Summary: 1) The Priority of Excelling, 2) The Power and Principles for Excelling, and 3) The Progress and Pressure of Excelling.
American voters delivered a stinging midterm rebuke on Tuesday to President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress, turning control of the U.S. House of Representatives over to Republicans amid mounting anxiety and anger over the state of the nation’s economy.
Many said that the reason for this is due to Americans disappointment in the lack of progress that President Obama has had so far in his administration. All his campaigning words were expected to result in real change.
In 1 Thessalonians 4, The apostle Paul showed how God expects real change in believers lives. Their lives in Christ should tangibly reflect their new spiritual reality. Living a life to please God is one that excels in tangible spiritual growth. There is always a danger of Christians thinking they have no further need to progress in sanctification; but this side of eternity, no believer has even come close to what God desires for them spiritually (cf. Phil. 3:12–16). Because it knew so much truth, even a church as strong as the one in Thessalonica might have been tempted to settle for the spiritual status quo. Thanks to Paul’s solid instruction when he was with them, the saints were living exemplary lives and he had commended them for that (1 Thess. 1:2–4, 7; 2:13–14). As a result, they might have thought their condition was ideal and in no need of improvement. But Paul knew they could, and needed to do better and encouraged them accordingly.
From 4:1 to the end of the body of the letter (5:22), Paul’s primary purpose was to exhort the church to strive for spiritual excellence. In 1 Thessalonians 4:1–2 he introduced three foundational elements concerning that pursuit of excellence in "Living to Please God": 1) The Priority of Excelling, 2) The Power and Principles for Excelling, and 3) The Progress and Pressure of Excelling.
1) The Priority of Excelling. (1 Thessalonians 4:1a, d)
1 Thessalonians 4:1 [4:1]Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge) you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing), that you do (excel) so more and more). (ESV)
It will become characteristic for Paul to conclude his letters with practical exhortations. To him, the Christian faith was always a blend of belief and behavior, words and works. There’s a dangerous tendency in orthodox circles to focus on doctrine to the detriment of duty. Doctrinal conflict that neglects the duty to love one another becomes destructive of Christian community. At the same time, there’s another danger in emphasizing behavior at the expense of doctrine. It can never be a case of either/or—it must always be both/and (Demarest, G. W., & Ogilvie, L. J. (1984). Vol. 32: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Volume 32 : 1, 2 Thessalonians / 1, 2 Timothy / Titus. The Preacher’s Commentary series (70–71). Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Inc.).
1 Thessalonians 4:1–2 focuses on a discussion of the goal of spiritual excellence for the Thessalonians is clear from Paul’s opening words, finally, then. “Finally, …” marks a major transition point in the letter. The Greek word (unlike the English) does not necessarily signify an approach to the end of the entire discussion.
Nor does it connote a transition to material less important than or secondary to what came before. What follows does not even introduce a range of new subjects but develops several themes introduced in the first three chapters of the letter. Finally (λοιπον [loipon]). Accusative of general reference of λοιπος [loipos], as for the rest. It does not mean actual conclusion, but merely a colloquial expression pointing towards the end (Milligan) as in II Cor. 13:11; II Tim. 4:8 (Robertson, A. (1997). Word Pictures in the New Testament (1 Th 4:1). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems.).
What the transition does mark is a shift from declaration to exhortation. Predominantly declarative (indicative: "what is") structures in the first three chapters give way to frequent imperatives (what should be done because of "what is") in the last two chapters. A corresponding shift in temporal perspective also occurs. Emphasis on the past and present in the first three chapters gives way to focus on the present and future in the last two (Martin, D. M. (2001). Vol. 33: 1, 2 Thessalonians (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (117). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.).
• Every time we learn of what was, the question should come into our mind as to what we should be doing about it now.
Ask/Request denotes a gentle, humble suggestion offered among equals. It does not contain the military overtones of a commander ordering a soldier, or the slavery overtones of a master dictating to a servant, or the sovereignty overtones of a monarch commanding a subject. Unlike one of those leaders, Paul was not browbeating the Thessalonians but lovingly, gently, and kindly requesting that they as his brothers/brethren persevere in sanctification. Sanctification (Gk. hagiasmos) (4:3, 4, 7; Rom. 6:19, 22; 1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Thess. 2:13; Heb. 12:14) Strong’s #38): The Greek term for sanctify means to “set apart” for God’s special use, to make distinct from what is common—hence, to be made like God who is distinct from all else and therefore holy. The Greek word for sanctify refers to a process that is perfect in principle though not yet attained. Though we are not yet completely holy, (positional) we stand in relation to God as though we were. This is indicated in Heb. 10:10, where the verb sanctified is in a tense that indicates the present result of a past action. Thus, Christ sanctified by His one sacrifice, and that sanctification has the lasting result that it continues to work in us, making us holy(Heb. 10:14).( Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (1 Th 4:1–2). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.)