We had a great time at Feast Week working through Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. The sermons were encouraging and convicting. The fellowship with other believers was sweet and uplifting. And I was once again reminded of the value of viewing the books of the Bible as complete works, as opposed to various verses that are loosely connected. Let me try to illustrate what I mean.
On Monday night I preached 1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:13. In this passage, Paul is encouraging the Thessalonians in their sufferings and afflictions. He tells them to remember that the followers of Christ are destined for this (3:3). That may seem like a very discouraging thing to tell these believers who are struggling, but Paul sees it as just the opposite. We can persevere through afflictions when we know that they ultimately come from the sovereign hand of God. He is using every ounce of our suffering to make us more like our Savior, who suffered in our place at the cross.
On Wednesday night, one of my brothers (HT: James Guy) preached 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11. The main point of this section is that we have hope for those who have fallen asleep in Christ because we know that they will be raised with Him on the final Day! What a powerful promise! At the end of that section is one of my favorite verses: For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ…(5:9). The glorious good news of the gospel is that Jesus took the wrath that I deserved at the cross. He paid for my sin. He bore God’s righteous wrath in my place! Hallelujah, what a Savior!
What struck me Wednesday night as I was listening to my brother preach is how these two passages go together. The truth is that the followers of Christ will face affliction in this life. We should not be surprised by it or overwhelmed by it because God has destined us for it to make us more like Jesus (see Romans 8 for more on this). Yet, even though we may face affliction on the earth, the amazing news is that we will never face God’s wrath as believers in Christ. Jesus has already faced that for us. Affliction will come to refine me and conform me to Christ, but I am not destined for wrath because of what Jesus has done on the cross. Either one of these ideas is encouraging and comforting, but when you consider them together, it makes you want to sing and shout (or tremble and weep) at the amazing love and plan of our God.
I am so thankful for the opportunity to study through a book of the Bible in one week with other believers. We should carve out more time as followers of the Word to sit and read through whole books of the Bible in one sitting. I believe it helps us see the big picture of the story of our redemption and the great God who stands behind it all!