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Key Verse of 1 Thessalonians

Since 4:1 falls within the next section of Thessalonians I think it is important to highlight this verse.  4:1 is the key verse of the book of 1 Thessalonians.  In it we have both the occasion (why the letter needed to be written) and purpose (what the letter is about) of the book.  We also have an important literary device.

In the Ancient World bold face and italics was not used to draw attention.  However, there were certain literary devices (techniques authors use to convey meaning) that were used for emphasis.  One such literary style was including a petition verb. Petition verbs are often translated into English as beseech, urge, plead, beg, exhort and the like.  In the letters of the New Testament they play an important role in helping us understand the purpose of a particular book.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:1, we have a petition verb included.  Depending upon your translation it is beseech, request, exhort, or a similar word.  To the astute Bible student this should draw our attention to the verse.

Finally, brethren, we plead with you by the Lord Jesus, as you received from us teaching concerning how you should walk and please God, as you currently do, we ask that you excel more and more (1 Thessalonians 4:1, My translation).

What does the verse teach us?  First, we learn that they had received certain teaching on how a Christian is to live his/her life.  Second, we see that they are in fact living this life.  Third, we notice that they are encouraged to grow in their faith.  This really is a microcosm of the whole book.  Paul throughout speaks kindly of their walk with the Lord.  There are no real problems with this church.  At the same time faith is supposed to progress.  It is not ever to be stagnant. So the book is written to encourage brethren to greater faithfulness based upon the teaching they had already received.

Applying this verse to us today begins by recognizing that no matter where we are in our walk with God we can do more.  Our constant goal is to grow.  Christian faith is not stagnant faith.  Likewise we take encouragement from the fact that God is pleased with where we are, even though we are not where we should be.  These two ideas (that fact that we need to keep on growing and the fact that God is pleased with our progression) provide us with the necessary motivation to abound more and more.

What application would you make?

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  1. Knowing that you will never be perfect on your own and will have to constantly pick yourself up from sin while at the same time being confident in your salvation is a hard balancing act. Paul telling them they are following God’s teachings but “keep getting better” sums up this conflict. I think it is hard for even the most seasoned Christian to be at peace with this message. The last couple of years I have understood it a little more because I think am more appreciative of grace but I am still working on it. The Thessalonians could have easily thought something like “we give up…we will never be good enough to live up to what God has in mind for us”. Instead, Paul could say what he did without discouraging them because they understood grace. Grace is our rope to hold onto, our life line to God. Without it, we are destined for Hell. That knowledge of grace makes me want to do more out of gratefulness not out of duty. We can’t work our way to Heaven but God does give us work to do while we wait for Jesus’ return…work that involves improving ourselves and helping those around us be a place of saving grace.
    Just a note…the quotes above are not from the Bible. I was not trying to be disprectful to the Word or add to it. The quotes are just there for clearer reading. 🙂

  2. Wesley

    September 12, 2010 at 10:16 pm

    The quotes might not be from the Bible, but they are “biblical.” I think the key is to understand our progression not as us becoming more deserving, but as us maturing. A parent loves a child the same throughout the child’s life. The child is not doing stuff to deserve the parents love, instead the child is just doing what he/she is supposed to be doing, which is maturing.

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