1 Thessalonians 4:1–5, 5:15–22; 2 Peter 3:8–9comment (0)
July 30, 2009
By Steven R. Harmon
Related Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 4:1–5, 5:15–22
Bible Studies for Life
Associate Professor of Divinity, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University
DO YOU SEE THE BIG PICTURE?
1 Thessalonians 4:1–5, 5:15–22; 2 Peter 3:8–9
All people who have recognized their need for God and want to be in right relationship with Him find themselves asking the question “What is His will for my life?” We ask that question because as we learn the biblical story and become acquainted with God’s character through it, we come to know Him as one who knows all things and has a purpose for every dimension of creation. This lesson begins a five-part series on “Finding and Following God’s Will” that focuses on several key passages of Scripture that help us understand what it means to know God’s will for us and how we go about seeking to do it.
Sometimes we become so focused on discerning God’s specific will for major life-changing decisions that we neglect what the Bible teaches as His overarching will for every day. Decisions like whom to marry and what sort of work will best fulfill God’s intentions for our lives are, of course, matters about which we must passionately seek divine guidance. But the starting place for knowing and doing the will of God is what He wills for all people in their everyday existence. The texts for this week’s lesson teach those aspects of God’s will that are universally applicable.
God Wants All People to Be Saved (2 Pet. 3:8–9)
Christians have debated the precise meaning of the biblical terms “election” and “predestination” almost since the beginning of the Christian tradition. Whatever one believes about whether God’s predestination of people for salvation implies that some are destined not to be among the elect, one must be sure to let this text mean what it says: “The Lord ... is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.” All people are created to be in relationship with God. Apart from right relationship with God, all people are on a path leading them to destruction unless they have a change of mind about their direction that results in a reorientation of their lives toward God — which is what the biblical word “repentance” means. It is God’s will for every person to experience this repentance.
God Wants Us to Reflect His Character (1 Thess. 4:1–5)
God’s fundamental character trait is holiness — a biblical word Christians frequently use without giving much thought to what it means. When our 3-year-old son asked, “What does holy mean?,” after singing the “Doxology” at church recently, my wife answered, “It means that God is more special than anything else in the whole world.” God’s “specialness” cannot be exhausted by a single definition, but at the very least, it means that He is other than anything that has gone wrong with our lives because of sin. God is holy and as people created in the image of the holy God, His will for us is that we be holy in contrast to sin, too. As the people of God who participate in the divine life through Jesus Christ, we have been given the Holy Spirit of God (1 Thess. 4:8), whose work is to sanctify us — to make us holy, as God is holy.
Note that here the aspect of holiness that is emphasized is sexual purity — “abstaining from fornication” (3). Holiness includes many other things not named here. But God has created us as persons in relationship, with our sexual identity as “male and female” inseparable from our identity as persons in relationship created in the image of the God who is persons in relationship. So how we live out our God-given sexuality is at the core of what it means to live in a holy manner.
God Wants Us to Do Good to Other People (1 Thess. 5:15–22)
The greatest commandment in all Scripture is actually two, according to Jesus. We are to love God and love people (Matt. 22:34–40). Therefore, when Paul summarized the sort of life that is “the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” at the end of 1 Thessalonians, he emphasized doing good to other people. And there are no limits on who is included among the recipients of our doing of good: “to one another and to all” (15). God’s will for us is to love Him, be holy like Him and love people as He does. May it be so.