And by the way…

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

(1Thessalonians 5.23&24)

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

(Philippians 1.3-6)

I think I have written before about how I have been blest throughout my christian life by teachers who believe that all of scripture is God-breathed and necessary to my growth in faith and godliness. I am thankful to them for their faithfulness in helping me to study unattractive texts, and learning how to hear God’s voice as I read lists in Numbers, and gloomy, violent curses in the minor prophets!

But there are bits of the bible which I find much easier to learn from than others – namely the Psalms, and the apostolic letters in the new testament (basically everything after the book of Acts, but possibly not Revelation!). The writers of the letters to the young churches were urgent and focussed in their messages, and every phrase counts. The letter to the church in Rome is perhaps the ‘meatiest’ in that it requires careful reading and thought to follow all Paul’s reasoning. Some of the others are more direct and even pithy, as the authors fire out clear instructions to the young believers about how to live godly lives, to recognise and deal with heresy, and to bear witness under severe persecution.

I love instructions, for every area of life! I am the person who is most unhappy when faced with a responsibility or task for which she can find no ‘this is how to do it right’ kind of manual, so it is perhaps understandable that these relatively short letters appeal to me so much. Of course, the fact that the instructions are so clear does not mean that they are easy to fulfill – how many of us can truthfully say that we are always ‘alert and self-controlled’, or that we always ‘live in peace with each other’? But these types of writings do help us enormously to see what christian love should look like, when lived out with God’s help, in our daily lives. They help us to put high-sounding sentiment into hard demanding action, dealing with the sometimes brutal realities of life for ourselves and other people.

In his letter to the very young church in Thessalonica, Paul has been principally concerned to encourage and strengthen them in the face of persecution, and self-doubt, and the whole tone of the writing is full of wonderful affection for the new believers whom he had to abandon so early in their growth in faith. The latter half of the final chapter however is an almost breathless list of things which Paul asks them to do. One can almost picture the apostle realising that he has only limited space or time left in which to complete his writing, and so his thought becomes concentrated on the really important things he wants to say – and how briefly he can say them!

After firing out ‘respect those who work hard among you;‘ and ‘help the weak, be patient with everyone‘, he goes on to even briefer and harder hitting phrases, ‘ be joyful always‘, ‘test everything‘ and ‘avoid every kind of evil‘. We are left almost breathless, and certainly rather daunted by the weight behind his bullet points! Who could ever hope to keep up this level of perfection in the daily battle of following Jesus in a world which rejects him, where the remnant of sin in our own selves so easily drags us off course?

And so the great apostle suddenly changes tack, the whole tone of the writing changes again, as his compassion for his audience swells up and he remembers that they – like himself – are still frail human creatures, easily discouraged and vulnerable to despair. He launches into a great prayer to God on their behalf, a prayer which puts all the burden back where it belongs, into the hands of their Creator, Redeemer, Father and Lord. It is God who is called to make them perfect – to ‘sanctify them’ and to make sure that when Jesus returns, they are still safe within his grasp.

We are called to the utmost effort in loving obedience, but it is God who is responsible for creating perfection in us – what a relief! And what joy and peace there is for us in those wonderful words, ‘The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it!’ 

Amen Lord, so let it be!

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