Last four words

 

 

[1 Thessalonians 5:25-28]

 

 

There was a lot of rain outside during the last Thursday Morning Prayer meeting.  As I listened to the sound of the falling rain, I began to think about how blessed I was when I meditated on the words I preached in that morning.  I couldn’t help myself but give thanks to God when I remembered God’s love in not only saving me and giving me eternal life but also every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus.  I also remembered my wedding service sermon in which the presiding pastor blessed me and my wife with the God's blessings, the man’s blessings and and the material blessing.  I still remembered my father-in-law approached me after the wedding service and said, “James, it seems like you have received all three blessings from God.’  When I thought about all God’s blessing in Jesus Christ and heard the sounds of the falling rains, I considered all His blessings as the rainy season of blessings.  I also remembered the story that before my father-in-law died, he heard the voice of his fellow elder Jeong, whom he loved, through the handphone and his body shook.  And when I thought about it, I thought that my father-in-law’s last body shaking was his last gesture of love to elder Jeong.  When elder Jeon heard that story, he cried a lot during my father-in-law’s funeral service.  When I thought about my father-in-law’s last gesture of love, I remembered one of my church grandmothers, Mrs. Choe.  When she was in St. Vincent hospital Intensive Care Unit, I visited her and had the last worship.  After the last worship, I told her ‘Grandma, I love you’.   Then she nodded her head since she couldn’t speak du to an oxygen respirator on her.  This was the last gesture of love that she showed to me.

 

Someday we will all have a moment to express our last love to our beloved ones.  At that last moment, what kind of love do you want to express to your beloved ones?  If you can speak at the last minute, what do you want to say?

 

In 1 Thessalonians 5: 25-28, we see Apostle Paul saying the last four words at the final conclusion of his writing to the Thessalonian church saints.  I want to meditate on those four last words one by one and want to receive the lessons the Lord gives to us.

 

The first word was “Brothers, pray for us.”

 

Look at 1 Thessalonians 5:25 – “Brothers, pray for us.”  Have you ever ask your beloved brother or sister in Christ to pray for you?  In my recollection, the first time when I share my prayer topic with fellow brother or sister in Christ was when I was junior in my college.  I still remember clearly when I share my first prayer request to the sister in Christ who couldn’t speak Korean at all because she was third generation Korean-American.  That was the first time not only that I shared my prayer topic but also praying in English.  I still cannot forget that moment when I prayed to God in English for the first time in my life even though I forgot what I said in my prayer for her. Haha.  From that time on, I began to share my prayer topics little by little with my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ in the same Christian club.  It is that occasion that I am still sharing my prayer requests with other brothers and sisters in Christ.  I am sure we all have earnest prayer topics to God.  I think among the prayer topics, the most prayer topics are for our family members who we love (especially children).  The reason we ask others to pray for our family members is because they are very important to us.  And we ask our beloved brothers and sisters in Christ to pray for our families because we want to pray together earnestly for them so that we may receive answers of our prayers from God.

 

When we look at 1 Thessalonians 5:25, Apostle Paul asked the Thessalonian church saints to prayer for him and his co-workers as he concluded his letter to the Thessalonian Church saints, saying, “Brothers, pray for us.  Paul asked them to pray for himself and his co-workers Silas and Timothy (1:1).  Why did Paul ask the Thessalonian church saints to pray for himself and his co-workers?  I found the answer in 2 Thessalonians 3:1 – “Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you.”  I think here when Paul asked the Thessalonian church saints to pray for him and his co-workers, he reminded them what he already said in 1 Thessalonians 5:25 “Brothers, pray for us.”  So in a sense, Paul asked them to pray for himself and Silas and Timothy twice.  The reason was so that the word of the Lord would spread rapidly and be glorified.  In short, Paul's purpose of asking the Thessalonian church saints to pray for him and his co-workers was to spread the word of the Lord.  At the same time, in 2 Thessalonians 3:2, Paul asked them to pray that “we will be rescued from perverse and evil men.”  This prayer request was not because Paul was selfish, but because he wanted to receive their prayer supports so that he could be rescued from perverse and evil men so that he could continue to preach the word of the Lord and spread it rapidly.  In short, the reason Paul asked for the Thessalonian church saints to pray was to preach the word of the Lord.  In some ways, Paul's purpose of prayer was not to be the safety of himself and his co-workers but to preach the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth.  In other words, the real reason he asked for prayer was the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ rather than himself and his co-workers.

 

In addition to 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2, Paul asked prayers to the churches as he closed his letters.  Look at Romans 15:30-31: “I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.  Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there.”  The reason why Paul wrote to the Roman church saints and asked them to pray for him was for his service.  In other words, he asked them to pray for him so that he might continue to preach the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  In the letter Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, this was what he said to the Ephesian church saints at the end of the letter: “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should” (Eph. 6:19-20).  In this prayer request, we can see that Paul's concern was to fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel.  Since he "an ambassador in chains” in preaching this gospel, he asked the Ephesian church saints to pray for him so that he could declare the gospel fearlessly as he should.  This is what Paul said in Colossians 4:3-4: “And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.  Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.”  As Paul wrote to the various churches and asked the churches saints to pray so that he could boldly preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.  This gives us a glimpse of how Paul was so eager to live by preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ according to the ministry that the Lord has given to him.

 

That is why it is important for the church saints to pray for their pastors.  When you pray for your pastors, I hope you pray for them to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Especially when you pray for your pastors, I hope that you will pray so that not only they may continue to understand the secret of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but also that they may live worthy of His gospel.  Therefore, your pastors can live a life of preaching Jesus Christ not only through their lips but through their lives.

 

The second word was “Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.”

 

What if someone spit on your face when you go to Africa?  I am sure you will not like it at all.  But the people of the Masai tribe in Africa spit in each other’s face as an expression of delight.  Although this is very unpleasant thing to us, it's a way of saying hello for them (Internet).  Perhaps you've seen it on TV how the Middle Eastern people greet each other.  They do so by kissing each other's cheeks.  This is a strange greeting for the Korean people.  The reason is because we usually greet each other by shaking each other’s hands.  The French people shake hands in a formal setting but in an informal setting they say "Bisous" among close friends.  Here, “Bisous” is their way of greeting by kissing each other’s check and making a kissing sound.  The more you are greeting him or her, the louder the kissing sound (Internet).  “The bow is the traditional Korean greeting, although it is often accompanied by a handshake among men. To show respect when shaking hands, support your right forearm with your left hand” (Internet).

 

Look at 1 Thessalonians 5:26 – “Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.”  Apostle Paul said to the Thessalonian church saints to greet all the brothers "with a holy kiss."  Here, greeting all the brothers with holy kisses refers to a gesture of affection toward one another.  This gesture of affection “with a holy kiss” were used five times in the New Testament, four by Paul (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor.16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12) and one by Peter (1 Pet. 5:14).  As they end the letters, they encouraged the saints to greet each other with holy kiss as the gesture of affection (MacArthur).  This gesture of affection was expressed in hugging and kissing by the first century Christians because they were one family of God in the Lord (MacArthur).  The intention of this gesture of affection was to express God’s love for each other in the Lord as the family of God.  Therefore, this kiss was never a passionate or physical, but holy (The Bible Knowledge commentary).

 

What if our children greet us, their parents, in the morning but there is no love and respect, what does that greeting mean?  Likewise, if the brothers and sisters in the church express the love of Christ outwardly but are not in love toward each other in the heart, isn’t it only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal (1 Cor. 13:1)?  If the brothers or sisters in the Lord don’t love each another, they are nothing (v. 2) even if they speak in the tongues of men and of angels (v. 1), have the gift of prophecy, can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and have faith that can move mountains (v. 2).  This is what the Bible 1 Corinthians 13:3 says: “If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” 

 

We are one family of God in the Lord.  And in the family of God there is the Lord’s love.  We must love one another with the Lord’s love.  The pastors must love the church members with the Lord’s love, and the church members also must love their pastors with the Lord’s love.  In addition, we should express our affection to each other with love of God in our hearts and minds firmly believing that we are the Lord’s own family.  Of course, the expression of affection may not be "holy kiss" which Paul spoke in 1 Thessalonians 5:26, but we must strive to express true love toward each other.  For example, I think we can express our love for each other with bright smile, genuine handshake, or prayers.  Therefore, when we keep the unity of the church family in the Lord by loving each other, we can please the Lord, who is the Head of the Church.

 

The third word was “I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.”

 

Have you ever shared your letter with someone else?  Or have you ever shared someone’s letter that you were impressed with with others?  On December 1, 2018, I shared my friend's son’s letter to God with many people through my internet ministry.  Although my friends’ son Tobey went to the Lord after he wrote the letter to God, his letter touched so many people’s hearts including mine.  So I even translated his English letter into Korean and share with many Korean speaking brothers and sisters in Christ.  What a boy of faith Tobey was!  When he was suffering with cancer, he prayed to God like this: “Even if I still have cancer,(which I am a little confident about) may you be able to use me as a walking testimony towards others and set a positive influence to those who don’t even know who you are.  …  Even if I end up dead or if I continue to walk on this planet, may I be able to be told to future generations about my story and how YOU were the main impact on me.  Even if I suffer through more chemotherapy, may I only know that you will be right there next to me.”  How could I not share this letter of faith by the precious brother in Christ?  The reason I shared the Tobey’s letter to many people was so that they also might be challenged by the Tobey’s prayer to God as it did to me.

 

Look at 1 Thessalonians 5:27 – “I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.”  Apostle Paul commanded the Thessalonian church saints to read this letter to all the brothers.  Here, “all the brothers” didn’t refer to only the male saints in the church.  It referred to all the sisters in the church and even to the children.  One commentary says that Paul commended the Thessalonian church saints to read this letter even to those who couldn’t read by themselves (A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments).  When I meditated on these words, I remembered the words of Nehemiah chapter 8.  When all the people of Israel assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate (Neh. 8:1), Ezra the priest bought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand (v. 2), and read it aloud from daybreak till noon (v. 3).  “And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law” (v. 3).  It is interesting to note that the Bible says “men and women and all who were able to understand” (v. 2) and “he men, women and others who could understand” (v. 3).  If we apply these words to our modern setting, it means that a pastor reads the bible in front of everyone who can understand the Bible.  Even if a foreigner who don’t even understand Korean in our worship but listen to the Korean sermons and experience the work of the Holy Spirit, then how much more should people who understands Korean listen to the Korean sermon.  When Paul commanded the Thessalonian church saints “to have this letter read to all the brothers” (1 Thess. 5:27), he meant that not only should they read it to only all the brothers but to everyone who could understand it.  Why did Paul command the Thessalonian church saints to do so?  The reason was because the words of God that was written 1 Thessalonians were very important (A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments).  Paul commanded the Thessalonian church saints to read publicly the very important Word of God.  Isn’t this interesting?  In the Old Testament, the word of God was read publicly in the synagogue, and in the New Testament Paul commanded to read the Thessalonians letter publicly (Believer's Bible commentary).

 

This is what the Bible Revelation 1:3 says: “Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.”  The time is near.  The revelation of Jesus Christ, “what must soon take place” (v. 1) is near.  Therefore, we must read, hear, and keep the words that are written in "the words of this prophecy" (v.3).  As 1 Thessalonians 5:27 said, we must read the very important Word of God not only individually but also publicly.  Our responsibility is to communicate the Word of God publicly as well.  In other words, we must disclose, share, and communicate the word of God to others.  I hope and pray that we all can devote ourselves to this ministry of the Word.

 

                The fourth and the last word was “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.”

 

In closing the letter to the Thessalonian church saints, Paul mentioned three absolutely necessary elements in our Christian faithful life in 1 Thessalonians 5:25-27 (Believer's Bible Commentary).  The three keys to a successful Christian life are:

 

(1)   Prayer.

 

Look at 1 Thessalonians 5:25 – “Brothers, pray for us.”  Like Paul who asked the Thessalonian church saints to pray for him and his co-workers, we must share our prayer requests and pray for each other so that we can have successful Christian live.

 

(2)   Love for the saints.

 

Look at 1 Thessalonians 5:26 – “Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.”  In order to make a successful Christian life together, we must love one another with the love of the Lord.  In other words, when we all have the true fellowship of love in the Lord, we can all have successful Christian life together.

 

(3)   Read and study the Word of God.

Look at 1 Thessalonians 5:27 – “I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.”  In order for all of us to live successful Christian life, we must all be devoted to the Word of God.  A good example of this is the Early Church saints in Acts chapter 2.  They were devoted to the apostles' teaching (Acts 2:42).  In other words, after they believed in Jesus Christ, they continued to receive the teaching of the apostles (v. 42).  Like them, we must continue to read, hear, meditate, and learn the Word of God.  In doing so, all of us together can make a successful Christian life.

 

Look at 1 Thessalonians 5:28 – “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.”  Apostle Paul concluded this letter of 1 Thessalonians by saying, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.”  It is interesting to note that Paul usually ended his letters with the word “grace.”  Look at 1 Corinthians 16:23-24: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.  My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen.”  Look at 2 Corinthians 13:14 – “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”  Look at Galatians 6:18 – “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.”  Look at Ephesians 6:24 – “Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.”  Look at Philippians 4:23 – “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.”  Look at Colossians 4:18 – “I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.”  When I think about these verses, I have come to think about how important the concept of "grace" was to Paul.  As I was thinking about it 1 Corinthians 15:10 came to my mind: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them--yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.”  Paul's concept of grace was that “I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (v. 9).  He also referred to himself as “sinners – of whom I am the worst” (1 Tim.1:15) because he was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man who was shown mercy because he acted in ignorance and unbelief (v. 13).  So he thanked Christ Jesus his Lord who had given him strength and considered him faithful, appointing him to His service (v. 12).  So Paul worked harder than all the apostles (1 Cor. 15:10).  And this Paul, who worked hard by God’s grace, concluded his letter to the saints of the Thessalonian Church and said, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you" (1 Thess. 5:28).  I think he did so because he wanted to commit the Thessalonian church saints to the Lord’s grace.  Look at Acts 20:32 – “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” 

 

One interesting thing is that Paul not only end this letter to the Thessalonian church saints with "grace" (1 Thess. 5:28) but he also began with “grace”: “Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you” (1:1).  When the the beginning and the end of the letter mention “grace”, this is called "Inclusio" in the biblical grammatical language.  This refers to the sandwich structure in which the most important theme is introduced at the first and the last half of the text, and explains the theme in the middle (Internet).  What this tells us is that the central theme that Paul wanted to mention to the Thessalonian church saints was “grace.”  By God’s grace the Thessalonians turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God (v. 9), the gospel came to them not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction (v. 5) and they became imitators of Paul, his co-workers and of the Lord in spite of severe suffering (v. 6).  Moreover, by God’s grace the Thessalonian church saints became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia (v. 7) and the Lord’s message rang out from them not only in Macedonia and Achaia but their faith in God had become known everywhere (v. 8).  And by God’s grace they waited for His Son from heaven (v. 10).  Since all these things were done by God's grace, Paul wrote this letter to the Thessalonian church saints and mentioned the "grace" at the beginning and end of the letter.  That was why Paul wrote not only “Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you” (1:1) at the beginning of the letter but also at the end of the letter “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” (5:28).  

 

Apostle Paul gave the last four words to the beloved Thessalonica church saints as he finished writing the letter to the Thessalonians: (1) "Brothers, pray for us," (v. 25), (2) "Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss” (v. 26), (3) "I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers" (v. 27), and (4) "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you" (v. 28).  How do you, as a letter of Christ, want to make a last word to your loved ones, your family, and your neighbors through your life and death?