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In the final section of 1 Thessalonians, Paul begins to deal with a few ethical issues which need improvement in the church. He also clarifying his teaching on the return of the Lord. Perhaps Timothy reported this as problems he observed, perhaps the church sent questions to Paul via Timothy.
In either case, Paul want to“ask” and “urge” to live a life that pleases God. These verbs (ἐρωτάω and παρακαλέω) are commonly used to encourage a reader to a particular action. They appear in personal letters between people of the same social status rather than a “superior” giving orders to his underlings. Paul’s view that the church is a family and that he is a “brother” within that family is implied by the use of these verbs (Green, Letters to the Thessalonians, 183). Potentially Paul could have “pulled rank” and told the church what needs to change – but he offers these commands a social equal.
But Paul includes a prepositional phrase, he asks them “in the Lord Jesus.” The commands in this section are not from Paul, but rather from the true authority, Jesus. Verse 8 will make this point again, if you reject this command you are rejecting the Holy Spirit!
Living a life which “pleases” may simply mean making another person happy or proud. But the word was used for citizens who had preformed some civic duty and had “pleased” the government enough to inscribe their names on monuments. In the context of the “ask in the Lord Jesus,” Paul is saying that these moral guidelines are ways to please the Lord, who is Jesus. Any citizen of Thessalonica would like to please their government and be honored with an inscription, therefore Paul says you ought to live your life the way the ultimate authority wants you to!
The church is already living to please God, but they can improve, they can do this “all the more.” Anyone that thinks they cannot improve is in trouble, not only have they ceased to grow, but they are probably moving backwards. Paul says keep moving ahead! Keep on pleasing God all the more.
How one “pleases God” as a Christian stands in contrast with the Greco-Roman world. Paul draws a contrast with the Roman world throughout the rest of the book. In 4:3-8 the church is not to tolerate sexual immorality like the world. Nor are they to defraud their brothers. The Christian ought to live an industrious quiet life, working with their hands. The Christian does not need to mourn or grieve like the pagan world concerning the death of brothers because we have the hope of resurrection (4:13-18).
It is this contrast with the world which is the radical element in Paul’s ethic. There ought to be something “different” about the Christian – that difference is what is pleasing to the Heavenly Father.
One thought on “1 Thessalonians 4:1-2 – “Excel in Living to Please God””
I dug out my copy of D. Edmond Hiebert’s: The Thessalonians, A Call To Readiness (Moody Press hardback, 1971) still looks like new (as a try with most of my books, as I read them). And if I mark in them I use, a pencil lightly and ruler…yeah one of those neat thinking kind of guys! 😉 Maybe that’s why I like EWB, and his profound outlines?