A “Community Devotional” based on 1 Thessalonians 5

1 Th 5:1Transitioning to a new section, Paul begins his thought referring to the recipients of his letter once again as family. In using the word “brothers” he is conveying a few things: 1) I’m on equal-footing with you  2) We’re family  3) We’re all in this together. Keep these things in mind when you’re sharing with your group participants. When people sense this in your tone, they are more receptive to what you’re communicating – it’s human nature. Paul was a master at rhetorical argument and no doubt knew this.
1 Th 5:4-6The apostle’s reaffirmation of being united with the believers in Thessalonica precedes his encouragement to them about what to expect with the inauguration of the ‘Age to Come’ when Jesus returns. He’s basically telling them to not worry because of whose they are (v. 5). This too gives us a good principle to live by in our group facilitation skills: Look for opportunities to express your ‘togetherness’ (or “oneness”) with group participants prior to sharing encouragements in how we’re to live and grow in our relationship with God (v. 6). This makes you more real to others and promotes open communication within the group.
1 Th 5:6-8Paul tells the believers to direct their attention onto the present. To have an eternal perspective then is to have faith and not worry about the future and to concern ourselves with what’s at hand so we can be effective at making an impact for God in the here-and-now. What sets us apart from the world is how we live. How we live determines how effective we can be as children of the light / day (v. 5 & 8). Notice how the apostle groups himself with the believers as he speaks to them. Also, all of these exhortations are plural in form. Paul always had ‘the community’ in mind in his writings and he saw himself as a part of this same community no matter where he was writing from and to whom he was writing. He was never isolated in his thinking and brought the bigger picture to the community as a fellow participant; he was both a visionary and a realist. In a similar way, we are called to bring clarity and focus on what matters most in our group time. One thing you can do to develop this skill in your group leadership is to take time before your gathering to preview what everyone will be discussing together and ask yourself this question: “What do I believe the Lord wants people to walk away with from our time together?” In other words, what’s the point of the next meeting? What should be different in each person’s life as a result of working through the content of the upcoming study session?
1 Th 5:9-10At all times, believers are ‘living together’ with Jesus. This is at the core of what salvation means: Community with God. Salvation is also community with God’s people on earth and in heaven (we may live together with him” – v. 10). Sin leads a person to live apart from God. It isolates them with their own selfish desires and aims to separate a person from God’s presence and God’s people now and forever. The destruction spoken of in verse 3 culminates in hell if a person never recognizes and receives the gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ. Here we see that life is in community because God Himself is community as Father, Son, and Spirit. Apart from community there is wrath, destruction, and death (v. 9). Thus, biblical community is meant to be a precursor to the community we’ll experience in fullness with God and His people forever in heaven. It is a symbol of salvation and, as Frazee (The Connecting Church) puts it…the life of Christ on earth today. How does the community of your group tell people – inside and outside your group – about salvation? How is the Lord leading your group to grow in experiencing this with one another and extending it to those who have yet to know what community with Christ is like?
1 Th 5:11Believers are called to encourage one another and build each other up. The word picture Paul is using here relates to the construction of a building. In all that we do in our groups we want to foster the kind of environment that expands upon the work God is already doing in people. The most effective encouragement begins with discerning where a person is in the construction process and speaking into that with words given by the Spirit. Sometimes it is helpful as the leader to ask the Lord to reveal to you where a person is at and what their needs are. Then pray for them and be patient as you wait for direction from the Lord. Ask God to create opportunities for you to encourage people in your group in ways that will build them up. If relationship is there, you could ask each person in your group what they feel they need encouragement in over the next season. Taking these steps not only builds up the people in your group…it builds biblical community and is itself worship to God.
1 Th 5:12-13Probably a reference to the eldership / pastoral leadership of the church. There is an order to community that involves authority, which at times speaks into the lives of people in its care. To respect that authority is to respect what God has set in place. If this respect does not exist, there is breakdown in the community. Paul expounds on what this love is to look like: Thinking the best of your church’s leadership and loving them as they serve, which leads to peace within the community. Small groups are meant to be places where this kind of respect is exercised. Consequently, your group will become inoculated from becoming a pocket within which the ailments of gossip, disrespect, discontent, or dissension fester. If any kind of discord with the leadership your church ever arises within your group let the person know immediately that you’d like to talk with them more about their concern AFTER the group meeting. Then if you feel the situation warrants involvement from your small group coach or director, don’t hesitate to let the person know you want to talk openly with other leadership for everyone’s sake. The enemy is always looking for ways to deconstruct people and destroy the kind of community God is building in His Church. Sometimes the only inroad he needs is lack of respect. It’s not a bad thing to be sensitive to this issue and it never hurts to clarify in order to ensure peace in your group and our church.
1 Th 5:14-15Paul, speaking along with the leadership of the church, urges the believers in Thessalonica to do four things: 1) Warn the idle  2) Encourage the timid  3) Help the weak  4) Be patient with everyone. Biblical community grows when all of these are exercised. A group that lives by them shows itself to be caring, gracious, and supportive. Most people are not accustomed to these ‘acts of kindness’ in their day-to-day living so when they see them in action…they catch their attention. Just in case Paul’s audience didn’t hear him, he makes his point abundantly clear by telling them to be sure to always try and be kind to each other and to everyone else for that matter; additionally, to entrust all judgment to God. He shares these exhortations not only for the benefit of this community of believers but for the community surrounding these believers as well. If possible, communicate Paul’s exhortations as expectations for your group from its outset or at the beginning of a new season of life together. This will create conditions that will encourage the growth of people in your group and make your community more effective on mission together.
1 Th 5:16-18What Paul is calling the believers to do here is not humanly possible in their own strength. We need the Spirit of God within us to enable us to be joyful always, pray continually and to give thanks in all circumstances. When we do these things we are doing God’s will. When we do God’s will we worship Him and His power is unleashed in and through our lives. As you lead people, acknowledge how you need God’s help to do what He has called you to do. Remind people of their need for Him by expressing your own dependency on Him. As you do you’ll open doors for God’s power to flow into your group’s life together.
1 Th 5:19-22Another string of exhortations are given in these verses. When somebody is moved emotionally in your group, ask the Lord how He would have you respond (or not respond). If somebody shares something they feel God has impressed them with, imagine holding it gently in the palms of your hands until God brings confirmation. Thank them for having the faith to share something they believe God has given them and take a moment right then and there to pray about it. You don’t have to affirm or decide its validity during the group time. Be careful with people who let it be known God has touched them. If the same person repeatedly expresses within the group how they are moved in their spirit and it (A) doesn’t resonate with your spirit and (B) disrupts the group – then speak with them in private and ask that they share these things with you more personally outside of group time, preferably in a written form. When somebody writes out their spiritual impressions it disciplines how they express them. There is no reason why the writing of one’s inspiration should be seen as a lesser form of expression – the Bible is one case in point. This keeps things in check within the person and the group and it allows your group to refer back to words that affirm what the Lord is in fact doing. Ultimately, the Bible is the standard by which we test everything. God would never contradict what He has communicated in His Word (Psalm 12:6; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). With God’s Word and the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit we can hold on to the good and avoid every kind of evil.
1 Th 5:25Once again, Paul addresses his listeners as family (cf. verses 1, 4, 12, & 14). Clearly, that’s the impression he wanted to leave with them as he conveyed his final instructions. First he demonstrates something we should do as leaders in our groups: Ask for people to pray for us. Sometimes we forget to include ourselves in prayer requests. This is important not only for our personal needs, but also because it communicates how we’re equally dependent upon God and in need of the support of a community of compassionate friends. By taking the lead in this way, it helps others to share their own need for prayer. Also, this can help some to take their first big step in praying aloud in a group format.
1 Th 5:26A normal greeting in Paul’s day was a kiss (Rom 16:16; 1 Cor 16:20b; 2 Cor 13:12). It still is in some cultures today. America isn’t one of them. But notice how Paul recasts what is common into something that is holy. He invites the believers to give each other a holy greeting. What do you think a holy greeting looks like? Maybe it’s shaking somebody’s hand, looking them in the eye, and blessing them with your words. Use every interaction to encourage and build up another. Think about it and do it. More is caught than taught. Every interaction matters when it comes to growing biblical community.
1 Th 5:27-28The apostle stresses the communication of everything he has written to all the brothers. He wanted everybody to receive his instruction together. This ensured it would be heard and lived out as a community. Community was the engine for the bringing one’s learning and faith to life. It is very important to have personal devotional times, but it is equally important to have corporate times where we learn the truth together, pray together, and worship God together. The communal nature of the large gathering reinforces the personal application of God’s Word to our lives. Small groups are the keystone (i.e. “the wedge-shaped piece at the summit of an arch, regarded as holding the other pieces in place”) between the private lives of believers and their public expression as a local church. In other words, small groups enable the public and private expressions of faith to support and reinforce each other. At the same time, the personal devotional life of each member and their involvement in our church’s corporate gatherings enrich the small group. All three (personal, group, corporate) are vital and each influences the other. This triadic expression of faith and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ are the heartbeat to the organic growth of biblical community. Think of it as an equation: Triadic Community (personal + group + corporate) = Biblical Community.

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