(72) And so we will be with the Lord forever – 1 Thessalonians 4:17

Paul’s letters to the Colossians is a warning against “hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8). The Greeks loved discussing ideas and philosophy and it seems that people were already coming up with different ideas about who Jesus was. Some denied that he was God or included him as one of many gods. Others saw any real knowledge about God as a mystery which was only available to those with special access.

Paul strongly refutes this saying that he wants everyone to “have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ” (Colossians 2:2). We can all know Jesus who is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Colossians 1:15), the one who created all things in heaven and on earth, and the one who is supreme over all things. Jesus shows us everything we need to know about God, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him” (Colossians 1:19). We don’t need to add anything to the message of who Jesus is and what he has done.

Another part of the Greek philosophy was that the way to deal with our sinful tendencies was to impose harsh rules and regulations on ourselves about what to eat, what to do and how to worship. Paul describes those who teach such things as puffed up and having “lost connection with the head” (Colossians 2:19) and says that although such regulations “have an appearance of wisdom” they “lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence” (Colossians 2:23). He goes on to provide practical advice based on a knowledge of who Christ is and what he has done for us.

Paul also wrote a very short letter to a man who lived in Colossae called Philemon about his slave, Onesimus, who had run away from his master and ended up supporting Paul while he was in prison. He asks Philemon to receive him back not as a slave but as “a brother in the Lord” (Philemon 16). Whilst not condemning slavery as it was practiced at the time, Paul was always concerned that masters should treat their slaves with dignity and respect.

We have two letters that Paul wrote the church in Thessalonica. After moving on to Athens he was concerned to hear how they were dealing with the persecution they were facing and sent Timothy back to strengthen the church. Timothy returned with a good report and Paul wrote to express his joy at what he had heard.

He goes on to give particular teaching about what happens when we die. He does not want the church “to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). The hope that Christians have for a better life after death comes from the resurrection of Jesus. After we ‘sleep in death’ “we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 4:17), a glorious prospect that is beyond human comprehension.

Paul also talks about “the coming of the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:15) which is a major theme for both 1 & 2 Thessalonians. As the angels promised to his disciples after he ascended into heaven, Jesus will return to earth. Some in the church had heard a rumour that this had already happened but Paul assures them that no one will miss this event. He wrote that “the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God” and that those who are still alive at that time will be taken up “to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). In line with Jesus’ teaching, Paul promises that much trouble will come on earth before Jesus returns but the timing of this event is unknown and will come “like a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2). Rather than trying to work out when Jesus will return, our priority is to stand firm in our faith and be ready at all times.

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