Sunday, October 20, 2019

Come Follow Me - 1 & 2 Thessalonians

Come Follow Me - 1 & 2 Thessalonians

Paul and his companions had only a short period in Thessalonica to preach the gospel. Having much success in converting Jews and Gentiles in the area, Paul was cast out of the city for disturbing the normal peace in the area.

Growing in Holiness

In writing his first epistle to Thessalonica, he was reassured of their faithfulness in following the path upon which he set them. However, he wanted to encourage them to continue on that path.

"For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.  
"He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit.
"But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another.
"And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia: but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more;" (1 Thess 4:7-10)
Paul did not want them to remain settled on one level of goodness, but to daily become ever more holy.  We hear this same encouragement from President Henry B. Eyring:

"He (Alma) taught his son that increasing in holiness was the only path to happiness. He made it plain that greater holiness is made possible through the Atonement of Jesus Christ cleansing and perfecting us. Only by faith in Jesus Christ, continuing repentance, and keeping covenants are we able to claim the lasting happiness we all yearn to experience and retain.

"My prayer for today is that I may help you understand that greater happiness comes from greater personal holiness so that you will act upon that belief. I will then share what I know for myself about what we can do to qualify for that gift of becoming ever more holy.

"The scriptures teach us that among other things, we can be sanctified or become more holy when we exercise faith in Christ, demonstrate our obedience, repent, sacrifice for Him, receive sacred ordinances, and keep our covenants with Him. Qualifying for the gift of holiness requires humility, meekness, and patience." (Henry B. Eyring, "Holiness and the Plan of Happiness,"October 2019 General Conference, )
For Paul, receiving the grace, love and goodness of God was not a one shot deal. Nor was creating a holy people. Pres Eyring emphasized the need for more holiness, as the pathway to happiness in this life, and into the eternities. Note he wished for us to understand that happiness comes from greater holiness, and then to act on that belief. 

So, do we truly believe that happiness comes from greater holiness? If so, then why do we seem to act as if our belief is otherwise? Why do we seek happiness from worldly things, except we believe deep down inside that is where we must find it. Clearly, many of us do not understand this principle. Or, if we understand it, we do not believe it enough to act upon it.''

Translation and Resurrection

"But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.
"For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
"For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.
"For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
"Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
"Wherefore comfort one another with these words."(1 Thess 4:13-18)
Paul had to reinforce some concepts for the people. First, there is a resurrection. The dead will arise. Unlike the pagan religions, there is hope for a glorious resurrection. 

Then, he explained what would happen to those alive at Christ's Second Coming: they would be translated or raptured. This change in the body is not a permanent one, but will allow the righteous to stand in the presence of Christ, as he comes in his glory. 

Some Christians miscontrue these passages as meaning a rapture that will occur 3 1/2 years prior to the 2nd Coming, as one reads in the "Left Behind" book series. While the books are interesting, they don't reflect the actual teaching here. There will be no rapture that takes true believers out of the midst of the final tribulations. Instead, the righteous will establish Zion, as a refuge from the storms (D&C 45), until Christ comes in glory again.

In chapter 5, we get the sense that the 2nd Coming would come soon. In fact, the early Christians believed the Second Coming would happen in their generation, and so were eagerly awaiting it. In his second epistle, Paulfurther explained that several key things had to occur prior to the 2nd Coming, suggesting it may not happen as soon as some members wished.

Paul ended this first letter:

"Rejoice evermore.
"Pray without ceasing.
"In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
"Quench not the Spirit.
"Despise not prophesyings.
"Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
"Abstain from all appearance of evil.
"And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Thess 5:16-23)
2 Thessalonians

In his second epistle, Paul clarified his teachings from the first letter regarding the 2nd Coming. 
"Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,
"That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.
"Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;
"Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God." (2 Thess 2:1-4)
Many Christians in the early years believed Christ would return in that same generation. Paul explained that there were several things that first had to occur. One was that Satan, in the form of a powerful ruler, would have to not only rule over the earth, but set himself up on God's throne. This is both a political and religious leader that will offer a form of salvation to mankind. Only through the glory of Christ's 2nd Coming would this impostor be truly revealed and dethroned.

Knowing that such would be a huge trial for the true believers, Paul encouraged:

"Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle." (2 Thess 2:15)
For us in the latter days, as we see Satan sitting upon the thrones in many nations, or holding the hearts of government leaders, and knowing many people are enticed by their offerings and other forms of worldly salvation, it is very necessary to "stand fast." In fact, on many occasions, we are encouraged in scripture and by modern prophets to "stand in holy places and be not moved" (D&C 87:8). 

With millions of voices screaming in our ears over television, internet, and other media, it is not easy to stand fast. Satan seeks to stir us up to anger or to pacify us to sleep (2 Nephi 28). However, if we focus on Christ and his gospel, understanding and acting upon becoming more holy, we find that we can find peace and happiness even while the world is in commotion. As we become holy, the places where we stand become holy, as well. In such places of holiness, we will not be moved.

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