The Grace of Jesus Be with You

dog catching bubbles
Photo credit: Bill Blevins

1 Thessalonians 5:23-28

May the God of peace personally make you 100% dedicated to the cause.
May you remain whole, body, soul, and spirit.
And may you be blameless in the end.

Indeed, God who calls you will do this.

And, friends, pray for us. Greet one another with the kiss of righteousness. I order you, by God, to read this letter out loud to everyone there. The grace of Jesus be with you.

Paul’s letter ends with blessing. And, as harsh and as wrong as Paul’s words have been at times, he is right to make the last word a word of peace.

And, we might note that this blessing’s concern is for wholeness in at least four different aspects:

  1. Wholeness of purpose and dedication. May you be 100% dedicated to the cause. And not just any cause but a great and good one. May you not be second-guessing your purpose, or that you have the capacity to achieve it.
  2. Wholeness of the individual. Body, soul, and spirit. Functioning together, each complete and healthy in itself, but also implying that they are working in concert with each other. It takes the balance of each of these areas of one’s life to really be healthy and complete, and to be able to live well and to work effectively.
  3. Wholeness of character over time. In other words, when you get to the end, you can look back without regret. May the patterns of your life, even when things have come up unexpectedly, or have taken turns for the worse, reflect the kind of resilience and fortitude of character that make you a blessing to others, even when it seems there are no immediate blessings for you.
  4. Wholeness of the community. Greet each other with the kiss of righteousness is not just an ancient custom. But may every interaction with your neighbor, your family, your co-workers, or your church members be one in which you have done your best by them. Regardless of their actions, may yours be the right ones.

Do this, and the grace of Jesus will be with you. Not some magical pixie dust grace of Jesus from the outside. The grace, the goodness, the peace, that Jesus demonstrated in his life – that grace will be with you, lived out in you.

Inspiration Trumps Command

Information Sign
Photo Credit: James LeVeque

1 Thessalonians 5:12-22

Friends, we want you to respect your hard-working leaders when they tell you what to do, and not only to respect but love them. And no fighting amongst yourselves – put the troublemakers on notice. Cheer the depressed and help the weak. Be patient with them. No tit-for-tat. Scratch each other’s backs. Be joyful. Pray. Be grateful. God wants you to be grateful. Don’t be a wet blanket on the fires of enthusiasm for God, but check everything carefully, keeping the good, rejecting the evil.

Hugh MacLeod drew a cartoon a few weeks ago about the leader who demands to be loved. Hugh says, “There‚Äôs something very funny and slightly tragic about a guy who tries very hard to command respect, but fails miserably.” Because you can’t command respect, let alone love. You can only earn it. And it’s something that has to be continually re-earned in every interaction.

And, though Hugh was referring to corporate culture, the same is true in your family, in your church, in your bridge club. Wherever. People are people. They’re not yours to command, even if they are your employees, your children, your spouse, your volunteers, your clients, your parishioners, or your committee members. You can’t make them like you. You can’t by your command make them be joyful. You can’t make them pray. You can’t keep them from fighting with each other. You can’t make them be grateful.

What you can do is command yourself. You can find your own reason to be joyful, or grateful, or both. You can unilaterally unplug from the argument. You can voice your own respect for someone else. You can tell someone you love them. You can pray. You can do this yourself. Not because by doing so you will somehow begin to command anyone else to follow your example. But because, strangely enough, when you focus on yourself and what you can do, you’re just a little more inspiring for those who are inclined to.

Don’t Wait for Paul

princess waiting
Photo credit: Etolane

1 Thessalonians 4:9-12

You don’t need anyone telling you how to love each other: God has already taught you that, and you’ve shown your love for your fellow followers throughout Macedonia. We want you to continue in this way, and to live quietly, mind your own business, and do your work as we instructed. Behave yourselves around outsiders, and don’t beg.

Keep your head down and don’t do anything that would call attention to yourself. It’s good advice if you’re under fire and trying to wait things out. Which as we shall see in the rest of this chapter, is exactly Paul’s strategy.

But again, this is a major shift from what Jesus was doing. When Jesus said the kingdom is near, Jesus meant that as a call to engage in the world, not to withdraw. Similarly, Paul means “love for your fellow followers” primarily as financial support for mission churches. Jesus, on the other hand, advocated loving your enemies, which often meant “misbehaving” in the eyes of the general public. Healing on the sabbath. Staging a teach-in at the temple. Challenging people’s ideas about who is acceptable.

Paul’s strategy is to hunker down and wait for the end of the world, like the helpless princesses waiting for prince charming to come to their rescue. Compared to what Jesus was doing, that’s pretty easy. The trouble is that more than 2000 years on, much of the church is a rather bitter old maid, and it’s pretty clear nobody is coming to the rescue.

Jesus’ strategy is to take an active part in bringing about the end of the world as we know it. The good news: we don’t have to wait for the church to figure that out to do it.

Think about It Before You Hit “Reject”

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8Reject Button

So friends, we ask you, we call you by Jesus, to do as we taught you, living to please God even more than you now are. You know what we taught you, by Jesus. God wants you to to be pure, to not have sex, to be pure and honorable by learning to control your lust (unlike the Godless heathen), and especially not to lust for one another. The payback will be from God if you do. We told you about this before. We warned you. God didn’t call us to uncleanness but to purity. Whoever rejects these directions rejects God, not humans, because God’s spirit is in you.

Christians have Paul to thank for being so uptight about sex. You’d think that if Jesus had a direct line to God, and if God was really concerned about people’s complete chastity, Jesus would have mentioned it. But he never does. In fact, Jesus left himself wide open to accusations of being impure, hanging out with “prostitutes and sinners,” the very people Paul would imply are unwelcome, or second-class citizens among the followers of Jesus.

Jesus’ concern was for people to be healthy and whole, and of course, sleeping around is not the healthiest of lifestyles. Sexual addictions, like any other addictions, need to be dealt with in order to live well. Jesus would say, “Go and sin no more.” Jesus would affirm that one ought to try to do better than one is already doing. But Jesus never condemned sex in itself as evil, even a “necessary evil solely for the purpose of procreation,” the way Paul and many subsequent church teachers have.

On this account, Paul is just plain wrong. And his threats of God’s vengeance on those who disagree are the projections of his own hostility. One might just as easily retort (and Jesus did say something similar in Luke 10:16), “Whoever rejects the unclean followers of Jesus rejects not them, but the Jesus who welcomed them.”

Think about it next time you’re thinking about someone. Before you hit the reject button.