Do you speak more than one language? I don’t. I have enough French to not get lost in Paris and ask for what I want to eat, but anything much more complex and I’ll struggle. To be honest, though, I prefer languages that I don’t have to speak : dead languages if you will. I really like New Testament Greek because, for me, it’s like math. It’s logical even when it’s baffling, and I find an immense beauty in that. However, it is only when we speak a language that it really becomes familiar. It’s when it is part of our daily life that it really takes root in our hearts and shapes us. I’ve heard it said you know you’re approaching fluency when you dream in that language at night, when it is natural and comes to mind easily and fluently. (Having written all that, I think I’m just about fluent in Texan now, y’all!)

Living as children of God, children of the light or of the day, waiting for dawn to come and for Christ to return and make all things new, is like learning a new language. You have learned one ‘life language’ already: an amalgamation of lessons from the family in which you grew up in, your community, church, marriage, work life and so on. You’ve been formed a certain way. To live as children of the light is to learn a different life language: that of Jesus Himself, of His new kingdom, of the new creation He will eventually establish and the end of 1 Thessalonians concludes with Paul giving some of the grammatical rules of this new language. This is what it looks like. These are things to start practicing.

Read 1 Thessalonians 5:12 28
“Clean your teeth! Eat your vegetables! Don’t forget to call!” Like a parent sending a child off to summer camp or a kid off to college, this passage contains various brief instructions, seemingly crammed in before Paul sends off his letter. Yet these instructions focus largely upon one of the central and most important parts of our Christian life: our life in community with others–relationships (vv. 12–15)–those in relation to leaders (vv. 12–13) and the community at large (and beyond! vv. 14–15). Notice how much they are not concerned with our rights or what we deserve, but about what we can give and how we can bless. This is God’s grammar for us to learn: give credit where credit is due, i.e. those who are committed to leading us in faith, help (don’t take advantage of) those who are weak, bear with others and say the hard thing to those who need it. Yet notice the last one: “ always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. ” The word ‘seek’ here means pursue. In other words, constantly pursue the good of others: your leaders, those who are idle, the weak and even those who grate on your nerves. Always! There is no room for resentment or retaliation. (Those things need to be confessed and left at the Cross.)

Then Paul moves into behaviors of spiritual practice: rejoice, pray and give thanks (vv. 16–18). Notice he’s not saying we have to be happy the whole time or be glad when we suffer! Yet we are called to remember the God who will rescue and one day come back, which gives us reason to rejoice, pray and be grateful, even when things are darker than night. Finally, Paul commends the church to test everything, weigh it and pay attention to where the Spirit is at work. Hold to the ‘good,’ that which is the beautiful, wise and noble.
All this is summed up in the final prayer Paul prays for the Thessalonian church (vv. 23–24). While he’s instructed the church in the life language of heaven, he recognizes this is an undertaking that needs God at the helm. God needs to fashion us in this way as we take steps in the same direction. It is God who takes our sticks and turns them into a blazing fire of holiness. It is God who takes our attempts at speaking this new language and writes it into our hearts, so that when Christ returns, we’ll be ready and able to speak the language of heaven with the One who rules over it all! So what are you waiting for?
Questions for Reflection
  1. List each imperative Paul gives in this passage. What do you notice about them? Which one do you find the hardest? Which do you find the easiest? Why?
  2. Paul says to both “be at peace” and yet also “admonish others” (vv. 14–15). What does this suggest about how being at peace is different from how the world often talks about peace?
  3. Reread vv. 19–20. Paul here is talking about ignoring gifts of the Spirit, especially prophetic words. Why do you think people are often either (a) quick to dismiss everything as not of divine origin but from man (and so quench the Spirit) or (b) accept anything and everything as from God himself without stopping to see if it’s consistent with what we find in Scripture?
  4. Which parts of God’s ‘life language’ do you think you’ve grasped? Which parts have you yet to become fluent in? What steps could you take to practice more of the grammar of heaven?
  5. Paul’s prayer in vv. 23–24 concludes with an assurance that God is faithful and He will do it. We can trust this work of sanctification to God, He wants to make us ready for Christ’s return. He is faithful. We can trust these words! Do you trust this work to God or too often try to learn His language in your own strength?
  6. In this study of 1 Thessalonians, what have you learned about yourself in relation to waiting–both for things in this life and for Christ’s return? What have you learned about God? If you were to sum up what God has been teaching you in a few words, what would they be?

A prayer for this week
Heavenly Father, we thank You that we are in Your hands. We thank You for what You have done for us through Jesus, what You have done in our lives by Your Spirit and for what You will do in us and all creation when Christ returns. Continue to teach and shape our hearts and lives according to Your will and purpose. Make us ready for when Christ comes. Help us in our weakness and strengthen us to love You and pursue the good of all. Amen.

The Rev. Dr. Suse E. McBay
Associate for Adult Christian Education and Prayer Ministries