Read 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 and 4:1-18. How does the content of chapter 4 expand on various parts of the prayer in 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13? What is the relationship between Paul’s prayer and his inspired words to the Thessalonians?
Paul’s prayer in 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 contains a number of key words that anticipate the content of 1 Thessalonians 4:1-18. The prayer is about “abounding” in “holiness” and mutual “love” in light of the second coming of Jesus. All of these themes point to specific passages in chapter 4.
In our text for today (1 Thess. 4:1, 2) Paul picks up on the language of “abounding” in 1 Thessalonians 3:12, although the connection is masked by most modern translations. Modern translations have the commendable goal of making things more understandable in today’s language, but they may inadvertently hide connections that are explicit in the original. In the King James Version, the parallel between 1 Thessalonians 3:12 and 1 Thessalonians 4:1 is explicit; Paul invites the Thessalonians in both places to “abound more and more” in their love for each other and for everyone.
Paul began the work of building their Christian framework while he was with them, but now he is impressed by the Holy Spirit to fill in the gaps (1 Thess. 3:10) and clarify their understanding. The result would be “more and more” of what they were already attempting to do, which is live a life worthy of their calling.
Paul begins chapter 4 with, “Finally, then” (NKJV). In chapters 4 and 5 he is building on the previous chapters, where his friendship with them is the basis for the practical counsel he will now give. They had made a good start. Now he wants them to continue growing in the truths that they had learned from him.
Two mentions of Jesus in this passage (1 Thess. 4:1, 15) are particularly interesting. They indicate that Paul was passing on the teaching of Jesus’ own words (which were later preserved in the four gospels). Paul was offering more than just good advice. Jesus Himself commanded the behaviors that Paul was encouraging. Paul, as Christ’s servant, was sharing the truths He had learned from Christ.
Read again 1 Thessalonians 4:1. What does it mean to walk in a way that will “please God”? Does the Creator of the universe really care about how we act? How can our actions actually “please God”? What are the implications of your answer?