1Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more.
2For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.
There are standards that Christians must uphold in order to walk in holiness and please God. The prayer of these missionaries for the Thessalonians was that they would excel more and more in holiness according to the commandments which they gave them by the authority of Christ. They were not to obey these commands because Paul said so but because Christ commanded all Christians to do so.
3For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality;
4that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor,
5not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God;
6and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you.
7For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification.
8So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.
As for some practical reminders, the Thessalonians are told to pursue the will of God which is their sanctification. That they walk in holiness more and more is undoubtedly always God’s will. They are told to keep from sexual immorality and to possess their own vessels in sanctification and honor (see 1 Corinthians 7:1-5, 1 Peter 3:7, Ephesians 5:21-33). The marriage relationship is not about lustful passion, and certainly lust and immorality are wrong in and of themselves. Marriage is not about treating one another as objects to be used for selfish gratification, but we are to love one another as our own selves. We are to fulfill the sexual and romantic needs of one another, husbands must love their wives, and wives must respect their husbands. Possessing our own vessels in sanctification implies purity, while possessing them in honor implies seeking to meet their needs above our own. Adultery defrauds another, and if this is done in the church by one brother to another, the Lord will avenge the wrong. Paul, Timothy, and Silvanus had emphasized this point earlier and solemnly warned them of its severity and importance. Nothing can ruin a friendship, a church, and a marriage like sexual immorality. God’s call is for purity, not immorality. Anyone who rejects this standard of God rejects not the messenger but God Himself. Though it is a sin against another human being, it is ultimately a sin against God and the Holy Spirit Who convicts our hearts not to behave in such a manner.
9Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another;
10for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more,
The call of the believer is growth and sanctification; it is to excel still more. These believers clearly did very well when it came to loving others, and they already knew that love was of God and that it was God’s will for them. Yet the exhortation was that they get even better. We never spiritually arrive, so to speak, until Christ perfects us at His coming, and in the meantime, we need to keep asking the Lord to grow us and shape us into His likeness. That we excel still more in love and holiness ought to be our prayer.
11and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you,
12so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.
The command here is that they don’t get entangled with divisions, quarrels, and strife, but because of their excellence in love, they lead a quiet life, minding their own business, working hard at the tasks given to them, and doing all that they can to be at peace with all people. The world watches how Christians live and behave. If they can’t get along, then the world won’t be interested in Christ and the gospel. If love and unity prevail and there is a peace and quiet that Christians have that they don’t, their hearts can be opened (John 17:21, John 13:34-35). Furthermore, faithful, peaceable living is accompanied by the promise of God that there won’t be any need in a corporate sense. Some will always lack and others will have more than they need (2 Corinthians 8:13-15). This is why the church elders need to look after all the needs of those in their flock (Acts 2:44-45, 4:34-35). Then, this corporate promise can be fulfilled.
13But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.
14For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.
Lest the Thessalonian believers lose hope when loved ones died, Paul wanted to remind them that there is a basis for great hope even after death. Death is not the end of things. Those who die in Christ will be seen again. To be uninformed of this would cause any follower of Christ great grief and hopelessness. Fortunately, death has been swallowed up in victory (1 Corinthians 15:54).
15For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.
16For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
17Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.
There will be a time that Jesus will come back. This coming is distinct from the day of the Lord (contrast with 1 Thessalonians 5:1-5), which implies imminent judgment and the pouring out of wrath upon the doers of iniquity. This coming of the Lord has been given the name “rapture” by theologians because of the idea of being caught up with Christ to meet Him in the air. Christ will descend from heaven with a loud shout and sounding of the trumpet to call His own home to Him just as the trumpet was used in the Old Testament to summon all Israel to assemble together (Numbers 10:7). At the blowing of this trumpet and the voice of an archangel, all the dead in Christ will rise first. The dead have been in paradise with Christ since they have died (Luke 23:43), but now they meet Christ in the air to finally receive their new glorified bodies (Romans 8:11, 1 Corinthians 15:51-57). After they are changed in the twinkling of an eye (1 Corinthians 15:52) to inherit an immortal body, those who are alive and who are saved at the rapture will also be taken to be with God. Their mortal bodies will be left behind, leaving carcasses a plenty for the vultures to feast on (Matthew 24:27-28, Luke 17:36-37), but their spirits will ascend into the clouds to be changed and given imperishable bodies to be with Christ forever. Paul’s point here has been to comfort the unnecessarily grieving
Thessalonians and to give them hope. This message certainly accomplishes that end, knowing that they will see those who have died in Christ again. There is great hope also in knowing that we along with them will be forever with the Lord. In other words, when a believer dies, our separation from them will only be temporary.
18Therefore comfort one another with these words.
When life is difficult and loved ones are lost, believers are commanded to remind one another that death has no permanent victory. Death must take the mortal body so that an immortal body can take its place at the coming of Christ. What a great day it will be when Christ appears and all believers meet Him in the air.