Handfuls on Purpose
by James Smith, 1943
THE MODEL CHURCH. 1 Thessalonians 1:6-10
The beauty of this Church did not consist of a gorgeous material building, but of a people who are said to be "In God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ" (v. 1). And that they were examples to all believers (v. 7). Note their character.
I. They were Saved from Wrath. "They were delivered from the wrath to come" (v 10) It should never be forgotten that there is "wrath to come" (Rev. 6:17) Wrath against all ungodliness. Blessed are they whom "God has appointed to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thessalonians 5 9). Christ our Refuge. "Flee from the wrath to come."
II. They were Converted to God. "They turned to God from idols" (v. 9). Christ is the atoning sacrifice for the sin of the world, but that fact in itself does not save the world; there must needs be a personal turning to God from sin and unbelief. The idols of the unconverted are numerous and varied. To turn to God is to forsake everything that would divide our affections or hinder our whole-hearted trust.
III. They were Receivers of the Word of God. "They received the Word in much affliction" (v. 6) These were troublous times, as we learn from Acts 17; but the antagonism of the worldly-minded did not hinder them from boldly receiving the Word. It is always a sign of a healthy soul or Church, which gladly drinks in the truth as revealed in God's Word Human philosophies may have their place, but they are the food to build up a model Church. Quickened spirits need the "Word of Life."
IV. They were Devoted to the Service of God. "They turned from idols to serve the living and true God" (v. 9). What a change! Serving the Living God, instead of dead things that only mocked their needs with a silent indifference. "To whom, O Lord, can we go but unto You?" You are worthy of the service of every power and passion, every thought and feeling of the soul, which You have redeemed by Your Blood. "Serve the Lord with gladness."
V. They were Looking for the Son of God. They had made up their minds to serve, and "to wait for His Son from Heaven" (v. 10). They believed Christ would come again, as all the early Christians did, and as He Himself had promised This was called "that blessed hope" (Titus 2:13). The prophets of old looked and waited for the Coming of the Messiah long ages before He came; but in the fullness of the time He did come. The Church may have waited long, so long that many have lost the vision and the hope. But in the fullness of the time He will Come as He said (see John 14:3; Acts 1:11; 1 Thessalonians 4:16 Rev. 1:7).
VI. They were Joyful in the Spirit of God. They had the "joy of the Holy Spirit" (v. 6). With the Word of God in their hearts, and this glorious prospect before their eyes, and the power of the Spirit resting on them, their service was not a burdensome task, but a happy privilege and a growing delight. This was characteristic of the first Church members. "They were filled with joy, and with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 13:52). "How are the mighty fallen?"
VII. They were Examples to Others. "You were examples to all that believe" (v. 7). This was certainly a prosperous Church, although there is nothing said regarding their financial position, no reference to their "Annual Balance Sheet." But their faith in God was known everywhere (v. 8), and the influence of their missionary enthusiasm, in sounding forth the Word of God, had been felt throughout Macedonia and Greece. They honored Christ as the Head of the Church, and they were honored by Him in doing things worthy of His great Name. This is what the Church of Christ should do. This is what every Church true to the Word of God is; and this is what every Christian should be—an encouraging example to others. "Believe, and you shall see."
COMFORTING WORDS. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
There is much food for thought in these verses, closing with this exhortation: "Wherefore, comfort one another with these words" (v 18). There is comfort here concerning—
I. The Second Advent. "The Lord Himself shall descend from Heaven" (v. 16) The Lord does not promise to send death, or any other messenger, to take His Bride home. He is coming Himself for her. It is "this same Jesus which was taken up into Heaven, that is coming in like manner as He was seen to go" (Acts 1:11); and "they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of Heaven with power and great glory" (Matthew 24:30). What a comforting hope this is in these "perilous times."
II. Our Departed Friends. We are not to be in ignorance about them, nor to be in sorrow for them, for we believe that Jesus rose again, and that when He comes He will bring them with Him (vv. 13, 14), for in spirit they are with Him now (2 Corinthians 5:8) It is the "dead in Christ" who will rise first (v. 16). This rising means the putting on of the incorruptible body, being changed into His resurrection image. They shall lose nothing by being put to sleep before the Coming of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:52). For we who are alive at the Coming of the Lord shall have no precedence over those who have gone to sleep (v. 15). Comforting words indeed.
III. The Living Saints. "Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air" (v 17). We are assured, as God's people, that all shall not die before He Comes. "We shall not all sleep (die), but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the sound of His last trumpet" (1 Corinthians 1 51, 52). When all in every age who have been put to sleep in Jesus have been raised and clothed with immortality, and when all the believers who are alive on the earth, when He comes, are changed in a moment and caught up together with them. What a host of ransomed souls. "A multitude whom no man can number" Tell me, will any man say on that day that the Church of God has been a failure? "He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied." "Comfort one another with these words" (v. 18).
IV. The Place of Reunion. "Caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air" (v. 17). The air is spoken of as the sphere of Satan's stronghold. He is called "the prince of the power of the air, the spirits that are now at work in the hearts of the sons of disobedience" (Ephesians 2:2). Does it mean that the transfiguration and reunion of all Christ's redeemed ones will take place right in the heart of Satan's territory? What a triumph this would be for "The Lamb that was slain," and for all those who all their lives were warring against the prince of darkness? And what a shameful defeat for the Devil. "I saw Satan fall like lightning from Heaven" (Luke 10:18).
V. Our Final Position. "And so shall we ever be with the Lord" (v. 17). Saved by Him. Made like Him. Then forever with Him. He has gone to prepare a place for His Church in the coming Kingdom. He will come again and receive it unto "Himself, that where He is, there shall the Bride be also (John 14:3). Then the Bridegroom's prayer will be gloriously answered. "Father, I will that they also whom You have given Me be with Me where I am; that They may behold My glory" (John 17:24); and be "forever with the Lord." Earth's greatest blessing is to find Him. Heaven's greatest honor is to be forever with Him. This honor have all the saints. "Comfort one another with these words."