chapter of this first epistle written unto the saints which were in Thessalonica the apostle Paul not only writes of them walking and walking as such that they please God, but he also writes that it is the will of God, even their sanctification, that they should abstain from fornication. The apostle Paul wrote that they would know how to possess their vessel in sanctification and honour, which the Gentiles did. The apostle would go on to write unto them that no man go beyond themselves and defraud their brother in any matter, for the Lord is the avenger of all such. Moreover, the apostle Paul also went on to write how God has not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. The apostle would further go on to write how they had been taught of God to love one another, and that they increase in that love more and more. The apostle would also write unto them that they study to be quiet, and to do their own business, and to work with their own hands, as they were commanded, in order that they might walk honestly toward them that are without, that they might have lack of nothing.