Text: 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
You may have noticed that most Sundays, in fact the last 19 by my count, we tend to focus on the Gospel reading. You’ve probably come to expect that when I begin by saying “the Word of God to which we direct our attention this morning is from…” that the next words will be the name of the Gospel writer. I hope you weren’t thrown off too much this morning when I said 1 Thessalonians. There are reasons we tend to focus on the Gospel reading. It often contains the very words spoken by Jesus. It shares first-hand accounts of His life and ministry on earth. And it’s often the clearest proclamation of the Good News of Christ’s work of salvation for all who believe. But the Old Testament and Epistle readings are just as much God’s Word as the Gospel is. Inspired by the Holy Spirit to be written down by human hands, these books contain historic, prophetic, and practical messages that are necessary for God’s people to hear and regularly reflect on. So, for these next three weeks, as we come to the end of the church year, we’ll focus on the words of Paul to the Thessalonians. Words which being with Paul’s exhortation today to these new Christians to
WALK PROPERLY IN THE NEW LIFE GIVEN IN CHRIST JESUS.
Paul begins this section of his letter by saying, “Finally then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.” Many scholars believe that 1 Thessalonians is one of the oldest books of the New Testament, possibly written even before the any of the Gospels. As such, it gives us a glimpse into the concerns of the first communities outside Israel to receive the Good News of Jesus Christ. This is helpful information to have as we recognize to whom this letter was originally written and how its message should be heard today.
This message of a walk pleasing to God is repeated throughout the reading and is reiterated at the end when Paul says, “aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” Hearing this got me thinking about what it means to walk properly. There are plenty of scary moments in the life of a parent. The birth of a child; hoping and praying that all will go well and that the baby and mother both remain healthy. The first nights home; hoping you can actually do this parenting thing on your own. I could list plenty more, but I think one of the scariest moments is the day you realize that child is actually going to walk. For a while, I think, we foolishly believe that they’re just going to sit or crawl for their entire life. And then that day comes when you see them scoot over to something solid and pull themselves up. And you realize you have precious little time before they’re fully mobile.
The laying down and crawling stage of a baby isn’t that bad. I mean, aside from all the crying and such. While that baby is completely dependent on its parents for everything there’s a certain sense of control. And a sense of calm and appreciation for the stage. I have to imagine this is how it was for God in His fatherly role with Adam and Eve in the garden. He provided everything and they depended on Him, and the relationship was perfect. Until they decided they wanted to get up and walk on their own.
Every baby will eventually get to this stage. A realization that they no longer need to be carried and that they don’t need to be totally dependent on anyone else for everything. As you’ve probably guessed, I’m not really talking about how well we physically walk, but the comparison between this and our faith is a good one. Our human tendency is to not want to be dependent on anyone else. And so, we seek a way to stand on our own.
This toddler stage of walking is a rough one. We’re always looking for support and often wobbly. This is where we realize that if we don’t have the proper thing to grasp on to, we’re going to fall. And often those falls can be painful. From the standpoint of faith, seeking support for our daily walk in all the right places is the kind of “faith as that of a little child” that Jesus commends.
After a while we can begin to think that we’ve mastered this walking thing. Think of the difference between the tottering and bumbling walk of a 2-year-old and the confident swagger of a teenager. That strut is meant to say, “Hey, look at me. I’ve got this all figured out.” It’s when we think that we’ve got this all under control on our own and stop looking for the support we so desperately need that we’ve turned our back on the One who wants to be that rock and refuge at all points in our life. The truth is, we could physically make it through this part of our life on our own, but why would you want to when it’s so much easier, more rewarding, and better to have a friend who is closer than a brother to walk through it with you and holding you up. Turning our back on God who desires to be our strength at all times in our lives is one of the most common ways that we express an ingrained sense that we don’t need Him.
Perhaps this young adult walk is also sometimes one of necessity and urgency. Pastor Jean shared with us over dinner last night that for a long time he went to school with his siblings in a village that was a full day’s walk from his house. They’d stay there from Sunday night through the end of school on Friday. Friday was a half-day, so they would begin their trek home as soon as they were let out, running much of the way home to get back before darkness fell. After spending Saturday with family, they would begin the full day’s walk back to school on Sunday morning. That’s a walk of necessity and urgency. Sometimes ours feel the same way, but we’re often hurried and excited about getting to places we’re not even sure about why we’re going to. Activities that likely don’t have much lasting significance. Too often we expend our energy and our time on that which isn’t leading toward our eternal reward.
That adult walk may have a little less swagger than the teenage walk, but it often still conveys our deep-down belief that somehow we can, and desire, to do this on our own. Yet we have a God who so desires to be there for us that it makes no sense not to allow Him to be our strength and support.
Life is cyclical, and as our walk begins to slow, we again begin to look for things to grasp on to. The railing, the cane, and the walker become our constant companions. There’s safety and security in the knowledge that there’s something strong and steady holding us up. The difference between this stage and the toddler stage of faith is that on this end we hopefully recognize the benefit of the support and aren’t looking to get away from it as quickly as we can. Here we can lean into the fact that God is constantly there to uplift us. And then we return to the stage of complete dependence. Without a thought, or need, to do it on our own, we fully submit to the reality that God has done it all for us, in Christ Jesus. And this is exactly where God, our Heavenly Father wants us to be. In full recognition that we are in need of Him. Our Rock and our Strength.
This is so often the evolution of faith. Complete dependence, cautious venturing out and away, confidence in ourselves for all things, and then a realization that on our own is not what we thought it might be. And we come back to the safety of the strong and secure support that is offered in the arms of our Savior, recognizing that in all things our lives, our futures, and our eternity depend on the work of salvation He has accomplished for us.
Paul’s words can help us to move beyond the understanding of faith as a set of beliefs and instead focus on faith as a practice. Just as doctors “practice” their craft by doing it, our faith is something to be “practiced,” or lived out every day. And we have models and support along the way. Such as the saints who’ve gone before us who we celebrate today. The saints who live among us. And the life of Christ Himself as a model. But the strongest support we have is God Himself, through the work of the Holy Spirit, who is working toward our sainthood, our sanctification, every single day. He is the one who will help us to walk properly in the new life we have been given in Christ Jesus. Lean on His support. Allow Him to keep you upright and walking in the way He would have you to go. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.