Spiritual Health Check? An Overview of 1 Thessalonians (Lawrence Pickering)

1 Thessalonians   |   Sunday, August 26, 2012   |   Code: 2012-08-26-LP

R. Kent Hughes:   “The contemporary evangelical church is not lacking for moral and spiritual instruction. It is lacking in its ability to remain uncontaminated by the unchristian thinking and morality of contemporary culture. It is doubtless true that there has been too much cultural awareness and a resulting lack of discernment, regarding how the world has overwhelmed the thinking and behaviour of Christians.”[1] 

Both he and our own Pastors, not only call the church to say “no” to worldliness and its snares (including apathy and laziness), but to say a radical “yes” to Christ and His call to be “salt and light” to effectively reach a lost world. So: 

  1. Have you observed any inroads that cultural trends have made in the church or your personal life today? Even at Grace Life or Grace Community Church? 
  1. Do you take time out in our Bible Studies and personal quiet time to evaluate? 
  1. How do you practically discern truth from that which leads to error? 

Well, whilst we know that we must keep pressing onwards to the upward call of Christ and to grow in His knowledge and grace, we must always look to improve, right?    

Sure, there is a strong case for “just preaching the gospel”. But in a bid to be more impactful, we must make a time and a place, to critique our own environment and practices. 

Why? To measure against God’s requirements. 

Even the world knows that, Due to the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics (Entropy), when doing nothing, one is actually getting worse or going backwards.  Trainer, Les Brown says,

“Nobody can make proactive investments in your life for you: it's entirely up to you….at midlife, the training wheels come off. The expectations and constraints that ushered you through childhood, adolescence and adulthood have served (or outlasted) their usefulness.” 

Really, the imperative to evaluate and do something is found in Scripture. We know that physical training for this world has some value, but spiritual training in godly living, is profitable for ALL things, holding promise for this life and the eternity to come (1 Tim 4:8).   

Romans 12:1-2 says that in order for us to present both acceptable reasonable service or spiritual worship to God, we must a) offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, b) not be conformed to this world, but c) be transformed by the continual renewal of our minds from God’s Word, and the demonstration of (or “proof” of) the actions that constitute what is God’s acceptable will for us as Christians.

But what does this mean and look like?



Paul expressed “satisfied joy” at the Thessalonians faith and witness, yet exhorted and encouraged them to grow more in love, holiness and steadfastness, so that when Christ returned and/or the rapture occurred, they would be blameless in His sight.     

Today, we are going to discover 4 imperatives for a satisfactory Spiritual Health Check from Thessalonians. And I’ll state all 4 at the beginning, and then we’ll go through each. 

BTW: This is contrasted with the 3 marks of unworthy worship (Mike Riccardi 2 weeks ago from Malachi): a) Empty formalism (going through the motions), b) Contempt for a glorious duty to a majestic God (idleness), and c) People took personal offense easily (personal pettiness). 



To identify and strive to achieve a satisfactory Spiritual Health Check, one must: 

  1. Sow spiritual seed; 
  1. Stand firm in trials; 
  1. Safeguard the significant  practices of our leaders; 
  1. Schedule and practice a Spirit-filled life. 

And as we go through each of these imperatives for spiritual health, I hope to show practical ways of delivering these imperatives. In essence this shows: Real People, meeting Real Needs by doing Real Tasks with godly Attitudes and Intents!



Paul was thrilled with what was happening in the Thessalonian church. His letters reflect joy over the spiritual progress the Thessalonians had made in the short time they had been believers, and encouraged them to grow in love, holiness and steadfastness, so that when Christ returned and/or the rapture occurred, they would be seen as blameless. 6 Examples:

  1. 1:2-3, 6 “We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers, remembering without ceasing, your work of faith, labour of love and patience of hope…you became followers of us and the Lord.”


  1. 2:13-14 “For this reason we also constantly thank God, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you welcomed it as Truth, which also performs its work in you who believe. For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea.” 
  1. 2:19-20 “For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.” 
  1. 3:9 “For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account?” 
  1. 4:9-10 “Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you….to love one another; for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren, who are in all Macedonia.” 
  1. 5:11 “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.” 

These Thessalonians had something. Whatever they were on, I want! Could one say that about Grace Life? These matters should drive us to search our hearts. 

Yet, against continuing strife and persecution, the church needed encouragement to stand firm (1:2–10; 2:13–16), and Paul had to vigorously defend his team’s integrity (2:1–12). 

Paul did not want the new converts not slip back into the pagan immorality (4:1–8) and wanted them to preserve their reputation with those outside the church, Paul encouraged them to continue to love each other fervently, to work diligently (4:9–12), focus on persistent prayer, rejoice continually and display thankfulness in any circumstance (5:14-18). 



Perhaps Thessalonica’s greatest asset was its location astride the Egnatian Way, the

major East-West highway of the Roman Empire, which ran from what is now Albania to Istanbul. Thessalonica’s main street was part of that great highway linking Rome with the eastern regions of the empire. Noting the importance of Thessalonica’s strategic location on the Egnatian Way, to the spread of the gospel, William Barclay wrote: 

“It is impossible to overstress the importance of the arrival of Christianity in Thessalonica. If Christianity was settled there, it was bound to spread east along the Egnatian Road, until all Asia [Minor] was conquered. And West, until it stormed even the city of Rome. The coming of Christianity to Thessalonica was crucial in the making of it into a world religion”[2] 

Having survived repeated attacks over the centuries, Thessalonica is one of the few cities visited by Paul that has existed continuously from his day to modern times; currently having a population of nearly 400,000. As the second most important city in the Byzantine Empire, after Constantinople, it was the capital of Macedonia (Northern Greece), and together with Achaia (Southern Greece); it formed the nation of Greece. 

Paul first came to Thessalonica on his second missionary journey. While some of the Gentile converts were Jewish proselytes who attended the synagogue, many others were converted directly from their pagan idol worship (1:9). The depth of the pastoral care Paul gave the Thessalonian converts (2:11–12), the deep affection that developed between them (2:8; 3:6–10), the size and vitality of the church when Paul left it; and that the Philippians had twice sent Paul a gift whilst there (Phil 4:16), implies that he had a stay of about a year.   

The Jews jealously watched Paul’s success at winning Gentile proselytes to Christ, and their smoldering resentment burst into flame. Frustrated, the Jews hauled Paul’s Team before the politarchs under a false charge of treason, placing their “free-city” status under Rome, at risk. Acts 17:7-8, “they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus”; which “[stirred] up the crowd and the city authorities who heard these things”. 

      After being forced to leave Thessalonica, the missionary team traveled to Berea, and after encountering further trouble, Paul went to Athens. Silas and Timothy later rejoined him (cf. Acts 17:15). 

Paul likely wrote 1 Thessalonians shortly after this, when he arrived in Corinth, in a.d.50/51, after believers had been in Thessalonica for about a year.



To achieve a satisfactory Spiritual Health Check, one must: 

  1. Sow spiritual seed by
  1. Presenting Gospel Truth:

                                                  i.      The Elect of God must do the presenting (1:4-5, 8; 2:2, 8-9; 3:2), without flattering words (2:5), the pure Gospel of God (prior vv and 9). This originated with God and was His “good news” in the God-Man, Jesus Christ; which brought forgiveness of sins and deliverance from its power through His obedience, death and resurrection. This gave eternal hope through a gracious offer of salvation to accept (yet it was a command to obey) through faith; as revealed in God authoritative Word, the Bible;

                                                ii.      With this they evangelized the whole of Greece (v8), so much so that Paul and missionary team purely focused on pastoral care and teaching (1:8; 2:7-8, 11);


  1. Being authentic examples (1:3, 6–10; 2:19-20; 3:9; 4:9-10):

                                                  i.      Work of faith, labour of love and patience of hope in Christ (v3)

                                                ii.      You became followers and good examples to all believers in Macedonia (v6-7; 2:14, 19-20); 3rd generation mimics of Christ; being unshaken in affliction 3:3-4); of the true gospel (v8-9b); 4:9-10;

                                              iii.      They were waiting for Christ’s return (could happen any time) – recurring theme (1:10; 3:13; 4:15-17; 5:8, 23).


Illustration: C H Spurgeon: “A man's life is always more forcible than his speech. When men take stock of him, they reckon his “deeds as dollars”, and his “words as pennies”. If his life and doctrine disagree, the mass of onlookers accept his practice, and reject his preaching.”


And so the Thessalonians were great followers of Christ and Paul, and became great examples. This lead to many true conversions and much spiritual growth! 


Check List Part 1:

Sow spiritual seed by:

  1. Presenting Gospel Truth 
  2. Being authentic examples. 


  1. Stand firm in trials by:


  1. Receiving Gospel Truth as a Glad People (2:13–15):

                                                              i.      Gospel came in word, in power and in the HS, “my preaching might come…in demonstration of the Spirit and power…that your faith might be in the power of God” (1 Cor 2:4-5) , with much confidence; “it will not return void” (cf Is 55:11);

                                                            ii.      who received God’s effectual truth that works in believers (v13):

                                                          iii.      You received the Word in much affliction and with the HS’s joy (1:6; 2:2b, 14-15) – not surprisingly, as Christians are surely to experience the fellowship of sufferings through trials ”), which are a gift of grace that brings repentance (1 Cor 7:9-10), power, establishment, strength and settlement (1 Pet 5:10); also endurance and reward (1 Pet 4:13; 2 Tim 4:7-8).

Note:  Phil 1:29 “granted to suffer”; 3:10 “know the fellowship of His sufferings”; 1 Pet 2:20-24 “when you suffer…this is commendable before God….called to follow Jesus footsteps and suffer”; Matt 5:10-12 “rejoice when suffering for righteousness sake”; Acts 5:41 “rejoiced at being counted worthy to suffer for Christ;


  1. Practicing Gospel Truth – (1:3) through their work of faith, labour of love patience of hope; (2:4, 9-10 “labour, toil night and day…behaving devoutly, blamelessly and justly”): who became imitators of Paul and Christ, and those in Judea (v14); they drank Christ’s cup of suffering, experiencing it from their very own countrymen, just as He had received in Judea (v14-15);


      The Thessalonians themselves had become his hope, glory, joy and crown of rejoicing (v19-20); especially at the upcoming return of Christ. They knew that “if we suffer, we shall also reign with Him (2 Tim 2:12), and be glorified with Him (Rom 8:17). 


Illustration: from The Problem of Pain by C S Lewis

"I am progressing along the path of life in my ordinary contented condition, when suddenly a stab of pain threatens serious disease, or a newspaper headline threatens us all with destruction.

At first I am overwhelmed, and all my little happiness look like broken toys. And perhaps, by God's grace, I succeed, and for a day or two become a creature consciously dependent on God, and drawing its strength from the right sources. But the moment the threat is withdrawn, my whole nature leaps back to the toys.

Thus the terrible necessity of tribulation in only too clear. God has had me for but 48 hours and then, only by dint of taking everything else away from me. Let Him but sheathe the sword for a minute, and I behave like a puppy when the hated bath is over -- I shake myself as dry as I can, and race off to reacquire my comfortable dirtiness in the nearest flower bed.

And that is why tribulation cannot cease until God sees us re-made."[3]

Being in progress of a make-over, the Thessalonians became the great apostle’s Paul’s hope, joy and crown of rejoicing. Well, they realized that there is no crown without a cross. No new techniques or methods are espoused. Just to keep on doing what they had been doing; and doing even more of it! 

  • Of course, you could too! But, how much joy do you find in the midst of difficulty?
  • Are there periods when, though sorrowful, you are always rejoicing?
  • Can you say with Paul, that you reckon the sufferings of this present age, as not worthy to be compared to the upcoming glory?

Check List Part 2:


Stand firm in trials by:

  1. Receiving Gospel Truth
  2. Practicing Gospel Truth.


Mini Summary:


So Check List Part 1:                 Sow spiritual seed by:

  1. Presenting Gospel Truth 
  2. Being authentic examples


and Check List Part 2:            Stand firm in trials by:

  1. Receiving Gospel Truth
  2. Practicing Gospel Truth.                                   


  1. Safeguard the 3 significant  practices of our leaders by (5:12–15):


  1. Recognize and esteem fail-proof leadership (5:12-13):

                                                              i.      God-pleasers who glorify Him; not man-pleasers who glorify man (2:4, 6);


  1. Warn and teach those unruly or out of line to get back into line (5:14); encourage and make bold those who are fainthearted, and live in fear and doubt (5:15); Hold up firmly those who are weak, without spiritual and moral strength (5:14);


  1. Imitate Paul’s Team’s Methods (2:7–12). Think on these:

                                                              i.      Gently – as a nursing mother cherishes her own children (2:7; cf 2 Cor 12:14-15; Gal 4:19; Phil 1:3-4);

                                                            ii.      Affectionately imparted God’s gospel through their own lives-because they had become dear to them (2:8, cf Moses with Israel – Num 11:12; Christ as a servant and ransom for many in Matt 20:28);

                                                          iii.      Eagerly desire and long to see the flock (2:17-18; 3:1, 6); agony of separation;

                                                          iv.      Labour without being a burden (2:9);

                                                            v.      Exhort, comfort and charge every one, like a father does his children (2:12), to walk worthy of, and properly for, the God who called them into the Kingdom of the Son of His love and glory (2:12; Col 1:13-14 “the splendorous, heavenly, eternal sphere of salvation”); - by organizing your life well (4:9–12 – details in the next section); John 17:20, 23b;

                                                          vi.      Establish, encourage and perfect their faith in love (3:2, 6-7-10, 13; 4:12b) The intent is to perfect what was lacking in their faith and love, to bring them to their full potential in Christ (v10). Details are in chapters 4 and 5.


2 Way Affection: The Thessalonians were able to do this easily because of the great foundation previously laid, that already produced great outcomes (3:6-10):

  • Fond remembrance of Paul’s Team (3:6);
  • Their desire for renewed & more fellowship with them (3:6, 10b);
  • Quality of their faith and love: they stood fast in Christ (3:7-8) to the degree that “we live, if you stand fast” (picture of an army that refuses to retreat). Paul was greatly comforted by them;
  • Produced continual thanksgiving and joy (3:9).


Check List Part 3:                   Safeguard the 3 significant practices of our leaders by:

a.         Upward: Being God pleasers not man-pleasers

b.         Man-ward: Encouraging, warning, exhorting, teaching and

            emboldening the flock with intention and firmness

c.         Model: Following Paul’s attitudes and heart intentions


Mini Summary 

So Check List Part 1:             Sow spiritual seed by:

  1. Presenting Gospel Truth 
  2. Being authentic examples


and Check List Part 2:            Stand firm in trials by:

  1. Receiving Gospel Truth correctly
  2. Practicing Gospel Truth 


and Check List Part 3:            Safeguard the significant practices of our leaders by:

a.         Being God pleasers not man-pleasers

b.         Encouraging, warning, exhorting, teaching and

            emboldening the flock with intention and firmness

c.         Following Paul’s attitudes and heart intentions. 


  1. Schedule and practice a Spirit-filled life (3:11-13; 5:11, 13, 25–28):


            This God is majestic, and Scripture is replete with the majesty of God, stating that He is clothed in and is full of majesty; describing it as being glorious, splendorous, blessed, praise-worthy, full of honour, excellent, awesome, brilliant, regal and royal. All his works, victories, appearances, countenance and personage can be expressed as “Resplendent Magnificence” (Mike Riccardi). 

            Now Scripture contrasts it with sinful man’s frailty. So desperate is his condition and heart, that he must be infused with the desire, will, capacity, energy and resources to do 2 imperatives:

  1. Love One-Another & All: Whilst their love was compelling, it was to abound to one another, and still more and more (3:11–13; 4:1-3a, 10). Love is the over-arching theme that eclipses the other 30 NT “one-another’s” of the church, e.g. 1 Pet 1:22; 1 John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11; 2 John 5. Love unbelievers: John 13:34-35 (“love one another and show others that we are His disciples”). Believers were loved when they were “unlovely” (Rom 5:8) & are called to love their enemies (Matt 5:43-44). Persevere, endure and keep on doing this. Eph 6:18 “Keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints”;
  • o Paul’s e.g.: 3:11-12 “just as we love you”, & “May God direct our way to you”;
  • o 2 Thess 3:5 “Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ.”
  • o Ps 32:8: God has and will instruct, teach and guide in the way you should go; but Prov 16:9 says, you must “Plan your way, whilst the Lord directs his steps”;


  • Example: Micah 6:6-8 – Micah says that in being spiritually blind, they offered everything except the one thing God desired: spiritual commitment from the heart that produced right behaviour (actions). What actions? “To do justly, love mercy and walk humbly before God.”   Do whatever it takes to:


  1. Walk (including work) worthy of and to please a majestic and holy God:
  • Interwoven in chap 3 are their “faith and walk” in 6 places:

The quality of the faith and love was there but they were to abound still more (4:1, 12; 2:12); e.g. Eph 4-5 – walk worthy of their calling in lowliness and gentleness, longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, peace and unity of the Spirit; not as unsaved Gentiles in their futile minds, but in wisdom and in love as Christ did; really as enlightened children.


  • As per Paul’s instructions and example, and as they had been taught by God (4:9-10);
  • And through obedience to God’s Word (notice 4:12 – to lack nothing, actually requires this “walk” of practice

Results: Paul did this through a pastoral prayer for them. This prayer was answered in 2 Thess 1:3-4: “your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another, is increasing. Therefore, we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God, for your steadfastness and faith, in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.”


Specifically, what did they focus and major on in their walk? 4 Action Areas:

  1. Do God’s will in sanctification by being pure, clean and holy: abstain from sexual sin (4:3–8); called to holiness of a) heart (3:13) & b) action (4:7);


  1. Order their lives by (4:10-12):


  1.                                                         i.            Aspire to lead a quiet life (v11);
  2.                                                       ii.            Mind your own business and work with your own hands (v11);
  3.                                                     iii.            Conduct your walk properly in the eyes of non-Christians (v12);

                                                    iv.            Be continually patient, forgiving, and doing acts of goodness (v15);

                                                      v.            Live peaceably, to help your leaders (5:13);


  1. Don’t worry about the future; it is taken care of. A believer will either die & be with Christ or be Raptured directly into His presence forever (4:13–5:3). Rather, be alert & live sober-mindedly (serious, sensible, studious and logical) by: 
  1. Highly recognizing and esteeming those over you, who admonish and teach you in love; because their work is great (5:12). 

Note that Paul prays for their complete sanctification (5:23). So he prays that they will be scheduling and practicing further spiritual growth attitudes and actions (5:16–26); and that they will do it more and more (4:10b): How

  1. By being joyful always (v16): Rob Ventura and Jeremy Walker say, “If your joy has its roots in circumstance, it will crumble when you most need to manifest it for Christ’s glory.”[4];
  2. By praying continually (v17). Now, “prayer is the axis on which your Christian life suspends” (anon); and
  3. By being thankful in all circumstances (v18), for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (5:16–18, 25, cf Phil 4:4-6).


  • By doing nothing to douse the HS (v19); not grieving as per Eph 4:30; rather being Spirit controlled 5:18 and walk by Him (Gal 5:16);
  • By responding to God’s Word (v20);
  • By being discerning and testing everything against it (v21);
  • By reject evil from your practice (v22);
  • By practicing the cultural greeting of a hug and kiss as brothers and sisters in Christ (v26). Practice the special Christian “koinonia” fellowship; don’t be the “chosen frozen”, but active in service!


Check List Part 4:       Schedule and practice a Spirit-filled life:


  1. Love and serve one-another;
  2. Walk and work to please a majestic and holy God;

                                                                                                                                      i.      By being joyful

                                                                                                                                    ii.      By being prayerful

                                                                                                                                  iii.      By being thankful.


To achieve a satisfactory Spiritual Health Check, and thus become a source of joy to your leaders and our Lord Jesus Christ, one must:

  1. Sow spiritual seed
  2. Stand firm in trials
  3. Safeguard the significant  practices of our leaders
  4. Schedule and practice a Spirit-filled life.



No doubt one can come up with more, but here are 5 straight forward applications from 1 Thessalonians: 

  1. Assess: Take stock and measure yourselves up against a successful Thessalonian church, who observed their cultural trends, received God’s Truth gladly, witnessed feverishly and loved and served one-another fervently. 
  1. Arrange a Plan: Take time out in your Bible Studies and personal quiet time to critically evaluate, then plan and initiate actions, to enable you to offer worthy spiritual worship. 
  1. Act: Live for others; it is the way of adventure. Find out their needs and meet them. Do not feed the trap of self-want, but be blameless on Judgment Day (3:13). The essence of James 1:25 is to persevere at being a doer who acts; that one will be blessed in his doing. 
  1. Attend / serve: Abound and increase in love for one another (3:11-13). More energy and vitality is required to produce actions for the body of Christ; Col 1:29 “struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me to bring everyone to maturity in Christ”. Doing this requires us to work against divisions. 
  1. Ape / mimic Paul’s example and pray that the God of peace will completely sanctify you (5:23). Be instruments producing righteousness, trying to present everyone mature in Him! 



Rather than being technical, the essence of the Spiritual Health Check for us is: Real People, meeting Real Needs by doing Real Tasks, using godly Attitudes and Intents! 

Are you one of these “Real Christian People”?

  • If “yes”, then along with Paul, I implore you to do better.
  • If “no” then along with Paul and having read and heard this Thessalonian Overview, you are charged with the spiritual accountability to truly consider your situation before your God and prayerfully plan and develop some actions, so that you can become a “yes” in Christ. 

Illustration: by Brian Powley

“Any of us more than twenty-five years old can probably remember where we were when we first heard of President Kennedy's assassination in 1963.

British novelist David Lodge, in the introduction to one of his books, tells where he was--in a theater watching the performance of a satirical revue he had helped write. In one sketch, a character demonstrated his nonchalance in an interview by holding a transistor radio to his ear. The actor playing the part always tuned in to a real broadcast. Suddenly came the announcement that President Kennedy had been shot. The actor quickly switched it off, but it was too late. Reality had interrupted stage comedy.”

For many believers, Bible Study, worship, prayer, and Serving the body of Christ are but a nonchalant charade. They don't expect anything significant to happen, but suddenly God's reality breaks through, and they're shocked. Don’t let this be you. Get involved!

[1] R. Kent Hughes, Set Apart: Calling a Worldly Church to a Godly Life (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway), 2003, p10  

[2] The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians. Rev. ed. [Louisville, Ky.: Westminster, 1975], 181)


[3] The Problem of Pain; used by permission of William Collins Sons and Co., Ltd. quoted in Daily Walk, May 16/17, 1992.

[4] Rob Ventura and Jeremy Walker, A Portrait of Paul (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books), 2010, p19