Pastor Randy’s Top 66 – 1 Thessalonians
“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him.”1 Thessalonians 4:13-14
The apostle Paul probably started The Church in Thessalonica during his second missionary journey that also took him through Philippi, then Thessalonica, and then to Berea (Acts 17). We know from Acts 17 that Paul was able to preach Christ on three successive Sabbaths, and eventually some of the Jewish community enlisted unscrupulous men to stir up trouble and a riot ensued. Paul, Silas, and Timothy were whisked away, but one of the young Jewish converts to Christ named Jason, and some other brothers were dragged before the authorities and ended up having to pay a fine and were let go.
Many feel that because Paul’s trip was cut short that he wrote his two Letters to the Thessalonians to cover some doctrine – such as the Second Coming of Christ, and what happens at death – that he didn’t get to talk about while he was there.
The portion or two verses I have chosen concern what happens when a brother or sister in Christ dies before the Lord returns. He basically tells them that at the return of Christ, those who have died in Christ will be reunited with a new glorified body to reign with Christ forever. Paul goes into a little more detail than that, but what I want to focus on is what Paul says about the grief Christians experience when a loved one in Christ passes away.
If any of my readers have been around me or the church for any amount of time you will be familiar with what I typically say at a funeral or memorial service of a believer. Grief is that unpleasant feeling we experience for an extended amount of time whenever we lose a loved one to death – for that matter, we grieve whenever we lose anything that we love, cherish, or are emotionally attached to.
Some have erroneously taught that since a Christian has the full assurance that their deceased Christian loved one is in the presence of the Lord (‘…to be absent of the body is to be present with the Lord.’ 2 Corinthians 5:8) then there is no reason for us to grieve. They will say, “Why grieve? They are better off with Jesus now!” As true as it is that they are experiencing the beatific vision of seeing Christ face to face, and there is no other feeling or experience in the universe more gratifying, we who are left still feel the loss.
So, I remind people that our grief is:
- Normal – ‘Jesus wept’ at the tomb of His friend Lazarus, even though Jesus knew He would raise Lazarus from the dead within thirty seconds of his crying. If Jesus Christ, the Son of God, can cry over the loss of a friend, then it’s okay (normal) for us to grieve too.
- Necessary – it is important for your body and soul to grieve. It is an emotional release that I believe is a gift from God in that it enables us to begin the work of dealing with our loss. If we don’t grieve, I believe we will get sick – physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
- Temporary – we read in Psalm 30:5 “Weeping remains for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning’. This isn’t to imply that our grief will be over in around twelve hours or so, but rather – in time – and we aren’t putting a set time limit on it – but in time the bitter pain we feel at the initial loss, and the pain we feel for months later, will gradually begin to dissipate as the Lord brings healing to our broken soul.We will always love our deceased loved one, and this ‘dissipation’ of bitter pain is not a sign that we ‘no longer love them’ or that we are ‘over them’, but rather, the Lord is just healing their bitterly broken spirit. There will always be a tinge of pain, but not like it was.
But what I want to say about these verses in chapter four is really just the last part of verse thirteen, where it says: ‘….so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.’
You see, as I just said, Christians DO grieve the loss of a loved one, but we don’t grieve ‘like the rest of mankind, who have no hope’. In the previous post from Colossians I spoke about the doctrine of ‘hope’, and in the New Testament the hope that Christians have is a confident expectation that we will, without a doubt, be with the Lord Jesus after we die. Christian hope usually pertains to the confidence we have in the afterlife. It has NOTHING to do with the wish or desire ‘I hope it doesn’t rain today’.
So, what Paul is telling the Thessalonians is that they can grieve the death of their Christian brothers and sisters, but our grief is going to be, or ought to be, far less painful than those in the world who are not Christians because we know that we know that we know that our loved one is with Jesus and we will absolutely see them again when we die. BUT the world doesn’t have that assurance, because they don’t have ‘Christ in them, the hope of glory’(Colossians 1:27). Unfortunately, when unbelievers grieve, their grief could theoretically/potentially be extremely bitter because they have no assurance that their loved one is with Jesus or that they themselves will see them again in Heaven.
Paul goes on in this fourth chapter to speak about what happens to us when we die, or if we are alive when Christ comes back, and Paul tells the church – and you and I as believers – these things so that we can and will be encouraged and at peace with the daunting subject of the unknown – the unknown realm of death. “They” say that death is man’s greatest fear, but I think that the greatest fear is not so much with death itself, but rather with the overwhelming subconscious truth that they will stand face to face with their Creator – the King of the universe – and they will be found guilty.
This is why I love how Paul ends this fourth chapter of 1 Thessalonians (verses 17b-18):
“And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”
We will be with the Lord forever! And what are we to do with these words? Encourage one another with them! Are you encouraged? If you know Christ then you ought to be encouraged. If you don’t know Christ, then call upon Him today. And if you don’t know what it means to ‘call upon Him’, then write me soon. I’ll gladly explain it to you, and pray with you.